To support ed tech, schools need to rethink budgets, infrastructure

He said the “bring your own device” (BYOD) model has become a much more attractive option than the old classroom model, in which staff insisted that students turn off their devices because schools “couldn’t handle” managing so much technology.

But even a cost-saving option such as BYOD can present a huge challenge in terms of providing enough broadband internet access for all students, Washington said.

According to surveyed high school IT staff, storage/server improvements and wireless/networking infrastructure tied as the upgrades most necessary to support a change to more tech-based instructional delivery.

Washington suggested that one way to solve the problem is to set up a wireless internet connection, which reduces the burden on IT staff of managing infrastructure, is much cheaper than traditional desktop cable connections, and reaches more students.

To make possible these major infrastructure and classroom model changes, schools need to overhaul their budgets. High school faculty and IT both ranked “lack of budget” as the top challenge standing in the way of more technology in schools.

Port Huron Area School District rethought its classroom purchasing models and bought greater quantities of small mobile devices instead of just several full desktops, Washington said.

After state funding proved insufficient, Port Huron approached its community and asked for a bond. Approved in May 2011, the bond package dedicates 30 percent of its funding ($7.5 million) to implementing more technology in schools.

Without the bond, Washington said, the district would have had to integrate technology piecemeal and at a much slower pace.

Now, he said, the additional money will allow his IT staff to “push at once and stabilize the baseline” so the 10,000 students in his district’s 19 buildings will receive much more equal resources.

Another way to maximize cost-efficiency is to go beyond ordinary vendor-customer relations and seek partnerships, said Chris Gonzalez, who handles procurement and sourcing for St. Edward’s University.

With a vendor, a school merely buys products and receives deliveries—but with a partner, a school can develop a relationship over time and talk about priorities and challenges.

Looking for the right partnership is “not easy,” said Gonzalez, and requires schools to have “honest and open dialogue about what they’re trying to do.”

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