Total cost of ownership is another important consideration, and this should include the cost required to run a technology, as well as the staff time required—and not just the cost of the technology itself.
Other critical technology decisions that leaders of online or blended learning programs will encounter include:
- Learning management system: Consider instructional features and review the system carefully, because once a system has been purchased and implemented, it is extremely difficult to change.
- Student information system: “The last thing you want to do, especially as your program grows, is to have teachers enter grade data twice, or have it be a challenge for you or your teachers to understand where students are from an achievement standpoint at any given time,” Rapp said.
- Internet connectivity: Before scaling an online or blended learning program, make sure the program has the capacity to support a greater number of students accessing resources at the same time, to avoid network crashes. Additionally, not all students might have internet access at home—so you must create a plan to service those students.
Other technology considerations include web conferencing tools, end-user devices, technology staff, trouble tickets, and mobile learning.
One big decision most online and blended learning programs will face is whether to provide computers and internet stipends to students, Schmitt said. Schmitt’s school operates on too small a scale to provide such resources this year, but he said the program has plans to expand to that sort of service eventually.
In the meantime, Southwest Colorado eSchool’s brick-and-mortar offices have computers that students can come and use if necessary.
The school also requires that students pass an introduction to online learning course.
“Just like teachers, students have a learning curve in becoming an online student,” Schmitt said. The course teaches students how to use the different technologies involved in the program, among other things. If students do not pass the course, they are not admitted to the program.
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