Steven Langford: Beaverton School District
In terms of technology, emphasis is often placed on the physical device — is it the latest model, does it take the highest-quality photos and does it run the newest applications? These are the questions most people ask, but in Beaverton, Oregon, just outside of Portland, the Beaverton School District is replacing paper and pencils with more than 36,000 devices districtwide with a drastically different approach.
“So often we get fixated on the device and not so much the need and how the tool helps us solve a problem,” says Steven Langford, the district’s chief information officer, who oversees an extensive information technology department of 70 staff members. “We’re rethinking about how students demonstrate an understanding of what they’ve learned and how teachers teach through technology. The focus needs to be on learning and integrating technology so it becomes nearly invisible. We don’t want the focus to be on the device, we want it to be on accomplishing tasks more efficiently, easier communication, ongoing learning outside of the classroom and helping to really engage students.”
A community with high-tech connections
Beaverton is rapidly growing as Oregon’s third-largest district with 40,000 students and 5,000 staff members. The area is home to what has been called the Silicon Forest in the Pacific Northwest — a northern adaptation of the Silicon Valley. “There are a number of high-tech companies in the heart of Portland,” notes Langford. “As a suburb of Portland, Beaverton is home to the corporate headquarters of Nike and Intel.”
With some of the top tech firms right in its backyard, Beaverton’s parent demographic is a unique group. “Many of our student’s parents work in this field and they use technology daily,” says Langford. “They want their children to experience how technology changes the learning environment based on the principles of communication, critical thinking and active learning.”
It’s no surprise that this highly engaged group of parents has rallied around Beaverton’s recent efforts to integrate technology. After struggling through the Great Recession, the district has emerged with a renewed plan, fueled by a $680 million bond passed in 2014 to allow for much needed capacity, modernization, greater network security and overall school safety. “We’re fortunate to have such strong community support,” says Langford. “The community helped pass this bond, which is the largest in Oregon’s history. This bond and our involvement in the national Future Ready Schools plan will position our rapidly growing schools for further success.”
Laying the groundwork and rebuilding infrastructure
Over the last 16 months, Beaverton and Langford’s IT department have been hard at work, completely, redesigning, re-engineering and restructuring the district’s network infrastructure. “We’ve always supported technology but through the recession, economic realities meant we couldn’t invest in the infrastructure or devices to make a meaningful impact for students and teachers,” says Langford.
Since the multimillion-dollar bond passed, Beaverton has tackled an ambitious series of projects. The IT department installed 1,800 network data drops, upgraded network switches and installed over 1,000 wireless access points. Work is now underway to complete high-capacity network installations at all district facilities by early spring of 2016.
“Our device deployments were outpacing our infrastructure,” explains Langford. “We went from being able to support 15,000 devices to now 80,000. We replaced an antiquated, 20-year-old system with much more than a phone-network system; when complete, our ShoreTel system will control everything from network monitoring to doors and paging. It’s really a critical component in overall student safety and building security.”
Another important component of the transition to a technology-supported learning environment was providing teachers an intuitive application for quickly analyzing student performance data. “The IO Education application allows teachers to see how their students are performing, group them to target additional supports and track what works best for each student,” explains Langford.
Phase two: deploying devices to arm for success
Now, with the proper infrastructure and systems in place, the focus for 2016 is getting devices in the hands of students and faculty and training them for success. “We’re deploying 12,000 devices by February 2016 and within the next five months there will be 15,000 more,” says Langford.
What kind of devices? Students K through third grade will use iPads and students fourth grade through 12th will be given Chromebooks. “Students, depending on their age, use devices differently,” explains Langford. “We found that in the case of younger students, a touch-screen format was preferred and found the keyboard of the Chromebook to be important for older students.”
But Langford says Beaverton isn’t tied to iPads and Chromebooks alone. “We have other laptops and tablets available and we want tools that will work across all platforms because technology is always changing; we don’t know what’s going to come in two years,” he says.
As far as student data privacy and security, the district is ramping up. “We’re following best practices in our data center and systems by actively monitoring all pieces of the puzzle in terms of our contract agreements with vendors and our own in-house staff who’s responsible for system security,” says Langford. “But this also extends to students, parents and teachers. We’re training them on how to keep information safe.”
Langford says test scores are often one of the first things people look at to determine a measureable impact, but there’s a lot outside of this quantitative data that measures true success. “Everyone wants to equate technology to test scores because it’s an expensive investment, which I understand, but we need to look at other data points too,” he says.
Langford says other important points include more effective communication, accomplishing tasks faster and increased, ongoing learning outside of the classroom walls. “We want learning to extend beyond the school day — to reading and interacting with peers in online study groups in the evening,” he explains. “The point is you don’t have to be at school to learn and it doesn’t need to be a certain time of day.”
Aside from testing, one quantitative data point Langford finds interesting is attendance. “Children who are highly engaged want to come to school and they want to learn,” he says. “This is really what it’s all about.”
In the near future, Beaverton plans to purchase a learning management system, a form of digital classroom that will incorporate curriculum, assignments, study groups, assessments, grades, student, teacher and parent feedback and communication all into one. “We’re transitioning from the paper-based classroom to one without walls, or even specific times of day,” notes Langford.
“There are more meaningful ways to gauge impact than test scores alone,” he adds. “The important questions are: does this tool allow me to teach and learn differently and help me solve problems, does it change the way I learn and does it help me demonstrate what I know.”
As the Beaverton School District prepares to deploy more laptops and tablets in 2016, the schools are implementing much more than a fancy device, but a reinvented way to expand and enhance teaching and learning and prepare students for a diverse, global economy.