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Coby Culbertson - Tech Learning

Coby Culbertson

Get up to speed on the tech happenings in Western Dubque, Iowa.
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Name: Coby Culbertson
Age
: 36
Title
: Director of Technology, 11 years
District
: Western Dubuque Community School District

Tell us some of your big-picture tech goals for the year.

Part of the technology roadmap we have in place for our district is to take virtualization to the next level for our faculty and staff. While we have virtualized a large majority of our back-end services like our network services the next logical step would be addressing the end-user or client side. We have been exploring the whole virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and while that has warranted discussion in our system we have felt that there is still much to do with not only product maturity but also the sizable investment that needs to take place on the back-end infrastructure meaning servers, storage, switching, etc. Instead of looking at virtualizing the desktop in its entirety, we are strongly considering application virtualization which we believe we would be able to get a better value for our investment and it would be less invasive and taxing to our current infrastructure. We have currently decided on Citrix to help with this initiative and we hope to have a proof in concept (POC) up and running before the year-end closing of the 2010-2011 school year.

Another major initiative for our district is rollout and migration of Active Directory. We are in the process of migrating all of our systems (File and Print, Unified Communications, etc.) from Novell’s eDirectory and Netware servers in favor of Microsoft’s Active Directory and Windows server platform. Also in conjunction with the AD migration and implementation, we are also looking at doing a desktop refresh and moving our client computers from Windows XP to Windows 7 throughout the school system. This has really posed itself as a challenging task for our department but when the dust clears we believe this a beneficial and just move.

Finally, we are hoping to implement and utilize Microsoft’s Live@Edu or soon to be rebranded Office 365 for Education. While we explored both Google Apps for Education and Live@Edu, we believe that with our current investment of Microsoft’s technology it was logical decision for us to embrace Live@Edu. This is not to say Google Apps for Education is not a favorable solution; we just feel the Live@Edu will better complement the commitments we are making in the district. Faculty and staff are free to use Google Apps and have done so in the past and I suspect will continue to do so even after the Office 365 for Education rollout is complete.

What tech accomplishments are you most proud of?

There are a few accomplishments that come to mind that I am most proud of. The first would be the incorporation of our district wide area network (WAN). While that may sound trivial to some readers, the Western Dubuque School District is the largest district geographically (555 square miles) in the State of Iowa with our attendance centers being in different towns. This was a large hurdle to overcome as our district has attendance centers in towns that are miles apart from each other and different telecommunication providers serviced these areas posing another challenge crossing into other lattas. We ended up parenting with wireless providers and linked many of our facilities via wireless backhaul links between the schools which has been a much needed improvement to how we operate in our district.

Secondly, we implemented an in-house IP telephony and unified communications system utilizing Cisco hardware and Microsoft Exchange software. Prior to this system being deployed district-wide many of our services were fragmented and not able to utilize the potential of technology available. Now staff are able to check their e-mail, calendar, tasks, and such both on a traditional computer or via the phone. Also, this enables the district to marginalize our dependence on long distance calls not only outside the district but also internally between buildings as well.

Finally, the last technical implementation I am most proud of is starting to adhere to our concept of the “active and connected classroom” in our schools. This year alone we have retrofitted over 100 classrooms district-wide to be equipped with interactive whiteboards (IWB) for faculty and students to use. It is truly a remarkable experience to walk in a classroom and see the IWB the focus of instruction that not only makes the class more dynamic but engages our students. We made a commitment about two years ago that we want all classrooms to have this technology available and while we have much more to do, we have made a sizeable investment to make this a reality for many of our classrooms. To reaffirm this decision, it was interesting to note that in the eighth annual PBS and Grunwald Associates LLC teacher survey on media and technology, interactive whiteboards top teachers’ wish lists for technology that they believe they need, but that is not currently available to them. We at Western Dubuque Schools are narrowing that gap of having these units installed and hope to continue to do so.

Are you planning to let students BYOD? If so, when?

While not strongly encouraged, students can bring their own devices and connect to our internal wireless and are then allowed filtered access. I am not so sold on the whole concept of bring your own device for a couple of reasons and that is why we are not really encouraging this. Many individuals see the BYOD model as the next phase in a 1:1 initiative and while that certainly maybe the case, I think we are a few years away from that model being sustainable in schools. From a pure technical standpoint, I believe that the technology in general has matured enough to support a BYOD model; I believe the educational and socio-economic factors are what hinders or further complicates the initiative. If you think about it, from an instructor’s point of view, I think you would be hard pressed to find a teacher who believes it would be easy to get all kids on task if they have a cell phone, iPad, laptop, or some other device. It is true more often than not all the students would be able to accomplish the task at hand but I think it would be a classroom management headache for the teacher to help students if they run into problems on their particular device.

In addition to the classroom management dilemma, what about a family of four who have children in buildings that support this model? Many families do not have that many devices for all their children in the household and now there is a push by their kids to each have an iPad, laptop, netbook, etc. Sure, if they cannot afford these devices for the students they can borrow an item from the school, but then there is whole culture in our schools of the students with the haves and the have nots.

Maybe in years to come this will become a moot point (I certainly hope it does) but currently I don’t see this as a viable solution to implement district-wide and embrace.

Traditional or online textbooks?

Traditional. While some publishers provide their materials digitally, the publisher’s current model more often than not requires purchases of traditional textbooks be made to get the online or digital content. Until that barrier is overcome with the publishers, I don’t see much changing.

Can your students/teachers use Facebook, MySpace, or other Web 2.0 tools?

Currently some Web 2.0 tools are available to staff and students; one that comes to mind is YouTube. There is a wealth of educational material on YouTube and we have seen this service utilized in our schools. On the social networking front, we currently block access to these sites to be in compliance with CIPA requirements and such. The jury is still out on these sites and maybe someday the district stance may change but with the increase of cyberbullying and such, the debate continues.

Professional development: face to face, online, or blended?

We still host a lot of face to face professional development sessions in the district; however, as more avenues arise, I can see a more blended environment in the future.

What are some of your guilty pleasures?

Besides working too much? Sometime having a tireless work ethic is a curse as much as it is a benefit…but I digress. I like to spend time with my wife and children as much as I can. I also really enjoy going to movies and going out to dinner from time to time.

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