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How sustainable is your educational technology strategy?

This post is part two of a series about putting together a winning edtech strategy, which we’re calling Knowing Your Educational Technology Strategy, in which we lay out the factors that schools should consider when evaluating tech needs.

Twenty, even ten years ago, schools had to worry about one especially large expense per student when re-upping on learning tools: the textbook. What was great about textbooks, is that with some small exceptions (I’m looking at you, Soviet-era geography books), many schools could get away with spacing out their purchases of new books—10 to 15 years in some cases.

With the advent of edtech, all that has changed—technology changes, and learning styles are more fluid than ever—and students are better for it! Students are being positively engaged, school networks are being protected, students are being empowered, and teachers are planning and collaborating more easily than ever before. On the other hand, it’s critical to be aware of tech sustainability, so here we’ve listed five important areas:

Hardware

Here’s an unfortunate truth: all hardware has a 100% failure rate. After a long enough time, every device you use will quit on you, so the best you can do is plan around that eventuality. If you’re wrestling between the cheap, plastic tablets and the reinforced aluminum-body tablets, the cost difference may pay for itself when you find your tablets lasting an extra year or two. Though if you’re buying tablets for students with a penchant for breaking things, maybe cheaper devices will fit with your plan to purchase again in three years. We’ll be exploring funding planning in a future article, but it’s a good idea to have a plan for new devices or and for breakage/repairs.

Software updates and licensing

Not all software has longevity. Some require yearly licensing. Others as they are updated require better hardware, making old devices obsolete or software vulnerable to security threats. Some software, like Chrome OS, gets updated regularly and for free, but only for the life of a device. Consider the cost of licensing software when setting up your funding and when deciding on what OS and software to use.

Purchasing and funding

At the rate technology continues to update, the ideal situation is for schools to get new tech yearly—but that doesn’t mean updating it all at once: purchasing in increments, for example. A 1:1 high school could update their entire fleet of devices over 4 years, by assigning new devices to incoming freshmen, and retiring old devices as seniors graduate. Matt Schmitz, the tech director of Tri Center Community School District, takes a holistic approach to education technology,

“Many schools approach technology with the “have money, will buy” mindset. The next time they come across $25,000 in funding, they’ll purchase a mobile lab or iPad cart. This is not a bad thing in some cases, but most schools do not make any plans to replenish their new purchase in 3-6 years.”

There are a ton of factors that go into the funding aspect of sustainability, and we’ll be discussing that further in a later blog post, but here are some basics you should consider—Apart from grants and bonds, many schools utilize unique funding plans such as:

  • Leasing
  • Tech fees
  • Sponsorships

*We’ll explore these in more detail in a future article.

Network with stakeholders

An effective technology strategy considers a spread of stakeholders—educators and parents, but also other leaders within the community. You shouldn’t be afraid of seeking validation from those groups before moving forward! This could include any of the following groups:

  • Parents
  • Teachers
  • Admins
  • Tech directors
  • Curriculum integrators
  • Community business leaders

Getting buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders could mean the difference between funding and no-funding, or adoption and actual usage.

1:1 isn’t for everyone

While 1:1 may be the “gold standard” of school technology right now (and we see fresh approaches to it all the time), for many schools, 1:1 simply isn’t in the cards. To touch back on Schmitz,

“I have seen more one-to-one initiatives than I would like that have no plan to replace 6 year old hardware and the planning upfront lacked an equipment replacement timeline. This mindset often comes with an unfair and unrealistic expectation of school technical staff to support the environment as efficiently as when the equipment was brand new.”

This doesn’t mean you can’t keep your students and teachers on the cusp of new tools. Options like device carts, leasing plans, and BYOD policies help bridge the gap where technology access is lacking. There are other ways to flex technology to build towards 1:1 too, such as:

  • Device carts
  • Leasing plans
  • BYOD policies

With foresight and planning, you can build up to a 1:1 environment—and one that can be sustained over time.

Conclusion

There are many, many dimensions to the sustainability and finance problems within schools today, and we’ll be touching on some of those in future blog posts. Just be keep in mind that technology moves fast, and it will leave your school behind if you aren’t careful! Don’t play the textbook game—Microsoft XP might still be haunting some computer labs 13 years on, but with a sustainability plan, you won’t be stuck using dated, unsecure technology. Read on and check out our best practices for edtech infrastructure in schools!



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