How Montana’s largest school district manages an effective technology implementation program to support student learning
Billings Public Schools is the largest school district in Montana, supporting more than 16,800 students across 33 schools. With the support of technology levies, we have invested $1 million into new technology for both the high school and elementary levels.
Over time, Billings Public Schools accumulated a complex assortment of devices, including 16,000 Chromebooks, 7,000 Apple iPads, 3,000 Macs, and 2,000 Windows devices. These devices are used to support a STEM program that is leveraged by every student at every school. However, as the number and complexity of devices increased, the number of IT personnel to support those devices remained the same, decreasing our ability to effectively leverage this new technology.
Improving our edtech management
As we began investing year-over-year in our technology, it became increasingly difficult to measure the effectiveness of technology on any level. Although we believed we had a comprehensive enterprise management platform for managing our Apple and Windows devices, we often were forced to use workarounds that required us to manually touch each device, resulting in unmanaged devices. Struggling with increasing costs and decreasing service levels, we decided to reassess our approach to technology integration.
We operate with a mission to “inspire, educate, and empower students to be responsible and innovative global citizens who achieve their full potential.” It is important to us that our technology integration reflects this mission, allowing us to assess return on education (RoE) for intangible outcomes such as digital equity, student engagement, and the privacy and security of our students.
Visibility is an important consideration when it comes to supporting return on education. At surface level, we turned to FileWave for a more comprehensive visibility of the devices in use across our district. However, we’ve gained so much more from partnering with the multiplatform endpoint management provider.
Before we switched to FileWave, it was hard for us to assess the inequalities across our district. Students in one school would have more technology and access to it than students in others. We didn’t have the IT staff numbers in the building to know exactly what was in there, or if each device had all the software it needed to be effective.
During the migration to FileWave, we uncovered devices that should have been phased out years ago. Now that we have the support of our technology levies and the insight from FileWave, we’re working to standardize devices to make sure all students in the district have equal opportunity to devices and apps to support their learning.
Improved device flexibility
We have structured our devices by school and classroom with SmartGroups that help us provide a seamless experience for some of our specialized teachers who float from location to location. For example, with FileWave we can ensure that our band teacher will always have access to the internet or the printer without having to manually set up those services in each location. As we look to replace the teachers’ computers next year, we know it will take only a day or two to roll them out, which is very different from our pre-FileWave days.
Saving time with streamlined workflows
We’ve been able to streamline our device-management workflows—from deployment and patching to supplying a whole classroom of devices with the software they need for their next lesson. Without this level of multi-platform endpoint management, we would easily need four to six more computer techs in our district. A 4,000-device high school should be unmanageable for a single tech, but that’s the kind of support we’re able to provide with FileWave.
Managing student devices
At the classroom level, we have made great strides in supporting student learning. Using profile-based permissions, we can now set up our iPads so that students can’t delete required apps from their devices. Our students can also be locked into the required apps for their classes to ensure they stay focused on their work.
As we all know, technology can have a positive, significant impact on student learning, but only if teachers can control the technology—not the other way around. With the support of our dedicated technology integration specialists for the district, we’ve been working with our educators to build the pedagogical basis for our tech. We now feel like we’re making strides on integrating technology in meaningful ways for our students and teachers.