State edtech specialist highlights what’s next for Utah broadband push

Rick Gaisford’s interest in the use of technology in education goes well beyond his role as education technology specialist for the Utah State Board of Education. An active member of the State Education Technology Directors Association since it’s founding 15 years ago, Gaisford has always appreciated the opportunity to hear from his counterparts nationally, and influence the discussion on the use of technology in schools.

EdScoop caught up with Gaisford at SETDA’s recent leadership summit to talk about his state’s advances in statewide broadband and education technology applications.

One of his proudest accomplishments, he says, has been the roll out of a statewide master plan that spells out the “essential elements for technology-powered learning. It’s a master plan for how we would like to see technology used in all of the schools throughout Utah,” he says.

“This year, the legislation actually funded the plan, which appropriated $15 million — $10 million of that, ongoing — to begin moving our schools to take advantage of technology. Our goal is to have every school and every district moving forward in our state,” he says.

Utah in many regards has a unique head start, with the Utah Education and Telehealth Network, a statewide broadband network that has been in place for more 20 years.

“They’re the ISP for all the schools and also do all of the E-rate reimbursement and paperwork for schools for all the circuit costs, and that helps to fund the network,” he says. It’s allowed the state to develop an “extensive backbone that ‘s either 10 Gigabit or 100 Gigabit and we have a 1 gigabit circuit to every school in the state. Now we’re working the schools to make sure they have the wireless infrastructure to take advantage of the capacity they have at their schools.”

About 16 to 20 of Utah’s 41 school districts now have some form of one-to-one learning initiatives underway, he says.

Gaisford adds that while mobile devices are an important part of that, the schools have shied away from a bring-your-own-device approach, in favor of selected platforms that each district decides. “We don’t tell them what to use at the state level,” he says.

“BYOD has its advantages …but it’s a bigger challenge for the teacher because now they have to deal with a multiplicity of devices and operating systems and apps,” he says, making it harder to create “a consistent experienced across all of those. That’s a lot of extra work for a teacher to take on.”

Raisford, a former board member of SETDA, says the association’s annual gathering provides a unique window to assess how school systems across the country are adapting. “The innovation has not stopped,” he says, adding that if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s the importance of using technology in ways that “meet our students where they’re at, not with the education system of yesterday.”

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