K-12 institutions rely on devices to enhance students’ learning experiences. New technologies allow students to access more information, learn at home, and engage with their course materials in unique ways that set them up for real-world scenarios. Recent reports show that 77% of teachers say that the right technology is helping them engage with students to improve their learning outcomes.
Laptop lending programs have also emerged as significant drivers of educational technology, particularly in K-12 institutions. Such programs aim to bridge the digital divide, providing all students with equal access to technology, irrespective of their socio-economic background. They ensure that every student has the necessary tools to engage with the modern, digital-based curriculum and develop critical technological skills. Furthermore, these programs represent a dynamic shift in education and teaching methodologies, enabling blended learning environments and promoting digital literacy.
But understanding what technology you need to create an effective learning environment will take time and collaboration from everyone in the school. Student and teacher feedback combined with IT team planning and device lifecycle management solutions will ensure that the devices and technology purchased are adequate for the classroom and that they stay up-to-date, free from vulnerabilities, and secure while in the hands of students.
Before feedback and IT planning can happen, school administrators need to determine the best device choices for the classroom. To conduct a needs assessment, stakeholders can use their institution's goals and objectives and translate them into a list of requirements. Once you have your requirements, set a budget by looking at the cost of devices and your funding options. Finally, look at how to use your new devices to support your current curriculum. In advance of starting your own needs assessment, learn more about each of these steps in the guide below.
Understanding the goals and objectives of the educational institution
The first step in a K–12 needs assessment is to clearly understand the goals and objectives of your institution. Your technology should match your school’s goals around student learning and support how teachers work with students in the classroom.
Start by laying out potential goals for your school using the following guiding questions:
- Do all students need access to devices and technology to support your educational objectives?
- Do you want to encourage students to learn independently with new resources?
- Are there ways you can help students collaborate?
- Do some students have special needs that technology can support?
To see an example of this in practice, look at Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina. This district saw a digital divide among students—some had access to technology at home, and others did not. The institution’s goal was to provide laptops to every child in 3rd–12th grade. They supplemented their old devices with new ones so every student had access. The results showed that their students achieved some of the best scores in reading and math in the following years.
Technology and independent learning
A school that wants to empower students to find resources independently may invest in tablet devices with self-paced learning apps that cater to different learning styles and speeds. Students can use these devices as an aid to the teacher’s lesson in the classroom.
Providing personal devices facilitates direct, often instantaneous access to a virtually limitless pool of knowledge and resources. This empowers students to dive deeper into their areas of interest, fostering a passion for lifelong learning. It allows students to undertake comprehensive research, access a broad array of educational materials, and actively engage with digital learning platforms that offer interactive and immersive experiences.
Moreover, such devices become invaluable tools for completing assignments. They offer a range of software solutions that can assist with project management, document creation, presentations, and data analysis, amongst other tasks. This not only aids in producing high-quality academic work, but also equips students with skills they'll utilize throughout their educational journey and beyond.
Encouraging teacher and student collaboration with technology
Investment in digital communication tools—like Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack—can help students collaborate when not in the classroom.
Students can use these tools in several ways:
- uploading lesson material
- collaborating online in real-time
- viewing course materials
- holding discussions
- asking questions to teachers outside of the classroom
Tech that supports students with special needs
Assistive technology is also available for special needs students. Text-to-speech, assistive listening, and vision assistance applications all aid in the education of a student with special needs. Think about devices that provide these features and how many you may need for each classroom to support these types of learners.
Access to technology and promoting equity
Implementing laptop lending programs is a tangible step towards promoting equitable access to technology. These programs work to bridge the 'digital divide', a term that refers to the disparity in access to technology between different socio-economic groups. By providing laptops on a lending basis, schools can ensure that all students, regardless of their financial circumstances, have the necessary tools to engage fully with the curriculum and acquire essential digital skills.
These programs are about more than just providing physical devices; they are about leveling the educational playing field. They enable every student to access online resources, participate in virtual classrooms, complete digital assignments, and acquire the technological literacy that is increasingly demanded in higher education and the workplace.
Moreover, laptop lending programs can foster an environment of inclusivity and equal opportunity. They signal to students that their educational institution is committed to providing every learner with the resources necessary for success, regardless of their background or personal circumstances.
