2. Tangible Costs of Educational Technology

The most obvious costs associated with technology are associated with physical infrastructure. Hardware is a capital expense that includes computers; peripherals such as printers, scanners and projection devices; furniture; and electrical and communications wiring. Most significantly, these are not one-time expenses, but require continuous upgrading. In addition to acquisition costs, hardware must be installed, maintained, secured, and managed--ongoing expenses that come out of operating expense line items. Although the overall proportion of school spending devoted to technology is modest, spending for technology continues to accelerate. A 1988 OTA report estimated that 9.4% of all educational costs were devoted to instructional materials and that 32% of the instructional materials expenditures were devoted to computer technology [OTA, 1988]. More recently, in one large school system (Montgomery County, Maryland) school officials struggled with a plan to invest $81 million in technology--roughly the cost of building six new middle schools. In addition to hardware, software, training, new personnel, supplies, and information services require substantial investments. OTA (1988) illustrated these costs with an analysis of one elementary school technology budget as follows: 38% hardware, 11% software, 7% supplies, 6% training, 29% new personnel, and 9% maintenance.

Software costs continue to grow as more varied instructional genres emerge and networking allows more sophisticated programs to be used in schools. Online databases are also becoming more common in schools as vendors develop the market for CD-ROM databases. Efforts to bring high-speed communications lines are not only adding to the costs, but accelerating developments in multimedia content that in turn requires upgraded hardware and software. Educators who have participated in one or more iterations of computer laboratory development and replacement take seriously the inclusion of requirements for furniture, room space, and maintenance as they plan for new technology acquisitions. As schools gain more experience with computing technology, they also make plans for upgrades and replacements of hardware and software. Clearly, the tangible costs of educational technology are significant and are likely to continue to increase as a portion of total educational expenditures. An important question is what portion of the total expenditures are shrinking? How many schools have bought computers rather than hiring classroom aides? Are fewer books and films added to school library media centers as more software is acquired? Are fewer instructional specialists such as counselors, psychologists, and social workers hired? These issues are often obscured since capital outlays for technology are covered with special funds and grants. They will surely become less transparent as the costs of technology become more fixed in school budgets.

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