Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) in Nebraska is the second-largest public school district in the state, servicing a device-assisted learning and instruction (DALI) initiative for 33,000 K–12 students, as well as devices used for instruction and administration. Students in K–1 are provided with classroom iPads; students in grades 2–5 are provided a Chromebook to use at school; and students in grades 6–12 are assigned a Chromebook for both school and home use.

As a large school district, providing access to all students was a multiyear process of new device deployments and planned device refreshes. Like other districts, LPS was challenged to demonstrate a return on technology investment long before completing full deployment.

Return on Education Begins With Access

The biggest challenge for K–12 technology deployments is the ability to leverage that technology in learning. To do that, you need to remove the barrier of access.

Rollout is only the first step in technology implementation. Many school districts encounter educational tech deficiency because they fail to align deployment with curriculum and pedagogy. As LPS scaled to 33,000 student devices, our team of 30 technicians could have easily been bogged down with support requests and reporting requirements. FileWave, our device management solution, has been key to managing regular device deployments, refreshes, and management tasks. It has freed up time to focus on supporting teachers’ professional development in service-to-student learning.

Indicators of Positive Technology ROE

Although return on investment would have us focus on direct learning outcomes, we believe in the transformational potential of shifting the process of learning with technology, which is often called a return on education (ROE) or value of investment. It was largely important for our DALI initiative to lay out a plan acknowledging that ROE requires a fundamental shift in teaching. We realized many of our outcomes would be nonstandard measures of success, such as digital literacy, equity in learning opportunities, and justice in access.

Since 2014, LPS has pursued its Connected Learning for the Achievement of Students and Staff (CLASS) technology plan, which embraces technology as a means to establish, explore, and enhance connections in support of learning. The goals of the LPS CLASS plan include:

  • Student Learning: Improve learning for all students through engaging experiences that embed technology across all curricular areas.
  • Effective Teaching: All educators embed technology in their daily practice to facilitate high levels of student engagement and learning.
  • Support for Teaching and Learning: Technology is routinely used to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of administrative and instructional processes.
  • Resources for Teaching and Learning: Align the deployment of sustainable resources with the district’s vision for student learning—supported and accelerated by technology.

The CLASS plan looks to measure ROE in areas such as digital literacy and citizenship, increased learner engagement, the development of inquiry-based learning, and engaging students via technology in their own academic progress.

Qualitative measurements beyond math or reading scores may attempt to measure return on education, but many outcomes must be measured with ancillary or quantitative data. For example, we combine quantitative data on device and application use from FileWave with qualitative feedback from staff, students, and parents to ensure our device choice is meeting our goals. We also look to in-class polling, attendance rates, and course enrollment to help assess our engagement goals and progress toward reducing the opportunity gap.

Empowering Students and Teachers With Self-Service

We know that people often focus on the devices during a digital conversion, but there are many pieces to support learning, productivity, and management of these devices. We want to ensure that we support effective instruction by purposefully reviewing and updating relevant, engaging, and viable curriculum resources. Equally as important, we needed to find a way to make it easy for students and teachers to access these resources with little to no interaction with our team.

Rather than preload every device with applications, which is neither cost-effective nor practical, we first set up each grade with the applications we know they will need. This is a seamless part of our deployment process—something we don’t need to manage for each device. For applications or content that may be needed only by some, we maintain a self-service portal where we provide vetted and properly configured tools for staff to download. Supported via our device-management platform, this solution has minimized a common drain on IT time (application requests), empowered our professional staff, and reduced application sprawl that lands us in “app traps.”

Efficiency Gains as a Measure of Success

LPS is committed to providing sufficient human resources to maintain the operational and functional integrity of hardware and software systems. We also want to ensure we support, train, and develop staff so that district-​supplied digital resources can be leveraged to extend the reach of instruction, enhance access to data, and expand learning opportunities.

Providing applications via self-​service is one of the ways we economize, but we also focus on efficiency gains in the management of such a large fleet of devices. We have a single point of contact for managing the entire device life cycle—from rollout and remediation to end of life—which has been critical for our teachers and staff. We’ve also made significant gains with application self-healing and remote remediation.

The mission of our computing services department is not about technology—it’s about making connections. Our endpoint management tool is an integral part of that, allowing us to garner critical information about devices and assist those requesting help. With the ability to remotely log in to devices, we’re able to quickly determine whether they’re malfunctioning or we need to provide just-in-time user training. In a district of our size, simply reporting on devices to meet compliance and state requirements would be a challenge without the technology we have on board. Our commitment to ensure students, educators, and administrators all achieve desired outcomes through effective device management guides our approach to our device program—from planning and deployment to remediation and refresh.

Kirk Langer is the chief technology officer for Lincoln Public Schools in Lincoln, NE.