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Friday, November 14, 2014

Dell World 2014 Report

Michael Dell and company judging ed tech startups at the Pitch Slam at Dell World 2014
Last week I had the opportunity to attend Dell World 2014, an event that showcased Dell’s commitment to its education customers and continued support of education innovation. This was especially evident in Dell’s sponsorship of the “Pitch Slam,” where three chosen edtech startups pitched products to the judges, headed by Michael Dell. The three products were very different, but all had lots of potential to be used across K-12:
·        BeeLine Reader helps readers use color grading of words to make it easy to follow sentences. 

·        EduCanon helps teachers create videos to flip their classrooms. The product includes an embedded check for understanding, which students must complete before continuing on with the video, giving teachers a great formative assessment dashboard.

·        PenPal Schools, which won the Dell Pitch Slam, enables students from different parts of the world to write and learn together. The students learn new languages and cultures in a safe and secure online system, which includes pre-made assignments that make it easy for teachers to get their classes writing to peers across the world.

Overall, this and other events at Dell World 2014 confirmed that the company is in the education market for the long haul.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Buying buses without drivers - and computers without support

Our local group of K-12 technology leaders shared some interesting numbers this past week about how many devices each one of their technicians usually supports. The numbers were very telling, especially when looked at in the light of the increasing spend on educational technology, which topped out at over $13 billion this past year, up over 11% from the past year.  Several districts shared that their technicians were now supporting between 1,100 and 1,300 devices each.  By any measure, this is a daunting workload for one person. One district shared that its workload for each technician was more than 1,900 devices. This monumental workload is only being increased as schools increasingly turn to technology for almost all back office functions and instructional use. 
Can we really expect that teachers and students are getting the attention they need and work-order turnaround times they deserve, when they rely so heavily on technology? In what other industry should a professional have to wait a week to have his or her technology operational again? Yet in K-12 this happens all the time, as schools buy more software and hardware, yet fail to fund the personnel needed to ensure high availability and quick repair times. 
Many technology departments have even faced personnel cuts, as budgets have been tightened. Is this really setting K-12 up for success in implementing technology, or is this a recipe for disaster? What district would add 100 buses to its fleet without more mechanics and bus drivers? Of course this would not be done, as it is plainly ridiculous. Nonetheless, districts do this with technology every day, without assessing the real impact on teachers and students of having poorly supported technology.

                    This blog entry is cross posted with the great folks at SchoolCIO

Monday, August 18, 2014

Getting out of the teaching rut!

With any job it’s easy to eventually find oneself in a rut, doing things the same way over and over. I know back when I was teaching, sometimes the pressures of grading, paperwork, and the real world meant that I didn’t try to teach a lesson differently or try something new with my students. Maybe I blamed it on the fact that I had four class preps, but no matter what the reason, it was always very rewarding to take time to try a new innovative lesson and see it work very well in the classroom.
As we start a new school year, there is no better time for teachers to investigate something new. And whether it is something truly transformative to teaching, or maybe just a tool to make teaching a little more efficient, any improvement is a step in the right direction.
Maybe a simple tool to motivate good student behavior is what is needed; then try ClassDojo. Or maybe increasing communication with students and parents is a pressing need. Tools like Remind or Class Messenger will help improve communication.
Want students to be more involved in class? Then give Socrative or ExitTicket a try. Is it time to find a new way to curate and synthesize web content for students or for students to do so as they learn? Then head on over and try super simple Blendspace or LessonPaths.
Sometimes it’s much easier to take baby steps to get out of the rut, rather than trying to climb the ladder and change everything at once. So make a new school year resolution for you or your staff to take a baby step or two on your path of improvement. For more info on these tools, view my blog entry and presentation about them.

