Sunday, November 16, 2014

Considerations for #EdTech Purchases

Well into the 21st century, most schools acknowledge that for students to be prepared for college and career, they must have equity and access to technology. Providing technology resources is more than purchasing equipment and delivering it to a school. As we've learned from numerous other districts who've gotten this wrong (east coast and west), district-wide technology purchases can be a godsend or a disaster.  

Here are some recommendations for schools or districts that are allocating dollars toward technology.
The Foundation
    • Internet access 
      You must have the foundational infrastructure for technology to work well. Today robust internet access must be the first priority of any technology investment. This comes BEFORE an investment in devices because without it, you can’t effectively operate devices. Invest in high-speed broadband or wireless internet. Schools need help with this. Districts should secure system-wide smart infrastructure purchases that have long-lasting impact. Phone companies should provide steep discounts to schools.  
    • Electrical Wiring Ensure the school is equipped with updated wiring to power devices for students and staff.
    • Smart + Easy Log On
      Accessing the internet should be easy and not require a technician to log on devices. For example in some schools they have QR codes for logging on to the internet. In other schools directions may be on the back of student and staff ID cards.
    • BYOD
      Empower students with the freedom to bring their own devices.  Survey students to see what type of devices they have so you can make a determination on what type of devices will be necessary to ensure all students have access.  

The people
    • Pedagogical Focus Know how and why technology will enrich teaching and learning. Ensure technology use is a part of instruction. Ensure your teachers know how to find the right resources to enhance what goes on in classroom. Be sure they are familiar with tools such as which help you find the right resource to align to learning goals.
    • Professional Development Don't buy without professional development from the vendor baked in. Ensure there is additional professional development available for teachers. Consider having a staff member who can provide in class coaching and support.
    • Tech support
      Don’t be confused about instructional technology and technicians. The person who teaches students how to use and do on a computer is not a technician. Ensure there is adequate tech support on hand.
    • Librarians and computer teachers
      Bring school librarians and computer teachers into the conversation.  
    • Professional learning opportunities
      Ensure your technology purchases come with professional learning opportunities for staff.
    • Guidelines and policies created with stakeholders
      Have guidelines and classroom management strategies in place. Bring staff and students into the creation of these guidelines.   
The Facilities
    • Modern Facilities 
      Construct modern facilities to accommodate instructional programs. Ditch the desks. Reimagine classrooms more as learning commons.  Think of an Apple store. Think library. Think Google. Think different.  Think about how you prefer to work and be creative.   Have couches, chairs, lamps, bean bags, balls.  Have pillows on which students can place laptops. Let students help with the design of the learning space. 
    • Flipped Classroom Spaces IN Schools
      Make spaces for a modified flipped classroom where students don't do the flip part for homework, but in a school provided space which is safe and has appropriate tech.  
    • Maker Spaces 
      Does your school have trailers or outdated libraries? Consider turning part or all of them into Maker Spaces.  They're perfect for that and great for schools and districts thinking of STEM. Caution: If trailers are taking up playgrounds, they need to be relocated so kids have space for play at recess and lunch.

The Hardware
    • Out with Interactive Whiteboards
      I agree with ed tech innovator Ira Socol who explains we’ve outgrown the 2005 technology of interactive whiteboards. It’s time to move away from ties to single companies which often require expensive software. It’s also time to move away from their reinforcement of the "Teaching Wall” method of instruction.
    • In with device to screen/monitor connections
      Create a set up so any computer you choose can connect to screens - either wireless (i.e. WiDi, Apple TV, Chromecast, AirTame). Not only does this promote more interactive learning than a traditional interactive whiteboard, but you’ll also save thousands per classroom when no interactive whiteboard and expensive software are required.
    • Servers
      Servers are an expensive technology of the past that require tremendous manpower to support. Unless you have hired someone that is trained in supporting servers and has a reason they are superior to today's cloud-based options like Chromebooks, skip the server and go Google Apps for Education.
    • Devices 
      In today’s world, successful schools empower students to bring their own devices. Failure to do so moves schools toward obsolescence. With this in mind, schools should considering what devices are necessary when students bring their own devices. know how you want devices to support instruction before purchasing them.  Have plans for providing and refreshing these devices as necessary. Chromebooks are a great option for school device purchases. They  are fast, effective, affordable and can reduce overall costs. Many primary schools are looking at tablet options. If you do make sure you have a plan for app purchases, updates, and support.  

From the east coast to the west, we've all heard about technology gone wrong in schools. These are some recommendations to help technology go right. What have been the successes and challenges where you work?  

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