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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

1:1 or 1:None?

There are many great examples of one-to-one programs that have been well implemented and have achieved their goals. Go to any Edtech conference and you will hear presentations from folks that have done this well. Or pick up a copy of Project Red, which offers a research-driven roadmap for success in transforming a school, including the use of technology. There are websites galore that cater to great articles, tutorials, and research to help schools interested in how to implement a one-to-one program successfully, such as the K-12 Blueprint site, which regularly features blogs and articles on different schools and what they are doing with technology. 

So why should we be hesitant, or worse yet, not supportive of some proposed one-to-one initiatives? Many of the ideas for one-to-one that principals and other K-12 leaders have can be summed up with the phrase “I want to do a one-to-one program.” Many times this is the only idea expressed. Where is the vision and purpose? What is the educational outcome to which the program aspires? How does the leader see learning changing in a couple of years? These questions often can’t be answered, since there has been no thought as to why have a one-to-one initiative. Successful programs will have a goal, and with that a plan that provides a roadmap to help guide the project towards its goal. Why don’t more school leaders write a good plan? A lot of times it boils down to the desire for the shiny gadgets, and a lack of will and skill to write a solid plan and implement it. In those cases, it may be better to do one to none. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Death knell for proprietary tablet ecosystems?

This past week has seen a lot of news on the tablet front. While it may be old news that tablet sales are declining, this past week two negative major stories broke about school-focused tablet companies. 

The first involved high profile Amplify, which created a school-only tablet with big subscription dreams, the idea being that schools adopt a relatively low-cost proprietary tablet system and then spend annually on a management and other content subscriptions. Past news for Amplify had not been positive, with a large scale high profile mess in Guilford County schools in North Carolina, where a very high percentage of the devices suffered from hardware issues, such as cracked screens and overheating device chargers. Now News Corp is ready to unload Amplify, which is ending production of its tablets

Then came the news that the KUNO tablet, that had been named the iPad’s biggest competitor in 2012, had its own problems and that several districts were suing CurriculumLoft over a multitude of issues with the proprietary tablet. 

Is this the tablet death knell in K-12? Probably not. But it’s no secret that tablets (or any other device) are not the secret to transforming learning, and that in many use scenarios students prefer having a keyboard, which both KUNO and Amplify sold as accessories. This begs the question, why not just buy a device with an attached keyboard? 

Monday, July 20, 2015

The hardest part of change

I started cleaning some items out for our annual curbside trash pickup yesterday. As I grabbed a lawn mower grass bag that had been in the garage for at least five years, never touched once during that time, I had to stop myself from the “but you might need this argument.” We are all guilty of hanging on to items that we don’t need, ideas that are outdated, systems that don't work, and practices that have little to no positive
effect. Whether it is rows in the classroom facing a teacher, textbooks sitting idly on a shelf, software that shows little instructional value, or the venerable “we have always done it this way”, the start of the school year brings the perfect opportunity for all of us to choose some items that need to be cleaned out of our instructional arsenals. Why don’t we? Because change almost always produces some resistance in us, resistance to the uneasy feelings we get when things are different. But like the first time we sat on a bicycle when we felt very unsure and a little bit scared, the end result is often an amazing ride, bringing benefits we could never have predicted. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Judson ISD Parent Center wins a Best in Texas Award from the Center for Digital Government

Technology is a growing industry with an impact in virtually every walk of our modern life.  Education has certainly been affected and Judson ISD's Technology Services has proven to be a leader in innovation among not just public education, but in general public sector applications as well. Judson ISD's Technology Services Department recently was awarded a Best in Texas technology award by the Center For Digital Government. It was a selection as "Best In-House Developed Application," for the district's Parent Center. The Parent Center is an application that keeps parents informed about important areas such as grades, assignments, attendance, library books, discipline, lunch accounts and more.  And it's all in one place that's accessible from multiple devices. 

The popularity of this tool has been growing with usage up across the board for administrators, parents and especially students.  All this was developed in house by the innovative folks from the JISD Technology Services Department. 

This is excerpted from the original blog post by Steve Linscomb at 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

CoSN 2015 Texas CTO Clinic Supports K-12 Technology Leadership Growth

Missed the 2015 CoSN Texas CTO Clinic?  Check out some missed highlights at Technology & Learning Magazine's web site at 

Can Schools Become Future Ready When Families Aren’t Connected?

One of the most vexing challenges for schools trying to convert to becoming Future Ready by transitioning to digital learning, is the persistently large number of students from families that do not have Internet access

Internet access alone will not bring about a change in learning, but it can support reshaping classrooms and schools that are embracing flipped classrooms, student-based discovery, and personalization of learning. For schools looking to put devices in the hands of students, the lack of Internet access in many homes is a major stumbling block. Schools and some Internet service providers have tried to address this access gap with varying degrees of success and creativity. Coachella Valley Unified School District parked Wi-Fi equipped buses in neighborhoods of greatest need, while Forsyth County Schools partnered with local business who would offer students free Wi-Fi and a safe place to work on homework. Comcast has offered a basic Internet plan to families in its markets for $9.95 a month. Pasadena ISD near Houston, Texas is going so far as to build their own LTE broadband network, but for most school this type of build out has far too many technical and financial hurdles.

