Category Archives: Opinion

Usually just some rambling, but we can make some good points

Fun Holiday movies

Only a few more days until the winter break and the end of 2018 so I thought that some teachers might like some holiday movies that they could show some of their students. Here you go!

How the Grinch that Stole Christmas

Yep – it’s a classic and no I am not talking about the latest animated version or the terrible Jim Carey version. I’m talking the 1966 original with Boris Karloff. You can find it on YouTube and it is less than 30 minutes and a lot of fun.

 

Toy Story

The first Toy Story changed everything and it was released pretty close to Thanksgiving (making it a holiday movie) in 1995. The movie holds up and it is pretty remarkable to see just how far Pixar has come with its animation. It’s also pretty interesting to see just how mean Woody was in the first movie.

 

Song of the Sea

I’m cheating here. This movie released in the US around the holidays but the movie itself takes place during Halloween. Hey – it’s my blog I can cheat a little if I want 🙂 At any rate, this movie is great! It has a wonderful story, beautiful animation and the voice acting is top notch.  It is far better than Big Hero 6 which I believe won best-animated movie that year.

 

Arthur Christmas

Another Christmas movie but like How the Grinch Stole Christmas this is also not very religious and addresses more of the logistical practicality that surrounds Santa Claus. It’s fun, enjoyable, has a nice message and is through and through a good movie.

DON’T WATCH THIS MOVIE!

Adam Sandler made an animated holiday film titled 8 Crazy Nights. It is terrible. Everything from the voice acting to the animation to the writing. It is PG-13 for adult language but it is just bad.

There you have it – what videos would you think to be a good idea for the holidays?

I Played with Virtual Reality

In the not too distant past there was a promise that virtual reality and/or augmented reality was going to be the “next big thing.” Well both are here and there is less buzz around them than ever before? I have played around with a virtual reality headset and was less than impressed. Let me tell you what went wrong.

Lenovo Mirage Solo

I attended the HECC Tech Conference in Indianapolis this year. Every participant was given a Lenovo Mirage Solo virtual reality headset. What makes this a little intriguing is that it is completely wireless. There is no smartphone that needs to be slipped into a piece of cardboard or power/data cables that are tethered to the headset. There is also a wireless handheld controller that will let you navigate through the menus and also allow you to interact with the different apps.

At the conference, a Lenovo sales representative predicted that every school in America would have a cart of VR headsets for teachers to check out and use with their class. He did say that Lenovo recommends that the headset is used with children at least 13 years or older.

So what powers this thing? The Mirage runs Android and Google Daydream. Of course, this means you need to have a Google account and access to the Google Play store to download apps. It has a wall charger with a USB C connector to charge the device and the remote control (you need to charge them separately). There is also a 3.5mm headphone jack on the side of the headset and it includes some earbuds, though I suspect you could pair some wireless Bluetooth headphones to it.

OK – that’s the background info now let’s get into the use.

Setting it up

I must say strapping on the headset for the first time and powering it on was pretty neat. After the system actually loads you find yourself looking everywhere just to test it all out. There was a preloaded Wild Immersion app that has various videos (all shot in 360 naturally) of a wildlife nature reserve in Africa. It is pretty neat to look behind you and see animals right behind you. It’s a short experience but got me pretty jazzed up and so I jumped right into the setup.

Man, this was like jumping into a 3 foot mud puddle, slow and clumsy. Using the controller to manually type in your Google account name and password took forever oh, but before that, you needed to select and type in the WiFi password. It sounds simple, put pretend a large keyboard is 1.5–2 meters in front of you. This keyboard has very large keys. Now you have a stick and need to type all that in. It’s certainly doable, just not enjoyable or super easy. I’m not sure a solution here but this process stunk.

It is very slow and tedious. Then once in, I had to run some updates, restart the device and then I was ready to go. This (including the Wild Immersion experience took about 30 minutes.

Using it

Once logged in, you can navigate and download apps. You don’t have a normal app store, but a curated one with basically just VR ready apps at the forefront. Select an app, type in your password (like you would on your smartphone) and away you go. The first app I downloaded was a virtual roller coaster. It was free – I’m not going to lie – that’s why I picked it.

The roller coaster app was an unusual experience. It was odd because I was sitting in a kitchen chair, I wasn’t moving, I knew I wasn’t moving, but somehow my brain still experienced moments of vertigo as I crested a tall hill. It is a little surreal. It wasn’t that the rollercoaster was going fast either and I could see and predict what was coming and when. Like I said – surreal.

