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Open Letter to Tim Cook at Apple: Please Stop Making New Products

November 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Mr. Cook,

Thank you for continuing to provide innovative products.  Having said that I now implore you to stop.  More specifically, stop providing so many new products with such frequency.

As a technologist working in public K-12 schools it is very difficult to manage, plan and budget with the rapid release of new and improved products and services.  For example, it is now November 2013.  Schools need to plan now for any purchases through June 30 2015.  Yes 2015.  The budget for the next school year is prepared now.  It is then presented for public review and scrutiny.  This is followed by revisions and multiple public presentations of the revised proposed budget.  Finally, the budget goes before the voters for approval.

School districts do not have the flexibility to change direction from planned purchases in order to take advantage of new technologies which may become available throughout the school year.

Apple or any other tech companies cannot really be expected to slow down the rate of product development.  In all reality,  There is a simple solution which may be helpful for educators.

Apple should develop an Educational Advisory Board.  This group can provide Apple with insight regarding the technology needs in schools.  Further, the group may be able to help Apple understand the financial realities schools face when developing a technology budget.

While schools do consume technology, schools should not be treated as typical consumers.  The needs of the students and faculty of a school are very different from those of a home consumer or a corporate entity. Educators serving on this board will be able to clearly articulate what these differences are.  Instead of schools being forced to make consumer solutions work, Apple needs to develop solutions specifically for the education sector.

Through this Educational Advisory Board, Apple will have the ability to provide schools with a road map of what products are forthcoming to provide schools with an opportunity to properly budget.  Educators can provide Apple with an insight to the unique technology needs of schools and the best way for new technologies to to aide in instruction.

Schools want new technologies.  What is needed is a better way for new technologies to be acquired and integrated.

 

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Begin With the End in Mind: More than just a mantra when it comes to technology in education

February 20, 2012 1 comment
Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

The Issue

Too often schools are in the position of having exciting new technology available and having to find the best way to implement and utilize it.  This approach is backwards,  Stephen Covey  penned the phrase “BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND” and these words are particularly useful when developing a plan of action for integrating technology in schools.

Instead of trying to find ways to utilize the latest technologies, schools should instead let the instructional goals define the technological tools that  should be implemented.  As rapid advances in technology unfold, schools are often in the position of buying into what is the latest and greatest and then trying to figure out how and where to use the new technology.

The iPad and now the iPad2 (and soon the iPad3) are perfect examples of this challenge.  Everyone can agree on the wow factor of these devices.  There is no doubt that mobile technology is going to be a big part of any future technology initiatives.  How this devices can effectively be used in instructional environments is still developing.

Many educational technologists are faced with the challenge of integrating these devices, with out a clear directive of why.  That is to say, what is the goal of rolling out these devices.  Often boards of education and administrators want the new technology, feel they need to be on the bleeding edge, but do not clearly articulate the intended goals and outcomes for using these devices.

Frequently, as in the case of the iPad, there are significant challenges that must be worked through when adding new technologies into an existing networked environment.  These challenges can be overcome, but without a clear understanding of the goals for use, developing a solid solution can be difficult.

Goals

Is there a more ambiguous statement than having children become “21st Century Learners”?  It sounds great and looks impressive when included in a technology plan, but what does it mean?  Does it mean every student should be able to use tools such as word processors and presentation software to effectively represent the ideas and information learned about a specific topic?  Does it mean students will be able to utilize social networking tools?  Does it mean children will know how to use Google or Bing to search for information on a topic and then go to the wikipedia link on that topic?  Or does it mean that children will learn the skills necessary to develop the ability to skillfully aggregate information and quickly discern what is meaningful and useful, while ignoring that which is not?  Or does it simply mean that children will learn how to find and download an app?

The point is that the instructional needs should dicate the technology and not the other way around.  The instructional team needs to identify its needs and then work to find technological tools and resources which meet those needs.  Sometimes the latest and greatest technological wonders are simply cool gadgets,with little or no instructional value.

There is a place for Technology in Schools

I do not believe this to be the case with iPads.  In fact, I believe very strongly that the iPad does bring a lot to the table.  Its portability, functionality and ease of use make it a terrific tool for schools.  Before rushing to place a large oder for these devices, schools should clearly identify why they are being purchased, how they are going to be used and what the goals and outcomes are for the use of these devices.

Starting An IOS Implementation in Schools

February 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Anyone who is working on bringing iPads and iPhones in to a school environment is certain to face some roadblocks.  Schools are a very different environment than commercial entities and homes.

Apple has made some progress in adapting to the ways in which schools must operate.

A good starting point for any schools heading down the path to integration IOS devices is the iOS 5 Education Deployment Guide.

