Friday, January 21, 2011

Techno-Poppin': From Droppin' Office To Cloud Floating

We have made some bold moves with Technology recently in the Norris School district and I would anticipate a few more are coming.  I commend Noel Erskine, Tech Director, and Jim McConnell, Network Administrator, in this process.  What we are demonstrating in this process is a phenomenon one Norris Board member has described as being "on the bleeding edge."  The point is that in times of fiscal constraints and when resources are slim, it is important to take an innovative approach and figure out where resources can be conserved to maintain an innovative edge while providing comparable utility and functionality with technology - and other resources, too.  Managing costs does not mean minimizing results.  We have thought differently and innovated to provide a more prosperous tech environment for students and staff while actually saving resources.

  • We took an underutilized space in our district and converted it to a student lab.  The underutilized space? The Norris Board room.  We converted that to a testing lab and we are now having students in there regularly and routinely using a room that used to sit unoccupied most hours, most days, week in and week out.  We are getting a better ROI out of that now.  We were able to use some Special Education ARRA money to do that. Our Board benefits through being able to use the space monthly for Board meetings that now occur via the e-meetings site.  Our students benefit by having another lab space to further their computer-assisted learning.  
  • We dumped Outlook and public folders earlier this year and officially made the transition January 1 ("Your Outlook account no longer works people - to the Cloud!") to G-mail. G-mail with the Chrome browser and you're set.  It's amazing how great it is having the exact same interface and e-mail wherever you've got internet access. G-Mail on Chrome flies.  On top of that, the other apps such as Google Docs have been so great to integrate our projects.  There is more shared doc development and authentic collaboration than we've ever seen occurring, both among colleagues on the faculty and admin and among our students.
  • We formally announced this week that we are dumping Microsoft Office and embracing Open Office.  It's a move in part predicated on finance and in part based on risk/reward.  Low risk, high reward in conserving dollars that can be repurposed for other things.  The move has not been without some reluctance among those who have grown accustomed to the ease and elegance of the Cadillac that is the Office Suite.  However, we approached this the right way and I know the decision is fundamentally sound: we had pilot groups including teachers and our entire admin team on this for weeks immersing themselves in it and every application of it before we moved to roll out.  In light of a possible >$1 million reduction in state aid, a savings of 20K or more in annual licensing fees is not insignificant.  We have already been receiving positive feedback from staff on this, just a few days in.  Schools have limited means to conserve resources operationally; most school costs are tied up in personnel.  Moves like this that offer us an open source program that looks, feels, and functions similarly and is user friendly are going to be enacted in the interest of saving money while maintaining the service.  We don't sacrifice anything, we just have to make the change.  
I am proud of our district for embracing these tech-oriented changes.  It's been like anything else: some people are innovators, constantly looking for a means to refresh and reinvent themselves, always examining purpose and striving to get better. Some are early adopters who are opportunists seeking better results.  And some people are going to exhibit generally good followership and say "Alright, you gave me the rationale, you described what and why we're doing this, let's march forward together."  And, yes, then there is always that slim percentage organizationally who are disengaged or just entrenched in their resistance to change. At Norris, we are going to be forward thinking, fast to innovate and quick to adapt, while maintaining strong, sustained support for staff and excellent resources for kids to enhance their learning.  

Stay tuned, because I believe we're just getting started.  It seems to some of us that the world of textbook adoption has become an anachronism in today's environment of personal digital devices.  Why buy hard copies that are immediately several editions out of date when a tablet or a hand-held or even a desktop workstation can connect a learner to the same knowledge base, constantly refined and reformed by emerging research?