A good friend of mine emailed me the other day with the exciting news that her district had approved a $3 million dollar technology bond. She was sending out emails to everyone that she knew to find out what has worked and what hasn’t. These were the questions she send me:
1) What have you initiated in Addison and how do you like it?
Laptops for the teachers was my first initiative and I tied that to upgrading our High School computer lab so we could get maximum value. I think your teachers already have laptops but if they don’t this was essential. You cannot ask a teacher to support a mobile initiative (netbooks, iPads, etc) if they are not already mobile themselves. If they are anymore than 3 years old get them new ones and put the current laptops into a lab or mobile cart. If this isn’t covered by the bond think about investing tech budget money into getting the teachers the very best laptops for under $1000. These should be dockable.
Netbook carts was my second initiative and, although it has received scrutiny from staff, it has catapulted this district into the 21st century. Staff took issue with the fact that the devices can be slow but compared to the technology they had before the netbooks these are a luxury. Understand this was before the iPad and during the initial offering of the iPad. See initiative 3 for more on this.
iPads! We just put two iPads in every classroom K-2 through a grant and the outcome has been way better than I thought. Teachers love the devices because they are easy to work with and the students pick up on them quickly. The students are still in awe of them. We are planning to roll out two iPad carts next year and extend the 2 in a classroom to the 3-5 classes. Some things to consider are that we are planning to get the apple keyboards with the carts for the Middle School and High School and all of these iPads will have the full iWork suite (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers) which is the equivalent of MS Office. With the keyboard and iWork these devices pretty much replace any computer the students need. I have Emily testing this for the rest of the school year with my iPad and keyboard and so far she is loving it. Total expense is would be about $650 for one unit. A steal!
Smartboards are also on the docket for this year. We have been using Smart brand boards in 4 classrooms (3 high school, 1 middle school) for the past year and a half and have several Promethean boards left over from my predecessor. Smart kills Promethean easily. As part of our bond project we are pairing Smart boards with Epson ultra short throws which will save us money on the initial purchase (the Epson is about $1500 less than the Smart UF65) and the bulb is only about $199 and lasts twice as long as normal projectors. Kristin Moore is the rep we have been working with at SmartEd services and she is fantastic.
You can’t pull any of this off without a decent wireless infrastructure. For my proof of concept I bought a bunch of off the shelf Netgear Wireless Units and reprogrammed them to work as a Mesh network. This isn’t terribly hard but took some effort. I initially bought 10 units at $35 per unit and was able to cover about 80% of our campus. I bought more later on and had about 100% coverage but it was never steady. These types of units can only take about 3-5 connections at a time so they would never work well with our mobile labs. For the mobiles I used higher end HP units that could handle 40-60 connections. This year I upgraded my network to the HP units for the rest of the year and for the bond we are deploying an advanced Cisco wireless network that will have smart coverage over most of the campus. To have any decent mobile initiative the infrastructure MUST be solid. Sounds like you guys are all over this.
The last thing I’ll discuss is server infrastructure. I don’t know your tech guy but your district has a unique opportunity to be the server and not the consumer with the shared services initiatives that are out there. Building a solid server infrastructure could be a huge difference and a possible money maker for the district. Just a thought to pass on.
2) Would you still go the same route?
I would definitely go the same route but I would insist on better PD. I’ve been brushed off in the past on this and had to start my own after school PD program (Tech Tuesdays) to help pick up the slack of training in our district. Admins love to pass up on this but make the investment and make it where it counts. Apple will send reps to train 16 people on iPads in-house for $4500. That is a steal. Insist on PD as part of the bid process for items like smartboards and anything that is heavily integrated into the curriculum. I’m blessed with a great school board and superintendent that trusts my decisions so I’ve been able to do a lot but this one is a big one.
3) Have you spoken with any other tech admin about what their schools are using and how it is going?
Twitter is essential for finding out what people are doing, what works, what blogs have the best information. I’m not a Twitter fanatic, I’m a believer. It is a worldwide PLN!
4) If there was one piece of technology that you would put in student’s hands, what would it be and why?
Easy. The iPad. This is a revolutionary device that has a HUGE ecosystem (app network) and endless possibilities. With the right apps you can easily replace the PC for most normal users. Pair an iPad with supplemental computer labs and schools have an affordable 1:1 solution that will ATTRACT students to your district. Remember that your 4-12 students are going to need keyboards for the devices but this is a worthwhile $60 investment and they will need the iWork suite which is a very worthwhile $15 (the suite is half off with purchases of 20 or more) investment.
I would suggest attending one of Apple’s iPad in Education seminars that they hold at area high schools or even call them and offer to host. Great information in the meeting. Most importantly how to manage the iPads. Your Tech person needs that information the most but it is good for everyone. Their app volume purchase program can be a little tricky to wade through but I’ve been through the process and I’d be happy to help out any way that I can.