 

Categories: Classroom, EduTech Tags: , , , ,

Ketchup Got Me Thinking About Technology

November 9, 2010 Leave a comment

So here is how my bizarre mind works…

I am in Saratoga Springs, New York right now, about to attend a session with Alan November.

The hotel clerk recommended a local restaurant for breakfast.  After ordering my breakfast, the waitress brought over a bottle of ketchup.  Not so extraordinary except for the fact that it was not my preferred brand of ketchup.  Instead of my usual Heinz, she instead placed a bottle of Red Gold Tomato Ketchup on the table.  Up until that moment I never really considered how strongly I felt about brands, but I should have.  As I think about it, I am very particular about all sorts of brands in my daily life, from food to clothes, etc.  Oddly, it made me examine my strong brand loyalty for the technology products I favor.

For years I was a huge fan of Dell computers.  I had been instrumental in placing literally thousands of these PCs in the various schools I was involved for a period of 10 years or so.  I recommended them to everyone.  My family members all had Dell’s as well.  They were (and likely still are) terrific machines.  They were the only machines I would even consider when purchasing or recommending PCs.

Then I found Apple.  More accurately, Apple found me.  I got hooked very quickly.  I am now an Apple evangelist.  Not because they are cool and sexy (though it helps), but because they work.  Upon doing a lot of research, it became clear to me that the TCO (total cost of ownership) of an Apple is actually far less than that of comparable Windows-based PCs.

I have also been swayed in my printing choices.  Once a huge fan of HP printers (still think they work great), I have moved on to OKI printers.  Oki makes great, reliable printers too.  But what I like most about OKI’s are their low cost for consumables like toner.  Over the life of a printer, the TCO of an OKI is far lee than HP or other manufacturers.

The point of all of this is that if I am honest with myself I will realize that often when I break away from my tried and true brands, I find very good, if not better, alternatives.

Maybe the next time the waitress brings me an unfamiliar brand of ketchup, I should actually try it.

E-textbooks are on the way, but not dominant in classrooms yet

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment
Behold the iPad in All Its Glory

Image via Wikipedia

Student’s today are likely still left carrying around heavy, disheveled, out-of-date books.  These texts may be loaded with inaccuracies, with no fast or easy way to update or correct them.  As reported in the Statesman, things may be changing, slowly.

Someday students won’t carry heavy textbooks with them, but that day isn’t quite here yet

The same digital revolution that upended the music industry and is transforming TV, movies and books is slowly working its way into classrooms.

In many schools, students are just as likely to carry a cell phone as a backpack. Schools and libraries are wired, outfitted with desktop, laptop and netbook computers with high-speed Internet access. Many of them are beginning to experiment with touch-screen computer tablets like the Apple iPad or increasingly powerful smart phones.

But when it comes to the holy grail of electronic education — the e-textbook — Texas schools haven’t quite arrived at the date when students can stop carrying printed textbooks around.

But they’re getting there. For this first time, school districts in Texas had the option for the 2010-2011 school year to decide what percentage of their textbooks were electronic or printed and could use textbook money to instead purchase things such as electronic devices or supplemental Web-based educational materials.

But school districts, lawmakers, educational software developers and officials in the Texas Education Agency say a lack of ubiquitous Internet and computer access for students, weak e-textbook content and costs to schools and publishers are major obstacles that have to be overcome before printed textbooks are gone for good.

What is an ‘e-textbook’?

Part of the problem with getting electronic textbooks into the hands of students in Texas has been that “e-textbooks” itself is a broad term that, for all its promise, doesn’t really mean anything.

“The term ‘e-textbooks’ has been thrown around pretty indiscriminately,” said state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston. “There’s been electronically produced textbooks since the mid-’90s.”

Hochberg, who co-authored legislation last year that allows the state to purchase electronic content and distribute it to students instead of, say, printed texts bundled with CD-ROMs, said the term covers a wide variety of formats and devices.

The most basic kind of e-textbook a direct reproduction of a printed text in an electronic PDF format. But, under state law changes, it can now also be Web-based educational material, including video, interactive quizzes and discussion forums.

Legislation that passed last year also opened up billions of dollars in textbook funds that also can be used for laptops, smart phones, e-book readers or other devices we haven’t even dreamt of yet that will access textbooks that are housed online.

Hochberg said he believes that the state and school districts will save money by distributing educational material through “open-source” licenses. The state would purchase electronic content from a publisher once and be given the ability to distribute it as many times as needed to students and teachers instead of paying for each textbook. If a print version were needed, it could be printed from the electronic version for about $25 for a single copy.

“We’d have as many copies as we needed,” Hochberg said, “We’d never again have to buy Shakespeare.”

