DAILY INSIGHT: The case for standardization

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

A few weeks ago, I saw J. Robinson’s list of 10 things school leaders do to kill a teacher's enthusiasm for technology on the TL Advisor Blog and I thought speaking to some of them from the IT perspective might make some sense for a future blog posting.

Of course, as luck would have it, the first item—Mandate the use of Technologies or Specific Programs—set my back teeth to grinding as someone who has tried to support a system where each teacher could use whatever they wanted. It isn’t realistic to allow teachers to independently select each and every piece of hardware and software to fit his or her teaching style. In fact, the need to mandate standards is a piece of item 3: Provide inadequate or sloppy tech support systems.

Standardization of systems is important for a number of reasons and I feel obliged to opine in favor of such.

  1. Budgeting(Item #4: Provide inadequate funding). In order to provide adequate funding, the school or district needs to be able to streamline purchasing, obtain volume discounts where possible, and not duplicate the functionality of software simply because teacher A or department B prefers software x to software y. Allowing each teacher to use whatever he or she wants is difficult to support and—even if the programs are both free—a technician needs to test it, load it, and include it on various images, which costs the district in increased salary costs.
  2. Ease of Support: IT staff cannot be expected to know each and every software program, app, or OS out there. So, it is reasonable for the district or school to develop standards and then only support those standards. Again, if the staff is expecting good support, it is important for the staff to be reasonable in its expectations of what can be supported given the budget concerns most districts have today. Similarly, most reasonable IT leaders will allow for a level of flexibility, but there is no need for three word processing programs where one will do just fine.
  3. Ease of Student Use: The most important reason for standardizing the technology in a school is so that the students can move seamlessly from one class to another without having to relearn the software for basic tasks because teacher C and teacher D don’t both use the same imaging software. It is unreasonable for students to have to learn multiple versions of the same software or hardware to complete essentially similar tasks simply due to teacher choice. Remember who our customers are.

That being said, it is entirely reasonable to involve teachers in making the decisions as to what the standards will be and what will be supported, but—unless a school has unlimited staffing and capital budgets—a level of standardization makes sense for schools and makes things less complicated for students. It shouldn’t dampen teacher enthusiasm, as teachers are currently asked to standardize science kits, textbooks, state curriculum, assessments, etc. Why should technology not be subjected to the same scrutiny as other instructional materials?

Good luck.

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.