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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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Hey Microsoft – Google gets that FREE means FREE

Image representing Google Docs as depicted in ...

Schools Are Ready to Move to Cloud Computing

Many schools are at a point where they are ready and willing to make the move to cloud computing.  When it comes to choosing the best cloud-based productivity solution, the answer is not a simple one.

There are two main options: Microsoft or Google.  Microsoft has recently revamped and revamped its Live@Edu solution.  Now rebranded Office 365 for Education, at first glance, it may seem like the obvious choice for schools.  Most schools have been using some version of Microsoft’s popular Office Suite.  The move to the cloud-based version of these products may seem logical.

As is often the case with Microsoft, there is a catch.  Free is never really free.  There are various options, that most schools will want and/or need that will come at a cost to districts.  For schools to truly utilize all of the features that Microsoft has to offer, they will need to maintain multiple servers in-house.  At a demonstration of Office365 recently, the representative identified a need for at least four servers.  Providing, supporting and maintaining multiple in-house servers is exactly what most school districts are trying to avoid by going to a cloud solution.

To be fair, a district could in fact use Office 365 for Education exclusively via the web and would incur no charges and require no in-house servers.  In doing so, schools will be giving up significant  functionality.

Microsoft’s Bait and Switch

Most importantly, is the point that Stuart Ridout makes in his blog post Can You Afford Office356 for Education?, about Microsoft once again pulling a “bait and switch” on schools.  Hey Microsoft – free should mean free!  Schools all over the world are challenged to stretch diminishing  technology budgets while increasing the resources they are providing to students and faculty members.

Google Gets Education

Google Apps for Education is truly a free suite of applications that schools do not have to pay anything for and do not need to host any servers in-house, in order to fully utilize this suite of cloud-based computing productivity tools.  Google gets it.  Free means free.

When comparing Office365 and Google Apps often it is stated that Google’s productivity applications are not nearly as sophisticated  as Microsoft’s products.  This is accurate.  The reality is  that Google Apps provide all of the functionality that most users actually need and/or use.  The next argument made is that Google Docs (in particular) mess up the formatting of Word documents, which does happen.  If the documents are created using Google Docs in the first place, there are no formatting issues.

While Microsoft does offer the ability to collaborate on documents, etc., it is not done directly within the application.  Instead, users need to add Sharepoint into the mix, in order to collaborate.  This solution requires a one collaborator to “check out” a document in order to make changes.  No other users can access (let alone change) the document while it is checked out.

Google on the other hand, offers real-time collaboration within the application.  You can actually see on your screen when other collaborators are working on the same document as you .

Game Changer

The real game changer may be the latest announcements from Google that its new Google Drive Cloud Storage solution and its popular Chrome browser are now both available for IOS devices.  As schools rapidly move to include iPad‘s in the arsenal of tech resources, the ability to effortlessly access documents from various location may really push Google out in front of Microsoft.  Yes, Microsoft files can be accessed on various devices, it is not as seamless as the Google solution.

From its inception, Google Apps for Education has been a feature packed solution.  The functionality continues to expand, with no signs of a price tag for schools.

 

Public Education at a Crossroads

March 28, 2012 1 comment
"Teacher Appreciation" featured phot...

"(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good friend of mine and respected colleague, David Gamberg, recently posted some thoughts on the state od education.  David always provides an insight that provokes thought and discussion, and frequently challenges the way we think and behave.

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How do we judge performance while maintaining the humanity of a profession that rests on an exchange of ideas between the child and adult? Thus is the dilemma faced throughout our nation as we grapple with the impact of testing our students and evaluating our teachers in the age of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process. The art and science of teaching and learning is of course more than either the sharing of ideas and the grading of students and teachers.

The system of educating our youth has been a public covenant, which has supported our economic, political, and social growth for over 230 years. In recent years, we have arrived at a crossroads in education, one that requires a careful balance to move forward. The basic platform for the delivery of knowledge and skills that has been the centerpiece of our system for the past 100 years often referred to as a factory model of education is under assault. Disruptive forces from many directions are challenging the very foundation of the educational establishment as we know it. What will it take to preserve our democratic way of life throughout the twenty-first century given the tumultuous changes that are at hand?

