Planning for the 2014-15 2015-16 Academic Years

In my last post I explained a bit of the situation I am in now….today, I want to share with you a bit of the vision going forward.

First off, you must know that I am biased towards lowering the hardware overhead in-house. I am not a control freak, so having a four-server-Exchange farm to administer is not something that gets me excited. Playing with new toys for the sake of playing with them is not something I engage in often (if there is classroom promise, I’ll give it a shot, of course). What I look for when planning for the future is implementing solutions that will keep the budget numbers within control, be the easiest for end-users to utilize, and most importantly, make sense in the classroom. If it will cost more to manage, upgrade, and maintain for the next three years than it did when purchased I usually shy away from it – whatever it is.

For nearly a decade I have been relying on cloud services for infrastructure builds as I have moved from school to school and project to project. The number one tool I’ve leveraged to build successful classroom integration initiatives in the past is GoogleApps. GoogleApps creates so many opportunities in the classroom for collaboration that are too many to mention in one post. Being that it is free is not such a bad thing to brag about either, and it also lowers the IT personnel overhead since it means fewer servers to manage onsite. Another partner I’ve relied on for many many years in various forms – website, media archiving, cloud storage, virtualized servers – is Amazon. Amazon’s EC2, S3, and Storage Gateways should be core tools in any network. DNS services, mail relays, databases, and so many other tools round its offerings to the most powerful tool-set any network admin can depend on.

At Vistamar School, where I now server as IT Dir., these are the core services that are either already implemented, underway, or soon to be implemented:

  • GoogleApps for communication and collaboration.
  • Amazon for cloud based file server storage volumes (using a Storage Gateway virtual appliance).
  • Meraki – cloud based wireless network management along with robust access points for onsite deployment.
  • OpenDNS – cloud based Internet filtering and security solution using two redundant virtual appliances.
  • Win 2008 R2 Server for file, print, AD, backup AD, Exchange, ERP, and Terminal Server.
  • VMWare VSphere on-site virtualized environment.
  • Veeam Backup Solution.

Withing the next three years we will undertake a hybrid deployment of a BYOD/1:1 initiative. Up to this point the school has not embarked in any of the two most popular models when it comes to technology use in education – BYOD or 1:1. This is because most upperclassmen already bring a device with them to school. It seems redundant to impose on them a given model or type of computer and the related cost given that they’ve already spent money on a device. Having our own “cloud” gives us flexibility with end-users because it comes down to what is more comfortable for them to use to access it – all they need is a reliable Internet connection and up-to-date browser. On the other hand, the school supports a good percentage of our families with a moderated tuition program, and this creates an area of opportunity when tailoring this type of program for the future. I want to steer clear of creating a one-size-fits-all type of program that would force families that are already receiving financial assistance to pay for a device for their child(ren).

As we already have our own “cloud”, it makes sense for us to continue to use that service to give access to those students who do not have the same version of MS Office outside of school. Since GoogleDrive is the default file storage service for students it means they can connect using a $200-$300 Chromebook. The school can help finance this for those families who receive help within the moderated tuition program. For those families who wish to pay a bit more they can opt to enter the BYOD scenario. This hardware phase would begin in the 2015-2016 academic year.

The other part of this plan is the one that comes first; faculty professional development.

A shift in practice is no easy undertaking. Embarking on this type of initiative means the life inside the classroom must change. Asking faculty to think differently of something they have been doing, well, for the past however-many-years is not something I am prepared to do on my own. The School’s Head of School and Assistant Head of School must be the first to board the bus. Otherwise I don’t even want to pull away from the stop.

The remainder of this year I will spend talking about this plan with the School’s Leadership Team. Luckily I belong to it so bringing it up is not going to be difficult. Another thing to do this year is to flesh out what next year is going to look like as far as PD for faculty. A curriculum needs to be built around PD such that faculty are taken down this road in a very solid step-by-step manner. One or many consultants need to be brought in such that they have a different perspective on what a classroom that is infused with student-held devices looks like. Certainly not everything needs to change, but a shift in the way teaching is done will come. I was also thinking of pulling out a full department once or twice during the year such that we have all players in one room working at what that transformation looks like. The school can bring in a team of subs for a day or day for a department as long as ample time is given to prep for that day.

Going down the road of a 1:1 or BYOD initiative is not cheap. I am certain, however, that three-to-four years down the road we are going to wonder how it was that we worked for so long any other way.