How to keep up with technology in a business or educational setting

It can be more than a full-time job to keep up with technology as it evolves, and smaller and midsize entities that tend not to have dedicated technology staff can face even more acute challenges.

So many changes occur, it’s hard to know what’s available, says Paul Karlin, M. Ed., director of Education Technology & Services at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions. Also, you must train staff and invest in maintenance to keep technology from sitting around unused or broken.

At the same time, organizations need to continually budget for change.

“They’ll say, ‘OK, we’re done. We’ve got a great network and computers,’” Karlin says. “They don’t realize that it’s going to be three, four or five years, and then they have to do it all over again. It’s an ongoing need that has to be budgeted for every year.”

Smart Business spoke with Karlin, who helps schools integrate technology into classrooms and buildings, about how all entities can stay on top of technology needs.

How are schools and classrooms using technology today?

Schools like any organization use technology to conduct business — from keeping track of attendance and grades to payroll, accounts receivable, marketing and communication. And like the corporate world, the right technology maximizes efficiency and employee productivity, while reducing costs.

In addition, whether your classroom is in the educational world or corporate America, technology can improve learning. It’s a vehicle for direct instruction, such as Internet research, educational software or apps. Another use is assessment. In schools, based upon Common Core Standards, groups of states are adopting national tests given on computers, driving schools to update bandwidth.

Technology also is used as a tool to solve problems, create things and be more productive. This higher-level learning, when educating students or employees, isn’t just reading material and taking a test. For example, when learning about global warming, a science teacher challenges students to come up with energy-saving devices, using computer modeling and 3-D printers to develop prototypes. It goes beyond comprehension to becoming part of the dialog of how to make the world better.

What do you recommend as the way to best keep up with technology changes?

There are two overarching strategies. Entities can invest in their own technology staff. If they are large enough and have the resources, it’s a good way to go. But the technology field is very competitive, with IT people moving from job to job. If your key tech person puts in his or her two-week notice, it can leave you scrambling.

The other strategy is to build technology partnerships. Your technology partner can use proven business practices, which in IT includes monitoring, providing a help desk, having disaster recovery, ticketing systems to track problems, etc. You don’t have to worry about retention, and there’s no knowledge gap. You’ll get regular updates on what’s working, what’s not and what’s coming to help inform your decision-making.

Technology partners usually don’t just consult; they deliver products, and provide equipment, services and training. Their middle name has to be accountability, because if they don’t get it done, they aren’t going to be around anymore.

How can organizations prioritize updates or new technology?

The latest technology fad shouldn’t drive updates. For example, organizations are implementing one-to-one computing, where there’s a computer for every person. But if that takes too much attention away from instructors in an educational setting, it may not be a good fit. First, understand organizational goals and needs, and then match those to updates or new technologies.

Consider how to improve efficiency and reduce costs. You may save money by introducing a new technology like server virtualization — five servers function as 20, via software, to reduce support and energy costs. Also, determine if introducing a software package or process will save time or allow staff to focus on their core roles.

Whether it’s technology change or any other change, don’t jump on the bandwagon. Start with the need, problem and/or goal before you come up with solutions. Technology is not going to fix everything; it’s just a piece of the answer.

Paul Karlin, M. Ed., is a director of Education Technology & Services at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions. Reach him at (216) 271-4800, ext. 2281 or [email protected].

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