January 12, 2021: The LPS CLASS Technology Plan

Today we speak with Chief Technology Officer Kirk Langer about the LPS CLASS Technology Plan.

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Video Transcript

Mindy Burbach 0:17
Hello, and welcome to LPS Live Board Preview. I’m Mindy Burbach, LPS Communications Director.

Don Mayhew 0:23
And I’m Don Mayhew, Lincoln Board of Education member. We started this Facebook Live program to share what is happening at Lincoln Public Schools.

Mindy Burbach 0:31
and it airs prior to Board of Education meetings. We highlight what’s happening at Lincoln Public Schools, and we answer viewer questions. If you do have any questions during our live show, please type them into the Facebook chat, and we will try to get to them if we have time.

Don Mayhew 0:43
Mindy, it’s good to talk to you again. Today, we’re going to be talking about technology. That’s one of those things that’s near and dear to my heart. As you know, about 10 years ago, we had a group get together, a community-wide Strategic Planning Committee. And one of the goals that came out of that work has evolved into our Connected Learning for the Achievement of Students and Staff or our CLASS program. Joining us tonight, we’re going to be talking with our Chief Technology Officer Kirk Langer. Kirk, thanks for joining us.

Kirk Langer 1:14
I appreciate it.

Don Mayhew 1:15
All right, Kirk. There are four main components in the CLASS plan, we’ve got connected classrooms, device assisted learning and instruction, systems for learning and professional learning. Briefly walk us through these four components and how they’ve been addressed over the last 10 years.

Kirk Langer 1:32
Well, you know, the the first two: connected classroom and device assisted learning instruction are primarily about the stuff you need, whether that’s in the case of connected classroom, that’s a wireless access point, each classroom along with some kind of a projection device, generally a short throw projector, so that the teacher can share their screen with with the learners that are in the room. It’s also audio systems, audio enhancement systems, so that the teachers voice can be heard, distributed equally throughout the classroom, creating a sound field that’s been shown the research to be very important, and in how students learn and whatnot. So that’s, that’s some of the stuff that goes with connected classroom, then the device assisted learning instruction, it’s really about the devices themselves and our case, largely Chromebooks, for students, that, that they need in order to be able to connect with, with content, connect and collaborate with one another and those sorts of things. So that forms the that forms the the infrastructure, and then that marries up with really our systems for learning and information management. We’re a very heavy user of the Google Cloud, as well as any number of other third party platforms that allow us to provide students with content and an environment for them to kind of do that constructivist learning, where they can start to put the pieces and parts together and work collaboratively in that regard. And then the professional learning piece, or it’s really about assisting teachers and supporting teachers in there, as they begin to move from sort of that, you know, the stuff to really leveraging that stuff for learning. It’s really about how that transition gets made. And, you know, nothing ever stays at nothing ever stays static in the area of technology. So there is persistent opportunities for those continued for continuous learning for our teachers.

Don Mayhew 3:33
When we were working on this, it was quite a process. And you were a big part of that process. It was several years of planning, several more years of implementation, there was a lot of looking at best practices, looking at what other districts were doing well, mistakes that other districts had made. There was a lot of work that went into that. And we were doing that because we knew that the technology was a tool that we can use to enhance the educational experience that our kids were getting in the classroom. It took several years, we purchased Chromebooks for all of our students between grades three to 12. And then later, we went back and added the second graders. During the pandemic years, we’ve been able to use this, this technology, that’s infrastructure that we’ve had that was put into place to provide our remote learning courses to students in LPS. And I think that in some ways, perhaps, that gave us a leg up over a lot of other districts in the state, they had a lot of challenges and trying to promote provide that remote instruction. But it also did create some challenges for us. What were some of those challenges that you and your staff had to deal with, during the pandemic?

