Not the Best, Not the Worst, and Getting the Job Done

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I was reading an article on Slashdot, by far my favorite website. The Slashdot posting linked to this original article, The programming talent myth. The article discusses this perception that programmers are either rock-star-ninjas or barely able to string to strings together (that was a programming joke by the way).

However, the author, who is very accomplished as a programmer and technology professional says something very compelling, and something very applicable to the whole of education,

If the only options are to be amazing or terrible, it leads people to believe they must be passionate about their career, that they must think about programming every waking moment of their life. If they take their eye off the ball even for a minute, they will slide right from amazing to terrible again leading people to be working crazy hours at work, to be constantly studying programming topics on their own time, and so on.

The truth is that programming isn’t a passion or a talent, says Edge, it is just a bunch of skills that can be learned. Programming isn’t even one thing, though people talk about it as if it were; it requires all sorts of skills and coding is just a small part of that.

 

I felt like I was a bad math student until I was almost 24 years old. I was so convinced I was bad at math, that I assumed I would be awful at programming. I would always work with technology that was based in or around some environment that aided me in development.

Then one day, as these stories go, I saw an interesting book, and randomly bought it. I literally judged the book by the cover. The book was titled Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem.

I began reading it, prepared to skip the math and get to the story. However, this was impossible, as the math was the story. I learned many interesting things. First off, all these “good at math guys” were normal people with mostly boring jobs who did math as a hobby. Second, I was able to actually understand and do the math. How was that possible? How could I, someone who had always struggled with math textbooks, read and understand this book about mathematics?

The reason I could understand it, was because I could read, and this book was written for normal people, unlike a textbook which is written to help teachers plan and meet standards. All I needed was to read the information in a different way, and then have the resources required to look-up things I was confused about.

Once this small break through happened, I started programming for real, and from scratch. Whenever I would go to online forums, I would feel like a fool because everyone seemed to be a rock-star-ninja. I did not let this bother me though, I persisted. I realized I would often only have time to program a few hours a week or sometimes only a few hours a month. I was not a programmer, I was a teacher with a full-time job. These forum ninjas were probably living the life of a programmer, and working on their skills full-time.

As time went on I wrote programs for operating systems, websites, DVDs, etc. I eventually started teaching programming, and often would question if I was doing the right thing being a teacher, while not being a rock-star-ninja. I found that when I have very talented students, they could easily learn programming faster than I could, so I would help them learn things like project management, documentation processes, and how to speak to people normally. I reminded them that in the real-world they would have clients, and those people would not want to deal with someone wearing all black and missing three days worth of showers.

For the majority of students, who were simply average at programming, I told them my story. I showed them things I had done in the past, and made it clear that they were in fact able to do more than I had done because they were starting younger. I expressed to them that having a good idea would drive their work and help them find people to assit them when needed.

This journey continues.  Programming turned into competitive robotics, and now in 2015, drones and 3D printing are the new challenges.

The key theme with the article that inspired me to write this, and my personal experience, is alienation. I was alienated, or isolated, from mathematics. I was separated at an early age by perception, from groups of people who were considered competent. This happened to me before high school. I believed firmly by year 7 that I was a bad math student. By all local measurements, I was a bad math student.

As I witness schools pushing to increase programming competency and standardized test scores in math, I begin to worry. I do not think any broad curricula, such as AP and IB, are as holistic as my programming curriculum. I think their learning objectives are driven by quantifiable outcomes, just like standardised math testing.

How can we measure all the pieces required to actually make something useful with measurement tools designed to evaluate a single answer? When do we start teaching students all the other skills they need to create, regardless of whether or not that creation is in code or in some other medium? Those skills being and not limited to, project management, planning, design,team work, testing, budgeting, etc.

If you did not know, the guy at the top is MacGyver. MacGyver’s character was always presented as a logical jack-of-all-trades who could find solutions to unpredictable scenarios. I would rather have more MacGyvers than rock-star-ninja’s, because MacGyver can adapt and learn and find new solutions to a larger variety of problems. MacGyver can be a programmer when needed, logistician, a statistician, a salesperson, an entrepreneur,etc.  I have a feeling MacGyver was a B-C student, who cared more about the why than the how. MacGyvers are going to understand the core and not just follow the common core.

