Administrators shouldn't only look outside their districts for something new when researching possible products or technology to purchase; solutions can sometimes be found in unexpected places. "When we get a request to purchase something new, such as curriculum software, we do a thorough examination of what we already have to make sure we don't duplicate functionality," says Roderick Matthews, director of information technology in the Recovery School District in New Orleans. "That happens a lot, where teachers and employees might not be aware of all the features of products we're already using and request something new, but when we look into it, we show them how to do what they're asking for using an existing product. We've saved a lot of money by researching and being very familiar with what we already have, and essentially preventing the same products from being purchased over and over."
The Recovery district went through this internal research process recently in considering new laptops for elementary students. "We did the research and found that the older laptops used by our high school students had all the functionality we were looking for at the elementary level," says Matthews. "So we gave them to the elementary students and instead bought new computers for the high schools, using what we already had and saving a lot of money."
This phenomenon illustrates further the importance of products having an intuitive user interface, as well as districts having quality professional development and clear communication. "The reason some functionality is not utilized is that it may not appear to be helpful to staff," explains Bailey Mitchell, chief technology and information officer in the Forsyth County (Ga.) Schools for the past 13 years, and chair of the executive committee for the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN). "Educators will use the intuitive part of a product but stop short if the complexity of the product consumes extra time that most teachers and administrators simply don't have."
Patricia Haughney, director of information services in the Barrington (Ind.) 220 School District, agrees. "Since most staff members are building-focused, they're not always aware of solutions that might already be in use throughout the district," she says. She stresses the importance not only of professional development but of communication, and her IT department has started sending out quarterly newsletters about technology initiatives to keep staff better informed, and has made sure to involve representatives from every school on the technology committee. "It's easy for our department to get so caught up in what we're doing," Haughney says, "that we forget that not everyone has the same expertise or knowledge of what's going on in the district as a whole."