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A robust digital sustainability strategy is necessary to deliver equitable and secure digital learning opportunities to all students.

The journey to digital sustainability: A CIO’s perspective


A robust digital sustainability strategy is necessary to deliver equitable and secure digital learning opportunities to all students

Key points:

I recently had the privilege of co-presenting a session on digital sustainability with UDT at FETC this past January. Meeting with other education technology and instructional leaders affirmed how multi-faceted and critical digital sustainability is for school districts right now.

My unique path to serving as Chief Information Officer for Orange County Public Schools has enabled me to experience our district’s digital transformation from multiple perspectives. I began at OCPS as a first-grade teacher before joining the district’s teaching and learning team, where I helped plan our five-year 1:1 device rollout for 280k students. In August 2023, I transitioned from teaching and learning to IT.

Given our district’s size, we distributed devices to 30 or 40 schools at a time beginning in 2014/2015. The year before a rollout, we’d begin training the teachers and upgrading any necessary infrastructure at the school level. By the time the Covid-19 pandemic hit, we were almost done with the rollout. However, this created an interesting dynamic. We had schools with devices that were 5 or 6 years old, schools with brand new devices, and classrooms with equipment approaching 6 to 7 years old. As we were finishing our 1:1 rollout, we also had to consider updating and refreshing all these devices.

This disparity made us realize that we needed to implement a robust digital sustainability strategy to deliver equitable and secure digital learning opportunities to all OCPS students.

To be successful, we have separated our approach into four key areas:

1. Devices: This includes distributing, collecting, replacing, and repairing devices, as well as giving schools the timeline needed to adjust to district decisions. It also involves managing accessories, like chargers, which students often lose. A laptop without a charger is essentially non-existent in your fleet, so we had to develop an in-depth plan for managing and replacing chargers.

Mitigating the impact of breakage rates has been a learning process. For example, we originally did not put our devices in cases. Introducing cases has led to a 50 percent drop in breakage. We have also changed our model to ensure students get their original device back after repairs, which encourages them to take better care of their devices.

2. Infrastructure: We need to think beyond the device and consider our entire digital infrastructure. If we do not have enough broadband to facilitate seamless learning experiences, our students will suffer. Additionally, as interactive whiteboards and other components age, we need to decide how we will pay for replacements.

3. Access: As CIO of OCPS, I am often reminded of the delicate balance that must be maintained between access and security. Our devices are not for IT; they are for our teachers and students. Our role in IT is to ensure these devices work and provide the access needed for effective teaching and learning. Teachers want quick access to resources, and we strive to provide that. However, we also have a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of our network and data. One way we achieve the balance is through our software request process. This process allows us to check that the requested site has a privacy policy that aligns with our district’s guidelines.

Communicating the ‘why’ behind our actions to teachers, parents, and other stakeholders is critical as we navigate the complex landscape of providing access to resources while maintaining security. We may need to convey it multiple times and in ways that parents and teachers understand, but it’s a crucial part of maintaining the balance between access and security.

4. Security: With the number of devices on a school district’s network, security is a massive concern and needs to be part of every conversation. The moment we power a device and start using it, we introduce risk. The sophistication of cyber threats is increasing, and schools need to adopt a layered approach to security.

No matter your size, school districts are going to need partners to help safeguard their digital learning environments and streamline their fleet management processes. Our own partnerships provide expertise that is not native inside our district and help our organization function more effectively.

As we move into 2024, we know we will be challenged every day. However, with careful planning, open communication, and strong partnerships, we are confident in our ability to sustain our 1:1 device program and continue to provide our students with the tools they need for success.

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