Apr 01 2016

5 Tips from a One-Woman IT Department

A Texas district overcomes challenges to bring mobile technology to rural students.

It is essential to work with parents, teachers, students and administrators to bring mobile technology to a rural school district.

Today’s students need technology in hand more than ever. There’s no way a young person can compete in the workplace for trade jobs or prepare themselves for college work without tech literacy.

Douglass Independent School District serves Nacogdoches, Texas, which is about a two-hour drive north of Houston in East Texas. It’s a rural school district with 473 students across three buildings. Here, I am a one-woman IT department. My goal since I arrived at Douglass ISD 11 years ago was to bring modern technology to our rural school district. There were many challenges and roadblocks along the way, but upon reflection, here are five best practices that I followed that contributed to my success.

1. Build a modern network.

When I started at the district, all the computers were stand-alone PCs. My first task was to deploy a switched network so the staff could share information and email. Our next major step was about five years ago, when we finally brought high-speed Internet to the district.

It’s impossible to bring collaborative learning to the school without adequate bandwidth. By building a modern network, we now have the bandwidth to download videos and have students collaborate and share their schoolwork.

"Smaller districts can make their kids competitive."


2. Go mobile, but do it on budget.

While we’ve wanted to bring mobility into the equation for some time, the challenge for us was to do it economically. Many of our students are children of farmers or other agricultural workers and can’t afford expensive tablets. They also don’t have access to high-speed Internet at home. That’s why when we looked closely at which device to deploy for our one-to-one computing program for grades 7–12, we opted for the Lenovo N21 Chromebook.

The units cost only $200 versus $500 to $600 for other tablets. Plus, signing on with the Chromebooks meant we could easily integrate Google Apps for Education into the curriculum.

3. Enlist the community.

Many parents were concerned that they didn’t have adequate bandwidth at home for their children to take full advantage of the Chromebooks we purchased for the students. They also were concerned about security and exposing students to undesirable Internet sites.

We met with the parents and showed them how students could work locally at home and then easily update their homework once they got back to school and had access to the wireless network, which has been upgraded over the past couple of years with equipment from Aerohive Networks. We also demonstrated that there were adequate protections set so that the students would only have access to educational apps and information.

4. Emphasize faculty development.

A key to our success has been how closely we work with the faculty. For our Chromebook deployment, I held firmly to the belief that the district could not move forward unless the faculty understood how to work the technology and how mobile technology makes teaching and learning more interactive and collaborative. I have never rolled out technology until the faculty was comfortable with the devices and could fully explain to students and parents how to use it.

5. Never stop being an advocate.

I constantly expose parents, teachers and administrators to the latest technology and find ways to deploy the new tools in our classrooms. Our new superintendent has become a champion for technology, as has the school board, which never pushes back when I propose new ideas for the district.

Everyone in our community knows that the future of our kids is at stake. We have modernized the district and offer our students the same technology that children have in larger school districts in urban or suburban areas. Smaller districts can make their kids competitive. It can — and should — be done.