Q&A: IUSD’s coordinator of educational technology talks about the future of classrooms

Kris Linville spent 11 years as a classroom teacher at Irvine’s Sierra Vista Middle School, leading video production and web design courses. As such, he often found himself fielding technology questions from his colleagues, and he was eventually tapped to facilitate technology workshops throughout the district. This year, he’s parlayed these skills into a new role as IUSD’s coordinator of educational technology.

It’s a role Linville is passionate about, and it couldn’t come at a more relevant time, as IUSD is increasingly exploring high-tech tools to leverage the talents of its staff. Linville, the district’s Middle School Teacher of the Year in 2010, recently sat down with us to talk about his job, classrooms of the future and the “bring your own device” movement.


Tell us a bit about your work in the district. What are your primary responsibilities?

One of the major pieces is professional development. We want to make sure that the technology that is going into a teacher’s classroom is technology that’s going to be relevant and not just sit in a corner. But it has expanded beyond that into other areas, including working with the Facilities Master Plan, which guides the construction of new schools. Instead of saying, “We’re going to build schools the way we’ve been building them for the last 20 to 30 years,” we’re interested in what future classrooms will look like. And I’m able to do research and talk to people about the future of classrooms and the direction we’re going as a district.

What are some of the trends we’re seeing in educational technology?

There’s a new National Education Technology Plan that came out in 2010, and the idea is to go from this industrial-revolution mindset, where the teacher dispenses information, to something deeper.

If a student needed to know what year the Civil War started, there was a time when the teacher would have to tell that student, or they could find that information in an encyclopedia or a book. Now basic knowledge can be found on a computer. What’s great about technology is that students can now access that basic knowledge and the teacher can focus on the next level of thinking.

What does a next-generation classroom look like?

I think more and more classrooms will feel like colleges, where students are allowed to bring their own smart phones, tablets and other devices.

You know, you tell a student to not bring their smart phone to school, but as soon as that bell rings, they’re on that phone again. There is something powerful about that computer that’s in their pocket, and most schools probably fear the distraction. I think future classrooms are going to embrace it. They’re going to say, this is part of a child’s life. This is part of anyone’s life. And so the trend that we’ll see in the next couple years is called BYOD, or “bring your own device.”

Essentially, you tell a student that it’s OK to bring their own device, and we teach them how to become responsible digital citizens. We train them on etiquette so that they know to put their phones on vibrate or “airplane mode” in class. Then, let’s say the teacher is talking about Beowulf. She might say, “I want you to find what you think Grendel (the monster) looks like,” and a student will be able to use their phone to look up an image or draw on an app. A teacher doesn’t need to take the entire class, go to a computer lab, have them spend 10 minutes logging in, 20 minutes copying and pasting before printing it out onto a Word document. Kids would be able to just take their phone and share with their partner and say, “This is what I think Grendel looks like. This is the best interpretation,” and then put the phone away and teaching would continue.

There aren’t going to be computer labs in the future. It’s going to be students’ own devices, and it’s going to be seamless in the classroom because they’ll already know how to use those devices.

You say we also need to teach students to be responsible digital citizens. What do you mean by that?

It’s about being aware that you still need to respect the person that’s in front of you. That doesn’t always happen, but that’s not fault of any device. That’s a digital citizenship problem, and we need to train students on proper etiquette.

Is BYOD a direction that we’re moving toward?

For sure. I would say the reason we’re not there yet is not because we haven’t embraced this model. The reason we’re not there is because we don’t yet have the infrastructure, and by that I mean our wireless capabilities.

Whenever your bring your wireless device into a hotel or a Starbucks, and you get that free Wi-Fi, it’s known as an access point, and only so many devices can connect to that access point. Our challenge right now is that if you log on to the Wi-Fi at an elementary school, you may have great reception in one room but poor reception in another. It’s like your house; I have a great signal downstairs, but if I go upstairs, it’s not that great, so I jump to my 4G.

We want to make sure that access is consistent. We also want to make sure that the students who are bringing in their devices are on our network so we can filter content, because we still need to be CIPA-compliant, which is the Child Internet Protection Act. We need to make sure that when they’re searching the Internet, nothing inappropriate is coming up on their phones. And if they’re jumping off of our network, we need to be notified that that device is not on our network. So that’s what we mean by infrastructure. We needs access points, probably in every classroom, and we need safeguards.

You also have power issues. In the future, students will need to be responsible for keeping their devices charged, and batter technology is getting better, but we’re probably going to need to have docking stations where students can find an outlet and charge their phone or device.

How do we go about building that infrastructure?

It’s not an easy answer, and we would need to find additional funding to make this leap. Right now we’re looking at building a data center and increasing our network speeds. We’re going to go from 10 megabytes at the elementary schools to 500 megabytes, and at the middle and high schools we’re going to go from 100 megabytes to one gigabyte. What that means in bandwidth is you can have more devices on the network, and more devices doing things like streaming videos. And that’s what our teachers are already doing. There are educators doing science lessons who are saying, “I’d like to do this explosion but it costs too much to buy the chemicals. You know what? There’s a YouTube video that I can show and discuss.”

What about the students who don’t have their own devices. How would they participate in this new model?

Back in 2003 and 2004, we wanted to go one-to-one, meaning one computer for every student. Right now, for every five students, we have one computer, and typically it’s a desktop, though it might be a laptop. The reason we didn’t go one-to-one wasn’t because we couldn’t afford that many computers, because typically a computer costs the same as a student’s desk, and that’s manageable. The problem with one-to-one is that our IT department can’t manage those computers that are malfunctioning or need updates.

What BYOD solves, is that students would be bringing in their own devices, and updating and managing them on their own, and installing antivirus software. But for families that do not have devices, the money that would have gone into one-to-one can go toward supporting those students and addressing equity issues. So we are going to continue to provide computers for students who do not have devices, or whose devices are not working. But we believe that number will be significantly smaller than what we’re currently supporting.

You sound very enthusiastic about what’s to come.

I am. I thought initially it would have been great to be in education when the first computer came out. My father was a teacher then, and I remember in 1980 he had Macs in his classroom and we were using educational video games like “Oregon Trail” and “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” Fun stuff. But I think now is really the time to be in education. When I do my trainings, I’ll say, “Show of hands: How long has the iPad been around for?” And you’ll see people holding up four and five fingers. The iPad has only been around for two years, and look how much it’s changing the classroom. And now Windows is competing with that, and Google is trying to one-up everybody. The competition for education is only helping us.

And with BYOD it would suggest that we don’t have to pick a side. Families can use the device that’s right for them.

That’s right. It’s really about the process and not the product.