The State of Education Technology

As we begin the new school year, practically every district is implementing new technology of one sort or another. Some of it is teacher-student facing and some of it is network infrastructure or new software that achieves operational efficiencies. The new normal for K-12 schools and districts is continual change, and we can see that across the country. Here is a round up of tech topics that will affect schools and districts throughout the 2015-2016 year.

Devices

It is all about the Chromebooks. As edtech tools increasingly move to the cloud, Chromebooks “made up almost half of the 3.9 million devices shipped to US schools from April through June 2015,” according to Futuresource Consulting. 1.9 million Chromebooks shipped to be precise. Also, Dell is overtaking Acer as the lead supplier of Chromebooks. Tablet shipments are still dominated by iPads with 1.1 million shipped during the same window of time. 880,000 Macbooks and Windows laptops also shipped during this period. Chromebooks and the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) are becoming the “go-to” combination in many districts. Some districts choose based on cost as Chromebooks’ low prices allow purchase of more devices, but the quantity and ease of Google apps makes this a compelling option.

E-Rate

Funds for Learning, the nation’s leading E-Rate consulting firm, just released a survey of E-Rate applicants conducted in June 2015 after the first round of funding requests since the E-Rate program was updated last year. Here are some of their findings:

  • Applicants represented: 53,727,951 students in 116,132 school buildings and 1,578 public libraries
  • 65% of applicants describe Wi-Fi as an absolute requirement but most Wi-Fi networks are at least 3 years old
  • Applicants indicated that the FY2015 application process took longer and was more complex than the previous funding year
  • 86% of applicants expressed concern about phasing out phone services
  • An estimated $4.9 billion in Category 2 budgets remains available for use in FY 2016 through FY 2019
  • 2/3 of applicants feel the current Category 2 cap is insufficient
  • Network switches and routers were the most sought after Category 2 discounts representing 41% of the overall Category 2 demand.

Because of the complexity of the updates, there was confusion about the changes themselves and their impact – increasing the value that organizations like Funds for Learning create for their school and library clients. E-Rate is definitely worth the time to figure out, as there are billions of dollars available to help subsidize high-speed bandwidth.

Changing Roles

“The CIO role has grown from supporting services to enabling learning,” says Eileen Lento, Intel’s Education Director of Strategy and Marketing. “There needs to be innovations on the back end from server to storage. All of the edge devices on the front end need to exist within a secured fabric.” Expansion of the stakeholder community now includes students, parents, school boards, teachers, administration and IT beginning with the focus on a vision for student success and improved student outcomes. A new trend is that IT departments now include someone from Curriculum and Instruction as part of their planning team.

Shiny Object Syndrome

No matter how much we try to focus on the substantive issues in edtech, many of us suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome. We are distracted by new apps, games, and gadgets. This year, leading shiny objects include robotics, maker spaces, and wearable technology. We can expect to hear a lot more about all of these during the school year. In addition, the Internet of Things (IoT) will become more apparent as our gadgets and devices get more connected, generate more data, and are programmed to act independently of us. House and school security systems that automatically calibrate power usage based on time of day are examples of how this works in real life.

Networks and Cloud Computing

Robust infrastructure and cloud-based technology go hand in hand in districts. In fact, cost savings achieved through moving software/hardware functionality and storage to the cloud are often used to invest in a more robust infrastructure that can support 1:1 computing.

Benefits to moving to the cloud include:

  • Financial savings
  • Easy storage & access
  • Collaboration opportunities
  • Offsite security
  • IT staffing savings – less time to manage network, more time to focus on improving student learning outcomes
  • Scalability

Digital equity

Digital equity is a significant challenge for public schools. As more and more schools implement 1:1, there is a greater awareness of those students who do not have Internet access at home. According to CoSN, only a handful of school systems offer off-campus Internet connectivity through free or subsidized home access for low-income students. 82% of school district technology leaders report that they do not have strategies to address off-campus access. (CoSN).

This is not just a school issue but also a public issue. A new analysis by Pew Research projects that 5 million U.S. households with school-age children do not have high-speed Internet service. 53% of teachers report students lack access to Internet at home. (digEdu) If we expect students to graduate from high school college and career ready, then schools, communities, and businesses should make Wi-Fi hotspots available for students. Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, has just begun a thoughtful blog series on creating digital equity in schools. This topic will continue to rise in importance as more mobile devices are put into student hands.

State of broadband

This is a related issue to digital equity, but it begins with the districts that do not currently have adequate access to broadband to support digital learning initiatives in their schools. At the current rate of upgrades, it would take until 2021 for all schools to meet the current goals. By 2021, however, schools’ needs are likely to be 10 times as great. We often assume that every school building is adequately connected and that is simply not true. 43% of teachers report insufficient bandwidth. (CoSN)

Some of the national initiatives to provide funds for additional connections include the E-Rate update and additional $5 billion of funding spread over the next few years as well as the president’s ConnectEd public/private partnership that is providing $10 billion in total and in-kind commitments to provide better access to broadband. Even states are getting into the action. In August 2015, California made an additional $50 million in grants available to state schools for broadband access. This followed a previous round of grants for $27 million.

And at the national level, the Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015 was introduced in the Senate in June 2015 by senators from Maine and West Virginia, where high-speed bandwidth is not always available or is prohibitively expensive for rural schools. Since nearly one-third of low-income households with school-age children lack a high-speed Internet connection, this issue disproportionately impacts minority students as well as those in rural states. This legislation is focused on providing broadband access to rural, high-need schools and underserved students.

Some districts have completed the transition to 100% digital learning initiatives, but most districts are somewhere between traditional and totally digital. Stay tuned in the coming months as we keep you updated on the issues, trends, and outcomes of creating digital learning environments for students who will participate in a global economy.