Technology Use Planning Overview

Five-year technology use plans aren’t very useful. Because technology changes so much, making specific plans about equipment isn’t as effective as making a more general plan about the tasks that you want the technology to accomplish. This graphic leans in that direction, allowing the planners to adjust to the changing landscape of technology while still allowing an organization to create a budget for the tools it’ll need.

This week in EDTECH 501, we covered technology use planning. After reading the background material about the subject, I was struck by how useful a technology plan would be not only in an academic setting, but in a business environment as well. The reading also gave me something to think about in terms of how to realistically plan for long-term technology use and how it can affect the people expected to use it. Additionally, I came to understand that a technology use plan will highlight was problems technology can realistically solve in a work environment and what ones it can’t. Finally, I learned why it’s so important to educate people about technology in education and the business environment.

How Do I Define Technology Use Planning?

To start with, it might be useful to say how I define technology use planning. To me, it’s the convergence of where technology meets the people who will be using it. A good technology use plan investigates the organization in question, determining how people are using technology at the moment, where the organization would like to go with technology, and the steps it can take to get to that step. A technology use plan also avoids just “throwing technology” at a problem without thinking critically about how the people using it will be affected by it.

A use plan that doesn’t factor in the human element is asking for an organization to have an abundance of technology that people within the organization can’t or don’t know how to use. Such a plan would be developed in a vacuum without regard for the skills of the people who will be using the new gadgets and software, what they’re comfortable using now, and how the technology will be used to enhance instead of replace what they’re currently doing.

Although the materials we were required to read applied to the use of technology in education, I’ve seen the “throw the technology at it” attitude in a number of business environments, and the result is usually pretty much the same. In my case, I noticed this attitude when digital tools for design like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and PageMaker (the precursor to InDesign) came out. At this time, I was working for a newspaper doing ad design and page layout. Many of my design clients felt that since the equipment was so inexpensive, that automatically made them designers. They couldn’t figure out why the ads they created didn’t look as good as the ones we created in-house.

In hindsight, a little education about the role technology would play in designing their ad for the publication might have helped. At the time if I could have better explained to people that the digital tools were really just like a digital version of a pencil or paint brush, there might have been a different outcome with some of the clients. I would have been able to talk with them about concentrating on the message they hoped to send with their ad and explained how the technology could be used to serve that message. I would have also been better able to talk with them about the potential shortcomings that occur when people assume that modern technology will solve all their their problems.

In this case, the digital tools only helped us to work faster than we had been able to in the past. It didn’t negate the need for excellent design skills, although many of my clients (co-workers) assumed that one automatically followed the other. From what I understand, this type of thinking also prevails in designing technology plans for use in schools and museums; people get so caught up in the gadgetry that they forget to ask what purpose it is supposed to serve. They also forget to ask (or don’t know to ask) what tools can technology replace. A technology plan helps to explain that.

National Educational Technology Plan 2010 as a Resource for Planning

This National Educational Technology Plan 2010 talks about these beliefs about technology at length. One of the issues mentioned in the report is that many educators still approach education from an old model, meaning that they “know” they need a certain number of textbooks, kids need to be in their seats a certain number of hours a day, and many don’t have any idea how to integrate technology into their lesson plans. They are often not aware that technology can replace some of the tools they’re using in their classrooms (like some textbooks) or make a process more streamlined and efficient like teaching digital tools in conjunction with other subjects.

The reading highlighted this at length; how technology is taught is often divorced from how it will be used. There are separate classes that instruct people about to use computers. Because these classes are separate from subjects like history, math, art, writing, or languages, the students taking these classes don’t immediately understand how they can use technology to enhance these experiences. Nor do they realize that there are ways to incorporate a little technology into each class so that after several years (if it takes that long), students have a whole basket of digital tools they can and will use automatically.

I kept this principle in mind as I was developing the curriculum for German 203, which is an intermediate German conversation class. The core of the class dealt with teaching students German using short German films. So in planning for how I would use technology for the class and by extension how I could teach my students to use technology within the context of German, I gave them two major assignments during the semester. They were to create two short films based upon literary topics we covered in class and based upon filmmaking techniques we discussed throughout the course of the semester.

I allowed them to use their smart phones to take the video, but they weren’t limited to that. Because we went over the language of film (types of shots, genres, production techniques, etc.) they were better prepared to make their films when the time came. They were also able to communicate their difficulties in making them with me. The whole class was taught in German, including the vocabulary related to filmmaking techniques. In this way, I was able to teach across the curriculum in a manner that acknowledge the subject of the class (German), but that also gave them some additional communication skills that will be useful later on.

