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Articles: Infrastructure

Custom playlist: At Horizons on the Hudson school in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, IT specialist Joseph Catania watches students demonstrate how they use ClassLink to access SAFARI Montage for videos they need for a project.

Let’s face it, digital content—from the Khan Academy to streaming videos to adaptive learning applications—has enveloped K12 education. While some district leaders have only begun replacing printed learning materials with the new technology, other districts are going entirely digital.

Half of school districts nationwide believe they’ve completed their 1-to-1 initiatives and the infrastructure required. (Click to enlarge)

The digital classroom is no longer a new concept—half of school districts nationwide believe they’ve completed their 1-to-1 initiatives and the infrastructure required, according to the annual Digital School Districts Survey from the Center for Digital Education, published in March.

With the modernization of E-rate and the increase in available funding for school districts, many administrators face a strategic choice when it comes to their network. Some districts may choose a managed service through a third-party vendor, while others want to keep their network managed in-house by district staff. There are pros and cons to each model and several key considerations every district should examine before making this important IT decision.

Old computers may not be trendy, but as school tech budgets shrink or stagnate, many administrators try to squeeze the most life out of their aging devices. Recycling and retrofitting, and hooking up to the cloud, allow districts to delay or even abandon established schedules for buying brand-new equipment.

A key component of building a data-driven culture is ensuring that all teachers and administrators can access and interact with all student data from a variety of sources in one easy-to-access location, providing an accurate, real-time picture of student, teacher and school performance.

Districts often deploy VoIP to replace outdated “plain old telephone systems” that are past warranty or can’t be fixed because replacement parts are scarce.

The internet delivers assessments, videos and instructional content to schools, so why not phone service, too? Adding voice to the bandwidth communications stream makes sense to an increasing number of district leaders who are abandoning traditional landlines.

Between 9,000 and 10,000 schools, mostly in rural areas, do not have high-speed internet connections. (Click map to enlarge)

High-speed internet access increased substantially in classrooms over the past two years. But 21 million students, many in rural areas, remain without reliable broadband connections in the classroom, according to the “2015 State of the States” report from the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway.

Administrators have a variety of responsibilities in managing a district, but certain tasks can be burdensome and can distract from the core mission of the school system. Purchasing, deploying and managing learning resources such as textbooks and other materials are time-consuming and costly tasks that can weigh down administrators. However, outsourcing these tasks to an experienced partner can increase efficiency, reduce costs and ensure that the right learning resources get in the hands of students.

Computers and mobile devices aren’t just changing the way that content is delivered, they have changed the way that students engage with their learning and the role of the teacher. But, the expansion of 1-to-1 and BYOD initiatives, flipped classrooms, and anytime-anywhere learning has created a variety of management challenges. Administrators are faced with managing a proliferation of laptops, smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks and other devices with small staffs and limited budgets.

Penn Manor School District IT staff and student technology apprentices discuss FLDT, their DIY software imaging program for in-house student laptop management.

Developers created some of the world’s most recognized software in garages and college dorms. The same do-it-yourself spirit thrives today across public education. School innovators customize software that ranges from small applications used within a single classroom to programs that support a district’s full administrative functions.

At Mentor Public Schools in Ohio, the IT team set up Chromebooks for all the elementary schools. And as part of the 1-to-1 initiative, high school students will have MacBooks.

There’s good news for district leaders in the ongoing battle to meet the ever-increasing demand for bandwidth. One-gigabit networks are coming to more areas, the cost of service per megabit is decreasing, and funding through E-rate and other sources is increasing.

Landlines are out and internet-based phones are in for many schools this year, as the modernized E-rate program begins scaling back funds for traditional phone service.

Discount rates for long-distance calling, cell phones and other services will drop by 20 percent every year starting this year, as determined in the July 2014 E-rate Modernization Order adopted by the FCC. E-rate funds for email, web hosting, paging and phone directory assistance were completely eliminated this year.

School districts will make their biggest tech investments in tablets and WiFi in 2015. (Click to enlarge chart)

Computing devices embedded in jewelry and glasses. Microchips tattooed into skin and sewn into clothing. In one form or another, devices that gather data without any help from the user will slowly infiltrate districts in 2015. In fact, the number of people with a wearable computing device will more than triple this year.

A media specialist in the Cherry Hills Christian Schools in Colorado helps a student with a lesson. The district combined an MDM solution with district-owned iPads for student learning.

Whether devices are tablets or laptops, or owned by the school or the student, they all require IT support. Recent support developments include bundling digital learning applications and the physical device with the cost of mobile device management (MDM) software.

District leaders seeking to acquire more technology must decide whether purchasing or leasing is more cost-effective.

As the economy continues its slow crawl out of the recession, school districts that had put off capital purchases are now replacing outdated equipment and buying new technology. However, administrators are still considering large-scale acquisitions with caution.