Monday, August 8, 2016

Education, elevated.

Why? Because we’re at 5,280 ft in elevation?

No; because the State of Colorado recently completely transformed the education of youth in correctional facilities across the state.

In October 2015, the Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) -- in collaboration with the Department of Youth Corrections -- formulated a strategy for the redesign and implementation of a comprehensive state of the art computing environment for the delivery of high quality educational programs and services at six youth correctional facilities and 50 classrooms. This forward thinking project included the revitalization of an outdated network and development of new mobile and wireless services that provides secure mobile training labs, administrative flexibility, educational consistency and managed internet access to higher education online training curriculums. Prior to this project each of these six facilities functioned independently through agreements with local school districts and/or a private contractors, and each was handling youth education in a different way -- with very little standardization and a host of challenges because of it.

When OIT took it over, these were the issues:
  • The curriculum planning was costly (money and time!)
  • Student did not have access to the internet or online internet educational resources
  • Student could not participate in online higher education programs due to security and privacy constraints inherent to correctional facilities
  • Computer labs were outdated, unsecured and not sustainable due to student tampering 
  • Systems were not meeting state and national security requirements
  • Facilities could not leverage modern “shared” platform technologies and were required to duplicate hardware, files storage, network and other computing assets that increased operating costs and long term support issues
  • Students and instructors were using outdated workstations with a high risk of virus/malware infection and hardware failure, and there were minimal back-ups in place
  • The computers were also isolated to one or two labs, making access a challenge
  • When a student was brought into a facility, all of his or her records and curriculum were on paper and manually processed -- if that student was then transferred to a different facility their records had to be copied to a CD and/or printed and sent over with him or her (!!!)
The solution that OIT devised to fix these issues is a single, cloud-based solution powered off the use of Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education, to leverage the best resources and lowest costs. Using these tools, including applications like Google Doc and Google Classroom, the team was able to standardize the curriculum, process and tracking across the facilities in a highly flexible way. The facilities could deliver individualized content to each facility while using a standard hardware platform and framework -- for the low cost per computer of just $270. Furthermore, no Microsoft Office licensing is necessary, it enables better management and monitoring of users with little to no extra cost, and no servers are required.

The system now has more than 350 Chromebooks, more than 60 teacher workstations and hundreds of completely cloud-based websites and educational materials -- all in an environment where the internet historically has not been available due to security and treatment issues.
This may not look like a big deal, but it is. When unable to hold class in their normal classroom due to facility maintenance, it's no problem at all with Chromebooks -- class in the courtyard!

With the implementation of this amazing project:
  • There is minimal to no risk of malware/virus infection
  • Individual Google user accounts have completely stopped computer vandalism -- students are trackable, and what’s more, they have an appreciation for the system
  • Every facility classroom now has access to Chromebooks or each student has their own Chromebook
  • There have been huge cost savings and return on investment: Devices cost less than half of a low-end laptop and require approximately one-third the time to support
  • Maintenance is reduced dramatically -- it takes less than four minutes to set a Chromebook device back to its original state
  • Community college classes offered through the web-based learning system
  • Automated, real‐time user account creation, allowing faster student and teacher provisioning 
  • Ability to allow students access to approved websites
  • High battery life -- no need for students to have a power adapter in class
  • Giant reduction in paper/printing cost across state facilities; the first classroom the system was put in led to the avoidance of more than 40 reams of paper for one semester
  • High quality education with nearly zero gaps for the student
OIT and the State of Colorado work every single day to to make Colorado the best place to live, work and play; and this project is just one example of how IT can be used to change someone’s experience.