Thursday, May 17, 2012

Looks before leaping


"Looks before leaping," should be the description of every education administrator. It doesn't mean that you're not going to leap, or that you'll stop, but that you take a long look before leaping. Due to the disconnect in many school districts between curriculum and technology departments--which find themselves spinning their wheels in tandem, parallel to each other, often headed in different directions without visible, tangible benefit to those they serve--"looks before leaping" might provide a measure of assistance in resolving issues. 

In the wake of No Child Left Behind, school districts found themselves investing in expensive programs--integrated learning systems that drilled/tutored children in the hopes of doing a better job than the poorly trained teachers. These sizable investments yield little results, however, as noted researcher Henry Becker has pointed out. The writing lesson today is a simple one. It highlights one possible approach to sending a message no one wants to read/hear. 

Here's the scenario:
The Curriculum Department for your school district has decided that to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), it needs to implement a costly, technology-based intervention. Your team of directors/coordinators realizes that the technology-based intervention is being ordered without a real grasp of the technology infrastructure challenges at the school. Simply put, the equipment in classrooms is not capable of running the software or too obsolete to run the client software. While everyone on the team is aware of the issues, how do you present this information to your supervisors who proposed the purchase and now have a pending purchase worth half a million to a million dollars in the pipe for School Board Approval? You're the only one who sees the issues clearly enough to articulate them. Everyone is looking to you. What are you going to do?
Well, one of your possibilities is to write an email or memo to the supervisors who may end up like the Emperor with no clothes. One possible response appears below:
Please note that VendorName REQUIRES—requirements from VendorName attached to this email--X, Y, and Z. Targeted campuses for VendorName lack the equipment to meet these basic requirements. However, there are other factors to take into consideration that have not all been addressed in anticipation of this implementation. The SchoolDistrictName, as you know, seriously needs to upgrade its infrastructure in K-12 to ensure successful use of ANY technology-based intervention system.
Additional Attention needs to be given to the following areas:
Area #1 – Hardware Requirements
  • SchoolDistrictName's Curriculum Department needs to complete a Request for Technical Support for affected campuses to ensure that computers at those campuses meet minimum requirements
Area #2 – Network
  • VendorName needs to be contacted and asked if their web-based program will work with/without a persistent wireless Internet connection.
  • VendorName needs to be contacted regarding the use of a caching system, if one would work or not or even whether it’s appropriate.
  • Bandwidth requirements (for example, VendorName single user requires at least XX kbps of bandwidth).
Area #3 – Account Management
  • VendorName needs to support automated account management and maintenance including 24-hour secure FTP uploads
  • The Student Information Archiving needs to be notified of requirements
  • VendorName needs to identify how authentication of student and teacher logins will occur.
  • VendorName needs to respond as to whether student ID # can be used as the student login with password generation
  • VendorName needs to clarify whether data transfers are encrypted or open.
  • VendorName, since it’s storing confidential student performance data, has to sign the agreement form to keep data confidential and to return that data to SchoolDistrictName if/when VendorName’s services are no longer needed.
Area #4 – Software Requirements
  • Identify Minimum Browser
  • Identify critical browser plug-ins/add-ons
  • Identify minimum operating system for Windows (e.g. Windows XP has been identified) and for Mac OS X (e.g., Mac OS X.4 Tiger has been identified).
  • Identify client software that needs to be installed on the computer
Again, I strongly recommend against moving forward issuing payment to—or implementing--VendorName until concerns in these critical areas have been dealt with.

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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

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