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; firstname.lastname@example.org) and state Tech Director (624-6634; email@example.com) to encourage them to frame the RFP around desired changes in learning.