Skip Navigation
small NCES header image
Forum Unified Education Technology Suite
  Home:  Acknowledgments and Introduction
  Part 1:  Planning Your Technology Initiatives
  Part 2:  Determining Your Technology Needs
- The Needs Assessment
- Knowing What Resources
are Already in Place
  Part 3:  Selecting Your Technology Solutions
  Part 4:  Implementing Your Technology
  Part 5:  Safeguarding Your Technology
  Part 6:  Maintaining and Supporting Your Technology
  Part 7:  Training for Your Technology
  Part 8:  Integrating Your Technology
  Appendix A: Sample
Acceptable Use
Agreements and Policies
  Appendix B: FERPA Fact Sheet
  Appendix C: Web Guidelines
  Appendix D: Sample Security Agreements
  List of Tables and Figures
    Powerpoint Overview (700KB)
NCES Webmaster
Part 2: Determining Your Technology Needs (continued)


What Networking Capabilities Do You Have in Your Organization?

Only a decade ago, if one mentioned a "network," it's likely that the three major television networks would come to mind. Today, the word "network" has a whole new meaning, especially for computer users. Yet, there are similarities between a TV network and a computer network in that both are comprised of affiliates (users) who share information over a common infrastructure. Moreover, both types of networks have the goal of ensuring that information is transmitted and shared as quickly and efficiently as possible and among as many people as needed.

Many schools, districts, institutions, libraries, and education agencies have established in-house connections between computers. Some have established mechanisms through which persons working in an organization can connect with computers outside of the organization. Often individuals establish their own linkages to networks such as the Internet by purchasing software and using a commercial service (e.g., an Internet Service Provider or ISP that will connect you to a network so that your computer can exchange information with other computers). More frequently in the education environment, a school will connect to the Internet or a network through a district, county or state service. A college or university department might connect through a central entity within the organization as well.

Understanding How Networking Works

A network is the complete set of hardware, software, and wiring (or no wiring in the case of "wireless networks") used to connect computers together to share information and peripherals, such as printers, scanners, backup drives, and modems. Networks allow information to be exchanged directly between numerous computers without having to be transcribed by hand or transferred via a portable storage medium. The smallest networks are Local Area Networks (LANs) in which 2 to 500 or more computers are connected within a small geographic area, often a single building or classroom. Larger networks called Wide Area Networks (WANs) connect the LANs together. They may use telephone lines, dedicated cables, radio waves or other media to link computers that can be thousands of miles apart.

See Figure 2.5 to view a sample district network design.

The geometric configuration of the computers is called the topology of the network. The standards and rules by which the computers communicate on a network are called protocols. Information is stored in networks in two basic configurations:

  • In a peer-to-peer network, users store their files on their own computers so that anyone else on the network can access the files (and the user, in turn, can access files stored on the other networked computers as well).
  • In a client/server network, users store their files on a central computer from which files are accessed directly. In the client/server network, the server is the central computer that stores the information, and the client is the computer (and user) that accesses the information from that central computer. Many people think that it is generally easier to manage, back up, and protect data in a client/server network.

Networks require a variety of different types of equipment, including hubs and switches, where all the cables linking client computers to the server come together. The switch (a switch is just an "intelligent" hub) serves as a traffic officer for client computers within the network. A router is a special device that regulates network traffic as it enters another network, such as the traffic from a school LAN when it connects to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and then to the Internet.

A Note about the Internet

Perhaps the ultimate WAN is the Internet, which is a matrix of networks. The Internet connects quite literally millions of supercomputers, mainframes, workstations, personal computers, laptops and more.

The most popular application available via the Internet is the World Wide Web (WWW). It is the primary navigational tool for using the Internet. More often than not, when people say they are "on-line" they mean that they are connected to the Internet. Education organizations can connect to the Internet via one computer or many. A single computer might use a regular telephone line to connect to the Internet through an Internet Service Provider (ISP) (such as America On Line, Earthlink, etc). A school or office might connect numerous computers together into a LAN, as described above, and then connect those computers to a hub/switch and on to the router, which in turn is connected to the wire (or cable, or satellite) that is connected to the ISP.

It is not efficient for an organization to have numerous computers using modems to connect to the Internet over telephone lines. Rather, it is preferable to connect to the Internet over a larger "digital" line that is dedicated to organizational use. A digital line allows more than one computer to access the Internet simultaneously (not so with modems and phone lines). The number of computers that can access the Internet at one time is limited only by the size of the line connecting the site to the ISP. In terms of installing digital lines in a K-12 education environment, the Federal government currently provides funds through the E-rate discount program, implemented in 1996, (, which is intended to defray up to 90% of associated costs.

