CIO OUTLOOK

Get serious about education technology

Otto Doll

My experiences have convinced me states need to treat the challenge of improving education with information technology as the complex and costly task it really is.

Without deploying all of the required components, school systems, whether urban or rural, will fall short of achieving equal opportunity for all students to learn to their potential. The model I subscribe to requires extensive sharing of the best teachers and educational resources available.

First, create a collaborative environment consisting of a LAN connection and sufficient electrical outlets to connect at least 70 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade. This environment should support videoconferencing in every school, e-mail, Web hosting and what I call portable group computing platforms. Such platforms integrate the Internet, television and personal computing, and you need one per school building floor.

These collaborative technologies provide a learning environment that negates geography and distance.

Next you'll require a server in each school. I have found you can never have enough local storage and processor cycles for today's students. South Dakota has 12T of collective storage in its K-12 schools supporting 135,000 students.

This piece of the infrastructure gives you room for application development, and it eases distribution of applications across a state. Many applications, such as Internet filtering, online libraries, access to grades and school administration would see statewide implementation immediately.

Plan on networking K-12 schools, colleges, state government and local government together in an intranet. Include access to the Internet, as well as to legacy systems. Use high-speed and scalable communication lines to glue the entire infrastructure together.

Beware the bandwidth-thirsty educational community. A relatively small state such as South Dakota needed to move from 210 Mbps to 700 Mbps of WAN bandwidth. I expect that to double within a year.

Now comes a key component: educating the educators. Teachers each need a minimum of 200 hours of intensive training in network and computing technologies to enhance the teaching and learning in their classrooms. Administrators need as much time to understand technology so they can support their teachers' efforts. A school district's network administrator needs 200 to 400 hours of detailed training to support the network and computing environment. All public teaching universities must add technology training to their curriculums so the teachers of tomorrow are equipped to teach in high-tech classrooms.

Distance learning will not take hold until trained university faculties provide online courses to K-12 students and teachers. South Dakota also found that K-12 teachers needed 200 hours of training in distance-learning techniques.

A commitment on this scale jump-starts the educational community toward realizing distance learning as a great educational equalizer.

As you can see, state governments have a lot to do beyond training children on technology. Unless a state engages all of these educational IT building blocks, teacher efforts will be handicapped. You can declare success when you can deliver children's literacy in reading, writing, arithmetic and computing.

Otto Doll, chief information officer of South Dakota, formerly worked in federal information technology. He is president of the National Association of State Information Executives.

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