Many of the networks in our K-12 schools are in dire need of substantial upgrades. Like electricity, Internet bandwidth has become a necessary part of the ‘basic utilities’ 21st century learners and knowledge workers expect and need to do daily work. Many school (as well as business) leaders have not yet understood the vital role which connectivity plays in our daily lives in 2011 and adjusted budgets accordingly. In many K-12 schools, available connectivity is drastically slower than that available in homes with high speed DSL or cable modem connections. Rather than resemble the networks on college and university campuses, which provide secure connectivity for faculty/staff/students as well segmented, public access for visitors, many K-12 schools still lack wifi networks or continue to disallow visitor (including student) devices on those networks. These realities need to change immediately. E-Rate funding continues to help pay for some K-12 school as well as library connectivity needs, but a vision for understanding as well as supporting robust connectivity is also essential for our schools to become conducive to the kinds of blended learning both possible as well as vital for learners today.

Google’s First Production Serverphoto © 2006 Steve Jurvetson | more info (via: Wylio)

While many companies would love it if everyone owned and exclusively used “their devices,” we live in a multi-platform world and the future will continue to be multi-platform. Remember back in the 1990s when many IT leaders acted like the entire world used Microsoft Windows, and the only platform they needed to both “know” as well as support was the one sold by Gates & Company in Redmond? That assumption and worldview was never accurate nor appropriate, and it is even less so today. The proliferation of mobile computing devices in our society as well as the ascendency of non-Microsoft operating systems like iOS, Mac OS, Android and Linux demonstrate the trend lines for connectivity and platform diversity. The annual NMC Horizon Report consistently points to the growing ubiquity of mobile devices and the need for schools to support knowledge acquisition, creation, and collaboration “in the cloud.”

Cloud Computing Summit Brasil 2010 10/08/10photo © 2010 Rafael Hernandez | more info (via: Wylio)

Cloud computing should mean many things for learning. These include ubiquitous access to data as well as people, irrespective of individual platforms or the operating system de jour. The Blue Jeans Network, which I blogged about on April 16th, exemplifies this philosophy and capability. “Any time, any place, any device.” Is your school computing network ready to support learning in this cloud-based, always-on, platform-independent environment? It needs to be, and as educational leaders it’s our obligation to both share and advocate for this vision of learning with everyone who will listen.

Consider the following quotation from Cisco’s 2010 Annual Report to Shareholders. Cisco CEO John Chambers articulates well a vision for multi-platform learning and collaboration which ALL our schools and businesses need to embrace to thrive in the 21st century information landscape.

Collaboration is changing the way we communicate. Business today requires everyone to navigate complex intercompany networks of customers, colleagues and partners. We believe companies that embrace collaborative processes and tools that allow their employees, customers and partners to connect and interact anytime, anywhere, via any device will be the ones most able to realize the increases in operational speed and efficiency necessary to thrive and excel… video changes everything. It is increasingly becoming the most important means by which we communicate and share information. Video on the Internet, created and viewed by consumers, demands new network requirements, including speed, quality, on-demand streaming and seamless availability.

What are the excuses your IT department provides now for NOT providing this vision of robust, seamless, always-on connectivity? CIPA? e-Discovery? FERPA? COPPA? Bandwidth limitations? Control issues? Liability concerns? Other fears? These and other situations are addressed in the project, “Unmasking the Digital Truth.”

IT department leaders should not be regarded as “the enemy” by teachers or students, but adversarial relationships do exist in many schools today. The IT department is a key enabling support group for blended learning, and leaders in IT need to both understand as well as embrace this vision for multi-platform collaboration along with other administrative leaders. As I continue to work with school leaders in different parts of the United States, I’m struck by how many schools are literally being “held hostage” by the limited vision and worldview of IT staff members in many cases.

Hostagephoto © 2006 Jeff Hitchcock | more info (via: Wylio)

If your school district is currently being “held hostage” when it comes to full utilization of network connectivity potentials, I’m convinced the solution lies with your educational leaders. As Scott McLeod likes to day, “If the leaders don’t get it, it’s not going to happen” [at scale.] The two day workshop for school leaders I led in Montana this past January, “Technology Leadership: PLNs, Vision & PD,” was a model I’d love to share in other places in the months ahead. We’ve GOT to help our educational leaders understand the vital role Internet connectivity, blended learning, content creation and collaboration can and SHOULD play in our learning landscape in the years ahead.

Those who understand and embrace these potentials will move ahead, while those who do not (for various reasons) will be left behind. It’s time to get on the blended learning float! The leaders of this parade MUST be our school superintendents, principals, deans, and board members!

Happy Mardi Gras!photo © 2010 Nikko Russano | more info (via: Wylio)

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  • Mark V

    This is one of the biggest hurdles facing schools. This post highlights some very important factors facing school districts today. If we can find a way to properly utilize the resources available to us (many of which are at no cost) then are schools will have a better chance of success.

  • http://twitter.com/russdev russell dyas

    This something been discussing for a while. the key as you said is partnership on both sides and understanding from teaching staff the need for security and rules that need to be followed (but not hidden behind) and understanding from technical staff that a system needs to be flexible to allow creative teaching.

    Anything about IT is about risk management and getting the balance right..

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