TIES, MECC and state-level k12 edtech services

This article from the Grand Forks Herald caught my attention. The articles describes a decision by Minnesota K12 institutions to end their collaboration to support TIES (Technology Information and Educational Services).

TIES is an organization that goes back as far as I can remember in supporting technology use in Minnesota schools. TIES and MECC (the Minnesota Educational Computer Consortium) provided some of my earliest exposure to the field of educational technology back in the days of the Apple II and the first Macinstoshes. TIES was around even before my wife and I first began working in this field which was before the day of the microcomputer. Because of several leading technology companies at the time (Honeywell, Control Data, IBM) and the role of state universities, Minnesota was an early leader in the field.
(see the section on the history of MECC which also describes TIES)

This history is likely unknown to most, but I can often get a hint of understanding among the earliest generation of innovators when I mention Oregon Trail. Cindy and I worked in Grand Forks, ND, so our proximity allowed us to attend NECC and TIES conferences in Minneapolis.

MECC was founded in 1973 and disbanded in 1999. TIES had earlier origins and it appears it is now ending its run as an organization supported by schools and perhaps will live on if another agency steps up. The way schools procure technology (hardware and software) and services (access to larger tech systems and professional development) is changing and funding models have changed as well. The cost to individual schools contributing to TIES increased to the point that schools began to drop out creating a death spiral for the rest.

My own experience has been with North Dakota and this experience has become less relevant as I have been out of the state now for several years. When my wife and I began our focus on educational technology my wife was working in a district that was ahead of the curve. She was one of two individuals hired to support the local school district with the understanding at the time that this was likely a two-year position. Twenty five or so years later, she has been retired for several years and the local staff is much larger. Cindy worked in what was one of the larger districts in a state that has many small districts. The region created a consortium to provide professional development, but the district continued to support a local staff. The state also provides certain services and unlike Minnesota that state is expanding certain services to higher education institutions. It is interesting to see adjacent states moving in opposite directions.

I don’t see a huge role for state level services. There are simply too few services at this level that can compete with commercial online services. I would not spend money at this level. If districts are large enough, I am still a fan of Human Resources available within a the district. The problem with infrequent access to expertise and guidance is the same problem so many see in professional development in general. Too much happens without the opportunity to explore and then too little mentoring is available when ideas are implemented. If practical, I suppose online interaction could provide a way to deal with these issues. I am just unaware that many have been able to make this work.

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