I am often shocked and amazed at the prices people are paying for subscriptions/services. Believe it or not, schools pay different prices for the same products. There is usually a deal to be made, and here are a few simple tips to make certain you are getting the best deals out there.
Make some online connections who also work at schools. Setup a shared spreadsheet. Have people add the products they use. Do not ask them to list prices, many terms of service prohibit publishing that type of data. When you see people using the same solutions that your school uses, privately confirm what pricing they are getting.
Dealing with sales people is easier if you already know the answer to the questions.
Ask for MultiYear Deals
Any service or subscription that your institution considers a core solution should not be on an annual renewal. Not only are you wasting time and paperwork, but you are wasting money.
Ask for pricing for one year, three years, and five years. Look at the terms of payment and cancellation. It is often very surprising what the final cost is compared to the simple annual renewal. I usually look at three year deals as they are usually more flexible.
Find Competition, and Make it Known
Regardless of how much adoration there is for a service, remember, business is business. Services close down and sell-out all the time. When a company sells-out, they do not call your school to ask what you think. Companies are in business to stay in business.
Schools should always look for competition for products and services they are using. Schools should always have someone doing research and demos before renewals. Schools should not pay invoices because of an emotional connection.
It is an excellent idea to inform companies that you are looking for other solutions and doing due diligence.
Sales people know the game, and know who they are playing against. Most good sales people tend to know their competition’s pricing models and margins. Sales people will make better offers, package additional features, and push for better terms from their bosses when they know a competitor is involved.
Avoid the Shopping Cart
The listed website price is rarely the best deal. In fact, many good products require a quick form/survey to be completed before they issue a quote. These companies want to have the chance to offer not only the best price, but the best options; options that someone buying from an online shopping cart may skip.
I am not saying this is always the case, but I always contact the sales team to reconfirm the pricing, and deals.
Skip the cart, send a message first.
Need help or more information dealing with a vendor/service? Have a service you need to move away from, but you feel locked in?
Send me a personal email and we can review some additional strategies. (email@example.com)
OK, let’s take a step back, take a breath and look at this article (and others like it). The article claims (in the title) that half of all workplace tasks will be handled by automation. That is a pretty bold prediction right there. They don’t define what a “task” is nor do they offer what is a “workplace”. In fact, there are very little details that give any actual example. It turns out this is just a prediction. I have a problem with this prediction and others like but I’ll talk about that later.
So, if you’re in a school should you be pushing for more coding, more robotics, more maker space opportunities to better prepare your students for this future? Well yes and no! You want more and better opportunities for your students. These particular areas challenge students to think creatively, critically and help build good team skills which in turn helps them learn how to communicate better with their peers and others. Nice – but that should be the push behind it not because an article says that this is the future. A less informed person may ask the question “Should these classes be mandatory?”
I personally don’t think so. You must remember that there are only so many hours in a school day and to make a new subject mandatory it must push something else out in order to make space. So what goes? Certainly not a core subject (English, History/Social Studies, Math, Science). So that leaves Physical Education, Art, Music and World Languages. So which one would you remove? Leave your comments below
I see the importance of coding and so forth but I just cannot pick another class or subject and say “Yep! That’s the weak link in our school. It’s time to replace it with something new!” It just doesn’t make sense.
Saying that every student needs to learn coding or robotics may sound progressive and forward thinking but I believe that it is usually a statement that is not fully thought out or that someone has not considered how it would impact the school itself.
Computers, systems and databases are getting simpler and easier for the common user. Computers are a great example. Computer operating systems have been becoming easier and easier to use. While they still have their head scratching moments (like the the Control Panel and the Settings page in Windows 10). Windows 10 is certainly a lot easier to find files, use programs and navigate than Windows 3.1 or even Mac 7.0.1. The point here is that computer interfaces are becoming easier and easier to use. The need to dive under-the-hood to fix something is becoming less and less necessary.
A lot people argue that students need to know how to code to learn how to build something. Sure, you can certainly accomplish that with coding, but you can also accomplish that with video or image editing software, a project art class, an experiment in a science lab or in just about any other class. One does not need coding to create or problem solve. There are countless other ways that children can learn to create, think critically and problem solve. Coding is just one way to go.
Now back to the prediction in the article and the problem I have with it. These articles are written with such an air of authority that how could anyone deny this is coming? How could this possibly not happen? It makes people jump up and want to take action. People like educators, parents, students and policy makers.
Let us not forget this is a prediction and nothing more. Predictions have been wrong before. Now let’s talk about what is wrong with this article and its very confident prediction.
