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Is Your School District Ready for This Year’s Tech Demands?

16 Jul 2015 by Heather Breedlove

As the school year fast approaches, many Chief Technology Officers (CTOs), or tech directors, are busy refreshing equipment. It’s up to these IT pros to make sure their districts’ technology is ready for the demands of online state assessments and classroom use.

“The best technology to buy is the one teachers are interested in using and investing time in,” said Alice Keeler, a teacher for California State University Fresno in Fresno, Calif., during an International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) panel about the changing role of CTOs.

Mobile needs

Wondering which are the best mobile devices for your district? Use the checklist below to start the conversation with key stakeholders in your area.

  • Does staff support the devices chosen? Create pilot projects for each device to get real feedback within the district.
  • Will the devices support instructional goals?
  • Will the devices support school software, including the student information system, gradebook and special education software?
  • Will additional equipment be needed, such as adapters, keyboards and headphones?
  • Will the device work within the infrastructure, as part of the robust wireless network? (See the Wireless Network section below.)
  • What type of training will IT need to support the devices?
  • What is the longevity of the devices?
  • Are the devices easy to repair? What are the costs of support or maintenance?

MDM/EMM solutions

A Mobile Device Management (MDM)/Enterprise Mobile Management (EMM) system makes deploying apps, and updating and setting restrictions easier, while limiting the amount of hands-on time for device management. There are several options on the market, and the best choice depends on what types of devices will need to be managed and what level of control is needed. MDM/EMM solutions usually charge a per-device fee and provide a cost savings based on the number of devices enrolled.

Here’s a checklist to help identify district needs and choose the best solution for your district.

  • Conduct a cost-savings analysis of IT support hours versus using an MDM/EMM solution. Does it justify the expense?
  • Does the MDM/EMM solution support a BYOD or 1:1 environment?
  • Does it provide the features needed to manage devices?
    • Can you push out apps to multiple devices?
    • Does the MDM/EMM solution offer a self-contained app catalog that serves as a directory of all school-approved apps?
    • Can you update operating systems and manage purchased apps or software from a central admin console?
    • Does it provide inventory management?
    • Can you track equipment location?
    • Does the MDM/EMM solution allow you to wipe/lock devices remotely?
    • Does it allow you to remotely configure and manage Wi-Fi networks?
    • Can you set device restrictions?
  • Does it manage the types of devices in your district, including iOS, Android, Mac and personal computers?
  • Do you need it to support a multi-platform environment?
  • Does it integrate with the district directory system?
  • Will you need a cloud-based system or one that utilizes a server?

Wireless network

“You have to be operational before you can be transformational,” said IT Director for Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, Fla., Susan Bearden, during the panel about the changing role of CTOs at ISTE.

How will you make sure the infrastructure supports the new technology? Use the checklist below to ensure success.

  • What is the required bandwidth for the number of mobile devices the district owns?
  • What type of wireless network meets your needs — coverage model or access point in each classroom?
  • What is your projected growth in the next few years? Are you looking to add more mobile devices or go 1:1?
  • Have you tested the network map to discover which areas have weak connections? Survey teachers to get current wireless access feedback.
  • How will you fund a wireless network or a refresh?

Gathering feedback

Kevin Honeycutt, a technology integration specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center based in Hutchinson, Kan., talked about his time as a school board member during the panel about the changing role of CTOs at ISTE. The school board was about to approve a technology purchase. Honeycutt wanted more feedback, so he reached out to his Twitter contacts about the product.

The reviews he received were overall negative, with one person commenting that they were “still recovering” from using the product. The school board ended up not approving the purchase.

How will your district solicit feedback to ensure the devices will meet the needs of your school or district? Get started with help from the checklist below.

  • Did you implement staff surveys to assess needs?
  • Have you gathered feedback from parents, the community and stakeholders through online surveys, in-person meetings and events?
  • Utilize pilot projects with different devices to get real classroom environment feedback.
  • Have you talked to other districts that are similar in size or demographics?
  • Have you received feedback from a larger audience using social networks like Twitter or Google+ communities?
  • Did you ask for feedback in help forums?

Professional development

When districts are looking to refresh devices or purchase new devices, the focus is usually on the device rather than the implementation of devices in the classroom.

“There needs to be a lot of back-end professional development before, during and after implementation,” said Matthew Miller, superintendent for Mentor Public Schools in Mentor, Ohio, during the panel about changing roles of CTOs at ISTE.

Bearden agreed, saying that she would rather spend money on professional development than devices. Use the checklist below to think about the role of professional development in your technology-device rollout.

  • Who are the support people who will need professional development?
  • What is your timeline for device rollout to teachers versus students?
  • How will you obtain buy-in from teachers?
  • What resources will you need to support teachers?
    • Will you need in-house support people like tech coaches or instructional specialists?
    • Will you need outside support people who are able to provide professional development training?
    • Will you need online resources like webinars, websites, guides and tutorials?
  • How will you ensure the professional development focuses not only on learning the device but how to effectively integrate it into classroom practices?

Student data privacy

“We’re saying that data collected on students in the classroom should only be used for educational purposes — to teach our children, not to market to our children,” said President Obama during a speech at the Federal Trade Commission on Jan. 12.

He proposed the Student Digital Privacy Act, which prohibits companies from selling student data or data mining for advertising purposes. The bill was modeled after a California law that prohibits third-party companies from collecting student data for non-educational purposes.

This bill expands on current legislation such as Family Educational Rights and Privacy (FERPA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA), allowing parents to have certain rights to their children’s education records and control over what information is collected online from children under 13 years of age.

Looking to purchase a student information system or an online educational resource from a company? Use the following checklist to see if it meets the criteria for student digital privacy.

  • Have you checked to ensure the company has signed the Student Privacy Pledge?
  • Does the company state they are FERPA or COPPA compliant?
  • Did you create a list of online educational services the district is using? Have you reviewed terms of service (TOS) to ensure they meet student privacy rules?
  • Have you identified the security measures needed to ensure staff selects appropriate online educational services for students? Did you review policies for click-wrap agreements, which allow students and teachers to agree to terms and conditions?
  • Is the company transparent about how they use student data?
    • Is it posted in their TOS?
    • Do they sell student information for marketing purposes?
    • Do they retain student data beyond the allowed time?
    • How will they notify the district if there is a change in their TOS?

Insight Education helps K-12 schools and districts meet the technology demands of today’s evolving classroom — from integrating devices to storing data and protecting student information. With cost-effective solutions and services, we provide educators with the newest technologies and expertise needed to address all curriculum standards in a secure environment. We also offer the tools students need for deeper engagement with instruction and college- and career-readiness. Let us know if we can help you get ready for this school year’s tech demands by visiting our website or calling 1.800.INSIGHT.