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Articles: Infrastructure

Over 150 school districts in Illinois have teamed up to share software and technology through IlliniCloud, a one-of-its-kind nonprofit cloud-computing consortium for schools. Jim Peterson, IlliniCloud's chief technology officer and Bloomington (Ill.) Public Schools' technology director, started IlliniCloud in 2009 with the help of technology company CDW. Three data centers, located in Belleville, Bloomington and DeKalb, house computer systems, backup power supplies and security devices.

In the 1990s, school districts invested all they could in desktop computers that had plenty of horsepower, since applications and data were all stored locally on individual machines. By the 2000s, the individual machines had become less critical as districts moved to server-based networks.

Transparency, student data and modernization have been on the forefront of Oklahoma State Education Superintendent Janet Barresi's mind since she began her job in January 2011. Upon her arrival, Barresi saw the state's education technology was lagging behind, to say the least. Barresi implemented a new email and phone system, which previously had messages received through snail mail and without conference-call capabilities.

The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) officially announced to the FCC on July 13 that it has identified additional monies to fund FY 2010 E-rate Priority 2 (internal connections and basic maintenance of internal connections) requests at the 80 percent discount level. Schools and libraries that are entitled to 80 percent E-rate discounts serve some of the country's most financially strapped communities.

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.

Departments of education at the state level with high-quality longitudinal data systems in place have doubled within the last year, according to the sixth annual data for action report released by the Data Quality Campaign, an organization that encourages policymakers to use high-quality education data to improve student achievement. The report shows "unprecedented" progress, with 24 states having implemented the 10 state actions to ensure effective data use standards set by the data Quality campaign. The organization predicts all states will have complete systems by September 2011.

"We want a grant for 20 computers."

This was my directive from district administrators nearly 25 years ago. As a district grants specialist, I dutifully wrote the grant for computers so that the schools would be prepared for the 21st century. Back in the late 1980s, the computers themselves were the crux on the federal grant application.

Most of us are familiar with the damaging consequences of computer viruses such as freezing worms and Trojan horses. Another set of devious hacking forces, however, known as botnets, have caused districts to re-evaluate their online security measures. A botnet is a network of computers controlled remotely by hackers and infected with malware. Unlike other viruses, botnets do not run on autopilot once they gain access. They infiltrate computers, usually via e-mail, and they take advantage of the affected computers' Web browser vulnerabilities while spreading spam and viruses.

Schools across the nation have begun the transition toward cloud computing, and administrators knowledge and ease of use with cloud services ranges from early beginners to the very advanced. A new nonprofit organization, eduCloud, plans to level the playing field by developing a set of best practices for the development of K12 content, tools and assessments hosted in the cloud.

The physical infrastructure and capabilities of K12 information technology have undergone a transformation over the years, according to "The Future of Information Technology." This white paper, released by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) on Nov. 12, explains how K12 IT departments have evolved and where they will be a decade from now.

The paper notes four major trends changing the role of the CTO:

High creeks, prickly pear cacti, and dry live oaks dot the central Texas land around the Round Rock Independent School District. Diverse, sprawling and growing rapidly, the district comprises 48 campuses across 110 square miles. Administrators credit a business-inspired, total-cost-of-ownership, technology standardization program with their ability to keep pace with student needs.

Under pressure to keep spending down but also keep pace with rapid technology changes, many districts are future-proofing their schools—trying to get the most out of their tech spending by providing solutions they will be able to use now and in the future without major, expensive infrastructure overhauls.


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“Give the people what they want!” That could be the slogan for the Digital Door Project at Denver Public Schools (DPS).

When the district decided to gather the data from shelves, binders, books, and warehouses and turn them into something useful, the first step was financing. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and a general bond provided the necessary funding.

“Once funding was in place, we started working with focus groups to outline their data needs and connect it to the curriculum,” says Connie Casson, deputy strategy officer.

The popularity of thin clients may soon diminish as districts catch wind of zero clients, the latest computer technology that is even thinner and lower maintenance. Zero clients, small silver portals the size of a Big Mac box, differ from thin clients in that they have no internal processing at all. "It is more or less a portal between the user and the keyboard," says Mark Lamson, director of technology for the Westerly (R.I.) Public Schools (WPS ). "It records key strokes back to a virtual machine which is running securely in the data center."