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 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

Vol 8|No 8|May|1999




Strategic Deployment
of Hardware
to Maximize Readiness, Staff Use and Student Achievement


by Jamie McKenzie

(About the Author)

As schools install networks, planners must pay more attention to the strategic pacing and placement of equipment. Wise decision-makers will slow down long enough to "cultivate the soil" before spreading equipment far and wide. They will devote themselves to readiness.
Schools are learning that equipping rooms before establishing readiness is folly. In all too many cases, planners are putting the cart before the horse, ignoring what we know about making real change in schools. Those who focus on the cart without attending to readiness often awaken with an acute case of the Screensavers' Disease.
While it may please hardware and software companies to fill classrooms with computers before teachers are prepared or inclined to use them with frequency and good intentions, it is bad policy and worse economics.
We have been spending too much money on infrastructure and equipment . . . too little on readiness.


Photograph of vacant building in Detroit.


Readiness has been virtually ignored as a planning concept.


When combined with robust professional development, the strategic pacing and placement of equipment keep the technology "cart" where it belongs.
Wise schools put program first. Equipment follows. No computer before its time. No room before its time. No teachers before they are ready.
Readiness is paramount.
Strategic pacing and placement optimize the impact of our technology investments on student learning, giving us the maximum return on our dollars, reaching the largest possible number of students while minimizing "down time."
Strategic Pacing
Strategic pacing is the thoughtful timing of computer purchase and installation to coincide with staff readiness.
It is tempting to buy enough computers to spread them out through all the classrooms the moment the network is installed, but it makes far better sense for most schools to phase the equipment into the building over a 2-3 year time period. The computers move about where they will do the most good.
We avoid the "dilution trap" - the well intentioned strategy of spreading resources thinly but equally across all classrooms in the name of fairness - a decision which actually means that no teacher and no classroom will attain "critical mass."


No computer or classroom before its (it's) time!