There are those moments of interest but overall the experience isn’t that great. First, the image was never fully in focus. I had to hold the headset to my head to minimize this effect. Most of the image as but near the top left-hand part it seemed to be always out of focus.

Perhaps I didn’t adjust it just right, I am willing to put that on me, but think for a moment of a class of twenty students and trying to get each student (or even just half of them) adequately adjusted. This sounds like a nightmare.

There is an interesting safety feature built into it. If you move too far from your original position, the screen dims (or fades to black altogether) and there is a message that you need to return to the position for your own safety. I am sure this is to keep people from roaming, tripping, falling or just inadvertently hurting themselves.

Image quality

The image quality is good but feels lacking. The image is clearly framed within your vision forcing you to move your head around to see something. Try to picture yourself looking through a box. In order to see what is to your left or right, you need to actually move your head instead of just your eyes.

Though the headset is fairly comfortable after a while it gets tiring.

The actual resolution is pretty good and there is the screen door effect (where the image looks like it is being viewed behind a screen) but it seems very minimal.

App selection & afterward

There just isn’t a ton of selection out there and what is out there you feel more like a passenger and not someone who can interact. I did download a BBC app called BBC Earth. It is kind of neat but a bit buggy. You can use the remote to access information about your surroundings and you tether yourself to a seal who leads you around the ocean. It’s neat but I had trouble lassoing the seal and sometimes other trouble selecting items to get information. After a good 10 minutes in here, I found myself frustrated and wanting to leave.

There are some YouTube videos that are 360 but again, you are just along for the ride. There needs to be more. I am not exactly sure I can describe what this “more” should be I just know that what I had on my noggin was not enough.

Many of the apps I tried had minimal interaction and some felt as though it was an after thought. Remember when 3D films were all the rage. James Cameron made Avatar – a movie purpose designed and shot on special 3D cameras. Then there was a deluge of all these other films that had been “turned into” 3D films. The difference between the two were staggering and some audience members had issues with the 3D in Avatar as well.

After using it for about 45 minutes I took the headset off and I noticed an issue of my eyes focusing on objects. It was as if my right and left eyes were trying to focus differently on the same object. I cannot explain it any better than that. This effect lasted for a good 30 minutes after I had set the headset down. I don’t believe it would have impaired me from driving but it certainly bugged me.

It needs to just work & other problems

I know this is a tall order but if you want teachers and schools to go through all of this and invest their money (and time) it just needs to work. There can’t be all these slowdowns or bugs within apps. It needs to do more than just allow students to be a “passenger.”

I can see other problems with this. Students jumping into other apps, students jumping into the correct app and then go off exploring without waiting for instructions. Also, when you utilize sound (which does improve the immersion effect) forget about giving instructions at all after that point. Instructions need to be crystal clear and understood before this device is even passed out. Once it is on and the outside world is blocked out the students are on their own.

The remote is another issue. As a consumer it is great to have. It is wireless, fairly easy to use and is pretty accurate (though it can be tedious as mentioned earlier). Now you have a class set. These remotes are fairly small and I can see them getting lost. I mean how often have students “misplaced” Chromebooks or iPads and think how large those are compared to these tiny remotes.

Should you buy it

I think my tone is pretty clear here. Skip this and all virtual reality devices … for now. In the past (heck still now) you can find articles touting how VR will change the world! It may but is pretty far away. It is exciting to watch but don’t waste your time or classroom budget on these devices yet.

They are too big, still buggy, still out of focus, still not fully baked.

I was genuinely excited about the Mirage. I wanted to like it, I wanted it to bring something new to the table. It does but it is fleeting. It is very cool for a few minutes and then you realize that you are just along for the ride. This breaks that immersion a bit. It takes some of the thrill away from the experience.

I still have hopes for VR, but the reality is that it is farther from the mainstream than I initially realized and that unless it is done correctly, it’s not worth being done at all.

Keep hoping people – I know I will.

I Did the Hour of Code, and then I Did Three More Hours of Coding


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Every year I take a few minutes to express slight annoyance at “The Hour of Code”. In my professional life, I will support any teacher wishing to participate. However, if anyone does happen to ask my opinion, I would explain to them my reservations about the event.

This year I want to take a new approach. Let’s skip the part about how an hour of coding is not a practical amount of time to plan, draft, built, and evaluate a creative solution or idea. Let’s move beyond the fact that the majority of the programming environments children are using are telling them what to do and how to do it (because they only have an hour). Finally, let’s completely ignore the potential disappointment students will face when they decide to actually try and build something on their own.

