How Schools Should Approach IT Integration

Outsourced IT is great, but it’s not the end of the story.

Once a school outsources its technology needs to a managed IT provider, it’s halfway there: schools with outsourced IT teams save time and, generally, money when compared to schools with in-house teams and can count on more comprehensive and reliable services. With school IT outsourced to a team of experts, schools can focus their energy on instruction. Principals can spend more time in classrooms observing teaching and learning, teachers can spend less time troubleshooting common technology issues, and kids can more easily take advantage of all the benefits of educational technology.

In other words, schools with outsourced IT teams are more poised than ever to accomplish their unique missions. Remember, it’s a school they’re running here, not a technology company or hardware vendor. The whole point is that teachers and school leaders are helping students learn, not replacing projector bulbs, clicking “forgot my password” on a daily basis, or figuring out how to get 100 new Chromebooks by the first day of school. No, these are all tasks that an outsourced IT team can quickly accomplish, allowing the school to be, well, a school.

Once a school has made the decision to outsource its IT, there’s still much work to be done, however. Sure, the day-to-day grunt work of technology management is in safe hands, but what about longer-term strategic priorities or integration with the school’s curriculum? Are teachers taking full advantage of all of the technology at their disposal? Is there untapped potential in the school’s online instructional platforms, data and assessment systems, and SMART boards? Why did the school purchase all of these items to begin with?

The answers to these questions can help a school elevate its IT programming from something ancillary to instruction to something fully integrated with teaching and learning. If schools are going to spend all of this money on technology, after all, it should ultimately support that school’s unique mission. Leaders shouldn’t buy computers just to buy computers or purchase expensive online platforms just… because. In concert with their managed technology provider, schools can harness the power of IT integration to achieve their educational goals, effectively scale across grade levels and sites, and use the procurement process as an opportunity for long-term planning.

Schools need a technology partner with whom they can think through their educational goals.

An effective managed IT provider can enhance a school’s IT integration by sitting down with school leadership to determine the school’s educational goals. These goals can range from incredibly concrete (e.g., increase math scores by 5% on state tests) to more nebulous or philosophical in nature. Either way, there’s a role for technology to play. For example, if a school wants to improve students’ content mastery, an effective managed IT provider can recommend platforms its seen work successfully in the past, saving hours of time leaders might otherwise spend sourcing new programs.

This conversation can also extend to common educational hardware like SMART boards, Chromebooks, and staff devices that are increasingly central to daily school operations. How important is it that the school maintains a 1:1 Chromebook ratio? How does each student having their own Chromebook further the school’s mission or enhance educational outcomes? If a school can’t afford a 1:1 device ratio now, can it make a plan to gradually increase its number of student devices over the coming years?

It’s also possible that the school can accomplish many of its goals with its existing educational technology. They just need someone to show them how to do it. Schools often spend thousands of dollars each year on educational technology or programs they ultimately don’t use or whose features they don’t take full advantage of. Here, too, experience is key. An effective managed IT provider knows the ins and outs of many of the most common educational technology products. If a school isn’t using the platform to the fullest extent possible, the provider may be able to expose leaders to features they’d otherwise neglect.

Finally, the school might decide it wants to specialize in a particular field like STEM or the arts and therefore needs subject-specific guidance from their IT provider. Technology use in one type of school shouldn’t look the same in another with an entirely different educational model. This, of course, makes sense, but all too often, schools with dramatically different missions nonetheless use technology in essentially the same manner. By aligning technology use with the school’s curriculum by, say, investing in robotics technology or graphic design programming, the school can better integrate students’ daily technology use with the school’s overall instructional design.

Effective IT integration is central to a school’s growth trajectory.

Once a school has worked with a provider to align technology with its educational goals, it’s time to think through how the school’s technology choices can potentially scale over time. For schools or networks undergoing rapid growth, there’s no time to reinvent the wheel with each grade or site expansion. Rather than re-doing the procurement process over and over again with each addition, leaders should collaborate with their managed IT provider to come up with a “playbook” of sorts, a manual for what grades need what educational hardware and software, as well as the IT infrastructure required at each school site to support its educational needs.

Cost is important here as well. If a school is planning to expand in the next few years, it may make sense to put off larger scale purchases until the school is sure it can afford them alongside the new expansion. Similarly, schools should be sure to take full advantage of the federal E-rate program, which can significantly reduce their annual technology costs. Selecting a managed IT provider with a track record of cost-effective, timely E-rate bid execution is key. Otherwise, what’s the point of even participating in the program in the first place?

IT integration begins with an effective procurement strategy.

Finally, effective procurement is key to successful IT integration; once again, it’s crucial that the school’s outsourced IT team and leadership work closely with one another to align technology purchasing decisions with the school’s educational mission. One-off purchases for a single classroom or teacher that aren’t part of a broader strategy can quickly undermine efforts to integrate IT across a school or grade level. Once the teacher or grade level becomes attached to their “non-compliant” technology, it becomes harder and harder to executive a comprehensive technology program that’s consistent across the school.

Of course, a pilot program in which a subset of the school uses a product that differs from that used by the rest of the school can be helpful for schools considering a change in their technology programming. The key, however, is that such a program is intentional and evaluated for its efficacy rather than a one-off purchase that could undermine the program as a whole.

Once a school determines which classrooms need which pieces of educational hardware and which grade level needs which educational technology platforms, the procurement process becomes far easier with each successive year. It may also become less costly: longer-term contracts with suppliers can yield dramatically lower costs for schools and can often be sourced by a managed IT provider. Lowering the costs of annual procurement ultimately allows the school to spend its funds on other instructional priorities like classroom libraries, school uniforms for families in need, or school-sponsored trips it otherwise couldn’t afford.

At CTS, our strategic insights help schools accomplish their unique missions.

Our team has worked with more than 60 schools across the United States to integrate their technology and accomplish their unique missions. Comprised of former school personnel and educational technology experts, our team knows technology isn’t ancillary to instruction, far from it. Rather, we view technology as central to our partner schools’ ability to accomplish their unique missions. From curriculum integration, school growth, and scaling to annual procurement and E-rate bid implementation, our team takes care of the technology so that you can focus on educating students.

In addition to the services described above, our team also proactively manages your school’s critical IT infrastructure to ensure that service outages, lengthy troubleshooting processes, or other technology issues don’t undermine instruction. By taking a proactive stance toward our clients’ technology management, we give schools the time and energy needed to engage in effective long-term planning that adds significant value to their school programming. If a school is constantly encountering technology issues that divert its attention, teaching and learning can take a back seat to putting out the latest fire. Our goal is to make sure that doesn’t happen.

At CTS, we give schools the peace of mind they need to focus their efforts on teacher and student wellbeing rather than headache-inducing technology issues. IT integration is key to the long-term success of your school, and our team is ready to help you take your school’s technology programming to the next level. Contact us today to learn more about our managed IT services and how we can help your school accomplish its unique mission.

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