Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dissecting the NETP - Part Four: Infrastructure- Access and Enable


This is part four of a new blog series where I want to take a closer look at the newly released National Education Technology Plan. I outline my plan for this series in this post.

Part Four: Infrastructure - Access and Enable

Section Goal: All students and educators will have access to a comprehensive infrastructure for learning when and where they need it.

So this section interested me before reading because we are in very difficult economic times in the public school system, and infrastructure is a spot where it's difficult to improve without spending cash. I was also very interested to see how much of the human element the writers would build into their infrastructure plan- I personally believe this is the most ignored piece of all educational technology spending- the curricular support for educational technology. I've seen many systems spend a ton of money on hardware, software, tech support, and great tools...but hardly anything on the types of teacher leaders that need to be in every building, helping their peers actually USE all of this great new equipment effectively... So those were my main focuses going into this section.

What I liked
  • The plan promotes the idea of "Broadband Everywhere". Their definition of this includes "abundant wireless coverage in and out of school buildings. 'Adequate' means enough bandwidth to support simultaneous use by all students and educators anywhere in the building and the surrounding campus to routinely use the Web, multimedia, and collaboration software." (pp 52-53) I love this goal. It's definitely a noble pursuit, to enable the kind of wireless coverage where all students anywhere on the campus can be working at the same time.
  • The plan outlines the "National Broadband Plan" from the FCC last March, 2010. This is some of the nuts and bolts, behind the scenes stuff that needs to happen for the above vision to become a reality. It (partly) focuses on E-Rate procedures (more info here about E-Rate). It pushes for raising the E-Rate camp to account for inflation, allowing community members to make use of E-Rate funded connections outside school hours, and streamlining the application process for funds. Since E-Rate funds are a large part of many school systems' infrastructure funds, all of these changes would be very helpful in not only getting more money to pump into infrastructure, but also opening up connectivity to the community at large, something I'm very much in favor of.
  • Promotion of a device for each student, whether provided by the school or brought from home. I'm glad the NETP promotes this, because I feel like this is the natural direction we're heading in our schools- going 1:1 in a blended way, where some devices are brought by students and some are provided for those in need. With a lot of services moving to the cloud, this is more and more doable and realistic from a management perspective. Here at my school, we have multiple devices running at the same time on our network- PC's, Macs, iPod Touch's, netbooks, iPads.... the network supports these devices concurrently and our filter is web based instead of client based, so we're covered under CIPA. This is the way things are heading, and it's a good thing.
  • The document, on page 60, encourages the use of students as technical resources. This is a component I've long believed in and I think needs amplified as much as possible- it's a great way to provide authentic, service-based learning for kids that helps a ton when managing a large amount of technical equipment (like in a 1:1 school).
  • This quote about the difference in technical support in school systems as opposed to businesses: "The number of computers per computer technician in K-12 education is estimated at 612 compared with 150 computers per technician in private industry." (p. 59) What does this mean? We have computers/technology that is down more often, for longer periods of time in public schools. This isn't news to anyone in the schools themselves, but I wonder how many front offices and school boards understand this fact and how it impacts what we try to do daily?
What I didn't like
  • The graphic on page 59 is probably the worst and most confusing graphic I've ever seen in a major publication... All I wrote next to it is...huh?? (about 3/4 down the page here).
  • Once again, the piece I was hoping for is at the end and way too short and shallow. In the very last section, at a grand total of less than a page, is the piece about "Human Talent and Scaling Expertise." (pp 59-60). And half of this tiny section focuses on technicians. It's my opinion that this is a huge issue. If we want to have technology be an important piece of instruction, then we need to have a leader in every building working with teachers and supporting them in this endeavor. For those of us working in schools, we know that this is a critical component! The human element in the educational technology business has to shift away from a focus on tech support towards instructional support. Obviously, we still need to have a strong technical support system, but we're not going to make the jump to the next level of technology integration if we don't have the instructional support component. The fact that this piece is not considered a weighty piece of the infrastructure puzzle in this document is troubling to me. And when it IS mentioned, we see the problem addressed with "innovative approaches to staffing in schools" (p. 60). In other words- you all figure this one out and by the way, you ain't getting any funding for it.
Conclusions
Despite the above misgivings about the light regard given to the instructional support aspect, I thought this section mostly had it's head in the right place- broadening access, changing E-Rate policies to help grease the wheels, offering connectivity to the community at large, and allowing students to bring in their own devices to help cut costs moving forward. I just hope we don't continue further down the path that I've seen some school districts on- a lot of great equipment being maintained very well, but no teachers actually using it (or using it in teacher-directed ways). Without instructional support in each building, our visions for success become a lot foggier.

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