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budget and resources for digital learning by Metiri Group

Budget and Resources: Digital Learning Framework

We’ve finally come to where the rubber meets the digital road—money! This blog entry is an overview of budget and resources in the context of digital learning.

As any teacher will tell you, it all comes down to the stuff. There’s certainly more to it than buying the stuff though. For example, years ago we worked with a district that had allocated substantial resources to what, at the time, was pretty advanced networking technology. Unfortunately, as is often the case with technology, six months after they finished putting money into the networking, it was out-of-date. The school district had the initial budget, but hadn’t allocated any funding to the project beyond the installation. As a result, they were forced to limp along with the outdated network for many years, until it finally failed all together and they could justify replacing the entire thing. Effective budgeting and resource allocation for digital learning requires careful planning and constant attention to ensure everyone has what they need when they need it.

Budget and Resources: Four Elements

This component is certainly more complex than it may seem at first. Like the other components of the framework, we’ve broken it down into four elements:

  • Efficiency and cost savings
  • Alignment to district- and building-level strategic and tactical plans
  • Consistent funding streams
  • Learning return on investment

Budget and Resources: Consider the Real Cost

It’s important when budgeting to consider the total cost of ownership (TCO), something the district in the example may have neglected to do. The original outlay for the materials is only one part of the cost. Training costs, maintenance, staff time, as well as additional equipment or services that may be needed as a result of the initial purchase (e.g., wiring, additional devices, Internet access fees) need to be considered before making purchases. Cost savings due to increased efficiencies should also be calculated. For example, if a school is purchasing an online attendance system, there are costs involved in software and hardware, but there are also likely savings as the work of entering the attendance data is spread out among staff members in the building, potentially freeing up the person who used to spend half the day entering the information. If you want to get started calculating TCO, this assessment from CoSN may help you get started.

Budget and Resources: Instructional Goals

In developing building technology plans, we used to do an interesting activity that required teachers to map their curriculum objectives alongside the technology they would need to accomplish those objectives. It changed the discussion from, “I really want digital cameras,” to “I’m going to use digital cameras to help my students learn X.” It’s imperative in schools that technology purchases have an instructional purpose. Not that it isn’t okay to purchase items for administrative use, but there should still be an instructional goal, such as streamlining processes to increase instructional time for example. When schools forget to think about the instructional purpose for their purchases, they end up with technology sitting on shelves gathering dust.

Because We Got a Grant!

In the early years of education technology, many districts built their technology inventories using grant funding. These grants often required the implementation of a specific project for several years, then the technology was absorbed into the school’s general technology inventory. Teachers who hadn’t been part of the grant likely didn’t know how to use the technology, and much of the technology was outdated by the time it was accessible to the general population. As a result, schools either had to rustle up more grant funding or fall into a trap of having outdated tools and little support for them. In order to have a successful, long-term digital learning initiative, grant funding should be only a small component of the overall budget. A technology plan should describe consistent, reliable funding sources and how they will be used to maintain, refresh, and update technology resources on an annual basis. This article from EducationDive has some ideas for what to consider when budgeting for ed tech.

Can We Help?

As always, feel free to contact Metiri if you need help assessing your current budget and resources strategy or developing a strategic plan for meeting your digital learning goals. Next week, we’ll provide some strategies for budget and resource allocation to help your school and district move forward no matter where you’re starting.