Tony DePrato

http://www.tonydeprato.com

Posted in Educational Technology, Instructional Technology, Learning 2.011 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Office 365 for Education, What You Need to Know and Don’t Want to Hear

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I have been using various versions of Microsoft education solutions since 2007. I am also quiet adept at developing online Sharepoint solutions for business processes, writing custom scripts to make accessing Microsoft resources easier, and by-passing much of the fake resources and security Microsoft has to offer. In addition, I have been using Google Apps since they were first introduced, mostly because I needed to work and the Microsoft made it difficult to do anything aside from typing a memo 1990’s style. My Google experience extends to setting-up Google Apps for education on three occasions, writing custom app functions, working with multiple domain configurations, and even developing a bulk upload/download process to Google Drive.

I am working in China now, and the school does not have a campus wide VPN. Therefore our only affordable cloud solution is Office 365. Our current implementation has gained praise from the corporate giant itself, and soon I can share an article by Microsoft about what we have been doing and how we have been doing it.

However, the fact is Office 365 still has a very long way to go. If I had the option, I would still choose Google, and I would push hard for Chrome books for the younger students. Microsoft still is lacking in developing mature products that are truly online. They have new licensing, which is a huge step forward, but they are limiting the options to certain regions. This can be seen in the USA where students can easily get desktop software for free, but in China we have to make special arrangements to get these same features.

For those schools or districts who feel that you have some magic plan with Microsoft, believe me you do not. Anyone can access deals with enough users, and desktop software in 2015 should not be a motivating force for increasing student resources.

OneDrive for Business is better than it was last year, but still years behind Google Drive. It is very fast, and my tests have shown it to be faster than Dropbox or Google Drive. However, the desktop clients which are needed to do bulk work are rough around the edges. They do work, and on Mac OS X now as well, but if you are a Google Drive user you always feel like you are in someone’s beta test instead of a finished product.

The mobile Office 365 clients are pretty good. One shining example is OneNote. I really like OneNote, and I am starting to prefer it to Evernote. This is going to be a new key application we use with students in the next semester. It works great, and on iPad has some nice features for handwriting. What is funny is that OneNote is more flexible than Word and has features you would expect in a truly collaborative environment, yet, many decision makers are obsessed with giving everyone Word. I guess they love the useful WordArt and ClipArt.

The most powerful product in Office 365 for Education is Sharepoint. I find most schools barely or rarely use it. The fact is that it is more powerful than any Google Apps for Education resource. I would wager that you would need to buy many additional Google Apps features to match even 50% of the Sharepoint features. Unfortunately, non-developers and those who see the bare-bones implementation of Sharepoint, hate it.

People hate Sharepoint for a variety of reasons. Here are a few I often here:

  1. It looks bad and has an old design.
  2. The mobile compatibility is bad.
  3. The logic for linking things around is weird and does not seem to work well.
  4. The menus don’t make sense.
  5. The terminology of what a “thing” is does not make sense.
  6. It only works well in Windows.
  7. There seem to be features I cannot access.
  8. There is no public page for people who are not part of the organisation.
  9. Speed.
  10. It is seems like a pure business product.

Out of the box, all of these things are true, yet, they are also not true. Sharepoint is designed to be developed, not started and driven around like a golf cart. It is a set of tools that require a development environment and an implementation plan. Sharepoint is not something you use by random clicking, which is how many people seem to do things. It requires intent and purpose to be useful. From it’s core it is based-on your organisational needs, and not the needs of the outside world. The apps you can add to Sharepoint are not for entertainment. They are for getting work done and creating levels of accountability.

I have a love hate relationship with Sharepoint. When I finally deploy something, I find it works well and requires very little maintenance. While creating solutions in Sharepoint Developer, I find myself constantly frustrated at some of the features that a normal development kit would have sorted out properly.

