Exploring the Role of the School Network for Technology Integration

With the recent advent of online assessments, the capabilities of the school network have come to the forefront in many school districts across the nation (Cavanaugh, 2014). In November 2014, President Obama addressed school bandwidth issues during the inaugural superintendent summit on digital learning and future readiness. At the summit, President Obama stated, “Right now, fewer than 40 percent of public schools have high-speed Internet in their classrooms; less than half. It means that in most American schools, teachers cannot use the cutting-edge software and programs that are available today. They literally don’t have the bandwidth” (The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 2014). In 2014, President Obama unveiled the ConnectED Initiative (ConnectED). At the unveiling, President Obama stated that many schools have the same bandwidth as an average American home but with many more users.

ConnectED sets four clear goals (upgraded connectivity, leveling the playing field for rural students, training teachers, and availability to new resources for teachers) to transition to digital learning across the country in five years as originally outlined in the National Education Technology Plan (NETP) (United States, Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, 2014). NETP represented a model of learning powered by technology, which asserted a crucial element for learning is an adequate broadband network infrastructure, including wireless coverage. According to NETP (2014), adequate means enough bandwidth to support simultaneous use by all teachers and students to engage routinely on the Internet, multimedia, and collaboration software (United States Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, 2014). In addition, ConnectED calls upon the private sector to provide assistance to connect all schools to the digital age.

In November 2014 at the first-ever national superintendent’s summit, President Obama greeted over 100 representative superintendents to the White House (The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 2014). The White House selected superintendents who were recognized for their leadership in helping transition their districts to digital learning. The superintendents who attended the summit represented model schools and districts across the country using technology to create personalized learning environments in which technology will play an increasingly vital role (The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 2014). ConnectED, an initiative from the federal government, superintendent involvement in transitioning their districts to digital learning, high stakes online standardized assessments, and private sector involvement are shaping the environment where the school network is a more critical component in technology integration than ever before (Davis, 2013; Greaves et al., 2012). Moreover, school districts forged ahead into the digital world by introducing bring your own device (BYOD), ubiquitous computing, twenty-first century classroom equipment, such as interactive white boards and document cameras, and digital curriculum initiatives (Keppler, Weiler, Maas, 2014; Dickerson, 2014). Educational computing supported by high-speed networks is the gateway to limitless online learning and a personalized student education (Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2013; Davis, 2013; Greaves et al., 2012).

Studies have shown that after classroom teachers, principals are the school-related factor that has the greatest impact on student learning (Vitaska, 2008; Marzano & Waters, 2009). However, in many districts, principals do not have the ability to effect technology changes on the school network as it is mainly a district wide element. While there are some noteworthy studies of principals associated with leadership in technology (Anderson & Dexter, 2005; Schrum & Levin, 2009), it has been noted that technology leadership among superintendents remains under-researched (McLeod, Bathon, & Richardson, 2011; McLeod & Richardson, 2011; Richardson, Bathon, Flora, & Lewis, 2012). Superintendents have the authority to considerably influence innovative change, such as the school network, there remains a need for researchers and practitioners to better understand how superintendents effectively facilitate technology-related reform in their school districts (Ellison, 2015; Holt & Burkman, 2013; Schrum, Galizio, & Ledesma, 2011).

Communicating the technology needs of a school from teachers to the superintendent is an ongoing issue in many school districts. There is a disparity between administrators who plan for technology integration without direct knowledge of students and teaching and learning and teachers who have direct contact with students and their learning needs (Skryabin, Zhang, Liu, & Zhang, 2015; Wang, Hsu, Reeves, & Coster, 2014). Additionally, the lack of an adequate network and connectivity potentially has a negative impact on staff and students because they do not have access to twenty-first century educational technology (Hoffman, 2014; Sauers, Richardson, & Mcleod, 2014; Hess, 2012). Mthethwa (2014) found that if the technology was unreliable, teachers would not likely use it. Superintendents that have a comprehensive understanding of school networking are able to provide a strong foundation and reliable access to a twenty-first century education and can guide in planning and implementation of the school network by prioritizing it among other district projects (Hurley, 2014; Levin & Schrum, 2012). Superintendents affected by the lack of research can cause misallocation of school resources, including technology (Holt & Burkman, 2013; Devono & Price, 2012; Edwards & Grier, 2012; Levin & Schrum, 2012).

Using the Internet for instructional delivery allows teachers to provide digital learning experiences but accessing bandwidth is not enough (Duffey & Fox, 2012; OET, 2011; Jacobsen & Friesen, 2010). Many school districts still struggle with inadequate networks, technology, and bandwidth (Mardis, Elbasri, Norton, & Newsum, 2015; Sundeen & Sundeen, 2015). There is no forum for feedback to educational leaders in terms of the technology needed in the classroom by teachers (Coll, Rochera, & De Gispert, 2015; Keppler, Weiler, & Maas 2015; Wolfson, Cavanagh, & Kraiger, 2015). A lack of relevant data and research has led to recommended scholarly research into the dynamics of communication and resource allocation between the superintendent and the staff related to school networks (Kong, 2014; Sauers, Richardson, & Mcleod, 2014; Jameson, 2013).

Technology is a valuable resource for educators in the planning and teaching of the curriculum in classroom settings. However, limitations of school networks and the reliability of the networks can have an impact on the integration of technology by teachers.  School administrators who understand and address teachers’ concerns may enable more and better technology integration. In this way, schools and districts can ensure that teachers have the resources they need to give students their best chances for success.

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