Imagine a school with no Wi-Fi.
For the older students or the longtime teachers, that’s not hard — most Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. buildings have only had wireless Internet access for the past five years.
That’s just one example of how quickly technology is changing and the additional demands it puts on the information services department.
There are more devices, and those devices can do more things.
Yet, only a couple of staff members have been added to the 25-person department within the school district.
Eva Cagwin, coordinator of operational services for the district, said people are constantly surprised by that.
“They say, ‘Oh my gosh, I would not want to be you in technology. You guys are so outnumbered,’” she said. “Users and devices do all clamor for our attention, but we’re rising to that challenge and we’re meeting that challenge.”
A single day for technology employees can include climbing the ladder to the roof of Columbus East High School to install a microwave antenna to sitting behind a desk scrolling through spreadsheets.
Mike Jamerson, director of technology for the school district, oversees a complex team of analysts, technicians and support specialists.
Those on the operations side of the department work on all the different devices that exist in the buildings, and the “informations” team ensures the district’s computer programs are up and running.
There are 23 sites, about 12,000 users and more than 10,000 devices — all of which need to be monitored by the technology department.
Columbus East and Columbus North high schools have a dedicated support contact, but the other schools share a team of technicians.
Those technicians need to know how to fix specific problems, from an unresponsive Smart Board to a computer software license issue.
There are also more than
20 programs used by the district for various tasks such as grade keeping, collecting lunch money and paying teachers — and that is where the “informations” team comes in.
“When you buy a candy bar from your school fundraiser, someone needs to keep track of that in one of our programs,” Jamerson said.
The same goes for student attendance, which is tracked across the district and across the state.
“In terms of network and complexity, this district is one of the largest organizations in southern Indiana,” Jamerson said. “We’re competing with larger firms, and we’re competing against the private sector.”
Jamerson came to the school district in 1998, a time when there was only one wired computer in each building.
Those were located in the main office and used dial-up to communicate with other buildings and the state.
Some computers were placed in the classrooms, but they could only run educational programs such as Oregon Trail or Type to Learn.
Today, there are very few closets or corners with no Wi-Fi access — and there are iPads, cellphones, laptops and desktop computers all trying to connect to that network.
Even the HVAC systems connect to the Internet and transmit information back to the Facilities and Maintenance Department, which tracks energy usage.
Jamerson said there are more than 10,000 devices, and each one performs different tasks ranging from browsing the Web to controlling the welding machines in C4 Columbus Area Career Connections labs.
When Jamerson came to the district 15 years ago, the state Department of Education wanted to know just one thing from the schools, once a year: How many students are attending?
Now an information systems staff sends several reports per month on enrollment, demographics, ISTEP+ scores, attendance and more.
A decade ago, teachers had to keep track of envelopes with lunch money every morning. Now parents are encouraged to use the online portal called mylunchmoney.com, which promises secure deposits for any school expenses.
Cagwin described the staff as adaptable with an aptitude for technology.
“The ones who are successful are the ones who can change,” Jamerson said.
Adapting for the future
Classroom technology has changed a lot in the past 20 years, so what will it look like two decades from now?
That is hard to predict, Jamerson said — but he has a few ideas.
“Our world will be shaped by the continuing need for mobility,” he said.
Gone is the day when teachers had to shepherd a group of children through the school and to the computer lab — a 10-minute process sometimes.
Instead, the computers will be delivered to the students at their desks.
“One of our technology goals for the next three years is to support on-demand learning,” Jamerson said. “This includes infrastructure to deliver materials and resources related to instruction whenever and wherever students are learning.”
The district already has made strides in that area by purchasing 2,000 laptops for elementary, middle and high school classrooms. The $2 million project provided one device for every three elementary students, and about 23 percent of secondary students will have access to a school-provided computer at one time.
A Bring Your Own Device policy also has been popular in elementary and high schools, bringing the device ratio closer to one-to-one at no additional cost to the district.
The NMC Horizon Project charts the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning and research, and its most recent report predicted growing use of technology including:
Wearable technology, which can be items of clothing or accessories that can track sleep, movement, location and social media.
Digital games with educational benefits. Minecraft is one example, which allows students to learn math and design skills as they explore and construct a virtual space.
Cloud computing, which will allow schools to store more information on the Internet and less on physical servers.
Learning analytics, which helps educators profile each student to learn how they progress and interact with material. Online educational games already use this technology, creating specialized experiences as the software learns the student’s level.
Although those are only predictions, Jamerson said the technology department is constantly thinking about what those developments could mean and how to adapt.
One thing Jamerson knows for certain: Technology is only the tool.
It is an idea Bill Jensen, director of secondary education for BCSC, believes in strongly — and it’s one he revisited often when helping to devise the district’s three-year technology plan, which will be presented in the coming months to the public.
“It’s asking how we make sure our technology removes barriers,” he said.