While we’re really excited about all the work we’re doing and all the learning our students are doing, it’s important to tell the whole story. Talking about the challenges helps reassure your staff, community, students that you are taking a realistic view of this whole process. It also REALLY benefits other schools taking on these types of transformations or even considering the possibility.
We’ve had some bumps in the road so far. Nothing that has even come close to derailing our progress, but here are a few that have challenged us or slowed us down. I’d categorize them in three ways: technical challenges, business as usual and fear.
These are the easiest to describe and fix I think. These challenges come up and the incredible folks in IT work out solutions. We have lots of layers of support in our district – central office who can push fixes or updates to the whole enterprise, network engineers who visit our sites often, school based staff who develop immediate fixes for problems we see over and over and lots of folks in between and behind the scenes.
- We’ve faced challenges with the number of IP addresses at each site (hint, you need way more than you think you do. Most folks are carrying multiple devices at all times!) Our engineers remedied this and we haven’t seen the trouble again.
- We’ve seen challenges with passwords as we’ve worked toward syncing usernames and passwords for our most used applications with our active directory passwords.
- Finding a balance between locking down devices and allowing students to personalize is another challenge. Protecting our network from malicious software means restricting their ability to install, which also restricts their ability to install useful things like printers.
- And really interesting challenges like finding that multiple devices were having the same problems – ports blocked, fans having trouble and even a tiny rattling sound, we found a common problem. The cases we ordered shipped with small bags of silica gel beads. These little pouches weren’t noticed or removed when students took cases home. They have spilled the tiny beads, which fit into ports and fan vents.
Business as usual:
I think this is the most frustrating type of challenge. We are a HUGE school district. We are currently the 10th largest district in the country, with nearly 187,000 students and over 23,000 staff members. This means that change happens slowly. I think my biggest frustration has been when something comes up that needs tweaked in this project, getting it changed is challenging.
- There are so many project teams and departments that often don’t always know every detail of the changes and new projects. This is improving over time, but it’s hard to be sure everyone is in the loop and understand just how interconnected the work we’re all doing is.
- We have processes and schedules we’ve always held to – but this new project has disrupted those. For example, accounts are usually held to be created for new students in mid-August. This gives time for account clean up after summer school ends (end of July) but before anyone starts school. However, we disrupted this by distributing devices in August and having a reason for accounts to be created earlier. Luckily, this was easily remedied after a short disruption, but it’s an example of the multiple groups and teams effected by each decision made.
- Staffing has been a challenge. The district didn’t increase the number of school support folks in our schools and the workload and number of devices to support has been much higher and very different this year. We’ve been figuring out how to cope with this and how to harness the resources we currently have in the building to help with the issues.
We heard expressions fear from a lot of directions when we started this work. It increased right before school started, but over the 6 weeks with students, we’ve seen many of those fears ease as the very things folks were afraid of have not materialized. Additionally, we’ve heard and answered many questions over and over to help ease this uncomfortable feeling.
- What about lost and damaged computers? We’ll lose soo much money! – We haven’t. It’s amazing how equity affects this. When every student has the same device, the need to take someone else’s is greatly reduced. We have a service contract and devices have been accidentally broken and repaired. We have not seen purposeful damage to devices.
- How will we charge these devices in my classroom? We’ll blow breakers! And have big power bills! – Students know the expectation is to bring them charged every day. To ease this fear we purchased an extra long surge protector for each classroom and helped teachers see this wasn’t much different from using a cart of computers that someone hadn’t plugged in when they returned it. We’ve not blown breakers or seen an increase in electric usage. The devices were purposefully chosen and one of the key factors was their battery life. HP says our batteries (with proper care) can last 8-12 hours.
- What about when they forget them? – Because our teachers are using the computers on a regular basis and for meaningful instruction, AND teachers have been consistent with the expectations, students are not forgetting their devices as much as was feared. When they do, it’s just as though they forgot a text book or notebook – they pull out a smartphone or piece of paper and get to work.
- I don’t want my kid staring at a screen for 8 hours!! – We’ve worked hard to help our community understand that we do not want or expect 100% computer usage. We want the device to be one tool to help our students access the materials and activities that help students learn. When it’s the best tool for the job, let’s use it. When it can be done other ways better, let’s do that!
None of these challenges are stopping us. Some have caused us to pause and work on a solution, and then push on! Acknowledging that we’ve had bumps and slowdowns in the road is important as we reflect on our work and continue to move forward.