Pillars for a Large Scale ICT Initiative

The CoSN Portugal delegation has heard from many presenters about education ICT initiatives across the world, including detailed discussions of the ambitious nationwide 1:1 rollout in Portugal. While the Portugal experience – or any other we have heard about – is likely not a pure turn-key solution for implementing an equally ambitious 1:1 initiative at home (at the statewide, regional or large district level), we will leave Portugal with useful tools for designing such a program.

We can draw from all our presenters both a consensus list of design pillars for an ambitious ICT initiative, and examples of action options we might consider:

Vision and Purpose:  From the very start, large scale ICT initiative must answer the question “why are we doing this” in a way that all stakeholders can recognize their role and/or benefit. In Portugal and elsewhere, we know that this question was answered in a way that framed the initiative as one that transcends classrooms and students and identifies the opportunities for communities/states to increase their competitiveness in an increasingly competitive digital world economy. The framing must create broad excitement and mobilization in order to build the political will that will ultimately be essential for the initiative’s success.

Technology – mobile devices and connectivity:  21st century learning is characterized not just by the role computers play in learning but that learning occurs beyond the four walls of the classroom. The successful initiatives the CoSN delegation learned about build from this foundational idea and committed to putting mobile devices in the hands of students AND ensuring connectivity at home. Both components – devices and connectivity – demand public/private partnerships that might be new to American public education. Government leaders will need to be creative in leveraging device manufacturers’ and telecommunication companies’ self-interests in order to make them collaborative partners in an initiative that reaches all students, families and communities.

Financing: Answering the “Why” question (Vision and Purpose) is perhaps most important because large scale education ICT initiatives require a huge investment at a time when federal, state and local education budgets are in crisis. The Portugal experience in particular suggests that we must be open to multiple stakeholders sharing in the finance model: the state, districts, private sector and families. San Diego School District’s use of local bond financing approved by voters is an exciting model that generated the necessary dollars and community support. ICT initiative designers will need tools for projecting ROI and potential related public sector savings (Portugal significantly expanded e-government).

Training and Content: We heard from all presenters that a large scale education ICT initiative must include changing the nature of teaching through the involvement of, and support for, school leaders and classroom professionals. Once again, public/private partnerships like Microsoft’s Partners in Learning offer the prospect for rapidly scaling training for a new 21st century pedagogy possible and affordable.

Data and Politics

We just had a very interesting discussion with Anja Balanskat of European Schoolnet and Mario Franco about the intersection of data collection on 1:1 intitiatives in European countries, and the politics of rolling out a large scale (nationwide) initiative like the one in Portugal. What researchers label a “1:1 initiative” vs a “BYOD initiative” can have significant implications for policymakers who have taken the political risk to rollout a large scale ICT initiative.