Beyond technology capacity

Many times when we work with new schools implementing GenYES or TechYES student technology leadership programs we find that they have a lot of technology, but that the perception and reality in the classroom is very different.

It’s one thing to know that you have wireless in all your schools, but do you really know if it’s useful? That it reaches every classroom? That when the 26th device logs in, the whole system breaks? Or that the new filtering software is so aggressive that almost every search ends up with a “NOT ALLOWED” message? That you have brand new projectors, but no projector bulbs? Hey, you know those IWBs you installed in every classroom? Did you also know that someone locked up the box of special pens somewhere and no one can find them?

Is there a a way to move beyond the traditional “technology capacity” survey that counts hardware and software?

Yes, I think there is, you just have to ask. But be prepared for the onslaught of reality!

I think technology capacity breaks down into three parts:

  1. Inventory – do things actually exist, how many, etc.
  2. Use – do people know about them, trust them, and use them
  3. Reliability – are things easy to access, in working condition, reliable and if there are problems, can they get help quickly.

Part #1 is pretty traditional and still important – how much, how many, etc. I think most schools have a handle on #1. If not, get counting!

But if you want to be brave and ask further, how about these questions?

  • Network server space – Can it be used by students and teachers. Do people know how? Is it easy to access, reliable, and is there enough space? Do files suddenly go missing? When someone runs out of space can they get more?
  • Email – Do teachers check their email (how often)? Is it reliable, or do emails or attachments disappear? Do students have email, use email for classwork, and can they access provided email at school and home? Does the mail filter label too many things as spam or make suspected spam hard to retrieve? Can teachers request email senders to be put on a whitelist?
  • Web access – Beyond calculated bandwidth, is connectivity good in all classrooms, or does bandwidth fluctuate? Can you log into network reliably  and can multiple machines log in at once, or are devices “kicked off” at random? Is filtering non-intrusive; can teachers easily request to unblock something and are those requests handled quickly?
  • Hardware – Beyond “how many” – does equipment work, can you get cables and other required parts? If there are consumables (like video tapes or projector bulbs) can you get more?. Can you easily move files from cameras, scanners, recording devices, etc into other computers for processing? Can you get parts and repairs when needed?
  • Software – Beyond “the list” – Are versions up to date, and can you get upgrades when you need them? Do you have software to create projects (other than slideshows and word processing) – video editing, animation, programming, simulations, audio editing, graphic programs? Do you have enough, are they age appropriate, and are the computers powerful enough to run them?
  • Tech support response – Beyond average response time, what is the average time for issues being fixed to the satisfaction of the person having the problem? Is there a standard way that problems are reported, tracked, and fixed? Do people know how to request help, and is the system working – or do you have a low problem rate because everyone has given up hope of ever getting help?

I’d love to hear your additions to this list – I’m sure I’ve forgotten many important things!


4 Replies to “Beyond technology capacity”

  1. Hi Sylvia, I believe usability is a big factor in the integration of ICT into learning. Programs may exist on the student network but for various reasons they are not functioning smoothly. For instance, audio setups may require particular action for activation of sound card (e.g. both jacks must be connected) but only the techs know this information. Student software image is different throughout the school so you have no real assurance that the program you plan to use is installed (e.g. Windows 7 did not have Movie Maker as part of package).
    These are the types of issues I find frustrating and that interrupt the learning.

  2. Great points, Sylvia. I would add to the email section: does the institution send so many reminder emails, news updates, kittens for sale, and fundraisers for every faculty and staff members’ pet charities that personal emails get lost in the mix? This encourages students to give up on their school email and use the various other addresses they have instead.

    Network: does it take 2 minutes to log in to the network? Those 120 seconds are the difference between class going smoothly and class losing 10 minutes while side conversations and Facebook updates are brought under control.

    Hardware: are the computers so underpowered that up-to-date software is fraught with slow-downs and failures to respond?

    Thanks for opening the conversation — sometimes we really undermine ourselves.

  3. I think with regards to the email system, it has to be via a format students already use and are familiar with. For example, at my work we use a forward address through GMAIL, it works great because all the staff are extremely comfortable with it already. Most students these days would be more likely to utilize the school email if it was presented in such away as opposed to trying to learn a new system. If you are already in gmail for example, its pretty easy to just simply sign in with different account rather then go to a whole new domain.

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