Tim Goree

Connecting Seemingly Unrelated Things

Christian, Husband, Dad, Chief EduTechie, Ordained Deacon, Gamer, CUE Rock Star Admin Faculty, and FSUSD Classified Administrator of the Year

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More than Just the Core

As published on the Acer Education Blog...

It’s difficult to find an educational technology professional today who isn't thinking hard about the coming national online assessment initiatives. Like many, my natural inclination, when faced with the kind of operational challenges that these initiatives present, is to ask questions like:

What kinds of devices will work with the new program?
What are the minimum specifications of these devices?
What is the minimum number of devices per school needed to accomplish the goal?
How much bandwidth per device will be needed for proper operation of the program?
What network ports and websites will need to be accessible for the program to work?
When does all of this need to be done?

Armed with the answers to these questions, I, the illustrious technology leader, can calculate the minimum requirements for success, put a price tag on it, and present the plan to the rest of the organization. Done deal! Where are we going for lunch?

Not so fast. We don’t have solid answers to most of the questions above yet. Furthermore, it is becoming apparent to most that the answers that we need won’t come in time to complete the work that will need to be done. Take for example the push and pull between the number of devices “needed” at a particular school to achieve the minimum, and the number of devices that would be ideal. Allowing a 6 week testing window at a particular school can provide a fairly low minimum number of devices required, but is it fair and equitable to have some students test more than 5 weeks earlier than others? How does a principal decide which students will test earlier than others? There are some real concerns here that fall outside the realm of technology, but greatly affect what educational technologists must do to achieve the goal.

While it makes a lot of sense for districts to be focusing on Common Core and the new testing initiatives, I wonder if the technology departments inside those districts are making a grave mistake by focusing on the minimum requirements of those same initiatives. While these initiatives are important (and daunting), shouldn't we be elevating the conversation? Don’t we aspire to much more than just enabling technology-based testing?

It seems to me that we should be looking for all encompassing ways to achieve technology-enabled learning, and testing should be just one part of that larger picture. If we aim at the minimum standard for enabling technology-based testing and miss the mark, we’re left with nothing. If we aim at achieving a high level of technology-enabled learning within the time-frame that we've been given for enabling technology-based testing, we’re much more likely to be successful.

The process that I’m referring to will look different for every school and district, but it will likely have some common elements. For the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, it starts with comprehensive surveys directed at administrators, teachers, parents, and students (delivered by Clarity from brightBytes.net). These surveys will give us data that can help determine what types of technology-enabled learning initiatives might be most successful at each individual school as well as how prepared the school currently is to successfully implement. Our technology department is also working directly with each principal to start small pilot programs at their schools that run the gamut of 1:1, BYOD, a hybrid of the two, and teacher device programs. Devices that we are using with students and teachers also vary, including iPads, Android Tablets, netbooks, and laptops, depending on the applications and instructional needs.

As the planning and implementation progresses, we are simply ensuring that the work being done is compatible with our view of what will be needed to enable technology-based testing and the Common Core. As a technology department, our focus is not on the testing, but we recognize it as one required component of what we are focusing on: technology enabled learning.

To help other educational technology leaders also elevate the conversation in their districts from the minimum requirements of technology-based testing to a high level of technology-enabled learning, CETPA (California Educational Technology Professionals Association) will be conducting a one day conference in May, 2013, focused on “More than Just the Core” in San Jose, CA. Until then, my hope is that we can begin the conversation via social networking and other educational technology events!