School administrators are using mobile software applications to remain highly productive no matter where they are. These same apps also are making it easier to create learning communities where leaders can share a wide range of information with other districts.
Using mobile apps to tap into various school data—from finance and human resources figures to professional development and asset information—ensures that administrators will be able to complete their tasks even when they’re away from the office.
“Being away [from their desk] does not mean they are away from their responsibilities or duties,” says Ron Skinner, deputy executive director of the Association of School Business Officers. “They need to remain connected the whole time, and mobile apps are becoming a part of that process.”
Technology-oriented administrators are finding value, such as sharing data instantly with work colleagues, in general purpose mobile apps like Google Drive, Google Docs and Evernote, all of which were designed for everyday consumers.
“It’s not about an app that is designed for a specific purpose, like accessing files, but about an app that provides me access to the way I have always done things using my Excel file or other documents that I keep at my desk,” says Skinner.
The apps also take some anxiety out of technology. They allow access to a wide range of documents created by common software, such as Microsoft Excel, and therefore don’t require new training, so administrators can feel confident using them.
“Bringing professional development back down to the school level and embedding it into the school day allows us to spend much less money now. That is a very powerful tool.”
Districts also are using apps designed specifically for the education industry to, for instance, assign PD to teachers shortly after an administrator detects the need. Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, meanwhile, is designing its own apps to improve communications with families during urgent situations, such as when a child gets injured on the playground or when school closes due to weather.
As the third-largest school district in Oregon, with a 2013-14 general fund operating budget of $344 million, the Beaverton School District can offer some best practices. Four times a year, and once a month during budget season, Beaverton officials share data from their 51 schools with administrators at the state’s six other largest school districts.
This data includes anything from the number of teachers employed to the amount of money spent on information technology to the details of contracts with various employee groups.
By using Google Apps for Education, all the shared information can be accessed from tablets and other mobile devices, says Claire Hertz, chief financial officer at the Beaverton district. And because the information is stored in the cloud, it can be shared quickly should it be requested by outside interests, such as state legislators, the governor or education-centric associations such as the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, Hertz says.
“It’s like a professional learning community where we support one another in digesting data and comparing ourselves and finding best practices in our work,” Hertz says.
Fairfax County schools uses the Blackboard Collaborate mobile app to conduct web conferences when information on a topic, such as teacher evaluations or safety training, must reach a large group of employees. When the state of Virginia mandated that all licensed teachers get certified in CPR by July 2013, the district had its 20,000 teachers connect to online training sessions from their mobile devices. This allowed teachers to take the training when it was most convenient, Chief Information Officer Marybeth Luftglass says.
“The mobile apps give you instant access to whatever information you are looking for or whatever pool you are trying to get access to,” says Luftglass. “I think a lot of our vendors are evolving and improving their mobile apps, and the demand for using them will also carry on. This is the train that is continuing on and it’s not going to turn around.”
Oklahoma district tracks IT assets
Prior to the 2012-13 academic year, Miami Public Schools, an 11-building school district in Oklahoma, would spend about 60 days each year auditing its IT equipment, which was valued at about $1.6 million. Because IT assets were never assigned to classrooms, teachers would find the equipment stacked together in one section of the building when they returned from summer break.
But since implementing the Asset Management mobile app from Wasp Barcode Technologies, the IT audit only takes about four days—a time reduction of 93 percent. The increased speed of the audits allows the district to keep better track of its computers, iPads and other equipment, giving administrators more confidence that grant funds for technology are being spent appropriately.
The application is loaded on most of the district’s desktop computers, but the mobile capability adds a barcode scanner and printer. “With the mobile aspect, when we have to do inventory we can go to each school with the handheld and scan, and we don’t have to go to every single desktop and look at it,” says Nick Talbert, Miami’s information and education technology network administrator.
“It’s a much easier solution and it takes the techs much less time than it used to.”
Tech support and training are included in the app’s purchase price. The next step will be training all teachers to conduct audits on their own, Talbert says.
Decatur manages PD
To trim costs and speed up accessibility to PD, Decatur County Schools in Georgia began using the online PD 360 platform by School Improvement Network. Having a professional learning library of on-demand, instructional videos was a more cost-effective method of administering PD than sending educators to train outside the district, says Suzi Bonifay, Decatur’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
To save time, Decatur started using the network’s Observation 360 product, which allows the district administrators to observe teachers in the classroom and customize a PD training program based on what they’ve witnessed.
Prior to using the app, Bonifay says she would write her notes on paper, then make copies of the reports and put them into teachers’ mailboxes.
The app lets Bonifay track and monitor each educator’s progress. Internal feedback flows from Bonifay’s mobile device to email accounts that are set up for teachers within the product’s system. When teachers log in from a mobile device, they can watch the videos Bonifay has assigned.
“Now they don’t have to travel or wait a month for somebody to offer that workshop—and I don’t have to go find one,” Bonifay says. “I can actually send them some vignettes or video clips that are going to address the very practice I saw in the classroom.”
The state of Georgia recently announced it will require annual teacher evaluations starting in the 2014-15 academic year. Using the mobile app to complete observation-based evaluations will help streamline what used to be a once-every-three-years task, Bonifay says.
“Bringing professional development back down to the school level and embedding it into the school day allows us to spend much less money now,” she says. “That is a very powerful tool.” DA
Stephanie Fagnani is a freelance writer based in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.