A roundup of best practices from CTOs can help those hoping to start mobile initiatives

mobile-CTOSchool leaders hope to give their students access to mobile learning opportunities, but infrastructure challenges and access barriers often create complications during mobile initiative implementations.

A group of chief technology officers (CTOs) from across the country shared tips and advice for fellow school administrators and technology leaders who are embarking on mobile device deployments such as one-to-one initiatives or bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs.

Panelists on the Connected Educator Month webinar included:

(Next page: Valuable advice from the CTOs)

Invest in network infrastructure and upgrades

CTOs hoping to make mobile deployments a success shouldn’t miss this critical step, panelists said. It’s important for district leaders to ensure all school buildings can support an influx of devices accessing the network.

When implementing a BYOD initiative, it’s also smart for CTOs to assume that some students will use multiple devices, such as a tablet and a smart phone. Making sure school networks are prepared for two devices per student is a smart move.

A network upgrade is a “critical” part of a one-to-one initiative, said Coppell ISD’s Sam Farsaii. Coppell operates a one-to-one iPad initiative in its high schools, and the initiative is moving down to the middle and elementary schools.

The district maintained a BYOD initiative before implementing its one-to-one program, Farsaii said. “We realize that we may give students an iPad, but they may have their own smart phone or laptop as well, so the network as to be built to carry that capacity beyond the devices we’re providing.”

“Install as many wireless access points as possible—at least one per room,” said Josh Walters of ENSC. “Purchase as much bandwidth as possible.” ENSC began its initiative with 150mb connection speed, is currently at 355mb, and will move to a 500mb speed in fall 2014.

“Each student does not have one device,” Walters said. “Most kids have a cell phone in their pocket and are bringing in an iPad, tablet, or eReader, and you really want to plan on two devices per student.”

“We’re seeing, on average, about 30,000 unique student-owned devices on our network each day,” said Forsyth County’s Bailey Mitchell. “Infrastructure is incredibly important.”

Know that technology isn’t a fix-all

Every CTO must remember that technology alone will not solve a district’s challenges. Technology is a tool, but it has to be used correctly.

“I believe technology amplifies the strengths and weaknesses in the classroom,” Farsaii said. A great teacher will be able to thrive with technology, but a mediocre teacher won’t improve his or her instruction simply through technology access—it should be accompanied by intensive and ongoing professional development.

Access remains a challenge

One of the major problems a CTO will encounter is the issue of access and equity. Giving students devices through a take-home one-to-one program doesn’t ensure that all students will have internet access at home. Instituting a BYOD initiative most likely means that some students won’t have their own devices to bring to school, and even if they use a classroom device, they might not be able to take it home or might not have internet access even if they are allowed to take the school device home.

Technology also gives access and skills to students who might not have the chance to use these devices at home, ENSC’s Joanna Cook said. While access challenges remain, CTOs can help students develop real-world skills through a school technology initiative.

“This provides students with the 21st century learning tools and skills they’ll use in college, vocational schools, or in the workforce,” Cook said.

“Lots of times we’ll see kids sitting in the school parking lots, working on their devices, because they don’t have internet access at home—more wireless access points help that,” said Walters.

“It is a challenge,” Farsaii said. “[Coppell] still has 10 percent of our students who are at a socioeconomic disadvantage.”

“Forsyth is a fairly affluent area, so you could argue that a lot more students would have the potential to have the devices, but we do have efforts to look at the equity issues,” Mitchell said. The district established a BYOT Equity Taskforce to that end.

Forsyth also is collaborating with local businesses to establish free Wi-Fi zones so that students without home internet access can find off-campus internet connectivity.

Know your goals

Cook said ENSC decided to implement a one-to-one initiative because it “creates limitless educational delivery systems, uses the enthusiasm and skills of digitally connected students, challenges students through engaging and relevant lessons, and leads to continued improvement of instruction by moving toward project-based learning and away from teacher-led instruction.”

ENSC began its one-to-one initiative in 2011. The district has 600 iPod Touch devices for kindergarten and first grade, 900 iPads in grades two through four, and 2,400 laptops in grades five through 12.

“Choose a device that does what you need,” and CTOs should outline the district’s needs at the beginning of planning the initiative, Walters said. Offering extensive professional development to accompany that device’s implementation is crucial. ENSC maintains technology staff along with peer coaches who help teachers integrate technology as effectively as possible.

Georgia’s Forsyth County maintains a bring-your-own-technology (BYOT) initiative. Mitchell said district officials differentiate between BYOD and BYOT to allow students to bring any form of technology that enhances their learning.

“We see this fantastic opportunity for personalization,” Mitchell said. “It helps our teachers think about differentiation and personalization in a different light. It gives teachers more time to facilitate and take advantage of the fact that students are empowered by their own devices. Teachers will admit, over time, that giving up control is not a bad thing.”

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