People who end-up being Sharepoint power-users tend to like it. They learn to access and use data in different ways, and automate processes that are quiet difficult to manage on paper or even with sophisticated online forms.

If integrated properly into a normal content management system (Drupal, WordPress, etc.), Sharepoint solutions work well for normal end-users, and the security is handled without any additional work. But, it needs to be integrated, you do not want the average person to ever navigate Sharepoint.

Sharepoint has an up-sell for storage space which is annoying. OneDrive has a terabyte of space per user, but it is missing many features (unless you can find the secret menus). If Sharepoint had 100GB of space allotted per organisational user license, then it would actually be a better solution than OneDrive for most people, especially if the storage was flexible and assignable.

If you are using Office 365 for Education, and you are not using Sharepoint at all, then you are missing out on many powerful tools. To get started you need to setup a development environment and then do a few courses. Here are my recommendations for the development environment and what courses should be the initial focus:

Development Environment

  • iMac or large screen Apple Laptop with Virtualbox/VMware Fusion and a licensed 64 Bit version of Windows 7. A minimum 8 GB of RAM with 4 GB assigned to the virtual machine.
  • Office installed from the Office 365 online store. This allows all users to install Office on 5 devices.
  • IE 11 or higher in the Windows 7 Environment.
  • Notepad ++ for the Windows 7 Environment.
  • Turn off all Windows security, and firewalls.
  • Install Sharepoint Designer from the Office 365 online store.
  • Update Windows 7.
  • Backup the virtual machine to a secure area on the Mac or on an external drive. If Windows gets infected or too slow, trash the virtual machine and use the copy you have made.
  • MAMP for OS X to work on things like HTML,CSS, and Javascript. It is easier to experiment this way, before working in Sharepoint Designer or the online Sharepoint design interfaces.

Training Modules and Courses

  • Introduction to Sharepoint
  • Editing Pages
  • Sharepoint Lists and Columns
  • Web-parts and App-parts.
  • Security and Permissions with Groups
  • Introduction to Sharepoint Designer
  • Introduction to Infopath
  • Making Item Workflows in Sharepoint Designer
  • Importing data into Sharepoint
  • Using Excel spreadsheets in Sharepoint Lists
  • Understanding Calculated Columns

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

Posted in Educational Technology, programming | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

2015 – Bad IT Planning is Still Going Strong

Variable

Consider this question: If you want to run an event, start a new curriculum, communicate better with organisational stakeholders, audit for efficiency, train a group of people economically, or simply show a movie to a large group of people, would you do those things with technology? Would you require support from specialists or tech support?

The answers are simple. Yes, technology is required. Yes, most people need help doing anything outside of their normal routine. I would estimate that 90% of the events and activities within organisations require technology and technology support. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of those people planning events or core organisational changes take the time to plan for technology, and with specialists, before finalising plans.

It seems to be assumed that anyone working in the Technology Department can support any type of project, without time for planning and preparation. There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way planning looks at technology. Technology and those that can manage an implementation are not trivial accessories. They are a necessity.

I often find that people in tech support are juggling problems that are occurring in realtime due to organisers being unprepared. The expectation that “things should work”, is unrealistic when those “things” go from unknown to known minute-by-minute.

The scale of this problem is not limited to trivial activities such as presentations and one-off media projects. As anecdotal evidence I would like to offer this gem: A building project to construct a new performance space, not consulting the Technology Department before designing and building the facility.

The space was not built to physically accommodate the required systems needed to make the space functional. By the time anyone from the department was involved, it was too late
to change the dimensions of the space. The space will never be what it could have been, nor will ever be as cost effective and efficient as it should be.

The worst part is this anecdotal evidence is not from a single situation. This has happened to me on at least four occasions I can remember, in the last 5 years. Technology is seen as a requirement and an afterthought at the same time. This is paradoxical logic.

Working in education and education technology, I see many people wearing many different hats. Most are happy to be a teacher, a network specialist, and a live music mixing specialist, all in the course of a single day. That is not an exaggeration, that is literally how my day, and those who do my job at other schools around the world, flows.

