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Technology in Schools
NCES 2003-313
November 2002

Chapter 3: Equipment and Infrastructure, Technology in Schools: Suggestions, Tools, and Guidelines for Assessing Technology in Elementary and Secondary Education

"…With the many hundreds of millions of dollars federal and state agencies are flowing into technology for schools, the cry for more research and evaluation will get very loud.… My fear is that high stakes evaluation will focus on the technology and not on what people are trying to do with it or how learning and instruction change through the use of technology-these are the far more interesting and important questions."

David Dwyer, former director of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow project and currently Apple's Director of Education Technology. Excerpted from "Taking Stock: What Does the Research Say about Technology's Impact on Education?" in the May 1998 issue of Technology & Learning Magazine


What to Expect from This Chapter

  • Resources and ideas for describing equipment and infrastructure availability and accessibility
  • Understanding issues of availability in school or district technology programs
  • Suggestions for structuring equipment records

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Key Questions for this Chapter

  1. Is equipment present in instructional settings?
  2. Is equipment available for use by students?
  3. Is equipment available for use by teachers?
  4. Is equipment available for use by administrators and support staff?
  5. Does the infrastructure have the capacity to support the school's technology needs?

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Overview

Many of the questions about technology that schools or districts must answer concern the types and amounts of equipment and infrastructure that a school has. Schools and districts need to count and keep track of hardware in order to answer such questions. This chapter provides guidance for responding to these kinds of questions, including equipment availability to users. It also addresses the connection of computers and video equipment to networks and to the Internet-the requisite infrastructure that allows users to share information electronically.

Much information can be drawn from a school district's inventory system. If an inventory system is set up with the capacity to produce useful reports, and is maintained routinely, surveys may take minutes instead of days to complete. The information that should be included in a database system to provide this capacity follows.

Indicators are provided both for the presence of computers and other technology resources in school administrative and instructional settings and for the availability of these resources to teachers, students, and administrative staff.

Indicators do not cover all the possible kinds of equipment that one might find in schools because the intent of this handbook is to describe and suggest, not prescribe. Enough are provided to serve as examples for developing other indicators, as well as data elements. Obviously, the list of indicators will require updating over time, to allow for new technologies and types of equipment that diffuse into school settings.

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Defining Finance Terms and Categories for Technology in Schools

The terms equipment and infrastructure in this chapter refer to computer hardware and associated communications equipment and cabling, as well as other technology-related equipment regularly used in schools. Indicators address the availability, capabilities, and connectivity of computer equipment and infrastructure.

Computer equipment refers to both computers and associated peripheral equipment, such as:

  • computers, including desktop and laptop machines, but extending to handheld computers (also known as Personal Digital Assistants, or PDAs), mainframe machines, and other specialized computing devices; and
  • peripheral equipment that may be attached to computers, such as monitors, keyboards, disk drives, modems, printers, scanners, cameras, and speakers.

Other technology resources in the school setting are also included, such as:

  • network devices-routers, hubs, switches, access servers;
  • communications support, such as fax-back and voice-mail resources in regular use by instructional and administrative staff;
  • videoconferencing and other distance education tools, including satellite transmitters and receivers, cable-based receivers, and modem or codec-based video equipment;
  • projection devices, from transparent and opaque projectors to video monitors; and
  • graphing calculators and other specialized computational aids.

The term infrastructure covers both devices and cabling. Devices supporting technology in schools include specialized equipment (such as switches, routers, modems, or codecs) that link computers or video hardware to networks. Infrastructure also refers to cabling, whether wire, fiber optic, or coaxial. In newer systems, links between computers are wireless, in which case infrastructure refers to receivers and transmitters.

For schools to use technology, they must first have it and make it available for students, teachers, and administrative staff. Acquiring that technology, from computers to modems to two-way conferencing equipment, is only one step in facilitating student learning. Curriculum integration and professional development are also essential components in this process.

