Lately I've been reading quite a few articles in school technology magazines regarding cost savings measures in light of our current global economic crisis. I've also seen a huge increase in the number articles on green technology. All sorts of creative and innovative solutions for doing more with less are being implemented in schools around the world. Here are a few cost savings/green ideas that will not compromise effective instructional technology programs:
1. Create a Google Apps network for your school now. It is free and very easy to manage. While you certainly can use the google apps network as a space for document collaboration only, the real savings happens when you move your school email to Google Apps. Google Apps now offers offline access to word processing files and email. Depending on what email system you are using, a move to Google Apps could mean a realized savings of tens of thousands of dollars annually.
2. Broaden the use of open source client software and server software. On the client side, Open Office, while not perfect, is a suitable replacement for Microsoft Office, especially when used in tandem with Google Apps (I do 99% of my office work in google docs and have done so for nearly two years).
3. Use old hardware. Yes, I know, the old Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) calculators tell us that out of warranty hardware actually costs our institutions more to support. Jim Klein in Saugus Union School District is proving the traditional TCO model wrong. He is doing some amazing things with 6-8 year old hardware to create powerful learning environments for the students and teachers that he works with.
4. Implement a free and open source virtual learning environment (VLE) platform such as Moodle. The VLE will eventually become the "network," with users posting files, blogs posts, forum posts, images, audio and video to the space. Combined with Google Docs and other Web 2.0 edu-spaces, the need for expensive file servers that need to be refreshed every X-amount of years is minimized. Of course you'll need a computer to run your VLE on, but the hardware requirements for Moodle are quite minimal and all of the software needed to make it work is free. Because the VLE only requires a browser for users to participate, the need for everyone to have the exact same type of machine becomes less important. Finally, VLEs have the added benefit of allowing students and teachers to preserve their work in digital spaces, which will ultimately mean less printing.
5. Leverage student owned technology. Some already own cell phones, ultra mobile laptops, laptops, home computers. During the one computer classroom days there were a host of creative ways to make use of the single computer in meaningful ways. The same kind of inventive thinking can now be applied to personally owned student devices on campus.
6. Explore the use of low cost ultra mobile laptops like the ones from Asus and HP. These "light" devices cost a fraction of traditional "heavy" computers and can perform most of the tasks associated with working in the school's virtual learning environment.