Open-source, Web-based texts, he said, also allow the content to be accessible from any device, from an iPhone to a Kindle e-book reader to a desktop in a school’s computer lab.

It’s a large shift that puts the state in the position of managing large quantities of data and beginning to solicit new kinds of educational software and texts.

“It really puts Texas out front in the educational materials market,” he said. “There’s not a lot of states with enough students to get into the content development market.”

Digitizing the district

John Alawneh , executive director of technology for Austin Independent School District, said many students, including his own three children, would love to abandon their bulky school books. “They would love to access everything they need online rather than carry their textbooks with them,” he said. “They rely on Google to look up concepts they’re exposed to in class to get quick information. I think that’s what electronic textbooks will do.”

But Alawneh and Dave Sanders, director of educational technology for the Austin district, both said that although administrators, teachers and students are excited about the educational opportunities new technologies might provide, issues of access and a lack of truly interactive content is delaying the shift.

“I think the value and the benefit is very clear,” Alawneh said. “But I don’t think the challenges have been resolved. How do you take full advantage of the electronic book and why is the cost still the same?”

In many cases, Alawneh said, publishers won’t sell an electronic copy of a book without the purchase of a print edition as well. And frequently, that electronic copy is a PDF version of the text with no added interactive features or content.

Though the electronic texts are easy to print from and searchable, making it easy to find keywords, they’re not the future, they said.

“An electronic textbook should be a lot more than a PDF of what the hard copy is,” Sanders said. “It’s online, so that’s one step forward, but it should be a lot more.”

Sanders and Alawneh said that a bigger concern is that as school districts move to electronic textbooks it’s important that all students have access to them, whether they’re at school or at home.

“Going electronic with the books at the state level is going to cut down a lot of cost. But then you need these devices at the school level,” Alawneh said. Whether it’s a netbook, iPad, smart phone or e-reader, he said, “Equipping each kid with some kind of device is not cheap. Most likely the district is going to have to take on that responsibility if the state or the community does not find a solution to make sure all kids have the tools and digital resources to access (e-textbooks) from anywhere.”

Av fast Internet connection in homes is also an obstacle. Data from the state show that although 97 percent of homes in the state have access to broadband Internet, only 62 percent use it. The situation is more dire in Hispanic and black non-Hispanic homes. According to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data, only 39.7 percent of Hispanics and 45.9 percent of black non-Hispanics have high-speed Internet at home in the U.S., compared with 65.7 percent of white non-Hispanics and 67.3 percent of Asian non-Hispanics.

Nevertheless, AISD is optimistic that eventually costs will go down and that the growing world of educational mobile apps and video-rich Web content will be the future of classroom learning.

“We know we can’t go 100 percent digital at this moment in time,” Sanders said. “But we feel we’re headed that way.”

The devices they’ll use

What that educational future looks like has been the central preoccupation of Michael Mayrath, president of a small Austin company called GetYa Learn On. Mayrath has a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Texas and spent a year at Harvard University as a post-doctoral fellow studying educational testing.

Along the way, he’s been a tester of e-textbooks for the Texas Education Association (a position he’s leaving soon to focus on his company) and has developed an iPhone/iPad app, “Statistics 1,” that has sold about 5,000 copies.

From what he’s seen of e-textbook submissions and in his own education research, he believes the materials can improve substantially.

Big publishers aren’t using the advantage of the digital medium, he said. “If an e-textbook is Web-based, think of all you could do with online learning.”

Mayrath said that could include virtual worlds (like the online game “Second Life”), educational games, simulations and programs that cater to the student’s individual learning needs and interests.

In addition to multimedia, built-in quizzes and flash cards, e-textbooks could also offer more tools for teachers and continuous assessments that would give educators more insight into a student’s learning.

Those kinds of e-textbooks will need to be available for a wide variety of devices, but Mayrath and many teachers and software developers are impressed with the capabilities that apps for smart phones and for devices like the iPad are bringing to the table.

One app in particular, “The Elements: A Visual Exploration,” a visual representation of the Periodic Table, has been a hit in some classrooms and was mentioned several times by sources interviewed for this story as an example of the next generation of educational tools. In “Elements,” each element is represented as a 3-D object that can be rotated by touch.

Apple Inc. itself has been doing iPad pilot programs in Texas in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, in Beaumont and in White Oak Independent School District in East Texas.

Closer to home, Dell Inc. is bullish on the market for its devices as e-textbooks begin to take off. Mark Horan, vice president and general manager of the company’s educational business, said the company was an advocate of last year’s law changes based on demand from its customers.

“I think we played a big role in making that happen,” Horan said. “We believe the technology will engage students and help them a great deal.”

