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Overcoming Socioeconomic Challenges Through IT Infrastructure Design and Cloud Computing

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Dr. Peter Holowka  

Based on a study of western Canadian K-12 districts, learn how districts can bridge the digital divide and provide students with access to computational resources, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds.

Audience: Chief technology officers/superintendents/school board members, Teacher education/higher ed faculty, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Topic: Equity & inclusion
Grade level: PK-12
Subject area: Computer science, STEM/STEAM
ISTE Standards: For Education Leaders:
Equity and Citizenship Advocate
  • Ensure all students have access to the technology and connectivity necessary to participate in authentic and engaging learning opportunities.
Systems Designer
  • Ensure that resources for supporting the effective use of technology for learning are sufficient and scalable to meet future demand.
  • Lead teams to collaboratively establish robust infrastructure and systems needed to implement the strategic plan.

Proposal summary

Framework

This research is based most heavily on the Frambach and Schillewaert (2002) conceptual framework of organizational innovation adoption. This framework guided the research’s examination of organizational adoption behaviour and the influences on K-12 districts’ IT infrastructure. The Frambach and Schillewaert (2002) framework is an organizational adoption framework, differing from the other dominant adoption frameworks such as the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) or the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM). The key difference between the Frambach and Schillewaert (2002) is that it distinguishes between the adoption of an innovation/technology on behalf of an organization’s members by its leadership. The other adoption frameworks focus heavily on adoption by an individual for an individual. This framework is especially well-suited for use in an educational context, where IT decisions are typically made at the district level on behalf of the students, teachers, administrators, and parents of the district.
Other foundational perspectives for this work are pragmatism, structuration theory, and complexity theory.

Methods

This research employed a data transformation mixed-methods triangulation design.
This research captured all (100% participation rate) large school districts in Western Canada (British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan). Data was collected over a year-long period and began with semi-structured interviews lasting 45 minutes on average of senior IT leaders responsible for IT infrastructure. Document analysis (district budget documents, organizational charts, DNS records, etc.) was used to verify interview data. 80 semi-structured interviews were conducted from the 75 districts (some districts had shared roles, resulting in two participants in the study). Following the qualitative interviews, responses were transformed into bivariate data for statistical correlation analysis in SPSS. The subsequent quantitative analysis contributed to the preliminary understanding provided from the initial qualitative data.
Large districts were defined as having an enrollment of 5,000 students or more. This was to ensure they were sufficiently large and well-funded to not bias/constrain their decision making concerning data centre use. For example, smaller districts may be too small to have their own data centres and would therefore disproportionately choose to use the public cloud.
Participants were asked questions about their schools’ and district’s IT infrastructure and IT leadership. For example: what software does your district use for hosting student work? Where are the servers located? Who makes your IT decisions, etc. ? Statistical correlation analysis was conducted to better understand the relationships between different factors.

Results

The study found that cloud computing was ubiquitous in Western Canada. Every K-12 school district used cloud computing heavily. Negligible IT infrastructure was found at each school for services such as Student Information System (SIS), Learning Management System (LMS), library, authentication, finance, and website hosting. Any IT infrastructure that was found at the school level was typically complementary to the centralized cloud computing IT infrastructure of the district. For example, some schools chose to have an LMS at the school so they could have their teachers manage it quickly than through the official process involving the district’s IT staff.
Schools’ IT was managed centrally, at the district level, and remotely. This enables considerable sophistication and simultaneous cost savings. Schools also had largely consistent leadership structures in the areas of IT that emphasized the importance of pedagogy and financial prudence.
The heavy use of cloud computing by Western Canadian K-12 school districts was a major advantage in the shift to remote learning during COVID-19. Schools were able to leverage existing IT infrastructure in district data centres or on the public cloud in order to serve their students remotely.