Very few jobs require a skill set that is as diverse and flexible as those working in educational technology. Often due to budget limitations, committed educators have to create opportunities for children by creating the infrastructure and resources. Thus, Technology Departments within schools are often staffed with people who have diverse skills are varying degrees of proficiency. In other words, often they can do the impossible, but they need to study and practice. They need time. They need to prepare.

All organisations need take a step back and look at their organisational charts. They need to start shuffling the pieces to eliminate the paradox. If technology is a requirement, then it must be a requirement, a driving force, and a regulator from the beginning of any project or event. Instead of forcing the entire technology department to react and play defence, organisations need to allow technology to implement strategy and coordinate outcome.

George: I think I understand this. Jay Peterman is real. His biography is not. Now, you Kramer are real.

Kramer: Talk to me.

George: But your life is Peterman’s. Now the bus tour, which is real, takes to places that, while they are real, they are not real in sense that they did not *really* happen to the *real* Peterman which is you.

Kramer: Understand?

Jerry: Yeah. $37.50 for a Three Musketeers. ~Seinfeld , The Muffin Tops

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

Posted in Educational Technology, Instructional Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

YouTube Safety Mode with Google Apps for Education

Yep, this is a thing. If your school is Google Apps for Education and you guys leverage the huge power of YouTube in your teaching then maybe you have fallen victim to the YouTube Safety Mode automatically being turned on. Basically what happens is that this feature seems to suddenly be turned on and certain YouTube videos are blocked (even though they are educational in nature). It’s frustrating because teachers don’t have the ability to toggle it off or on – it’s just on and a nuisance.

OK – here’s the trick – when my school ran into this I reached out to Google for assistance – here was their reply.

So basically what this very polite email says is that YouTube is not a core feature and therefore not covered in their support. The images this rep refers to are directions on how an individual can turn it on or off on their personal account. With our people, it was not an option and kept pointing them back to the Google Apps administrator – me.

After an exhaustive search through the Google forums I came across a plausible answer to this problem. For our school we had Safe Search (through the Chrome app settings) turned on for all users. What I did was switch it off and this fixed it. I was also able to verify this on a support page from Google – check it out below.

A bit of a risk I agree but well worth it since a lot of our teachers use YouTube, but why Google bundles Google search and YouTube search together is a bit of a mystery – especially since this was not always the case.

So check out the video above which shows how easy it is to change this setting. Remember though, only your Google Apps administrator can do this so please talk to her/him to make the change.

Posted in Google Apps, Helpful Tips, Patrick Cauley | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Stopping Entitlement & The Arbitrary Security

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This is one of those posts that I may regret writing in a few months. It is more of a plan than a post, and a plan I intend to sell with significant confidence.

Starting in the fall, when students roll out of the bus and into the boarding school I work for, they are going to find that technology is simply not available (unless they are in the IB program which will be less than 80 students).

Students in years 6-10 are going to have to wait and to earn their technology. For some, for a few weeks, they will be taken back to into the past, where “always on” was only in science fiction movies, and only Michael Knight could use a smart watch.

Here is the plan to stop the initial entitlement of technology and access to the internet:

Years 9-10, and the IGCSE Program

These students are in a BYOD program. They will not have their devices activated on the network for at least two full weeks. During this time they have to settle into the board school routine. Their network activation and device privileges will be based on reports from their house masters, their joining of at least one sport and one club, and their completing of a one hour seminar on digital citizenship. During the seminar the AUP will be fully reviewed and signed by all of them.

Once all these steps are completed, they will have a weekend to activate their email, join the school LMS, post a reply confirming they are connected, use their cloud and share a file, and finally access a flipped classroom lesson set.

Unless all these steps are completed, week three will be technology free for them; but teachers will be allowed to start requiring technology. Weeks one and two are designated as technology free in all lessons, however, once week three begins some work will require the use of a laptop.

Years 6-7-8, Custom Bilingual Curriculum

Year 6-7 use school own devices. Year 8 is on BYOD, but their laptops are not allowed to be stored in their rooms. This is the introductory point to the BYOD program.

