What does information technology in schools look like today?

More than two years into the pandemic, Adam Kurth, IT director for Iowa City schools, reflects on what has changed

What does information technology in schools look like today?
What does information technology in schools look like today?

Adam Kurth, Iowa City Community School District Director of Technology and Innovation (Photo provided by Iowa City Community School District)

Repaired laptops can be seen in the offices of the Iowa City Community School District in 2020. The district’s IT helpdesk set up a drop-off point for laptop repairs. (The newspaper)

IOWA CITY — The school district’s information technology departments have faced a spate of requests for help as an unprecedented number of students were learning online at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

In one week in 2020, the Iowa City Community School District Helpdesk received 2,100 requests for support as the desk was the first point of contact for many families starting the fall school year. In the past, support requests stayed under 100.

IT staff helped hundreds of families get internet at home, which included either a hotspot or home internet service. Other requests included help with device repairs, account sign-up, and questions about accessing online courses.

More than two years later, the Iowa City Community School District is still seeing a record number of requests to its help desk, said Adam Kurth, the district’s director of technology and innovation. Schools in Iowa City provide Internet access to about 1,450 students, which accounts for about 10 percent of the student body, he said.

The Gazette recently spoke to Kurth about what’s changed—and stayed the same—in information technology in schools since 2020.

Q: Can you look back to the beginning of the pandemic and how your department worked to meet demand?

A: It was an incredibly difficult time. Our demand went through the roof to support people so directly. The type of requests we received were fundamentally different.

We have worked really hard to train our staff to ensure they are able to answer many of these requests directly. We would try to ensure that the people who take the first requests have the tools to resolve them immediately.

I expected that, particularly after the start of the last school year, we would see our demand drop back to something approaching normal pre-pandemic levels. We break records (in number of requests) every quarter, which surprised me. Our fall quarter this year had the highest ticket volume we’ve ever seen.

Q: What do you see for the future of your information department?

A: One thing that is likely to change permanently is the need to support learning beyond the walls of the classroom. This was new to many of us at the beginning of the pandemic, but it will never go away.

Our world is increasingly connected, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean we’ll see a shift to all-digital in the classroom environment. People want more of that personal interaction between students and teachers.

That’s where we’ve seen a backlash from people who want to back away from digitization. We used to use technology in the classroom because it was fun and exciting to use, but it’s not really that fun and exciting anymore. We need to have better reasons when implementing technology in the classroom.

Q: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned over the past two years?

A: It’s really critical that we have the infrastructure in place to support the digital delivery of educational materials. We – along with other districts – have recognized that we need a platform that will serve as an online classroom for anything a teacher wants to post, including assignments. We firmly anchored that in secondary school, but not in elementary school. Doing that was a big boost.

Q: The help desk became the first port of call for many families at the start of the pandemic. How does it look now?

A: With most of our students transitioning back into the classroom, we are less often the first point of contact for them. Our volume of support is really high, but for most families it is easier and more convenient to make a request through their teacher or the school office.

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