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Key Questions and Indicators

Counting equipment might seem a straightforward assignment, but it can quickly become complex. Technology administrators will want to determine what qualifies a piece of equipment to be counted or not. They must pay careful attention to whether technology resources are actually available to their intended users when needed. See the sidebar on "Presence, Access, and Availability."

The key questions below address two issues: Are appropriate technology resources available, and are they accessible to their intended users?

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Is equipment present in instructional settings?

This question deals with the availability of up-to-date equipment (and its supporting infrastructure). User access is addressed in the following key questions. Restriction to up-to-date or multimedia computers addresses the issue of whether the installed computer base is appropriate to current usage demands. In the listed indicators, whenever computers are mentioned, only up-to-date computers are included.

Usage Tip: If you are building your own database inventory system, consult the detailed list of data elements for this chapter's indicators contained in Appendix A, as well as the resources listed at the end of the chapter.

INDICATORS

Computers in instructional settings Percentage of instructional settings with one or more computers.
Average numbers of up-to-date computers per instructional setting, by age grouping of computers.
Percentage of instructional settings with one or more multimedia computers.
Average number of multimedia computers per instructional setting, by age grouping of computers.
Percentage of instructional settings with one or more computers connected to the Internet, by type of connection.
Other technologies in instructional settings Availability of communications support for instructional staff: telephone access; voicemail in regular use for instructional support; fax or fax-back capabilities in regular use.
Availability of two-way videoconferencing capability, or other distance education technology, in the school building (by capability type).
Percentage of instructional settings with two-way videoconferencing capability.
Regular use of graphing calculators in at least one course in the school (yes, no).
[Note: This and other questions related to graphing calculators apply primarily to mathematics or science courses in middle or high schools.]
Percentage of instructional settings with graphing calculators in regular use.
Average number of students per graphing calculator, per instructional setting in which graphing calculators are in regular use.
Percentage of instructional settings with dedicated external input devices, by type of device.
Percentage of instructional settings with broadcast video receiving equipment (cable-connected monitors), by type of device.
Percentage of instructional settings with projection device, by type of device.
Percentage of instructional settings with dedicated printer.

TERM DEFINITIONS AND CATEGORIES

Bandwidth: Example ratings for bandwidth amount: 33.6 KBPS or under; 56 KBPS; 128 KBPS; 256 KBPS; 512 KBPS; 768 KBPS (.5 T1); 1.544 MBPS (T1); Ethernet; DS(1) or higher.

Broadcast video receivers: Example of broadcast video receiving device types: closedcircuit building-level cable system, external cable system.

Connection types: Refers to the kind of link between a computer and external networking resources. Example of connection types: dial-up via modem; wired LAN and router; wireless LAN and router; cable modem; satellite/modem hybrid link; full satellite (two-way) link.

External input devices: Example of dedicated external input device types: videocassette recorder, digital video disk, compact disk (various formats).

Instructional setting: Includes both regular classrooms and computer laboratories.

Multimedia computer: Refers to computers capable of running Windows 95 or Macintosh OS8.0 or later operating systems, with chipsets such as Pentium (200 MHz) or PowerPC 200 MHz or Imac G3 or better, with at least 64MB of random-access memory (RAM), with CD-ROM or DVD player, and with a sound card, manufactured in the 5 years prior to data collection.

Projection devices: Example of projection device types: large monitor, overhead opaque projector, computer projector or electronic whiteboard, overhead transparency projector.

Up-to-date: Computers manufactured in the 5 years prior to data collection. Example rating for computer age groupings: 0-12 months between manufacture and data collection; 13-36 months between manufacture and data collection; and over 37 months.

Videoconferencing/distance education equipment capability: Example of types: dedicated room or facility; in one or more classrooms, no capability in building.

Note: These definitions will necessarily change in order to encompass prevailing standards as technology progresses.

