You Can’t Create a Butterfly by Gluing Wings on a Caterpillar: Why Technology Use Plans are Imperative

“An engaged thinker is someone who thinks critically and makes discoveries; who uses technology to learn, innovate, communicate, and discover; who works with multiple perspectives and disciplines to identify problems and find the best solutions; who communicates these ideas to others; and who, as a life-long learner, adapts to change with an attitude of optimism and hope for the future.” (Alberta Education, 2011, p. 6)

No one in their right mind would dispute this statement would they? We want our students to become engaged thinkers who use technology to learn. Yet, how do we achieve this seemingly lofty goal? Of course, “you can’t create 21st century learning by merely adding a set of skills onto industrial pedagogy, just as you can’t create a butterfly by gluing wings onto a caterpillar.” (Friesen & Lock, 2010, p. 7) According to the National Educational Technology Plan (NETP), we need to establish “a model of 21st century learning powered by technology” (2010). This approach requires stakeholders to focus on “what and how we teach to match what people need to know, how they learn, where and when they will learn, and who needs to learn.” (US Department of Education, 2010, p. 4) If this 21st century model is our goal, the right question needs to be asked and answered. How do school districts and schools implement this model in order to create expert learners in an ever changing world?

The simplest answer is this: we need a technology use plan. What is a technology use plan and what does it entail? According to Anderson and Perry, “a technology plan is defined as that written document that represents the very best thinking accumulated in a particular environment (school building, district, state, etc. ) for the purpose of studying technology infusion, then recommending direction for the future” (1994). They also stated that “planning offers an opportunity for educators to commit to writing the direction they envision for their organization. The optimum plan will embody the dreams, aspirations, and visions of individuals involved and interested in maximally-effective education for that community” (1994). Stating what a technology use plan makes the plan itself seem effortless and uncomplicated, like it is as easy as following a recipe or road map. Yet experienced chefs and world travellers know that sometimes recipes and road maps provide direction but, in and of themselves, they are nothing if they are not utilized effectively. The same can be said for a technology use plan. Creating a plan and sharing it isn’t enough. The plan’s vision needs to be clear. Furthermore, how the plan is to be implemented, evaluated and revised must also be considered. “You can’t just sprinkle 21st century skills on the 20th century donut. It requires a fundamental reconception of what we’re doing.” (Friesen & Lock, 2010, p. 8)

The NETP is a step in the right direction. The plan does provide a vision, a philosophy that most stakeholders could, and possibly, will support. The plan has outlined “five essential areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity.” (US Department of Education, 2010) Of the five essential elements learning, teaching and infrastructure are, for the most part, the most important elements of the plan. In fact, if we could go one step further, and point the index finger right at infrastructure and pronounce that it is the key to success. Antonelli, Link, and Metcalfe (as cited in Friesen & Lock, 2010) state, infrastructure “plays a central role in the learning and innovation process and the promotion of the diffusion of technologies. Thus, it is an important element in contributing to the operation of innovation systems and innovation performance in any 21st century school district.” The NETP supports this view as well; it states, “A comprehensive infrastructure for learning is necessary to move us beyond the traditional model of educators and students to a learning model that brings together teaching teams and students in classrooms, labs, libraries, museums, workplaces, and homes.” (U.S. Department of Education, 2010) More importantly, “building the technology infrastructure is not a one-time financial investment either. Rather, it is the ability to grow the infrastructure in fiscally and educationally responsible ways that support the teaching and learning demands of a knowledge organization.” (Friesen & Lock, 2010 p. 14) Infrastructure cannot become outdated or forgotten once a plan is implemented either. An effective technology use plan constantly adapts and changes to meet the needs of its stakeholders.

Although the technology infrastructure is an important component of the plan, the people involved cannot be forgotten either. Tools aren’t any good if no one uses them effectively and creatively. “In order to be proactive, the goals and objectives that are contained within the document should encompass the needs as well as the desires of the area educators, parents, community, and all others in the surrounding environment.” (Anderson, 2002) The previous list should specifically include students, who are merely added to the all others category . 21st century students expect on-demand learning that is timely and interesting. An engaged thinker also requires personalized learning that provides opportunities to collaborate and learn new things. Because of these needs, students must be considered no matter what direction a technology use plan takes.  Educators are included by Anderson, but their needs must be met as well. See suggests that educators be a part of all phases of a plan, from awareness to application, and integration to refinement. Staff development or connected teaching is also part of the equation; 21st century students need 21st century educators. More importantly, once a technology use plan is shared, the people and infrastructure must not be forgotten. Revision and refinement are crucial to the plan’s ongoing success.