Our American way of life has benefited greatly by supporting and promoting this covenant with education. Public schooling has led to advancements in science, business, and culture that transcend the borders of our country. As the beneficiaries of this covenant we are now wondering how to rekindle the spark of innovation in public education that has been the thread of our democracy woven together since the days of Jefferson and Franklin. Is it through charter schools? Merit pay? Enhanced testing and evaluation measures?

In times of data driven decision-making, rapidly advancing technologies, and disruptive innovation, a battle is being waged for the hearts and minds of many stakeholder groups both inside and outside the world of education. The public-at-large demands results and looks to either a return to basics, or to an elevation of expectations by applying pressure on students, teachers, and schools that is born out of a competitive spirit which is as American as apple pie.

The rhetoric is at a fever pitch given the high stakes of how a well-educated populace will drive economic growth both now and in the future. Those who seek to reform education simply by applying the metrics of a return to the good old days, or those who apply the analytics of contemporary high performing corporate entities, possess only a partisan or a partial view of the picture. The image of a Norman Rockwell classroom, or a teacher crunching numbers as though they were reading the latest profit and loss statement reflects the larger chasm between those who cling to the past and those who have taken up the false mantle of educational reform predicated on an overly simplistic business model.

Many teaching and learning models of old, along with the dispositions of practice that reigned supreme can appear outmoded. In the front of the room looking out at rows of desks, the teacher has stood at the chalkboard lecturing to students with them dutifully following along in their textbooks. The fountain of information that was once poured from a singular source be it the teacher or the textbook, now flows both to and from multiple sources at lightning speed. There is, however, one element of the process that is essentially the same since the dawn of time—rapport. This is the element that shall not give way to any new methodology, technology, or structure.

When a teacher and student have rapport there is a relationship built on trust and respect. The student can confidently approach new material, take risks, and know that their interests are primary. It is not simply that the student enjoys either a class or the teacher. Rather, as with a great coach, the teacher can demand and expect an intrinsic desire on the part of the student to come to a deeper understanding of why something is so, or how something works. To be taught something is to acquire this understanding such that the student may use this knowledge or skill in ways that lift the quality of any process or product.

We see this every time a teacher kneels down and reassuringly works at the eye level of a student to provide insight into a problem or task. When a teacher checks in or checks back repeatedly to ensure that learning has taken place that reassurance pays dividends, as the student is more willing to step forward in new, more difficult directions. What may be misrepresented as building self-esteem is actually a carefully orchestrated set of uniquely human traits to create the conditions for optimal learning.

Delivering content at the touch of a finger on a 24 hour, seven day a week basis is now possible and cost effective. However, who will step in and guide a child towards a path of self-discovery that bears any resemblance to what we may consider to be truthful and accurate? Separating fact from fiction, and imparting the basic tenets of an understanding as to why and how things are in math, science, history, and literature has always been the province of our teachers in school.

Unfortunately, the notion of exercising what may be akin to “a bedside manner” in rendering the teacher-learner relationship now seems to give way to a boiling down of the bottom line of test scores and tax dollars. Advancements in technology, brain research, and organizational efficiency have produced new, more effective structures and tools that can be harnessed to replace old ways of doing things. The new paradigm shift demands a new kind of educational system, one that not only embeds the use of these tools and structures, but also one that captures the imagination of all participants in the process, both students and teachers.

The art and science of how a learning organization moves forward and progresses towards any definition of what we may generally describe as “improvement,” requires many components. There is no silver bullet for the prescription of success. Returning to the notion of a bedside manner, a doctor cannot write a script formulated simply on data from a chart or solely based on the cost of care. Careful attention to these and other details including rapport with the patient creates the dynamic that results in the wellness of any individual.

The American experiment in a free and boundless democracy, at least in part driven by a public system of educating our citizens, has come as a result of an unquenching determination to try new things, be bold, work hard, and take risks. In this ever more complex world where students acquire the habits of mind that will allow them to prosper and carry forward the values of our society we must ask ourselves how to build a system that promotes and protects a true understanding of that which is important to the soul of education.
-David Gamberg

Facebook for Educators: Safely & Securely

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

I came across a great post today on the TL Advisor Blog.  The information presented is very helpful for educators who are interested in using the Facebook social network for professional use, but may be uncertain about how to do so safely and securely.

