Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
To lead a district in determining what it's telecommunications and information systems needs are, we have to begin by assessing or scanning the IT environment of the district. That's what part 3 of this series was primarily focused on. In this post, I'm assuming that you've already gathered your information and processed/analyzed it. So let's take a look at how we can describe the district's needs with regard to hardware, electronic learning resources, networking infrastructure, physical plant modifications, technical support, and asset management.
You'll need to think about the process your district will use to select electronic resources that support academic content standards. If you ask 10 teaching experts, they'll give you 10 different answers. So it's important to have a streamlined process in place. Your consideration should also encompass how the resources (e.g. online apps, licenses for software, etc.) will be distributed.
In this era of accountability, data analysis plays a big part of the school technology environment. What resources will your schools need? How will they manage the data? Will the data be communicated via email or will your data management solution have the capacity for parents to access their child's information directly?
I discussed E-rate and network matters in the previous post. But we didn't touch on security. In my experience, I've noted that security seems to be a secondary matter for many CIOs in education. It's not that they regard it as such. It's just they are generally so under-staffed that they spend most of their time just keeping things running. It's usually not until a breach event that security suddenly becomes priority number one. So be proactive about it. Of course there are security measures in place in just about every organization I've worked with. But they are generally technical solutions and in our sector, it's not the technical matters that create vulnerabilities. It's the human factor. So consider implementing an enterprise-wide Internet and information safety campaign for staff.
Another challenge that CIOs face is that many of their plants are simply old. Some schools in California date back to the 1920s and as such, schools suffer from a lack of electrical capacity and outlets to support the hardware infrastructure necessary for the site. You may need to work directly with your superintendent to phase in a modernization effort in some instances. If you're fortunate enough to be able to modernize some sites, make sure to evaluate the storage rooms where hardware will reside to ensure that they are built to be secure and have enough space. If I had a nickel for the number of server racks I've seen stored in a custodial closet next to rolls of toilet paper and mopping pails, I'd be a rich man today.
Although rare, some CIOs are even responsible for handling heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems of schools. Of course, this is normally the type of work that a director of operations handles. I'd love to provide some advice in this matter but I know diddly about the it so I do not envy you that task should it be assigned to you. Good luck.
Next is the issues related to computer laboratories and media centers. Look--it's pretty simple. Don't cram the computers next to each other so you can maximize the number of workstations. Leave some room between the devices. Do everything you can to hardwire them to your network. I know WiFi is simpler but when you've got thirty or so machines accessing a single AP, you're going to have latency and connectivity issues. I guarantee it. Most importantly, plan out the layout of the wiring in a way that is safe for students to move around without creating trip or fire hazards.
As far as tech support is concerned, you'll want to look at a 1:75 ratio (one technician for every 75 devices). Some say that's too high. Some say it's too low. The truth is it's going to vary from system to system. If there's a lot of homogeneity at your district, than you may be able to push that up to 1:100. But there are soooooooooo many variable nowadays (e.g. apps, software, OSs, Chromebooks vs. iPads vs. laptops vs. Surface, etc.) that knowing what the right ratio is really depends on the CIOs experience. One rule is that you should underestimate the number of technicians you'll need instead of overestimating. That way, you can always bring folks on if needed. You don't want to be the CIO that lays people off because you thought you'd need them but found that you didn't.
You may also want to consider involving students in tech support. Take a look at Mouse Squad. It's a great way to link learning to careers for students and provide your staff with some informal support.
Well, I think that's about all I've got to say about the infrastructural aspect of leadership in education technology. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. What am I missing? Send me an email and let me know...