Slice of Life: What it’s like to get technology ready for a new school year

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 2:52 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Geneva School District 304 computer technician Yvette Ihrig balances new laptops to be delivered to staff members.

GENEVA – The school year might be winding down in May, but that is when Yvette Ihrig is increasing the pace of updating computers in time for Geneva School District 304’s next school year.

As the summer gives way to August and the start of school today in Geneva, Ihrig, a district computer technician, is working like an accountant during tax season.

“My summer is basically getting ready for the next school year,” Ihrig said. “January is when we start planning, May, we are going into production, when decisions [are being made] and budgets are being passed.”

The district has 3,500 computers – 800 of them are new – and they all need new software installed. The older ones need updates, and some need to be customized for teachers’ specific needs. And they all operate on a wireless system.

A decision was made to go to a new operating system, so Ihrig said she had to order a new version of the software so it would be compatible. Ensconced in a small tech lab at Geneva High School, Ihrig has several new laptops plugged in and receiving new programs and settings from the district’s server while she works on one manually.

“I work behind the scenes,” Ihrig said. “I am customizing the settings for a teacher right now. Once I’m done installing all my software and refining all my settings, I then will take his machine. … I will copy a file over to our network, and I will push it out to all these computers.”

It takes eight hours to get one computer customized for one teacher if done manually, she said.

For example, English teachers need different educational software than math teachers, and chemistry teachers need different educational software than music or French teachers, she said. Also required for customizing are printers and wireless projectors. Rather than manually customize each one, she does what is called imaging – setting up a master or template for each department, putting it on the server, and then downloading to each computer.

“We can’t say, ‘Here you go,’ out of the box,” Ihrig said. “There is a lot of background.”

All the new software being installed in the new computers is also being installed in the older computers, Ihrig said, because everything needs to be updated.

So Ihrig shortens the process by copying files that are standard for each group of teachers. And Ihrig said she has to do this for the beginning of every school year.

“And the reason why – let me give you an example: We have a program called Adobe Flash. A new version of that will come out every three months. It’s an upgrade for that software … It never ends,” she said.

Web browsers also change, she said.

“If we don’t upgrade our computers, then it doesn’t work,” Ihrig said. And while the big push to get ready is from May through August, Ihrig said the rest of the school year is spent on maintenance.

“Like an accountant doing taxes, ‘You have this new tax break, or this was amended,’ it’s the same for the computer,” Ihrig said. “If your computer is 5 years old – that’s old for a computer. Five years does not seem like a long time, but from the technology standpoint, it is.”

Teachers who project a lesson from the computer for all students to see also can use the district’s server to save it and use again with the next class, she said. The lesson is marked with a code, so the teacher can retrieve it from the thousands of files saved to the district’s server.

Ihrig said using electronics to preserve lessons and allow teachers to access what they need is reducing the amount of paper and books schools used to require.

“It’s very green,” Ihrig said.

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