I already mentioned the lack of details of what a task is and what a workspace is. Nor does it give a specific case of this happening. For example, saying that McDonald’s self-ordering Kiosk that will eliminate a traditional cashier position.
Now back to what is a task. This could be any type of action. Turning on and off a light. That is a task. A lot of schools already use motion sensors to perform this task. Does it replace an employee? No, in fact it actually creates some jobs for others outside of the school. How about using a card to unlock a door at your school?
At our school the parent/teacher conferences is now automated as we use an online service but this actually creates a little more work for the IT department as we set up the system, but it saves a lot of work for our teachers which is great. Again, no one loses their job.
So if this article is talking about these types of tasks I can agree that in less than a decade a lot of basic tasks could be automated. Would I go so far to say 50% will be automated? No, I think that is a little ridiculous. So at school are we teaching our students “tasks”? Sure, but that is a quick skill and nothing more. We don’t have light switch class offered in middle school. We do, however, encourage students to turn off the lights in rooms no one is in to save electricity.
Be critical of these articles (and of this one!) Think about what they are talking about and proposing and then see if it makes sense. Look at around your world, be observant and see if those predictions really seem like they could come to fruition. Driverless cars are a good example. Some have said that there will be plenty on the road by 2020. That is less than two years away. Does it seem that way to you? Has their been legislation passed to allow the everyday driver the ability to purchase these cars? Can it navigate through a dense urban environment? Has the ethical issues and the industry issues been tackled?
Virtual reality and augmented reality (sometimes referred to as mixed reality) was supposed to take the world be storm. Well, they are here and most people, most schools, most businesses and industries rarely use it, or use it meaningfully.
I am merely saying that predictions do not always go the way people have predicted them to go. Don’t be so eager to believe a prediction (regardless of where it comes from) and react to every headline, news report, blog or discussion around the water cooler.
If your phone battery is not at 100%, would you still use it? Or, would you sit and wait for it to charge?
If your water bottle is 50% empty, would you continue to use it, or would you immediately go refill it?
If a schedule is 70% ready to be built, would you start building it, or wait until you have 100% of the information?
Here are the correct answers: Use It; Drink It; Make It Now
Start Now, it is Never too Early
I have built many schedules. For new schools, new programs, residential life, and events. In my experience the most important rule about academic scheduling, PK-12, is to start now, because it is never too early. Literally, after the first week of the academic year, most schedule issues arise. Issues need solutions. Solutions need a process. Processes take time. Time is always the main currency of any PK-12 organization, and currency should not be wasted.
Scheduling is All About Percentages
Imagine planning a very traditional elementary school schedule. The homeroom kind of schedule found in many American Schools.
There are 50 teachers. In August the school is getting 10 new teachers. Do I wait for those teachers to arrive to plan the schedule?
Let’s state that another way. I have 83% of my team. Can I make a plan with 83% of my team? Yes.
Observable data and experience would easily indicate that very few people in a school want to be responsible for scheduling. This data would also indicate, that more senior staff are more likely to have the desire to be involved, as they are aware of the issues.
It’s been a spell since I’ve sat down and wrote a post, but now that the school year is officially going, I thought it was time to brush the dust off the keyboard and jump back in.
Oh yeah – you can expect some podcasts flying your way in September so stay tuned and subscribe to us 🙂
Nuts and bolts
This goes without saying and is pretty common in all schools I’ve ever worked at or spoke to. I refer to this as fine tuning the school year. Schedules are all set up, report card templates have been carried over from the previous school year and student and email groups are all created. Now it is time to fine tune all of this. Whose schedule has changed, updating email groups, helping teachers with their tech and their classroom pages and websites. It is one of those aspects that is done when it is done, but it makes all the difference moving forward.
The beginning of the year is not a bad time to try out some new ideas. The staff is pretty focused on setting up their procedures and classrooms. This goes for divisions as well. More often then not a teacher or principal will have a strong idea of what they want; however if you can throw in something new that either enhances or replaces an older process you will find people very receptive.
I tried this with middle school students requesting electives. Normally it was done through a Google Form and then the students were manually placed in a class. This year, we tried it through our school information system. There was some fine tuning and some small obstacles to overcome, but the administration was willing to give it a go.
They would know really quickly if it was going to work or not. If it didn’t, no big deal. It’s the start of the school year, electives don’t start right away with our schedule so if it didn’t work we still had time to do it the Google way. Just for the record, it did work.
The start of the school year is not a two-three week process for the IT department. It often starts in early July for us and ramps up week by week until school starts and then carries on a good two weeks after that. For us at least, that accounts for six weeks of work.
