SDN Blog

Student Technology Initiative unfolding smoothly in Sioux Falls

Posted on Monday, April 14, 2014 in Broadband Internet

Blog written by Super

SFSDStudentTechInitiativeYouTube was among the websites initially blocked when the Sioux Falls School District launched its Student Technology Initiative in 2013. The site was opened to students after teachers pointed out the educational value of some of the videos available on YouTube.

Opening and blocking access to various websites is among the secondary issues the school district has been working through as it deploys its Student Technology Initiative. There also have been some technological problems to overcome as the school system increases student accessibility to electronic resources.

However, the district’s plan to provide a mobile computer to most students has gone smoothly, says Bob Jensen, director of assessments, technology and information services for the public school system.

“We’re learning along the way with little glitches,” Jensen says. “I would have to say, for the most part, it’s been going fairly well.”

During the first phase of the ambitious and learning-friendly technology project, which was launched last fall, the district loaned a Chromebook to every student from third grade through high school. Next school year, during the second phase, seven iPads will be provided to every kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade classroom.

Initially, the district planned to go with a one-to-one computer to pupil ratio in the lower grades, too, but that objective has been scaled down.

Tie Conference

With the annual state Technology & Innovation in Education Conference being held April 13-15 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center, this is a fitting time to review the Student Technology Initiative in Sioux Falls Public Schools. SDN Communications, the host of this blog, is among the sponsors of the event.

The Rapid City-based TIE organization primarily serves employees of school districts in South Dakota. But other people with an interest in education and technology may pay the registration fee at the door and attend the conference, says Megan Merscheim, conference coordinator.

Sioux Falls’ experience

Rodney Knock, technology integration facilitator for the Sioux Falls School District, says the Chromebook deployment is entering an exciting stage.

Teachers no longer have to build classroom schedules around the availability of mobile computer carts. The expanded availability of online resources enhances learning opportunities. Students can use access when they need it.

“When it becomes just another tool rather than a cool thing, that, to me, is exciting,” Knock says. “We’re getting past the initial hurdles and getting into the exciting time.”

The district finished deploying approximately 18,000 Chromebooks to students in November. Jensen isn’t sure that he would recommend to another district to roll out so many laptops in only two or three months.

Jensen has a couple other suggestions for other districts that might be considering large-scale technology projects:

  • Define and establish the domain to be managed. The Sioux Falls district uses a state-provided K12 domain and manages users and Chromebooks based on the expected year of a user's graduation.
  • Have the right-sized proxy server to handle the volume of devices and traffic for content filtering. Sioux Falls went through two before finding one with the scalability to meet the district's needs.

It’s also interesting to note that the district is going to increase its Internet connection capacity from 1 gigabyte to 2 gigabytes.

“We anticipated that, more than likely, one gig might not be enough,” Jensen says.

If capacity is available, it tends to get used. Data is being compiled so that the district can assess whether capacity is being used effectively or access needs to be “throttled down,” he says.

Understandably, the district blocks access to websites in categories such as weapons, gambling and pornography. Facebook is blocked, too. Teachers can file requests that a site be blocked or opened, and a team reviews the issue and makes a decision.

The Student Technology Initiative will continue to unfold for months. Increasingly, students will become more connected to real-world solutions. That's worthwhile.

SDN is proud to be playing a key, behind-the-role in expanding the use of technology use in education.  The company provides broadband access to public schools in Sioux Falls and to most other schools in South Dakota.

In addition to assisting schools with infrastructure, SDN sells education-friendly products such as Mondopads, which are large touch-screen PCs that can be used for video conferencing, demonstrations, and other applications.

For more information about SDN and the company’s products, visit the SDN Communications website.