Theory in Planning

In the vernacular, “theory” is associated with ideas that are incomplete or not necessarily true. Among educators, and other pragmatic professionals such as technologists, theory is often associated with unrealistic or idealistic thinking that has little connection to her or his work The interpretations of theory are unfortunate, however, as theory can inform and focus decisions made by all who participate in school IT management. It is reasoned that making decisions and taking actions without addressing theory leads to inefficient and ineffective decision and actions.

Grounding decisions and actions in theory allows decision makers to take advantage of three affordances that make it particularly useful for efficacious IT management in schools. First, every theory clearly identifies those factors that are relevant and that deserve managers’ attention as they design interventions. Even when professionals are working within their field of expertise, they often overlook important factors, they dedicate resources to irrelevant factors, or they accept assumptions that have been disproven by research. Theory supports the design of interventions that focus on what matters and only what matters.

Second, theory allows IT managers to predict the changes that will be observed once decisions are implemented. Coincidently, theory suggests methods for collecting data that will confirm or refute those predictions. Although instruments designed to collect research data may not be appropriate for evaluating interventions in schools, theory has been elucidated with instruments and methods that can be can be adapted by IT managers as they seek to evaluate management decisions and actions in schools.

Third, theory affords explanations. The reason researchers do their work is to identify and support cause-and-effect relationships. While it is exceedingly difficult to establish cause-and-effect without experimenting (and true randomized double-blind experiments are unusual in education for a range of factors including ethical considerations), theory can facilitate understanding why IT projects in schools failed or succeeded. If our predictions are accurate, then we explain them in terms of theory. If our predictions fail, then we use theory to understand what happened and why. In both cases, theory results in deeper understanding of our unique situations and the decisions we make and actions we take.

Several theories and frameworks relevant to IT management in schools are presented in this book. Educational technology is a field in which some work can be conducted from an atheoretical stance. The technician repairing computers has little concern for theory, but teachers’ actions are informed by theory (even if it is not articulated). Theory, nevertheless, plays an important role in how managers undertake their work and in providing a structure within which technicians, teachers, and all others who contribute to the technology-rich school function. Without theory, IT managers are likely to abandon interventions before they have matured to the point where expected improvements are widely observed as they are distracted by emerging fads that promise unreasonable outcomes.