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Five Lessons for
Mobile Device Implementation

"We truly need," a high school principal shared with me, "a mobile device that gives us quick access to information. What's your recommendation?" That kind of question highlights the need for administrators who desire to use a mobile device to do more with less equipment. We have all met that excited, laptop-lugging administrator, who after a year of doing just that, finally switches back to paper. "I just got tired of carrying around that laptop."

"When I get back to my office," an administrator points out, I have a stack of issues to deal with, hundreds of e-mails to read, and students outside my door waiting to come in." That plethora of activities can create a major challenge for administrators who try to use every second of their time effectively.

Image Source: Graphic Design
by Tonya Mills and Larry Stegall

"How can mobile devices maximize my time as an administrator?" If that's the question you're asking, then this article is for you.


Mobile devices enable us to do more, as the image above illustrates. Because many school districts are just embarking on research and implementation of such devices, I've provided these five lessons that should be considered before implementation:

  1. If it wasn't the idea of someone at the top, chances are it won't fly.
  2. Consider all support issues to an implementation.
  3. Find out what choices your district will make in regard to the tool and support issues.
  4. Choose the right product for your environment, not just the best all-around product.
  5. Choose the right product.

Let's jump into these lessons.

Lesson 1: If it wasn't the idea of someone at the top, then chances are it won't fly.
This is a sad, but true, lesson I've learned. As a young, "get 'er done" administrator, I was all about launching initiatives that would meet the needs of the people I served. My motto was, "The bus is're either on it or you're not, but this needs to get done for the ones who are aboard." Time and experience have tempered that. Although I can point to some successes with that approach, they were successes that fell within the scope of one office or department rather than a major, district initiative fully-supported by administration.

Now, I appreciate the importance of bringing more folks to the table at the beginning and seeing if an initiative will fly. No matter how good something is, if the rest of the team isn't interested, it's not worth doing unless you can do it alone. And, as you might guess, you can count the number of "do it alone" projects on one hand.

Lesson 2: Consider all support issues to an implementation.
I've been fortunate in considering the support issues. My colleagues have always provided an abundance of information about what will work and what will not. I've noticed folks divide up into two camps -- those who can think of every reason why something will not work, and those who are going to forge ahead no matter what obstacles they encounter. I learned early on that I fall into the second group, but it took some time for me to learn the value of the first group...and I'm so glad to have learned it.

Now, I'm more inclined to listen to the naysayer, because when implementing a mobile administrator initiative, you need to consider the following support issues before implementation:

  • setting up a local server to house the data (unless you're going to let the vendor host it).
  • interfacing with your district's equivalent of a data warehouse.
  • ensuring that photos of students be provided in electronic format (interfacing with student yearbook pictures at the high school can present a challenge if you're not standardized about who does the yearbook picture production).
  • providing technical support and training for each affected staff member.
  • deciding which program you use -- the one that's convenient (on the device) or the one that you must use for data reporting? Some products have components that might be redundant to your student information system.
  • ensuring Active Directory compatibility with the software chosen.
  • pricing of equipment.
  • pricing of solution might involve a per-site license or a per-user license, and worse, a recurring annual fee. The last is terrible, because you'll face a big expense every year.

Fail to consider these issues, and you might find yourself in a quagmire that will sap the joy out of your implementation. I've seen it happen and work hard to avoid the experience myself.

Lesson 3: Find out what choice your district will make in regard to the tool and support issues.
When I first implemented handhelds, the initiative was wildly successful with our pilot group. Purchasing the hardware was not cost-prohibitive, but the cost of the contracts would quickly "break the bank." Although I had one staff member supporting the initiative for the pilot group, I had to consider whether the district was prepared to provide support and scale to meet support demands.

These are only some of the questions -- regarding funding and logistical or technical support -- a district has to consider. Here are a few more:

  • Due to the support issues listed above, will your district standardize with one vendor that provides those solutions? If so, a "Request for Proposals" will have to be issued because of the number of campuses affected.
  • If campuses -- like yours -- decide to purchase this product, what happens when another campus purchases that product? Multiple data interfaces would have to be set up, technical support enabled for the handheld and software, and more. With an under-staffed technology department (all tech departments are under-staffed -- it's a rule or something), support could quickly become an issue.

Consider your initiative in light of what decision the district is going to make in regard to standardization, data interfacing, and technical support, and the device selected.

Lesson 4: Choosing the right product for your environment, not just the best all-around product.
Below are a few products to consider; it is by no means an exhaustive list. I encourage you to explore these yourself, because they are constantly being improved. Half of Texas uses Eduphoria, so you can't go wrong with it. However, I've also used Media-X and have found their product to be excellent...just keep in mind that they are a Canadian company, so support is usually over the phone. They are very responsive, though.

  • Professional Development Appraisal System (PDAS)
    1. Eduphoria SchoolObject PDAS2007: Cost is per campus and the product can be demonstrated to principals in 20 minutes. This is an excellent solution.
    2. Media-X -- mVal: Standards-based performance appraisals of professional staff, including a new walk-through feature.
  • Student Information
    1. Eduphoria's AWARE
    2. Media-X: ePrincipal and ePrincipal Mobile

Lesson 5: Choosing the right device.
In regard to available handhelds, various competitors are on the market. Although some districts swear by tablet PCs as the perfect alternative to a laptop and/or a handheld (too small a screen), some districts might prefer handhelds. I have to admit that the current craze is for iPhones.

Mobile Device Administrative Procedure
Read the original version of this article and scroll to the bottom for a sample mobile device administrative procedure -- stolen from Judson ISD in Texas, modified and anonymized, and then shared among thieves with appreciation to Steve Young, Judson ISD's CTO. You can see that there are a lot of issues with mobile devices in schools. It is important that you spend time considering how much you will support.

For example, Imagine that you have school district administrators -- a low-tech group -- possibly subscribing to school district podcasts via iTunes. The unforeseen consequence is that publishing school district podcasts via iTunes might bring a high level of transparency and scrutiny to content produced. Has your district considered the repercussions of transparency, and is it prepared to handle the consequences?

As was pointed out at the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) 2009 Midwinter Conference (listen to the podcast and read the notes), administrators need to reflect on the reality of the following: Unlike traditional communication tools, social media [like podcasts] involve unlimited life, unlimited relationships. As administrators, we have to remember that we can't control it...we cannot control social media 100 percent. We'll have to participate....


Choosing the right tools for the job isn't always the most challenging aspect of implementation. The question school districts need to ask as they embrace new technologies and disruptive social media is not "Will we use these tools," but "How are we going to ensure that we implement mobile devices -- and all that comes with them -- in ways that meet our fundamental mission?"

About the Author

As director of instructional technology for a large urban district in Texas, past president of the state-wide Technology Education Coordinators group in one of the largest U.S. technology educator organizations (TCEA), Miguel Guhlin continues to model the use of emerging technologies in schools. You can read his published writing or engage him in conversation via his blog at Around the Corner.

Article by Miguel Guhlin
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

Updated 08/26/2013