As technology increasingly dominates school ecosystems, Tech Directors are expected to evaluate, implement, and train on new systems each new school year. Tech personnel are responsible for managing a variety of solutions, but in the busy tech market, it’s easy to get distracted and end up purchasing something that your school may not really need. Often you can end up with solutions that are disjointed and end up stuck in the middle of a technology mess.
With all the moving parts that must be managed, it’s helpful to have a checklist of major items that need to be considered, planned for, and addressed to avoid extra unneeded cost in the end.
Here’s a quick checklist guide to making sure you’re covered for this upcoming school year:
Website – The website reflects the image and reputation of a school, and a sharp and reliable website can increase admissions. It’s critical to make sure that your website is up and running with the latest information including enrollment schedule, up-coming activities, and important announcements. Make sure it is accessible and user friendly for all the students and parents who’ll be using the site. Nowadays, having a mobile version is essential. Being able to post and read the latest announcements as they’re posted will save everyone valuable time. You can also create a form on your school site where parents can sign-up to receive newsletters from the school, which will save you a lot of time and effort in the future.
Communication Systems – In addition to the website, Tech Directors have other communication channels to consider. Mobile apps are becoming a very popular method for schools to communicate information like alerts, calendars, news, and even lunch menus. Push notifications are a helpful tool to get the attention of parents through the school mobile app, though tech personnel should be mindful of overuse. Critical emergency information and reminders can also be sent via SMS. Studies show that over 70% of K-12 parents aged 25-54 have smartphones and texting is the preferred communication method over calls. Social media is also becoming a popular way for schools to communicate. The message dictates which platform is best used to share it – Twitter is ideal for sending quick updates such as school closures while Facebook is more ideal for longer posts or to share weekly blog posts, videos, or events.
Devices: There are so many things to consider when choosing the right device for your students, including the primary use for the device, your students’ grade level, whether students will be taking the device home or leaving it at school, and the budget that you have. Different grade levels require different device power and functionality, so you should consider what the students will be using it for and what apps will be required to run on the device.
Chromebook/Laptop – In 2017, Chromebooks accounted for 56% of K-12 school market due to their lower price point and accessibility.
iPad/Tablet – Apple ranks as the leading tablet vendor holding 29% share of the global tablet market in 2018, though Android OS ranks over Apple’s iOS as the most popular operating system since 2012, with 62% of tablets used in schools running on Android OS.
Protecting Mobile Devices – It’s easy to focus on deploying your mobile learning devices and overlooking how you will protect the devices themselves. Students from grade 3 to 8 are most likely to damage their iPads and Chromebooks through bumps and drops which leads to additional cost for the school to replace and repair devices. Independent studies show that the breakage rate of non-cased devices is nearly triple that of devices in a quality case, noting 8.5% device breakage on average for non-cased devices versus 2.6% when cased. One of the smartest long-term investments Tech Directors can make is in protective cases that will provide cost savings in the long run.
Security and Anti-Virus Solution – There are 2 ways your devices can be damaged – from the outside environment (see #4) and from viruses and malware. The threat of viruses and malware is even more daunting in educational environments where an institution is responsible for many computers. Threats affect not only the devices of teachers and supervisors but also students’ mobile learning devices. It’s up to the IT personnel to make sure that everything students are exposed to is safe. It’s necessary to secure all your data and protect your assets from getting stolen or being destroyed. Security and anti-virus solutions serve as a shield that guards your devices and network from the inside. Tech Directors should look for virus protection that is designed to protect multiple computers on a network versus an individual protection package.
Power – For a school that has its own mobile classroom technology that is distributed to students, a mobile or stationary charging cart is the best way to safely store and charge devices. Fitted for Chromebooks, iPads, mobile PCs and other tablets, charging carts have dedicated slots where devices can be conveniently stored and charged simultaneously. Carts are adequately ventilated to ensure that devices do not overheat while charging. Students and teachers should be able to easily remove and replace devices before and after classes, and most charging carts include a secure locking feature to ensure device security. Depending on whether devices are shared between classrooms or not, schools may want to purchase a stationary or mobile cart that can be easily moved between classrooms. Make sure to find a cart solution that is fitted for your specific classroom mobile devices.
Software – It only takes a little bit of research to find out that there are thousands of school administration software options marketed to K-12 schools that do everything from managing enrollment, grades, attendance, teaching tools, and a multitude of other tasks. It’s the task of the Tech Director and IT staff to wade through all these options. It’s helpful to narrow down gaps in procedure where technology could help fill those gaps and streamline processes. There are numerous helpful roundups of the best school software, and many come with free evaluation periods where school administrators can test the systems risk-free. Selecting the right school administration software can often be one of the most cumbersome aspects of a Tech Director’s job, but it’s vital to do your due diligence to avoid paying for services that your staff may not really need or end up using.
Internet access –Often, having a solid infrastructure of support for a 1:1 initiative can be overlooked because it isn’t as top of mind as the mobile technology itself. However, it is essential to make sure that your school has a strong wireless network with enough bandwidth to support the students’ technology. Educational technologists suggest obtaining the widest wireless broadband possible and placing one access point in each classroom, multiple in common areas and in any outdoor campus areas. It’s smart to look into a range of providers and obtain RFQs from each to determine which provider may offer the services that best fit your school’s needs.
Digital Citizenship / Appropriate Use Education – As discussed, Internet Access is vital for classroom learning, but educators know that it must be used responsibly in the classroom. In order for the educators to know how to best use the Internet as a tool for learning, they first must be informed, and that’s where Digital Citizenship plays a significant role. Knowing how to use the Internet in the educational platform effectively is what every school should aim for, and Tech Directors should lead the school in responsible Digital Citizenship practices.
Learn more about Digital Citizenship here.
Confirm Budget – When considering sources of funding, it’s important to examine where future as well as present sources of funding will come from. Don’t neglect to consider where future sources of funding may come from, as you will inevitably need to replace and refresh your devices and technology systems down the road. Existing budgets can be repurposed to redirect funds as well. The technology deployment itself with naturally save some costs associated with more traditional learning aids including printing costs and textbooks.
Budgeting is about choosing the right equipment that will last and fits your school’s needs while also being mindful of the funding you have available. Tech Directors should avoid short-term solutions that may not hold up in the long run, like choosing the cheapest device to save money but risking high device failure within a year or two. Effective Tech Directors realize that technology is an investment and not a short-term gap fix.
Ensuring that the various aspects of technology are ready to go for a new school year is a huge undertaking. It’s difficult to envision all aspects of your school or district’s technology landscape that you need to address and avoid leaving gaps that will create more problems down the road.
To get off to a successful start this school year, make sure you create and consult a checklist and expand it for items that are unique to your situation. You can reuse this list as you prep for each new school year and use it as a training tool for new Technology Department staff. Creating and reviewing a “Tech Checklist” each year will ensure that your administration, tech team, and teachers maintain a highly engaging, technology-centric classroom year over year.