As the Director of Technology for a K-12 school district, I do not block many of the sites that my colleagues in other districts do.  It has been my experience that the more barriers and limitations that educators encounter in their quest to utilize the latest technology, the more it will result in the educators becoming frustrated and giving up quickly on the use of technology in general.

I also recognize that the educators in my district are professionals and should be treated as such.  Each day these educators present materials to our students in many different formats.  Being professionals implies that they will use their best judgement and carefully monitor the information they are presenting or is being accessed by their students.  

Yes, there are those that may not behave as professionals, but my experience has been that this is the rare exception and far from the norm.  I will not burden the vast majority of the educators, who are working hard each day to provide  the best learning environment for their students, with road blocks put up to prevent a limited few from behaving inappropriately.

There are tools for me to review online activities, when warranted, after a problem is brought to my attention.  I have no desire or need to be monitoring the activities of the educators in my district in real-time.  

Instead, I prefer to spend my time working to assist my colleagues in their efforts to find the and utilize the best technology resources for and with our students.

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“Advice for Choosing Pages, Groups or Profiles When Using Facebook for Education by Lisa Nielsen

I’m an advocate of using real world tools in school.  After all, if we’re not using tools of the world in our classrooms, then what world are we really preparing students for?  The one that is most convenient… or the one that is right for kids?  If you want to do what is most convenient, then you can work at a school where they ban, block, filter and restrict.  You know those schools.  Some kids’ heads are on their desks, others are facing forward listening (but are they really?), and others are engaged in the outdated skill of taking down the words their almighty teacher says or writes on the board. Paper, pencils, pens, outdated textbooks are plentiful.  In schools where we’re doing what is right for kids, you see engaged youth who use the filter between their ears to determine how to best access information. Students are empowered rather than restricted from using personally owned digital devices in school.  At these schools they understand that people, not tools, have behavior.  Fortunately, more and more often these schools that mirror the real world are starting to crop up in places like New Canaan High School in Connecticut and The School in Harlem, New York.

When I speak about schools such as these, I often get a lot of questions like this one I received recently from a Twitter follower. 

“Great ideas for Facebook, but would we be taking a social risk? Facebook is taboo for many admins and districts are frowning on FB because of the potential risk for unprofessional behavior bit.ly/gCEp2n .”

My reply to such inquiries is always the same.  Tools have no intent.  Facebook doesn’t cause a risk for unprofessional behavior, but it catches those who engage in such behaviors.  What we’re really saying when we block and ban is that we don’t want to bother dealing with issues such as those who have chosen to publicly engaged in unprofessional behavior.  It is much more convenient to turn heads the other way.

After I’ve convinced educators that Facebook is a powerful tool in education because it’s one that our kids are already using and it is our professional duty to use and help keep kids safe in the environments of their worlds, I’m often asked this question: 

“Would you encourage using a Facebook page or profile to connect with students? Is there a difference?”


Students bring their own devices to New Caanan High School
and use an unfiltered internet

There is not a one-size-fits all answer.  It depends on your intent.  If you are like me or Principal Chris Lehmann you have one profile because it’s just another way to communicate and you’ll communicate with your students in any way they wish.  The idea of being two separate people may just be too hard to keep track of and you enjoy being a professional and social role model for students.  If you are like librarian Michelle Loots (Luhtala) you use a personal page to connect with friends and family, a professional profile for students and apage to keep students in the know about library activities.. If you are like first grade teacherErin Schoening you create a page as a window into your classroom to connect students with parents.  If you are like Brooklyn Tech High School you use a page as a place to connect with present and past students and teachers.  You might be like Education Land, a group created to connect those who are interested in education.

