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Educational Technology Trends: Back to Business

Jeanne Hayes

By Jeanne Hayes

Technology in schools is taking a lesson from the enterprise model long practiced in business. What does an enterprise model mean for schools? It means investing in an infrastructure that is reliable, scalable and, hopefully, has smooth interoperability among various platforms, applications and systems.

With 80% of districts delivering the Internet to schools from a single district-managed access point, the days of the gifted teacher and her students figuring it out at the building level is over. School administrators and teachers have long decried their inadequate tech support, with teachers shouldering much of the responsibility for keeping their own systems running, so this investment in a more stable infrastructure is meeting with increased buy-in. State and NCLB reporting requirements have also driven districts to look at robust enterprise models that are highly scalable or capable of expansion. And the desire for a system with smooth interaction among different components and applications that relate to student records from all sources? Well, that's a lengthier subject.

Like businesses, school districts are also speeding up their adoption of new solutions that save money and deploy resources more efficiently. The new mantra: Drive improved administrative productivity and reduce Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) by obtaining a good return on investment with such technologies as videoconferencing (42% of districts), web conferencing (28%), and voice over IP to reduce telephone costs (19%). Other new technologies are driving cost savings in the classroom arena, as revealed in QED's annual survey of technology purchasing trends:

  • COWS (computers on wheels) are a cost-effective and instructionally-effective way to deliver 20 laptops to a classroom for ‘just in time' computing. The typical district of 1,000 students has three traveling computer carts and plans to purchase one more in the 2004-2005 school year.
  • Tablet PCs, which didn't seem to be a big hit with consumers, have strong advocates in schools. Users like the way the device can be used as a whole class device, being passed from student to student ,or taken on field trips for exploratory learning. Currently, 10% of districts report using Tablet PCs in their classrooms with another 17% evaluating their use.
  • Wireless continues to grow, with 14% of current computers and 23% of planned purchases this year being wireless-equipped.

What is the “killer app” this year? For the first time this year, we asked curriculum directors, rather than technology directors, about their schools' instructional technology plans. We believed that they would have the best picture of technology-assisted instruction, as opposed to the old siloed days of departmental divisions between curriculum and technology. Their answers confirmed our assumption that we are seeing a significant move toward technologies that support the building blocks of student assessment.

  • 56% of districts plan to purchase or enhance their Student Information Systems, while last year only 38% of districts were reported by tech directors to have similar plans.
  • 70% of districts plan to purchase or enhance their Instructional Management Systems, whereas last year only 33% did.
  • 71% of districts reported plans to purchase or enhance their assessment software applications; last year, tech directors told us only 24% had such plans.

While investing in data warehousing has become increasing common to support the dramatically increased reporting requirements of both states and NCLB, the parallel move to purchase instructional management systems and assessment software show us the real focus is on learning as the end-game for technology. As Jim Hirsch, Associate Superintendent for Plano (TX) School District has said for many years, a district's core competency is to provide instruction, not to host IT functions that business vendors can do more cost-effectively. The bottom line for school district administrators? The leading software planned for purchase this year continues to be instructional software with 77% of districts reporting such plans, compared to 72% of districts last year.

As improved operating systems such as Apple's OS 10 (now used by servers in a third of districts) and cost-effective solutions like Linux and Unix (used on servers by 19% and 9% of districts respectively) continue to be adopted by districts, the core mission of improving student learning is being addressed in a more unified way by the marriage of instruction and technology. Our kids will be better for it.

Jeanne Hayes is the founder of Quality Education Data, a Scholastic company located in Denver Colorado, that focuses on education research and database solutions. All the data in this paper are from QED's 10 th Annual Technology Purchasing Forecast, 2004-2005. Highlights from this report were presented at QED/Heller's EdNET conference in September, 2004 and at NSBA's T+L 2 Conference in October 2004. More information about the report and QED are available at


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