This story appeared in print as part of “The Word on the Streets.” Want to catch up on infrastructure issues in Columbia? There’s...
Even though our minds may still be stuck in summer vacation mode, the school year is getting ready to start, and school systems are facing more technology challenges and have more opportunities than ever before.
Aside from ensuring curriculum, transportation and lunch programs are up to par, school districts must also have exceptional technologies in place to support students and staff. No longer are Smart Boards and a couple of computer labs enough. Today many schools face the challenges of 1:1 (one device per student) and BYOD (bring your own device) initiatives. They also have to decide what type of devices to use and determine if their wireless infrastructure will support those goals.
When it comes to choosing a device, schools have many options: Chromebooks; Apple iPads; and Microsoft’s vast array of laptops, tablets and desktops. Price, warranty and functionality are the factors in making this decision. After choosing a device, the school needs to decide on software and management solutions.
Unlike home use, additional emphasis must be put on security and management of content. One of the biggest challenges most school districts face today is their dated infrastructure, which includes the cabling, wireless and all the products necessary to make devices work correctly within the network. Without a proper infrastructure to support the devices in use within the district, users will experience slow connection speeds and delays in learning.
This year Universal Service Administration Co., a federal organization that is in charge of school funding for technology, has allocated more than $2 billion in funding for wireless technologies. Fred Norman of SupportSource K12, a local funding consultant, helps schools obtain the resources to prepare their infrastructure for updated technologies, install up-to-date cabling, better network switching and wireless access and support faster Internet connections and increase reliability.
School districts have discovered that technology plans are imperative to long-term success. Much like building a home, it’s critical to have a working tech plan. You would never start to frame the walls of a new home or remodel your kitchen without a blueprint. Likewise, detailed technology plans forecasting future capital purchases and tech implementations are a must for today’s school districts. Increased pressure for timely implementations and rollouts can cause staff to overlook critical support needs, but planning ahead helps identify the necessary steps to achieve success.
Identifying support needs and utilizing outside consultants continues to be a challenge for some educators. One of the biggest issues is training. With an increasing number of devices and systems, how do administrators and technical staff find the time to train on multiple systems? Several years ago most tech directors were skilled on desktops and might have only needed to support a handful of systems. Today, support staff must be skilled in infrastructure, servers, mobile devices, content filters, firewalls and much more. Because of this, outsourcing technology to companies that provide consulting and funding assistance has become an attractive solution to many districts.
Overall, the goal of technology usage in our schools should be to enhance the learning experience of the students and prepare them for their role in the workforce. To do this, the technology must work. Districts that develop long-range technology plans will keep students and staff on track with a constant learning experience.