Behind the scenes with technology at the Albert Lea school district

Feb. 27—Use of technology in the classroom is growing and has taken on a significant role during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the Albert Lea school district, there are five people in the information technology department, which has remained steady since the beginning of the pandemic.

Michael Davis, coordinator of information technology for the district, answered questions about his department and how it has been affected during the pandemic:

Q: Are the IT employees all at the district office or are there different ones at each school?

A: “Our network administrator, our mobile device manager and I all have an office at Brookside, but we do spend time out in the schools for some tasks that need to be completed in-person. We also have two technology specialists. They split their time between all of our buildings depending on what issues arise on a given day.”

Q: What types of things does the IT department oversee? How did your responsibilities evolve during the pandemic?

A: “We ensure that all technology, district wide, is in working order. This includes classroom computers, interactive displays, teacher and student Chromebooks and iPads, IP phone system, and the list goes on. This includes troubleshooting, repair and maintenance. We also maintain the school’s network.

There are also many third-party systems we deal with like our student information system and various programs that are subject area and grade level specific. We also maintain all the computers and systems used by support staff.

A lot of the work we do is hands on. When we had to convert to the remote learning model due to the pandemic, it was very challenging for our department. We sent Chromebooks and iPads home with every student during that time. Having to troubleshoot issues over the phone instead of in-person was something our department was not used to. There are a lot of variables in play when students are using the devices at home instead of in a classroom on our network.”

Q: How many pieces of equipment are you in charge of (Chromebooks, iPads, etc.)?

A: Currently our K through second-grade students have iPads and third through 12th graders have Chromebooks. Every teacher has a Chromebook, and every classroom has a computer and large format display, whether it be a projector or interactive panel. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000 devices we support.

Q: How important is your role to the day-to-day operations of the school district? How is education evolving to include more technology?

A: The IT department’s role is vital to the day-to-day operations of the school district. Our district is full of amazing educators who are very capable of adapting to challenging circumstances.

That being said, I don’t think there would be a single employee who would be excited if the network crashed or a single teacher who would be excited if I told them their students’ Chromebooks won’t be working for a few days.

Technology is constantly evolving and impacting the way we live our lives, and education is not immune to this. The information our students have at their fingertips is truly amazing.

Q: How often does equipment get replaced on average?

A: It isn’t set in stone, but the current replacement cycle is four years for Chromebooks, five years for iPads, and five years for desktop computers.