Which Comes First - the Interactive Technology or the Technology Backbone?

Most school districts today understand the importance of providing interactive, engaging learning environments for their students. But in their drive to improve students' classroom experience, districts frequently prioritize the adoption of new technology platforms without first ensuring that they have the right IT infrastructure in place. Even the most powerful technology will fail without the necessary framework to support its operation.

Three school districts – from Texas, Pennsylvania and Indiana - exemplify the value of the opposite approach: using proper planning, implementation and resources to build the “technology backbone” to support 21st-century classroom offerings.

Katy Independent School district (Katy, Texas)

Katy ISD began working three years ago to streamline its IT infrastructure. Today, the district has virtualized 70 percent of its data center, which enables teachers and students to use Web 2.0 technologies without overtaxing available bandwidth.

A robust network enables Katy ISD students to participate in digital projects, including a pending cell phone-based mobile learning initiative. "We are very fortunate in that a high percentage of our students have a cell phone with Internet capabilities, which is why we want to leverage mobile devices as learning tools," said Lenny Schad, CIO, Katy ISD. "Within the next two years, we plan to implement a public Wi-Fi network on every campus so that students will be able to use their mobile devices at school in an interactive learning environment without additional costs or security concerns for parents or the district."

In addition to the educational benefits of a solid IT infrastructure, the district is also conserving energy with a centralized power management system. The power management system controls when computers throughout the district are powered on in the morning and powered off in the evening. The system allows for IT managers at the district to remotely power on computers in order to perform maintenance and manage task loads, saving money on energy costs and long-term wear on the devices.

"We have seen cost savings, created a secure computing environment and are taking advantage of new computing options,” Schad said. Our ultimate goal is to facilitate an interactive learning environment for students and teachers, regardless of where they are."

Upper Darby School District (Drexel Hill, Pa.)

After dealing with compartmentalized, piecemeal IT for more than 25 years, the Upper Darby School District struggled to support its current technology, let alone transition to new solutions that would help achieve the dynamic learning environment that teachers and students wanted.

"After some initial setbacks, we realized that innovative technologies demand a solid supporting infrastructure," said Eileen Hershman, educational research and technology coordinator, Upper Darby School District. " We brought in CDW-G to help us because they understood the educational opportunities, cost savings and energy benefits of moving to a virtual environment."

The district's plan also included student workstations, laptop computers to support online lessons and reading initiatives, a Web-based curriculum, data storage and online administrative functions such as real-time attendance and report cards.

While the district is still in the early phases of implementation, it is already reaping the rewards of its plan. "Our virtual environment enables us to meet specific educational and administrative technology requests such as added data storage, increased security and valuable asset tracking devices, all centrally controlled through virtualization,” Hershman said.

Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (Evansville, Ind.)

EVSC initiatives include a computing program with more than 7,500 netbooks for its high school students and a wireless unified communications project that enables faculty and staff to share information beyond the school walls.

"We never would have been able to support the bandwidth for the netbooks without a robust network in place," said Mike Russ, chief technology officer. "Because we made a significant investment in our district's infrastructure from the beginning, we were ready to take on resource-intensive initiatives like netbooks and unified communications." The next stage of the district's plans includes breaking ground on a new data center this spring.

The district worked with CDW-G to develop inventory, installation and project management. “That's where CDW-G proved invaluable to the success of the program - they became an extension of our IT staff," Russ noted.