State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler announced Monday that North Dakota school districts will have free access to software that allows students, teachers, and families to have simple, quick and easy access to all their online classroom learning tools.
The system, called ClassLink, provides students a single access point for the school’s education software applications, file storage options, and their homework and grades by using a single user identification and password on any device, from a school desktop computer to a student’s smartphone app or tablet.
Many North Dakota students must currently use multiple user IDs and passwords in different classes to get into separate software programs. These are often written on pieces of paper -- which poses a security risk -- or forgotten, which can require a classroom teacher or IT professional to step in to help.
“This will make it easier, faster, more convenient, and more secure for students and their families to use classroom technology,” Baesler said. “This will mean less stress and wasted time for students and their teachers in the classroom and at home.”
Baesler made the announcement Monday at the opening of IgniteND, a three-day conference at Bismarck State College that will focus on computer science and cybersecurity instruction in North Dakota’s K-12 schools. The ClassLink project is a partnership of the Department of Public Instruction and EduTech, which is part of North Dakota’s Information Technology agency (NDIT).
The 2021 Legislature directed Baesler to work with North Dakota’s K-12 Education Coordination Council, NDIT, and workforce development stakeholders to create a plan for integrating computer science and cybersecurity into North Dakota’s elementary, middle and high schools. Baesler’s report on that plan is due to the Legislature’s interim Education Policy Committee in September.
In addition to its “single sign-on” feature, the ClassLink software helps school administrators ensure a student’s identity and the online materials to which students should have access, Baesler said. It strengthens computer security, protects servers and networks, and helps to safeguard sensitive data, including private student information.
The system can be configured to allow students’ families to check their student’s progress, such as their grades and homework.
Administrators may also use the program to follow which learning tools are popular with students. The information will be available by class, grade, building, and even individual student. Application usage can be tracked in the evenings, weekends, and even during the summer, Baesler said.
“It doesn’t make sense to spend money on educational tools if students aren’t using them,” Baesler said. “This system lets students, teachers, administrators, and families identify what education supports are useful. It helps us be better stewards of our school technology dollars.”
The Department of Public Instruction is providing a $90,000 grant to NDIT to implement the project using federal COVID-19 response funds. School districts that want to acquire the ClassLink software will be able to do so at no cost to them.
“ClassLink will revolutionize the way North Dakota students use technology,” said Shawn Riley, the state’s chief information officer and the top administrator at NDIT. “Teachers and students will finally have a centralized place to access digital resources, seeing all edtech tools in one place. ClassLink gives students and teachers access to 21st Century technology.”
Some North Dakota school districts, including Dickinson, Williston, and Jamestown, already use ClassLink. Williston has used it for at least two years, said Matthew Bartenhagen, the chief technology officer for Williston Basin School District No. 7. It is called Coyonet, after the school’s Coyotes athletics nickname, and school laptops are programmed to display it when they are turned on, along with links to software programs the student uses.
“This is a one-stop-shop for all of the bookmarks a student needs,” said Courtney Voorheis, the Williston district’s director of data security. The software’s LaunchPad feature includes icons for applications a student frequently uses, which allows them easy access, she said.
Until the district started using the software, managing the various user IDs and passwords meant that students, teachers and staff were “all over the place,” Voorheis said. She said requests for technical help were a frequent, daily occurrence, but now, “once they set (their user ID and password), essentially, they can forget it.”