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Finding Solutions for Tech Troubles In Schools

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With the onset of the Common Core State Standards, which teachers are expected to implement next year, and the growth of blended learning, the role of digital resources both for instruction and assessment has come under close scrutiny. The quickly shifting landscape is leaving many Internet Technology directors worrying that they won’t be able to meet the demand for fast and reliable Internet service.

The Consortium for School Networking's (CoSN) recently surveyed IT leaders and found their top three priorities are Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, assessment readiness, and broadband access. All of these priorities hinge upon one thing – lots of bandwidth.

Recognizing the substantial challenge facing many school districts, CoSN has launched the Designing Education Network (DEN) initiative to compile best practices for how to quickly and carefully build up IT infrastructure.


“One of the reasons we want to identify best practices and vendor neutral resources is because districts don’t have resources to hire consultants for research and development,” said Denise Atkinson-Shorey, project director for DEN. In fact, 80 percent of school districts predict they will have flat or declining IT budgets for the next school year.

Most school districts have only a few IT specialists who are often responsible for both the central office systems and local site networks. What's more, CoSN's survey found that a majority of Chief Technology Officers in schools earn about half of the going salary in the private sector. They're faced with a huge task that will affect the learning of hundreds of children, but they're understaffed, under-resourced and could make a lot more money elsewhere.

DEN is trying to relieve some of that load by compiling best practices and advice that will be housed on a website. The first tools should be available in June, and DEN hopes to expand its offerings to include a community forum so that IT leaders across the country can learn from each other as they go through the process.

[RELATED READING: What it Takes to Launch Mobile Learning Programs in Schools]

One of the biggest concerns for schools is the quality and security of the network. Another is accommodating the needs of various devices that students and teachers use to access the network, hoping to make all connections solid. “In the network, we have to think of how to get Internet access to a mobile device and how to do it securely,” Atkinson-Shorey said.

One thing they’re considering is more cloud based computing, but that can come with challenges too. “If we move resources into the cloud it’s easier for wireless devices to have access, but it may not meet the learning needs of students and staff,” Atkinson-Shorey said. Many schools are trying to move ahead on many technological fronts simultaneously and they don’t realize how much bandwidth they’ll need.

BYOD policies have been touted as money savers, but in informal surveys Atkinson-Shorey has found that most students bring more than one device to school at a time. Demands on the network might be far greater than anyone imagined.

Another big concern is making sure that everyone, no matter what device they're using, gets the same speedy and reliable connection, which could hinder learning and affect the outcome of a student’s test. “If you’re first grader and you are learning to read and you’ve got a screen that takes 90 seconds to load, you may not be able to sit still that long,” Atkinson-Shorey said.

[RELATED READING: More School Districts Welcome Cell Phones in Class]

One of the main services DEN will try to provide is a spending resource so districts know just how much they can expect to pay to move online. The tool will compare and contrast different tech models, taking into account the tech requirements for BYOD, laptop carts, or computer labs.

“Early adopters went through all this the hard way, but there’s no reason for all of us to have to do that,” Atkinson-Shorey said.

The initiative is a boost for IT administrators at a time when social media networks are full of concerns that schools won’t be able to provide adequate broadband access in time for implementation goals of the Common Core. Some states are even seeking to delay implementation until they can get adequate tech support in place. As with all new launches, there will probably be glitches as schools role it out. The question will be whether schools are given a break if the technology doesn't perform.

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