Category Archives: Technology Policies and Leadership

Strengths of the Early MLTI Program – Let’s Keep Them Going

Maine's learning with technology initiative (MLTI) is going through changes this year:

  • The contract renewal framed it not as a Maine contract, but as a multi-state contract, in hopes of making it easier for other states to do their own statewide initiatives.
  • When our governor announced the new contract award, it wasn't for our 12-year partner, Apple, but rather for HP.
  • The governor is allowing districts to select from any of the 5 finalist (Apple is included).

I'm not sure how all these changes will play out. My hope is that Maine's educators will rise to he occasion and take MLTI to the next level. My fear is that this will eventually kill what has been an internationally recognized learning program.

But it has made me think back on MLTI and what we identified that made the early MLTI such a powerful initiative. I found a couple old articles that address that question:

What we identified then as the strengths of this initiative include:

  • Access to technology
  • A focus on learning
  • A focus on leadership
  • Context-embedded professional development
  • Technology as a tool, not a curriculum area
  • Thinking how technology can change/improve teaching and learning

I hope Maine's educators, including the DOE and MLTI staff, continue to place an emphasis on these areas, and, despite the changes to program, MLTI continues to be the strong impactful initiative we had 8-10 years ago.

 

Is the iPad a Viable Solution for the High School?

As districts are deciding which MLTI solution they would like to choose, there have been a lot of questions asked about if the iPad is a viable solution for high schools.

Note 1: I'm not trying to convince folks to choose iPads, but there have not been the same kinds of questions about viability for the HP laptop or the MacBook Air, so I am simply trying to address the question at hand.

Note 2: For folks outside of Maine, MLTI is primarily focused on 7th & 8th grade (the State pays for those two grades), but districts can buy into MLTI for other grade levels at their own cost, most commonly at the high school level.

Two high schools, recognized for their 1to1 iPad initiatives, would seem to be evidence the iPad is a viable device for high school:

 

What We Want from Technology – MLTI, Customized Learning, and School Vision

There have been many discussions around Maine since the Governor announced schools would have choice over which solution they select for MLTI for the next four years. But most of those conversations have focused on the device, or its capabilities, or why it is “my preferred device,” or why people are worried that the device they aren't that familiar with will not be sufficient for the task at hand…

I wish so much more of those conversations had instead been about school visions for learning, and what we hope to get from technology for learning. What role can technology play in learning? What is your school's or district's vision (ours is here), and what is the role of technology in fulfilling that vision?

And for Auburn, as I would guess for other districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, we are concerned about technology's role in helping us succeed with implementing Customized Learning (such a critical part of our vision).

Here is what we think the roles for technology are for learning, especially for Customized Learning:

  • Instructional Resources for Building Foundational Knowledge
  • Instructional Resources for Using Knowledge, Creating, Complex Reasoning, and Projects
  • Learning Progress Management
  • Supporting Independent Learning
  • Assessment
  • Home School Connection
  • Student Motivation

How are you currently using technology for each of these? What are teachers doing (maybe in your district, but maybe in another) that shows you exciting ways technology could be used for each of these? What is best technology practice for each of these roles?

But much more importantly, as Maine's districts think about selecting a solution for MLTI, how does each proposed solution measure up against each of these roles for technology?

You don't have to be interested in Customized Learning to be interested in these roles. But I don't beleive a school can make a satisfactory decision about which solution to select if they are only thinking about the device or the operating system…

 

What Did Auburn Choose for MLTI and Why?

Auburn chose the Apple Primary Solution (iPads for students; MacBook Airs and iPad Minis for teachers) for MLTI.

Here is a two-page FAQ document we prepared for our teachers and community. Among other things, it explains our rationale for making this choice.

(Again, we aren't asking anyone to choose what we choose, but rather we're trying to share about our process and how we chose.)

 

Schools Have MLTI Choice, But Compare the Solutions!

When Maine's Governor announced that he was awarding HP the contract for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), and not to Apple (who had been Maine's partner in MLTI for the last 12 years), he also told schools that they could choose from any of the 5 finalist proposals. Schools had flexibility to decide which solution matched their needs best.

But many of the discussions that have followed seem to have focused almost exclusively on the device (mostly the HP laptop, the MacBook Air, and the iPad). I think because of the focus on devices (and the passion techies have for their devices!), the conversations seem to have bordered on “Platform Wars” at times (with the vim and vigor that all religious wars have!)

But MLTI was never supposed to be about platform, nor the specific device, and not even “job skills.” It was always supposed to be about tools for learning. And I wish schools would discuss learning tools more, and less about device, OS, and job preparedness.

Not even the proposals are about the device. The device (laptop or tablet) is only one component of a whole solution: device, network, software, tech support, projection, professional development, etc. (Supposedly, in support of learning…)

So I'm hoping that schools are looking hard at their school visions for learning, thinking about technology supporting teaching and learning, but also doing a side by side comparison of the solutions as they work to make their decisions.

Any of you who are involved with Customized Learning may have participated in the Complex Reasoning training. In that training, we learned that Decision Making happens effectively when you identify criteria, rate the possible choices against those criteria, and then choose based on the ratings and analysis.

