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The Changing Classroom in Utah: Technology’s Role in Alpine School District

How is tech affecting the way we teach and learn in Utah schools? Alpine School District says we’re living in a vastly different world.

American Fork, UT (November 19, 2019) – According to Blaine Edman, we’re living in a vastly different world than just 10 or 20 years ago—and it’s impacting how Utah school districts approach education.

“Technology now plays such a vital and important role in the world, so we need to teach students how to use tech while being aware that education is about more than just tech,” said Edman, Administrator of Technology Services, Alpine School District. “We’re teaching students what they should expect as they enter society and the workplace—helping them create, collaborate, communicate, and think critically while leveraging technology.”

The Utah Education and Telehealth Network (UETN), in partnership with the nonprofit Connected Nation, is in the midst of doing an inventory of technology within Utah’s public and charter schools. Alpine School District is taking part in that inventory. Edman calls it “critically important” for administrators to understand the digital landscape of the district. “We do see there are big differences between kids who have access to technology and those who don’t,” he said. “But it’s even more complex than that. It’s not just a question of do they have internet and devices at home, but also what kind of environment are they in and what are they doing with the technology. All of these are things we can track and monitor.”

In 2015, UETN began tracking how technology is used in the classroom and the access teachers and students have to digital materials, devices, and platforms. Data from another inventory was released in 2018.

“Last year, following our second statewide inventory, we learned the number of classrooms connected through digital teaching and learning had risen thanks to increased distribution of computer devices and newer wireless gear,” said Ray Timothy, CEO of UETN. “However, we also found that more work was needed to connect every student to key technologies that will prepare them for an increasingly digital world.”

Matt Johnson is the Director of Technology Infrastructure for the Alpine School District. He oversees the district’s networks within the schools and keeps track of network traffic, resources and security.

“In my role, I work with staff to provide the schools with connectivity to the UETN network,” Johnson said. “They provide access and connectivity to the internet resources for the school district. They also have the capacity and resources to support educational entities at a larger scale.”

Johnson is also responsible for maintaining technology infrastructure across the district. “So, essentially, as I look at the inventory process, we are identifying the number of devices in each of the schools, what the network bandwidth is in each of the schools, and where wireless access points may need to be added or augmented to ensure that we have connectivity throughout the schools,” Johnson explained.

Every district sets up how it approaches technology differently. Alpine Schools has developed another department called “Innovative Learning.” This department focuses on how to best use the technology in the classroom. The district also provides training and ongoing coaching for teachers so they’re up to speed on the latest advancements. In the last four years, the district has also gone from about 30,000 to 90,000 internet-enabled devices. That means there is a device for every student. But, Edman again emphasizes that it’s not just having enough computers or laptops that matters—it’s leveraging the tools in smart ways to help students as best they can.

“I really want parents and the community to understand that there is a great potential for how we can have students use technology to prepare them for their future,” Edman added. “But we also know there are risks and difficulties and problems that sometimes arrive. I think in all schools there are a ton of dedicated people there trying to provide the right tools for kids while keeping them safe, healthy, and happy in the process.”

Next week we continue our month-long series “The Changing Classroom in Utah” with a look at how one 6th grader and her teacher are leveraging technology in Weber County—a district that’s gone from chalkboards to Chromebooks in just a few years’ time.

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