Sadly, technical support doesn't come cheap. One money-saving strategy that's gained popularity among school technicians is equipment and software standardization. Districts that standardize develop a list of specifications for hardware and software, then support just those items on the list. Network administrative rights are also restricted, limiting the number of people who have permission to install software or access blocked Web sites.
When it works, standardization can be very effective. Districts can negotiate better pricing for hardware, software, and Web-based applications when dealing with a limited number of vendors. Training costs are lower when technicians are able to focus on limited amounts of hardware and software, and technicians can be more efficient when dealing only with products they know well.
But standardization has its drawbacks. When educators want to try something new, they may be required to clear a number of hurdles. For example, without administrative rights, teachers must wait for technicians to inspect and install new software programs. Purchase orders for new technologies like pocket PCs, probeware, and interactive whiteboards may be rejected if those items are not on the approved list. Finally, teacher and student access to a variety of instructionally sound Web-based tools and sites may be restricted by measures taken to keep networks secure.
Some of these concerns can be anticipated if districts incorporate a process for piloting new technologies into their standardization plan and technicians are accountable for taking care of teachers' technology needs in a timely fashion. Technicians should also generate regular progress updates to ensure that requests don't get lost in the shuffle.
Districts need to lower costs while protecting their investment. At the same time, a reliable infrastructure is a must if teachers are expected to incorporate technology into their classrooms. If standardization is adopted, it's important that district officials be aware of potential pitfalls and make provisions to ensure that teachers and students have access to the resources they need, when they need them.
Susan Brooks-Young is an educational consultant and writer.