These students will not have their one-to-one devices for 4 weeks. I know, how can they live? How can they be people? How can they traverse the world without mindless games and WeChat?

These students will have to achieve points to get their devices. The campus will turn into one massive game board. Points can be earned by helping people, earning effort grades by the end of week 4, and completing a series tasks. This group also has to join a sport and club, have good dorm behaviour, attend a workshop to review the AUP, and eventually activate their email, cloud storage, etc.

Because the Year 6 students do use iPads, an additional task will face them during their first week of having the device. They will need to demonstrate competence in the APP CYCLE. That is what I call the insane series of apps needed to complete mundane tasks.

I am not pro-iPad, but I am working with a pro-iPad group so I have to make sure the devices are as effective as possible, yet, I like mocking them whenever possible :).

That summarises the removal of the device entitlement, the next part of this plan is eliminating arbitrary security. In a school tightly managing devices and internet access normally results in students waiting to get home to work on their own equipment.

In a boarding school there is no home to run to for technology freedom. Since the students need to feel at home, locking them down like a Denver Boot is not fair and does not help them develop responsible technology habits.

The plan is fairly straight forward. Students in years 8-11, who come out of week two with shining reviews from their house masters, will only be restricted via out network policies. Students who have poor reviews will have their BYOD machines bound to our hardware management system (this includes a firmware lock and removal of all boot options). This binding will be review at the beginning of semester 2, and if the student is doing well, the binding will be removed.

By all current estimates, this will be about 30-40 students by the end of the second month of school. That leaves around 320-330 students free to work and manage their own technology. This will not increase our staffing requirements, nor will it affect our budget.

This plan only impacts students who are negatively impacting their whole community. Students who are working in class, staying within normal teenage boundaries in the residences, and who are participating in the community will have freedom to be on their devices and use all the other technology resources the school offers.

As the new year approaches, the IT department is acquiring new devices which connect to laptops. These devices, all of them, require administrative rights to use. Without a BYOD program in place, we would not be able to effectively connect all the students to these resources without adding more people to the staff headcount. I prefer to spend money on resources, than security, whenever possible.

If anyone is interested in running a program like this, please comment. I need ideas for the year 6-8 group. I really want to build a game like atmosphere that has multiple paths to success. I would love it if a student could earn their device in a week instead of four weeks by beating the system.

Tony DePrato
www.tonydeprato.com

 

Posted in Educational Technology, Instructional Technology, Tech Integration | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Security vs. Stability

It’s a tale as old as time.

At my school, we have been struggling with WiFi stability since we started our BYOD program. It is certainly something a lot of other schools can relate to. We’ve been able to trace our problem down to three separate issues. Two of them were configuration issues that were done improperly from the start but the third is an Aruba server that handles our access to our network. This is the point of our discussion.

Our school uses Aruba to handle security to the network. The server we use is faulty – plain and simple. We have bypassed it so Aruba engineers can work on it and not cause any disruptions. When we implemented the bypass our WiFi network became quite reliable. Not perfect but usable and you can count on it in most cases now. We do have security on our network but it’s not the most robust.

With Aruba we get a few perks – check out the list below.
– Reports for IT
– The ability to shut down a user completely (except their smartphone with a data plan of course)
– The ability to view and track users throughout the network
– Limiting the number of devices a user can use

Now, it’s not all sunshine and unicorns with Aruba either.
– Lengthy time to get all users on our network (it usually takes about 2 weeks). Without Aruba it can be as little as 3 days
– Can’t just turn it off if there are problems
– Reliant on outside engineers to service it. The bypass we created was done primarily in house and we can work on it if needed
– Daily IT helps people get connected with new devices (removing older devices and helping to on board the new device)
– Costly

Eventually our Aruba will be sorted out and ready to be switched on. In theory it will be seamless, but the question is – do we switch it on? Do we trade ease of access for a little more security? Do we trade the ability to troubleshoot or issues in house for a more powerful service that requires outside configuration and support?

What do you think?

