Tech Initiatives | Feature

Leveraging IT Savings for Student Success

What do you get when you cross a budgetary surplus with the need to get a college's teachers and staff excited about using technology? The answer: an internal grant program designed to stoke interest and curiosity in new technology tools, software, and equipment.

That's exactly what went down two years ago at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona, where a $250,000 surplus--created by a move to virtualized servers, desktops, and applications--was quickly parlayed into an IT grant program that rewards teachers and staff for their innovative thinking.

Dustin Fennell, the college's vice president and CIO, discussed the shift to virtualization, how the move developed into the grant program, and how it has helped develop an IT-centric culture on campus:

Bridget McCrea: Why was enterprise-wide virtualization the right step for SCC?

Dustin Fennell: Two years ago our traditional technology renewal system--where we replaced a black box every X number of years--just wasn't working anymore. By virtualizing our enterprise we were able to move closer to our strategic IT goals and objectives, rather than just simply buying boxes that would expire again in a year or two--a process that was eating up all of our money, with nothing left over for expansion or new purchases. We knew there had to be a better way, and an end-to-end virtualization approach wound up being a great choice.

McCrea: What did it allow you to do?

Fennell: One big benefit was the ability to expand access to technology to our non-traditional students, including evening and online pupils. Those type of students were actually our greatest potential for enrollment growth, so providing virtualization and delivering services on a new level gave the non-traditional students access to technology in ways that they didn't previously have.

McCrea: And virtualization also saved the college money, right?

Fennell: Yes, because rather than using a traditional ROI model based on the investment of huge amounts of capital in technology, we redirected our replacement funding for the initial implementation of the virtual environment. We spent the money we were going to spend anyway, just in a different way.

Over time, this strategy has driven down the costs required to deliver IT services by about $250,000 annually.

McCrea: Where did the savings come from?

Fennell: It is really a combination of factors, including lower software costs, lower hardware costs, and our ability to extend the life of a PC to six to eight years, from a previous four to six years. It's basically doubled the life of our equipment and also allowed us to lower personnel costs.

Two years into the program, just about everywhere we look our costs have been driven down. At the same time we have been able to expand and extend IT services to even more end users than we had before.

McCrea: How did you come up with the innovation grant program?

Fennell: A high percentage of our faculty and staff had great ideas on how to leverage technology to increase student success and engagement, but most lacked the funding necessary to experiment and/or implement the IT. Seeing that gap, we came up with a self-funded, $50,000 innovation grant that we now give out annually. We award $25,000 in the fall and $25,000 in the spring. [The funds]  can be given as a lump sum or divided up as multiple, small awards to different recipients.

McCrea: What criteria do you use when awarding the grants?

Fennell: We didn't want this to be an "I want a data projector and computer for my classroom" type of program. We worked with our Instructional Strategic Technology Advisory Committee to develop a rubric and guidelines for the grant. In a nutshell, the grants must be used for something new and innovative and must provide teachers with a different way of doing things in the classroom.  We grade the requests using the rubric, decide how much money can be allocated to the project, and then make the award.

McCrea: What are the hardest aspects of running this internal IT grant program?

Fennell: Sitting down in the beginning to figure out what really should and shouldn't qualify for a grant.

We had to make it clear that this money wasn't just for typical technology purchases, like laptops and projectors, and that the requests had to have some basis in innovation improvement. We tie the grants to standard metrics and consider key factors like students and engagement and our woven model for teaching and learning.

Another challenge was making sure the grants weren't the end of the story. To avoid this stagnation, we require recipients to report back to us and let us know how their pilot worked out and whether they met their goals and objectives.

Finally, by accepting the grant money they agree to present at our annual technology conference, with the goal of showing other faculty and staff members how they can apply the same technology and ideas in their departments and classrooms.

[Learn more about SCC's Techgrant application and approval process online at:  http://dev.scottsdalecc.net/techgrant/.]

McCrea: What have you funded so far?

Fennell: We've given out grants to pay for iPads for two different academic programs. The iPads were issued to students in English 101 and journalism classes, to be used for their coursework. We also funded Kindles for the library, where they are used for literacy training, research and other activities. Other purchases included two Google Chromebooks that will be used for teaching English 101 and 102. We expect to make more awards, based on some of the innovative requests that we're receiving.

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