Sustaining the Unsustainable: Part 1

We recently completed a tech audit/assessment for a small district that pulled back the covers on the challenges many K-12 school districts face as they address the educational technology needs of their schools.

The school has three buildings, 1,200 students, and 500 plus networked computers.

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When we interviewed teams of educators from each building, we encountered a great deal of frustration with the reliability of the infrastructure and the poor level of technical support. It was no surprise given that there was only one, lonely, overworked, overwhelmed person in charge of the entire ed tech program.

National statistics like these are one thing:

75% of school leaders say they don’t have enough staff to meet their needs.
55% say they can’t maintain their network adequately.
64% say their IT budget isn’t enough to support the technology they already have.
70% say the IT budget isn’t enough to meet their district’s expectations.
63% said they can’t plan for new technologies.
76% have trouble implementing new technologies.

But seeing the reality up close and personal is quite another.

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Here were some of the audit’s findings:

The lone technology person divided their time among the following tasks:

  • Troubleshooting and resolving network problems reported by teachers and administrators.
  • Installing new computers and new software.
  • Implementing special projects like putting wireless in the elementary school.
  • Monitoring and updating the district’s firewall, spam filter, and content filter.
  • Monitoring, supporting and patching the district’s file servers and switches.
  • Monitoring and administering the district’s e-mail system.
  • Implementing daily backups of the district’s data.
  • Researching and pricing hardware and software requests to insure they are compatible with the infrastructure.
  • Implementing general network administration, such as adding new users, removing users who leave the district, recreating passwords, administering user rights and privileges, rolling over students from year to year.
  • Applying for, and complying with, E-rate and other state and federal programs and grants.

Is it any wonder that computers sat uninstalled for months, that requests for technical support often fell into a “black hole”, and that the network was unreliable?

When the tech person focused on installs… the daily network calls went unanswered.

When they focused on the daily network calls.. the installs stopped.

When something really important like E-Mail stopped working… both installs and network calls were ignored because the ‘emergency’ took precedence.

But the problems went deeper. Backups were done only once per week AND when the lonely tech person (10 month employee) was on vacation, sick, or away for any reason…No Backups were being done! Tapes were never stored off-site.

Software installs and updates were rarely done because doing them meant visiting 500+ workstations. Patches on the firewall were not up to date, and this is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’, the list of problems went on and on.

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The district and the tech coordinator were trying to sustain the unsustainable.

To one degree or another, most districts in the U.S. face similar challenges. We have three options:

  1. Live with the problem (frustrated teachers, district data at risk, low productivity, and high levels of stress and overwhelm for tech staff)
  2. Throw money and resources at the problem (add more tech staff at a time of decreasing resources)
  3. Change the ed tech network paradigm (virtualize the servers and workstations, develop easy to use menus for the users, and provide 24×7 access to all appropriate network resources from home)

What does it mean to virtualize servers and workstations and how does this help solve the challenges of too many computers and too few tech support people?

What kind of menus are we talking about and how do they reduce the technical workload?

Doesn’t creating a network that is available 24×7 from anywhere with an Internet connection, create more, not less, work?

We’ll examine the answers to those questions next time.

    One thought on “Sustaining the Unsustainable: Part 1

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