MLTI is not a Tech Buy or Commodity. It’s a Learning Initiative.

The Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) has been around since 2001, providing 7th & 8th Grade students and teachers with devices and more.

Recently a new piece of “Concept Draft” legislation popped up: LD 137: An Act To Make the Maine Learning Technology Initiative More Cost-effective. In so many ways it represents what people don’t understand about MLTI.

It states: “This bill proposes to enact measures designed to make the Department of Education’s Maine Learning Technology Initiative, or ‘MLTI,’ more cost-effective for schools and for the State, thus allowing participation by increased numbers of students. The cost- saving measures may include, but are not limited to, eliminating the ability of school administrative units to choose higher-cost technology options.” 

In fact, that’s the only thing the Concept Draft bill says.

Here is the testimony I have submitted:

MLTI - Learning Through TechnologyI’m writing in opposition to LD 137.

I have been involved in learning through technology initiatives for more than 20 years. I was an early technology integrator, leveraging technology for learning academic content rather than primarily learning technology skills, served on the original design team for MLTI with Bette Manchester, was part of the team that created the first district-wide primary grades iPad initiative in the country (in Auburn, ME), and served for 2 years as the Learning Through Technology Director and MLTI Director at the Maine Department of Education.

It’s easy to walk into a big box store or search eBay and look at some of the inexpensive tablets and laptops that are available, then look at the per-pupil cost of a MLTI and think that it could be made less expensive.

But to focus on simply trying to make MLTI less expensive would be to fundamentally misunderstand MLTI in several critical ways.

The first misunderstanding is that MLTI simply buys a laptop or tablet for each student. MLTI provides much more than devices to students. The per-pupil cost represents an entire solution including a device, software and apps, classroom WiFi, device management, ongoing technical support, and professional development. Any effort to improve the cost of MLTI must examine the cost of similar packages that include all of these elements and not simply the cost of a device.

The second misunderstanding is that the cost for MLTI is high. When one looks at cost, one should look at the value for the entire package and the relative cost of the entire package. MLTI‘s RFP process already ensures that MLTI is cost-effective. The RFP process reviews vendor’s proposals for the adequacy of each component in the solution, as well as the overall cost for the entire package. Districts have tried to replicate the MLTI solution on their own, thinking they can save money, but find that they have to either leave components off of their homegrown solution to maintain MLTI’s price point, or end up paying more than the MLTI price.

The third misunderstanding is that all devices are created equal, and therefore a more expensive device can be readily replaced by a less expensive device. Maine’s MLTI RFP process outlines minimum specifications for the device, based on initiative goals and anticipated desired use of the tools. Numerous device options have already been ruled out because they do not meet the minimum specifications for the initiative. Cost-effectiveness should always be examined from the perspective of goodness of fit to a purpose and not simply compare one device to other devices without consideration for how the device will be used.

The fourth misunderstanding is that MLTI is a tech buy or a commodity purchase. MLTI has always been about learning. Even in its name, the word “learning” comes before the word “technology.” It is true, MLTI has helped close the digital divide. There are schools, especially our rural schools north and east of Bangor, that the only significant access to technology students have is to MLTI provided devices. But there are two digital divides. This first one is the Digital Access Divide.

MLTI was designed to address the second digital divide. While research shows that technology can be effective in the classroom, it’s not being used effectively in every classroom. This the second-level digital divide, the Digital Use Divide, and it disproportionately impacts low-income students. MLTI was intended to help address the Digital Use Divide through its networking and professional learning to encourage impactful use of technology in the classroom. A simple focus on word processing, presenting, online learning, and high stakes test taking is an insufficient rationale for the state funding technology solutions for students. It must include supports, models, and professional learning that drives improved learning, such as student skill development, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and agency. 

MLTI should not be reduced to a simple “tech buy” or commodity arrangement. Any revisions or update to MLTI should remain focused on supporting quality improvements to teacher practice and in learning experiences for Maine’s children. This will not be achieved by a simple cost reducing effort.