Horan said he believes school districts will opt for devices that do more than simply access textbooks from a website. “Offering up a multifunction device like a PC or a tablet allows you to collaborate online and prepare content and do more than one thing,” he said.

The company has an education lab at its Round Rock headquarters and is eyeing devices that could be used in schools. This month it released the Streak, a mini-tablet with a 5-inch screen that can also work as a smart phone. The company is also expected to release a larger tablet device soon.

“We’re definitely looking at all different possibilities,” Horan said. “It’s a great opportunity for Dell to work with publishers and content providers in the (education) industry.”

What’s available now

In April, Gov. Rick Perry predicted that electronic textbooks would be the only textbooks by 2014.

“I don’t see any reason in the world we need to have textbooks in Texas in the next four years,” he told a computer-gaming education conference at the time.

After the education laws were passed last year in the Texas Legislature, the state authorized the creation of a Texas Education Association Commissioner’s List of electronic versions of textbooks.

So far, about 15 texts are on that list, mostly in areas of literature and English. Anita Givens, association commissioner for standards and programs at the TEA, said the list is expanding to include science materials and resources for teachers. Though it takes about three years for textbooks to go through the State Board of Education’s selection process, e-textbooks bound for the commissioner’s list will only take one year.

Not everyone is thrilled with the TEA’s progress. In an editorial published in May, State Board of Education member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller worried about outdated electronics, the cost of books shifting to districts and a lack of standards for electronic texts that aren’t properly vetted.

“\u2026 If we don’t have quality content, the devices will simply be empty boxes,” she wrote.

Givens is optimistic that e-textbooks, especially ones that will offer more interactive features, will feed a growing demand.

“The main thing is our schools are hungry for these new types of instructional resources,” Givens said. “These are new and innovate ways of engaging students.”

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Good News to Report on Two Different Fronts

August 5, 2010 Leave a comment

UPDATE ON APPLE MACBOOK PRO ISSUES

It all comes down to finding the right person to get the job done.

Kudos to the Apple Professional Services Team who really stepped up on this.  Once the problem with our users losing Admin rights on their local Macbook Pro when they left our network made to a high level “badged” Apple Engineer, it was resolved very quickly.

This was resolved just in time for us to continue prepping the remaining 600+ Macbook Pro units for distribution on September 1st.

PROGRESS CONTINUES WITH POLYVISION ENO INTERACTIVE WHITEBOARDS IMPLEMENTATION

Four more eno boards have arrived.  We hope to have them in place for the start of the new school year.

The new administration has also expressed an interest in quickly picking up where we left off with the plan to convert all 500+ classrooms to intelligent classrooms with new laptops, wall mounted projectors, eno interactive whiteboards and sound system.

Hopefully we are back on the road to progress.

Integrating Macs in our Environment

August 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Integrating our new Macs into our existing AD environment has presented some challenges.

Within the past few months we have installed nine new, 30-user iMac labs total.  One in each of our elementary and middle schools.  The labs went in with very little trouble and have generated a terrific buzz in our buildings.  Many teachers were quick to sign up for a time slot.  The response has been tremendous.  The children and teachers are all thrilled with the new labs.  One teacher commented that she brought her class to the computer lab more times in the past month (since the lab was installed) than she had in the previous 3 years.

The students took to the new iMacs, without any apprehension.  They just went in, sat down and got straight to work.  There have not been any technical issues that have prevented the students from working.  The brilliance of the screen, coupled with the speed at which the new iMacs operate, have really appealed to the students and teachers.

The Macbook Pro laptops slated to be distributed to all professional staff members has been another matter.

The laptops are sensational, sleek & sexy, and perform extremely well.  We have encountered some issues, however, with regards to taking them off of our network (home, for example.)

We have found that in order for the Macbook Pros to work effectively outside of our schools, we need to provide the staff members with administrative rights to the local machines.  This will allow the staff members to connect to home wireless access points, add printers and install software.

At this time, we are still struggling to find out why, once they are off our network, they lose their administrative rights.  We have worked tirelessly with high level engineers at Apple, who have assured us that we have everything set up properly, yet we continue to experience this problem.

At this point, we have deployed about 30 of the laptops to our administrators.  Thankfully, they have been extremely patient and willing to work with our tech staff to resolve this problem.  The administrators want to assist us in tweaking the laptops before we distribute them to our teachers in September.

The problem seems to have something to do with our new OD integrating with existing AD.  My tech staff and the Apple engineers, are confident will resolve this issue within the next few days.

Once this issue is resolved, all that remains is working out the logistics of deploying the laptops and providing a basic training to the 600+ staff members that are anxiously awaiting them.

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