Budget Crunch + Tech Mandates = Back-to-School Headaches

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csc_laptops in schoolsBalancing the demands associated with providing technology to students and meeting Ohio tech mandates, along with meeting the demands of a limited budget can be difficult for school administrators, but there are solutions. thinkCSC believes the right answer for schools is in taking a balanced approach to investing in technology.

While many schools are joining the trend of buying iPads for their students because of their extreme portability, iPads are also costly – around $500 each. iPads are also more difficult to maintain, because the proprietary technology and warranty requires Apple-certified technicians. When you’re talking about technology for students and you realize the amount of handling (and mishandling that might occur), iPads may not be the most cost-effective solution in the long-run.

Some of the schools we’ve been working with over the past year have been able to obtain much better deals on laptops and netbooks, allowing teachers to introduce the technology to more students than ever. When you’re shopping for laptops for your school, be sure to work with a local vendor who can negotiate directly with the manufacturer for the best possible pricing. thinkCSC was able to save one school more than $10,000 by leveraging our access to the Venture Tech Network.

Implementing new technology in schools cannot be about the price of the equipment alone, however. One of the most important cost savers a school can consider is the kind of warranty available. When many different hands will be using the equipment and many different minds will be finding creative ways to experiment with the technology, the warranty becomes the most important investment a school can make in technology. The extended manufacturer’s warranty might be tempting, but having to call the manufacturer each time a piece of equipment breaks and having to troubleshoot over the phone to determine whether or not they will repair it can add a lot of frustration and cost to having technology in the school.

Instead, work with your local tech vendor to obtain extended warranty coverage that includes repair service. thinkCSC offers a 20% discount to schools on warranties for laptops, iPads and PCs. For example, if the manufacturer’s extended warranty costs $100 for three years, we’ll provide the same coverage for $80.

More importantly, rather than being required to troubleshoot equipment over the phone, ship product to the OEM or install the part- thinkCSC takes care of all those details, saving you not only money, but time! All your school has to do is fill out a web form or give us a call. With an average of 10-15 laptops needing some form of repair each week, thinkCSCare warranties can eliminate the need to hire a FTE Tech(s) and allow your IT Dept to focus on your mission: Supporting your students, faculty & administrators

School Computing: Wireless Networking and Security

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edtech costsAs we move more and more into a cloud-based environment and online learning becomes the norm, many schools are switching from land-based to wireless networking. And, with extensive budget cuts to education, many schools are turning to a bring-your-own-technology (BYOT) methodology, where students are required to bring their own equipment to school.

There is simply not enough space to provide a computer lab for every student. With a new law that requires mandated online testing, schools are trying to convert to wireless and BYOT as an easy way to provide localized data management for the entire student population.

The problem for many schools is that their infrastructure is outdated. Often, servers and other electronic hardware must be replaced before even attempting the installation of a wireless system and implementing BYOT. From thinkCSC’s perspective, the key to wireless in schools is planning.

There is still a year or two before the mandated online testing takes effect, so it’s imperative that schools not wait until the last minute to make the necessary changes. Until we get a team in the school to examine the infrastructure and take readings, we don’t know if there are any wiring needs, which can add time and expense.

The physical structure of the building and what it is made out of, such as drywall or brick, can have a tremendous effect on wireless capabilities. We set up an access point and take measurements on its strength to determine an appropriate setup.

Once we know what the school needs to accomplish their wireless goals, the school can secure finding and find a time during which we can install the access points. Some schools may have a technology budget, but many schools have to obtain grants or pass special budget addendum.  Most schools also try to avoid disruptions during classes, and try to schedule the installations for vacations. While these systems can be built in as little as three days, we have to know exactly what we are dealing with before we can give them an accurate estimate.

Luckily, we have partnered with an easily deployed cloud-based system called Meraki. Unlike most interfaces that require a physical piece of hardware in the school controlling the wireless access points, Meraki lets schools use the company’s website to control the access points with only a few clicks of the mouse. It’s easy to install, set-up, and change.

Some people worry about security with a wireless system, but the system can be as open or locked down as the school needs.  A lot of these schools want wireless access for events or other functions so parents and guests can have access to their system. As far as security is concerned, there really are no major issues as long as it’s professionally installed.

Many schools wait until it’s almost too late and end up rushing to get it done. With the mandate still more than a year away, there is still plenty of time for us to review the school’s infrastructure and draft a proposal so that the school can find funding and install the system before the deadline for the mandated testing arrives.