 Will the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) come to the rescue? It very well might, as last week the FCC voted to change its Lifeline program, which subsidizes telephones for low income families. The change would subsidize just under $10 a month for broadband Internet for low income families. The FCC already transformed e-Rate this year. Will the Lifeline program change be another shift in policy that can really help schools bridge the access divide? This could be a huge opportunity for schools to encourage families to sign up for low- or no-cost Internet and have the same learning opportunities that other families with Internet access have.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Data Privacy Fervor

The activity around student data privacy has reached a new level of fervor, with state and federal legislators locked and loaded, ready to take aim at vendors, districts, and teachers alike. There are an amazing number of parties and organizations weighing in on this very important topic, from parent groups, the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), to many educational organizations like the National School Board Association (NSBA) and the National Education Association (NEA). 

There are literally tens of bills pending at the state and federal levels, with assorted rules for companies, districts, and school staff members. California was early to the game with its landmark SOPIPA legislation, which passed in September of last year. Others that joined, like Louisiana, passed laws that place teachers in the crosshairs, with looming large fines and possible jail time for each student data privacy violation. Yes, teachers do need to take protecting student data much more seriously, but are fines or jail time really the answer? We all need to start focusing on the basics, starting with policies, procedures, and staff and student training. 

Regardless of the pending laws affecting us in each of our states, the need to inform staff and students of the dangers of data over sharing and the responsibility to protect it have never been greater. If you are just starting your student data privacy journey, I suggest downloading the excellent Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning toolkit from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), which can serve as a privacy roadmap for districts. Also try visiting the Student Data Principles site, Stay Safe Online, and the Privacy Technical Assistance Center, which will give you the ammo needed to start moving your school forward with becoming a student data privacy advocate. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Check out - The Right Connections - how to keep school communities informed

Judson ISD and it's fantastic home grown Parent Center app were featured in Technology & Learning's May 2015 cover story, Now Hear This: The Right Connections - how to keep school communities informed - from  

Friday, May 15, 2015

What keeps CTOs up at night?

Judson ISD along with two of my great counterparts at Tyler ISD and Calcasieu Parish Public Schools are featured in the eSchoolNews May 2015 cover story, “What keeps CTOs up at night?” which I have attached and can also be viewed online at 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The economics of 1:1

While a lot of us preach that it is not about the device (it’s not), devices are obviously important to digitally transforming learning. But many school districts still feel that 1:1 device initiatives are just not affordable. A $300, $500, or $1000 device cost per student can seem like a lot to spend per student. Is it? U.S. Census Bureau data show that the average cost of educating a child to be $10,608 per year. Ford states like my Texas spend less and Cadillac states like Kevin Hogan’s New Jersey spend much more. So if a “typical” district wants to fund a $300 device to be purchased once every four years, it would need to budget $75 per year. While I may not be able to pass the fifth grade Common Core assessment, that means a typical district would need to spend less than .7% (point seven percent) of the cost of educating a child per year to fund a device for learning. This is next to nothing in the total cost of educating a child. Sure there are many other costs that need to be incurred to fund a successful digital learning program, but device costs are plummeting and becoming so low that they can soon no longer be used as an excuse by schools. Then there are the budget expenditures no one wants to discuss - one Texas district (and probably many more) was spending $1,300 a year on its football program per player (and $1348 for a cheerleader). And in the last couple of weeks, Google and its partners announced $150 Chromebooks. Can’t afford 1:1? I’m just saying... 

(this blogger sees great value in extra-curricular activities, but wonders why their funding and expenses are never discussed)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Are testing companies really "spying" on students if they monitor social media during testing?

Another day of standardized testing, another controversy.  The latest being around the administration of the PARCC Common Core test in New Jersey.  In this case the controversy is not over the usefulness of testing, or current problems with the online test administration, but rather the monitoring of social media by the testing company, Pearson, to detect test cheaters and other irregularities.  The controversy is detailed in this Washington Post blog, with a superintendent being upset by the perceived big brother monitoring of their students.  Why is this at all disturbing?  Haven’t we always monitored students and schools during high stakes testing?  Test administrators and monitors are rigorously trained, certified, and then required to monitor schools and testing, to ensure a fair testing environment for all students.  As much time and money as states and schools spend on this massive undertaking for arguably little return, is it wrong that Pearson monitors publicly posted social media posts?  If a student, teacher, or administrator chooses to publicly post test questions to social media during a test, then they have made a poor choice, violated testing rules, and must face the fall out.  But there are allegations detailed here that the spying was in fact looking at private student social media posts.  If those were somehow monitored or if action was taken on students’ opinions of the test, then shame on those involved.  But come on, to call monitoring public social media posts “spying” shows a lack of understanding of social media that is for all intents is public information.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Student Data Privacy Worries Grow

The worries and media coverage around the privacy of student data are growing as fast as the amount of funds being funneled into educational technology startups, and for good reason; The amount of apps and programs that are being used with students by teachers and schools are growing faster than ever, and often being implemented with little to no planning and oversight. 

