Thursday, March 18, 2010

Implementation & Technical Logistics for 1:1, part 2

As we looked at yesterday, there are several considerations for technology leadership when planning for a 1:1. Here are more thoughts from Pamela Livingston's 1:1 Learning - Laptop Programs That Work:


Many leaders of 1:1 initiatives take a hands-off approach when it comes to technology. Bad idea. Yes, you might never know the ins and outs of technical maintenance, but you still play a major role in its success. It is important to set expectations.

For example, you will need to address the issue of the home internet connection. If students are taking school laptops home (and they should be for optimal learning), school boards and parents want reassurance that they will not be able to access inappropriate sites there either. Laptops can be set up with a proxy, which is a policy that routes all their internet traffic back through your filter.

Another expectation is the physical safety of the machines. Livingston mentioned that at Peck, they spent the money to purchase briefcase-like cases for protection. We used soft cases at Howard-Winneshiek, and while we never had any accidents with the machines going home, I was always nervous about it. An orientation on how to carry your computer and lock it up is also a must-do strategy, best done in the roll-out orientation (which we'll look at in a later post).

Which leads us to insurance. There are several different approaches to how to pay for damages, and damages will happen. You will want to visit with your insurance company right away. This could be the first they have ever dealt with a school 1:1 program. Several Iowa schools set up insurance policies that parents would pay somewhere between $25-50 for the year, and then pay a $100 deductible if the machines were damaged. This minimized expenses for the district. Some other districts had the plan be voluntary (parents could opt to cover this under their own insurance).

Insurance is important not only for damage, but also for theft. Just like with damage, all machines should have preventative physical measures like identification tags and safe storage locations, as well as proactive human measures, like the aforementioned walk-throughs and spot checks.

If leaders do not have expectations for technology staff, there will be problems. That's not to say that technology staff won't have their own, even higher expectations for their work. In many cases they will. But good district leaders will be proactive here as well.

One general expectation is the access vs. security continuum. When it comes to school IT staff, they will fall somewhere in the spectrum of "as much possible access for teachers and students to technology for learning" to "as controlled of an environment as possible so that students, staff, equipment, and the district are safe". And, these butt heads all the time. Do you block Youtube? Do you allow teachers to install their own programs? Do you require a network password for visitors, and who gets to know the password?

There are pros and cons to both sides of the spectrum from a technology standpoint. But from an administrative or curricular standpoint, I was firmly in the "access" side. I wanted teachers to have the ability to find and use new resources and tools without feeling like they had to jump through hoops and wait for me. For technology staff that have never been in the classroom, they do not realize how spontaneous and changing classroom choices are, and nothing is more discouraging to a teacher than spending many late hours planning a great lesson only to find out the next day that the site is blocked and it is a 2-week process to get it unblocked.

Livingston's school took the same, anti-lockdown approach. And, this was second-order change for the tech staff. But that change in philosophy happened at the earliest of stages, before serious conversations with the staff at large and the community were taking place.

Another expectation is no down-time, as we mentioned yesterday. Again, talk with technology staff about the importance for students to have access to the computers and the internet. Determine what the expectation would be for different scenarios. At Howard-Winneshiek, my expectation was that I would have the teacher or student a working computer within 24 hours, whether fixed or loaner. With more help staff, that number could be cut down to 2 hours. Now, I will admit there were occasions when I missed the expectation (and there will be that in your district as well), but I communicated with the teacher/student beforehand so that they knew. Having that expectation made sure no-one was left in the dark, and also allowed for objective evaluation of my work.

Have an expectation for login time as well. If it takes more than 2 minutes from when a person pushed the on button to when they are ready to work on the computer, that is lost instructional time. Other items, like minor technical support (the computer is working, but a program has a glitch) or instructional support (how do I...?) are areas to discuss as well. This is a chance for technical staff to voice their thoughts and have an important say.

One last item mentioned in Livingston's book that is a huge fear for would-be districts, what about students without home internet access?

Internet access outside of school hours is a non-negotiable; students will have to have it. But this issue should be one you can plan for. Here is how I tackle this conversation.

First, what does your data tell you? How many have access at home? Don't just say "we have 31% free-reduced lunch...". That number is not the same as who has home internet access. Many times, the answer is... we don't know. Surveying your home families, be it through conferences or registration, is valuable data collection. Many districts found that they had over 85% with home access, which meant that they were targeting less than 15% of the population.

Next, find alternatives. You might have some common areas where students can stay after school, be it near the gym or by the office. Also, the community library is an option.

Then, ask students what they would do. Jeff Dicks at Newell-Fonda said when asked about this question by other superintendents, "To be honest, it hasn't been an issue. Our students were resourceful enough to find the hotspots if they needed them. We've had students who have sat in the parking lot to access files on a Sunday, and it hasn't been a problem for them." And, this is in Newell, Iowa, where Panera's and Starbucks have not yet arrived. Not promoting illegal hotspot squatting, but students can find appropriate places to get on the internet in many cases.

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