By NEIL ZOLOT

NORTH READING — Digital Learning Director Daniel Downs and Assistant Network Administrator Dave Barber are helping students, teachers and other staff members integrate internet learning tools and maintain their devices.

“We focus on supporting the day-to-day needs of students and staff to provide the most seamless experience for students and educators during their day,” Downs told the School Committee at their meeting on Monday, February 26.

The use of internet tools or artificial intelligence (AI) by teachers is increasing locally, statewide and nationally. “It’s a tool to improve the work flow,” Downs believes. “It’s an important goal to get them involved with the content. I’m encouraging educators to explore its use, but explore carefully. A big piece of training will be getting people to be critical.”

AI can be used to help teachers teach and form lesson plans. “AI will give you a ton of information,” Downs explained. “It will make its way into everyday education, but needs to be adopted thoughtfully. I’m encouraging educators to use it properly and push prompts forward, learn how it helps design information-based inquiries and not allow it to create a flat lesson. I’d hate to see a teacher using it and not understanding it.”

“We don’t want people going into the Wild West without some guidance,” Superintendent Dr. Patrick Daly added.

A Help Desk is located in the Middle/High School Media Center. “Being able to have centralized support has been beautiful,” Downs feels.

“It’s a great place where we’re able to centralize everything,” Barber agreed.

The Help Desk enables them to maintain and service thousands of devices ranging from Chromebooks, laptop computers, and projection devices, among other things. Between 50 and 75 students and teachers visit every day for help with malfunctions, charging or to borrow a device because theirs is not charged or was left at home. “It’s a constant flow, although there are more people in the morning,” Barber reported.

Some problems are simple. Students and teachers may not know how to activate certain functions on a Chromebook or laptop or get sound during projections. Help Desk personnel often go to classrooms to provide the assistance needed.

Unfortunately, many devices are damaged from being dropped, mostly by students but by staff as well. Some devices can be adjusted or repaired in-house, but others need to be sent out for repair, which can take months in severe cases. “That’s why we have such a large loaner fleet,” Barber said. He also encouraged families to get insurance.

Digital Learning and Help Desk staff also help students and teachers entering or leaving the school system.

“You’re great, but how does a student know you’re great?” School Committee member Noelle Rudloff asked. “Whose responsibility is it to educate students [on] how to access applications?”

Barber answered that new students “often come in with someone from Guidance. We ask if they’ve used their devices before and I generally direct them to a digital specialist who is also a teacher. I’m not a teacher so I have a different perspective.”

“These are positions we can’t live without,” Daly told the committee, referring to Downs, Barber and the other Digital Learning Department staff members.