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How much money are you spending on technology this year? Are you getting the most out of your technology investment? If a board member or prominent community member asks how you know that the money you are spending on technology is paying off in increased student achievement, can you answer with confidence? If any of the issues suggested by these questions trouble you, you’re not alone. Technology investment for hardware, software, printers, scanners, network cabling, network costs, and upgrades can skyrocket with little to show for it.

Take a moment to conduct a quick and dirty technology audit:

  • Take the number of laptops you have in your school for instructional purposes and multiply that number by $1200. Be sure to count those in the computer lab, in the media center, and in classrooms.
  • Take the number of desktops you have in the school for student use (using the same criteria that you did for the laptops) and multiply that by $1000.
  • Now take the number of printers you have and multiply that number by $200.
  • Add all these numbers and divide the total by the number of students in your school.

Compare this amount to both the average per pupil allotment for instructional supplies or textbooks.

Are you surprised? Are you worried? Most school executives panic when they learn how much they are actually spending on technology. Here’s something else to think about: this quick and dirty audit doesn’t even factor in the costs of software site licenses, printer supplies, salaries and benefits for network administrators, and network costs.

The savvy (and now anxious) school executive can hear the discussions going on in the community by local community and business leaders. The bottom line of this discussion may well be “What is the return we are getting on our technology investment? Are we getting our money’s worth?” A critical challenge facing school executives across the country is how to most effectively leverage their current investment in technology in a legislative climate when local taxing authorities are trying to balance a budget and are not sure how the technology expenditures are being spent. You can help educate your board and community by showing them how their technology investment is being used in your schools.

Improving your technology utilization

You can think of your technology utilization in three different ways. The first way is to simply analyze, “How much technology does my school or district have?” This information is generally what community members and parents want to know about the technology used in their schools. As an example, NC DPI Technology Planning and Support Statistics offers numerous reports indicating numbers and types of computers, amount of technology support, computer networking ratios, and how different districts stack up in terms of various technology expenditures.

A second way to review your technology utilization focuses on how frequently the computers in your school are being used by children. You make this analysis by observing during your walkthroughs how many computers are actually being used in the classrooms and how many are either turned off or have only the screen saver displayed on the screen. Generally, you will find that there are some teachers who are using computers with their students much more than others. If one of your goals in technology utilization is equity of computer access, you want to ensure that the usage of technology is more widespread among all of your classroom teachers. Once you have determined this baseline level of computer usage, you can then work with your teachers to help them find ways to integrate technology into their instructional work with students. Another way you can analyze equity of access is to look at the computer schedule and ensure that all classes (including self contained EC classes and ESL classes) have equal access to the lab.

The third way to analyze technology usage in your school or district comes after analyzing access and utilization of the technology. You may find significant differences in how the technology is being used in your school. In some classes, computers may be used as rewards or something to do as an extra for those who finish early. Other classes may have students playing non-instructional games or surfing the web. Still others may have students working on activities that are tied to classroom instruction. This third way of analyzing your technology investment focuses on how well your teachers are using the technology resources available to them to help all of the students in your school succeed.

Each of these ways to analyze technology usage can provide useful information. The first method can help you educate your different constituent groups how your school or district measures up against the state and against selected school districts. The second and third methods of analyzing technology usage are more instructional and diagnostic. These methods can help you pinpoint areas where your faculty and staff may need additional professional development or awareness on areas to monitor as a school leader. Use these three methods to help get the most out of your technology investment this year.