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Introduction

There’s no such thing as a snow day anymore in education. Whether your schools are still learning remotely, are in classroom full time, or in a hybrid environment - it's clear that technology-led education is here to stay. In 2020, schools across the country rushed to deploy Chromebooks to their students and implement a 1:1 technology program. This 1:1 environment brings added complexity and requires new considerations for deploying, managing and supporting your students' devices.

In this masterclass, our Education Consultant, Meredith Campbell, will show you how to manage and support a sustainable technology-led program at scale for your school districts. Scroll down to get started with this class and use the left column menu to jump through the lessons.

 

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Introduction to the Masterclass

There's a New Normal in Learning  


The pandemic caused unprecedented disruption in schools across the country, with teachers and students suddenly thrown into virtual learning. Not only did instructors have to figure out best practices for digital lessons, but pupils also needed the right technology to access them. Students who didn't have the necessary computers and connectivity in their homes were in danger of being left behind.
 


Despite the challenges, the advantages of anywhere and anytime digital learning are so numerous that it's here to stay. Not only does it enhance instruction, but the ability to quickly pivot protects schools from new disruption like COVID variants. With other issues such as a chronic shortage of teachers, many districts have moved to hybrid models with students learning remotely one or two days a week. It all means children must be able to connect seamlessly with their lessons 24/7, and they need the right technology to do it.
 


For students who don't have computer access at home, many districts have leveraged federal funding to "bridge the digital divide." They offer devices like Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots, so kids don't suffer from what's been termed the "homework gap." 
 

 

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Why School Districts Struggle

This is New Ground for Education 


While schools have long had IT teams to deploy and maintain in-school technology, few have tackled large-scale one-to-one programs involving thousands of students, so they're starting from scratch. It requires a long-term strategy blueprint for deployment and day-to-day administration. Administrators now have a significant budget item to manage and communicate at the board level.
 

One-to-one technology programs are a little like traditional schoolbooks—with the devices going home with students every day—but they require exponentially more maintenance and logistics. That's putting unprecedented strain on IT teams because of the necessary staffing and time to handle the scale of these programs. With skilled IT people hard to find and keep, many districts are struggling. The short supply of Chromebooks and devices has been an obstacle many schools have had to overcome, but the biggest problems schools have found once they get the devices include: 

  • Devices are lost through a lack of tracking abilities or accountability 
  • Devices aren't getting repaired when they break, so they're piling up in storerooms where their value is lost 
  • Ineffective logistics—like maintaining a quickly-accessible supply of spare pool devices—is leading to student learning downtime 
  • IT teams devote so much time to student tech that they're forced to neglect other duties 

It all means districts are often overspending and not getting a good return on their investment. Because the money for these programs often comes from federal funding cycles, districts have to make it last. That requires building sustainable technology programs and administration that gets the most mileage out of devices. 

One-on-one programs for students aren't the only challenge for district IT teams. The use of technology is expanding so fast that many districts are looking at similar one-to-one programs for teachers so they have good technology to be as productive and efficient as they can be. When you add in other equipment like AV carts and a range of Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as cameras, there's a mountain of work to stay on top of. 

Funding and a Comprehensive Strategy Blueprint Are Your First Steps 


The Federal Communications Commission has responded to the pandemic and the resulting digital divide by offering multiple opportunities to secure money for student technology solutions through its
Emergency Connectivity Fund. It's not clear if more funding will be available from that source or if new ones will be approved. There is a recognized need at the federal level. You can read more at: https://tech.ed.gov/funding/. There's also some private and state money available, but states vary widely. Some districts may be funding student technology initiatives themselves. Regardless of the source, the challenge is how to stretch those dollars to cover the need long-term. With digital learning now a mainstay in teaching, Chromebook programs are an ongoing expense. 


No two districts are the same, so creating a strategic blueprint will include factors like district size and demographics, funding sources and amounts, technology needs, and what internal resources are available for procurement and setup, along with day-to-day logistics and repair.
 

 

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What Do Schools Need?


Funding Resources

What Education Can Learn from Enterprise 


While large-scale one-to-one technology programs are relatively new for most school districts, large companies have been managing them for a long time, and many of the lessons they've learned apply to education. Chromebooks aren't the same as the PCs and Macs that are mainly used in business, but there are a lot of similar requirements. You need expertise with the operating system and devices to be used combined with a nearly identical logistics infrastructure. It takes the same level of logistics planning that districts put into bussing or meal programs. The blueprint has to be customized for the district so that each child gets the device and connectivity they need and are supported 24/7 if they have issues.
 


A good enterprise mobile solution blueprint has the following components:
 

  1. Design – Complete an end-to-end strategy that starts with the desired outcomes and then works back to the solution with considerations like device capabilities, ease of use, availability, and price. 

  2. Procurement – Once you've landed on the right devices for your program, consider where you're going to source them and get the best pricing. Education technology programs often require device numbers in the thousands, so you may be able to secure cost concessions. There can be considerable logistics and supply chain issues to work through. 

  3. Kitting and Configuration – A significant part of the logistics challenge in education programs is kitting and configuring so many devices efficiently and accurately. You need an appropriate space to do it and the right amount of staffing. There must be an efficient workflow that gets each device set up, matched with any peripherals that will be included—like a hotspot that also need configuration—and then enrolled into LMS, and finally appropriately tagged or etched with the asset identifiers. 

  4. Deployment – Unlike businesses that often have dispersed end users, schools can usually hand each device directly to the student. There's no shipping plan required, but a coordinated effort needs to be put in place so the right device and accessories get to the right student and the devices work out of the box. There also has to be asset assignment backed with accountability so that the student and their guardian acknowledge receipt. 

