Ed Tech in a recession

At the beginning of this week, I wrote about why the OLPC makes less sense than ever during a recession. Little green netbooks, though, aren't the only things that will get hit as the global economy tanks even further.

At the beginning of this week, I wrote about why the OLPC makes less sense than ever during a recession. Little green netbooks, though, aren't the only things that will get hit as the global economy tanks even further. Next year, our district is looking at a best case of level funding and a worst case of 7 figure cuts in state and local aid.

Level funding, as you can imagine, does not equal level servicing. Salaries, health care costs, fuel costs, etc., all go up, meaning that cuts need to happen somewhere. It's pretty hard to talk about adding computers in a school or providing additional technology support staff when you're talking about laying off teachers in the same breath.

So where does technology fit in? How do you balance staffing and other services with what many see as an unnecessary expense? First of all, technology can never replace a good teacher; if new technology spending has to get cut, then so be it. That being said, when spending on new hardware and software gets cut, additional time from technology staff can be spent on curriculum integration. How do we use the technology we have to add maximum value in the classroom?

For me as technology director, a good chunk of this year has been spent on hardware rollouts, training, purchasing, and lifecycle planning. Next year, I'll be lucky to refresh one school. However, I'll be able to spend most of my time developing our district-wide technology curriculum, training teachers to implement the curriculum, and working with staff to more fully integrate the tools we've been able to purchase in the good times.

We are slowly opening up our student information system to students and parents to improve communications; we can finish this process and run workshops for parents to use the tools effectively. The extensive software we've purchased for literacy and math remediation? If I make sure teachers and students are using it to its fullest potential, it can help differentiate instruction, even if we lack the staffing to do it one on one.

Now is also the time to examine inefficiencies in technology. Our communications infrastructure, for example, is badly dated and, absent a technology director for too many years, we haven't examined new technologies that might save us money. Integrated Ts can deliver voice and data dynamically at a lower cost and higher bandwidth than separate POTS and data lines in some cases. Can we eliminate unused lines, consolidate communications, or change providers? Can we reallocate bandwidth to schools that need it more? Can we partner with local libraries and municipalities to share costs and leverage economies of scale in communications costs? Interestingly, given the wireless services we provide to certain staff, we can actually save money by adding a couple of wireless lines and sharing minutes corporate-style.

Ed tech doesn't go away in a recession (or, at least, it better not). The focus simply changes to fully exploiting the tools in the classroom and at home instead of hardware and software acquisition.