The first important fact I would like to address is that I have taught children as young as  grade three how to code something meaningful. It was a slow, and often painful process, that seemed to be futile. However, the children always surprised me, and after 6-8 hours of work, there was usually a working program that connected to an idea. I would like to stress that I am aware many students are not able to simple open an IDE and begin creating the next Mario Kart. Coding/Programing is tough. It takes practice. Students need to learn and evolve. Doing an Hour of Code ONCE to get them going is fun, and I would support that.

Why Are We Still At An Hour of Code?

My rant this year is on this simple question: why do we still just have an hour of code?
It seems like since many schools have been doing this for a few years that there would be another, possibly required, track that regular participants would need to follow.

For example, Three Hours of Code. Or maybe Two Hours of Code, the Wrath of Python. Anything beyond on hour for those who understand the mission, and have mastered an hour of code, would be preferable.

Maybe if it is the first time coding with students, schools do one hour, and join the movement.

Since those schools have a full year to prepare for the next challenge, how about level it up a bit? Why wait all year to just do one more hour?

If we are saying the mission of the project is to get students interested in coding, then shouldn’t the continued mission require more  levels of participation?

An Hour of Code year-after-year is not a going to make an impact.

Are You Really Serious About Coding and Project Based Learning?

If you are serious about working with young learners, then you need to find programs like AppJamming. These types of contests connect all the aspects of the Systems Life Cycle , to the student experience. Working with a program like AppJamming allows students to experience the various phases of creation from the idea to the end-product.

Makerfaires are another outlet for getting students involved in true project based learning initiatives. These types of events are excellent. Coding is part of a tool kit instead of the sole focus. Students who may “like” coding, but do not “love” coding, would be more likely to participate. Students would learn to integrate coding as a process into a larger product.

In Summary

Support teachers and students who want to do new things. Do not keep allowing people to easily do the same thing over and over. The learning becomes less and less when the goals are easy to achieve. Encourage people to challenge themselves, and take some risks.

 

 

Apple products in schools? It’s complicated

Apple just unveiled a new MacBook Air, Mac Mini and iPad Pro. Much of this news should get schools excited. I want to be excited so why am I not excited? To oversimplify my issue is price. I am not sure the new MacBook Air is worth $1200 and I am not sure the Mac Mini is worth $800 and then to have Apple compare its iPads to laptops (kind of undercutting the MacBook Air a little) it makes me a little worried. So let me ramble a bit more below.

MacBook Air


This MacBook Air at one point was arguably the best laptop period. It didn’t matter if you were comparing it to a Windows device or not. It had incredible battery, pretty powerful and for the price probably the best laptop you could buy. That was 7 years ago.

Now they have a new MacBook Air starting at $1200. It has a much better display, a fair amount of RAM, a new Intel Y processor, a fingerprint sensor for easy logging in and some others bells and whistles. Sounds good but the problem is that Windows laptops have come a long way since then and if you’re spending $1200 on a laptop and you decide to look across the aisle at Windows, well you can see some compelling arguments to switch over.

A Dell XPS 13″ is a great computer to compare it with. You can find almost the same specs for $200 cheaper. When you’re buying 13–20 laptops at a time – that $200 is nothing to sneeze at. I’ve played around with one and it is a really nice laptop. Also, when most of our work is in the cloud (including our SIS) it makes one wonder why stick with Apple?

I do like Mac OS and I do find it easier to work with but we’re talking a lot of money that could go back into the budget every year. Do we stick with Mac because that is what everyone else uses? How would the staff react? Those are questions for another time.

The OLD MacBook Air

Apple is still selling the old MacBook Air and I would be fine with that if they dropped the price since we are talking about a computer that is still using a processor three generations so it’s not nearly as powerful and they are still selling it for $999. At the price point it is a poor investment for schools. We try to get to four years out of our laptops and while we probably could get four years from the old Airs I wonder how it will be performing for our teachers and staff in four years? It seems like a bad investment.

Mac Mini


I really like it except it is very expensive for a $800 desktop. Still it is a good computer for running a small server (which we do) and will probably pick one up and then manually upgrade the RAM. You cannot upgrade the storage or processor as both are still soldered to the board.

iPad Pro confusion

OK – here is what worries me. Apple is clearly stacking the iPad Pro up against traditional laptops (including their own). It’s priced like a laptop. It is more powerful than most laptops. To me, Apple is clearly telling us to ditch our laptops for the iPad Pro. This only reinforces my opinion that iOS and Mac OS are going to merge one day and the device Apple would like to see that happen is with its own iPad. I have no idea what this would look like and if any company can pull it off it will be Apple.