  5. Tracking – One of the common challenges for both business and education technology programs is asset visibility. You need to know where your devices are and their status at all times. It's critical data for determining how your program is performing and if there are trends that need to be addressed. You can see when devices are missing or piling up unrepaired. Stats around repairs let you know if a particular brand of device is underperforming, and you can avoid procuring more of them. It all helps you maximize your investment. 

  6. Support – If a student can't get their device to work, they may miss homework assignments or test preparation. Like in business, education programs must have  support available when it’s needed  that's easy to access and offers expert help that quickly solves problems. It minimizes student downtime and reduces the likelihood that a device is returned for repair when it doesn't actually need it. 

 

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Enterprises Know How to Manage Large Tech Programs

Augment Overburdened Teams 


It's not that large-scale education technology programs are highly complex from a tech perspective. The complexity actually comes from the size of the programs and the necessary logistics/staffing required to make them run smoothly. That's why many districts are partnering with managed service providers who have the necessary resources. It's not about replacing internal IT teams. Look at it as an extension of your IT Team. Their expertise should not be spent on logistics and Chromebook repair. They should be focused on the strategic technology program that keeps the schools running. Outside partners and automating as much of the process as possible lets internal teams focus on their other tasks.
 


While relatively easy to repair, Chromebooks quickly become a huge time commitment when there are hundreds—or thousands—to maintain. Most districts don't have the scale, and IT professionals find the work boring. It means machines pile up in closets, repairs get put on the back burner, or IT teams are frustrated and overworked Every device that's not being used is a wasted investment.
 

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Districts Face Multiple Management Challenges

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate 

Large-scale technology programs effectively put IT in charge of something that affects the day-to-day education outcomes for thousands of students at a level that didn't exist before. At a high level, your blueprint should designate who is ultimately responsible and accountable for the program's execution and success. 

It's another area where education can learn from business. To keep communications from getting strained, there must be a recognition that administrators and IT teams often speak quite different languages. IT people are often focused on the technology and challenges, while leadership is focused on outcomes. Both sides have to listen and work towards smooth relationships by using simple and transparent language that considers the needs and motivations of everyone involved. 

There's not just the IT/administration communication to manage. Schools and IT are communicating with students and parents too. This is a whole new skill set. Again, clear language that accounts for their perspectives is important. Lay out the expectations for families and IT. Establish user-friendly communication channels where problems and concerns are addressed. 

Solutions to Help You Get the Most Out of Your Education Technology Programs 


Stratix has extensive experience working with school districts to solve their technology program challenges, and we have these recommendations:
 

1. Create a holistic program – Don't make the mistake of assuming that all you need to do is procure devices or establish a break/fix channel. Think about your specific needs and the outcomes you want and figure out how you will solve them in your master blueprint. Thinking holistically versus tackling large education technology programs piecemeal creates more successful outcomes.


2. Deliver out-of-the-box-ready –
If students and parents get devices that are ready to go as soon as they're turned on, you get higher satisfaction and the likelihood the device will be used as expected. Make it too difficult for them, and you'll be mired in up-front support challenges.


3. Consider how you'll support students
– Helping children outside the walls of schools is brand new territory for most education IT teams. You'll need to decide if that will be an option or will you only help them when they return to school. If you're going to support them on weekends and evenings when they're home, how's that going to work?


4. Automate what you can
– With finding enough staffing resources currently such an issue with large-scale programs, automation is your friend. Many common IT functions can be done remotely using the right device management tools. Just like any other mobile device, Chromebooks can be governed with Mobile Device Management (MDM) software that helps with configuration, pushes updates, manages applications, and provides security measures.


 

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Tracking is Critical

5. Have a tracking strategy – We frequently hear about school districts that lose large quantities of devices and don't know where they are.  Your tracking strategy should include:

  • Student assignment record keeping
  • Student/parent accountability with clear penalties when devices are lost or not returned
  • Asset tags
  • A clear plan and process to get devices back at the end of term

6. Make an end-of-year strategy – Ensure you collect devices from students and have a check-in process. Devices left with students for long periods of time tend to be treated more like personal property than school property.  After you get devices back, there should be a system for getting them cleaned and refreshed. Data on the devices must be wiped clean, anything broken should be repaired, and they need to be re-enrolled and made ready for the next year. 

7. Look at theft/loss insurance – While  protection programs can be pricey, they may be worth considering in education programs that experience a  high theft/loss rate. 

8. Get the needed scale and expertise – Because tech programs are so important to student learning, failure is not an option. Partnering with a managed services provider is a great way to quickly get the resources you need—but shop around carefully. You're looking for a true relationship with experts you can call on to help you succeed and know the challenges of Education IT. These are not one-and-done deals that end when a contract is signed, and devices are delivered. 

Stratix is Here to Help

If you're implementing an education technology program, please reach out to us and leverage our expertise. We have a dedicated education team with educational backgrounds that understand what you need, why, and how to implement programs that work. 

We have mobile solution architects who can work with you to design the kind of holistic program you need by considering your district's size, specific requirements, desired outcomes, and budget. They have specific knowledge of technology challenges and solutions commonly used in education.

Stratix has four decades of experience in mobile technology with both large enterprises and education. Because we're in both, we can take the lessons we've learned and apply them to either. We're used to managing and quickly deploying thousands of devices accurately and efficiently. Our help desk teams consistently get industry-leading customer satisfaction scores.

 

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Why You Need a Managed Services Partner

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