Most faculties are made up of a spectrum of teachers ranging from "early adopters" to "late adopters." The early adopters (usually about 25% of a typical staff) are ready and eager to make dramatic use of networked resources. Late adopters (who often account for 40-60% of a a typical staff) are quite skeptical, reluctant and resistant. If you place networked computers in late adopters' rooms before they have been successfully recruited and prepared, there is little chance the computers will be used. (Note below on early and late adopters)
Between the early and late adopters is a group of teachers who might welcome new technologies if someone would just show them how and why they belong in a science, math or social studies classroom. They want to see lesson plans and evidence that these new tools will help them to address increasingly demanding state standards and tests. They have many urgent questions about practical classroom management issues. They expect answers.
Strategic pacing puts the first wave of equipment into the classrooms and programs of early adopters who will make immediately fruitful use of the hardware to support student learning. Succeeding waves enter classrooms as less enthusiastic (and less prepared) staff members acquire the skills, the readiness, the inclination and the unit plans to make full use of information technologies. Classroom access to networked computers is "won" over time by teachers who commit to a personal journey of growth. Districts may also speed this process through a mixture of incentives and clearly stated performance expectations.
Clarifying Curriculum Expectations Before Installation
Under the principle of "no program or classroom before its time" we expect to see well articulated curriculum plans for how this information technology will enhance the reading, writing, reasoning and research of students in each discipline. These expectations should be published before the broad-based distribution of equipment across classrooms, but curriculum guides are frequently silent regarding the use of the network. First the equipment arrives, and then teachers are left to their own devices.
Invention teams composed of early and late adopters should be convened in the summer before network installation to create lesson plans and unit plans that hold great promise for promoting student achievement. Such teams may build upon models such as WebQuest (click here to go to WebQuest site or Research Modules (click here to go to Research Modules listing
While the two primary benefits of new information technologies are support for student research and student communication, few schools have made a formal curriculum commitment to either continous student research or to collaborative e-mail projects.
Unfortunately, concerned about safety and violence issues, many schools are blocking student use and access even as the new equipment is installed, adding barriers to the full use of the network before the staff has even considered how the resources might enhance student learning. The January issue of From Now On described three ways that schools are blocking student use of networks. (click here to see article "Waste Not, Want Not")
The April issue of From Now On outlined strategies to improve the reading, writing and reasoning of students. If schools would adopt and adapt such program strategies as part of each curriculum area, teachers would be less skeptical and more enthusiastic about the new equipment. (click here to see article "Scoring High")
Strategic Placement
We see far too little consideration of movement. The prevailing strategy is to install and bolt down all new computers. Yet this strategy is incredibly wasteful and inefficient.
Strategic Placement involves a marriage of equipment and program. When the biology teacher is ready to launch a major study of the rain forest, we wheel a dozen networked computers into the classroom - enough resources to support genuine program integration.
Strategic Placement takes us past tokenism and lip service to authentic engaged learning activities.
Most elementary teachers require 6-8 computers (critical mass) to support a technologically meaningful program. Secondary teachers need 10-15. The only way to achieve these numbers is to move computers around or to create small labs which students can visit. Unfortunately, many systems departments resist movement of equipment. Even though many schools have experienced success with COWS (Computers on Wheels), the strategy has been virtually suppressed.
Moving computers where they are needed and wanted allows a school to cut its hardware budget in half while slowing down the purchasing and replacement cycle. Instead of installing 2-3 computers per classroom which will be used (maybe) 15% of the time, the district cuts its order for 2000 computers down to 1000, invests heavily in professional development and realizes 85% utilization by moving the equipment to where it will be welcomed (and used).
One week here. One week there. Movement spawns use!
This is a remarkably simple and obvious strategy, infused with common sense and grounded in what we know about change in schools.
Why then have we heard so little about this approach?
Unfortunately, much of the media and much of the planning information available to schools is paid for or subsidized by companies whose profits would be sorely undercut by such restraint.
These same companies are pushing for laptop schools and computers in every classroom even though we have no credible evidence that this is a wise investment.
Networked computers currently become obsolete within 30 months of purchase because of the way the network and systems software companies keep "enhancing" their programs.
Currently popular schemes for networking schools are surprisingly ungrounded in learning theory or sound educational practice. Placing 2-3 computers ( or even 4-5 computers) in every classroom regardless of staff readiness is a bit like pouring seeds on a playground and expecting a meadow to sprout.
Just a few decades back we were told that we could revolutionize schooling by placing a TV monitor in the corner of every classroom. This TV would offer students amazing teachers (instead of normal ones) and education would be changed forever.
Schools jumped on the instructional TV bandwagon back then full of hope and expectation, only to discover that TV is a cold medium which can never quite inspire great learning.
Some of the same folks are back with this latest technology initiative making bold promises. Sometimes they call it "distance learning." But the most important problem is their lack of understanding of learning, learning theories, children, classrooms and instruction.

Note on Early and Late Adopters

(reprinted from May column in eSchool News)

The CEO Forum School Technology and Readiness Report (Year Two) states that "Only 20% of teachers report feeling very well prepared to integrate educational technology into classroom instruction."

The characteristics of late adopters are profoundly different from those of early adopters.

Late adopters are teachers who have not yet embraced new technologies and have not yet blended these tools into their daily classroom learning activities. The term originated in the technology marketplace outside of schools as a way to differentiate between early and late buyers of new technologies.

Crossing the Chasm (Moore, 1991) describes the huge "gap" or "chasm" between these two groups and suggests that many technology companies failed to survive because they assumed that technology adoption (and sales) would be a smooth progression from early enthusiasts into highly profitable later markets and customers.

The assumption that late adopters follow the lead of early adopters has proven to be wrong-minded and dangerous, according to Moore. Crossing the chasm between these groups, states Moore, requires a mammoth campaign which includes special attention to the vastly different needs, perspectives and demands of the late adopters. What works for pioneers does not work for the later group.

This insight has virtually escaped the notice of the educational world. And networking has virtually removed the notion of teachers as customers with choices. They awaken one day with computers in their rooms without having requested them.

Late adopters want proof of results before they buy.

One of the most important differences Moore identifies between the two groups is the expectation of late adopters that new technologies must make a very big difference in outcomes and performance. They have little tolerance for change and are unwilling to shift time tested behaviors unless there is compelling evidence that the investment of time and effort will pay big dividends.

Late adopters want a complete, finished product before they buy.

They also expect a complete package, a total solution which is user friendly, complete and well supported. They are, in Moore’s terms, pragmatists. They are conservative and distrustful of change for change sake. They have their eye on the bottom line. They have no patience for half-baked ideas, unproven technologies and untested schemes.


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