Digital Promise: Improving Ed-Tech Purchasing

Zulama helped contribute to this enlightening report that was released recently from the Digital Promise, the Education Industry Association, and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research and Reform in Education.

Download the report—it’s worth your time!

Improving Ed-Tech Purchasing

Maximizing My District’s Technology Resources

Maximizing My District’s Technology Resources

Eric Griffith, Director of Information Technology

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My name is Eric Griffith and I have over twelve years in the professional educational technology field.  I am celebrating my fourth year as the Director of Information Technology at Mechanicsburg Exempted Village School District.  Over the past four years I have maximized my district’s technology resources and could not have done it without these key points:

Previous Experience

When I first started her at Mechanicsburg, I was fortunate enough to have my predecessor still teaching in the building and able to provide support and insight on technology related issues.  Paul Aukerman was the district’s Technology Coordinator for 14 years and wanted to spend his remaining years back in the classroom he missed.  He was literally a flight of stairs away if I needed anything and always kept me positive.  Today he volunteers his time one day a week to keep me on task and knock out the dirty jobs on my to do list.  I have tried to work with students during the school year in the past but found that more often than not I spend my time managing them verses my projects. I have had greater success with graduated seniors wanting to do a summer internship, and I am happy to pay it forward being that is how I started my career in technology.

I also rely on the kindness of . . . vendors, their recommendations of the right technology for the job, educational professional networking, and willingness to earn my business have helped myself and the district create a clear vision for the future.  Without collaboration and plain old elbow grease from others I would not have been able to create and install a district wide wireless solution, migrate the district to Google Apps for Education, create a technology replacement cycle for all devices, provide technology based professional development, deploy several Google Chromebook carts or create a community technology recycling program.  By listening to and relying on others with “previous experience” I was opening myself and the district to new ideas without completely abandoning “how it was done in the past.”

Remotely Reducing My Support Time

I live an hour away from Mechanicsburg so, it wasn’t always the easiest thing to hop in the car and fix an issue.  I needed an effective solution that worked for me and didn’t involve a cot and sleeping bag in my server room.  The solution for me is called LogMeIn and it is a remote management tool that allows me, or anyone I approve, to remote into any server or PC in the district.  This application was a lifesaver and is something I use on a daily basis; it may sound lazy but even if the teacher is in classroom right down the hall they can pick up the phone and talk to me while I remote right on in.  This allows them to see how I resolved the issue, as well as minimized the distraction of me walking into their classroom.  The ten seconds it takes me to log in is faster than if I actually walked down the hall, keyed into the classroom and asked the teacher to move so I can sit at their cramped desk.  Some staff didn’t take to this concept so well and I do still make “house calls,” but when you are primarily an army of one you need to use the most efficient tools you can get to get the job done.

As a positive side effect to the concept of remote management with LogMeIn, some staff members remote into their school desktops from home or wherever to continue to work.  Google Apps for Education has started to reduce that number by allowing their documents to be online, but it is still pretty exciting to hear a teacher retell their story of how they spent the day home with a sick kid and routinely remoted into their school desktop and check in on their sub.  I am slowly turning my teachers into the same level of nerd I am without them knowing it.

The Right Tool For The Job

I previously mentioned our use of Google Apps for Education and LogMeIn, but my other favorite tool is VMWare.  This allows me to replace my existing aging Dell desktops, some of which recently celebrated the 13th birthday, with a sub $250 10Zig Zero Client.  Not only do these devices consume 1/20 of the power a standard Dell desktop, but they use the same image of the computer, meaning I don’t have to update Java, QuickTime, Windows Updates, Flash, etc. individually on each computer, I simply do it once on the master machine and then VMWare takes care of cloning it out to the other hundreds of clients for me.  By 2016 I will have no more aging Dell desktops to support, just 400 or so 10Zig Zero Clients.  This experience has truly been like having an assistant that doesn’t sleep.

The next big project for the district is our 1:1 Chromebook Initiative.  Staff and students in grades six and seven will be issued a Dell Chromebook for both classroom and home use.  This is also another perfect example of the right tool for the job.  The device is cost effective, updates itself, has a 10 hour battery, can’t get viruses and does 90% of what the teacher needs it to do in class. Some teachers still will have issues getting their content to work on a Chromebook, which is why I stated “90% of what the teacher needs it to do in the classroom.”   This will change as more and more online resources adapt to support the latest and greatest devices and our teaching staff discover and share new resources over our summer professional development.

Administrative Backing

Our migration to Google Apps for Education would never have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for administrative support.  90% of all data created today at Mechanicsburg is done so with Google Apps, from email, to scheduling, to meeting notes, to presentations, we are yet another success story.  Having an Administrator successfully model a new technology allows the staff to build confidence in the solution.  Having an all in one solution and workflow has tremendously aided in collaboration between buildings, staff and students.  In fact recently I overheard two staff members complaining about how they had to interact with another school by emailing a document back and forth to edit it, and it only added to my previous comment of slowly turning everyone into nerds like me.