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Achieving affordable technology in Idaho schools

Joe Mikitish

Parents, teachers and many others have been discussing the proposed change in technology focus in Idaho schools. How will these changes assist in providing a better education to our students now and in the future? How will technology reduce costs to the taxpayer, while increasing flexibility and reducing the complexity of technology systems currently in place?

These are not only concerns that schools are facing, but every business as well.

Recently, I spoke with officials at a charter school that implemented virtual desktops to all of their students and staff. Total costs were greatly reduced as PC support was almost eliminated, and pushing new software happened in a centralized, controlled manner. They also found that this greatly increased the flexibility of delivery as the types of devices being used were no longer dictated by software restraints. Students and staff had the same desktop experience regardless of device or location.

What about all schools?

All schools will eventually need to adopt a technology model that will reduce costs and increase efficiency. The primary thing slowing down adoption is local budgets in each school district and the buy-in from those most affected by the changes. Technology is aging in most schools across Idaho and much of it is long past its service life. Another major area of concern will be the politics of reducing the need for full-time IT staff in schools.

How should schools start?

Schools should begin by having a reputable technology consulting firm complete an analysis or assessment of their technology. A phased plan for technology adoption should be part of the recommendations provided as part of this assessment. Concern for school culture and how that affects student and teacher acceptance of technology should be a major part of the assessment.

Advice:

1. Begin with an assessment of existing technology, teaching and student culture, training and overall goals. Ensure that the assessment includes recommendations for implementation in a phased manner that meets budget concerns.

2. Collaborate with the Department of Education and obtain guidelines and recommendations. Ask for referrals to schools that use the technology you are driving toward.

3. Speak with other schools that have successfully implemented the solutions you are considering. Specifically, discover what issues they experienced and what benefits they realized from the investment.

4. Collaborate with staff, teachers and students in an open way about how they might use technology better. If implemented, they will feel ownership in the solution, are more likely to use the technology and encourage others as well.

5. Work with parents to increase buy-in and encourage adoption by students. Parents should be educated about how technology will help their children become better educated and what they can do to encourage the adoption of technology.

6. Clearly define all cost points. Consider connectivity, hardware, software licensing, training costs, implementation, security measures and data protection tools.

7. Ensure that all data that is currently being used is protected both from a backup and security standpoint. A major area that is often overlooked is how data is being protected currently and how this will impact a project plan. For example, loss of data may derail the project before it even gets started.

8. Create a training plan for your work force and students alike. Adoption rates and effective use of new technology greatly increase when training is provided. The cost of training is well worth the investment.

Joe Mikitish is systems engineer and owner of SEN Technologies in Meridian. For more information, visit www.sentechnologies.com.

About Joe Mikitish

One comment

  1. Excellent advice, Joe! Having done some significant research on this subject and, as a former owner an IT company having done assessments of some of the area schools, you have identified the critical issues that they will need to address.

    The problem of spending money to save money continues to enter into the equation, however, and schools will need to continue moving their budgeting mindset to include their increasing technology needs. I addressed this issue in the ARRC Idaho blog last week (two days prior to your story – so we’re on the same wavelength) in response to a story Chris Walton and Paul J. Schneider did on the how some Michigan schools are distributing iPads to the students instead of textbooks.

    Ironically, education is key. The more schools, parents and administrations can learn about what is needed to maximize the usefulness of technology in giving our kids the best education possible, the more successful the process will be.