Instructional settings can be more than classrooms. Instructional settings include regular classrooms and computer laboratories, but any setting in which instruction takes place could be considered within this category, such as "pull-out" rooms for remedial or special education, for instance. Media centers (what used to be called libraries) might be included, as well as specialized laboratories (chemistry labs, for instance) or rooms dedicated to distance education. It is even possible that some instruction may take place off-campus and therefore be included as a setting in this category, especially in the case of laptop loan or grant programs.

The presence of multimedia computers is an important indicator of technology capability. Such computers allow the user to display images, video, and sound as well as text, and therefore create opportunities for learning from a variety of media resources, or from resources that use these capabilities simultaneously. More exciting is the prospect that students can create multimedia reports and presentations (as well as other resources) themselves. Depending on the subject matter and teachers' preferences, such capabilities can expand the repertory of student capacities and create useful skills and forms of expression for use later in life.

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Is equipment available for use by students?

The general question of access to multimedia computers, and to computers connected to networks and the Internet, has been addressed in the previous key question. Indicators for the present key question deal with student access, both to computers generally and to more specialized computer resources. Since access to multimedia computers and to those connected to the Internet can impact educational achievement, it may be important to understand the extent to which such computing resources are actually available.

Computers referred to in this key question are only those to which students have preferential access; the count does not include computers used for administrative purposes or for the exclusive use of teachers. As before, when the term computer is used, the reference is to up-to-date computers.

If computer labs are a prominent component of technology access in a given district or school, it may be important to collect additional information. Indicators for the amount of time in the school week that students spend in the computer lab, or for the percentage of classes that regularly use the computer lab, may provide more detail to round out the picture of access.

INDICATORS

Computers for use by students Average number of students per computer (dedicated to student use) in instructional settings.
Percentage of students without regular access to computers in school.
Percentage of students with access to computers only in computer laboratories (i.e., outside of regular classroom setting).
Average number of students per multimedia computer (dedicated to student use) in instructional settings.
Percentage of students with regular access to multimedia computers (dedicated to student use) in instructional settings.
Average number of students per Internet-connected computer (dedicated to student use) in instructional settings.
Percentage of students with regular access to Internet-connected computers (dedicated to student use) in instructional settings.

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Is equipment available for use by teachers?

This question refers to computers reserved for the exclusive use of teachers, where use is not generally shared with students. This is an important issue: computer-based curriculum planning and instructional management are much more likely to take place if teachers have dedicated computers exclusively for their use, because teachers have access to the resources when and where they are needed. Similarly, it is important to know if teachers have access to portable ("laptop") computers, since their work will often be done at home after the school day. Note, again, that the reference to computers implies that they are up-to-date.

A reviewer pointed out that, in situations where teachers can dedicate any computer in a school network to their exclusive use simply by entering their username and password, questions about computers reserved for the exclusive use of teachers might be confusing. The confusion can be resolved if it is understood that the intent is to assess teacher access to computing: if a teacher can only use a computer if no student wants it, he or she does not have dedicated access. There might be excellent access for everyone in such a situation, which can be assessed by the overall ratio of computers to instructional settings, but it will not be dedicated access.

More detail on the use of technology by teachers might be obtained by asking whether the same software (say, an electronic gradebook or curriculum support software) is available at home as at work. This question might be more properly addressed under the key questions of Chapter 4, Technology Applications, or Chapter 7, Technology Integration.

INDICATORS

Computers for use by teachers Percentage of teaching staff with access to a computer for instructional use, by location of access (at school, at home).
Percentage of teaching staff with their own (dedicated) computer at school.
Percentages of teaching staff with their own dedicated computer at school, by computer capabilities (multimedia, not multimedia).
Percentages of teaching staff with their own dedicated computer at school, by computer type (desktop, laptop).
Teaching staff are allowed to take school-provided computers to their homes outside of school hours (yes, no).
Percentages of teaching staff with their own dedicated computer at school, by age groupings of computers.

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Is equipment available for use by administrators and support staff?

