For Cash-Strapped Schools, Smart Ways to Spend Limited Tech Dollars

For schools looking to spend limited dollars allocated for technology in smart and efficient ways, lessons learned over years of making tough decisions can be helpful.

Mark Samberg, who has worked in education for 13 years, first as a K-12 tech director and later as a district level technology director, has some sage advice. Samberg is a research associate for the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, a center at North Carolina State University dedicated to helping figure out what tech solutions work in classrooms and to sharing what its researchers learn with educators. “Schools are making the best decisions they can given the information they have,” Samberg said. “It’s very difficult to stay on top of what’s new and cutting edge when you’ve got a billion other things going on.”

Samberg offers some advice, both big-picture philosophies and detailed strategies, on how to move forward with a technology plan.

Educational Software
Technology directors should be careful of software sold as the proposed solution to raising test scores. “If you expect software to raise test scores, that rarely happens,” Samberg said.

Interactive Whiteboards
Interactive whiteboards are a good example of how a long, slow, and expensive rollout can tie a district’s hands when newer, and often less expensive, technologies are released. “When interactive white boards came out 15 or 16 years ago they were really the best way we could change interactions with computers,” Samberg said.

Short Term Replacement Cycle or Long Term Investment
Technology evolves so quickly that it’s impossible to pick the “perfect” set-up for a classroom. That has led some schools to buy cheaper devices with the expectation that they’ll be replaced on a shorter timeline. But that approach can be dangerous. “If you run into a situation where your budget is tight and you can’t replace it, then you start to have problems,” Samberg said.

Save Money with Open Source Materials
“My personal opinion is that schools could do more with open source software and avoid some licensing that way,” Samberg said.

Invest in Wireless
“You have to have adequate wireless,” Samberg said. “This is where it’s about spending more money and not less. It’s a tough argument to make and it’s the kind of thing no one thinks about until it fails.”

Peering into the Future
There’s no one great salve for school or district technology directors to choose the best investment. “Before making any purchases, evaluate what you have and plan as many years out as is feasible,” Samberg said.

The other important piece of the puzzle is to involve everyone in the decision-making process. Consider the needs of teachers and students as well as the safety and support concerns of administrators and let all those data points guide technology choices. “No one person should be making all the decisions,” Samberg said.

Read the entire article by Katrina Schwartz on MindShift at http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/02/for-cash-strapped-schools-smart-ways-to-spend-limited-technology-dollars/

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