Technology Plans and the Questions They Encourage

This type of technology and subject integration was a key component in the National Educational Technology Plan 2010 reportFor me, the report provided me with a wellspring of ideas that really stretched my thinking about technology usage far beyond where it is now and gave me ideas for how I could technology planning for my work as a writer and designer. For example, in the Learning: Engage and Empower section of the reading, I found this short blurb about a community project:

In 1995, when the Internet was just arriving in schools, students at Winona Middle School in Winona, Minn., began to use it to support and showcase a class project about local history and the changing demographics of their town. Students gathered information about their community by visiting local museums, searching texts, and interviewing local residents. They built a website to share their findings with one another and with their community. The website began to take on a life of its own, attracting the interest of community leaders, professional historians, and individuals living halfway around the world who found they were distant relatives of the town’s earliest immigrants. Students expanded the website to include the contributions of the wider community and built a searchable database of genealogical information and other artifacts.

Today, Winona’s Cultural History website continues to be a valuable resource for the school and its community, and students continue to interact with others in or outside their local area to evolve an ongoing knowledge base. One of the secrets of this project’s success is that it leverages very simple technology so that it can be sustained with minimal funding and maintenance.

This story in particular really piqued my interest, because one of my current writing clients has been involved with the Bosque Redondo Memorial in Fort Sumner. The memorial tells the story of the Native Americans in New Mexico, who were forced to give up their lands to white settlers and who were placed in internment camps at Fort Sumner. According to one person I’ve spoken to, the problem facing the construction of the monument is one of budget.

However, after looking at technology use planning and the leveraging of resources already in a community, I’m wondering how much of an inroad a person with a background in planning could make. I’m not convinced that all of the museum’s problems can only be solved with more money. In this case, it would be wonderful to incorporate a unit about the monument into the curriculum of the local schools from the history departments to the computer science departments to come up with much of what the monument needs in order to be completed. So the reading definitely had an important and lasting effect on the way that I look at my work and how technology use planning could be of use.

No Such Thing as a Five Year Technology Plan

One other important point that this lesson brought home for me was how to realistically plan for technology usage. In one of our readings Developing Effective Technology Plans by John See, he recommends that no one make a long-term technology plan, meaning that technology changes so much that it isn’t realistic to make a five year plan for example. Instead a year by year plan might be more realistic and would prevent organizations from spending money on technology that is obsolete by the time it’s installed.

I agree with this assessment. It’s a constant struggle for me to keep up with the newest innovations in technology. One of the ways that I cope with this is I try to look at the function of what I want the technology to do. So going back to my design example, when I first started doing page layouts for magazines and newspapers, the industry standard program (one of them anyway) was Adobe PageMaker. It’s obsolete now and has been replaced by InDesign. If I were making a technology use plan for a newspaper office 10 to 15 years ago, I might have included that program.

However, today I would not put that specific program into my technology plan. Instead, I would ask myself, “What function do I want this technology to perform?” This question allows me to get my technology needs met without committing to a program that will be obsolete in five years. I think any kind of technology use plan needs to really address of the role the technology will play.

Additionally, See also suggests that technology planners take a good look at who will be using the technology and to confer with them when they are coming up with a technology use plan. Doing this avoids redundancy. For example, I once had a boss who got a software disc from Kinkos, one of the vendors we were using at the time for some of our minor printing jobs. The purpose of the disc was to convert files to PDF. He would get irritated with me, because I refused to use the disc. It’s not that I thought it was a bad idea. It’s just that I already software—and better software at that—that would perform this function that I used regularly (and that he knew I used regularly). I didn’t need to learn an extra program or have it taking up space on my computer. It wasn’t necessary since I already had tools that did what I needed to do. A real understanding of technology use and leveraging resources would have helped him understand the uses of the technology we had in the office and on a personal level would have saved us from some of the friction that arose between us when we had conversations about technology that we needed for the office.

Outcomes of Past Experience with Technology Use Planning and Its Role in the Future

Throughout this post, I have given many examples of how I would or have incorporated technology use planning into my work as well as into educational environments such as my German class or in a museum setting. As many of my examples have pointed out, technology use plans save money; help a work or educational environment run more smoothly; alleviate technology redundancy; educate people about the role that technology will play in a particular organization; and equip people to use the technology that they have or point out weak points that need to be addressed. Taking these steps ensures that the people in a school or business will have a better grasp on the tools of technology, allowing the people in the organization to plan their work more realistically and efficiently.

This assignment aligns with the AECT Standard:

3.4 Policies and Regulations

Policies and regulations are the rules and actions of society (or its surrogates) that affect the diffusion and use of Instructional Technology.