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Monday, April 14, 2014

Keeping Student Data Private

In a world of cloud services, mobile computing, and one click data sharing, keeping student and employee data private is becoming increasingly difficult.

Yours truly and and some great CTO's from around the United States shared their thoughts on this topic with T.H.E. Journal recently.

Read the thoughts at

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Texas Calculator Debate

Over Spring Break in Texas, the Austin American Statesman published an article about Texas school districts being upset that they were going to have to spend $100 a calculator for eighth grade students taking the state math assessment, as required by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The gist of several districts' concerns is that they would rather spend the $100 on a more versatile device for students' learning than a calculator that will one be used only for math. And many districts already have tablet 1:1 initiatives where both Apples' App store and Google's Play store have many free or low-cost graphing calculator apps. Why should these districts have to spend $100 more per device, especially given that the state issued the calculator mandate without any funding to support it? Fast forward to March 20 and the TEA's Commissioner of Education, Michael Williams, issued a press release allowing districts to pilot students using graphing calculator apps on tablets on a pilot basis. This was a welcome move for districts not wanting to spend money on calculators when they already have multifunction tablets that already can host a calculator app. Notably missing from the announcement was allowing other devices to be used for testing, such as laptops or Chromebooks, which also have graphing calculator apps. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see a state agency trying to help districts use their funds for tools that best match students' needs. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How districts are feeding the mobile app beast?

I forgot to post this article on the Judson ISD Connect! mobile app that was done by Edtech magazine in October 2013.

Check out the article at:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I am very humbled and honored that the Texas K-12 CTO Council (the Texas state chapter of CoSN) presented me an award as the Grace Hopper Texas CTO of the Year at their Winter Meeting in February.

Without the incredible support and hard work of my amazing staff, this would not have been at all possible.  My staff is an incredibly hard working talented group of professionals that does amazing things each and every day.

The other group I need to thank are all the amazing CTOs and Technology Directors around the state who are part of the Texas K-12 CTO Council.  This group of individuals exemplifies hard work, collegiality, and is a group that makes each and every member better at being leaders.

More info at Judson ISD: 

Texas K-12 CTO of the Year

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Where is the app integration and innovation in K-12?

I came back from TCEA, underwhelmed, not by the myriad of great presenters, but by vendor product offerings.  Where were the companies transforming education and interconnecting systems so that educators can leverage multiple platforms as needed to help provide a better more integrated learning experience?  Most of what I saw was just incremental improvements of existing products.  While there were some standouts, I was not wowed.  

I came home to beautiful warm weather over the weekend and decided to
work off too many conference calories by exercising.  I thought about how technology has transformed fitness for me in the past couple of years and it struck me that other industries are embracing interconnected app and data ecosystems much faster than K-12 Education.  I use an app called MyFitnessPal to track weight, calories, exercise and more.  I chose this app mainly because of its very robust third party integration.  It integrates with Endomondo, which I use to track running, walking, and cycling. So I donned my bluetooth headset, which allowed me to play cloud streamed Spotify music, while I biked many miles be tracked by GPS on Endomondo. At the end of the ride my ride data was automagically synced from Endomondo to MyFitnessPal, allowing me a seamless experience that made working out a less taxing more enjoyable experience.  That is what is needed in education. We need products that integrate easily together and provide students and staff enjoyable and powerful educational experiences.  

We are seeing more companies do this. Products such as Google Apps for Education, Schoology, and Edmodo, just to name a few are working on app ecosystems so staff and students can easily integrate apps and data for a seamless and more productive learning experience.  We need a lot less siloed products that are hard to manage and do not share data and functions with other apps or systems.  Am I wishing for too much, or do our students deserve this?

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

Monday, January 20, 2014

Wearable technology: Coming to a classroom near you

Carl Hooker rightly noted that wearable and connected technologies were the standout of the Consumer Electronics Show. I don't doubt the days of my fridge knowing I'm low on milk and letting my grocery store know to put it on my order are not that far away. I’m perfectly fine with my fridge restocking itself.
The technology of connected everything is here. Proof enough is that it's such a beautiful day here in Texas that I can't be bothered to go inside and find my laptop, so I am writing this on my iPhone on 75 degree Texas January afternoon using Google Drive. We are very connected and classrooms are increasingly more so everyday.
So my question Carl Hooker correct in saying wearable technology is coming to classrooms?  My opinion is that for a while most teachers will be terrified of students wearing items like EyeTap or Google Glass. Is Billy looking up facts, recording me, or being inappropriate?  But then just a few years ago wasn't the idea of cell phones in classrooms thought to be crazy by most?  Wearable and connected technologies will certainly cause an uproar at times. Students will get in trouble. Innovators and us nerds will find great educational uses. And undoubtedly we will have to craft new policies, many of which will probably be too draconian and reactionary at the outset. What do you think the future holds for education and wearable technologies?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

From zero to working server in ten minutes – Trying out managed hosting

In an earlier blog I mentioned my requirements for a great help desk for our organization.   After a lengthy search, trial, and selection process, a winner was picked.  As it turned out, while the help desk used standard software that we support, it used a database version that we did not yet have running in our organization.  We were not able to upgrade our current databases, because other vendors’ systems required older database versions.
We talked about options such as starting another database server, and our help desk vendor mentioned that they had a lot of customers starting to run their software in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.  Like many districts, while we have had many cloud based software applications, we had never tried managed hosting, which has gained a huge amount of traction in recent years, with a huge number of players , now increasingly dominated by heavyweights such as Rackspace, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Verizon, and IBM. 

Managed hosting is akin to renting a server, rather than buying it.  The customer gets to choose the operating system and the software stack that goes on top.  The customer typically will pay based on the software chosen, the size of the hardware needed and more.  Other charges may include additional charges for bandwidth, storage, monitoring, support, and security services.  Much like a rental of anything else, the customer has control over how long they want it, from minutes to years.  It is truly a pay as you consume commodity.  The servers are housed in the managed hosting provider’s data center, so the customer never has to worry about the plethora of mundane non-mission critical tasks that have been traditionally associated with the acquisition, installation, maintenance, and decommissioning of servers.

The traditional procurement and setup of servers in schools districts and other institutions can traditionally takes weeks, if not months.  All of the following are tasks that can be eliminated with managed hosting, so time to server spin up can be slashed:

1.       Quoting of hardware.
2.       High up front capital costs.
3.       Data center space.
4.       Air-conditioning.
5.       Power.
6.       UPS and generators.
7.       Racks.
8.       Purchase orders.
9.       Receiving and inventory of equipment.
10.   Physical setup of equipment.
11.   Operating system and software installation.
12.   Switch ports.
13.   SAN space.

I am sure there are many things I left of the list, but the point is we saved a large amount of upfront costs and saved time for our already overburdened staff.

In our case our help desk vendor had an image for us to spin up our server off of in the AWS cloud. We literally went from no server to running application server in about ten minutes.  It was incredible and makes me inclined to think that we will be running many more servers this way in the coming years.  The huge capital costs and efforts required to maintain data centers may not be sustainable when our money could be better spent on projects that benefit student learning.  While our need for servers is not likely to lessen, the cheaper and faster bandwidth becomes, the motivation for districts to move to managed hosting will increase.

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