K-12 TECHNOLOGY SUPPORT SURVEY REPORT
D. Verne Morland
D.V. Morland & Associates
Educational Technology Consulting
624 Enid Avenue
Kettering, Ohio 45429
Tel: (937) 434-3245
In May and June 1994 I conducted a two-phase Internet survey investigating technology support levels in K-12 institutions. The results of this survey, while not statistically representative of US public schools as a whole, do tell us how 18 public schools and school districts representing more than 58,000 students in 171 buildings with over 8,000 computers are dealing with the very pressing problem of supporting their new technologies. That is more information than most of us have readily available and I again thank those who shared their data, experiences, and opinions by responding to my surveys.
The first phase of the survey dealt with demographics (8 questions), the level of technology in the respondents' schools (6 questions), and the level of support for that technology (10 questions), plus an open ended comment area. In the second phase I asked 6 questions that qualitatively explored the respondents' beliefs and attitudes about their technology and support programs. A breakdown of respondent demographics is attached to this report as Appendix A and copies of both survey sections are attached as Appendix B.
I fielded the first part of my survey in May 1994 (some quantitative budget and headcount questions) on the EdTech, CoSN, NIITeach, and SuperK12 listservs and received eighteen responses from eight states (AZ, CA, FL, MO, NE, OR, TN, WI) and Canada. In June 1994 I sent an opinion-oriented follow-up to each of these respondents and received nine replies. Eighteen responses are but a few drops in the bucket of US and Canadian K-12 technology users. And since the respondents were selected from four advanced technology listservs they are certainly not representative of most K-12 schools. (They may be representative of technology pioneers, however, and well worth listening to!) As a result, although I will present some quantitative results, they have no statistical significance. Caveat emptor!
"Had I but world enough and time" (to paraphrase Andrew Marvel) I would ask for a grant, do this again properly, and get my PhD!... ;-)
All respondents represented public institutions (although private and parochial responses were solicited). Half were districts, half were single buildings. Three reported that they are urban, eight are suburban, and seven are rural (by their own definitions). The districts ranged in size from 1,140 to 17,500 students; individual school buildings held from 350 to 1,850 students. All grades, K-12, were represented. The respondents themselves were mostly technology directors, coordinators or specialists, though some were "normal" teachers and one was a district administrator ("normality" not disclosed).
As a result of the far-reaching school reform movements now underway at national, state and local levels, one of the leading questions being asked of schools is: How do the effectiveness and efficiency of school operations compare with those of modern businesses? The question of effectiveness is both difficult and contentious since it goes to the heart of what schools are for. Regarding efficiency, however, we can follow a relatively nonpartisan and objective line of inquiry. Most people today would agree that schools need to employ many of the same tools used by modern business to improve communication, productivity, and quality. These would include technologies such as telephones, fax machines, computers, and computer networking. In the K-12 Technology Support Survey I focused on the most common forms of the last two: personal computers (PCs) and local area networks (LANs).
Most schools in the survey introduced PCs in the early 1980's; the earliest were two who claimed 1974 and the most recent was 1991. For the 58,260 students served by the schools in the survey there were 8,179 PCs or one PC for every 7.1 students. Somewhat surprisingly, when I broke down the data by population density, the results were:
The fact that the 7 rural schools reported the lowest ratio of students to PCs contradicts what I think I know about rural schools and their annual budgets relative to the other two categories. It suggests that the schools in this study are not representative of the rural school population at large (see caveat above). The kinds of PCs present in these schools is shown below.
A majority of the respondents had some or all of their PCs connected via LANs. In view of the predominance of Macs and Apple PCs, most of the LANs were running Ethernet or AppleTalk or LocalTalk.
When asked about software, most respondents indicated that they were running individual, single-focus, instructional and productivity software packages that they had hand-picked. A few were running such packages together with a more comprehensive Integrated Learning System (ILS), like Jostens. None were relying exclusively on an ILS.
I asked two questions concerning technology budgets: How much are you spending and how is it allocated across three categories: hardware, software, and services? The actual amounts reported to me varied so widely that I must assume either that the respondents misunderstood the question (i.e. they did not take the total budget including personnel costs into account) or that they were ignorant of the actual amounts their schools or districts are spending. Concerning the breakdown of the costs, they may have been more accurate. On average they reported:
This seems to conform to my experience in which many schools seem to spend most of their technology dollars on equipment (something you can show the board!), leaving software and services to be acquired on a catch-as-catch-can basis.
