How one state’s free tech project is modernizing learning and leadership

New Hampshire districts are getting three potentially transformative teaching tools at no cost for five years.

How would you like to receive a free, potentially transformative suite of ed-tech platforms to modernize instruction and administration in your schools? If you’re a CIO or superintendent in New Hampshire, this offer is on the table from, a partnership between the state and the University of New Hampshire.

Districts that join the project will receive–at no cost for five years–three substantial teaching-and-learning tech tools–Canvas’ learning management system, Kaltura’s video platform, and Zoom. Just as importantly, the initiative is also providing the professional development that will help educators adopt a unified LMS pre-loaded with content as they work to improve student outcomes, says Andrew Kelley, the director of iLearnNH. “This is not just a COVID solution, it is way deeper than that in terms of technology,” Kelley says. “We have to think about students’ futures, not our past.”

The initial goal of the project, which is supported by grants from New Hampshire’s COVID relief funds and the University of New Hampshire, is to guide districts in installing the Canvas LMS to replace the less comprehensive systems some schools adopted to manage the virtual learning required by the pandemic. Some of those systems, for instance, rely on students visiting several sites and teachers sharing hyperlinks that can break or fail, Kelley says.

These platforms will allow educators to re-envision collaborative problem-solving, which was disrupted when COVID’s social-distancing needs prevented even in-person students from working together. It forced teachers to return to the traditional but increasingly outdated rows of students sitting at desks while working on individual assignments. The LMS allows students and teachers to easily share documents and videos digitally. “The collaboration is different but it’s still collaborating, it’s still problem-solving,” Kelley says.

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An LMS can also let teachers customize for the different ways students learn. For instance, many students like to read closed captions when they listen to narrations of texts. But the switch to an LMS is not a simple, overnight installation. Kelley says his biggest challenge is convincing administrators that they need a comprehensive–and more complex–system. To sway district leaders, he will urge them to list some of their ed-tech challenges–such as editing PDF files or blocking ads on YouTube–and then show them how iLearnNH’s ed-tech suite can solve them as a virtual one-stop shop for teachers and students.

“The argument is, the more students get used to what an LMS does, the easier it will be to organize teaching and learning in general,” Kelley says. “They may not think they need something this intricate for the day-to-day, but for strategic planning and other systems, it’s going to solve a lot more problems over the next few years than they realize.”

A high-powered LMS also allows teachers to create and share learning modules and assessments with their colleagues, meaning educators aren’t continuously forced to create their own digital lessons. The state has also embedded content from Discovery Education into the LMS as more educators shift away from hard-copy textbooks. The video platform, Kaltura, allows teachers, for instance, to cultivate YouTube videos by adding closed captions and eliminating ads. Kaltura also lets teachers embed questions into videos and track how long students are watching.

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“When a student goes on the LMS, it all looks uniform,” Kelley says. “And if a student changes districts, it becomes a seamless system, and that’s our ultimate goal.”

Another roadblock–and this won’t surprise CIOs or other administrators–is change management. Even after the disruptions of the pandemic–or perhaps because of them–some educators are longing for the old days before COVID forced schools to embrace ed-tech for good. The project is relying not on a train-the-trainer model but rather on recruiting more adventurous teacher ambassadors to pilot the LMS and then convince their colleagues of its potential to help improve their practice.

The LMS won’t be free forever. But Kelly suggests that theiLearnNH platform, and the content it contains, can replace other ed-tech that teachers have abandoned or that districts will no longer have to use–or pay for. “It’s not how you pay for it in five years, it’s what does it replace in five years–are you saving money in other places?” Kelley says. “It can be a hard sell to get some districts to look ahead five years.”



Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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