Tag Archives: MLTI

MLTI: How Will a Multi-state RFP Help Us?

Maine is nearly ready to enter a new contract cycle for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, and is currently working to craft a new request for proposals from vendors.

The DOE is considering exercising an organizational agreement that would allow other states to buy-in to the terms of our contract.

I recently shared my concerns about this possibility with both Commissioner Bowen and state Tech Director Jeff Mao, and asked them to please consider NOT framing the new MLTI RFP as a multi-state buy-in.

It is generous that the tech director is thinking about how he might help other states by using a provision that would allow other states to essentially access the same agreement that we reach with the successful vendor.

But I’m afraid I don’t see how such an arrangement will benefit us (Maine) and, in fact, I’m worried that it will hurt us. I have worked in both the public sector and the private sector, and although I can see why other states might like the option, I can’t imagine that vendors would.

If part of the motivation is to get a better price by suggesting they’d sell more units (and I admittedly don’t know the reasons the DOE is considering including the option allowing other states to sign on), then I worry that the reasoning is false. I would think that a vendor is more likely to give a better price to a single, well-designed, targeted initiative that had a good chance to showcase their solution.

Also, if our RFP is based on the kinds of changes in learning we’d like to promote (as I advocated in my previous post), it would generate the kinds of proposals that might include very specific software solutions and professional development, as well as hardware and network solutions. These would all be based on Maine’s context, our schools, our learning. How do other states benefit from that? Maybe I could see that if MLTI were simply a tech buy, but we’re not. We’re a learning initiative.

I worry, too, that this arrangement would needlessly make things difficult for a vendor. I would imagine that, even if there is a provision in an agreement between states allowing other states to buy in given our terms, that the vendor would have to still negotiate separate contracts with each state. I don’t think that there is a way for a different state to buy on our terms without having a separate contract with the vendor. And I worry that that which makes things unnecessarily difficulty for a vendor only hurts Maine and the possibilities of our getting a proposal that would include an attractive solution that meets our needs.

And my biggest fear, is that if a multi-state buy-in option is awkward and difficult for vendors, then vendors who could offer us the most attractive solutions will simply choose not to submit a proposal. Frankly, I worry that quality potential applicants will choose not to submit a proposal.

And worse. We can’t even ask our best partner in MLTI what they think. I would imagine that Apple would feel, now that the DOE is working to shape the RFP, that they couldn’t talk to the state about any topic that might even be perceived as related to the RFP. I would imagine that any vendor would think that that was too close to conflict of interest, or even illegal. So a partner that has been very helpful in the past and always quick to collaborate with us on all our challenges is likely to now be a mute partner.

So, if you are also worried about the unintended consequences of including a multi-state buy-in option in the new MLTI RFP, 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 Mane’s needs.

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.