Integrating device needs into an existing infrastructure
Once you determine your goals and assess them against your current technology, school administrators will start to plan how to integrate new technology into the current infrastructure. To do this:
- take an inventory of current devices
- look at the device's age and if it’s still performing
- assess how many new devices you’ll need to support all students and teachers
- take note of your current process for device lifecycle management so you can start managing new devices immediately
Conducting a comprehensive needs assessment
A needs assessment is a systematic approach to determining and addressing gaps between the current tech conditions in a school and the district’s ultimate goals. It identifies the current strengths of the school as well as the opportunities for improvement and ways technology can make things better. IT teams can use the needs assessment to manage current devices and determine how new applications or devices can fill in the gaps.
For instance, you can have a good technology infrastructure, but teachers may not be able to fully utilize it because of a lack of training. Using teacher feedback will show you that a top need for your school is finding technology tools that help teachers use their devices better or training systems and apps that bring teachers up to speed on how to use technology effectively.
To conduct a thorough needs assessment, admins can work to identify:
- the requirements your school must meet
- the challenges the school faces
- the new opportunities that can make educational experiences better
To find this information, use the four steps below to conduct a comprehensive assessment of your current digital needs.
1. Gather input from stakeholders
The success of your needs assessment relies on feedback from stakeholders—everyone that has a stake in a successful technology transformation including students, teachers, school administrators, and IT staff. Feedback from all of these people will help you identify your requirements and the right tools to meet them.
To start gathering feedback, send a survey that:
- gathers basic information about each person’s role at the school to learn what they do and the challenges they face
- allows for feedback about their struggles with the current educational requirements
- asks for information about the resources and experiences that currently work well for them
- gives you ideas about what your biggest priorities should be
You can drill into more of the details by holding in-person discussions after receiving the survey results. Set up focus groups and interviews to hear more from stakeholders and have them talk about their expectations and what they want to see improve.
2. Identify technology gaps and challenges
The overall goal of the needs assessment is to improve classroom conditions. For example, your current infrastructure may not be supporting student learning, which means your goal is to find technology that can solve this problem. But buying technology and hoping for the best won’t help you meet your goals and close technology gaps. You need an in-depth understanding of your current tech problems in order to address them.
To figure out what your current challenges are, take a look at some common tech issues that K-12 institutions face, including:
- Technology gaps between students: Socioeconomic factors affect the access that each student currently has to technology. Some of your students may have access to technology at home that helps them perform better—but others will struggle to find access to these tools which creates equity gaps.
- Lack of understanding: Teachers and students may not be used to learning devices or know how to properly use them without guidance. This can lead to ineffective device purchases and planning as well as subpar learning outcomes.
- Technology management problems: Some schools don’t have the IT infrastructure to manage all of their devices. A lack of asset management in schools can lead to lost devices, device misuse, and security vulnerabilities.
- Trouble supporting special needs students: A lack of assistive technology in schools means teachers will have a harder time helping special needs students. They won’t be able to consume information or get personalized learning plans tailored to their needs without the right tools.
Using these challenges as well as your feedback from your school stakeholders, you can start to identify your own technology gaps and how to address them.
3. Assess infrastructure requirements
A reliable infrastructure is a key requirement for device management. Your infrastructure needs to support every device, manage software and updates, and ensure security for students, staff, and parents. It also needs to ensure the network capacity is appropriate for everyone to access the internet in the school environment.
Take an institution implementing a 1:1 device program. In this situation, the school will see a massive increase in internet traffic. If its infrastructure doesn’t have the requirements for that type of load, it will disrupt the learning experience and degrade outcomes.
Managing an increase in traffic means:
- examining your school’s internet provider to ensure you have enough bandwidth and enough WiFi access points for all your devices to connect to
- ensuring your provider is secure so unauthorized users can’t connect to the network
Your school can also use a device management software system to monitor the actual devices. These types of tools help IT teams:
- track device locations
- manage the installation of applications
- update the software when required
- secure data on compromised devices
- monitor any potential threats or compromises
4. Analyze curriculum and instructional needs
Once you understand your educational goals and infrastructure, you’ll need to find devices that meet your curriculum and instructional needs.
New devices should:
- enhance the learning experience
- match well with your current environment
- help teachers engage students
Look at a course that provides hands-on instruction as an example. You can offer technology that helps students create rich presentations—such as digital presentations and video production. Computers, cameras, and presentation software will all aid this process.
Another option is to find devices and software that give students more resources to learn complex subjects. Math is a good example of this. There are interactive applications that provide complex math problems and give instant feedback. This gives students individual attention and more understanding that helps them learn where they went wrong when trying to solve the equation.
