Leadership in Education Technology: Endostructure

Part one and part two of this series looked at how education technology leaders might want to plan to meet the curricular and professional development goals of their school district as related to technologies. In this post, I'll explore the information technology part of the equation.

IT Assessment

The organization's network, hardware, technical support capacities, software, and asset management components are what makes up the information technology infrastructure. To improve the education services of your school or district, you have to assess your current telecommunications services because it's these services that will be used to support the curricular and professional development plans you've made.

Before you can describe what will be needed in regard to your organization's endostructural needs, you'll need to look at the exisiting hardware, Internet access, and electronic learning resources already in place and in use. Particularly, you should explore what technologies are available to facilitate home/school curriculum (e.g. email, Web sites, voice mail, etc.). Do the students' parents have access to technologies at home and if so, what are their preferences for communication? What is the district's inventory system (if it even has one)?

Having a firm grasp on the learning technologies in play at your district is very important. What programs are being used by educators and students for learning purposes (e.g. learning management systems, Discovery Streaming, Study Island, Aleks, etc.)? Often, these learning technologies are not ubiquitous across all grade spans or across all schools so you'll need to develop a simple matrix that gives you an overview of the use of these technologies--not just whether or not the district has them. Furthermore, you'll want to know where these technologies reside. Are they in classrooms? In learning laboratories? In a media center or a library? Can students access these technologies via the Cloud? What about hardware (e.g. AlphaSmart Neos)? Are students able to take these devices home? You'll also want to get a good understanding of the licenses and permissions required for the technologies your district is using.

Of course, today's technologies are tomorrow's junk heap. That is, stuff's changin' all the time in this sector. So you'll want to prepare a process for identifying, assessing, and selecting new technologies for adoption; and by technologies, I don't mean just hardware. I'm talkin' copiers, apps, peripherals, etc.

When it comes to your district's network, you should think about two characteristics--capacity and configuration. As far as capacity, it's simple. Your connection to the ISP should be 1 Gbps per 1,000 students or staff. I know that most districts are working at 100 Mbps per 1,000 students or staff but I'm here to tell you that that's NOT ENOUGH. For the internal WAN (i.e. connections from the district to each school and among schools), you should target AT LEAST 10 Gbps per 1,000 students or staff. Most school districts are at about 10% of that today. But trust me--IT'S NOT ENOUGH!! This means that you'll need to look at your budgets very closely and make the decisions necessary to get the funds where they need to be (assuming that you can even get the bandwidth I'm suggesting from your ISP).

Configuration is another story. There are some excellent network monitoring systems out in the open (e.g. Nagios, Cacti, etc.) and yes, they give you a good understanding of the network flow. But the reality is that WiFi and network configuration issues are usually based at school sites--not a central district thing. Most districts/schools have not updated their access points (APs) to the latest specs (802.11ac). Most districts don't take advantage of beamforming technologies. So spending some time drawing up a blueprint of your WiFi networks will be very useful (albeit time consuming). Sometimes, it's just a matter of adding one extender to a LAN or moving one AP to another location. Little changes in configuration can yield large dividends in the classroom.

Your telephony system is probably the most sensitive topic when it comes to the current landscape. If you don't know, E-Rate 2.0 is phasing out support for many of the old priority two eligible services. These include:

  • circuit cards

  • interfaces

  • gateways

  • antennas

  • servers

  • software

  • storage devices

  • video components

  • VoIP (voice and video)

  • telephone components

Did you catch the last two? The discount rate applicants receive for voice services will be reduced by 20 percentage points every funding year beginning in funding year 2015. This phase down will apply to all costs incurred for the provision of telephone services and circuit capacity dedicated to providing voice services including: local phone service, long distance service, plain old telephone services, radio loop, 800 service, satellite telephone, shared telephone service, Centrex, wireless telephone service such as cellular, and interconnected VoIP.

This is going to mean a significant uptick for school districts' budgets across America. Now there is a solution to the problem. It's known as SIP Trunking and I recommend you look into it. But getting back to the point, you'll want to make sure you plan ahead for handling your telephone needs.

Having a clear understanding of your district's technical support system is critical for education technology leaders. More often than not, you're going to be under-staffed when it comes to help desk and micro-computer technicians. The way many directors handle this issue is by limiting the support types they provide (e.g. only supporting Windows OS or only supporting Outlook on Windows machines, not on Macs). So take into account support/response time. Take a look at the informal supports you can provide (i.e. training students or teachers to take care of minor issues).

Too often, CIOs and Directors of Technology neglect to provide professional development services for their IT teams. Of course that's where the TechSETS organization can be very helpful. If you're not familiar with the TechSETS services, you should take a look. They (we) provide professional development (synchronous and asynchronous) for IT professionals in the education sector.

Finally, we come to device inventory. What is the process for tracking inventory throughout the lifecycles of the devices? What about mobile devices? How are they secured? How are they protected?

Once you've assessed your IT services and systems, now you can think about what is needed as related to the curricular and professional development goals you've set in concert with other district leads. You'll want to consider the emerging technologies that may be useful to implement too. But thinking of what's needed shouldn't always result in what should be bought. Sometimes, you can modify existing equipment to meet certain identified needs. In determining what needs to be purchased, don't forget to think of the total cost of ownership (TCO) for the new services or devices which may include maintenance fees, personnel costs for support, updating fees, insurance costs, etc.. You'll also want to take advantage of potential group buys, discounts (e.g. CAMSA), or open source alteranatives.

Alright. This has gone on long enough. It's just that there's so much more to discuss. Maybe I'll do a part 3B...

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