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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

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Create Mobile iOS and Android Apps for Your District

Here is an update to my mobile app creation presentation for the The Digital Education andTechnology Exchange

Create Mobile iOS and Android Apps for Your District

Creating Mobile Apps

Monday, May 5, 2014

The mobile app imperative

It's not news that mobile device adoption continues to surge.  Smart phones and tablets are everywhere and the price barriers to adoption have collapsed. Many schools have embraced mobile devices and have adopted tablets or allowed BYOD, or both.  

One area schools are lagging behind in is putting their web content in a format that consumers prefer on those devices.  A visit to most school web sites still shows that the sites themselves are not mobile friendly.

But before jumping off the deep end and telling everyone to make a mobile friendly web site, a close look at some recent statistics is in order.  Techcrunch had 2014 as the year total desktop web users were first outnumbered by mobile web users.  And in K-12 we are already seeing more families where their only Internet access is via a mobile device. But before making your site mobile, consider this key metric from Flurry Analytics.   Their recent data shows that in just once year, mobile device users spend 86 percent of their time in mobile apps daily, versus just 14% on the mobile web. Mobile web use fell 6% in just one year.  

So while appeasing the voracious mobile beast, K-12 districts need to look at their strategy closely. Is a mobile web site good enough? The data says otherwise.  Districts are going to need to seriously look at creating a mobile app, paying a company to do it, or subscribing to one of the increasing number of K-12 mobile app providers.

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

Friday, April 25, 2014

Fix Your Bleeding Heart

Schools are known for being notoriously understaffed in their IT departments. Probably the last area any school IT department considers adding staff to is IT security. Staffing IT security in schools is an afterthought.  But now everyone reading this should be very concerned about online security and needs to take securing their online identities into their own hands. This past week with the revelation of heartbleed, a bug in the widely used Open SSL, used to encrypt and secure thousands of well known web sites, all of us have potentially had many of our passwords compromised. 

 So whether we have school IT security staff or not, it is up to all of us students, staff, and IT to proactively start changing our passwords for affected sites. But it’s not quite that simple.  You must change the password only after the affected site has patched their servers to fix heartbleed.  How do you know which sites are affected and have been patched?  Check this list at CNET.  Or better yet, run a live check on a server yourself at LastPass. This is a good time to start using complex and unique passwords to protect your online identity and to consider using a password manager to remember them all. Stay safe online!


This blog is cross posted at Technology and Learning

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Top tips to make your network more secure

A colleague and I brainstormed a quick list of some ways (many not costly), to help make a school (or other) network more secure, and this is what we came up with.  What would you add?

Make this more secure
1. Setup a separate BYOD guest wireless network and do not allow these devices on your main network.
2. Enable wireless isolation on your wireless networks.
3. Do not allow users to install software on district computers.
4. Consider a network access control solution to secure wired network ports.
5. Consider internal firewalls for high value servers with critical data or at least find a way to restrict network access to these servers.
6. Keep servers and security appliances up to date and patched.
7. Endpoint antivirus and malware security is still critical.
8. Don't forget about educating users.  Active user education is critical.
9. Firewalls, Spam filters, and web filters.  Many of these devices are converging into next-generation combined products, but all of these can help scan for bad web sites, phishing links, viruses, malware and more.
10. Restrict ICMP traffic at the firewall, to limit hackers ability to scan your network.
11. Consider restricting USB drives, or at the very least enforcing malware and virus scanning on these devices.
12. Have good backups of shared drives and servers, as viruses and malware are likely to attack them.

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