In June 2008, Las Virgenes Unified School District determined that it needed a comprehensive Technology Strategy. Primarily funded by the Las Virgenes Educational Foundation, combined with donated services, this project is now complete.
The process included hundreds of hours of interviews with teachers, staff, administrators, parents, students and community members. Unlike most reports the District receives, the goal and methodology of the project was to assist the District in creating a strategy, rather than just make recommendations.
The result is a 198-page document giving the background, status, and strategy that is now available for viewing. The Board of Education has scheduled a Study Session for October 14th at 4pm to review the document.
The 5 main points of the strategy are outlined in the executive summary below.
If you are interested in what LVUSD can do with technology district wide, from operations all the way through to the classroom, you are invited to read this document, ask questions, discuss, and even attend in the Board Study Session on October 14th.
Disclaimer: Neil Ticktin, Founder of Westlake Revelations, lead the creation of this document. The project work was performed by Xplain Corporation, owned by Ticktin and partner, Andrea Sniderman.
The full document is at:
The Executive Summary is here below for your convenience.
Las Virgenes Unified School District?s leadership and Board of Education have clearly identified that technology needs to be thoroughly integrated into students? education, the District?s operations, and that the technology needs to engage the community at large. With that in mind, the District asked Xplain Corp. to help the District create a new Technology Strategy to guide the District over the next few years.
First, it?s important to recognize that while there are a variety of specific constructive comments in this analysis and recommendations to do certain things differently, this is the identification of issues, not criticisms. The District has done a solid job to date, especially when resource constraints are taken into consideration (including implementing some of the 2007 FCMAT report recommendations). There have been some significant successes, including the rollout of teacher laptop systems (aka ?Elmos?) and a new web site platform that is already showing strong use. While there are always mistakes, the District has made a number of very important, very correct decisions in moving forward with technology. Included in these decisions is when, in Spring 2008, the District?s leadership recognized, and acted, to fill the need for a new strategy and plan to move forward. Hence, this project.
Looking Back to Look Forward
Over the years, the District has had committees and consultants create strategies, recommendations and plans. In nearly all cases, at least some of each were implemented and some projects have enjoyed great success (such as the aforementioned ?Elmo? setups, and teacher use of the new web sites).
The District?s Technology Committee developed 7 goals (see full text later in this document) that can be summarized as:
- All students will be personally proficient with technology tools.
- All teachers and support staff will be personally proficient with technology tools.
- Site administrators will model proficiency and help staff integrate technology into curriculum.
- Parents, and community will partner with the District in supporting the Districts technology vision.
- Each school site will have a diverse technology committee that develops and implements an annual technology plan.
- The District will have a system for providing funds for infusion of technology.
- A rubrics-based method for measuring the effectiveness of the District technology plan.
This strategy was created 14 years ago (1995). While some of these have seen minor progress, only the 6th point has been substantially implemented (through Measure G) to date. Other strategies and plans have had similar results, and these experiences give LVUSD the advantage of understanding what can work, and what has not, with historical perspective.
And, while some of the toughest and most costly items have been implemented (e.g., laptops to almost all the teachers, high speed Internet connectivity, etc.), the District?s ?traditional? organizational structure is dated and causes communication issues and lacks modern collaboration tools.
Main Strategy Points
A new strategy needs to understand the successes of the past, as well as why prior goals were difficult or impossible to meet. This document journals the collective knowledge resulting from hundreds of hours of interviews with District staff, teachers, parents and students, alongside research into best practices resulting in a comprehensive strategy proposal for LVUSD. With that in mind, there are five main strategic points that are tightly integrated and reliant upon one another for a new LVUSD Technology Strategy.
- CTO: Without touching any General funds, using technology-only funding sources that cannot be used elsewhere, the District needs a Chief Media and Technology Officer (aka CTO) reporting directly to the Superintendent, and be a member of the District?s ?cabinet?. This position would manage a newly created department called Media and Technology to bring the District?s organizational structure into the Information Age.
- wiki: This is the principle tool to grow a district-wide knowledgebase (collective knowledge and information source), create an accessible entry point, and to use for collaboration between teachers, students, staff, parents and community. This is the key technology platform for much of the strategy.