Effective districts and schools implement a technology use plan that evolves based as changes in technology and the learning and teaching needs of the stakeholders occur. To be vital, if not serviceable, a plan must also be short-term. See recommends that schools “pull the plan out every year during the budget process and review it to make sure you have not tied yourself to buying outdated equipment.” Obviously budgeting is important, as well as the equipment utilized, but this isn’t the only reason the plan should be reviewed each year. The plan should be evaluated to see if it actually meets the needs of all parties concerned. Is the plan accomplishing what it set out to do? A plan has to be more than just a vision statement. It has to be an action plan that serves the desired vision. See asserts that stakeholders must “pick out what (they) can do right now to help (their) district move forward.” To accomplish this he recommends that “tech plans be divided into phases, not years.” This is excellent advice for the simple reason that phases are achievable, and therefore, are more likely to be revised and updated. If learning and teaching are part of the now, so must the plan!

Further to that, thriving districts and schools focus on effective use of technology as well. Technology changes so quickly it cannot be, ironically, solely relied upon. You cannot build the foundation of your house when the ground keeps moving. See clearly stresses, and so he should, that what is used isn’t as important as the end result. We want students involved in “cooperative grouping, teamwork, planning, research, writing, visual literacy activities and many higher order thinking activities” (1992). Even though See’s ideas are twenty years old, they still ring true today. The NETP also emphasizes that 21st century competencies such as “critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication should be woven into all content areas.” (U.S. Department of Education, 2010) Perhaps Jim Collins (as cited in Goodwin, 2011) summarizes it best. “Technology alone never holds the key to success. However, when used right, technology is an essential driver in accelerating forward momentum.”

As a 21st century teacher, I know that technology and how it is used is essential to both learning and teaching. Obviously the province of Alberta and the school district I work for also realize this. Both organizations have technology use plans. The provincial plan acts much the like the NETP one does. It provides a vision as well as specific guidelines. The district plan does the same but places emphasis on local issues and interests. The U.S. Department of Education expects states and district schools to develop their own plans, using the 2010 document as a springboard of course. No one would disagree that such plans are necessary. However, frustration is inevitable when the parties involved deviate from the plan and fail to let other stakeholders know that the philosophy behind the plan has changed. Recently, our district moved from a “walled garden policy” to a “responsible use policy”; the whole move took under 60 days. The trigger that brought about this change: wireless access. Now I am not foolish enough to say no to wireless access, but shouldn’t all of the stakeholders been involved in the decision-making process? Furthermore, the district’s responsible use policy is not clear. They are still using their original acceptable use policy as a guide. This policy does not emphasize “responsible” use enough. In response to this change in philosophy, the school whipped up a responsible use policy in a matter of days (as well as a digital citizenship lessons) but many stakeholders are not happy. For a technology use plan to be effective the vision must be cooperatively designed—if the vision changes, the new vision must meet the needs of the organization. Despite this sudden change, wireless access has brought about exciting learning and teaching opportunities. Sometimes the tail wags the dog—but it doesn’t have to if a technology use plan is revisited and updated on a yearly basis, especially if ALL stakeholders are involved this process.

A butterfly must have wings but the caterpillar must have time to transform.


Alberta Education. (2011). Framework for student learning. Retrieved from: http://education.alberta.ca/department/ipr/curriculum/framework.aspx

Anderson, L. S., & Perry, J. F. (1994, March). Technology planning: Recipe for success. Retrieved from: http://www.nctp.com/tp.recipe.html

Friesen, S., & Lock, J. V. (2010, April). High performing districts in the application of 21st century learning technologies: Review of the research. Retrieved from: http://o.b5z.net/i/u/10063916/h/Pre-Conference/cass_lit-review_final.pdf

Goodwin, B. (2011, February). One-to-one laptop programs are no silver bullet. Teaching Screenagers, 68 (5). Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/feb11/vol68/num05/One-to-One_Laptop_Programs_Are_No_Silver_Bullet.aspx

Graduate Students at Mississippi State University. (2002). Guidebook for developing an effective instructional technology plan3.5. Retrieved from: http://www.nctp.com/downloads/Guidebook35.pdf

See, J. (1992, May). Developing effective technology plans. The Computing Teacher, 19, (8). Retrieved from: http://www.nctp.com/html/john_see.cfm

U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology. (2010). National education technology plan. Washington D.C: Author. Retrieved from: http://www.ed.gov/sites/default/files/netp2010.pdf

This post addresses the AECT 3.4 Polices and Regulations Standard. The standard states:

3.4 Policies and Regulations
Policies and regulations are the rules and actions of society (or its surrogates) that
affect the diffusion and use of Instructional Technology.