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From Blended Learning to a Robust Infrastructure: Questions for Technology Leaders

Part 2 of 2 – by Catherine Banker and David Tokofsky

Applying technology to create the most effective blended learning environment should begin with asking a lot of questions of experts in education and technology. It’s easy to think that harnessing technology in education is a matter of buying computer hardware, setting up a wireless network, and installing some applications and—if there’s a problem—calling the help desk.

To get the most out of an investment in technology, leaders must dig much deeper.

What demands will the new curriculum have on the existing infrastructure? Using technology does not remove the need to cover specific common core standards-based content. Some teachers may use technology concurrent with lesson delivery, while others may switch between traditional lecturing and viewing online content.

Will the content be bandwidth-needy? Some teachers might encourage students to search online for content to be integrated into papers and assignments, while other teachers may favor downloading videos to complement materials taught in the traditional method. Selectivity of curriculum is still essential to teaching, even with the volume of content technology offers.

How many students will technology serve concurrently? If a teacher assigns viewing a video as a study hall assignment, there’s the potential for 25 students (or more) to download and stream that video all at once. That type of assignment has a significant impact on the network architecture that should be in place.

What is the comfort level of students with technology? This is likely to vary significantly from some students who know more about the technology than their teachers, to those who will require remedial training just to complete basic assignments.

Have you identified access and equity as key concerns? Inequities between students and schools, both with regard to resources and life experiences, should be a fundamental concern. And what devices provide opportunity for equity and excellence? Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) does not provide equity and therefore might be quickly pushed aside by lawsuits such as the Williams Settlement, which demanded that all students have textbooks. Schools should offer adaptive technologies to special needs students that match their abilities.

How does the school protect student privacy? It’s highly likely that a student with Internet access is going to get into personal content at some point, such as a Facebook page. The school device and connection is a gateway for cyber threats and viruses, against which the school must protect the students, and its own network.

How does the school protect its physical assets? The same portability that makes tablets and laptops an attractive and flexible teaching solution also creates the potential for theft. Camera systems that schools employ impact network performance, which, of course, affects students. Safety will also enhance the liberty to learn.

Answers to these questions enable IT teams to design, purchase, deploy, and manage a network architecture that achieves the goals of all involved.

Thoughtful planning in implementing 1:1 student-to-computer ratios require, at a minimum, a robust infrastructure to deliver new standards, new content, and new testing strategies. This infrastructure starts with the bandwidth available to districts and schools and builds upon a reasonable network of routers, switches, and fiber. This becomes the basis to place wireless access points, cameras for security, video distribution equipment, VoIP, 1:1 computers or tablets for students, and the myriad other technology devices that are dependent upon a strong constant signal that robust networks provide.

This is not a “build it and they will come” scenario. Rather, state and federal government regulations are forcing districts and schools to integrate new technologies at a rate not seen before. Now the students are here, demanding newer and faster technologies. And they would like them…now.

California’s education leaders have endured several years of walking a tightrope when trying to balance budget and technology needs. Looking ahead to implementing the Common Core Standards and the new content and electronic testing strategies that will come with them, will once again challenge these leaders.

Catherine Banker has been involved with education issues since the mid-1990’s, working for Senator Bill Leonard who was instrumental in developing world class curriculum standards for California, as well as many other education initiatives. She served on the Curriculum Commission for California from 1998 to 2002 and then on the Commission for Teacher Credentialing from 2004 to 2007. Ms. Banker currently serves as the Director for Education Compliance for Vector Resources, Inc.

David Tokofsky taught ESL and AP Government/Politics in Los Angeles, and coached the first National Academic Decathlon Championship Team in California. He won the United States Department of Education’s Christa McAuliffe Teacher of the Year Fellowship, and served for 12 years on the LAUSD Board of Education, as well as on California School Board’s Board of Directors, and the Steering Committee of the Urban Boards of Education for NSBA. Currently he consults and strategizes for education related groups. 

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