As we get closer to year's end, like most, I spend some time meditating on what the year meant and how I've changed or developed professionally or personally. I may share some other reflections in the coming days, but one thing I know for sure, this is the year that the direction I want to lead my schools in terms of technology finally crystallized. Before this year I had vague notions of directions, but if you held me down, I couldn't articulate a clear program. But now I can list five goals that make up my to do list of ed-tech accomplishments I want to complete before I leave this job.
I'm going to break this topic into two days to avoid an overly long post (and to fill more days).
The first step is to provide bandwidth to all schools that is adequate to support the huge demands of a technology rich environment. The movement from local to cloud based audio, video, and services, has exponentially increased the amount of bandwidth consumed by each device. Since even the high demands of today may be dwarfed by tomorrow, it is vital that this bandwidth be scalable. To support this, we are negotiating diocesan contracts with ISPs, running all bandwidth through a centralized location, where we provide filtering and firewall protections to all networks. All school sites have fiber connections which allow for easy scalability with no hardware upgrades. Negotiating a single contract saves money compared to schools negotiating alone, and schools can realize savings by eliminating local filters and firewalls.
We are close to finishing this first phase, and it has been harder than anticipated. Dealing with ISPs has been a true challenge, and I have learned to accept that they are always lying to me about timelines or costs. Unfortunately in our current systems, these companies hold a stranglehold on broadband access; they know it and operate accordingly. So often I have given schools assurances that things would be completed by a date, only to be made a liar by our ISP partners. Another area of challenge was educating schools about the costs of a fiber line. Even with discounts, the new lines cost significantly more than previous DSL or cable which are limited and not scalable. Schools who had $50/month service designed for consumers were suddenly faced with monthly bills of $300. This was a slow process which I did not do well at first. Finally, trying to adjust any filter system to meet the diverse needs of 35 sites is a slow process guaranteed to frustrate all involved.
The second direction is the implementation of a single student information system (SIS) called Sycamore for all elementary schools. An SIS does much more than store student information; it operates as a parent communication system, grade book, report card system, web portal, and other services. Most schools already had an SIS, but they were paying a single school rate, every system worked differently, and there was no way to gather census and other data from the diocesan office. By purchasing a single SIS for all schools, we can save money, centralize training, and gather census data without having schools fill out forms. Implementing a single system also can guarantee that all schools have an effective system to serve teachers, parents, and students.
Hell have no fury like a school that is asked to use a new student information system. Like any new piece of software, there is a learning and a comfort curve. Over time, users learn shortcuts and stop having to think while doing repetitive tasks. A new system starts this process over again, and makes it feel like the new system is inferior. Too many times I had to repeat the mantra, “You'll hate it until you love it.” I know years from now the system will be changed again everyone will complain about moving off the “intuitive” Sycamore system. The SIS project will be completed will full implementation next year.
I'll save the other three goals for later.
As always, I welcome your comments
Image: 'Our Direction'
http://www.flickr.com/photos/68634595@N00/116220689. Found on flickrcc.net