I’ve talked with a couple of people in various different professions who use the iPad Pro as their daily device. They all said the same thing. It’s great but it takes time to figure out how to do some tasks that are pretty basic with my laptop. Such as finding and organizing files, not using a mouse, etc. This is not a good future in my opinion and I worry that Apple will continue to let its laptop line become more and more mediocre.

Right now we are budgeting to purchase the new 13″ Retina MacBook Air but it doesn’t sit well with me and we won’t make the purchase till the summer so we will see how it turns out.

Predictions, Patience and Observation

I saw this article by Jamey Keaten in the Huffington Post titled Automation In The Workplace Means Machines Will Handle Half Of Tasks By 2025: Report. It basically says that automation will replace people at their jobs. So schools need to adjust right? I mean the future is happening right now so schools have to act right now! RIGHT!?!?! WE MUST CHANGE NOW!!!!!

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.

Educational Impact

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.

Prediction problem

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.

Conclusion

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.

Scheduling , Why Wait?

 

 

 

 

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

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.

READ MORE @ The International Educator

 

 

 

Start of the year – What’s on your to-do list?

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.

New stuff

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.

Reflecting

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.

Wiggle room

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.

Tech Savvy, Are Your Sure?

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

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”.

What Does it Mean to be Savvy?

savvier; savviest
: having or showing perception, comprehension, or shrewdness especially in practical matters

shrewd·ness
the quality of having or showing good powers of judgement.

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:

  • Data standardization
  • Assessment Data Collection and Analysis
  • Data Privacy
  • Transcription
  • Scheduling
  • 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.

Be a savvy planner. Be a savvy researcher.

 

 

Don’t buy Nintendo Labo

I’ve been meaning to write this ever since I heard about this product. First, let’s get something out of the way. I like to game. I am not a huge gamer but I really enjoy the time I get to plop down and dive headfirst into a video game. I think the idea of Nintendo Labo is awesome! If I had a Switch I may even be tempted to go ahead and purchase this.

I am talking from a school perspective. At first blush this may seem to tick a lot of boxes.
* STEAM related? CHECK
* Hands on? CHECK
* Engaging? CHECK
* Pretty darn fun? CHECK

I can see a lot of schools and outspoken teachers clamoring to purchase this. So I hate to rain on people’s parade but get your umbrellas ready.

Cost

Here is what you need and the costs associated with them:
* Nintendo Switch – $300
* Nintendo Labo Variety Kit – $70

Now consider how many game consoles you need to purchase. Now how many kits do you need to buy? That’s the big one. I picked the Variety Kit and not the Robot kit($80) because you could probably pair students up and have them build these interactive controllers. In the Variety Kit you get 5 different projects:
* RC Cars
* Fishing Rod
* House
* Motorbike
* Piano

Use

I can see groups of two tackling these projects in a class and they’re not terribly bulky, but if you do the math (and I know you did) that gives you an engaging and varied activity for 10 students. I guess you could stretch it to three but still that’s 15 students. Certainly most classes are larger than that. Then after they’re done you get to play the games.

Well with probably only one Switch in the room that means a lot of people standing around watching others explore their games and what they can do. Even if a teacher dedicates two whole classes over two days that probably gives you anywhere from 1–2.5 hours of game play with 20+ students. Then what? Do they sit on shelves and are used when students have free time? Do students get to take them home at some point?

Re-use

Now comes the real problem. Maybe your school has the money to buy enough Switches and Kits. Maybe you have small classes and can dedicate enough time to getting kids ample playtime with these tools. Maybe you can solve these problems.

The kits (to my knowledge and if I’m wrong please let me know in the comments) cannot really be unfolded and reused. I supposed you could do that but we are talking about cardboard here. Often times taking something apart carefully can even more difficult that putting it together.

At any rate that’s why schools should pass. If you have a fairly small group of students and don’t mind buying more kits every year that perhaps consider it, but it seems a pretty costly investment for a small group of students.

It’s Time to Regulate Social Media in Schools

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

It is spring time, and once again I am planning a new network security plan for a school. The same issues as always, and the same questions.

All questions usually have answers with a price tag attached. Value in such planning is very subjective. After all, we spend money every year managing free apps on iPads, how does that make financial sense?

