Disappointment and contention over technology in the schools is the result of adopting technology that automates what we already do but doesn't get us to where we want to be. Result: We end up with a grab bag of technologies that rarely integrate, don't support our core missions, and are difficult to use.
School Web sites are the worst offenders. Did you ever notice that these sites are structured just like schools? The home page equals the school office. A teacher's Web page corresponds to her classroom. And, just like in brick-and-mortar schools, people wander the halls helplessly, looking for the people and information they want. The average school Web site is useless.
Things don't have to be this way. Educators have experience asking and answering systemic questions. Go to any reform- or charter-movement Web site and review its ideas and proposed solutions. These sites address all architectures -- physical, cultural, organizational, operational -- but one: technological. This must change.
Start with this thought: What technological architecture will help us become the schools we imagine? This vision goes way beyond integrating technology into the curriculum. It's about pouring tech right into the cement.
First, accept that technology is a tool to help people do things more efficiently. This does not mean replacing teachers with computers! Then ask, given the mission of our school and the things we agree we need to do to accomplish that mission, what technology will help us get there?
Next, focus on the pain. What causes the most for community members? Finding time to collaborate? Retrieving information about students? Daily communication? Bringing parents into the mix? Solve painful problems and watch the complaints about technology disappear. Technology that cures pain is our friend.
Third, there should be no "tech plan" per se. Instead, a strategic plan, revisited twice a year, should include a vision for the information and technological architecture. This framework must support the school's mission and its curriculum and instruction plan.
Fourth -- and this is already happening -- school leadership needs to buy into a bigger idea than integrating technology into the curriculum. It needs to lead the way through adoption and use of systemwide implementation that creates true learning communities and student-centered learning environments. This step cannot be delegated; it is the school itself.
Fifth, we need to look at the real operating costs of technology, support and training, upgrades and replacements. Computers are not desks you can count on to work fairly well for many years. Without investment, the infrastructure laid over the last decade will quickly crumble. The government -- society -- has to pony up funding for the underlying systems that will help make those improvements real.
I'm being paid $400 to write this article, so I'll offer $400 to the person who emails me the best example of a school doing this right, developing a technology and information architecture along the lines described here. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Gross is a former high school teacher who now runs Schoolloop.com, a Web site designed to help schools and their communities work together for the success of all students.