Importance

This study is of considerable educational and scientific importance because it provides an effective template for the rest of the world to follow as other jurisdictions continue to embrace educational technology. Canada is recognized as having a high standard of K-12 education. A challenge in Canada is delivering education over a large geography and to many remote communities. Western Canadian K-12 districts use the centralized nature of cloud computing to facilitate technology-enabled teaching and learning activities. This means that students and their teachers are well-supported and districts can provide excellent IT services to their schools without dramatically increasing their staff and/or redirecting already constrained funding. The example of Western Canadian K-12 schools is one that can be followed by schools around the world as they seek to expand technology-enabled teaching and learning within their budgets.

References

• British Columbia Ministry of Education, “Independent School Information for Administrators - Province of British Columbia”, British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2020, https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/k-12/administration/program-management/independent-schools
• Celesti, D. Mulfari, M. Fazio, A. Puliafito, and M. Villari, “Evaluating Alternative DaaS Solutions in Private and Public OpenStack Clouds”, Software: Practice and Experience, 2017, Vol. 47, No. 9, pp. 1185-1200.
• Google LLC, “G Suite for Education | Google for Education”, Google LLC, 2020, https://edu.google.com/intl/en_ca/products/gsuite-for-education/?modal_active=none
• H. Gyr, “Current Business Disruption and New Leadership Models”, CIO Association of Canada (webinar), 2020.
• International Data Group, “Cloud Computing Survey 2015”, IDG, 2015, https://www.idg.com/tools-for-marketers/2015-cloud-computing-study/
• J. W. Creswell, V. L. P. Clark, M. L. Gutmann, and W. E. Hanson, “Advanced Mixed Methods Research Designs”, in A.Tashakkori and C.Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and Behavioral Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2003, pp. 209–240.
• L. Robertson, B. Muirhead, & L. Corrigan, “‘Don’t Answer That!’- Cell Phone Restrictions in Ontario Schools”, 11th International Conference on Society and Information Technologies (ICSIT 2020), March 10-13, 2020. Orlando, Florida, USA.
• L. Starkey, A. Sylvester, & D. Johnstone, “Negotiating Digital Divides: Perspectives from the New Zealand Schooling System”, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 2017, Vol. 49, No. 1-2, pp. 31-42.
• Microsoft Corporation, “Free Microsoft Office 365 for Schools & Students | Microsoft Education”, Microsoft Corporation, 2020, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/education/products/office
• Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, “OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms - Digital divide Definition”, OECD, 2006, https://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=4719
• P. Holowka, “IT Leadership and Cloud Computing Adoption in Western Canadian K-12 School Districts”, University of Calgary (doctoral thesis), 2018, http://dx.doi.org/10.11575/PRISM/32649
• R. T. Frambach and N. Schillewaert, “Organizational Innovation Adoption: A Multi-level Framework of Determinants and Opportunities for Future Research”, Journal of Business Research, Vol. 55, No. 2, 2002, pp. 163-176.
• Rot, P. Chrobak, and M. Sobinska, “Optimisation of the Use of IT Infrastructure Resources in an Institution of Higher Education: a Case Study”, 2019 9th International Conference on Advanced Computer Information Technologies (ACIT), Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic, 2019, pp. 171-174, doi: 10.1109/ACITT.2019.8780018.
• US Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology, “The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing: Recommendations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology”, NIST Publication No. 800-145, 2011, https://csrc.nist.gov/publications/sp#800-145
• W. S. Alnumay, “A Brief Study on Software as a Service in Cloud Computing Paradigm”, Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2020, pp. 1-15.
• World Health Organization, "Coronavirus". Who.Int., 2020, https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1.

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Presenters

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Dr. Peter Holowka, West Point Grey Academy

Dr. Peter Holowka is passionate about digital transformation and technology leadership, particularly in education. His doctoral research was in cloud computing adoption and organizational leadership in K-12. His professional work and academic research aim to support teaching and learning by transforming the educational environment. He has received multiple awards for leadership and academic excellence. Beginning his career as a network and web design specialist, Dr. Holowka also advises a number of independent/private schools, businesses, and not-for-profit organizations. Outside of professional and academic pursuits, his passions include hockey, motorcycles, the performing arts, and travel.

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