I am a big believer of looking back at big projects and figuring out what could we have done better, what really worked and what was a grind. These discussions usually bring everyone in on the same page and allow people to share successes and failures in a safe way.
Looking to the future
The big one here is budgeting for the next school year. Don’t wait on this one and start thinking and discussing it now. If you know you have a big project then start getting quotes, prices, time tables and contingencies in place. I’ve learned this from experience. I’ve wanted to do a project but only did some basic web searches and then budget time came due and I just put up a number. Well, the work needed more time and more money in order to do it correctly. That was bad news. Luckily we were able to make it work, but it is not very professional and if it is a trend.
Most budgets seem to be due in fall or early winter so don’t wait and be sure to talk to your admin team in the building to make sure they don’t have anything they need to add. Communicate now so you don’t have to explain why someone cannot have something in the future.
This is very important and something I learned even before being in education. Make sure you have some wiggle room. Don’t plan projects back to back with no time in between. Make sure you have space and some give to your planning for the inevitable, unforeseen disaster or issue. It happens and make sure you and your team are able to put certain projects on hold and re-prioritize when the need arises. If not you will find unhappy people all around you.
I normally do not review hardware. Primarily because it costs a bunch of money and I don’t feel comfortable receiving products from companies to review – it just feels weird. Anyway, our school needed a way to stream from a computer to a display or projector for outside people who show up to make presentations.
Our teachers have MacBook Airs and an Apple TV in each room and that works quite well for this, but if someone shows up with a Windows machine, well then it is a scramble to find the right adapter, get them connected, test it out and then realize they want sound as well. Well, then we are scrambling to find an audio cord. It doesn’t take too long but it definitely doesn’t feel professional.
Airtame is a wireless device that plugs into the HDMI port of your display or projector, it is powered through a USB connection and works on both Mac and Windows (iOS and Android will be addressed later on). It costs $299 USD (though if you buy 10 or more you can get it for $249) and has some nice features such as digital signage opportunities and cloud management. Let’s dive right in and I’ll give my thoughts about Airtame at the end of the article.
What’s in the box?
In the box you will find the following.
1) The Airtame itself
2) Micro USB to USB A cable
3) HDMI extender cable (approximately 15cm)
4) A power brick
5) Three types of power plugs
Having a power plug and an HDMI extender is a very nice touch. I’ve seen some projectors with no USB input and so a power adapter is necessary. I’ve also seen some projectors that make the HDMI port inaccessible due to the manner in which it was mounted on a ceiling. Having these extra peripherals included is smart thinking from the people of Airtame.
The Airtame itself is fairly small. Though it is a bit wide which could prove tricky for some installations. Here it is next to a standard Sharpie marker.
Setting up the Airtame is pretty easy. It basically works like this. Plug it into the device’s (in this case my Dell monitor) HDMI port, plug the USB cord into the Airtame and the USB port of the display and wait a minute for the setup screen to load.
Here is what the Airtame looks like plugged into my screen. Something to note, the USB can be plugged into either side of the Airtame. I just chose not to mess with it this time as it did not affect my set up.
When the setup screen pops up it will look something like this.
So when you go to http://airtame.com/setup you will need to download the Airtame application to your computer. The application is free, not that big and downloads and installs quickly. However, this must be done with a computer. I do not believe there is a way to set up an Airtame with an iOS or Android device.
Once installed it lives in the menu bar of Mac and I believe it lives in the system tray on a Windows computer. When you open it up by clicking on the application icon you will see a list of all installed Airtames and any new ones that need to be set up.
When you click that setup button it will ask you to name the Airtame (don’t worry this can be changed later on) and to select what network it will need to connect to and the password for that network. Then click the Set up now button.
What happens next is pretty neat. The Airtame has its own WiFi hotspot that your computer will connect to. Once connected it will transfer the new name and network information over to the Airtame. Then your computer will disconnect from the Airtame network and then reconnect to your old network. The Airtame will also rename itself and then connect to the same network. Thus letting the two talk again.
All the while the Airtame will be giving you visual clues that this is happening and it all happens fairly quickly which is nice.
When you’re done the Airtame will let you know and when you click the Airtame app your new streaming device will appear in the list. To start streaming click the Start button. It’ll connect in a few seconds and you’re ready to present!
The Airtame is set up and you’re streaming your screen to another screen. You can only mirror your desktop which means whatever you see on your computer screen is what others will see on the second display or projector. The quality is pretty good if you are streaming a slideshow, website or basic documents. The basic settings on your Airtame will be more than suffice. If you stream animation or video the quality starts to drop but we will talk more about that a little later.
