In that same survey, however, educators indicated that the transition from their individual emergency deployments to permanent features has not always been smooth.
For districts like BSD, setting up individual programs for high school students before the pandemic allowed them to iron out many bugs before expanding the program to elementary students.
New Individual Programs Must Overcome Common Obstacles
As schools seek to position individual devices for the longer term, those in districts with more mature programs say it’s inevitable to run into hurdles along the way. They say teachers and districts may face challenges during implementation.
“In some cases, teachers don’t know how to use the devices themselves. In other cases, they know how to use the devices but need additional support to effectively integrate the technology into the curriculum,” says Lorrie Owens, technical director for the San Mateo County Office of Education. “At the same time, IT teams need to maintain the devices and manage all the supporting infrastructure to make sure the devices actually work.”
Device management is one of many potential technology hurdles. Schools may not have sufficient Wi-Fi infrastructure to support so many concurrent users, or they may struggle to implement access control across multiple apps.
National K-12 tech leaders say they’ve adopted new strategies to ensure long-term individual program success, and they’ve invested in new technologies to build momentum.
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Sustainability planning and professional development drive success
Oscar Rico, executive director of technology for the Canutillo Independent School District in Texas, has led its COVID-19 response, in part, by rolling out tablets for K-2 students and laptops for students from third to twelfth grade.
To ensure long-term financial viability, Rico engaged in thoughtful planning.
“Our multi-year plan includes a cycling program within our tech fleet that includes a built-in buyout option,” he says. “It gives me a down payment on what I’m going to have to buy in five years.”
It also leveraged community buy-in for the expanded treatment regimen. “Whenever we were evaluating devices, for example, we always wanted to invite the community and elected officials,” he says.
Districts that are successful with individual programs typically pay close attention to implementation, looking for ways to increase teacher professional development around these new tools. For some, that means starting small.
This is the approach taken by Jim Shreve. As Chief Technology Officer of Nome Alaska Public Schools, he oversaw the deployment of devices that led to HP Chromebooks in middle and high schools, tablets for K-2 and Chromebooks for the third to fifth grade. Throughout this time, he helped teachers adjust to the new curriculum.
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“We are not forcing anyone. Teachers can choose to use it,” he says. “This approach actually increases overall long-term adoption as teachers become more familiar with using the technology.”
In this way, teachers often took the lead. “Some of our educators are early adopters and they really get involved. They tend to deepen their knowledge and then share it with other educators,” he says.
Infrastructure and tools are critical to individual success
Several enabling technologies can also help schools with effective individual implementations. “It starts with making sure that the device you’ve selected has battery life that will last through the school day,” says Onstot.
Shreve also uses cargo carts. “You need to make sure you have enough storage for all these devices and enough charging capacity,” he says. “So we have Bretford charging carts, and we also have a number of Anywhere carts and some LocknCharge carts.”
Rico, meanwhile, has invested in connectivity to ensure students can make full use of their devices at school and at home. “We upgraded our current infrastructure with Cisco Meraki access points in our buildings to maintain connectivity when the kids came back,” he says. Additionally, the district has built a wireless mesh network to help children at home, with Cisco switches and Meraki access points reaching into the community. “Students authenticate to our network and that traffic passes through our on-site web filtering, so we’re able to provide the same environment in our schools and on the porches of their homes,” Rico says.
Onstot turned to access control tools to simplify the use of several learning applications. “All apps should be single sign-on or at least use a unified username and password,” he says. “We use Clever as much as possible for authentication and registration. Without this approach, teachers can end up with 15 different usernames and passwords for their program.