Jun 10 2021

K–12 Leaders Must Prepare for Retiring Outdated Tech

Having a plan for phasing out legacy technology can yield cost savings, a better user experience and increased security.

Those of us old enough to have lived through Y2K may remember that the doom and gloom ushering in the 21st century mostly surrounded obsolete technology systems that needed workarounds and fixes. Since then, we’ve all encountered outdated pieces of technology, legacy systems that paved the way for more current applications.

Legacy technology can be found in everything from network hardware to web content filtering solutions, and while it served its purpose at one point, today legacy tech is costly to maintain, tedious to support, provides a negative user experience and stands in the way of better functioning tools. It may be time to retire some of it.

Determine the Problems Technology Is Solving

As a former teacher, I recall using Skype as the main platform for connecting with others over video chat. Until recently, Skype for Business filled a similar niche in sectors outside education; now, Microsoft Teams will soon replace it. When a technology tool like this is being retired, schools need to determine what they will use as a replacement. With Teams, Microsoft already has a replacement product for Skype. However, the change offers an opportunity for K–12 IT teams to re-evaluate their schools’ needs, along with the benefits and shortcomings of the application.

What happens when a replacement for a legacy application has not been identified? In that case, IT leaders have an opportunity to assess not only the application but also why their districts need the solution and what problem it solves. This is a good time to review the market, survey the user base and pilot an assortment of applications, letting vendors know that any new product must go above and beyond expectations to be considered for adoption.

MORE ON EDTECH: How do schools ensure continuing availability of accessible technologies?

Consider Technology's Impact on End Users

When a school’s legacy technology begins to falter or fails to accomplish its purpose, it’s usually end users (teachers and students) who are most impacted. Often, teachers may not be aware of the implications of legacy technology; understandably, this is not high on their to-do lists.

In the best deployments, the expectation is that technology works invisibly. Updates are handled at odd hours and in the background, and new features improve efficiency rather than steepen the learning curve. To this end, it’s vital to include all stakeholders in the selection, testing and decision-making processes for any technology replacement that impacts them directly.

Regularly Reassess Applications Being Used

It’s common to reassess technology applications as contract renewals approach. Districts should review whether the application is a good fit for their users, their budgets and their long-term plans.

Asking teachers, staff and students for feedback during the school year, while they are using an application, will provide the most useful data for assessing a tool’s effectiveness. Crunching budget projections and spending categories can determine how much funding is available and which applications fit where.

Long-term goals must also be considered when evaluating new or replacement solutions. Otherwise, the IT team might introduce a new application, train staff and then discover that the new tech doesn’t fit in the district’s long-term plans, causing distrust among users and leading to challenges when similar ­situations arise.

50%

The percentage of employees who are unhappy at work with the software tools they’re using

Source: G2, “State of Software Happiness Report 2019,” March 2019

Implement New Technology Effectively

When it’s time to replace an application, it’s vital and increasingly common to involve end users in the process. For larger schools, tech leaders can carefully curate a cross section of personnel (staff from various grade levels, subject matter areas and roles within the school) in lieu of soliciting feedback from the entire school body.

Whenever possible, IT leaders should pilot multiple applications to let users see the range of technology that’s available and avoid any “what if” questions that may arise. It’s unlikely that a new technology will check all of the boxes that the legacy application covered, and this will cause issues for some users. But the gains from new features in the replacement application should outweigh any holes left by retiring the legacy technology.

Be Prepared to Phase Out Old Tech

It’s rare that a technology exists forever. School leaders must be in tune with the status of applications and ready to adapt to sudden phaseouts. They must also be prepared to replace any solutions that need to be retired. Often, it may be easier to continue with legacy technology than to review new options. However, schools risk missing out on innovation, cost savings and opportunities to increase efficiency, engagement and educational benefits. The IT team must continually evaluate legacy technology, and if a replacement is not readily available, they should consult stakeholders to review what options exist and how those would fit with the learning environment.

KEEP READING: Discover the value of modernizing the K–12 data center.

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