If you want to understand how you can maintain a professional presence on the site separate from your personal profile, here are some tips, directly from Facebook’s Safety for Educators page (note: You may also want to visit the “Teachers” page in the Facebook Safety Center.)  First they suggest that if you are a teacher and have a personal profile, you can consider creating a group or a Page specifically for interacting with students, parents, or colleagues. Create Friend Lists to control what parts of your profile students are able to access.  If you don’t get the difference between pages, and groups, and friend’s lists here is how it’s explained on Facebook’s Safety for Educators page.

Pages, Groups, and Friends Lists Overview 

Pages 
Pages are for broadcasting great information to people on Facebook. For example, you could create a Page called “Ms. Smith’s 9th Grade Science Class” where you post daily homework assignments. Anyone can become a fan of a Page on Facebook. People who choose to become a fan of a Page will see updates on their profile. To create a Page, click
 here. Pages are free, you can control them with your personal profile, and they keep your profile separate from your students.

Groups 
Groups make it easy for members of a community to connect, share and even collaborate on a given topic or idea. For example, you could create a group called “American Literature 101 Discussions” where you and your students can contribute to group discussions. Or you could create a group for all of the educators in your your department to collaborate on lesson plans and share ideas. To create a group, click 
here.

Friend Lists 
Friend Lists
 provide organized groupings of your friends on Facebook. For example, you can create a Friend List specifically for your students. Then you can control which parts of your profile are visible to this entire list. You can also filter your view of each list’s stream of activity separately on the home page, or send messages and invites to this group of people all at once. To learn more about creating and managing Friend Lists, click here.

Connecting with Other Facebook Using Educators 
If you want to connect with other educators who are using Facebook for Learning, join the Facebook in Education page.  This page is a resource for teachers, professors, administrators, counselors and others who work in education. You can refer to this page for privacy tips to help you maintain both a personal and a professional presence on Facebook. You’ll also find answers to common questions including how to report abuse to Facebook and the best way to use Facebook as a communication tool in your school. To become a fan of this page, click 
here and choose the “Become a Fan” option at the top of the page.

Read Librarian Michelle Luhtala’s response to this blog post at Y U Need 2 “Friend” ur Students!

Lisa Nielsen is best known as creator of The Innovative Educator bloghttp://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com and Transforming Education for the 21st Centuryhttp://ted21c.ning.com learning network. Lisa is an outspoken and passionate advocate of innovative education. She is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Thinking Outside the Ban” and determining ways to harness the power of technology for instruction and providing a voice to educators and students. Based in New York City, Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities helping schools and districts to educate in innovative ways that will prepare students for 21st century success. Her first book “Teaching Generation Text” is set for a fall 2011 release. You can follow her on Twitter @InnovativeEdu.”

Color does matter:Blue is better than black.

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Normally the color of things makes no difference.  There is at least one exception.

The original "blue" eno stylus.

When it comes to the stylus for the Eno board from Polyvision, color appears to matter greatly.  To the gang at Polyvision, if you are reading this, I want the BLUE stylus back.

 

Over the past few years I have integrated almost 20 Eno boards into various classrooms throughout my district.  Each of these boards shipped with the blue stylus, which performed without any issues.

Since the beginning of this school year, I have brought in over 100 more Eno boards, with plans on installing over 300 more within the next few weeks.  Apparently, at some point, Polyvision switched to the new “black” stylus.  Each of the new boards this year has included this new stylus.

For the most part, the new black stylus performs pretty well.  I have received an extraordinary  number of complaints about the new stylus though.  Almost immediately after rolling out the new stylus, the teachers began to complain about battery life.  Literally within hours of beginning to use the new black stylus, teachers reported they needed a new battery.

Normally, the lithium AAA battery that ships with the Eno stylus will last a teacher weeks or even months, depending on usage.  The Polyvision driver includes a mechanism for alerting users to a “low battery” to allow them time to replace the battery before it completely runs out (usually right in the middle of a lesson that is being observed by an administrator.)  It turns out the batteries are fine.  There appears to be issues which cause the warning to pop up prematurely.