Kirk Langer 4:41
Well, I think, you know, as we said, you get to that point where the plan stops being about the stuff, and it’s very much about leveraging it for learning. And so we were, we were well into sort of that process, but the context for it was still largely how we deliver instruction from from a classroom. centric perspective. So, you know, with that in mind, when all of a sudden we’re in a pandemic, the first thing was, as you mentioned, were grades two through 12, the grades two through five weren’t taking, were not taking their devices home, and they needed them there. So right away, we needed to figure out a way for parents to come get those, retrieve those in the middle of a pandemic, and, and, and be able to, so that the students would have them and could use them. The next thing was, as we as we migrated from 2019–20, to 2020–2021, was we were moved to we moved to synchronous learning. And that, you know, that was, you know, that really was was a was a pretty big sea change from before was largely placing, you know, in more of an asynchronous way, putting those, you know, documents out there, whatnot, students could then, you know, read, respond to those, there was some office hours, if you will, that they could consult with or their teachers, but largely, it was really more, you know, get a like a packet and work on that packet. So, when we did that, we moved to that this fall, that meant to basically zoom based coming into the classroom remotely, it changed it, in a lot of ways, not the least of which is, what about our K–1 learners? So what we’re actually able to do is we have, by having a refresh cycle on on our devices, we actually took some devices that Chromebook devices, and we that otherwise would have been going out of service. And we just quickly got those out to, to our K–1 students. So that now if your remote learner work fully prepared K–1 all the way up through, we were able to do that, so that those were sort of the some of those infrastructure challenges we had to deal with, to say nothing in the fact last year, you know, pre COVID, the last year, we averaged at any given week, zoom was largely used by teachers. And on any given week, we might have 10 to 20,000, total minutes of time, all together this year on any in any in any given in any given day. This year, we’re doing 3.5 million minutes per day, are

Don Mayhew 7:13
our use has gone way up

Kirk Langer 7:15
Yeah, it’s just, it’s just gone, it’s gone crazy. And so with that, you get out the challenges associated with it, from a support perspective, two to three times the number of calls coming in to the help desk, because now we’ve enjoined our parents and students who are calling in, because they need help remotely and those sorts of things. So really accelerated the number of calls because it’s a, we’ve accelerated the amount of views that you’d had basic utilization. I think the other thing that that we’ve done is really, it’s one of those things where, you know, there’s there’s a little bit of that trial by fire. But one of the things that comes out of something like this is if necessity is the mother of invention, or the father, you’re not going to suddenly forget what you’ve been what you’ve learned and become capable of doing during this time. And so I would really look for this to ultimately put us in a position to really accelerate our ability to leverage technology for learning in ways that maybe without the pandemic it would have taken would have taken longer to come to this point.

Don Mayhew 8:15
Sure. Hey, Kirk, we got a question from Morgan Reading. She’s asking why did we select the document cameras that are used in classrooms?

Kirk Langer 8:24
Well, one of the things that that we look at is we’re always cost conscious, we’re always looking for the best for best value. Some of our teachers were actually the first ones that that suggested to us along with the Librarians, what we use primarily our IPEVO cameras, very small form factor, very easy, very easy to set up and use. hook into your, they’ll hook into either a Chromebook if a substitute teacher was using that, or the the laptop that the teacher has. So they really provide an opportunity for teachers to do some of the things that they have done traditionally, back in when I was in school, and even at university, they were using overheads and so on and acetate, you know, and writing on them, they do some of those same things to to provide some of that same functionality. But also they can obviously show you know, show objects and whatnot. And they can also use it as an additional camera to use in the in the classroom to show things in the classroom, including some of the some of the remote students, fellow learners. So a variety of reasons that that we brought those in. But largely it was it was an answer to an in recognition of any number of those that were already in place. It’s just we hadn’t systemically put those everywhere prior to the pandemic but that was one of the one of the purchases that we made with with some federal monies that came in from the CARES act.

Don Mayhew 9:52
I think that a lot of people at the time were thinking as I recall comments that we had almost a year ago. You know, we’ve got a bunch of Computers, we’ve got the internet, we’ve got all this infrastructure, therefore, remote education should be easy. And you and I have been talking a lot on the the technology side. But I think a lot of people weren’t aware that, you know, there were huge… There’s a huge impact on teachers and how they were teaching in the classroom, and then also teaching to the kids at home. But also, from a curricular point of view and how we deliver the curriculum. And the system that we had, I think, for the, you know, the needs that we had, the direction we’re headed at the time was fantastic. But when you’re talking about a pandemic, and potentially 100%, remote education, that’s not what that system was designed for. And we while we had a leg up on responding to that, I think if we were going to start from scratch and design a system that was made for 100%, remote education, it would probably, it would probably look different than what than what we’ve got now. I think we’re headed now in that trajectory. But there’s a lot of work between now and there. And I think there were several comments about well, you you had all summer to think about it. When we were working on the Chromebooks. The that took three years just to plan, let alone more years to implement it talk about that a little bit some of these challenges on the the curricular side, on the educational side, I mean, there, there was a lot of retooling that had to happen.