Decision support systems call for computers. School leaders and support staff need computers to use data management systems which in turn can have great impact on decision making, improving educational management and, ultimately, student care and performance. It makes no sense to provide technology to support instruction and not for support of school management functions.

Creating an integrated management system can benefit all users in a school or district; information can usefully flow both from the teachers and the classroom to administrators, and from school management to instructional staff. For example, computer-based attendance systems allow for immediate administrative action upon a teacher recording an absence (i.e., a follow-up telephone call to the home or parent that same morning). Likewise, aggregate information on absences, health condition, and test results for a given student may help a teacher make educational decisions.

Users might want to break down administrative and support staff into narrower categories, such as student support personnel (counselors, social service specialists, health personnel), administrative support staff (transportation coordinators, attendance officers, dietitian/cafeteria manager), or leaders (principal, assistant principal, etc.).

INDICATORS

Computers for administrative and support staff Percentage of administrative or support staff with a dedicated computer.
Percentages of administrative or support staff with a dedicated computer, by computer capabilities (multimedia, not multimedia).
Percentages of administrative or support staff with a dedicated computer, by age groupings of computers.
Percentages of administrative or support staff with a dedicated computer with Internet access, by type of connection.

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Does the infrastructure have the capacity to support the school's technology needs?

Connection to a school local-area-network (LAN) or, through such a network, to a district-wide wide-area-network (WAN) greatly expands what can be done with a computer. Access to shared resources such as printers or shared memory, or to electronic mail, or to specialized instruments or computing devices, can support collective work and increase the efficient use of resources. Access to the Internet opens up a whole world of riches, with attendant risks. A limiting consideration is the amount of bandwidth (the term refers to the amount of information that can traverse the network each second) available to each computer.

INDICATORS

Capacity of infrastructure Percentage of instructional settings with one or more computers connected to a network.
Ratio of persons (instructional staff) to dedicated computers connected to a network.
Ratio of persons (administrative or support staff) to dedicated computers connected to a network.
Availability of bandwidth to building for access to network and external sources.
Availability of bandwidth to desktop(s) for access to Internet and other online resources.

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Unit Record Structure

Almost all of the indicators just discussed can be derived straightforwardly from a school district's inventory and maintenance system for technology equipment. Many school districts already have such computerized systems.

The data elements listed below could form the basis of a comprehensive technology equipment database. At the core is the notion of a unit record-a uniform record kept for each identifiable unit. In this chapter, for example, a single piece of equipment would constitute one unit on which records would be kept.

A system based on unit records would meet day-to-day administrative needs and support overall assessment and planning-as well as providing data to answer some of the most usual survey questions. These suggested records are not intended to define data collection. Instead, they illustrate basic units of a data system from which data elements and indicators can be derived to answer important policy and planning questions.

The following list of data elements, along with others defining basic school components such as classrooms and adapted from other NCES handbooks, can be used to create the indicators listed in this chapter. The complete list of data elements for this guide can be found in Appendix A; a number of detailed examples illustrating the creation of indicators from data elements can be found in Appendix B.

LIST OF POTENTIAL DATA ELEMENTS FOR A UNIT RECORD: SAMPLE UNIT RECORD FOR TECHNOLOGY-RELATED EQUIPMENT

For each computer or server, or associated peripheral equipment:

  • General information: CPU ID code; brand and model; CPU serial number; school/district inventory number; machine type (workstation, desktop, laptop)
  • Vendor name; vendor address; vendor contact number
  • Date acquired; date installed; cost; source of funds
  • Location information: building location ID code, if fixed location; assigned primary user ID code, name, user type (student, instructional staff, administrative, or support staff )
  • CPU processor chip
  • Random access memory (RAM) size
  • Hard drive size
  • Operating system
  • Network connection characteristics (standalone, LAN, wired WAN, wireless WAN); net work address (IP or MAC address)
  • Internet access (none; dialup modem, bandwidth); wireless (bandwidth); DSL/ADSL (bandwidth outbound); cable modem (bandwidth); fractional T1, T1; DS3, OC3, ATM/ frame relay)
  • Disposition variable
  • [There will also be information on software and applications installed; see Chapter 4 unit record description.]
  • [There will also be information on maintenance and repair history; see Chapter 5 unit record description.]
  • Warranty/support package expiration date
  • Technical support entity
  • Technical support entity address
  • Technical support contact number