I encourage each of us, as we think about what direction we are going to go, to think not primarily about our preferred OS or device, or “job prep,” but rather about comparing the full solutions:

  • How does the PD compare? (And is it focused on teaching and learning, or on the device and the software? Does it focus on leadership for implementing 1to1 and for school change?)
  • How does the software compare? Is it just productivity tools or is it a good set of software for teaching and learning (including productivity tools)?
  • How much technical support can we expect? Repairs? Imaging? Set up?
  • What about data storage? How much? How easy? What happens after the contract?
  • What about the device? Appropriate for student use? Battery life? Quality of network? How well does their projection solution work, not just for teachers, but for kids?
  • What is the provider's experience with education? (Not simply providing tech, but in helping schools use their tech for teaching and learning – how well do they understand teachers' context?)

Auburn has a good idea of what choice we are selecting, but I'm not arguing that you choose what we choose. I am arguing that you look closely at comparing the 5 solutions against all these criteria. If you and your decision makers do that, and you choose something different that we did, that's great! At least you compared all elements of the solution.

I would just be disappointed if you chose based on “one criterion” (e.g. OS, favorite platform, or “it's the device I use”) or used criteria that don't match the vision and purpose of MLTI (e.g. used “job prep” instead of “learning tool” for your purpose), even if you end up making the same choice we do.

The State has provided a side by side comparison document (available here).

You don't have to use the point scores from the Review.

Do your own rating, but compare the solutions against all those criteria.

 

Maine Announces State Technology Contract Award – But Not Apple (Kind Of)

We're in the middle of (a contentious) budget season, and I haven't been able to blog as much as I would like lately…

But things took an interesting turn last Saturday, and even though I still really don't have time to blog, I need to get some of this out there…

Saturday, Gov. LePage announced that the MLTI contract would go to HP, not Apple. Apple has been the state's partner in MLTI, Maine's learning with laptop initiative, for the last 12 years.

This was a shock to Maine's educators, because the RFP Evaluation Team had identified 5 finalists and the HP solution had an RFP evaluation rating almost 14 points lower than the top proposal, coming in 4th, and costing almost $20 more per seat than the highest rated solution…

The Governor stated that it was the least expensive solution, but his spokesperson clarified later that he meant to say “least expensive laptop solution.” Also, he made his belief clear that a Windows-based laptop was the best choice for preparing students for work (despite the fact that MLTI is supposed to be a learning initiative, not a job training program).

The really interesting thing, however, is that the Governor also said that districts could choose from any of the 5 finalist proposals, but (for 7th and 8th grade, that the State pays for) would only cover the cost up to what the State would pay for the HP solution. If a school chose a more expensive solution, then they would have to pay the cost difference. (Auburn is likely to choose the iPad solution, the “Apple (Primary)” proposal, which costs less than the HP solution.)

Schools can also buy into MLTI for non-middle grades (high school and elementary school) at their own cost.

There are still lots of questions and lots of concerns, and I'm going to try to blog about some of them over the next day or two…

But in the meantime, here are some resources:

 

Keeping Track of Student Learning in Customized Learning – Part 1

One of the reasons you put so much care into how you organize and articulate the student curriculum in Customized Learning, is because instead of tracking which courses a student has taken, schools track which learning targets and measurement topics students have mastered. The challenge, of course, with tracking courses, instead of mastery of content, is that the same curriculum may or may not be addressed in any two courses with the same name. Further, there is no guarantee that any two students in the same course (perhaps even the same section) have learned the same material. At best, tracking courses tracks what teachers “cover,” not what students learn.

But tracking courses taken and passed is much simpler than tracking student learning! Tracking what all your students have learned (and evidence of that mastery!) for all those learning targets is no trivial endeavor! With students working at different paces and awarding students “credit” based on what they demonstrate they know and can do (rather than by seat time or courses they have completed), educators need an efficient way to monitor and record student progress.

Schools that have been focused on personalized, standards-based, competency-based learning for a decade or longer started with paper-based systems of keeping track of student learning.

The Chugach School District in Alaska, won the Baldridge Award for their continuous improvement and Total Quality Management approach to improving learning in their district. They accomplished this by becoming a standards-based, rather than course-based system. At one point, they used (among other paper-based tools) a Student Assessment Binder (SAB), a tool the student and teacher used to monitor progress, store past assessments, and keep sample work. These were maintained on a weekly basis and were never out of the student's sight. I remember seeing pictures of students carrying around a 5″ binder as their evidence of learning!

The Minnesota New Country School is a public charter school where students earn credit by designing and implementing (with teacher support and guidance) standards-based projects. MNCS was recognized by the US Department of Education in 2006 for their work with parents and the community, and success with students who, in other contexts, tend to fall through the cracks. A 2003 profile of the school included links to some of the forms they used at the time (sorry, some of the links are no longer active), and a video of the work at the school included glimpses of those project proposal and learning tracking forms.

But online tools have made tracking student learning much easier. (I cannot imagine doing this work without a computer-based management system!!) The Chugach schools changed to an online system in 2002. The Minnesota New Country School now uses Project Foundry.

Part 2 of this post will focus what kinds of functions and features educators should look for in a learning progress management system.