Interestingly, in the second phase of my survey I asked the respondents to tell me how they thought these monies SHOULD be allocated. The right column below shows their responses.
In words the figures on this table are even more emphatic. The respondents apparently believe they should be spending HALF as much on hardware and TWICE as much on software and services. I believe that this is the voice of hard-won experience and it should be listened to!
I also asked a few questions about support headcount and how the people are deployed. This is a complex area since most schools and districts have at least some employees (teachers or specialists) assigned "part-time" and many use volunteers for technology support. This makes it very difficult to determine how much support is really being provided on the basis of a theoretical "full-time equivalent" (FTE) employee. Furthermore, some larger schools and districts have some true specialists (for example technology planners, curriculum consultants, and trainers) while others have a couple of generalists who must be "Jacks-(and Jills)-of-all-trades."
When I add up all the specialized and non-specialized support and divide it into the total number of PCs that the respondents have, I come up with about 140 PCs per FTE. I note that this figure is influenced by some economies of scale since some of the larger institutions and districts reported ratios of 400-600 per FTE, but two with the highest numbers also reported being heavily overburdened. The respondent with the highest ratio (640:1) commented wryly that "Support is not in the vocabulary of most school districts," and another respondent with a 440:1 ratio stated that his district has "an intense need for more support staff."
On the second phase of the research, nine of the original 18 participants responded. When they were asked to rate their current levels of support, the phase 2 respondents answered as follows.
Then I asked them how they thought their support budget compared with that of the average commercial business with the same level of technology. Specifically, I asked them to complete the following sentence.
One respondent from a medium size district (9,000 students) said, "I would choose F if you had it." Looking at the sum of responses in categories "D" and "E" we see that almost all respondents (89% or 8 out of 9) consider their support levels to be "below" or "well below" those of businesses with comparable numbers of computers.
Yet when asked how they felt their schools compared with other schools or districts with the same levels of technology they responded:
Those few respondents who did express satisfaction with their support programs also indicated that they considered themselves to be national model programs for technology in education. One respondent stated the following:
"We have one of the best technical support programs in K-12. We have been reviewed by MIT, GMU, UCR, ARPA, ISI, etc. and all have cited [our district] as having the premier network and support system in the coun- try... We have a 24-hour hardware response time and a 3-4 [hour] online software response time. Our trainers develop workgroup training seminars that are curriculum and operational-based instruction that solve real-time problems for staff and students."
The respondent reported that his district employs 7.5 full-time equivalent people to support about 400 teachers and 8,000 students on more than 1,000 PCs linked into networks at 11 sites. Finally, I asked the respondents to rank five areas of support in order of importance where 1 = most important and 5 = least important. The results are shown below.
I believe these results represent a major change from what we would have found 10 years ago when hardware selection issues were the order of the day. Yet when I compare this ranking with the budget breakdowns shown above, I feel that we are still placing too much emphasis (and money and personnel) on the hardware and too little (much too little) on teacher training, planning, and curriculum integration. This seems to be another instance of our funding processes lagging way behind our practical experience and our current thinking.
I invite interested readers to consider the support numbers given for the school described in the last section. By extrapolation, you can calculate the resources it would take to provide a similar level of support to the teachers and students in your school or district. Even assuming certain economies of scale, I suspect that the results will be 2-5 times what most schools have allocated today in terms of effective, FTE staffing in the planning, training, and support areas.
I have been in the computer business for over 20 years. Three years ago I left the commercial world and entered the realm of education. Here I have found a pattern of technology adoption that is not dissimilar to that which I experienced in business 1015 years ago. This pattern can be summarized as follows.
In some ways, this progression is not surprising. It is a logical pattern dictated to some extent by the learning curve associated with any new technology or practice. In an even more abbreviated form it might be described as "Get it, understand it, apply it."
The problem is that these three stages of technology adoption often take several YEARS each to accomplish.
We don't have that kind of time!
To the extent that this survey, with its small sample, says anything, it says, "Technology must be well supported if it is to be well used." And it would appear that computer technology in schools is still a long way from being "well supported" in the same sense that successful, competitive businesses use that term.
Here is a sample of some of the statements I received in the "Open Comments" section at the end of the survey.
D. Verne Morland
K-12 SURVEY RESPONDENT DEMOGRAPHICS
K-12 TECHNOLOGY SUPPORT SURVEY