I must not be alone with this issue as Polyvision has recently provided an updated driver which turns off this “low battery warning.”  While this “fix” will prevent the warning from appearing and will likely decrease the number of requests for unnecessary battery replacements, it does not really address the problem.  It is sort of like placing a piece of black tape over the check engine light that appears on your car’s dashboard.  The problem isn’t really fixed, but as long as you don’t see that annoying light you don’t feel compelled to do anything about it.

Now I will be receiving panic calls from teachers when their stylus’ battery really is dead, since they no longer receive a warning ahead of time.  When the battery is dead, the teachers will be in a jam.  They cannot use the Eno board without a stylus.

I want to be very clear here.  I love the Eno boards.  Even more importantly, the teachers who have received their Eno boards love them too.  The boards are extremely durable and versatile.  Teachers use them as interactive white boards, dry erase boards and magnetic boards.

The teachers and their students love the easy to use board tools that are included.  The teachers that have taken the next step and are using the included RM Easiteach software, are very impressed.  The only complaint we have is with the new black stylus.

Polyvision please bring back the “blue stylus.”


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.

It’s a Small World After All: Let Innovation Be Your Guide

September 12, 2010 Leave a comment
EdTech accurately recognizes schools face significant challenges when trying to provide technology resources for students.  The mantra “do more with less” is probably tattooed somewhere on the body of most district technologists.  If not, it is certainly etched in their minds.
Doing more with less is more than just a mantra.  In many schools it is a way of life.  Schools need to keep in mind that creative thinking can often result in amazing technology solutions that are both attainable and effective.

Doing more with less has been a major focus of schools and districts recently — and for good reason. But schools need to maintain the balancing act of running as efficiently as possible with limited resources while ensuring students receive the best possible educational experiences and opportunities. Not surprisingly, some schools have discovered they can achieve both goals, with great results.

One example is Lorain City Schools. In 2008, the Ohio district needed to replace its aging textbooks but faced budget constraints, so the IT staff was tasked with looking for creative alternatives. After much research and negotiation, they found their solution.

Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Atkinson, Deputy Super intendent for Teaching and Learning Maria Sanchez, CIO Gary Brantley and the IT staff realized that to avoid incurring steep costs by purchasing new textbooks, they needed to turn to a digital alternative. The school district, which was in the process of implementing a one-to-one computing program, decided it made sense to provide e-books for core classes on each student’s computer. That way, students would benefit from a more interactive, digital learning experience that uses information more current than what’s available in traditional textbooks.

“It’s important for our students to have computer access, and it was cost-effective,” Atkinson says. “Because we were able to negotiate good prices for the e-books, we could provide students with netbooks. And with the books loaded onto their computers, we no longer have to worry about buying replacement textbooks.”

Students adapted easily to the computers and e-books, says Atkinson, who has seen the benefits as both an administrator and a mother. Her youngest son currently attends high school in the district. “We must ensure that students are provided with the best resources. It’s imperative if they’re going to compete in this global economy.”

At Rancho Christian in California, school admin is trators were looking for a way to provide students with a curriculum that emphasized literature, but they didn’t want to rely on traditional textbooks. Around that time, they learned about Sony e-book readers and realized the devices were the perfect solution for the school.

“The Sony Reader allows us to provide a huge variety of literature,” says Michael Rea, superintendent and acting high school principal. “We’re discovering that [students] explore the reading materials that we load onto the reader. If they find a book that’s not to their taste, they move on to something else. Eventually, they find something they’re captivated by.”

For more examples of innovative schools doing more with less through technology, read to Rewriting the Book.

Beyond Boundaries

Another school that’s providing unique and innovative educational experiences through technology is Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School in Florida. The school is crossing oceans and overcoming language barriers using distance learning, partnering with schools in Tanzania and China to teach students not only curriculum material, but also history and culture in a global society.

The response from students in all three classrooms has been positive. The classrooms connect weekly through video conferencing, which allows the students to interact and learn in ways they’ve never done before. “It’s the way of teaching in the 21st century,” notes Head of School Janet S. Pullen.

To learn more about video conferencing collaboration programs, read It’s a Small World After All.

Whether you’re consolidating mountains of mate rials onto a netbook or providing the opportunity to take students on a field trip around the through video conferencing, let innovation be your guide for building a better 21st century classroom experience.

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