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NLS is catching up on technology

Trish Ejnik, technology assistant at New London-Spicer Schools, speaks from her office with Little Crow Telemedia Network director Pete Royer in a videoconference using an iPad and the ClearSea app. Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwerf 1 / 2
The ClearSea videoconference on an iPad allows both parties to see each other and provides some versatility for schools to communicate with other districts and conduct meetings remotely. Pete Royer, director of Little Crow Telemedia Network, is seen in the top half of the screen. Trish Ejnik, technology assistant at New London-Spicer Schools, is seen at the bottom. Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwerf2 / 2

Public schools are always introducing new technology for their students.             

At one time, it meant film strips, then films, then televisions, then computers, then smart white boards, now iPads.

It’s all part of the need to stay current on technology to prepare young people for the world they’ll find beyond high school.

“If you don’t stay up on things, you can find that the infrastructure can’t handle new technology,” said Dan Rajewsky, the district technology coordinator at New London-Spicer High School.

NLS is in the process of implementing the benefits of a voter-approved levy to pay for technology improvements across the district.

Other school districts have found creative ways of funding technology improvements, too. Willmar bought iPads after a community fundraising effort. Some districts have been able to fund their technology purchases from their capital improvement funds or general fund balances.

NLS’s levy helped fund numerous upgrades in the last year. The wireless network was upgraded, and new computers, laptop carts, iPad carts and sound systems were purchased.

“We were a little behind, we had to catch up,” Rajewsky said. “It has really made some significant changes here.”

It was a lot to do at one time, but the moves were well thought out, Rajewsky said. Numerous planning meetings went into deciding how to proceed with integrating the new and not-so-new devices.

Bringing so many devices into the school district in a short period of time is “kind of a process,” Rajewsky said. He and Trish Ejnik, district tech assistant, had to get to know the devices, inventory them and establish security before introducing them to staff and students.

The district already had some iPads, but the levy money helped add many more. It also helped update the overall system. “We had several things that had to be fixed, and you can’t just fix one, they’re all interrelated,” Rajewsky said.

Last April and May the district provided iPads for teachers, who attended training in the summer. That gave the staff a chance to become familiar with them before school started.

The carts of computers and iPads have been useful in the schools. “We have computer labs around the school, but a lot of them are full,” Ejnik said, so other devices allow more classrooms to use technology at the same time.

“One of the most important things to do is keep educating the public,” Rajewsky said, and school personnel appreciate the public support of the levy. “You do have to have a community behind it.”

Cooperative network

The Little Crow Telemedia Network, a cooperative that provides internet and technology services to 19 area school districts, has continued to adapt its services to the changing technology needs of schools, too.

“When we started (in 1989) nobody even knew what the internet was,” said director Pete Royer. “There was a point in time we had to make a push to get teachers to use email.”

Royer was interviewed in a video conference using iPads and an app called ClearSea.

Newer tools like ClearSea provide more versatility for schools, said Raymond Norton, a technician with LCTN. It opens another avenue for communication when other connections are busy, he said.

Each of the districts in the cooperative has interactive TV capabilities and a Codec, which codes and decodes a data stream from one site to another via internet2.

The cooperative was formed to provide ITV courses, which helped smaller schools provide world languages and college-level courses.

Internet needs have changed with improvements in technology. “Before it was pretty much one-way,” with people downloading information from the internet, Royer said. Now, devices interact more with apps on outside servers, causing more traffic along the same lines.

LCTN has needed to increase the speed of its internet connection repeatedly over the years, he said. In the beginning, a 56K line seemed sufficient. Two years ago, a 70M seemed OK. Now the 19 districts share a connection with a speed of 300M-plus.

The districts work together, because an individual district or a local internet provider would have trouble providing service with such speed, Royer said.

Schools work together to provide upper level classes for their students. Spanish is taught at MACCRAY and goes to students from several school districts. A teacher in New London-Spicer teaches an advanced algebra class and electronically includes one student from an area district who wanted to take the class.

Codec can be used to take “virtual” field trips. Students have been able to view knee surgeries and autopsies and to ask questions of the physicians involved. Students at Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg High School once listened to a Holocaust survivor tell his story and the students were able to ask him questions.

Norton said the technology also helps the superintendents of the 19 school districts attend meetings. “That’s extra nice, because they’re quite busy,” he said, and some would have to drive several hours round trip to attend in person. “We get participation we wouldn’t always get otherwise.”

IPads and other tablet computers have been the most recent major change in education technology, Norton said. Google Chromebooks and Android tablets are gaining in popularity.

Within the next year or two, things will probably change dramatically again,” he said. “The (iPad) Minis are going to be more popular than people expect.”

A superintendent at one school told Norton that students have started asking, “Can’t you just let us use our phones?”

Rajewsky said teachers and students keep finding ways to integrate technology in classrooms. Smart Boards can be even more effective when used with iPads, he said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340