Even before we stumble out of our beds for the day, technology is intertwined in our lives. As we sleep, our computers hum with activity as they clean a hard drive or download software updates; the digital video recorder saves the cable movie being shown in the middle of the night; and the programmable thermostat clicks on the heat as dawn approaches.
Once awake, we grab for our cells phones, personal digital assistants and laptops to find out what has happened while we were snoozing. We commute to work in cars with global-positioning systems to show us the best route; we wait for green lights that are programmed to help traffic move with the greatest efficiency; and we are careful not to run a red light because the surveillance camera hovering above the intersection will capture our indiscretion.
And when students, teachers, administrators and others employed in education arrive at work every day on thousands of campuses across the nation, it should come as no surprise that at every step along the way, technology is there to greet them.
Technological advancements in education, as well as in facilities operation and management, are not a panacea. New technology can be frustrating and counterproductive when it is used improperly or when workers are not trained adequately. The tools that are designed to improve the performance of students and workers are only as effective as the people using them. But when effectively integrated into a school or university, technology can help create a better learning environment supported by a more efficient and effective support staff.
Welcome to the 21st century
In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore pushed for technological advancements in education by embracing the metaphor of the information superhighway and building a bridge to the 21st century. In the eighth year of that new century, schools and universities have long ago crossed the bridge, and thousands of students, instructors and staff members are speeding along well-worn paths of that superhighway.
The Clinton administration's goal was to have every classroom and every library connected to the Internet. In 1994, that seemed like a pipe dream — only 3 percent of public school classrooms were connected to the Internet. But as the costs of technology steadily decreased and funding sources such as federal E-rate subsidies made money available to school systems, the dream quickly became reality.
In 2005, virtually all public schools had access to the Internet, and 94 percent of all classrooms were connected, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). About 97 percent of the schools with Internet access had broadband connections.
The rationale for boosting the technology available in schools was educational improvement. The fast connections and the networks stitched together on campuses and across a school system have given students access to an unending supply of information and research. They also gave education administrators an opportunity to piggyback on those computer networks and use technology to improve facilities management, maintenance, food service, security and other operations.