By default the Airtame does not stream any audio. If you want audio you will need to open the Airtame app and click the sound button (next to the Start button).
This will create a 1 second buffer to give the Airtame app sufficient time to process the audio and to help that it stays synced with the video (if there is video).
Airtame has a huge amount of options when it comes to streaming. Just click on the SETTINGS link in the bottom left hand side of the Airtame application. Then toggle to Manual Mode
Here you will be greeted with all those settings. You can change the quality of the image, the buffer (0–30 seconds), the resolution and more. Just look at those options!
Now regardless of those settings – streaming a 1080p movie from your computer to a projector for two hours should work in theory, but I would not expect anything close to Netflix quality. The Airtame can do this (not 4K though), but it’s not the greatest. You may have image issues and audio not syncing with the video is also a possibility. Our teachers experience this even with the latest version of the Apple TV, so streaming still has a ways to go before it is truly seamless, but for basic streaming the Airtame is more than capable.
Having guests connect is just as easy. The Airtame displays a pretty space picture and then there are instructions on how to connect. Check out the screen below.
Now this works fine with Mac computers, Windows computers and I’ve even gotten it to work with our Samsung Chromebook 3’s which is pretty wild.
They will connect to the same network the Airtame is on, download the app and the Airtame will show up in their list. It is really quite easy and so far I can’t seem to find any fault in this. It’s certainly not as hassle free as the Barco Clickshare solution but then again it is considerably much cheaper than a Barco.
On Android and iOS devices it is limited. You need the Airtame app and then you can only stream images, slideshows or certain files from your Dropbox account. So there are those limitations but wait! There is some news. In a beta version, Apple’s Airplay is enabled. This means that from an iOS device you can mirror your screen! This is impressive and I hope an Android option is coming soon.
The Airtame has a neat little trick up its sleeve. It can serve as a digital sign. When you first power it up there are these wonderful space images, but if you would like to have your own images, slide show or dashboard present instead you absolutely can.
Just access the settings (where Manual Mode is found) and you can change where the instructions are located on the screen (if at all) and you can point the Airtame to a website, an image (either web based or uploaded from your computer) or leave it to the Default space images.
If you point it at a website (say a Google slideshow). It will display that over and over again. A great way for students, parents and staff to see some basic news about upcoming events. Since the Airtame is so small and since a Google slideshow can be updated anywhere it makes it super easy for even basic computer users to create something to share with a large group of people.
They also support a number of dashboards. Now from an school perspective, we wouldn’t have a ton of use for this but then again maybe I’m just not dreaming big enough.
Now we are talking about some fun stuff. An issue we have with our Apple TV’s is that some are updated, others aren’t and when there are issues we typically have to go down there, unplug and take it to the IT Office to test it out. There isn’t a convenient way to remotely manage these devices. I know that you can put them in a system like Filewave but that seems like overkill.
With the Airtame Cloud I can easily enroll these devices and have all the control over each one or a place them in a group and manage the group if I wish. I can change the resolution, point it to a website, reboot it, change the background image add a PIN code to it and even update it to a beta version to get newer features. Check out the very simple and easy to use dashboard below.
It is very easy, intuitive and if you want to update all the Airtames on 5am Sunday morning from your home then go right ahead. You can watch the process while you sip on some tea or coffee.
You can also invite people to help manage the Airtames making it a team effort. That way if one person is unable to assist, then there is a backup.
Should I ditch Apple TV?
OK, this is certainly a great question. If you and your staff use Mac then no. The Apple TV allows teacher to not just mirror but extend their display which is very, very handy. It can allow teachers to have a window that only they see while presenting something else to the class. Also, the image quality on Apple TVs seems to be higher than that of Airtame. Let us not forget the cost. a regular 1080p Apple TV costs $149 USD.
If you have a mixed environment then the answer is probably yes. While a more integrated and centrally controlled system like a Barco Clickshare is probably more desirable the hefty price tag that comes along with it certainly makes Airtame a lot more attractive.
We have two Airtames and will most likely pick up some more. I think that they are definitely worth the $250–300 price tag especially considering the alternatives on the market and all the features it offers.
Wrapping it all up
Airtame is pretty great. It really is. For the price you get digital signage, a streaming device that is quite small, portable and a way to remotely manage them that Apple TVs cannot do.
While I wished the quality of the image was a little better. What the Airtame does deliver is quite adequate and since it is pretty simple to connect most devices to an Airtame this makes it very useful and flexible.
