This is the second in a series of posts that examine how schools and districts are planning for and implementing digital learning efforts. We are also hosting monthly webinars to dig deeper. The first two webinars are archived and available here.
Providing technical support for a large fleet of devices that travel between school and home is no simple task. Management and support of technology is a lot like managing and caring for people. When people break (i.e., get sick), a doctor can see symptoms, but only extrapolate from those symptoms the cause. Technology is much the same. We can’t always say why things don’t work, but we know the symptoms. We can troubleshoot (i.e., poke, prod, run some tests, and even ask our computers questions out loud) to try and extrapolate the cause, but usually, we treat the symptom. The advantage with technology is that it’s easier to uninstall/reinstall or swap out parts!
Sometimes, in our efforts to provide a stable, secure, and safe computing platform, those adjectives -- stable, secure, and safe -- become the focus. We lose sight of our primary goal of providing a computing platform to enrich, empower, and facilitate teaching and learning.
So, how do we deal with the challenge of managing the “health” of our school’s or district’s technology? We often attempt to control as many variables as we can in order to reduce the likelihood of having problems. But is this the wisest approach? We could lock up kids in hermetically sealed, sterile, and padded environments to ensure they grow up safe and healthy. But I think most of us would agree this won’t lead to a happy and healthy person. Also, it takes time, energy, and money to provide such an environment. Sometimes, in our efforts to provide a stable, secure, and safe computing platform, those adjectives -- stable, secure, and safe -- become the focus. We lose sight of our primary goal of providing a computing platform to enrich, empower, and facilitate teaching and learning.
As technologies evolve and improve, it is critical that technology support models evolve with the technology. For example, in a 1-to-1 computing program, one of the common baseline positions for a deployment has been that individual users not be able to install new software or update existing software. One of the root rationales is that doing so makes it too easy for the user to render their computer inoperable. It could compromise the system’s stability. While this remains true in some instances, increasingly on modern mobile platforms, the core operating systems are doing a better job of isolating individual applications from each other, thereby reducing or eliminating the software conflicts that were so common on earlier platforms.
Does the device and who controls it really matter anymore?
Additionally, we are seeing mobile and cloud-based platforms that are reducing the strain on data storage and backup. Data is automatically written to servers that are physically locked away in a protected network operations center and in the hands of very skilled and well-staffed companies, and typically offered to schools at no cost. So, with that in mind, does the device and who controls it really matter anymore? Yes, it still matters. There are other concerns, such as privacy, but how we manage them can change.
For example, in my previous role, I oversaw Maine’s statewide 1-to-1 program. We worked with our vendor partner to create a singular stable, safe, and secure software configuration for the program. Users could not alter primary system configurations nor software, and that provided us a stable, consistent platform statewide. This afforded us many advantages, but with it also came challenges. Operating system updates were impossible to do mid-year. It took months and a multitude of staff hours to develop the master software configuration to ensure stability. Application versions had to be locked down months prior to the school year.
For the first time, we were able to empower every student and teacher to be the administrative user of their own devices.
For the eleventh year of the program, we finally introduced a new fleet of devices that included a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution. For the first time, we were able to empower every student and teacher to be the administrative user of their own devices. That fall, new versions of the operating system were released. In the past, we couldn’t install those updates, nor the updated software that required the update, until the following school year. With all users as administrators, the overwhelming majority of the approximately 80,000 laptops and tablets were upgraded by their individual users within a couple weeks. Techs who initially feared the loss of control realized they would no longer need to spend days, if not weeks, of their summers installing new software on each individual device.
Providing a technology platform that enriches, empowers, and facilitates teaching and learning is not simple. There is no single right answer. Focus on that goal, and try not to get overwhelmed by the tangible objectives necessary to achieve it. Ask questions and challenge assumptions, because the technology world is dynamic and always changing. How we manage and support the technology should be dynamic and always changing as well.
Examine your device management assumptions. Look at how these assumptions affect technical support routines and your time. Are your assumptions fundamentally the same as they were three, five, or seven years ago? If so, it’s time to make new ones. If you don’t routinely get home on time for dinner because you’re overwhelmed with work, stop and take a step back, and take a critical look at your device-management assumptions. You may discover that you can improve productivity by leveraging new MDM solutions and, at the same time, distribute some of the work and responsibility to the users.
Dig deeper into these important topics by joining us next Thursday, July 23, at 2 p.m. Eastern for the next installment of our monthly webinar series. Click here to join our online community and register for the webinar.
It's About the Learning, Not the Technology … Until It Breaks
July 23, 2 p.m. Eastern
A look at tools and resources to help your technology department stay in the background and help you be home on time for dinner. Employing successful device management solutions and technical support strategies, including student tech teams, can be the key to success.
Telling Your Story Effectively: Building Community Engagement and Positive School Culture
August 20, 3 p.m. Eastern
Learn to define your own success in a meaningful way through data, digital citizenship, and the national PTA standards. Utilize these tools to reach out to your parents, students, teachers, businesses, and taxpayers.
Laptops, Tablets, and Chromebooks? BYOD? Practical Advice to Help You Find Your School's Solution
September 24, 3 p.m. Eastern
Explore the increasingly diverse device landscape to help you make good decisions about devices, software, and digital content. Learn how Common Sense Education can help you find the next great learning app.
Curriculum and Instruction: Building a Better Mousetrap
October 22, 3 p.m. Eastern
Blended learning, hybrid learning, digital learning, flipped classrooms, and project-based learning -- jargon overload! Examine models that provide a meaningful common language to promote better understanding of your school programs. Learn to use these models to guide effective professional learning in your school for teachers, administrators, and technology staff.