Apr 14 2011

It Pays to Work Together

Parents and teachers regularly preach to children the benefits of sharing. But it often seems that schools don't listen to their own message. While collaboration has been a buzzword among educators for quite some time, partnering with colleagues down the hall, across the street and around the globe can deliver powerful results that literally change the way school districts operate.

This issue of EdTech shares the stories of districts around the country that have banded together to bring real change to their schools. Whether it's a statewide cloud computing initiative that provides its schools with access to computing, storage and network resources they couldn't otherwise afford or a regional consortium that secures lower pricing on technology purchases for all of its members, the bottom line for today's educators is this: Working together can make the seemingly impossible possible.

Collaboration in the Cloud

In Illinois, a group of innovators led by the IT staff at Bloomington Public Schools District 87 is accomplishing a truly remarkable feat. They've built a community cloud program, called IlliniCloud, that allows participating schools and districts to share resources that are owned and operated by the IlliniCloud nonprofit consortium and managed through district-owned data centers throughout the state.

This model of computing reduces cash-strapped districts' IT-related capital expenses. It also allows them to retain control of their resources and data – and pay only for the hardware, applications and services they use. To date, about 150 districts have joined the IlliniCloud initiative, and administrators hope to raise that number to 400 by 2014.

"Some districts are dipping their toes into the cloud. Others want to move everything in their data center to the cloud," says Jason Radford, systems administrator for Bloomington Public Schools. "But we warn them: The worst thing is to grow too fast. Let's take it easy first. The sky's the limit on the stuff we can do, but we want to grow slowly and organically."

For more on the IlliniCloud initiative, read to "Land of Leverage."

Sharing Resources

While IlliniCloud is a unique example of how schools are pooling resources to gain efficiencies, others are taking a more traditional approach. Many schools are finding that they can get more technology for their money by teaming with others to form or join purchasing consortiums. These partnerships expand members' purchasing power, allowing them to secure reduced pricing on hardware, software and services that they otherwise might not be able to afford.

In Florida, the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium offers school districts around the state the opportunity to purchase needed equipment and to rely on PAEC staff for help in leading them where they need to go. In many ­districts, "one person might wear four or five hats," says Patrick McDaniel, PAEC's executive director. When districts lack the staff expertise they need, PAEC can help keep them up to date.

PAEC also offers professional development. In 2007, when Florida leaders realized a recession was coming, the Florida House of Representatives ordered a study on the training of teachers in the state. They found that staff development cost $187 per hour, on average. Meanwhile, PAEC's cost is $12 per hour, using PAEC's technology ­infrastructure. "When you can take 160,000 teachers at the same time instead of 40, you have those kinds of [cost-efficient] results," says Rick Everitt, program coordinator for technology support at PAEC.

To learn more about how schools are using consortiums effectively to save time and money, read to "The Power of Many."

Ryan Petersen


<p>Matthew Gilson</p>

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