The complex challenges of running today’s technology-oriented school districts can be daunting. New technologies are emerging at a mind-bending pace, and school leaders must evaluate how to use those digital tools to improve schools, what learning devices are best for what purposes, and where the money will come from to pay for tech upgrades.
A growing number of districts have, or are in the process of putting in place, very ambitious 1-to-1 computing initiatives that they are convinced will transform how students learn and the way schools operate. The Los Angeles Unified School District, for one, approved a $30 million contract with Apple Inc. in June for the first phase of a roughly half-billion-dollar effort to provide all 660,000 students in the district with their own iPads by the end of 2014. But questions and concerns remain about how the three-year contract will play out, the challenges of how teachers will integrate the devices into learning, and what impact the iPads will ultimately have on academic achievement.
Managing 1-to-1 computing initiatives—which many experts see as a cornerstone of digital learning—requires a level of expertise about the intersection of education and technology that many districts are struggling to develop. To make those and other technology initiatives work, superintendents and chief technology officers must collaborate more closely than ever before to craft a clear vision for how technology should be used to improve schools, and then hire talented people who can help make that vision a reality.
Yet the idea of what works best seems to change as quickly as the technology advances themselves, putting school leaders in the position of having to be extremely vigilant about keeping up with those changes. One illuminating example is how the concept of 1-to-1 computing—pairing each student with one appropriate digital device—is on the brink of a shift to “1:X” computing, in which every student is paired with a different device (laptop, tablet, or smartphone), or multiple devices, depending on what the students are trying to achieve. The idea is to make the device the most appropriate tool for the assignment.
That development raises all kinds of questions about how the modern school district should look and work. What devices, for instance, will be school-issued and which ones student-owned? How will teachers be trained to integrate new technologies and approaches into learning? What type of technological infrastructure is necessary to make sure digital learning does not face constant interruptions? And what model of district leadership is necessary to succeed in this environment?
This report aims to address such questions and provide guidance for school leaders looking for new ideas and approaches for managing the digital evolution of their districts.
—Kevin C. Bushweller, Executive Project Editor
A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 2013 edition of Education Week as About This Report