Smart Spending

Guidelines for funding classroom technology.

GUEST COLUMN| by Mike Patterson 

CREDIT CDWGTeachers and school administrators nationwide believe that bringing technology into classrooms boosts educational outcomes for students. Districts often purchase the next big device to “revolutionize” learning. In fact, overall education technology spending will reach $19 billion worldwide by 2019, according to market research firm Futuresource Consulting. But if schools do not put the right processes in place, technology can be a wasted investment.

Deciphering which products and services will truly help enable students and teachers achieve their educational goals can be challenging.

Deciphering which products and services will truly help enable students and teachers achieve their educational goals can be challenging. Many schools want to take the fastest-fix route, buying whatever devices are least expensive or come from the name brands they know best. However, patience in making classroom technology buying decisions is critical. Here are the key tenets to consider when evaluating potential investments, vendors, products or devices:

Ensure classroom technology meets educational goals: Many schools spend thousands of dollars on new devices because they are the “next big thing” without considering whether those devices address their specific goals. This is the costly one-size-fits-all approach that often leads to disappointing outcomes that do not address teacher or student needs.

To avoid investing in products that fail to meet educational requirements, schools should carefully research their options. Talking to technology experts and peers from other schools that have faced similar challenges is a great way to find solutions to meet their specific needs. After this initial research phase, schools should take the time to evaluate each option – brainstorming with teachers and staff to determine which tools will meet their IT needs and educational goals.

Embrace quality instead of quantity: Having too many devices or applications operating in a school environment can overwhelm networks, which can also lead to cyber security lapses. Identifying the right device and then determining the number of devices necessary to meet each school’s needs helps mitigate the deployment of an overwhelming number of tablets, laptops and applications, which often have overlapping capabilities.

Talking to IT service advisors about which devices each school currently uses and what the staff would like to achieve with new products is a crucial first step. Before finalizing each purchasing decision, schools should evaluate which products they should keep, replace or remove entirely and where the new devices and services fit in the current infrastructure.

Keep in mind that purchasing products from differing vendors can lead to compatibility issues; schools should work with an IT service advisor to avoid these complications.

Factor in professional development: When creating a budget and timeline to fully outfit a school or district with new technology, school boards and district leadership must account for the cost and time needed to effectively prepare and train teachers. Without considering these factors, teachers will be left frustrated with technology and solutions they don’t know how to use, wasting the most valuable time as they attempt to navigate this change on their own.

If a school is preparing to integrate new devices, a team comprised of district leadership, curriculum and instruction, as well as the district’s technology team should collaborate and plan professional development sessions for district leaders, teachers and staff. This will provide an opportunity to not only discuss the visions, the “why”, behind the process, but also give them a timeline of when the new solutions will be implemented. The IT and curriculum departments should also coordinate training necessary to demonstrate how to effectively use technology in the classroom, as well as offer support to answer any questions teachers might have as they become acclimated to the new technology.

Fund the new technology – creatively: To support the right technology, schools might need to look beyond the existing district budget. Schools can apply for grants, securing funds for devices and applications. Resources such as GetEdFunding offer a collection of grants created by teachers for teachers, from K-12 and higher education. GetEdFunding’s database aims to provide school administrators with funds to expand innovative projects, close the technology gap between children from differing backgrounds and circumstances, as well as prepare students for the future workforce by teaching them complex skills. With additional resources like these, schools can grow their budgets and their possibilities.

Technology can have a powerful impact on our schools, teachers, and most importantly, students. Schools must decide both what that technology looks like and how it plays a role in the classroom. By establishing educational goals, embracing quality products, enabling professional development and determining new ways to fund technology, schools will make smarter IT decisions while enhancing educational outcomes.

Mike Patterson is a K-12 Education Strategist for CDW-G. A former educator, he currently works with district and community stakeholders on state and national initiatives, driving strategic and positive curriculum and instruction change. Link with him.

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