Top 5 IT and technology trends for 2016

Libraries, connectivity, and more are big issues for IT professionals


Chief technology officers and IT professionals in the K-12 field have a lot on their collective plates these days, what with the continued proliferation of technology in their schools, new governmental programs and compliance requirements, and the push to effectively integrate their technology in the classroom. Here are five key trends that CTOs will be watching and reacting to in 2016:

The modernized E-rate program. Since it was established 18 years ago, the E-rate program has focused on connecting schools and libraries to the internet. Now, the FCC’s Second E-rate Modernization Order (adopted December 2014) will address the connectivity gap — particularly in rural areas — maximize high-speed connectivity purchasing options, extend the program’s budget through 2019, and increase the E-rate funding cap to $3.9 billion. Keith R. Krueger, CEO at CoSN – the Consortium for School Networking, said the fact that the modernized E-rate hones in on broadband and more robust networks is a net positive for K-12 IT departments and their CTOs. “Many networks for learning were designed under scarcity, and by managing bandwidth and telling people what they can’t do,” Krueger explained. “Now, we may be able to flip the conversation and look at what it takes to enable the learning that we truly envision.”

Broadband equity. In December, The Office of Educational Technology released its new National Education Technology Plan titled, Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education. In it, OET discusses its vision of equity, active use, and collaborative leadership to make “everywhere, all-the-time learning possible.” In a nutshell, the plan calls on the American educational system to “ensure equity of access to transformational learning experiences enabled by technology.” The organizations points to “finding new and creative ways to make sure the connected school does not end when students leave for the day” as a critical part of that mission. “Equity and accessibility were major themes in the new plan,” said Krueger, who sees human resistance to change as an impediment to equity in an era where technology infrastructures have become more robust than ever.

Sheryl Abshire, CTO at Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Lake Charles, La., sees the work that the FCC does via its Lifeline Program for low-income consumers as a step in the right direction. “This will be a first step in minimizing the digital divide and providing broadband to under-served communities,” said Abshire, who points to wi-fi enabled school buses and schools that remain open after hours as two other steps in the right direction. “Broadband isn’t a luxury anymore,” she says. “Our citizens can’t participate in learning, government, or other activities if we as school leaders don’t do our part in helping to erase the digital divide.”

Next page: Privacy and libraries take the spotlight

Student data privacy. In 2015, 46 states introduced 182 bills addressing student data privacy, 15 states passed 28 new student data privacy laws, and federal policymakers “increasingly engaged in the student data privacy conversation,” according to The Data Quality Campaign. “Privacy is on everyone’s mind right now,” said Abshire. To navigate these increasingly restrictive laws, school and district technology leaders are having to find a workable balance between the innovative use of technology, the personalized learning environment, and the rights of students and/or parents as it relates to data collection. Achieving that balance isn’t always easy, said Abshire, and it probably won’t get any easier in 2016 as even more states and federal groups adopt new privacy-related laws. Krueger concurs, and says privacy is a top concern for K-12 parents right now. “Privacy, which is shaping the technology conversation right now, could wind up derailing some of the opportunity to provide more personalized learning,” said Krueger, “particularly if we can’t collect and/or use certain types of data.”

Stronger library-IT alliances. Our recent story, Great ways library media and IT departments can work together, highlighted a few innovative ways that IT departments are working with library media specialists to achieve common goals. Expect to see more activity in this realm in 2016, said Scott S. Smith, CTO at Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, N.C. in fact, he sees the changing role of the school library media coordinator or librarian as a significant piece of the evolving K-12 IT landscape. “The librarian is no longer the keeper of the books, but a dynamic and vital leader in the school,” said Smith. Strong school library and media programs lead professional development for all educators, he adds, promote curriculum and technology integration, inspire information literacy, ensure balanced and aligned digital and print access to content, energize reading and literacy, and drive equity for all students. He points to Project Connect as a good example of this movement within the K-12 space. “The research is abounding that effective school library and media programs, led by qualified individuals have an enormous impact on student outcomes, achievement, and success,” he said, “There is a national movement toward this changing role.”

Addressing the human issues first. As he surveys the K-12 environment and progress that it’s made on the technology front over the last decade, Krueger said it’s not the equipment, hardware, or software that’s blockading future progress — it’s the people. “We have a long-standing belief that the biggest impediment to effective use of technology isn’t technical or technological; it’s people,” said Krueger. “We’ve spent the last 20 years asking, ‘Why should we invest in technology?’ but now we’re seeing more people asking, ‘How can our technology make a catalytic difference in the learning environment? That’s a whole different conversation.” For example, it’s not enough to buy 5,000 devices for a one-to-one program and expect teachers, students, and parents to pick up the equipment and start using it effectively in or out of the classroom. “So many one-to-ones have failed due to improper vision and purpose; we need to learn from these missteps and improve for the future,” says Krueger. “Going one-to-one is awesome, but good teaching and learning drive the process — not the technology or the device.”

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