Other components in system (monitor; printer(s); DVD; CD-ROM; floppy drive; superdrive; ZIP drive; network card; video camera; other installed cards). For each:

  • Serial number
  • Date purchased; date installed
  • Cost
  • Warranty/support package expiration date
  • Vendor name; vendor address; vendor contact number
  • Disposition variable

For other (non-computer) equipment:

  • Equipment types (sample list): graphing calculators; electronic whiteboard; videotape player/recorder; DVD player; transparency projector; computer screen projector; opaque projector; cable system monitor; room monitor; two-way videoconferencing system; other equipment (specify)
  • Brand and model; serial number
  • Vendor name; vendor address; vendor contact number
  • Date manufactured; date purchased; date installed; cost; source of funds
  • Network connection characteristics, if any (standalone, LAN, wired WAN, wireless WAN);
  • network address
  • Disposition variable
  • Warranty/support package expiration date
  • Technical support entity; technical support entity address; technical support contact Number
  • Records kept and aggregated at building or district level.

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Sidebar Topics


"Presence, Access, and Availability"

Users should keep in mind that presence is not the same as availability. Knowing the percentage of classrooms with computers does not necessarily indicate how many students use them, for example. Although direct assessments of actual use by students would be the most desirable indicator of availability, such measurement may be difficult to obtain.

Availability, for the purposes of this handbook, means that students, teachers, or administrative staff have access to, or can use, the technology in question, whenever needed.

Access to current technologies, software, and telecommuni-cations networks has been listed as an essential condition for both teachers and students to make use of technology as a powerful learning tool by the International Society for Technology in Education's (ISTE) National Educational Technology Standards (NETS). (See Resources for reference.)

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The story of Jane Neussup continues…

Hardware

As John heads back to his office, he is stopped by Martha, Dr. Neussup's secretary. She is trying to fill out a survey.

"The question," she tells John, "is what is the number of students per up-to-date computer in grades 4 through 6?"

John is perturbed with the survey question. While it sounds simple, he needs much more information to give an accurate answer. "Martha, did they give you any more specifics?" he asks. She replies, "Yes, they said 'connected to the Internet and for the exclusive use of students.'"

John is relieved. "No problem, I think I can query the inventory on the connected computers in classrooms for grades 4 through 6 to get the answer to this question. While I'm at it, I think I'll do a report for Dr. Neussup on our hardware expenditures for the past five years."

"Wait," Martha says, "don't rush off yet. There's another survey question."

[To be continued...]

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Resources

Education Week. Search for Special Reports: Technology Counts at http://www.edweek.org

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for Students and for Teachers, especially ESSENTIAL CONDITIONS. See http://cnets.iste.org

The Milken Family Foundation. (1999). "Results from a Study of 27 States' District Technology Coordinators, 1998–1999." See http://www.mff.org/publications/publications.taf?page=277

National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA), North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), and Integrated Technology Education Group (ITEG). (1997). Building the 21st Century School. Detailed information on design, wiring, equipment, and physical infrastructure modifications necessary for implementing technology within a school. See http://archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/IDT/index.html

Salpeter, J. (1998). "Taking Stock: What Does the Research Say about Technology's Impact on Education?" Technology & Learning Magazine. See http://www.techlearning.com/db_area/archives/TL/062000/archives/interv.html

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (1997). Advanced Telecommunications in U.S. Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, Fall 1996 (NCES 97-944). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. See http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/frss/publications/97944/

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2001). Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2000 (NCES 2001-071). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. See http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001071

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