Here are my notes from Monday morning’s CTO Leadership Forum, sponsored by CoSN. The focus was on digital content and the role of the CTO (chief technology officer)…

Ann McMullan, Executive Director of Instruction, Klein ISD, Texas

Clearly, if the superintendent isn’t involved in these conversations (about digital learning], it doesn’t happen. If you don’t have your key central office personnel on board, it simply doesn’t happen.

Hmmm… that sounds familiar!

Some key resources from CoSN

Table activities (notes from my group are below)

When will education reach a ‘tipping point’ where digital content becomes pervasive in education? What roles should the district technology leader assume?

  • It’s different for every district. In some schools it’s already pervasive; in others they’re not even close.
  • I see districts that are or want to but they don’t have the bandwidth to handle it.
  • Technology is increasingly becoming part of the curriculum department.
  • We need to standardize on new equipment that can handle this new digital content.
  • The greatest limiting factor we have is time. If we want to teach 21st century skills, it’s gotta come out of somewhere. Even when innovative 1:1 situations exist, central office still says ‘just make sure those test scores go up.’
  • You don’t get rewarded for risk.
  • No one’s going to thank you for taking care of today if you fail to take care of tomorrow. (Joel Barker)

What is the impact of emerging technologies and critical initiatives such as Web 2.0 technologies on the future role of the district technology leader?

  • To block it. (joking!)
  • If you throw it all wide open, you run the risk of one incident causing everything to be shut down.
  • But we cannot be reactionary anymore. We have to avoid the ‘New York Post’ syndrome. We’re so afraid of the one bad thing that we miss all the good things that could happen.
  • What is the worst consequence of your best idea? These tools give kids control of their own education!

What role does district technology leadership play in closing the gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need in typical 21st century communities and workplaces? What needs to change in teaching styles and instructional delivery of a school district in order to enable effective learning of 21st century skills?

  • We covered this up above.
  • Getting past the overwhelming emphasis on test scores.
  • When are we going to stop assessing students on fact regurgitation and instead assess them on their ability to find and interpret information?
  • We have to get back to trusting teachers.

If we assume that digital content will evolve from our current model of ‘electronic text books’ to newer modes of learning objects and collaborative work spaces, what does that mean for the future of student access in our supported networks?

  • Textbooks are not going to go away. They will not be substantively replaced by digital content.
  • Most of my group saw digital content existing primarily as a supplement to paper textbooks, even 30 to 40 years from now. [sigh]

Chris Lehmann asked me, ‘Why are people still paying for content?’ I replied, ‘So we don’t have to think about our instruction.

The Congress on the Future of [Digital] Content

Some findings from the May conference…

  • Overall vision
    • Visionary leadership
    • Stakeholder involvement
    • Rigorous content and curriculum
    • Ongoing professional development
    • Assessment and data to individualize instruction
  • Content that is engaging and flexible. Students are increasingly producers of content.
  • Curriculum and teaching strategies: alignment, scope and sequence, assessment, 21st century skills, problem-based learning.
  • Support for effective use of content: Ongoing, more money, more tech. Some vetting is still necessary.
  • America’s Digital Schools 2008: 1:1 is growing rapidly!
  • Barriers
    • Insufficient access to technology in schools and at home
    • Loack of ongoing professional development
    • Insufficient funding for content
    • Old curriculum and NCLB
    • Vetting and adoption process
    • No alternative business models
    • Intellectual property rights
    • Fragmentation of market
    • Complexity of transactions
  • The Vail, Arizona district has gone completely to digital content?
  • All adoption processes should enable adoption of digital materials and promote flexibility of content selection.
  • Districts in Texas are paying for paper textbooks to get the accompanying digital content. They then also pay to store the unused textbooks.
  • Recommendations
    • Flexibility
      • Educators should be the ones driving the selection of content. They need the ability to ‘chunk’ (select only pieces of) content during the selection process.
    • Professional development
    • Outreach / public relations
      • The public does not yet understand the need to move to a different model of instruction. We need to help them reframe their mental models of what ‘school’ is.
  • In the end, someone has to pay for a different model.
  • A Chicago Public Schools survey showed that 70% of its students had better technology access at home than at school.