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Leaders Rank Mobile Learning the Top School Tech Priority for 2017

The annual CoSN leadership survey highlights include a drop in BYOD and outsourcing.

<a href="" target="_blank">Mobile learning by Jo Fothergill via Flickr</a>
For the first time, mobile learning is ranked the top priority by school IT leaders, according to findings released by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) in its 2017 K-12 Leadership Survey Report. The No. 2 priority is broadband and network capacity.

Mobile learning is defined as the idea of 24/7 access, according to Paula Maylahn of Paula Maylahn Consulting and author of the survey. “Mobile learning doesn’t always mean 1:1, but we are seeing schools move away from the computer lab,” she said. "Learning is not just in the classroom — it comes home with you.”

Each year educational IT leaders have been asked to identify, from a provided list, their top three technology priorities. The survey, in its fifth year, highlights technology trends, challenges and priorities from the perspective of IT leaders. The results provide insight into how IT issues have changed over the last five years.

Online assessments has fallen from its top ranking in 2015 and 2016 to eighth place this year. The drop indicates that districts are more prepared for high-stakes assessments. Four years ago, only 18 percent of respondents felt they were “fully prepared,” compared to 61 percent in this year’s survey.

There were two surprises in this year’s results: the declines in bring your own device (BYOD) and IT outsourcing in schools.

BYOD was the No. 1 priority in 2013 but has failed to break into the top three since. This year, BYOD was ranked ninth, its lowest ranking ever.

One reason for the shrinking role of BYOD is the low cost of devices such as Chromebooks, which allows more schools to provide devices for kids. Equity is another reason behind the decline of BYOD. Some kids don’t have a device to bring, or there is a big difference in the age or abilities of devices brought from home. Online assessments are also easier to accomplish on standardized devices.

“If someone wants to bring a device, we allow it on our network, but require every student to have a district-issued device in high-stakes testing,” said Mike Jamerson, director of tech at Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation in Columbus, Ind. “A pop up will completely disrupt the test, so we go to great lengths to make sure all devices are updated. We can’t guarantee that if they’re bringing their own device.”

While there is a decline in the number of districts implementing BYOD, those who have solved the problems are implementing BYOD more fully.

Another shift in this year’s survey is the reported decline of outsourcing for IT functions. This year, 49 percent of respondents indicated that no IT functions are outsourced, compared with 32 percent in 2014. Only 45 percent indicated that they currently outsource one or more functions, compared with 59 percent in 2014.

Despite an overall decline, the districts that outsource are doing so for more of their IT functions. The outsourcing of service agreements rose to 30 percent in 2017 from 18 percent the prior year. In the same time period, remote network maintenance rose to 27 percent from 15 percent.

The overall decline may be due to several factors. Some districts are consolidating IT functions or doing more themselves. “Over time, as districts have increased the use of technology, they have built up competencies in-house,” said Maylahn. “ Also, with G Suite, Chromebooks and Windows 10, machines aren’t as difficult to maintain as they used to be.”

Definitions of outsourcing may also be changing, according to Jamerson. For instance, respondents may not define remote network maintenance as outsourced, even though it is not technically on site. "That’s another way we’ve pushed work out from the organization without appearing to be outsourcing," said Jamerson. "Also, do respondents perceive moving backups to the cloud as outsourcing?" The questions may lead CoSN to change the phrasing next year, as the survey tries to tease out the ways IT work continues to evolve.

“Technology can do a lot in terms of personalized learning, but CTOs have to deal with a lot of issues they haven’t had to before,” said Maylahn. “That is the reason for CoSN to exist. The big districts and small rural districts are all struggling with the same issues, but they don’t have to sort it out alone.”