Natasha Singer, of the New York Times, who has investigated the (in)security of educational applications produced by signatories of the Student Privacy Pledge, wrote a new story highlighting the difficulties faced by schools in managing all the apps and related student data. The story features Judson Independent School District amongst others.

At the same time a coalition of groups, including CoSN, the Consortium for School Networking, released 10 principles for protecting and guiding the use of the personal information of America’s students

It's great to see media coverage highlighting the issue that is also willing to recognize that there are many groups involved with trying to help schools with this issue.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What is keeping education CTO's up at night?

During the recent February 2015 TCEA conference in Austin, several CTOs participated in panel about their most pressing issues and worries in their roles as CTOs.

What keeps CTO's up at night?  Check it out at eSchoolNews
The panel, moderated by Kari Murphy, Chief Technology Officer at Deer Park ISD included John Orbaugh, Executive Director of Technology at Tyler ISD, Karla Burkholder, CTO at Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD, Barbara Brown, Chief Technology Officer at Lewisville ISD, and myself, Steve Young, Chief Technology Officer at Judson ISD.  Our dear colleague, Sheryl Abshire, Chief Technology Officer from Calcasieu Parish Schools, was unable to join the group.

eSchoolNews did a short follow up piece and interviewed several panelists for the article.

It is a quick and worthwhile read at:   

Monday, February 23, 2015

Innovation is Not About the Technology

A reporter recently asked me, "Are any of the new technologies being introduced into K-12 education actually causing student test scores to increase?" While the question has been asked a lot, her point was that with all the venture capital being poured into educational technology now, investors and the public may start wanting products to show actual data on how they actually improve test scores. In the case of many products, a lot of which focus on remediating students for particular subjects, this is certainly a valid question. But I think many times we are hoping software, hardware, remediation systems, and other assorted educational technology products will magically transform education, when they will not. 
Read the great article at ISTE

One of the best pieces I've read this week was written by Grant Lichtman and published by ISTE. The author traveled to tens of schools across the country and visited with teachers and students and observed the learning process at many innovative schools. The author concludes that the innovation is really not about the technology at all, but rather about how learning is structured where the students are the leaders in learning. Of course this does not mean that technology can't play a role in the process, but the critical factors include how classes are structured, how students take charge of their learning and investigation, and how teachers and administrators must release control of learning to students. I urge you to read this great piece and join the conversation by sharing your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

FERPA & Student Data Privacy - Let the privacy tidal wave begin

Recently, I had an educator ask me if students collaborating together on an assignment, through a collaborative technology such as Google Docs, could be a violation of the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act, which most of us know as FERPA. Their concern was that as students work together, one student’s parent would be able to see the work done by the student their child was collaborating with on the assignment. This has never occurred to me as a concern, but it certainly begged investigation. After reviewing many websites, I did not find anything that would suggest a homework assignment in progress would at all be considered an educational record (and therefore protected by FERPA), as it is not part of a child’s permanent record at that point, nor is it in possession of the school at that point. In fact I did not find anything definitive that would suggest student work is FERPA protected at all. Graded work MAY be, as an individual grade itself might be part of the student record. But from the United States Supreme Court “Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo,” it is clear that an ungraded assignment is not an educational record, and therefore not subject to FERPA. 

The above is my interpretation and not a legal opinion, but it demonstrates how delicate the topic of student privacy is becoming. Increasingly, student data and privacy are being looked at with a laser focus by places like the State of California, President Obama, and organizations like Common Sense Media and CoSN. Expect to hear many more discussions and questions about what student data is shareable to further a student’s education and what data must be protected by schools and third parties.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My New Year's Wish List for Ed Tech

It's been another fast-paced year in educational technology, with nothing more certain than change.
Yet as much as there is innovation and exciting new products and ideas, there is a lot that I keep hoping will change, ideally at a rate faster than the speed of smell. So here is my Ed-Tech New Year wish list in no particular order of urgency:

  • Transparent pricing: We are in education and cost IS important; if we have to use Chinese water torture to get a price for your product or service or to figure some outlandish set of options and upgrades, we may shop somewhere else.
  • Fair contracts: Contracts need to take into account that we get funded by fickle entities. Stop writing auto-renewing contracts with no outs, or worse yet, multi-year auto renewals.
  • Learning content standards: Digital content is exploding everywhere, yet much of it is locked in proprietary content prison cells, inaccessible from our learning management systems. Let's all get behind a common standard, like "Learning Tools Interoperability" or LTI for short.
  • Easy log in: If your company cannot support LTI, at least bless us with some sort of common authentication or single sign-on. We can't bear to have teachers or administrators waste one more second administering accounts or wasting time logging in to a web site.
  • Old web technology: It's far past the time to layout web pages in tables, run Flash animations, and use Java to validate forms. Join this century and leverage HTML 5 and responsive web design, so all of our devices can access your 1999 web site.
  • A common wireless video standard that actually works: Students and teachers all have different devices and all have great things to share with the class, but in most cases, most of their devices cannot share their content to a TV or projector over the same standard. There is money to be made by someone solving this!
Ed Tech - change is for certain