Posted in Patrick Cauley | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Reflecting On: “9 truths that computer programmers know that most people don’t.” ~by Macleod Sawyer

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This week I read a post called, “9 truths that computer programmers know that most people don’t.“, by Macleod Sawyer .

Below is a summary of Mr. Sawyer’s nine points about programmers and programming, and by the way, he is 17 years old.

1. …the funny thing about code, the website or program may work beautifully, it may run smoothly, and it may be absolutely beautiful on the front-end side (what the user sees). But, behind everything that makes it work it will have so many errors, and work arounds that barely work and that shouldn’t work, but do for some strange reason.

2. 25% of the time involved in programming …we have to sit back and think of how the end-user will end up MESSING it up. (Macleod used an unneeded explicative term, I kindly replaced it and hope in the future he chooses to reserve these for serious situations).

3. A programmer is one who deals with algorithms and design principles, not the one who repairs a computer. We may know how the internal workings of a computer work, how code fits together (or rather hacked together as I explained in Fact #1). But, that does not mean we know how to fix hardware.

4. Most of programming is spent sleeping, walking around, staring out the window, or doing anything else that helps you relax and think. Relaxing is a major key to programming, it’s not just sitting down and writing a thousand or more lines or code, and pushing out a program or app. We have to sit down, walk around, and just think.

5. This is important in every programmers life. Counting starts at 0 – your “1” is my “0”, your “10” is my “9”. The reason why this is because computer programming is all about efficiency, and even small improvements in efficiency can make big differences at scale.

6. Ever wondered why programmers are known as nightbirds? Why we stay up all night? Because it allows us to get into the zone, it allows us to focus on one thing and not have to worry about being interrupted by someone – because they are all asleep.

7. If you have a problem you are told to sleep on it, forget it, put your mind at rest. But, with programmers its the go to way to solve the problem not because it gets us away from it, but because it for whatever reason helps us solve the problem with our code.

8. Programs are written like a hierarchy. With the parent managing the processes below them.

9. Just as you’re usually not impressed when we brag about how much we know about computers, we’re not impressed when you brag about how little you know about them.

When I read these, and all the comments, I realized that I agreed with 100% of the points. I also saw many other experienced programmers commenting and agreeing. These points apply to any type of work related to programming or systems design.

As I pondered these, I reflected on education and curricula. I asked myself, as I am now asking YOU, “does [my] your school and curriculum actually facilitate students being able to work and solve problems?”

It is clear that the requirements are time, space, and distraction. The requirements do not fit into a schedule, yet, programmers work on intense personal deadlines.

In the past few years there have been massive initiatives related to programming. For example in Estonia, they are starting all students in programming from year 1. Next year in the U.S. State of Arkansas they are requiring programming at all public schools at the high school level. The question is, do these initiatives actually allow students to go beyond simple in-class programming structures and actually make something? Do they allow them to experience the horror and magic of putting a piece of code out into the world to watch it live, die, or thrive?

Anytime a student speaks-up like this, everyone needs to listen. In his article he has some good quotes to connect his thoughts to professional practice. For the before morning coffee crowd, that means he did research.

His 17 year old world view on this topic, is my view. I go to work every morning. Do I work? Yes. I do certain things in the morning so that I can actually start being creative in the late afternoon or evening. I can’t write a line of code, even HTML, before 10 am unless I have stayed-up all night and am wired in.

From 8PM – 3AM I can do more productive work than I can in 16 hours of a normal work cycle.

Admittedly, I only have to do programming certain times of the month. I have a diverse job, so I do not mind the schedule, and I work with people who must be ready to work by 7:30 am, so if I am to support them I have to be alert and ready.

I save big programming projects for holidays and weekends because I need to be able to slide out of the constraints of my contract and get lost in the problem. I wonder what would happen if just a few students had that flexibility and were allowed to see the whole year of curriculum in June (assuming an August start)? What if the solved it, did it all in the summer, and did it well? It is something to consider.

Also, most of YOU cannot count. When I help students with math, I tell them to count from 0-1. I also tell them if they do it correctly it will take them forever. I learned this from programming, and that single concept helps me reach students more than any other.

