Changing the Face of e-Learning Landscape

Andrew Moore, CIO, Boulder Valley School District

How do you manage student data and assessment platform in your school district?

My experience in the private sector before joining Boulder Valley school district has been instrumental in inclining my thought process and viewpoints towards customer service and instant problem solving. It has also helped me embrace change and disruption in the IT landscape or within the organization gracefully.

At Boulder Valley School District, we have adopted cloud based infrastructure for data management assessment. ERP, Student Information Systems (SIS) and other functionalities have been moved to cloud platform over the past five years. A major shift has been towards SaaS based applications as opposed to in-house software to simplify the environment and enable anytime, anywhere access. In addition, we have also outsourced our data center to a third party managed professional data center vendor.

In your journey so far in the technology evolution, what are the insights that you will like to share with your counterparts?

People embrace newer technologies because it is either easy to use or is disrupting the tech market. Such changes and disruptions can be difficult to handle and to cope up with these challenges, a proper knowledge of customer base is imperative. I would advise my counterparts to have a formal change management methodology.

Let me illustrate it with an example, when we moved to Google’s G Suite, we went through many meetings with IT department, Edtech, teachers, and principals to access the pros and cons of moving to a cloud based e-mail platform. From these meetings, we inferred that driving awareness across the organization should be carried out at the outset, which was done extensively before implementation.

Firstly, G Suite was implemented in IT and while they pointed out the initial issues, we were able to tweak the features and make the platform more efficient and robust. By optimizing these learnings, G Suite was then deployed at other levels of the organization and finally to school while ensuring that the transition was smooth and seamless. Now we employ this methodology in all our endeavors pertaining to software or hardware deployment.

What are the challenges in the technology shift?

The biggest challenge that we witnessed while we shifted to cloud based G Suite e-mail platform was to get people out of their comfort zone with outlook. People were not technologically aware, which attributed to their reluctance at first. However, immaculate awareness program demonstrating flexibility of accessing e-mails through any web or mobile browser, even thousand miles away from office, made the transition smooth and easy. The promising advantages when put forth attracted people to adopt G Suite.

How do you select a specific solutions provider from the plethora of options that are available?

We adopt a transparent and collaborative approach while selecting service providers. Every decision in this arena is made through Request for Proposal (RFP), which is developed by broad group of individuals including curriculum expert, IT and edtech professionals, principals, and teachers. The queries and challenges framed in RFP are then passed on to vendors, who come up with solutions and services to address these issues, and also describe the pricing model. This helps us to select vendors and service providers that can leverage solutions, which will aptly suit our workforce. Generally, such an approach is adopted for every implementation that costs more than ten thousand dollars.

What are the next disruptions in the e-learning landscape?

In recent developments we have ruled out software that are not HTML5 supported owing to the flexibility and scalability that can be attained with HTML5. We have equipped educators and students with chromebooks to enhance learning experience. Going forward, organizations in e-learning landscape have to embrace adaptive technology to change the perception of education. In years to come, a greater shift from class room based to online teaching will be observed. It will have a greater influence as well, it will foster skill based learning and sharing. A push towards joint curriculum and a transformation from one teacher per class to multiple teachers in an open environment is what the future holds.

What are the principles that you follow to influence your co-worker and how do you address the work culture in your organization?

My approach towards building a work culture is heavily influenced by my experience in the private sector. As soon as I joined Boulder Valley School District, I enforced a rigid change methodology to assist the organization better manage disruption. I always advocate for better customer service and how things can be made easy for our end users. For instance, we have now simplified the process of raising service request, which has simplified the job for service desk professionals and in turn have resulted in better customer support. In addition, chat feature on service desk portals have added value to service desk support. I always emphasize ¬– optimize for customers not for IT.

Additional Insight:

Leadership in the education sector requires courage. A management executive at such a place has to meet with peers regularly to discuss challenges and roadblock that may affect the landscape. Let me illustrate it with an example – our decision to outsource to the data centers was the most challenging one as we had to handover the most essential IT asset to a vendor. However, the decision had to be taken as it became cumbersome for us to find adept professional in data center arena. Ultimately, when we made the transition, we made sure that there are no job losses, which is quite common with outsourcing. So, I would say – leadership in this sphere requires courage and perseverance in abandon.

What is the roadmap for Boulder Valley School District?

Our upcoming projects will mostly revolve around optimization of cloud computing. Recently, we have switched to a cloud hosted VoIP phone mode from the conventional ones and we endeavor to extend the benefits of cloud to classrooms. To ensure that every student gets equal opportunity to learn we provide chromebooks to every student. This eliminates the digital divide between students who can afford laptops and who cannot. We believe that financial circumstance of a student should not be a hindering factor and we will concert our efforts to fill the void that financial stratum creates.

On Addressing the Security of Student Data

Although we invest heavily in firewalls and web filters to ensure the security of student data, security still remains a major concern. We always are on our toes when it comes to discussing security. A major step that has been taken in this direction is to make students and educators aware of security principles and what are the threats that plague the landscape. We always press on social media awareness amongst students enabling them to use the platform judiciously and avert threats.

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