Tech Leadership

The Five Best Accelerators in Schools

by Robert J. Moore

"Good-to-great organizations avoid technology fads and bandwagons, yet they become pioneers in the application of carefully selected technologies." (Jim Collins in Good to Great)

Selecting among specific technologies and technology applications that can have an impact on learning can be confusing. Nevertheless, every school district leader today must seriously consider how technology can accelerate or advance the strategic goals of the district.

Wisest Investments
When considering which technology accelerators your school district is going to implement, you must consider the potential return on investment, particularly as it relates to student learning and your district's strategic goals. So in no particular order, here are five technology accelerators in which every district should invest.

 

  • Top-flight connectivity. Given that schools have had a decade of Universal Service Fund discounts (better known as the e-Rate) for network improvements, a high-speed, stable network and Internet connectivity should be a given in all schools today. Yet many schools still do not enjoy true robust, broadband connectivity.

     

    How do you know whether you have this level of connectivity? When you flip on a light switch do you ever worry there will not be enough electricity to power one more light? Of course not! Now think about how your computer network reacts as more computers are connected. We have to expect the same from network connectivity as we do from electricity - always on and at full power.

     

  • Wireless capacity. A second accelerator that every school district should be deploying today is wireless networking capabilities, also known as Wi-Fi. When combined with notebook and with hand-held computers with Wi-Fi capabilities, wireless connectivity gives students, teachers and administrators unprecedented flexibility for when and where they do their work.

     

     

  • A sound A/V system. Classroom audio-visual systems may sound a bit old school, but sometimes the most important solutions can be overlooked because they may not be as exciting as some other technologies.

     

    The central component of a good classroom A/V system is a computer-video projector with auxiliary speakers installed in the ceiling. This basic system, when combined with a closed-captioning decoder, makes technology-based learning accessible for students by ensuring that everyone in the classroom can hear and see clearly any type of media projected onto a large screen. A popular but costly and non-essential addition to this system is one of the many brands of interactive white boards.

     

  • Data warehousing. As schools strive to achieve adequate yearly progress, reporting and understanding student achievement has become critical. A key accelerator that can help a district manage and understand data about achievement is a data warehouse. Often referred to as BI (business intelligence) systems in the corporate sector, data warehouses are sophisticated software systems that collect data from a variety of sources, such as a student information system, assessment databases and the financial system.

     

    Along with the data warehouse come powerful tools that enable the district to analyze trends and to conduct predictive modeling of student achievement. These tools allow you to predict individual student performance on high-stakes tests and implement interventions to improve achievement.

    These systems are not inexpensive, but given the high-stakes era in which we operate, when properly implemented, they are worth every penny of investment.

     

  • Experienced leadership. While investing in the technology accelerators is important, successful planning, implementation and operation of these investments require skilled leadership.

     

    The district technology leader, increasingly referred to generically as a chief technology officer, or CTO, is one of the most important investments a district can make to ensure effective use of technology. A CTO with the right skills will ensure technology resources are aligned with and support the goals of the district. While cabinet-level CTO positions are most often found in districts of 10,000 or more students, even smaller districts should have an information technology professional who preferably reports to a member of the superintendent's cabinet, if not the superintendent.

    Long-Term View
    Too often school districts invest in technologies because of their high-tech, 21st century appeal without fully considering their impact on student learning and long-term total cost of ownership. The technology accelerators described here are neither particularly new nor innovative, but when combined with sufficient training and support, they will make a significant difference.

    In Good to Great, Collins reminds us that "technology by itself is never a primary cause of greatness" and that organizations "motivated by fear of being left behind" are destined for mediocrity rather than greatness. This advice should be kept squarely in mind as districts are considering their next large technology investments.

    Bob Moore is executive director of information technology, Blue Valley Unified School District 229, P.O. Box 23901, Overland Park, KS 66283. E-mail: bmoore@bluevalleyk12.org