Schools have big budgets. But making those budgets stretch far enough to include instructional technology isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Schools budget approximately 80–90% for salaries alone — teachers and other school staff must obviously be paid for their work.
With just that remaining 10–20%, administrators have to buy everything else. Books, buildings, and buses are only some of the expenses — schools also have to find a way to provide technology. Many times, the gap between the digital devices that schools would like to have and affordable technology can appear as wide as the gap between kindergarten and 12th grade.
It’s no wonder, then, that the first question educators ask about technology is, “How much is this going to cost?” They know that it’s going to be expensive.
Five years ago, the average per-pupil cost of technology in education ranged from $142 to $490. Many factors come into play when determining instructional technology expenses. Cost variations can depend on geographic location and the amount of personnel needed to support the technology. Schools also have to consider other tech components: Infrastructure, hardware, and software all come with additional costs.
3 things to consider when looking at the cost of technology in school
Developing and maintaining technology can be a pricy venture. Schools need robust wireless networks for internet access. They also require hardware and software for administrative tasks and instruction. Sufficient bandwidth makes access and integration more likely to succeed.
The challenge schools face, however, is that bandwidth is dynamic rather than static. Anything less than high-speed connectivity can be frustrating, especially when every classroom in a building wants to access the network simultaneously.
Currently, the recommended bandwidth for districts with fewer than 1,000 students is at least 4.3 Mbps per user. In districts with more than 10,000 students, the recommendation is at least 2 Gbps per 1,000 users.
Federal funds, such as the E-rate in the United States, can go a long way in helping to offset the cost of technology in education. Schools may receive discounts of up to 90%. Connectivity becomes more affordable, allowing schools to focus on hardware purchases.
Technology has changed the way schools operate. Even test-taking has undergone a major transformation — students now take many of their standardized assessments via computer. Many learners like online testing. For schools, that means providing secure devices for each round of tests. Learners also need tablets or computers to access online curriculum, digital science labs, and other instructional activities.
Naturally, schools spend most of their technology budgets on hardware. Although corporate donations or grants sometimes offset hardware expenses, it’s usually the taxpayer who pays for hardware technology in schools. Local taxes pay for tech equipment.
At only 10% of a school or district’s tech budget, software purchases make up the smallest part. Even so, the technology department must have guidelines in place to prevent teachers and students from downloading apps that may violate privacy, infringe on copyright, or contain ransomware.
Districts can minimize technology costs by implementing a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy. Under this kind of policy, students simply bring their own devices into the classroom and use school-approved apps. The school only has to provide the infrastructure and wireless access. Teachers and students can use personal mobile devices like smartphones or tablets.
When setting up BYOD guidelines, it’s recommended that schools and their districts collaborate with community stakeholders. Together, they can develop a sensible use policy and identify which tools and content will support instructional use.
A BYOD program can save a school district money, but then the community faces a greater burden: Unreasonable technology expectations and pricey personal devices can feel like double-taxation. Thus, districts must thoroughly consider the impact of their policies.
Integrating instructional technology in the existing curriculum
Is it even worthwhile to integrate technology in instruction?
Many teachers — and their students — argue that it is, and with good reason. Instructional technology can supplement any subject. Learners in core classes like English and math benefit from using adaptive software that provides additional practice. Instructional technology enhances the arts with virtual field trips, interactive apps, and design software.
Instructional technology exists — it’s just waiting for adoption in classrooms everywhere. But if a school purchases the technology, will the teachers be proficient enough to use it?
Teacher preparation programs must lay the foundation for using educational technology. Every program graduate must have the competencies required to use modern edtech in their classrooms.
Adoption and acceptance
Insisting that teachers use technology in their classrooms isn’t likely to make it happen. The outcome is more likely to be a feeling of resentment and unwillingness to use the devices at all.
That’s where thoughtful planning comes in. Creating a cost-effective technology integration plan requires input from all stakeholders: teachers, parents, students, and the community at large.
Tech Director Doug Johnson has three recommendations for adopting and accepting technology for your school or district:
1. Develop a budget
It helps to have a budget on hand when planning for any project because it sets a strict guideline for spending. Long-term budgets allow you to bring technology into your district in affordable and realistic increments.
2. Purchase with power
When possible, make purchases using reduced rates (like the E-rate), networks, and educator discounts. Even savings of 10% begin to add up, making your technology more cost effective.
3. Implement long-term strategies
You won’t be able to take action on everything at once, but you will be able to do something each year if you plan for long-term integration.
You also shouldn’t go overboard when purchasing digital devices. It’s easy to get swept up by the latest technology. Schools and districts are better off purchasing what they can sustain. That includes teacher training and equipment maintenance or upgrades.
The level of commitment for integrating technology can vary from one school to another. Without proper planning, technology adoption can be expensive.
But not implementing technology at all may be more costly. Teachers and their students will be left behind — and that’s something that no one can afford.
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