Jun 5, 2013

Leadership, Modeling and Technology Integration

We have long known that you should practice what you preach to achieve effective learning among your students. Modeling the behavior that you expect from your students goes a long way in helping to have a classroom that is conducive to learning, that keeps everyone focused, and that keeps you from pulling your hair out.

What we can sometimes forget is how this also applies to the adults in the school. At the school administration level, Principals and Heads of School should try to get the knowledge necessary to apply "best practices" in technology use within their own personal areas. As the line between professional and personal life gets blurred, becoming a proficient technology user should cover also the needs of your personal life. Besides, you know you learn best when it's about something you care about!

Technology Facilitators are usually very enthusiastic in adopting technology, and they also have a leadership role in their schools. Within their scope of action, modeling is once again possibly one of the most essential paths to success. At a personal level, Tech Facilitators are usually one (or two, or three) steps ahead of most teachers, and quickly bring into their lives the latest, hippest tools that arrive through their Professional-Personal Learning Network. Awesome!

The tougher part of the job usually comes with defining "best practices" as appropriate for the realities of each school. As Jeff Utech and John Iglar, some of my favorite members of my PLN wonder here:
“Question: Can you be a ’21st Century School’ without a stable internet connection?”
 Well, as one of my Judo instructors would say:
You don't need to have the fastest and most reliable internet connection to have the best technology integration... but it helps.
So as you seek to improve technology integration at your school, go have a conversation with your Tech Director and, if you are lucky to have one, your IT Systems Manager or Network Administrator. You see, with technology, there are "soft" limits and "hard" limits. Bandwidth is a "hard" limit: you pay this much cash, you get this much speed. Not more. Never more.

Think about the tools and habits that you bring into your school from your personal technology needs, and try to find out how much bandwidth they would need if you multiply them by the number of students in your school. If you have 300 students in a 1:1 laptop program, much more so with BYOD, ask your IT guys if your school really has 300 times the bandwidth that you enjoy at home. And then consider that maybe those students are not the only ones that need that connection right. this. moment. How many other people will run straight into the IT office when you get your classroom on that new web 2.0 site you found because their lesson can't happen or the accounting software can't submit important reports to some external service?

What did the IT guys say? Yes? 300 times your bandwidth at home? Awesome! You are lucky, go right ahead! No? What's the proportion? How far back in the thinking process do you need to go?

In most parts of the world, internet connections keep getting better as time goes by. But the key to successful technology integration is satisfied users. Sustainable growth is key, to avoid pushing your infrastructure beyond the point of failure.

If you are in a position of technology leadership, finding out which technologies are truly sustainable for your institution should be one of your highest priorities.

You know, before you model your way into trouble.

3 comments:

  1. Your IT guys would probably mention bandwidth throttling, filtering and QoS as some methods of controlling bandwidth. It is now relatively easy to set up rules and priorities so that users on one network get higher bandwidth than users on another. You can also factor in time of the day usage as well. It is highly unlikely you will ever have all 300 using bandwidth intensive apps of software at the same time, but it does help to plan for that eventuality.
    Also, we have found where we are physically located there are restrictions on what level of service our telecommunications companies can provide. We now use an aggregated service, where two ISP's provide us with connectivity and they both go in to one both so we have a failsafe mechanism and the combined bandwidth of both providers. We also have the ability to add in a third if we so require.

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  2. Andrew: You are absolutely right in that, of course.
    From the bandwidth available there are many ways to make more of what you have or you can get.
    At my school we use a similar system, combining one lease line and 3 domestic grade fiber lines. Why domestic grade? Well, budget limits. Enterprise grade bandwidth is prohibitively expensive here for us, and this is the only way to achieve anything decent for the money.
    But even then, bandwidth throttling, filtering, QoS are means to control limited resources. We also have a caching proxy, but with more and more services going with HTTPS and content distribution networks, that is also no miracle. Too many straws will break the camel's back and all that.
    In the end, it remains true: bandwidth is a "hard" limit, because "money" is as well. And bandwidth is in any case just one example, the most popular one, of a "hard" technological limit.
    Too often people making decisions are not looking at scalability and sustainability of their decisions in the short-term, mid-term or long-term, and then you get placed in the situation where you need to spend resources in a rush, to put out fires.
    Thanks for your comment!

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  3. Thanks, Urko, for the post - and the mention!

    Your emphasis on modeling is 100% spot on - from teachers to tech leaders to principals to board members. If adults practiced what they preached more often, schools would be better places.

    You're also right about hard limits, but it's more than that. Bandwidth may be a hard limit, but that hard limit can also include softer limits. Our school's bandwidth is good ...on good days. Some days it's not so much & occasionally pathetic. (We do not have the option of multiple ISP's...) So in addition to taking hard limits into account, it's also wise to recognize other softer limits and plan accordingly.

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