                This blog entry is cross posted with the great folks at SchoolCIO

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Some tools to bring new life to your classroom

If your classroom is looking a bit too similar to this:

Image used with blog permission from

Then it's time to try something different.  Check out the recommendations in the presentation below.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The e-rate overhaul

As I vacationed last week, I curiously watched the news to see if the overhaul of the e-rate program would pass. While there was widespread agreement that the program needed to change, there was less agreement about how it should change. The FCC commissioners passed the changes with a whopping 3-2 vote. It is amazing and terrifying at the same time that five people—strike that, three people—can have so much authority to drastically change one of K-12’s largest funding sources. And even scarier is that so much of the money will be dedicated to be spent over two years, without what seems to be a clear path for long-term funding sustainability. Undoubtedly, some companies (i.e., overpriced K-12 web hosting companies, for one) are quaking in their business suits and some are rejoicing (major network equipment providers), while us in K-12 are wondering what happens in five or six years when the thousands of subsidized access points we installed in our schools need to be replaced? 
I applaud the support for technology in education and the acknowledgment that the program needed changing, while I am terrified that it is just a one-time spend with a tenuous plan for ongoing support and sustainability, making it smell more like D.C. politics than true long-term reform. And let’s be clear, many areas cut out of e-rate are costs that schools and districts will still have to bear, so while it helps e-rate provide funding for wireless, schools will have to fund these cut services out of local budgets.

                 This blog entry is cross posted with the great folks at SchoolCIO

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Taming the password beast

What is my password for Google Apps? What is my username for Schoology?  

We all live with the pain of trying to remember usernames and passwords every day and the problem is getting exponentially worse. Schools are adopting applications for staff and students at a record pace, and with every adopted application the username and password pain train grows worse. 
The Clever Login Screen

Now picture our youngest learners, who increasingly have to sign in to access educational resources. For them, remembering user credentials and typing them in correctly can be a time consuming exercise in aggravating frustration. Now multiply this times a classroom full of students, and it’s enough to drive a teacher insane. The amount of instructional time wasted on logging in is immense and there seems to be no end in sight. 

Schools need solutions to the login mess, so they can focus on learning, rather than flushing expensive classroom time down the drain, as students try to get logged in to applications. The fastest moving new entrant to the K-12 market is Clever, which is rapidly expanding their portal based SSO to be the front-end solution for districts to simplify username and password management. Other more complex and versatile systems, like Stoneware webNetwork, can also help schools tame the password beast and get students and staff focused on what really matters. I’m sure we’ll see more of these solutions unveiled at next week’s ISTE conference!

 This blog entry is cross posted with the great folks at SchoolCIO

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The best purchase we have made in recent years – iSupport. Taking help desks to another level

In a previous post I mentioned the need for overworked school IT staff of a top notch help desk system.  I also laid out what my staff and I felt were the major features we needed from a system to help our staff provide better and more efficient service to our customers.

I usually shy away from writing outright product recommendations, but given how great of a product we ended up with, I wanted to be sure and share this with other school districts and any other growing IT department that has needs that go beyond a basic help desk ticketing system.

After many months of requirements gathering, web research, and product demos, we ended up selecting our new service desk, iSupport.  iSupport is only in the business of selling and supporting their awesome help desk offering.  They do  one thing and they do it extremely well.  And lest you think they stole the name from that other “i” company, iSupport has been in the help desk business a very long time and focuses on making a very good product better with every release.

I am not going to get into the feature set of the product – let me just say it is robust and more configurable than almost any product I have ever seen.  There is almost always a way to make this system fit your needs and processes.  And if you can’t figure it out, the BEST tech support I have received is just a phone call away.  If you want to know about features and functions, try visiting their site, requesting a trial, or perusing some of their Youtube videos.

Our implementation of iSupport is not done – we have a great start with incident management, a parts store, parts charging, knowledgebase, end user portal, automated reporting, and several custom incident templates, email notifications, and more.  Next up we are looking to roll out a service catalog and purchasing handbook.  The great part is that we are able to move almost all of our customer interaction right into iSupport, so that they only have one place to go when in need of assistance.  At the end of the day, proving our customers the best service possible is our goal, and iSupport is helping us to do that better.

This blog entry is cross posted with the great folks at SchoolCIO