Want to Organize Your Digital Assets?
By LeiLani Cauthen
When it comes to digital assets, I have found almost universally that schools do not know what they have. Inventory controls are minimal when it comes to digital curriculum for a very good reason. The content industry blew up and atomized into millions of pieces when it used to be consolidated into a few mammoth publishers that pushed out lines of books with an internal structure and consistency to learning that was all mapped out for schools.
Step one, therefore, is inventory collection. Currently, there are some 7,000 publishers in the field with various levels of tools and curriculum. There are many sites, some government supported, for free and open resources. The volumes of digital files and objects in the teacher ranks are massive–for some districts in the millions by count. For some schools, taking inventory can take years and is largely a non-automated area.
Most schools to date have given the task of digital asset tracking to their technical staff to collect the major system software, the devices, and network information. They typically leave the information as to what files and what apps to all the individual teachers. This is no longer a sufficient strategy due to the high cost inefficiencies and labor intensiveness behind curriculum work. A good digital curriculum strategy starts by organizing all the pieces available, and there are quite a few in play for school districts. These include:
- Professional Development
- Online courses
- Lesson plans of any digital flavor
- Office suites
- Collaboration tools, such as video conferencing
- Virtual reality and field trip tools
- Paid subscription services
- Free subscription services
- Digital/digitized elements (such as documents, video, e-books, lesson plans)
- Resource services, such as plagiarism checkers, online chat staffing, and special needs resources like speech therapy distance educators, YouTube, and more
- Drivers (for printers and 3D imaging)
- Learning Management Systems (LMS)
- Student Information Systems (SIS)
- Instructional Management Systems (IMS)
- Library Management Systems
- Talent Management Systems
- Financial Management Systems
- Procurement Management Systems
- Device management
- Technical skills software, such as Adobe Illustrator or AutoCAD
- Project based hybrids, such as software to run a robot, science instruments, and calculators
- Other tools, such as clickers, polling, testing devices, whiteboards, portfolios
Collect as much detail as possible including what platform the software resides on and all other details about it technically, as well as descriptive tags and any standards it meets academically or technically for easy use and sharing.
For major systems, discover and map out how each major system integrates with others, and whether there are application interfaces prebuilt. A thorough system of managing digital objects and the learning within them, an architecture to hold all of this for a school, is what has been missing. Leaning only on a Learning Management System (LMS) is nice if you have a ton of administrators who will centrally manage every single thing. An LMS becomes unworkable for inventory when it is so large it cannot be managed centrally well and must have a decentralized local authority that provides updates to teachers themselves.
What will need updating on an almost continual basis is the internal list of what is allowed to be used or is working for teachers. As new publishers provide more digital curriculum and tool choices or refine the systems that deliver them, the five-to-seven year “adoption cycle” of new textbooks is a thing of the past. A strategy needs to account for these pieces and speed of change and figure out how they’re going to be used within a distributed system.
Recognize the Difference Between Strategy and Tactics
During planning of a school’s architecture for screen learning with all sorts of digital curriculum, it’s important to understand the difference between tactics and strategy. A tactic is an individual action that is taken in the implementation of a larger strategy. An example is the distribution of iPads to all students. This is a tactic, and a perfectly good one if there is a strategy backing it up. A good strategy will provide the oversight and direction to use those iPads to change the students’ approach to education. And that is one of the strengths of having a thought-out architecture strategy. When digital innovations were previously offered to students, like a computer in the classroom, the decision of how to use it was often made on a teacher level, such as what programs might be on it. Fully implementing digital curriculum is simply too large of an issue to be decided on a classroom-by-classroom basis exclusively. To be effective, a strategy will lay out how every part of the curriculum goes together. Take the straightforward task of taking notes. There are many note-taking apps out there. Deciding on a single note-taking app that students will use through multiple grades means they don’t have to learn a new app with every new grade level.
What’s interesting is that many school districts are set up via school boards to oversee curriculum selection, but not at the scale needed by schools today. Choosing a few textbooks is one thing but overseeing every app and every lesson plan is full-time work for several people, even in small districts. Yet a good selection process should be applied to new digital curriculum materials if only to ensure the materials are not rogue and outside basic curriculum maps, as well as ensure that they have security and protect student data privacy. Rather than simply letting students use any app, or letting teachers select the apps that they like, a well-communicated plan can ensure that every app available fits the overall strategy and architecture.
This type of higher-level strategy doesn’t preclude savvy teachers from trying new things, like coming back from conferences and piloting a piece of software. But those must be pilots and then proposed to higher levels for broad acceptance and implementation if a new tool’s effectiveness in teaching and learning is agreed upon. Consider as well that good ed-tech companies will utilize conferences to announce improvements for their tools and train teachers on their use.
Refine Your Policy
Now that a school knows where it stands with inventory and a rough architecture has been made known, a refinement of policy is in order. It’s important for administrators to write institution-wide policy that makes sense for everyone about what their strategy is so that tactics can be employed by all. Teachers could also implement their own policies and ensure they are not overwhelmed by technological change.
Typically, some policies are made known from the beginning, such as “only buy apps that fit the Android platform,” but as schools find out more and more about what is actually happening in detail at the school and teacher level, a refinement or a full shift of policy is going to be self-evident.
About the Author
LeiLani Cauthen is CEO of the Learning Counsel, and author of The Consumerization of Learning.