Lovell Schools to get tech overhaul

With the torrent of new technology becoming available all the time, it’s easy to get left behind. Big Horn County School District Two is taking a leap forward to prevent falling behind with a $330,000 upgrade.

Lovell Schools are set to be outfitted with a technology upgrade that amounts to a complete system overhaul, replacing teacher computers, along with the majority of student lab computers and classroom computers.

The school board approved a bid from PCC, a company that will manage the school district’s on-site servers from their offices in Bozeman and Billings.

The school is making a shift away from normal PC interfaces, instead opting for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, or VDI. Technology Director Stan Hedges said the experience for the user isn’t much different in VDI compared to a normal desktop computer. The main difference between the two systems is that the brains of the VDI system are stored in a separate location from the user, and each VDI station on the network accesses the computing power of a central server.

Hedges said users would probably notice that the new system is faster than the current PCs throughout the district.

VDI or cloud computing, which describes a system where data is stored on networks instead of on a user’s hard drive, and computers sharing hardware resources, will be used primarily for internet research and Microsoft suite programs in district two.

Computers for classes such as digital imaging will be upgraded, but will remain as a traditional PC setup rather than a VDI, Hedges said. Processes like video editing require significantly more computing power, which cloud computing hasn’t quite caught up with yet, he said.

In the future, district computers will be replaced on a five-year rotation, meaning no computers older than 5 years old will be in use once the plan is implemented. Currently, prior to the upgrade, Hedges said the district has some machines in use that are 11 years old.

The district will get one or two servers, to be housed at LMS and connected to systems at LES and LHS through fiber optics to provide computing power to VDIs on the network. The district is also working with TCT WEST to install a new DSL modem and increase bandwidth throughout the system. Hedges said the current 1-gigabyte connection is being upgraded to a 20-gig connection among the three buildings, capable of 20 megabyte per second download and 3-mbps upload speed.

Hedges talked about the importance of having updated technology in education.

“Anymore computers are the foundation for anything; there are very few things that don’t involve computers,” Hedges said. “We’re taught how to learn with technology and we’re teaching with technology as a fundamental thing. If the technology doesn’t work, the ability to teach and learn kind of goes out the window.”

He noted an example of several veteran teachers who have taken a liking to teaching with smart boards, but said it’s tough for them to revert back to their old way of teaching if the boards are unavailable.

“It’s almost like asking ‘how important is it for the car to work,’ or ‘how important is it for us to have air to breath?’” Hedges said, adding, “Technology is definitely a tool to enhance great teaching, not replace it.”

The new tech direction is a culmination of a lot of hard work by the district technology committee, Hedges said, a group made up of educators Judy Strom, Mike McArthur, Cindy Asay and Doug Hazen and community members Bruce Jolley and Nick Lewis. Hedges said it was great to get input from all three schools, as well as business professionals who gave input on what students are expected to know about computers when entering the workforce.

“We asked what students needed to know by the time they graduated to be successful in the workforce or educational spectrum,” Hedges said.


Tech benchmarks

The technology plan comes with a set of benchmarks designed to keep students on the right track from kindergarten to eighth grade, to prepare them for their high school careers. Hedges said students sharpened on the benchmarks will allow high school teachers to skip computer basics to get right to the assignment.

The plan references state and national benchmarks, but was decided on by the tech committee based on the district’s needs. A glance at a few of the benchmarks:

•Kindergarteners learn letter recognition on a keyboard, how to login on a computer and how to use a mouse.

•Third-graders begin learning to type and begin learning about PowerPoint.

•By fifth grade, students are expected to type 20 words per minute. They will also be expected to understand the basics of formatting a document in Microsoft Word and have basic knowledge of Excel. Fifth-graders should have some skills in PowerPoint presentations by the end of elementary school, according to the plan.

•In eighth grade, students continue to hone their skills in Microsoft software, Hedges said, with a benchmark typing speed of 40 wpm.

He said the group decided to designate expected typing speed benchmarks because typing skills would increase their ability to do assignments and reduce frustration.

Eighth graders will be expected to know about the different components of computers, such as ram, rom and the processor, and what each part does.

The benchmarks coincide with ISTE standards and end upon completion of eighth grade, designed to set up students for high school with tech knowledge already in place.

Hedges said it will be up to the principals and teachers to implement plans to help students reach technology benchmarks as they progress through the school system.

“It will be an evolving process,” he said.

By Brad Devereaux

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