Kirk Langer 11:18
Well, you know, I think one of the things that it’s so hard for, for us to imagine, and for people who don’t do it, they, we tend to think from our own experience and our experiences, maybe a device or two or three in our houses and hooked up to maybe a Wi Fi network or something like that. When we’re talking about Chromebooks being in the hands of over 40,000 students, anything you do 40,000 times, the more complex that something is, the more you have to ramp up to make sure that just at its most basic operational level, it’s going to stand up and it’s going to work. On top of that, then you’re really talking about how are we going to make this something that we can truly leverage for learning. And as you said, our curriculum in many ways, there’s a lot of our curriculum that is still text based, and for good reasons. You know, somebody asked me, you know, asked me years ago, we talked about moving and having a device per student, they said, so that means LPS is going paperless. And I sort of jokingly said, Well, actually, we did that on May the 30th 2011, when our district office burned down. But no… we would, the role here is not to talk about going paperless or what we’re not going to do talk about what we are going to do, which is really to embrace digital tools. Because when paper is the best way to do something, why wouldn’t we do it the best way? So we knew that, you know, we still have a lot of print materials and whatnot, well, suddenly, in a digital environment, when you’re talking about 100% remote learning or, you know, 14,000 learners on any given day from LPS that are coming in remotely. That traditional print doesn’t know it doesn’t doesn’t translate particularly well. So one of the things then you’re looking at is how can we very quickly mobilize to take any amount of this stuff that’s in print text, and get it into into a form factor, where it really becomes a series of digital objects, that then teachers can string together. And that’s, that’s a really different, that’s very different. And some of our curriculum comes into comes in, you know, packaged in that way, but a very high percentage of it does not. And so teachers have to very quickly ramped to that now, in addition to that, teachers may have been using Chromebooks with students and and using maybe google classroom and those sorts of things. But when you’re talking about all of a sudden teaching in a hybrid setting, where some of my learners are in my classroom, some of my learners are not, and I’ve really got to be able to very in a very agile fashion, move back and forth between them and make sure I’m meeting those learning needs. That that’s, that’s quite a that’s quite a thing to try to accomplish. And the first thing for some of our teachers was okay, I’ve never I’ve never tried this before to, to do this whole thing with the distance learning element to it. So there were some nervous moments and whatnot getting wrapped up. It’s It’s It’s a lot of work. It’s It’s It’s difficult for them and a challenge. they’ve risen to the challenge, generally speaking, by the same time, at the same time, I think, I think there is a great deal of desire to get back to, as we would look at remote learning, maybe in the future, particularly if it was this type of synchronous learning, truly get to more of a focus on let teachers that are teaching in person teaching person, let teachers who are teaching remote learners teach remote learners exclusively, just so you don’t have that constant code switching back and forth. It really puts a cognitive load on and I think our teachers get to the end of the day, and they’re kind of worn out.

Don Mayhew 14:44
Like with anything else. The technology is a tool and it’s not a replacement for high quality education. And I remember back many years ago when we first started talking about this, you were one of the people who said that often and early. Kirk, we’ve got a question from Glenda Beckman. She’s asking will all the grade levels continue to keep the Chromebooks even when this year is over? And are they now an integrated part of k–12? K through 12th grade?

Kirk Langer 15:09
Certainly the the you know, we’re we’re going to have some funding, some funding considerations that we’re going to have that we’re going to be looking at. I do think that in some in some form factor, now that we’ve used Chromebooks down through K and 1 have demonstrated that they can be useful there, we may well, we may well keep that in place, whether we’re going to be able to maintain the same level of a device per student through K–1, that’ll that’ll, of course, have to be something that’s considered both on the level of budget in the fiscal considerations, but also from an instructional standpoint, that’s that’s where people like Dr. Larson and add Takako Olson, who, who is our Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Sarah, you know, Dr. Salem and others to look at and kind of say, okay, is this the is this the best way to deliver deliver instruction? Or how do we deliver instruction this to during the most out of it? So it’s hard to say that we’re absolutely going to keep that in its in the way that is sitting there now. But as I said, Any one of the things that we’ve learned, we tend to tend to instill in me this idea that, yeah, I think Chromebooks are going to probably stay or have a have a place in K one. And we’ll continue to continue to leverage them.