- Optimize MIS: To optimize support and technology management resources, get the technology foundation updated with modern network management and monitoring tools.
- Media Centers: Transition the libraries into Media Centers to focus on all types of media: books, audio/video, web, and become a natural focal point of technology. The goal for Media Specialists would be to help educate not only students, but also teachers, providing a quality platform to develop information skills.
- Engaged Learning: Prepare District resources, organization and staff to allow for ?engaged learning? with teacher roles in the classroom able to move more fluidly from the role of ?information giver? to that of ?facilitator, guide and learner.?
The technology strategy defined here is fully integrated with balance and leverages off of itself throughout. Where past results have been primarily incremental, this comprehensive approach is designed not as a ?cafeteria plan? which bits and pieces can be chosen from, but instead as a unified, consistent approach to using technology to affect significant benefits as quickly as possible.
While some portions of the plan have costs, they can be paid for through an updated and optimized ?4 Cities? grant budget that can only be used to support technology. Most, if not all, of the other items have little or no cost beyond the staffing and resources already in place.
The strategy is designed to benefit LVUSD in a variety of ways that directly or indirectly are intended to improve learning, engagement, and student preparation. These start with the underlying organization.
LVUSD is structured much as any organization (companies, government, etc?) would have been in the 1970?s or earlier. This ?traditional? structure is the leading cause of disjointed technology efforts. As a result, technology is generally ?bolted on,? instead of ?integrated into? education, communication, and operations. This is common among K12 public education, which often lags a decade behind the private sector when it comes to true technology usage and integration.
The creation of a new department is primarily implemented by bringing the positions from different parts of the organization that implement technology. The CTO would act as the District?s chief technologist continually on the lookout for ways to serve the LVUSD organization, students and parents.
While LVUSD has made enormous strides in technology, this explosive growth has happened without the District having the proper network and post-deployment management systems in place. A simple example of this is when the District did not implement some of the key elements of the March, 2007 FCMAT Technology Review. Much of the most expensive portions of outfitting the District are complete, but there is still significant work to do.
This means that while the District is close to having a proper ?foundation? or ?infrastructure,? it needs significant (but not expensive) changes in order to ensure the necessary stability while further growing technology to serve the District. These changes also ensure optimized use of support staff.
In an analogy, imagine flying an airplane or driving a car without instrumentation, or a dashboard of gauges to tell you how fast you?re going. What would happen if anything went wrong or how would you know you needed fuel? The District needs proper ?instrumentation? to run the network, just as a driver needs a dashboard for a car.
More Effective Spending
The District, like many in California, is suffering huge budget cuts. Technology, however, can provide two opportunities: cost efficiencies and revenue generation. While LVUSD is not likely to be able to find direct cost savings through technology, efficiencies will allow the District to not only do a better job, but also spent money more effectively. One example is that a course that normally would not be able to be offered because of too few students at a single campus, may be offered as an online course to multiple sites within the District. Another is through more time available to lower purchase costs.
On the revenue side, there are a number of possible ways that LVUSD can use technology to create revenue generation opportunities. While there are no guarantees that the District can generate revenue from technology, these opportunities show real promise and have already been implemented by other districts and organizations.
Possibilities include creating and packaging online courses, and technology offerings to other Districts. LVUSD may even be able to offer up courses to other Districts at a rate that would be less than offering the course in a traditional way. In addition, the District may be able to offer enrichment classes, vocational training, hobby training or even adult education classes that could actually not only serve the community better, but also generate tangible revenue. At this point in time, the education community is far enough behind that, if LVUSD acts quickly, the District can lead in this area.
Under most circumstances, these types of revenue streams would take 4 or more years to develop. But, if the District hires a CTO, makes revenue generation a priority for that position, and uses a rapid development cycle approach for developing and experimenting with classes, this may be done in as few as 3 years. If this happens, the District may be able to not only have technology be self-funding, but also help the general-fund budget as well.
While it is important to have proper management of technology, as well as the right organizational structure, the true importance of technology is the impact on the students, staff and community. In executing this plan, there are a variety of visibly beneficial projects that the District is capable of executing. Here are a few of those projects that are within near term reach. More details on each later.
