Technology for ESL

How to Calculate the Return on Investment for Technology in Schools
By:Monica Stevens

Modern technology is increasingly used to support student learning in schools and, when used appropriately, to much success. With the tech landscape shifting rapidly, some educators may find themselves rushing to invest in technology, such as computers and software, without fully considering the requirements for sustaining the effort or even the goals behind it. When a school or district is making plans to develop a technology initiative, its leaders and educators must first determine what return will come from the investment.

Take stock of the current finances.
Factor in what the school or district is paying for its technology programs, including equipment, upkeep and staffing. In a study that examined technology in six Alberta, Canada, school jurisdictions, researchers established important factors in a full-cost accounting model for all the costs associated with technology. Using this model, the analysis includes the salaries and benefits of technology teachers and staff; the costs of Internet connection and widespread wireless access across campuses; desktop and laptop computers; and educational software. It also includes the cost of training and continued development for staff to stay up-to-date with the latest in educational technology.

Project the costs of implementing a new technology initiative, including equipment acquisition and any upgrades to maintenance and personnel.
In a 2000 report by Ellen Wahl for the Education Development Center, she notes the dilemma of technology costs in "real dollars," meaning financial and human resources. "The new technologies often require a significant initial investment, additional monthly charges, a new and permanent line item in the operational budget, new staff, and a serious investment in staff development," Wahl writes. Advanced technology like computers, calculators and printers are becoming more cost-effective, she says, but a large organization like a school will probably need to buy many individual pieces of equipment to serve the whole student body. There may be some possible savings by retiring old technology systems that have grown difficult to maintain. Projections should also include new grants or funding intended for technology growth in the classroom.

Identify goals and then plan to acquire technology that supports them.
While a simplistic return-on-investment analysis subtracts the costs from the benefits, schools must attempt to measure more qualitative successes to identify the "returns." The purchase of technological equipment must be built around a specific goal, with demonstrable research on how the use of technology will support the objective. For example, there is a difference between the kinds of achievement students reach when they are learning "with" computers, as opposed to learning "from" computers, writes Thomas Reeves in a research report prepared for The Bertelsmann Foundation. A flash-card-style math program or timed digital quiz represents learning "from" computers, and such drill-and-practice uses help with basic skills like memorization and testing, according to research published by WestEd, a nonprofit agency that promotes excellence in education. Students who use the Internet to research a project or who use PowerPoint software to create an interactive report are demonstrating the ability to learn "with" technology, which requires a more active role on the part of the pupil. Look, also, to other districts or educational bodies that can serve as models of success for planned technology initiatives.

Plan for tomorrow.
According to a survey by the Consortium for School Networking, 48 percent of school leaders pointed to budgeting and long-term planning as the key challenges to technology use. The professional association for school district technology leaders notes that "flat or unpredictable spending on technology is tantamount to losing ground." A digital disparity will emerge among schools that do plan accordingly for future technology investments. Technological equipment is not only expensive in terms of up-front costs, but it also requires long-term support. Don't forget to budget for future maintenance, possible replacement of defunct equipment, training of teachers or staff and the proper level of technical support. Take care not to underestimate these costs, or risk a budget shortfall that will affect technology performance and outcomes in the future. In the report by Wahl on the cost, utility and value of technology, she sets spending guidelines at 30 percent of the technology budget for actual equipment and 70 percent for personnel and related development.

Acknowledge the circumstances.
In a report on technology in schools published in WestEd, researchers suggested it is most important for educators to consider the conditions under which technology becomes a valuable student-learning tool. Having computers in the classroom is a fine achievement, but it is meaningless without the knowledge of how and when to use them to advance scholarship. The WestEd publication reports that technology is best used in combination with schoolwide improvements in curriculum and teaching efforts. Too, students are not the only ones who should be trained in computer usage; it is even more important that the teachers who instruct scholars be adept at using technology. There must also be enough computers to ensure access by all students. "Near-universal access is possible with one computer for every five students," according to the same publication. Finally, the report indicates that classroom technology must be interwoven with, rather than simply tacked onto, the curriculum and incorporated as a useful tool to build student confidence, knowledge and test scores.






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