Many school districts have undertaken technological transitions that leverage modernized technology and garner better cost-saving efficiencies. The following strategies are just some of the ways school districts are moving forward with technology to build efficiencies:
- Data center virtualization: School districts have found they can reduce hardware and cooling in their data centers by virtualizing network storage devices, servers, and operating systems. Abandoning old ways of housing and managing technology brings efficiencies and accuracy to the way information is stored and technology is used.
- Move from paper to digital: By moving away from print and copy to digital, districts benefit from eco- and budget-friendly practices. As teachers transform their pedagogy and classroom practices, worksheets can be replaced with real-world authentic activities that do not require paper. Document digitization, a move to a learning management system, and the purchasing of digital resources over paper-based products could all contribute to print and paper reduction.
- Standardize operating systems: Building a strategy around district-supported operating systems helps standardize hardware and allows for easier professional learning because end users only need to learn one system and not a plethora of systems. All purchases should follow the school district OS protocols on standardization.
- Standardize classroom equipment: Standardizing equipment across classrooms helps teachers and students because they know what to expect from the district technology at any school site. It helps in professional learning because all can learn how to integrate technology on the same equipment. It also helps with maintenance because technology staff will be familiar with how to repair and support it. Staff spend less time figuring out how to use the technology and more time on instruction.
- Standardize classroom display solutions and outfit for hybrid learning: Empowering teachers to move about their classrooms provides an opportunity to rethink classroom displays. How will teachers have more mobility around their classroom with their portable devices? Will you provide flexible learning zones in classrooms for small collaborative learning spaces with display capabilities? How will students be able to hear the teacher or their peers in a large group setting? With hybrid learning in mind, how will you ensure that students joining from home can see and hear what is happening in the classroom and be able to participate?
- Reallocate textbook funds to digital resources: More and more school districts are moving away from print textbooks to digital online resources. Materials more easily stay up to date, the technological solutions can provide access to features that are not provided in the print version (eReaders, font size and background color changes, etc.), and the appropriate allocation of resources supports personalized learning. If a school district plans to move in this direction, it is imperative that considerations be made for access when the students and teachers are not on the school network and do not have WiFi at home. A robust user management system as well as a single sign-on solution for accessing the plethora of digital resources is highly recommended.
- Move to software as a service for virtual desktop interfaces for students: School districts invest heavily in high-powered workstations for specialized courses like art/graphic design or STEAM. Some districts are moving toward the purchase of instances through a virtualization platform that allows high-powered applications to be run from the cloud and a simple end-user device like a Chromebook.
- Remote learning: Out of necessity, school districts throughout the United States increased their end-user device inventory so that students could learn remotely during the global pandemic. Hotspots and devices were rapidly purchased with federal relief funds. Even with students returning to school, hotspots continue to be useful in helping to close the homework gap. As equipment ages, there will be greater need for an increase of staffing to maintain and repair the devices as well as availability of funding for replacement. It is imperative that schools begin planning for long-term maintenance and replacement of devices now so they do not have devices that are at end of life with no replacement plans created.
- 1:1 devices used for testing purposes: Many school districts are distributing 1:1 devices to students not only for anytime/anywhere learning, but they also have the expectation that the devices will be able to be used for state testing. If that is the case, all 1:1 devices for students should be vetted against the required specifications for testing regarding screen size, processor speed, memory, resolution, input capabilities, accessibility features, and security. Examples: TestNav, Smarter Balanced
- Outsource technology preparation and repair: School districts have made the move from internal site-based device preparation and repairs by their own technicians to outsourcing the work. They acquire service plans that cover device provisioning, the staging of devices, and delivery of devices to schools (white glove service), or that cover repairs of the device past the warranty period via device protection plans. They take time to compare prices and service-level agreements from the manufacturer and third-party providers resulting in as much as 30 percent savings of service costs. By “hiring out” the large work, district technical staff can concentrate on working with schools and end users to keep the technology support system running.
- Build student technology teams: Many school districts have begun student-supported technology teams at the middle- and high-school level. By educating and empowering a team of students to assist with Level 1 tech issues such as basic troubleshooting, providing “how-to” tips, or creating tickets for higher-level support, your schools benefit twofold: Your selected students learn important customer service and technical skills, and your entire school benefits from more technology support on site.
- Expand opportunities for students to explore: There have been great educational advances in virtual reality, augmented reality, and eSports. There are many opportunities for students to engage in career exploration or Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses and learn experientially. School districts should consider the adoption of these newer technologies and work to build a plan for maintenance and replacement for years to come.
- Address the technology enablers: According to the Consortium of School Networking’s (CoSN) 2021 Driving K-12 Innovation trend report, current edtech hurdles include digital equity, scaling and sustaining innovation, and the evolution of teaching and learning. Current accelerators that can advance learning include personalization, social and emotional learning, and learner autonomy. Technology enablers include digital collaboration environments, untethered broadband connectivity, and blended learning tools. School districts which establish accelerators and enablers will be able to scale and sustain their innovation.
- Migrate to interoperability standards: School districts will be able to optimize their systems by ensuring they can communicate with each other. This is called data interoperability. It allows for secure and controlled exchanges of data between all applications. By adopting the data interoperability standards, you can eliminate data silos, further secure your student data, and make sure that your teachers are able to access all the student data they need from multiple sources. Check out Project Unicorn for further information.
- Increase cybersecurity efforts: A district’s investment in cybersecurity efforts is an investment in risk mitigation and lowers the chances of falling prey to attacks. Moving to single sign-on (SSO) or multi-factor authentication, implementing password management tools, transitioning to passphrases, and teaching staff how to recognize phishing attempts are all things districts are doing to keep their district’s data secure. For further information go to CoSN’s Cybersecurity page.
These transitions to different ways of doing business with the help of technology should be built into the sustainability plan, as they impact long-term budgets and preparation. The items from this list may impact the core of your school district’s technology plan and alter dependencies for other sustainable actions. Overall technology planning should encompass sustainability planning with the question: What is the plan to sustain this technology?