Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Strategic IT Plans for Educational Improvement

A couple of months ago my wife shared with me a draft of the strategic Information Technology plan for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC). A week or two later Cable Green, eLearning Director for the SBCTC, posted a link to the draft on his WA Open Education Resources blog. It's an interesting read and, at 21 pages, it doesn't take that long. In particular, I would hope my fellow board members and other citizens will read and consider the implications for the recommended changes. The impact is far greater than simply buying more servers.

As you read this, remember it is an information technology (IT) strategic plan, so it is going to be IT-heavy. Nevertheless, it ties back to real educational problems and to state-wide educational objectives. The opening sections clearly identify shortcomings in the current use of IT supporting education, but it also lays out a vision for the role of IT in helping to address these issues now and into the future:

To reach out to today’s young people and adults, we must dismantle the barriers of geographic isolation, cost, competing demands of work and family life, and past educational failure and frustration. We must create a system for learning that is welcoming to all, easy to enter and use, and tailored to the needs of each learner. Most important, we must create a system that fosters the personal relationships and support all human beings need to learn and thrive.
Seem a little lofty? Good, it should. A strategic plan needs to give us something to aim for, something just a little out of our reach. A few other things that I particularly like:
  • although this plan is for community and technical colleges, it identifies its role as part of a coordinated pre-school through university (P-20) educational system. It would be nice if everyone saw this as a whole system instead of purposely putting these entities in competition with one another (General Motors did that, but I'd like my education system modeled after Toyota)
  • It introduces and explains some interesting new topics. In particular the opportunity offered by open educational resources, like open source textbooks, gets discussed.
  • It also explains some less visible aspects of the educational and IT system. I'm thinking here about the introduction of CIS and WAOL.
  • It ties back to a "business" plan. Sometimes the effort to align an IT strategy with a non-existing business strategy leads IT to invent the business strategy. Sometimes it works and other times the IT strategy is much loftier than anyone else wants. Although it is buried in the document, it does eventually state that this plan supports the Washington Learns committee report.
In fact I only have one real issue: the assertion that purchased and/or host software is inherently a good solution. I have way too much experience with this. I have been universally disappointed with vendor software in the mid-market government space and suspect that similar problems exist in the academic environment too. Further, the assertion has to be based upon the belief that software development was the primary problem, when my experience is that the problems usually start in the defining of business requirements. Oracle ERP or SAP isn't going to make it any easier to get 34 community college presidents to agree on a common student registration process.

Anyway, take a read through and consider post a comment at Cable Green's blog.

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