LVUSD Wiki: The District Knowledgebase and Entry Point
The strategy includes the LVUSD wiki that is a simple tool to store freeform information and collaborate among large groups of people. The LVUSD wiki would include both private (for staff and teachers) and public sections (available to everyone). The wiki would be set up with proven technologies that ensure appropriate security and tracking for entries and edits made by anyone. Quality of entries could easily be indicated to avoid use of poor quality information.
The private wiki would be a simple, but powerful, collaboration tool to allow for teachers to best share lesson plans, test questions, and teaching concepts not only within a school, but across the District. The private wiki would also serve as the repository for resources to help teachers and staff with their positions, or to find out operational information in a consistent way.
The wiki?s public side would be used by teachers and staff as well as the students, parents, and community to provide learning and help resources. It would also give students a platform for collaboration that could extend across classes, grades, schools or even the District. And, it would give parents a centralized point to find information that applies district wide and not school specific on a wide variety of topics.
The collaboration tools in a wiki are tried and true methods used not only by large organizations like the U.S. Army and the U.S. State Department, but also schools throughout the country, universities, and corporate environments.
In the end, the LVUSD wiki would not only be a place to go for answers to any question, for staff, students, and parents, but it would also be the primary collaborative tool for everyone in the District.
One of the greatest benefits of technology is to reach out to the parents and engage them in their child?s education. This may mean information about assignments or class info. Or, it could mean access to the Student Information System (Aeries) with up-to-date information on assignment and test grades. Once the connection is made, there are a number of possibilities that are low effort, but engaging.
And, with the proper platform in place, parents could benefit and engage more easily through not only real time gradebooks in Aeries, but also proactive monitoring such as alerts to poor grades, missing assignments and more.
Transparency and Communication
The single greatest feature of technology is the ability to communicate. With a variety of entry points, from email, to the school web sites, to the District wiki, LVUSD will be set up for an entirely new level of communication. And with communication comes transparency, which benefits all.
Online discussion areas, wiki entries, collaborative information are all modern tools used by even the most control driven organizations. Apple Inc. is a good example. The key to success with open discussion tools is for the highest levels of the organization to encourage and embrace it. And, most successful organizations have created an environment where even when misuse happens, the community moderators and other users bring things back into line.
Student Pages, Integrated Information
In Summer 2010, the school web sites will get student pages which can be used for students to communicate about themselves (to the extent parents chose). These pages could ultimately have information drawn from each teacher page, as well as the media center, cafeteria, and more. It would become the ?dashboard? for a student within the District.
Naviance and Registration
The District has begun to implement with Naviance (college information, planning and counseling tool), and some levels of online class registration. It is realistic for the District to fully implement Naviance and online registration for all sites by the 2010-11 school year.
Teacher Skills and Training
Through technology based learning, combined with traditional training, the District can help its staff and teachers with additional training resources to build technology skills. The District can use ?bite sized? one-to-many resources that will be of particular help when it?s most convenient for teachers and staff (as well as students and parents) to learn.
Technology can be used to directly increase student achievement through RTI, more targeted learning, engaged learning, and collaborative project based learning. Furthermore, technology use enhances learning on its own. A recent Stanford study indicates that society is in the midst of a ?literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization.? Technology, primarily through ?life writing? (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) is causing people to write more than ever before.
Organizational changes, such as the ones described above, including a technology leader whose sole purpose is to make technology serve the classroom, organization, and community, are key to ensuring that the District can successfully benefit by technology growth. Such measures are also important in order to maximize the resources of both the Measure G funds for technology and the ?Four Cities? technology support funds, and to maintain the visible momentum built in the past 2-3 years.
There are a wide variety of additional strategies, tactics and directions that the District needs to implement which are described within this document, but without implementation of the five critical items above, they will either be difficult/impossible to implement, or will have limited success.
In addition, the District should move from a traditional style of 3-year and 5-year planning to one that both employs a longer term strategy for platforms, while at the same time embracing regular and consistent change. In other words, in addition to longer term platform planning, every year should include both current implementation as well as planning for the next year.