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Educator Panel: Engaging Teachers, Students In IT Sales Critical To K-12 Success

Solution providers are concentrating too much on selling to the superintendent, tech evaluators and purchasing agents, a panel of educators said, when they really should be focused on the needs of students.

Solution providers need to move beyond the superintendent and IT director and engage players in the classroom in order to get new technology successfully adopted and implemented in schools.

That was the message from a panel of educators at Synnex's Red, White & You public sector event last month in Atlanta.

"Unless the teachers and the students know how to use those [technologies] and are trained, we miss the boat," Sue Anne Link, an interim administrator at Greenville (S.C.) County Schools, told a couple of hundred solution providers at the event.

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Thomas Riddle, vice president and director of curriculum at the Shannon Forest Christian School in Greenville, S.C., said solution providers are concentrating too much on getting into the offices of the superintendent, tech evaluators and purchasing agents when they really should be focused on the needs of the students.

Riddle added that it's quite obvious when the technology in a classroom has been selected without ever consulting a person younger than 14.

"I've been in a lot of schools where there's great shining technology, and it sits there, because there hasn't been the training given to the staff or it's not engaging to the students," he said.

Donna Teuber, a team leader for technology integration in the Richland School District in Columbia, S.C., likened selling technology to school districts to a square dance, saying solution providers must move around to, and get feedback from, every constituency -- including the district office, IT department, engineers, teachers and students -- before asking for sign-off on the purchase.

"If you go to the grants coordinator or to the superintendent and it's just purchased immediately, no one has buy-in, and it's not going to be an effective implementation," Teuber said.

Link said she tries to cast as broad a net as possible when determining how to best allocate technology funds, inviting not only tech-savvy teachers and administrators to the committee but also PTA members, students, Title I facilitators (focused on school and districts with many low-income families) and senior citizens to maximize buy-in and continued community support.

And once the technology is purchased, Link said, it's vital that teachers and students be offered training not just on the first day but continuously.

Jason Wilmot, a senior business development manager on Microsoft's worldwide public sector team, said solution providers need to tailor their pitch to specific constituencies.

Superintendents care very much about security and privacy, Wilmot said, and want to hear about metrics that can be used to track to what extent new technology is advancing learning or improving test scores.

The top concern of district IT directors, though, is network and bandwidth, ensuring that a single wireless access point can handle as many as 90 devices in a classroom, managing devices across several platform such as iOS, Windows, Android and Chrome, and ensuring that legacy browser-based applications continue to be supported, Wilmot said.

Solution providers must talk with teachers about the best practices for creating engaging digital-oriented lesson plans and assessment, as well as how to train and coach them in the new technology given time constraints, Wilmot said. And for students, Wilmot said, VARs and MSPs must demonstrate how the technology will facilitate impactful learning outside of the classroom.

Julie Hartman, the department head of early childhood education at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., said VARs and MSPs need to be conscious of the language they're using when speaking with classroom educators, because they're not up-to-date on the latest IT lingo.

"Do not tell the faculty about 'vendors,' " Hartman urged solution providers. "They think of those people who put Fritos in machines."

Instead, Hartman said, solution providers should focus on how the technology can be customized to engage individual students and better prepare them for colleges and careers.

In order to get school districts to continually purchase and invest in new technology, Teuber said, solution providers must demonstrate how the tools prepare students for the real world and facilitate collaboration, communication, problem-solving and creativity.

"The novelty of the technology is going to wear out very quickly," Teuber said. "Those districts that are getting started don't really know what they're getting into."

When implemented properly, though, technology holds the potential to increase test scores and student engagement, according to Teuber. The increased engagement is most pronounced at the middle and high school levels, she said, since engagement typically declines as students get older and move out of elementary school.

Students typically begin showing gains in test scores three to five years after new technology is implemented, Teuber said, with the fastest and largest gains coming in assessments of writing.

"Our kids are writing so much now with the collaborative tools," she said.

The Shannon Frost Christian School adopted its current technology policy four years ago, which includes Chromebooks and iPads for elementary school students and a bring-your-own-device policy for middle and high school students, according to Riddle, who said he's been particularly impressed by the gains in engagement and creativity among the upper-school students.

"Walking into a class and seeing students filming videos with their iPads and then dropping that into Movie Maker and editing -- it is amazing," Riddle said.

Students are not the only ones benefiting from the technology, though, Link said. The latest tools and devices have facilitated more collaboration among teachers, she said, particularly when it comes to designing lesson plans.

"If you (as a teacher) do not plan together, you are never going to survive," Link said.

Pat Turney, a principal consultant at Synnex partner ACE Network Consulting in Tulsa, Okla., was pleased to hear that educators are at last emphasizing a push into new technology.

"Education has been stagnant for so long," Turney said.


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