Also, let us consider how quickly they update and try out new features often. The current Airtame beta version gives you the access to use Apple’s Airplay and the ability to stream a single window. It seems that the people at Airtame are always working, tinkering trying to deliver a great product with great and practicable functionality.
If you’re looking at a wireless streaming solution and not sure where to start check out Airtame.
My apologies IT Babblers – I should have posted this a while ago. At any rate check out the latest episode of the IT Babble podcast. Tony and I discuss imaging difficulties with Mac OS High Sierra, AirTame and what it means to be Tech Savvy. As always you can find us on iTunes or on your favorite podcasting app.
World Cup Fever & 4th of July
Important High Sierra Changes for IT Admins by Adam Engst of TidBITS
There are many uncomfortable situations people in technology leadership have to endure annually. Normally, uncomfortable situations are created because someone did not understand the far reaching ramifications of a single bad decision. Often, these are not isolated incidents. Too often, in meeting rooms or private conferences, these words hang in the air when such uncomfortable situations occur, “Tech Savvy”.
I think something often ignored in a definition, is how it connects to other concepts. If savvy has a relationship with shrewdness, then a savvy person needs to be shrewd in order to be savvy.
Being savvy does not simply mean being informed, it means being able to make decisions (often tactical decisions) in very difficult circumstances.
Defining Tech Savvy
I have been working in some type of technology field, or technology skill related job, since I was 19 years old. In 24 years, I do think I have ever said I am tech savvy. I would need to review many thousands of words I have published, but I am certain that day-to-day I avoid using the term.
I have tried many times to define what Tech Savvy means. I have often thought having a “Tech Savvy” certification for teachers would be an interesting idea.
Unfortunately, every time I try to define the term, outline the metrics, and make a public statement for people to comment on, I pause.
Technology is a generic term for a massively diverse universe of things, concepts, solutions, and industries.
Educational Technology, EdTech, would seem to be an area of technology that is easy to define. Being Tech Savvy in EdTech should be easy to define, and T-shirts should be printed in mass.
Even EdTech, is hard to define. Some core areas of EdTech many teachers and administrators do not fully or completely understand:
Assessment Data Collection and Analysis
Network Security to align with Child Protection and Academic Honesty Enforcement
Admissions Processes and Withdrawal Processes
In international education each one of the above is more complex, and they often need to meet multiple language and governmental requirements.
To not completely understand, means, there is a lack of shrewdness. So, who should be making these decisions? Sitting in these meetings? And, who knows everything?
No One is Tech Savvy
There is a Japanese proverb I studied many years ago. It states: Even the Monkey can Fall from the Tree.
Even though I spend hundreds of hours a month working on multiple EdTech projects, I take time to pause and plan each project. I do make mistakes. I also take steps so I can revert my mistakes. I expect to make mistakes. Maybe I am Mistake Savvy?
I research projects, even if I have done similar projects multiple times. I look for new models, and methods. I consult dozens of professionals, and open the door so they can easily consult me. Writing a consultation for a third-party, is one of the best ways to measure knowledge, and ignorance. Can you make a plan, that someone else can follow, but you cannot direct?
I am never going to be confident enough to say that I am universally Tech Savvy.
I would rate myself as an expert in some areas of EdTech. However, for each of those areas I continue to study. The more I study, the more I realize there is to learn. Maybe I am a Savvy Student?
To have a good culture in a school, or any organization, I believe in avoiding labels. No one should be left making decisions alone, especially when student data and learning is at risk. Being shrewd and tactical is powerful in a leader, but it is even more powerful in a team.
Fix Your Mission Statement
I firmly believe in good mission statements. I have seen many mission statements, but have seen very few good ones. Leaders need missions statements. Everyone in leadership feels isolated at times, and, they often believe they need to be shrewd to stay relevant.
To avoid bad decisions, and to neutralize bad labels, add this to your mission statement: Do No Harm, Now and in the Future.
Students leave. They move on. That is the purpose of education. All present decisions, impact students after they leave. I have found no better way to plan long term than to plan to support students after they leave, and never to impeded them.
Planning only for now, or until a student moves from grade-to-grade (or class to class), will do harm.
A long term view of students, and their academic and professional lives, is a defense against the short term bad decisions individuals and teams can make.
A person can be Tech Savvy right now, but rarely, as Tech Savvy in the near future. Take the long term view. Do not try and be savvy in something that is always changing, and often filled with false promises and overstated features.
That's what we are here for. We want to help teachers and educators integrate technology in the classroom in sensible and relevant ways. Just drop us a line by commenting on any of our posts and we will get back to you as soon as we can.
And don't get stressed out...crack open a cold one on us :o)