Conflicting priorities

Students, teachers, the state, my boss...Everyone wants a piece of the new technology we're bringing into our school. Can we have our cake and eat it, too?
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

My Christmas gift this year was supposed to be a big chunk of money to jumpstart lifecycle funding at our high school. I wasn't surprised when the initial number shrank by $10k, then another $10k. Obviously, there are lots of competing interests in a small, economically depressed town. I started to get a little worried, though, when my budget was cut in half. Given that the influx of cash was designed to abate the wrath of accrediting bodies and make some real changes in the way we use technology in our district, I was definitely a bit distressed.

Fortunately, leases came to the rescue and I think I've just about managed to secure my Christmas present at a fraction of the initial cost. This may have actually been a blessing in disguise since the leases represent a long-term commitment to keeping up-to-date technology in our students' hands, rather than a one-time bandaid. However, as I looked for ways to squeeze the budget, I had to make some pretty difficult choices relating to programs and curricula that were funded.

While I managed to salvage all of the hardware needs, software can't usually be leased.  Thus, did I choose the engineering suite for a set of elective classes (that can only be taught with the software) or the mathematics software?  Obviously, we can teach math without the software.  Maple, Minitab, and Geometer's Sketchpad (among countless other bits of math goodness) all help students visualize, explore, and extend their mathematics skills, but we've obviously been teaching math softwareless for the last couple of millennia.    

Of course, we have the state and our accrediting agencies telling us that we not only need to integrate technology into the curriculum more thoroughly (as with the math), but also offer more technology-centric courses (as with the CAD, design, and architecture courses/software).  Any way it goes, we're under pressure to bring technology to our students in the same way that surrounding districts do and in the ways outlined by our state standards.

From an IT perspective, I want to see a new high-end computer lab humming every period of the day, fully utilized by whatever classes are scheduled into it. Better yet, two department heads are now wrangling over this lab, one of whom also happens to be my boss.  So who wins?  Some open source options are becoming available, but certainly aren't as mature as the commercial solutions currently available.  No cost savings there.

As it turns out, I spent a lot of time speaking with both departments and determining their real course-related requirements.  The math department was ready curriculum-wise to begin using one piece of software but would not have curricula ready until next fall for other components.  Our move away from block scheduling also necessitates the creation of new electives.  Thus, requirements gathering to the rescue, we were able to move line items in the next fiscal year to accommodate a phased rollout of the new software.

Unfortunately, this is only one example of conflicting priorities.  Technology is, as I have always maintained, an outstanding tool and I really enjoy using it in the classroom.  So do our students.  However, decisions on the best way to incorporate it into our curricula need to be based on user requirements, rather than departmental politics and legislative whims. 

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