At the National School Boards Association’s Technology + Learning (T+L) Conference in Seattle, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) launched new initiatives aimed at helping school technology leaders manage two important ed-tech issues: improving energy efficiency and protecting IT systems in case of an emergency.

With its Green Computing Leadership Initiative, CoSN will provide tools to help school technology leaders reduce their school’s or district’s carbon footprint by conserving energy and reducing waste–while at the same time saving money.

The organization’s IT Crisis Preparedness Initiative will help school tech leaders ready their schools and districts for a potential crisis and will feature solutions for dealing with a disaster and protecting valuable data and IT infrastructure.

Green computing

Growing concerns over the effects of greenhouse gases, the safe disposal of electronic waste, and the need to conserve funding are forcing schools to address green-computing issues as a matter of conscience, budget, and political values, said CoSN.

With support from Cisco, Dell, Faronics, Gartner, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Pearson, SAS, SMART Technologies, and Toshiba, the green-computing initiative focuses on three major areas: technology energy use, green computing purchase and disposal, and reducing waste and saving natural resources.

"From responsible computer purchase, operation, and disposal to using computers to reduce waste throughout the district, schools can do a lot to minimize their carbon footprint and reduce energy expenditures," said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive.

As part of this new initiative, CoSN has developed an online resource, www.cosn.org/greencomputing, that provides information on topics ranging from making responsible computer purchases (with consideration for disposal) to using technology to reduce waste and preserve natural resources.

For every 12 consumers who operate their monitors and PCs in energy-saving mode, the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is equivalent to taking one average automobile off the road, the COSN site reports.

Other energy-saving tips include choosing printers that allow for two-sided printing to reduce paper and energy usage; substituting video conferencing for travel; converting paper forms, notices, and communication to online or eMail formats; using flat-panel liquid crystal displays instead of conventional monitors; consolidating servers and using server virtualization technology; running data backup during the workday to avoid leaving computers on all night; putting cooling devices and thermostats closer to your servers and networking heat sources; and moving cables to allow for better airflow.

The web site also features an energy-use calculator that allows school tech leaders to estimate their kilowatt-hour use and related costs for current and planned computing and network infrastructure.

"Schools are a critical constituent in the neighborhoods in which they are situated, and they serve as an integral partner in the communities around them," said Rich Kaestner, project director for CoSN’s Green-Computing Initiative. "Schools, therefore, play an important role in helping set an example for students and the community at large. On the issue of environmental sustainability and reducing human impact, schools have a political, ethical, and social responsibility to effect change. Our goal is to help them do so."

Additional resources include case studies from schools that have saved money by going green, as well as general information to help school leaders set achievable goals–such as doing what it takes to qualify for energy-efficiency certificates. The web site also lets users sign up for a free green-computing newsletter and RSS feeds.

IT crisis preparedness

Designed to help K-12 technology leaders ensure their schools and districts are prepared for disaster before, during, and after it strikes, CoSN’s new IT Crisis Preparedness Initiative features planning guides, presentations, workshop-style conference sessions, case studies, a web site, and other resources.

"Often when we think about being prepared for crises, we think about what we would do in the event of a natural disaster like a hurricane, flood, fire, or tornado. With this initiative, however, CoSN is reminding school technology leaders that crises can crop up at any time, and disasters are not limited to nature, season, region, or any other criteria," said Sheryl Abshire, CoSN board chair and chief technology officer for Louisiana’s Calcasieu Parish School System.

She continued, "[Because] . . . crises are  unexpected, it is incumbent upon school leaders to prepare to confront disaster before it strikes and threatens to damage critical information, infrastructure, and technological investments."

For the past several years, CoSN has focused on IT crisis preparedness as part of its professional development and leadership efforts. These efforts have included workshops to help school leaders plan for the unexpected, and those who have attended these sessions expressed interest in learning more. Based on that demand, CoSN said it developed this new, sustained initiative.

The resources come from a variety of sources, including districts that have experienced a crisis, materials developed as part of CoSN’s leadership training, and web sites that provide crisis information.

According to project director Linda Sharp, what CoSN has found as its members talk with ed-tech leaders from across the country is that their school or district might have plans to deal with specific crises–but not an all-encompassing approach.

"There is never time to plan for the unexpected, and school leaders have to be prepared for all of these crises–so disaster recovery planning has to be an ongoing, year-round process," said Sharp.

The initiative addresses plans for disaster prevention and mitigation; communication and continued availability of services during a disaster; and following a disaster, evaluation of the plan’s effectiveness and continued planning.

CoSN also stresses the importance of communication in planning to ensure that all involved understand their designated role in the event of a crisis. The organization says district CTOs should play a central role in planning efforts, because information technology is often the "nucleus of a school’s or district’s function, from payroll to maintenance of student records."

The project includes a web site (www.cosn.org/itcrisisprep) with information and tips for planning. The site also features links to free and for-fee materials, including a planning workbook containing worksheets that guide CTOs through each step in the planning process and case studies detailing the experiences and best practices of other K-12 technology leaders.

"We would welcome participation on an Education Advisory Board and will have a call for volunteers on the site," Sharp said, adding that she will address crisis preparedness at various conferences in the months to come.

(Editor’s note: For more news from this year’s T+L Conference in Seattle, see the T+L page at our online Conference Information Center: http://www.eschoolnews.com/conference-info/nsba-tl/.)

Links:

Consortium for School Networking

T+L Conference 2008

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Eco-Friendly Computing resource center. With energy costs soaring to record levels, taking steps to reduce the amount of energy you use isn’t just good for the environment–it’s also essential for your schools’ fiscal health. Fortunately, manufacturers of technology are responding to these needs by developing more eco-friendly products that can reduce power consumption and save schools money over the life of these systems. Go to: Eco-Friendly Computing