Enjoy contemplating that.

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

 

Posted in Educational Technology | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Technology is frickin’ awesome

Still not interested in technology? Still think that technology is impersonal and keeps people from connecting with one another? The video above shows just how important and how technology can change lives and connect people in various ways. Love it!

This is a great video to show students to show them that technology just isn’t hiding behind a computer and pounding away on a keyboard. Check out how people are helping each other at the Collective Project and the Limbitless Solutions.

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The Whitelist vs The Blacklist (Not the TV Show) and Your BYOD Implementation

WhitelistVSBlacklist

A whitelist is a a list of users, IP address, etc. that have permission to do something, and a blacklist is just the opposite. For example, organizations routinely blacklist websites that employees should not use.

In a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model, schools are often faced with the issue of how much they should or should not manage devices and user access. Due to the cost of many management solution, and the choice of BYOD for the sake of resources and budgets, schools often cannot afford corporate level BYOD security systems.

Many schools choose to use their firewalls, Wifi Controllers, and other core components to create user access lists using MAC addresses, leased IPs, and whitelists/blacklists of users. Most of this work is done manually, so having a good strategy is extremely important for efficiency and human resource management.

The key issue is to decide what your philosophy is. Are you going to punish or are you going to reward? Another way to state that would be, “is good network behavior going to earn a student freedom?”.

I believe if a school chose BYOD, and they did so for reasons other than saving money, the school should adhere to the principles that BYOD supports, such as independence, self -management, and self-reliance. If the school adheres to these positive principles, then the goal should not be to directly manage devices, unless a student violates school policy. The goal would be to use a blacklist system to manage those students who continually fail to manage their devices and fail to behave properly.

Deciding, without cause, to lock down the property someone else owns (even a student) is not a core principle of a good BYOD program. That is a core principle of  program that needs resources and simply does not want to buy them. Locking down systems also means focusing massive amounts manpower into a process that is disconnected from teaching and learning. Anytime people in a school spend most of their time not working toward education, there is going to be an opportunity cost paid by the students.

As technology diversifies, and students are flooded with entertainment and pointless apps, the options for regulation become limited. Access to the Internet at school might be a privilege, but students equipped with small high-speed mobile devices can choose to by-pass a school network in order to achieve whatever goals they have.

Obviously this type of circumvention will disconnect them from their teachers and learning resources. Choosing to whitelist students by directly managing their personal equipment, will spark their urge to deploy their mobile options.

Allowing student freedom, until they push to the bounds of the school’s AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) to far, is normally seen as a reasonable response by most students. The student community as a whole will always want some management and protection from theft, fraud, and other malicious behaviour. Therefore blacklisting students who act maliciously and giving other students as much freedom as possible will strengthen the BYOD community and various initiatives,

Tony DePrato

www.tonydeprato.com

Posted in Educational Technology, Instructional Technology, Opinion | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Blendspace – The review

I don’t like LiveBinders – period. I think it is a lousy way to share online resources with people. However, I do like Blendspace. If you have a bunch of online resources to share with your class (or anyone for that matter) then look no further than Blendspace to fulfill your needs. Here is the quick review, it is very visual, easy to organize and easy to add materials. Other people can contribute and you can share it in a variety of ways, even print it out if you want! Still unsure – then keep reading to get my full review. I think you’ll find it a great resource as well.

Signing up

I don’t know why I do this section anymore. It is dead simple to sign up for Blendspace (and just about any other service). On the homepage in the top right hand corner you have an option to login or sign up. Click the Sign Up button.

Then it will ask if you’re a teacher or a student – I obviously picked teacher.

Then it asks for the same old information as any other site, or if you have a Google account or a Facebook account – you can sign up with that which makes it even easier.

If you sign up with your Google account, it will ask you for permission and I imagine the same is true with your Facebook account.

The Dashboard

When you login you are welcomed to this very simple to navigate screen.