Although many schools have returned to in-person classes, there’s also still a need for resources that support remote learning. If a student becomes sick or inclement weather keeps students out of the classroom, teachers can take advantage of remote learning tools to supply the day’s lessons online instead of falling behind in classroom instruction.
Budget considerations and funding options
There are a lot of great devices that help improve schools. But without a reasonable budget, you won’t be able to narrow down the options to the ones that best fit your needs.
Allocating a specific amount of spending resources to asset management in schools will help you find the right devices by:
- preventing overspending
- keeping the focus on the most effective devices available
To create an effective tech budget that supports your plans and goals, use the following guiding questions:
- Is a new, expensive device worth the money?
- Will it greatly improve the learning experience?
- Are there enough benefits to purchasing new equipment?
- Are there more cost-effective options that will provide the same level of results?
And it isn’t just about the usefulness of a device. Administrators should also consider the ongoing costs required for supporting any new and existing assistive technology in schools, such as:
- warranties that can help support a device upgrade plan
- timelines for available service plans from the provider
- IT time to perform maintenance requirements to maintain and update devices
- repairs for less-expensive devices that may not hold up as long
Additional funding to support school budgets
It’s also important to look for other funding options if your school doesn’t have the budget to invest in every tool on your list. For instance, the Department of Education (DoE) has a grant program to help schools with digital transformations. It has two types of grants for schools:
- Formula grants: Grants given by preset formulas governed by Congress. It’s non-competitive and requires a school district to fill out a basic application. As long as you meet the formula, you’ll receive the grant.
- Discretionary grants: Grants that are more competitive and have a longer application process. A panel of judges will review the applications and award grants to schools that most closely match the grant criteria.
Schools also have other sources of funding that lower expenses, including:
- E-rate programs: These programs offer discounted telecommunication and internet services to eligible schools, districts, and libraries. Discounts are based on school demographics including location in an urban or rural area. The discounts range from 20–90 percent of internet costs.
- Technology bonds: Some states like California now offer funding for district-wide technology upgrades; however, the application process is complex and more complicated than traditional bonds.
Aligning devices with curriculum requirements
The last step in a comprehensive needs assessment and device plan is to ensure the devices align with your curriculum requirements. This process starts with collaboration between teachers and IT staff.
- Teachers can discuss their current curriculum and pedagogy as well as ways technology can help.
- The IT team can take this information and find the devices that best support the teachers’ needs, integrate into the current infrastructure, and fit into the allocated budget.
For instance, science teachers can use virtual labs on laptops and tablets in their lessons that allow students to perform experiments unsuitable for the classroom. The IT team can find or update devices to run lab applications and set them up within the IT infrastructure to maintain the technology.
There are some strategic decisions you can make that will help ensure a new device plan will align with curriculum requirements, including:
- use a plan that ensures 1:1 devices in schools so every student has access to technology
- making it easy for students to check devices out
- use assistive devices for students who struggle with traditional educational content and lessons
- offering options for students who learn differently and need a more personalized learning approach
- testing a sample of new devices before making a large-scale purchase
- monitoring your current setup to observe how effective your current tools are and where they fall short
- provide teacher training to help them learn how new devices can assist in the classroom and lead to new types of collaboration
Look at the Forest Hills School District in Cincinnati to see this in action. The school wanted to create curriculum that helped students prepare to use technology in the world. They built a program that brought in the newest technology to the classroom to help students learn how to use it. They created personalized learning experiences to set them up to solve real-world problems later on.
Prepare your school for your new environment
Performing a needs assessment is essential to ensure you’re adding the proper devices to your K-12 school environment. The devices you choose should help teachers manage their curriculum and students engage better with their learning material. A comprehensive needs assessment requires teachers, students, administrators, and IT teams to work together to build a device management solution that works for everyone, fits within the school’s budget, and addresses the curriculum requirements and the institution’s goals.
Once you introduce your new devices into your school, you’ll need the right tools to manage them. Investing in device management software offers many benefits. You can:
- keep track of devices to prevent losing them
- ensure device activity aligns with your school’s usage policies
- prevent devices from failing by monitoring their health
- limit classroom disruptions by ensuring devices are updated
If you’re looking for a solution to manage your school’s devices, Prey is it. Our tools help your school manage all its inventory from an easy-to-use dashboard. Prey integrates easily into existing infrastructure and:
- tracks every device in your inventory
- secures devices against cyber threats
- remotely wipes compromised devices
- manages software on each device
- complies with privacy regulations
Sign up for a free trial to explore Prey’s features to find out how we can support device management in your school.