Developing an Inventory of Networking Capabilities

The inventory of the LAN or WAN should be maintained by the office responsible for managing the network. If a school is responsible for making sure that the network is operational, then the school should maintain the inventory. However, if the district, county or state maintains the network, then the inventory should be retained at that level. An accurate inventory is required if the network is to be maintained properly. You should develop an inventory of the equipment and software specifically allocated to the network and note where everything is located (see Table 2.4 as an example).

Possible Indicators for Assessing Networking/Internet Capabilities

  1. Does the organization already own servers?
    1. If so, do they meet the requirements of the Needs Assessment and the Functional Specifications?
    2. If not, does the organization have funds available to purchase servers?
  2. Does the organization have appropriate space to securely house servers?
  3. Does the organization have staff available to maintain servers?
  4. If staff members are available, what additional training and/or job scheduling will be needed for them to maintain the servers?
  5. Should network/web management be centralized or decentralized (i.e., will one person/department manage the entire network or will each department manage its own section)?
  6. What applications software is needed to develop, maintain, and secure the network?
  7. What web development skills do staff currently possess?
    1. What amount of training/hiring is necessary to guarantee that needed web development skills are available?
    2. Once major web development is complete, can the existing staff support a site?
  8. Will instructional applications be delivered over the network/website?

The degree of difficulty in programming grows with the complexity of a website. Some sophistication is required to build and maintain a website that, for example, accesses databases containing student assessment scores and develops methodologies for making comparisons of student success rates. Templates can be used to set up a webpage or website, but more knowledge is needed to develop a graphic design motif that will be used to represent a school or district on the World Wide Web.

What Human Resources Do You Have Available?

If you have computers in your organization, or even if you don't, you are likely to have people who know how to use them. Some of those people may have advanced knowledge about the mechanics of computer operation. Others might be quite sophisticated when it comes to putting together computer systems and developing user-friendly applications. Identify these people and they could become invaluable to any effort to advance the technology system!

Understanding How Human Resources are Necessary for Supporting Technology

First, find those people within the organization who have experience and/or training in developing and managing computer systems and networks. They should be able to help with issues involving computer programming, software development, and computer repair. They can also help to document technology resources and conduct a needs assessment. Determining the hardware, software, and network topology within an organization may seem like a huge task. It is! But it is manageable if persons who actually have the responsibility for developing the technology solutions and providing support are also responsible for handling the purchasing of new technology equipment. To begin the process, ask the following questions:

  • Who developed the topology for the current networks in the organization?
  • Do hardware standards exist?
  • Is there a suite of software that is recommended?

If there are no answers to these questions, ask for recommendations about hiring a consultant from outside the organization to find the answers. Even though there might be a teacher, or even an Internet guru, within the organization who is knowledgeable about all of these issues, it is still advisable to hire an objective person from outside who will be able to guide staff through the development of a Needs Assessment and Technology Plan. After all, sometimes a "guru" will have solutions in mind before consulting with the staff who will actually work with the computers and the network. Such an approach also doesn't allow other users to "buy into" the move toward the technology age.

Possible Indicators for Assessing Human Resources Capabilities

  1. Does the organization already have personnel who demonstrate technical expertise?
  2. What technical skills do the staff currently possess?
    1. What amount of training/hiring is necessary to guarantee that needed skills are available?
    2. Are funds available to provide this training?
  3. Once planning and implementation is complete, can existing staff support the technology?
    1. What amount of training/hiring is necessary to guarantee that needed skills are available?
    2. Are funds available to provide this training?
  4. If staff is not available or adequately prepared, can an outside consultant be hired to provide technical expertise and/or staff training?
    1. Are funds available to provide this training?
    2. Has an individual who can provide these services been identified?

What Financial Resources Do You Have Available?

Perhaps the organization has received a grant, been assigned an appropriation, or passed a bond issue. If so, financial considerations may not be important. On the other hand, if the organization has decided to develop a new computer system or upgrade or revamp an old one without such support, funding for purchases, training and maintenance may be problematic.

There are ways other than winning the lottery to acquire funds in support of technology initiatives. First, however, an assessment of how funds are currently being spent is appropriate. There may be options to reallocate existing spending, allowing for a more efficient use of funds. For example, existing systems may be costly in terms of maintenance and support, while new systems carry full warranties. Thus, funding plans can be augmented in that current maintenance costs can be converted into purchasing dollars. Also, some school districts, libraries and universities have found that working together on a cooperative basis has enabled them to share expertise and build a community-wide case for networking.

