Thursday, November 18, 2010

Technology Management - Part 1



Image Source:
http://www.cinemasoldier.com/storage/post-images/unstoppable-train.jpg

Districts are planning for budget cuts of around 10 percent,” reported one Texas school official, as quoted by Linda Kastner--via Twitter--from a local school district Board meeting. Whether you get the bad news via newspaper, television or social media, it’s still bad news.

With Texas facing a $20 billion budget shortfall, every state agency is likely to see cuts, state Sen. Kevin Eltife said Wednesday. However, what that means for Texas education remains uncertain...“How bad is it going to be? Nobody knows,” Eltife said, referring to the overall budget shortfall. "As far as taking your fund balances — absolutely not. No. We're not going to do insane things."
(Source: 
News Journal.com via TexasISD.com)

and

If that's not the case, then public schools, which garnered a 40 percent share of the $87 billion state revenue pie in 2010-11, are anticipating they might have to forfeit between 5 and 15 percent of state funding in the next two years.
(Source: 
Temple Daily Telegram via TexasISD.com)

Like anyone else with an eye on the future, it’s obvious where school districts are headed--Bankruptcy, if such a thing exists for public school districts. The problem isn’t ONLY that that money is going to disappear, but that our old approaches to spending money will make what is left, go all the faster. It puts me in mind of Unstoppable, a new movie I sat on the edge of my seat for recently (the first movie in months). That level of suspense hasn’t been there for me at the theatre for years, and what a thrill it was to recapture the feeling.

Starring Chris Pine (Captain Kirk) and Denzel Washington, Unstoppable is about a rookie and veteran conductor that must stop a runaway train before its hazardous chemical cargo collides with a town and kills everyone. (Read Movie Review)

But as wonderful as that feeling is to capture in the movie theatre, it’s not one I want first-hand experience with, especially at work. Yet, it does present an opportunity. Doug Johnson (Blue Skunk Blog) hints at it when he cites Robert J Moore, The Future of Information Technology: How The Next Ten Years Will Fundamentally Change the Role of the K-12 CTO: Executive Summary*, November 2010, COSNThe thrust of Doug’s blog entry is simply that times are changing and school districts have to change with them. The summary list appears in his blog entry but I like it so much, I’m swiping and modifying it to have better access to it:

  1. Mediate a contract for an ASP.
  2. Evaluate out-sourced work and set up effective helpdesks.
  3. Work inter-departmentally with curriculum, staff-development, public relations, assessment and strategic planning.
  4. Provide access to school resources for personal devices.
  5. Write guidelines and curricula that encourage safe and responsible use.
  6. Know more about the "why" of a new technology in education
  7. Select and plan for new technology applications and best practices.

What if *I* were the Chief Technology Officer for a school district? What changes would I make to the traditional approaches? Here are some that I would make...what have I left out? Is COSN’s Framework detailed enough in the nuts-n-bolts?


Need #1: Mediate a contract for an Application Service Provider (ASP).
There are needs for many services that involve application service providers, among the ever-present need to facilitate communication and collaboration. That means, an Integrated Email, Calendaring Solution, Web Site Solution for All Students and Staff.

Instead of investing in trying to build a private cloud, take advantage of “cloud computing” solutions like the following:
  1. GoogleApps for Education - Provides excellent resources at no charge, regardless of size from small to large. Switch to LibreOffice (f.k.a. OpenOffice) on your computers and move everyone to GoogleApps...Spring Branch ISD in Texas has done it.
  2. MS LIVE - Although not my favorite solution, who cares? It provides free email, calendaring, works great with Active Directory and MS stuff, and many districts are seriously considering it because it is what they are somewhat familiar with.

Other ASP approaches that I’ve encountered include web-based reporting and assessment services, such as handheld-based appraisal tools, curriculum management system, content management systems (e.g. in-house, non-ASP Joomla/Wordpress or hosted a la Schoolwires), Human Resources applicant tracking (check this list for providers of such services), video editing for coaches (e.g.Hudl), Response to Intervention (RTI) services, benchmark assessment and reporting tools, credit recovery, etc. The list of services needed is extensive...for example, once you craft your Request for Proposals (RFP),

Furthermore, once you have an ASP, how do you assess their work? The use of metrics are suggested, but often, as once technology director put it, "There's not enough time for metrics when doing your job." Hmm....

Need #2: Set up effective helpdesks.
Why not take advantage of free, open source helpdesk software--like Liberum-- cutting costs? (View free software list here) Of course, if you insist on paying for it, there are many solutions available, too (view commercial list here). Of course, having an effective helpdesk is more than just setting up the right software...it is also how prompt your response time is, how you handle campus visits, whether you help the teacher who begs for your help, even though her name isn’t on your list, whether you get your staff certified to “open the box” or outsource to another business to provide that service. There are a million and one decisions, and what may be right for a large district may not be for the small, and vice versa. A CTO has to reflect on each, preferably with his/her team, and then make the decision...and learn.

Need #3: Work inter-departmentally with curriculum, staff-development, public relations, assessment and strategic planning.
This may be the hardest part of the job. Often, technology directors take an attitude that they are the enforcer, the one who will impose limits on what end users can do. This happens, not because the person is focused on imposing his/her will on others, but because trying to manage an extensive network with many connected devices can quickly turn into a nightmare. Yet, there has to be a balance struck between the controls allowed to the end user and those taken away.

Having worked in a variety of environments, I know that I could never exist at the end of the continuum that allowed me no control over the computers I work on. . .I would find some way to reformat the hard drive, build it up from scratch so that I would know every single piece of software on it. The hard drive would be optimized, the registry kept clean and tidy, etc. And, having seen the effect of locked down machines--like those directors who physically locked (with a lock and key!) floppy drives--on end users firsthand, I cannot condone such behavior. For me, there has to be a balance struck between policy and leadership, technical support and curriculum applications. I first explored this triumvirate of power in 2001, a piece I thought lost until I found it on my Geocities web site (read it here)...the balance was between these folks:

1.Policy Administrators:Protect the organization from embarrassment and threat using policy or social constraints.
2. Curriculum & Instruction:Share their work and publish student projects on the web. They are focused on the creation of knowledge products and facilitating product creation.
3. Network Services: Protect the network and minimize or lesson intrusions/disruptions of the network.

When you consider the 3 groups, especially the last one, it’s easy to see how any one group can go too far. I’ve seen it, too. Here was my response back in 2001...in reviewing it, I find not much has changed.

The chart below refers to the threats that each group faces and the ideal of how to integrate technology into the curriculum:
Group
Threat
Ideal
Policy Administrators
Over-regulation and lengthy approval processes that punish errors rather than support exploration and failure.
Flexible policy development and review that supports teachers' efforts to create knowledge products.
Network Services
Constant fear that network integrity will be compromised and requests from users must be denied because they generate more work for the helpdesk.
Implement basic controls that are transparent as possible, yet allow teachers/students to share knowledge products.
Curriculum & Instruction
Irresponsible use of technology that is not linked to specific standards and results in knowledge products that reflect student grasp of the standards.
Develop activities that responsibly use technology to produce standards-based (local and national) knowledge products.


Wow, this blog entry has gotten quite long. I’m going to stop and explore the other areas Doug mentions in future blog entries. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

Future topics:
  1. Provide access to school resources for personal devices.
  2. Write guidelines and curricula that encourage safe and responsible use.
  3. Know more about the "why" of a new technology in education
  4. Select and plan for new technology applications and best practices.





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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

1 comment:

doug0077 said...

Thanks, Miguel. It's really fun (and useful) to see someone put some meat on the bones these ideas!

Doug

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Disclaimer

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure