District Technology Director Scott McKnight calls educational technology 'an unstoppable force.'
For those old enough to remember, electronic technology in the classroom used to consist of an overhead transparency projector, a 16 mm film projector, a slide projector and a television. This also didn't mean each classroom had one of each. This was when there was one of each of those machines that had to be shared amongst all the classrooms in the school. In addition, chalkboards were still the medium by which teachers conveyed messages to students and social networking meant sitting with your friends at the lunch table in the cafeteria.
But things have changed immensely in the last 40 years and the last 20 they have advanced even more quickly.
When people think of computers as the technology boom they are only partially correct; there is a lot more to it than just that.
"New technology has infiltrated every corner of the classroom," said Scott McKnight, the director of technology for Carbon School District. "It has become an unstoppable force."
Technology is a word that can be confused, because basically it can mean any kind of tool human beings may fabricate to change their world beyond the capability of their hands. Actually chalk and a chalkboard are technically technology, but now they are just of a different era. For decades, the technology used in schools remained the same. Now it is changing so rapidly that it is hard for even the experts to keep up with it.
Began almost 40 years ago
The advent of the technology (or forerunner of it) that is used in today's education systems stems from the late 1970s when the personal computer began to appear. At first Carbon School District turned to Foster Lott, a teacher at Carbon High School, to help in those early days with installing and implementing computer technology. It was about that time that the school district began buying Apple IIe computers. At first Lott was a half time teacher and worked the other half in technology. This was when the Apple School Bus programs came out (networking between computers that could be controlled by the teachers).
This is where McKnight also got into the picture.
"I was working at the computer store downtown for Robert Finney selling and fixing Apple products," said McKnight. "I worked with the district on a lot of things because they were buying Apples at the time."
Then Apple brought out the Macintosh, and things really started to churn. Lott moved over to the district office full time.
Little did anyone realize this was the beginning of a huge change in education, one that would tip it on its head.
"At the time a number of teachers in the district saw these machines as a fad, something that would pass," said McKnight as he smiled.
As things grew it became apparent that one person could not handle the demands of an expanding medium.
"Then Foster approached me about helping part time in the technology department," he said. "Eventually it evolved into a full time position. For a long time there was just the two of us."
IBM replaces Mac
As things changed, so did the technology, not only in capability, but in type. At that point IBM came out with its school education systems and offered the district a deal. The equipment was pre-Windows and ran entirely from DOS commands. Since then the district has been a PC district.
"The advantage at that time was the networking opportunities that IBM offered with local networks, file servers, password protection and central data storage," said McKnight. "That was when they started using the computers to teach basic accounting and keyboarding."
At the same time computers moved into the business and administration areas of the district.
"There was a lot of resistance to these changes as they came along," said McKnight. "That's when Foster and I came up with the Big Cookie Theory. That theory is if you hold up a big cookie and someone wants a piece, soon someone else down the hall will want a piece too."
McKnight said that certain teachers were real wizards with computers and they often were "showboaters" who exposed others on various school faculties to the uses and advantages of computers. Soon everyone wanted the technology.
"They (the showboat teachers) became the drivers for the proliferation of technology," he said.
In the early 1990s the Utah State Legislature passed the Education Technology Initiative. The lawmakers appropriated $5 million dollars across the state to set up networks, buy equipment and set up computer labs.
"That gave the big push," said McKnight. "We were able to wire our buildings and buy equipment we needed."
While that money was cut off within three years time, the ball had started rolling and could not be stopped. Districts now had this equipment and networks to go with it so it became a part of the overall budget.
"The largest part of the money we get now to fund technology comes from capital budgets," he said.
At that point the district had gone through the Apple phase, through IBM 286, 386, etc. and into the latest computers. What happened next would be the thing that would change education more than any computer; the advent of the internet as we know it today. Wireless technology has even driven the experience beyond what most could have imagined only a few years ago. It is now part of the educational experience not only in terms of research and reading, but also communication.
Today the district has over 2000 workstations (desktops, laptops, tablets and thin clients). There are at least 30 file servers and 60 wireless access points. In terms of other hardware the school district also has 800 printers (inkjet and laser). All schools are interconnected via full gigabit ethernet over fiber and to the Internet via fiber through USU Eastern.
Add to this Smartboards in literally every classroom and one has a technology advancement well beyond the old chalkboard and chalk.
"We are at nearly 100 percent coverage now on Smartboards," stated McKnight. "If you don't know what a Smartboad is, think of it as kind of like a big I-Pad. It not only can show students what they need to know, but it can be interactive as well. There are many video/audio websites that can be used for instruction. Students can use "clickers" to be polled on information and to interact with the teacher."
This is a big advantage for teachers since when they ask a question they can see immediately how many students get the idea or don't. It doesn't single out students who don't know, but the teacher is aware. That way teachers can tailor their instruction to be sure students are coming up with the right conclusions.
All classrooms also now have audio systems so that teachers can be "miked up" so students can hear them talk.
State testing has also moved to high tech methods as well. Most state tests are now taken on-line so the district had to come up with laptops for students to use for these tests since the labs in schools are so busy they can't be used for all the testing that needs to be done. That is where the 100 percent of wireless coverage within the schools becomes so important.
These devices, software, wireless networks, Smartboards and other technology all have created the need for an expanded technology department.
"Obviously we have maintenance and security issues with so much technology," stated McKnight."I am very proud of our technology center staff."
The staff consists of five very busy people who do a lot of their work on systems from the center. But a lot still needs to be done on site, at the schools as well. While work is going on keeping systems and technology rolling along, research is always on-going about what will come or what needs to be incorporated next. Caution before jumping on any bandwagon is a key concept in the technology department.
"Another thing Foster and I came up with was what we called the leading edge," said McKnight. "We want to be on the leading edge, but not on the bleeding edge. That's why we went from Microsoft XP and held onto it until Windows 7 came out. We skipped Vista altogether because of all the problems it had."
The district has a policy of not letting any technology get too old. Computers are rotated out every four to five years. Without doing that students would be at a disadvantage in the real world.
The future will certainly bring more changes. McKnight says there is a push in some school districts to give every student some type of device to use for school work and information. Some districts are allowing a BOYD policy (Bring Your Own Device) but at present Carbon District does not allow for this.
"We are always gathering information about all the new ideas around the country and we evaluate that information constantly," McKnight concluded.