In terms of raising funds, there are various sources of help available, both private and public. Many corporations and foundations will provide financial and/or technical assistance in response to written grant applications. Numerous state education and federal agencies also provide support for school technology development. For example, K-12 educational organizations and public libraries may be able to take advantage of the E-Rate program ( The E-Rate is a federal program that permits discounts up to 90% on telecommunication services, Internet access, network wiring within school and library buildings, and other associated costs as described by program regulations. The discount rate is based on the number of students eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. The goal of the E-rate program is to connect all classrooms to the Internet. As of 2004, $2.25 billion is available each year (paid for through the Universal Service Fund collected on all telephone bills). The E-Rate program is complex, but can be well worth the time and effort.

Understanding How Financial Resources are Necessary for Supporting Technology

Educational decision-making almost always leads to judgments about resource allocation. In fact, installing and managing technology in schools is basically about allocating (or reallocating) resources. In the planning process, budgets can inform the allocation of resource use. Likewise, knowing what has been expended previously (the actuals) helps to direct future planning.

Awareness of the financial obligations associated with technology implementation and maintenance can go a long way toward ensuring two important management goals. First, budgets must be adequate to reliably support the technology system as designed. Second, a financial plan must include the necessary funding to replace technology components as they become obsolete. The lack of either of these key ingredients in the budgeting process will result in a technology system that does not function as an effective tool and can actually become a liability to your organization. (For more on this, see Analyzing Costs and Establishing a Budget).

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) includes the cost of disposing of equipment. Education organizations should be wary of accepting any and all gifts (e.g., old computers) from business and industry because such "free" equipment may not meet the needs of the school and, instead,
lead to unnecessary costs for disposal.

More information about TCO can be found online at the Consortium on School Networking (CoSN), where one will find "Taking TCO to the Classroom" ( Additional resources can be found at

Assessing expenditures for technology is not only about purchase price. It is more accurately about the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). TCO is a concept from the business world that is applied to the lifecycle costs of computing, usually standardized as a ratio of costs per equipment unit (such as a desktop computer). The TCO concept can help educational leaders understand more clearly the actual costs associated with successfully implementing educational technology over time.

Another important concept is return on investment (ROI). More applicable to administrative than instructional applications, ROI analyses usually focus on the amounts of money saved by implementing technological advances or innovations. An example of such analyses can be found in a report to the San Diego City Schools Board (PDF 448 KB) recommending the adoption of an electronic form.

Understanding Total Cost of Ownership

Adapted from "Technology's Real Costs," by Sara Fitzgerald

The definition of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) can vary somewhat among organizations. In fact, different consultants use different formulas to calculate it. In most cases, the TCO combines the "hard costs" of operating a network—including, for instance, the costs of training employees, maintaining a help desk and support staff, and repairing computers—with some calculation of "soft costs," namely the loss in productivity when users have to stop and fix their own computers or the network is down because of poor maintenance. School districts, of course, are not businesses and make their budgeting decisions based on very different factors. Nevertheless, even if a school district is not in a position to analyze its Total Cost of Ownership in a formal way, school leaders still need to understand all of the costs involved with operating computers over the long haul if they are going to use them cost-effectively and to their full advantage.

In 1997, International Data Corporation surveyed some 400 schools and calculated that the Total Cost of Ownership for a school with approximately seventy-five computers was $2,251 per computer annually. This result compared very favorably with a business of the same approximate size that indicated an annual TCO of $4,517 per computer.

Reprinted with permission from the September 1999 issue of Electronic School magazine, Copyright © 1999. Electronic School. All Rights Reserved.

Are computers a capital or consumable expense?

Under some state threshold coding rules, computers are considered a consumable supply and therefore have a simple purchase process, while in other states they are considered to be a capital expenditure. Be sure to check your state and local guidelines before establishing a budget.

  • Alabama: $500 capital threshold statewide.
  • Alaska: Criteria for distinguishing capital equipment from supply items: cost exceeds $500; must be an independent unit rather than a part incorporated into another unit; is cheaper to repair than replace; and the cost of tagging and inventory is a "small percent".
  • California: Specific dollar level is left to discretion of LEAs. State guidelines for classification as capital vs. supply include: Does item lose original shape and appearance with use?; Does it have a normal service life of less than two years?; Is it easily broken, damaged?
  • Colorado: Dollar thresholds for capital are left to LEAs to establish, provided item does not exceed $5,000. Districts' fixed assets policy establishes criteria for when equipment must be capitalized and included in district's property inventory records.
  • Connecticut: Minimum threshold of $1,000. Technology is not treated any differently.
  • Florida: $750 threshold.
  • Georgia: Use expectancy of less than 2 years and costs of less than $2,000.

Note: Based on data from FY 2000.

Previous Page -- Part 2 Next Page -- Part 3

Would you like to help us improve our products and website by taking a short survey?

YES, I would like to take the survey


No Thanks

The survey consists of a few short questions and takes less than one minute to complete.
National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education