6 things keeping your CTO up at night

What CTOs are struggling with, and how teachers and admins can be part of the problem, and the solution

cto-nightShort-staffed, budget-beleaguered tech departments have a lot on their plates right now as they juggle schools with more devices and applications than ever before with the need to keep security tight.

This year’s TCEA Convention and Exposition in Austin, Texas featured a panel session with a number of chief technology officers (CTOs), who discussed the state of education and technology from their perspective.

We recently spoke with a handful of CTOs, including panel members, who shared the key challenges they are currently facing, and offered up some solutions for handling these obstacles.

Next page: Why Facebook and Instagram are a big problem

 1. Keeping data—and students—safe. Steve Young, CTO at Judson Independent School District in San Antonio says one overarching theme that was discussed at the event was the ongoing struggle to balance the increasing number of tech-based learning tools and applications with the need for solid personal and data security.

Young says this issue hits particularly hard for districts that are using more cloud-based services, versus hard drive-based software systems. “The decision over whether to give teachers and administrators access to all of these services is a big one,” says Young. “There are now a lot of [resources] that are accessible online, and that may or may not be endorsed by the school or district.”

2. Data sharing. According to Young, this is an issue that’s been brought to light on a global scale by the recent Home Depot, Target, and bank-related security breaches. “The organizations that are getting [hit] have big security teams and stringent controls in place,” says Young. “Meanwhile, in K-12 we’re just starting to talk about these issues.” Again, he points to the cloud as a driving factor behind these “talks,” noting that an administrator could unintentionally share private student data with “everyone in the district.”

3. Social media safety. John K. Orbaugh, executive director of technology for Tyler Independent School District in Tyler, Texas, also participated on the panel and says that online security and safety issues are always paramount in his team’s mind. With so much activity taking place on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for example, CTOs struggle to balance required protections with the ability to use such platforms openly on the instructional side. “It’s a constant tug of war,” says Orbaugh,” and we only have so many staff members and hours in the day to support all of this activity. We can’t be all things to all people.”

Next page: BYOD gripes and solutions


4. Tight budgets. Orbaugh says technology funding is another sore spot right now for CTOs – particularly those that are based in Texas and no longer receiving instructional computing funding. Recently rolled up under the “instructional materials” umbrella, this funding source once provided about $30 per student for technology spending. “It wasn’t a lot of money,” Orbaugh admits, “but at least I knew that I could count on it.”

With Texas undertaking a large textbook adoption initiative, most of the instructional material funding is being eaten up by non-technology expenses, says Orbaugh. “In an era where we’re trying to modernize technology for our students and instructors, we can’t even plan ahead based on a targeted budget at this point,” says Orbaugh, who is at least optimistic about the new E-Rate funding rules that go into effect this year.

5. Wi-Fi worries. Sheryl Abshire, Ph.D., CTO at Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Lake Charles, La., sees the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend as being particularly onerous for today’s CTOs. Of particular concern is having the right amount of bandwidth to support students and teachers who tote multiple devices on campus and that require Wi-Fi to support those devices. To minimize the problem, Abshire says her district conducted several internal surveys about its existing wireless setup, and then – like Orbaugh – turned to E-Rate’s Category 2 funding to help fund the addition of a robust, reliable network.

6. Too much device diversity. Of course, with more BYOD taking place on campus, the need for technical support increases exponentially. “A teacher whose classroom is populated with 30 or 40 different devices doesn’t have the time to figure them all out – particularly when a student has a problem,” says Abshire, who advocates the use of standardization (for devices, operating systems, etc.) as a way to overcome this hurdle. “Standardization has worked well for us. When a help desk ticket comes in, we know the device in question and can address the problem as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

To K-12 CTOs who are dealing with these and other challenges, Young says it’s important to note that no one has all of the answers to these pressing questions. He advises technology directors to lean on their peers for help, and encourages them to get involved with local and national organizations like CoSN, the Consortium of School Networking, which are focused on information sharing, problem solving, and the use of best practices. “These groups can serve as great resources for both new and veteran CTOs that are operating in a constantly-changing landscape.”

Bridget McCrea is a contributing writer for eSchool News.

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