Decentralizing 20th Century School IT Infrastructure

From the Prezi brainstorming digital sandbox: prezi.com/h7ms3hw7jx7-/mini-lab/

30:1 student to computer ratios?  It’s too expensive to have a 1:1 student to computer ratio?

This is a load of nonsense.  While the business world has moved on to individualized computing devices and cloud based software solutions, school boards still doggedly hang on to 20th Century thinking about centralized IT with massive, complex software images, difficult to manage intranetworks and remote maintenance of shared machines.

I’ve been on the ground, at class-level watching this fail again and again.  Equipment is vandalized and left inoperable for weeks at a time because no one local bears any responsibility for it.  Technicians are stretched thin between many schools, often not returning for weeks on end.  The already dismal student access to technology becomes even worse.

Labs that contain over-priced, years old hardware are kept under contracted repair long after they have given up every ounce of their residual value and are little more than landfill (and a heavy weight on network efficiency).  Those same labs contain the same, tedious software on the same, tedious hardware; a monotony of labs that offer nothing of the variety and opportunity available in the world beyond school.

The networks are overburdened with file sharing intranets that grind to a halt when many users begin to copy large files to network servers, or overfill limited on-site storage, causing the whole thing to simply stop.  So much focus is placed on intranet software and file sharing that access to the internet itself is through a tiny bit of bandwidth, making access to the largest collection of human knowledge ever assembled jerky, slow or utterly useless.

A modern business office uses task specific equipment to enable users continuous access to their data and their colleagues.  Phones are used when appropriate, but phones are never appropriate in school.  Tablets and ultralight laptops serve the mobile employee, allowing them to input information and communicate as though they are in the office when thousands of miles away.

Technology in education studiously ignores the needs of the student who must travel from home to school and class to class, carrying bags of massive, out of date textbooks.  Student to student communication is discouraged in most learning situations in favour of discipline and order.  If students do communicate in school (and I assure you, they do), they have to do it in underhanded, devious ways that violate whatever the latest technology-banishing rules dictate.

Information Technology in school is anything but.  Perhaps Lack of Information Technology would be a better title.

The mini-lab idea returns technical literacy to teachers from the star chamber of board based IT.  It places local people in charge of local equipment and drastically reduces the costs of educational technology while dramatically boosting the student to digital tool ratio.  Instead of the monotony of labs of out of date, inefficient, over-priced desktops, staff and students would gain access to an eclectic mix of digital tools and begin to develop meaningful digital fluency in both hardware familiarity and data management.  It’s a first, small step in a diaspora away from centralized board IT and toward differentiated technology access that truly serves our teacher’s and student’s needs in the evolving datasphere.