DAILY INSIGHT: That darn foundation

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

It continues to amaze me how many decisions in instructional technology are made at the executive and Board levels. I like to reflect on the story of a former graduate student peer, “Vince,” when I was first taking instructional technology courses. He related to the class how his superintendent had come into his classroom and told Vince that since he was in graduate school for technology, that next year, Vince would be in charge of the district’s CIA Lab. Vince wasn’t sure what a CIA lab was, but on further query found out that the superintendent had been at a superintendent luncheon and another district’s chief executive had been explaining how they had a new computer lab for computer-assisted instruction (CAI) using software to help students learn. So, Vince’s boss decided he also needed such a lab, but during the drive back to the office CAI became CIA. The point being that the superintendent liked the big idea, but didn’t have any idea about the specifics.

Unfortunately, we still seem to want to take this approach with instructional technology too often. We hear about another district with tablets, 1:1 initiatives, cloud data, BYOD, etc. Then we get excited that the other schools or districts are getting ahead of us, so we panic and decide we need that same cutting-edge program. However, we don’t always do the necessary homework or give the IT staff time to fully implement the plan.

Superintendents are eager to move forward with 1:1, BYOD, or some other new program. However—beyond the cost of the devices—we sometimes don’t want to pay attention to the infrastructure requirements to support these new services. Then the new services are slow, ineffective, or otherwise don’t work out well. Unfortunately, then the IT staff is sometimes blamed for the failure. Without the proper foundation, wonderful projects, just like buildings without proper foundations, will fail.

The IT staff must make sure that the “boxes and wires” (as one former superintendent derisively referred to the network infrastructure) is considered when moving forward with these types of projects. IT staff must work with the executive leadership of the district to ensure that they are aware of the needs a strong foundation. We don't want the superintendent to have to fix a switch, but he or she MUST understand the scope of what the network’s backbone and wiring closets do for the district.

This summer, try to take the superintendent and other cabinet-level players on a tour of the district’s infrastructure. Remind them of what is in the closets and where the servers live. Make sure they understand the replacement cycle for such equipment and what dollars need to be allocated to keep things running smoothly on the outside. Make sure the superintendent and cabinet have copies of network diagrams, at least to the point so they know how things fit together and connect with the Internet.

If that kind of field trip can be scheduled every year, the superintendent and his or her cabinet will better understand the foundational aspects of the district’s infrastructure and are more likely to consider funding for it when they look to begin a 1:1 initiative, add more online courses, etc. Do what you can to ensure a strong foundation.

Steven M. Baule is superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning.