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Steve Langford is currently heading the Beaverton School District as the Chief Information Officer, catering to about 40,000 students and their families. He has served in several technology leadership roles over the past 20 years, both in K-12 and higher education institutions, along with being the current Board Chair for the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and a Board Member for the Association for Computer Professionals in Education (ACPE). Langford started his journey in higher education with UC Davis when the internet was in early stages of development. Over the years, he has seen infrastructure and education architecture evolve and modify significantly. He finds himself fortunate to be a part and a facilitator of change both in the way students learn and how education is imparted.
In conversation with Education Technology Insights magazine, Langford sheds some light on how the education landscape has evolved over the years with a specific focus on the future of the teaching-learning process in the post-pandemic world.
What are some of the major recent trends within the Ed-tech space?
The education space has probably evolved three-fold. First and foremost, there has been a significant shift in how we communicate with students, parents, and one another. Technology has revolutionized the way people communicate with each other in the teaching-learning stage as well as the administration side of things. There has been an almost instantaneous shift in global communication, which has, in turn, impacted the way people work and learn today. The second most important aspect that goes hand-in-hand with communication is collaboration. With the growing adoption of various tools, schools can easily access robust collaboration solutions at their fingertips, which was previously the case. Finally, there is tremendous stress on automation. Technology has been a strong accelerator of learning and including automation modules within business functions to an extent where people can attain new and higher orders of work.
What impact did the COVID-19 pandemic have on the school districts, especially in terms of the Beaverton School District?
Beaverton School District presently serves 40,000 students and their families, and March 2020 witnessed an almost overnight transition of both our schooling and business functions due to the pandemic. We had to gear up and move all our operations to remote work environments. In doing so, technology adoption had a tremendous impact on making this shift. For instance, we had to ensure that 5000 of our staff members have the right technology set up at their homes to carry out their job roles efficiently. We also had to take up the responsibility to train them appropriately on using a virtual private network to enable secure communication between the applications they needed. Suddenly, their phone systems shifted from physical office phones to an application installed on their laptops and PCs, which also required some amount of training to get used to. In addition, we had to make sure students too had devices at home with proper connectivity to continue their learning, which was quite the case for teachers as well. The pandemic propelled us to adopt technology extensively and ensure its appropriate usage to ultimately maintain the teaching-learning continuum.
What does the education space look like in the ‘new normal’ world?
When it comes to remodeling the education system according to the new norms of the post-pandemic era, we at Beaverton have been doing a lot of work in that regard. We, in a way, resist the idea of going back to normal as that didn’t seem to serve all the students equally; it did not consider the ability of technology to impact our work positively. Instead, our outlook is that we are going forward with what we have learned over the past year by putting together a future of work-study. For instance, in our IT department, we took people through several discussions about how workflow and operations should be permanently based on the lessons we learned during the pandemic. That is a unique approach that K-12 school systems should adopt. We have also implemented a telework policy in collaboration with the HR department and our associations. This will allow staff to work remotely for jobs where remote work is a possibility.
Apart from this, another exciting outcome directly conjoined with the teaching-learning experience is the introduction and use of new tools and applications, which were otherwise absent prior to the pandemic. In remote work environments, teachers, administrators, and students had to adopt a suitable suite of applications to resolve the issue around seamless communication and connectivity with each other. As a result, there was a boom in ed-tech tool usage in every school district, which allowed teachers to innovate their practice and engage students effectively.
Despite the vast contribution of technology in enhancing the education methodologies, there was a growing challenge for students and parents around the use of different tools by teachers, which proved to be confusing and complex. In essence, it was vital for schools to go beyond siloed, multiple applications and spend more time on software governance. There was a need to have some common applications across the school districts to reduce the number of applications students and parents had to sign into to get information while not killing innovation. It is really about providing a sweet spot of software governance and the ability for new ideas and applications to conjoin together to form a holistic teaching-learning experience.
What would be your advice to a potential CIO in the Ed-tech space?
Working in the ed-tech space presents us with some unique opportunities of becoming technology professionals and understand the technology portfolio and architecture. But it is not possible to gain that understanding in isolation. For us, it is important to spend a lot of time with our IT department to provide opportunities for not just understanding the IT operations but also how it fits and supports the educational mission and business functions of a large organization. In working within IT in the context of the education and business environment of K-12 school systems, the staff members can actually understand the payroll and get the chance to speak among each other, brainstorm ways in which technology can be leveraged, and work more efficiently toward a collective goal.