Here you can find lessons you’ve made, lessons that have been shared with you and featured spaces. Of course this where you would go to create new lessons as well. I love the fact that everything is just a click away. No need to dig and click and explore. Nope – you can find it all in a click which is great. It makes the learning curve of such a service very manageable and even those people who are afraid of time vampires (programs/systems that take a long time to learn) can feel comfortable and at ease.

Creating a lesson

Blendspace calls their spaces lessons. To create your first lesson, click on the New Lesson button. Blendspace will take you to a new window where you will see six empty cells – this is the bulk of the workspace. On the right hand side is where you can add/search for content (more on that later) and of course there is a place where you can add a title.

For this example we are going to make a lesson about creating podcasts. To add your first resource look to the search area along the far right hand side. Here, Blendspace gives you quick access to a bunch of resources such as:
– YouTube
– Google (images by default)
– Flickr
– Educreations
– Dropbox
– Google Drive
– Upload your own file or link to a website and more

Once you pick a service, just search and then drag it over. Check it out in the badly pixelated GIF below – watch it to the end :)

Now repeat the process over and over again until your lesson is complete.

Another nice feature is the ability to enter notes and descriptions for each resource in your lesson. This is especially helpful when the resource may just be an image or something that looks like it is from left field.

Classes

Another nice feature about Blendspace is the ability to create classes. This is how you share specific lessons with specific people easily and quickly. To create or view your classes, select Classes from the dashboard.

When you get to your classes page, you have two options. You can create a class or view your current classes code and members. To create a class, simply give it a name and click the Add Class button.

When you create a class Blendspace will automatically give you a code. Give that code to students or other teachers. For a person to join they will need a Blendspace account first though.

You also have the options to show all your students your lessons. Now this does not mean they can edit them though.

Collaborating and sharing lessons

OK – I really like all the other features of Blendspace but this is the one that puts it over the top for me. The ability to share lessons and to allow others to collaborate.

I’m going to go ahead and open up my Podcast lesson. Let’s say I want to share it with a class and I want someone to be able to collaborate on this lesson with me. What I need to do first is click the Share button near the top.

Now I get this great sharing box. Here I can easily share it with any of my classes by just clicking it. There is no save or refresh button, it just happens in real time – very cool. You can even easily share it to your Edmodo class, Twitter, Facebook, etc. To be clear, when you share a lesson, those people can view it, not edit it.

Now I want to share it with another educator because we are teaching the same unit. To do this I just click on the Collaborate button. Then I add their email.

The person (or people) will get an email. All they need to do is log into Blendspace to find the lesson added to their list and they can then start working. Here is what is so awesome here. Whenever someone makes a change in Blendspace, everyone will see it in real time. It just updates – automatically!! No need to logout or refresh the page. It just happens. SWEET!! :o

One more option is the ability to change the privacy of. It’s pretty straight forward and not confusing about how that works. Check out the image below.

Other options

I’ll touch on these briefly. Blendspace has some other nice features such as changing the theme (gray or colored tiles). Both look good in my opinion. You can also change the templates which is just the design. So if you don’t like the squares in a grid set up you have some choices.

You can also present your resources in a slideshow format by clicking on the Play button at the top and even print out a PDF version of your lesson. It’s pretty simple but effective when talking with a class or team. The print out is not bad either, because it has all the original URL’s for the links and a QR code to quickly go to the lesson itself.

Using it in class

Obviously, you can collect resources and then share it out to your students but there are other uses too. What if you’re planning a unit with your team? This would be a great place to collect, collaborate and share out resources.

Students doing a research project? This is also a good organization tool. Often students get too much information or not enough. Here, you the teacher can actually take a look of what they have collected and have a very good idea of the state of their paper or where they are going with it.

Conclusion

If you are looking for ways to share links and online resources with your students or colleagues – this is your solution. There are plenty of choices out there but you (like me) want something that is easy to organize, not a vomitous mass of links, and is visually appealing. I can’t think of anything better than Blendspace for this task. Whether you agree or not, put it in the comments below.

Also, check out my Blendspace below to get an idea of what it can do for you.

https://www.blendspace.com/lessons/RwhSB2XbYjOwSg/podcasts-what-you-need-to-know?feature=embed

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