For the last decade, Carrollton-Farmers Branch (Texas) ISD Director of Technology Andy Berning has taken a pragmatic approach to 1:1 learning in his district of over 25,000 students by assessing the individual technology needs of the student population so as not to over-deliver and waste money. DA recently spoke with Andy to get his perspective on technology management in his district.
What technology solutions were in place when you arrived?
I arrived in 2001, and for that time period, the district was in good shape. I came in when the community approved a $40 million bond referendum to increase our bandwidth. The bond built private fiber-optic lines between all the campuses to increase gigabyte speed and wireless access.
Your district doesn't have a traditional one-to-one approach, yet students are still given access to computers both at home and in school. Explain your solution.
Our program is called the Universal Access Program. It's like the "water fountain approach," where we have technology provided throughout the district for students. One-to-one initiatives are like giving every child a can teen of water, but my goal was to put in indoor plumbing.
How does the Universal Access Program benefit students?
The Universal Access Program provides students with hardware and Internet access through a deal our district made with Clear, a 4G Internet provider. When we started back in 2002, we identified about 4,000 students out of 25,000 who didn't have a computer at home. Every five years, we update the computers used by teachers throughout the district, and we give those older computers to students to use at home. Although it's been nearly a decade, the numbers haven't dwindled too much; we still have about 3,000 students using this program.
In addition, about four years ago we began the Library Lending Program. All students can check out laptops, iPads, netbooks and Clear Internet modems to use at home. It's really been a cost-effective way to get kids access to technology without the blanket one-to-one approach that gives every child a laptop or an iPad.
How does this save your district money?
I will purchase fewer district laptops in the future by providing students with technology on an as needed basis. This year, we are allowing students to bring their own personal mobile devices that aren't school property. We updated our acceptable-use policy and student code of conduct book to reflect this change.
What is the biggest threat facing your technology infrastructure today?
Security. In the world of "single sign on," the threat of phishing scams and other tricks to get login credentials is huge. We're focusing on education awareness programs and making students and faculty aware that you don't give out your credentials via email or otherwise. We're looking into products and software that will help identify spammers.
What is your biggest concern or overarching goal for the next year in terms of technology initiatives?
Funding. Texas changed from "Technology Allotment" to "Instructional Materials." Before, there were separate funds for textbooks and technology, but they now are combined into one—Instructional Materials. I fear we're going to have to scale back in the coming years.
What would you do if you had $500,000? What about $1 million?
I would invest in disruptive technology. Clayton Christensen, who is an author and professor at Harvard, wrote the book, Disrupting Class. I use his definition of disruptive technology, and by that I mean identifying the students and staff who are nonconsumers and providing them with the appropriate technology. It's specialized content for specialized needs. If they're not being served under the traditional paradigm, we need to focus on how to serve them.
How do you motivate your technology team?
I make sure they know we are part of something big. We empower students and staff to access materials and applications. The average eighth-grader has more access to art, literature, news and ideas than the wealthiest person had only 50 years ago. We empower all learners to access that content.
What concerns you or keeps you up at night?
Making sure our students and staff have access to modern reliable technology. Are we really making the best use of our technology, or are we cramming it in?