One question cannot be answered. Regardless of my due diligence and the school’s willingness to fund a comprehensive plan, students will still have phones. Those phones will have data plans. Those data plans circumvent all the work we do. Parents do not seem to care, because they are worried about having that device for logistics and emergencies.

These devices are addictive, and the applications are purely for entertainment and dopamine-driven feedback loops.

Yes, the network can manage the problem when students are on Wifi; but not when the students are on their own network.

Jamming signals is not legal in most countries, and localized jamming seems to cover very large spaces. Even if it was legal, it would impact other services.

I believe all problems can be solved, and I believe I have a solution for this one. Generically, I like to call it Social Media for Education.

Social Media for Education Explained

The core concept is simple. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., would offer an educational package. I firmly believe this should be a paid service for schools that can afford it, and free for schools that can demonstrate hardship. If you consider the cost of properly  blocking Apps on Wifi ($10-50 USD per student per year), this service would be viable if priced appropriately.

The social media companies would follow a Google Apps or O365 model for schools to join. They would require any person under the age of 18 to register as a student connected to a school.

For example, schools who sign-up would be given a school code, and could provide a student ID based roster for cross-referencing. Any person under 18 would be required to connect their profile to a school or education program of some sort(some students are home schooled or have other types of educational plans).

Unless they are connected to some type of educational plan, they simply cannot use social media until they are 18 years of age.

Schools who join would receive these benefits:

  1. Social media profiles are deactivated from 8:00 am – 3:00 pm everyday, in the timezone set by the school. This prevents VPN access from spoofing the clock.
  2. Schools could centralized a two steps homework system. Teachers would use Social media to circulate messages related to the school, and unless students confirmed all messages have been received (read), their profiles would not be activated. Although confirming a message has been seen does not equal work completed, it does mean the student acknowledged receiving the message. Blocking all other activities until all messages are cleared would prioritize the school’s notifications.
  3. Since all students can be identified and connected to a school or program, cyber-bullying would be easier to manage. Schools would need to make a request for data, but that data would connect to a student ID (most likely), and a verified location.

I have thought of more options, but, I would consider the above a tier one solution.

It Cannot Work Unless There is Regulation

It is clear from current practices, such as not enforcing the age restrictions for users, that social media companies will not offer services to schools that help disconnect students during their academic day.

In places like France, the government is physically banning phones from campuses. Other schools follow strict device confiscation policies. These measures only create a black market for phones, theft among students, and a burden on families who are victims of theft.

Trying to regulate property, and potentially facing liability issues related to property, is not the path to follow to solve this problem.

Governments need to simply require social media companies, or any company making a communications product, to provide the an identity and connection management system for those under the age of 18.

Those over 18 already have to use multiple methods to verify themselves when making new accounts. However, students seem to be able to join social media using devices and phone numbers that are not even legally in their own name. Think about that? I give my child a phone and number, they use it to join Facebook? How is that legal or even verified?

Not Enrolled in School = No Social Media

Compulsory Education around the world varies. Very few countries report having no compulsory education requirements.

No Requirement Based on Previous Data
Oman 0 2007
Solomon Islands 0 2002
Cambodia 0 2008
Holy See (Vatican City) 0 2007
Tokelau 0 2007
Bhutan 0 2008

The world-wide impact of adopting social media regulation of this caliber would equate to those under 18 not being allowed on social media, if they could not demonstrate they were enrolled in some type of educational program.

Likely, many countries would not participate in such regulation at all. However, it really only has to be country by country. As international as these platforms seem to be, connections students have are usually very local. Most students have their primary social network within the school they attend. That means their social media time is literally just interacting with people they could easily look at and speak with.

If Facebook in India were not participating, that would not impact a school in Korea. If students were to move from country to country (or school to school), they would have to re-register. The meta data from that behavior alone would help confirm drop-out rates, possible issues within school districts, etc. I believe the unknown benefits of the data would be substantial. Observer effect issues and data manipulation by school administration would be reduced.

I have been working with teenagers since 2005. I have worked with students from over 100 countries. I have been a technology disruptor, more times than I have supported the status quo. I believe in BYOD programs, and any students I have worked with will confirm I empower them to lead and make decisions. I know when I see a problem in the plan and the patterns. I know when students are not engaged, and when they are not learning. Mobile devices with addictive applications are a real problem. The design is an addictive design, and the effects are powerful. I hate regulation, but unfortunately, I think we are there.