Tag Archives: Commissioner Bowen

Keep the MLTI RFP Focused on Maine: Talking Points

As with other issues around the new MLTI RFP, I have had good exchanges with folks since I wrote about my worries about the new RFP having an option for other states to buy off of the terms of our contract. Some of you have asked what you might say to the Commissioner, if you wanted to express that you felt similarly.

Based on my experience working both in the private sector and the public sector, and on discussions with business people about this possibility, here are my talking points:

  • The possibility that the price would be lower because the vendor could sell more units is unlikely. A vendor is more likely to give an attractive price to a single showcase initiative.
  • Our RFP should be based on the changes in learning Maine would like to see. This doesn't apply to other states.
  • Even if other states are allowed to buy using our terms, the vendor has to do a separate contract with each state. The legal hassles of this mean that vendors will choose not to submit proposals to Maine.
  • If you take a second to imagine a vendor that you would like to see submit a proposal, there is a very good chance that they will not.
  • Please, make it clear in the RFP that submitted proposals will only apply to Maine.


Keep the MLTI RFP focused on Learning: Talking Points

I have had some great conversations and email exchanges with many of you since posting my concerns about keeping the new MLTI RFP focused on learning. Some of you have asked if you wanted to reach our to the Commissioner to express similar views, what might you say?

Here are my talking points:

  • Instead of tech specs, the RFP should describe what we would like to do with the devices (what is the change in learning that we would like to see?)
  • Technology is expensive, and we should not invest in it if we are simply going to use it to do what we do without it (what is the change in learning that we would like to see?)
  • Looking at the work in Maine, perhaps that change in learning should be Customized Learning and the Education Evolving recommendations
  • In keeping with the components of Customized Learning, the learning activities described should include both those for low level learning and for high level learning.
  • Low level activities (recall, understanding, simple application) could include the following: access to online resources, information gathering, note taking, communicating, studying, accessing online educational tools, etc.
  • High level activities (non-routine application, analysis, evaluation, creating) could include the following: creating simulations, project-based with multimedia, coding and programming, writing for a purpose and audience, digital storytelling, engineering and design, etc.


MLTI: What Change in Learning Would You Like to See?

I think one of things that MLTI, the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, did well, right out of the gate, was to say it isn't a “tech buy,” but rather a learning initiative. I think this one point is a major reason why the first (and still only) statewide learning with laptop initiative did so well and is more than a decade old. Even the first RFP to prospective vendors focused on what we wanted to do with the technology, rather than tech specs.

And the focus on learning was especially evident in our professional development.

Our PD focused on project-based learning, and the writing process, and mathematical problem solving, etc. We focused on how to teach with technology, not so much on how to use it. And when we did focus on how to use it, it was in the context of how to teach with that tool. We didn't do workshops on how to use a spreadsheet; we did workshops on how to analyze data and the participants left also knowing how to do spreadsheets.

But I've grown concerned that MLTI may be moving away from that focus on learning. To listen to conversations about the initiative, they seem to focus much more on the “stuff” (comparing devices, network and filtering solutions, and discussing software fixes and specifications…) than on teaching and learning. I am not saying that I've heard that from Jeff Mao, Maine's Tech Director, or the DOE, as much from out in the general public. But even so, it has me worried a little…

I think one of the tricks of keeping a mature initiative going is to reflect on what made it great in the first place, and make sure that we keep those pieces fresh, even if they may have gotten a little stale and need refreshing. That's not to say that the MLTI team isn't doing their job. Every initiative needs freshening up when things have been routine for a while!

Right now, the MLTI contract is getting ready to run out and the Department of Education is working to craft a new RFP. What better (and perhaps more appropriate!) time to freshen up an initiative than when designing that initiative's RFP.

So I recently had conversations with both Commissioner of Education Bowen and Jeff Mao, asking them to please consider framing the new MLTI RFP around the change in learning they would like to see in our classrooms. This post reflects some of what I shared with them, first in my phone conversations, and then in a follow up email.

So, I'm hoping that MLTI is still committed to being a “learning initiative” and not a “tech buy.” And if it is, I'm hoping that the RFP can be crafted in such a way that this is evident.

And if so, then what is the change in learning that the Commissioner and the MLTI team are hoping will come about by leveraging the technology? Is it Customized Learning? What would Education Evolving, Maine's new education strategic plan, look like in action and how could technology help bring about? Is it the practices highlighted in the DOE's new Center for Best Practices? What are we hoping students would be doing each day, both on and off their devices, that we would recognize is a change in learning?

Or as I say in presentations, if we're just going to use technology to do what we're already doing, why put the money into technology?

I'm hoping that the Commisioner and the MLTI team will consider framing the RFP in such a way as to make obvious that we are looking for a change in learning, and allow the responding vendors to propose the technical solutions that they think can help get us there.

So, if you think that MLTI should be more than a tech buy, please contact the Commissioner of Education (624-6620; commish.doe@maine.gov) and state Tech Director (624-6634; jeff.mao@maine.gov) to encourage them to frame the RFP around desired changes in learning.



Auburn’s Messages About Learning with Technology for Commissioner Bowen

Commissioner Bowen Visits Auburn Schools

This morning, Maine Education Commissioner Steve Bowen spent an hour at Auburn’s Fairview Elementary School.

We had been wanting Commissioner Bowen to see how Auburn’s schools are leveraging technology for learning. Although the brevity of his visit precluded having him go to the middle school or the high school, we did get him to one of our elementary schools.

The Commissioner was able to visit Kelly McCarthy’s kindergarten classroom to experience Advantage 2014, our literacy and math program with iPads. Next, he visited Stephanie Marris’s 6th grade to see project-based learning with laptops in action (in this case, working on filming and editing plays students were creating and performing).

The Auburn team had three key messages for Commissioner Bowen about teaching and learning with technology.

Teachers Need to Get Out of the Way
Teachers are used to being the experts and passing their knowledge on to students. This sometimes leads to teachers feeling uncomfortable when they aren’t the expert. In many cases, however, students are more comfortable with technology than their teachers are. Teachers need to get out of the way of their students when it comes to technology. They need to see what the students can teach them, and allow students to pursue ways to use the technology for learning that the teachers themselves might not know how to do. This can be especially true for teachers in grade levels starting an initiative while inheriting students who have already been in it for a year or more (as it was for 8th grade teachers in the second year of MLTI a decade ago, and will be for Auburn’s 1st Grade teachers this coming year).

Teachers Can Teach More
When teachers are intentional in their planning, and are selecting apps and activities that both match the curriculum and engage students, the students can be more self directed, receive more immediate feedback, and spend more time on task. This allows teachers to give more students individualized attention, as well as give each student what they need academically when they need it. More teaching gets done!

It Takes Deliberate Leadership
Successfully leveraging technology for learning doesn’t just happen. Kids don’t learn better just because we passed out laptops or tables. It takes planning, and team work, and communication, and positive pressure and support, and lots and lots of PD and support for teachers. It takes leadership with school change in mind.