Technology is changing very rapidly so specific information about types of computer hardware and software is not provided in these guidelines. In addition, individual course providers may have specific technical requirements. The following general tips apply to all types of hardware and software.
Technology is purchased and managed at both the school and school division level. Sometimes, several school divisions work together to purchase, install and repair computers and other electronic equipment. It depends very much on the particular situation. Each of the tips below can apply to a school, a school division or a group of school divisions.
- Be sure that all technology purchases are driven by education need. Buy the hardware and software required to deliver the programs students in your school division need. Don't buy technology for its own sake.
- Recognize that there will be an ongoing cost for computer hardware and software. This isn't a one-time expense. Software changes frequently. Your equipment will have to be upgraded regularly as software changes and becomes more complex.
- Purchase hardware and software and enough bandwidth capacity to support moving graphics, splash pages, sound and other features that many courses use to enhance learning and to hold student interest.
- Purchase enough workstations so that students have convenient access. One or two computers in the library won't support a distance learning program. If students have to wait or compete for computers, they will lose interest.
- Purchase high-speed Internet service if it is available in your area. A quick response from the computer makes a course more engaging for students. Some students will get bored and lose interest if they have to wait for the computer to respond.
- Provide for technical support and ongoing maintenance. Technicians and other experts will be needed to install hardware and software, and to troubleshoot problems that arise. Large school divisions might have computer people on staff. Smaller school divisions might have a service contract with local experts. Although the site facilitator and students may be capable of handling minor problems, they will not have the expertise or the time to install complex new hardware and software or to troubleshoot major problems. Moreover, students' and teachers' first priority should be teaching and learning, not technical installations and repairs. When planning for technical support and maintenance, the speed with which breakdowns are fixed is critical. Problems should be fixed within hours, not days. Nothing discourages students more than trying to work with a system that is always down.
- Test new hardware and software to see if it is working properly. Newly installed hardware and software may have minor or major "bugs" of various sorts. Be sure that all systems are operating well before students start working on them. Students will lose interest if there are many error messages, repeating loops or frequent crashes in a new program.
- Stick with industry-wide standards for hardware and software. Highly innovative products may be incompatible with the systems used by Internet service providers, course providers and other school divisions. Choose products and systems that will give you maximum compatibility.
Cooperate with other school divisions whenever possible to save money and improve efficiency. There are many possibilities for cooperation including shared networks and bulk purchases of hardware and software.