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Keys to managing a statewide technology innovation program.

The Freedom to Learn program is a statewide change agent designed to foster improvements, especially at high-need, high-priority schools. Originally, the idea of every Michigan sixth-grader (132,000 students) participating in the program was daunting. Due to funding shortfalls, we ended up with 20,000 students and more than 1,000 teachers from 180 school buildings in 90 school districts. This scale is less challenging but requires special attention to key practical, policy, and management practices and principles.

The basis for managing the program starts with understanding certain premises about educational technology and large-scale program management. These assertions are dynamic and different for each stakeholder and participant. Following are four key principles that provide the foundation for the FTL program. Each is briefly discussed in conjunction with key management implications.

Premise 1: 1-to-1 access to educational technology will become ubiquitous in K-12 schools over the next 15 years.

Management implications: Accept this kind of a program as a fire-starter --it's an infusion; an intervention. Make it worthwhile by finding the innovators and allowing schools to be the leaders. Help schools find innovative ways to pay for technology. Also, make sure to create competition and laud your schools' success. By doing this, others will want to follow, while parents and the community will not let you return to previous ways.

Premise 2: 1-to-1 learning will change education systems.

Management implications: Change is uncomfortable; expect detractors. Understand that not all schools--including their teachers, parents, students or administrators--will like the program or accept it. Education technology is still often viewed as an unjustified expense, and not part of the system. Yet, nearly every adult worker uses technology daily in his or her job. Let's take away an adult's computer at work and see his or her response.

Orchestrating a change management system requires special attention to partnerships. Without invested stakeholders, this kind of program will never succeed. To start, you have to have support from the top. Former Speaker of the House Rick Johnson and Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan have provided the public leadership and advocacy essential to the existence of the FTL program. Each has a slightly different slant on the program, but both are champions in their own right. Keeping our state leaders informed and supportive is also critical. We accomplish this through an Executive Team.

As the FTL program moved into the planning and implementation phases, partnerships became essential. Our schools, districts, education associations and organizations are invited to play key roles in the design, growth and delivery of professional development. If you do not involve the key educators, don't expect to receive their participation or support for the program. In addition, vendors may want to be partners--such as in HP's case--but establish criteria and protocols as the basis for vendor selection.

Premise 3: Every school is unique and special, but all schools face similar issues (in different shapes and sizes).

Management implications: Every school is facing tremendous performance and financial pressures from state, federal and local constituents. Therefore, a program like FTL needs to be part of the solution. Thanks to the Michigan Department of Education, our FTL program provides substantial professional development opportunities to support its planning and implementation. We help each school determine how to best implement FTL based upon their curricular and programmatic needs. We do this in several ways:

* We sponsor a Lead Teacher at each of the 180 buildings to serve as a contact and mentor for the program. Lead Teachers are provided with special training to be mentors to other teachers in their buildings and to help provide statewide professional development. They are the school's cornerstone for implementing classroom-level assessment.

* We also established a team of Super-Coaches across the state. These SuperCoaches receive training in research-based technology/instruction integration methodology. Through a train-the-trainer model, SuperCoaches deliver professional development in this area to FTL Lead Teachers. Thus, educators are accepting teaching from their peers.

* We require all teachers and administrators to attend an FTL orientation session to ensure that all program participants are familiar with the context and components of the program.

* Our FTL demonstration sites (the sites that piloted FTL in 2003) were provided with resources to mentor new FTL schools.

* We are developing a Site Advisor program in which a team of educators will visit each FTL school to assess the progress in FTL implementation, as well as to identify specific professional development gaps and needs.

* All FTL teachers and administrators are given a Web portal that they can use to communicate with the FTL program administrators, as well as with each other to share lessons learned and best practices.

Premise 4: Large-scale initiatives do not run on their own and won't run forever.

Every program requires ongoing, rigorous attention to at least five elements:

1. Good planning--solid vision, goals and objectives

2. Good management (using project/ program management techniques)

3. Good communications

4. Good evaluation

5. Good staff

FTL is fortunate to have an excellent internal staff and external partners to lead the initiative. We manage the program like a business--with a charter that includes deliverables, timelines, budgets and risks. To this extent, our Program Team serves in a coordinating role (in concert with our Michigan Department of Education), paying close attention to the needs, concerns and activities of our three primary constituents: schools, the state and vendors (primarily HP). It is somewhat akin to navigating a fleet in which the ships are not all moving in the same direction or at the same speed, or often with the same intent. Yet, coordinating the program works surprisingly well when business practices are applied.

In closing, when I mention that FTL is a fire-starter, I don't want to leave the impression that other schools are not doing great things with educational technology. But the strength of FTL is its 1-to-1 learning approach. Equipping every teacher and every student in a school with a laptop will inevitably change previously accepted forms of teaching and learning. Frankly, this means more work at the outset for all school personnel, especially teachers. And consequently, not all schools are ready to experience this kind of change.

Fortunately, 180 buildings are now ready or at least have stepped up to the plate in Michigan, many being high-need and high-priority schools. They are experiencing the challenges of a 1-to-1 learning environment and have already started seeing the advantages in terms of student academic engagement. Therefore, it's inevitable that other schools will follow.

The Knowledge Age requires technology in the hands of learners for reasons that should be familiar to all (e.g., communication, research, assessment and feedback). But the paradigm shift is so great that in Michigan we are approaching our change in a coordinated, sequential manner. From the articles in this special supplement, you can sense the enthusiasm and power of our pioneers. For them, the timeline for the ubiquitous adoption of a 1-to-1 learning environment is shorter than 15 years--in fact it is here now.

Author's note: Others in Michigan and beyond have been early fire-starters. We recognize the state of Maine and Walled Lake Consolidated Schools in Michigan for their leadership, guidance and perseverance.

Bruce Montgomery has been directing the Freedom to Learn program since its inception in 2002. He has been a vice president at Michigan Virtual University; CEO of the Michigan Virtual Automotive College, dean of the University Center at Northwestern Michigan College," and associate director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. Montgomery has also hem teaching and research positions at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. His Ph.D. is in educational administration from Michigan State University.

The Importance of 21st Century Tools

In order for students to be prepared to live and work in the 21st century, it is clear that they must use 21st century tools. Teaching and learning is being transformed as a result of these I-to-I wireless environments. Research is clear on this, and so is the perspective of teachers in the Freedom to Learn program.

Ross, Lowther and Morrison, university researchers who conduct studies of 1-to-1 laptop education programs across the country, pointed this out in an article from 2003:

"An advantage of laptops is that when they are brought to class, a student-to-computer ratio of 1-to-1 can be achieved.... Study findings showed that teaching was noticeably different in laptop compared to control classes. Statistically significant effects favored laptop classes (with effect sizes >+0.59) on using more student-centered instructional strategies. Examinations of specific technology use also favored the laptop students over the controls; for example, better computer skills and more extensive use of computer applications for research, production, writing and design."

At Bear Lake Middle School, Sarah Harless and Amanda Harthun-Reed have led the FTL program implementation. They note the importance of a 1-to-1 environment:

"Technology has become more integrated into our daily lives as adults; our students have no concept of life without technology. In bridging the generation gap, it is essential that we have these technological devices at our fingertips as we are not preparing students for our past, but for their future. The laptops have had profound impacts on our teaching styles, our students and their learning."
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Title Annotation:1-to-1 Computing
Author:Montgomery, Bruce
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2005
Words:1528
Previous Article:Looking at the freedom to learn program through different lenses.
Next Article:Rick Johnson: a speaker and doer for technology, teaching and learning.
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