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A digital renaissance in public school innovation and technology

One of the primary methods that schools can innovate is with technology. I live in an area where they’re trying to provide technology to all students by providing laptops or tablets from kindergarten to seniors in high school, all grades K through 12. In any one school district they now have to manage these devices and make sure they are working correctly on a day-to-day basis or the students will not be able to complete their school work. The area I live in is calling this initiative the “Digital Renaissance”. Overall I think this is a great initiative, though I have several concerns.

Decision making on cost

As far as device choice goes schools are going to buy whatever they can get the best deal on. Which isn’t always going to provide the best device. This initiative is one area in which I believe Windows 8 and Surface-like devices could offer amazing benefits. I also believe device selection plays into other areas as well.

Security and consumerism in technology

The students being given devices to learn are now more like employees for the school system and should be treated as such. How will the schools secure the devices so that students can’t install applications or updates that don’t help with their studies? Most consumer-based devices will not have the features required to secure them properly and stop these “employees” from being able to improperly use these devices.
Students are going to try to find ways to use these devices in an unknown number of ways. Think of all the different ways children use smart phones and the trouble they get themselves into. To summarize, how is the school system going to filter the students’ activities on these devices?
Do the schools systems have the know-how and tools to manage these devices? School systems are not known to have high-paying technology positions. Will they be able to acquire people with the skills and experience to manage these devices and the backing infrastructure?
I have seen several articles where this area was the cause of failure for these initiatives in some school systems. Here is an article that talks about some school systems that have had issues already due to poor planning.

Bulk purchase for discount

If you’re wondering how the schools can afford these devices it’s really fairly simple. When purchasing devices in bulk you can traditional get them at a reduced price. Additionally the school system will no longer need to buy books and other learning materials as they will find and use digital alternatives that traditionally are inexpensive compared to the physical copies. This also helps schools seem to be more “Green” or more environmentally friendly to some extent. Though really they’re just saving trees and burning more coal, at least until green energy is main stream.
Also with only a few school districts leading this initiative, it allows them to get a discount or even donations for potential purchases down the road as more school districts follow the trend.
So you may be wondering why I’m posting this on a Microsoft based blog. (I’m getting to that point now even though I have made some hints before.)
Microsoft traditionally has made software for business and the enterprise, though an added advantage was that they could also slim their offerings down and offer similar capabilities for consumers. Windows 8 devices like Surface are being advertised more-so for consumers, but they’re enterprise ready. Microsoft has years of experience providing security and management needs. Don’t forget Windows Azure and other Cloud offerings could go a long way with this initiative as well. Even outside of the IT management side of things I believe Windows 8 devices are more versatile for the day-to-day needs of a device.
On a side note, when I talk about technology in schools with people not in the technology field, I get into some entertaining arguments. Especially around cursive writing no longer being taught in a lot of school systems.

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Ryan Duclos

Ryan Duclos is a Lead Technical Consultant and CSM for Perficient, Inc. (PRFT), where he is passionate about Microsoft development utilizing the .Net Framework, SQL Server, and Microsoft Azure technologies. Ryan was a 2014 Microsoft MVP for Microsoft Azure. He lives and works in LA (Lower Alabama!) and loves spending time with his family, as well as being a Community Influencer for Microsoft. Ryan also a passion for Disc Golf and CrossFit! Ryan is a board member for the Lower Alabama .NET User Group and is also involved with the Pensacola SQL Server User Group, as well as other technical communities in his region. In addition, Ryan is a frequent speaker at numerous Code Camps, SQL Saturday & User Group events.

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