Administration of New Networked Schools

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The growing utilization of networking and telecommunications isaffecting teaching and learning and creating new models ofinstruction, leading to changes in teaching style. A greater numberof administrative functions are becoming available, transformingorganizations and defining different infrastructures. Services, suchas e-mail, the Internet and the World Wide Web, can be accessed bythe community at-large.

Supporting these communities requires more than the presentationand maintenance of information technology. For example, differentstaff roles, decreased budgets and a variety of scheduling patternspresent new concerns. The Management Information System structure isincreasingly challenged as teachers, students, campuses and thecommunity become more technology proficient and demand moretechnology resources.

In many cases, however, leadership has come from a small group ofdedicated teachers who have been encouraged through large-scalefederal, state and corporate funding to get "technology into theclassroom". For example, in the 1999 budget, key priorities for theDepartment of Education include:

  • $175 million for schools to begin comprehensive reform, with up to $30 million to be used to implement research-based school designs.
  • $701 million for Educational Technology, with up to $136 million to ensure that classrooms have up-to-date technology and teachers who are prepared to use it.
  • Over $19 billion in interest-free bonds for school modernization and instruction to raise the quality of education.
  • $7.8 billion, through Title I Grants, for helping schools impacted by poverty to improve school instruction in the basics for educationally disadvantaged students.

Making Progress

U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, in a recent address,stated: "As we build new schools, let's also make sure that they arewired 'smart.' That is why the Federal Communications Commissionestablished the E-rate, a new $2.25 billion fund available each yearto make sure that every school &emdash; public, private and parochial&emdash; and every library will get the technology they need to teachfor the future."

Nevertheless, progress brings concerns and problems. The magazineCAUSE/EFFECT (Volume 30, Number 4 Winter 1997-98) ran an articleentitled "Current Issues for Higher Education Information ResourcesManagement." The article listed key emerging or ongoing issuesidentified by the Cause Current Issues Committee, including:

  • How to train, retrain and recruit information technology staff, especially with the demand for qualified professionals and the competitiveness in salaries and fringe benefits. What staff development training programs are constantly needed?
  • Need for continuous application development. Requirement of new facilities and equipment is driven by an ever expanding knowledge base that must be maintained and secured.
  • Growing complexity and cost of administrative systems. Advantages of "outsourcing" as an interim or long-term solution are frequently investigated.
  • Student expectations for technology support and services are expanding. Increasingly, students are better prepared with a broad range of computing skills and consider proximity to common computing resources as a free commodity. Cost models should be considered for various services.
  • Distance learning challenges and the expansion of distributed learning. For example, administrative policies need to be established to deal with items such as credit transferability, joint fees, graduation requirements and competition from business enterprises.
  • Intellectual property in a networked environment. How and by whom should electronic information be distributed and what are the criteria for ownership?
  • The networked educational institutions demand strong distributed software management tools and fair distribution across departments and sites.

Strategies for Success

The above concerns affect all levels of educational users. Anumber of strategies could include:

  • Partnering and discussion to occur within an institution on an ongoing basis.
  • Developing economic models that more realistically identify true costs associated with networked computing.
  • Ensuring users understand what service will be provided and at what cost.
  • Finding simple, less eloquent solutions &emdash; at least at the outset.
  • Obtaining faculty-student agreement on realistic support levels.
  • Placing an emphasis on planning and priority setting, strengthening communications with all concerned.

For an educational institution to carry out its main function&emdash; education &emdash; it must of course take into considerationrevenues and expenditures, especially as it builds and monitorsnetworks. However, the challenge remains how to best serve the needsof all our students.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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