Over the years I’ve talked with hundreds of schools about their technology deployments. While I don’t do any paid consulting officially, I love to go and visit other schools to share ideas, talk about best practices, and to see how their technology stack is set up. I’ve noticed schools that struggled to get off the ground and maintain traction all have one key trait that they all share. Here’s the one simple thing you should do before buying a single iPad or Mac to avoid major education technology mistakes.
About Making The Grade: Every Saturday, Bradley Chambers publishes a new article about Apple in education. He has been managing Apple devices in an education environment since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing 100s of Macs and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple’s products work at scale, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for students.
When I was hired at my school in 2009, it was to start a new technology program. After a period of strategic planning, the board of trustees decided they wanted to grow their technology usage in the classroom. The first thing the Head of School did was begin to find someone to bring on board to handle IT full-time. Before the school thought about buying laptops, new servers, or new software, they brought on a person who would be the directly responsible individual for everything. Instead of buying gear first, they wanted to hire someone who would decide which gear to buy. There’s a host of other decisions that a new hire could help make that someone without an IT mindset might not think about. By having someone on staff who can guide you through all of the planning, purchasing, deploying, and management, you can avoid major education technology mistakes that will affect students.
One of the key places that most school education technology deployments fall apart is with infrastructure. If a school is using decade old switches from Office Depot or AirPort Extremes for school Wi-Fi, it’ll quickly fall apart if you suddenly add hundreds of new Chromebooks or iPads to the network. You’ll want to spend time on the front end to bring in resources to examine your network, make recommendations, and then make the necessary upgrades. This setup includes Wi-Fi, switches, Firewalls, etc.
One of the key things when deploying new technology (and to avoid major education mistakes on deployment day) is to consider the security around connecting to the network. Will you use 802.1x, PSK, or technologies like PPSK as a middle ground? Do you want to set up a Guest network for parents to use when they are on campus? Your Wi-Fi authentication strategy will be a key aspect for an IT director to decide and deploy.
A huge consideration for education technology deployments is a device management strategy. I would argue that this is the hardest thing to fix post deployment as well. If you deploy an iPad to every student and then realize your Wi-Fi isn’t capable of supporting it, you can quickly deploy new gear. If you make mistakes on your device management setup, it can be difficult to rectify problems without having to redo a number of things. Part of the device management strategy setup includes things like Device Enrollment Program and Volume Purchase Program.
The final thing that an IT person can help a school figure out on the front end is your software stack. Do you need to migrate to a cloud-based email system? Where will you manage your documents? How will you onboard users to their machines? Will you need to roll out something like Azure Active Directory to let users log in to their Macs with that username and password? What programs will be your key applications that students and teachers rely on?
Like I mentioned at the beginning, having the right people on staff prior to purchasing Macs, iPads, and other gear is the most important thing you can do. Bring in someone with expertise who can own the project from planning, strategizing, purchasing, deployment, and management. Doing this will allow schools to avoid major education technology mistakes.