Don Mayhew 16:21
Well, and I think if we’re doing this right, we’re always going to be assessing, we’re always going to be looking what our needs are and what the appropriate response to those needs are. Correct. My last question for you last month, the board approved purchasing Chromebooks to refresh to refresh our supply for a second sixth, and ninth grade students thinking forward, what are some of the other things that you and your team are working on as we continue to move forward with our class plan? Well,

Kirk Langer 16:46
it’s it’s very, you know, we’ve got new schools that are that we’re building, something that comes with those is really looking at the number of screens that are around us around those schools, and we’ll be around those schools. Some, every classroom has a screen in it, how can we leverage those screens to communicate information that everything from activities, video video announcements in the morning, maybe announcements from an app from a district level, basically, if we need to, if we need to use something like for safety, security, standard response, protocol, information could be on them, you name it so full, that’s a whole nother another variant, or way that we’re going to really start to leverage that which is part of the connected classroom environment. So you’re always looking, you’re always looking to take that to its next step, we’ll be we’ll be refreshing our wireless infrastructure, that’s between 4,500 and 5,000 access points that have to go on into classrooms, to bring those up to the current to the current standard of Wi Fi six. So just those things that you do that are that are, you know, are always new. And and and part of a refresh. I guess the last thing I would say is in builds on you know, so we’re talking about with, with, with the technology being a tool and whatnot, the goal is really to continue to work directly within with instruction to figure out the very best ways that we can leverage this for learning. Well, I tell people is is that increasingly teachers, as they are taking, taking on these these digital tools, and really being able to utilize them well, we see this in other industries as well. One of the most profound is in the medical field where any number of surgeons are using this device called they called the da Vinci. And this device allows the surgeon, a skilled surgeon, it doesn’t, it doesn’t obviate that surgeon doesn’t mean that takes them out of the the game, quite the opposite. What it does in the hands of a skilled surgeon is allow them to make even more precise cuts, which reduces the amount of recovery time. And so any number of people are, are beginning to look at surgeons and saying, if they’re not using the da Vinci, I don’t want to I don’t want to go to them. Because I don’t want to increase my recovery time, you might be a great surgeon. But I want you to using those types of tools that can enhance that can enhance the experience and reduce recovery. I think we’re seeing the same thing with teachers in their uptake of technology to say it isn’t a replacement, but man, in the hands of somebody skilled, it can make a difference in how we make those that help students make those connections in the classroom

Don Mayhew 19:13
It gets to a point where it stops being cool and it starts being an actual usable tool that’s helping us out. I was a little disappointed. I didn’t hear you say anything about adding the VR headsets. We’re gonna be we’re gonna be talking about those pretty soon aren’t we?

Kirk Langer 19:25
Well, I think I think you know, I think augmented reality and virtual reality, I think we’re gonna see we’re gonna see an uptick on both of those. And the one of the biggest things that we have to kind of get around is always the form factor. The first Oculus Rift, for example, were so big. It was it was kind of a, it was somewhat physically imposing to think, can I get that on my head not tip over. As, right and as the size gets, it keeps getting keeps going. So I think we’re going to get to where the form factor will be such that in the cost or whatnot. We’ll get to where we’ll start to see profound opportunities to, for those things to be integral to learning, whether that’s manipulating 3D objects, and so on. There, it’s, I think all of that’s going to be there in an augmented reality sense. And then just the virtual to full on VR, where you can experience environments, that, frankly, we just don’t have an opportunity to get our students to otherwise,

Don Mayhew 20:21
as recently playing with an Oculus Rift and I tell you, I think the educational potential is huge. Given enough time going forward in the future, I know we’re going to be talking about this. All right, Kirk, you’ve mentioned your team and the work that they have done. Let me just take a second to say thank you so much, to you and your team for all the hours that you’re putting in been putting in to support our staff and our students in technology. Thank you for that. If you want to hang tight, just for a minute, I’m going to go back to Mindy just for a second. Mindy. We got a question from Josh Smith. And he’s asking if we’re going to have LPS students transitioning to attending full time like, like other schools.

Mindy Burbach 20:55
And to answer Joshua’s question. We continuously do work with the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department, we look at the community conditions and we follow their guidance. At this time we’re planning because we are in the red. And the mayor did just have another press conference today we are remaining in the red. So we are going to continue with our pandemic plan as is written, and we will continue to make adjustments and communicate that with families as we make those adjustments.

Don Mayhew 21:20
Morgan, Glenda and Josh, thank you so much for your questions to other folks who may be watching this later. If you come up with a question, go ahead and type it down in the comments. We’ll try to respond later as we can for now on this broadcast. That’s all the time we have. Thank you again so much to Kirk for joining us today. And be sure to join us for our regular board meeting that’s going to be starting soon at 6pm. And you can watch it on our website at lps.org or on The LNK TV educational channel.

Mindy Burbach 21:48
And our next LPS board update on Facebook will be Friday, January 22 at noon. Just a reminder, you can submit those questions on our Facebook page or on our website lps.org. Just click on the blue contact us button. And with that, thank you for joining us