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.
Tony and Patrick are back in another awesome episode of IT Babble. The big news here is Amazon Workspaces and the game changing opportunities it offers education. Check out all the talking points below and be sure to subscribe to us on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app.
In 2018, Windows died at home and nobody cared by Jason Perlow of ZDNET
The problem is, right now, (and how do I put this) our options for EdTech SUCK!
In 2008, I would have said Apple is the best solution for any school or family that could afford the platform. Then Apple started to change. I think it could be argued, they quietly have abandoned the education market.
iPads are awful devices. Aside from oddly developed apps like Swift Playgrounds, iPad learning falls into two categories:
Make it the way the App Says
There is no ability for students to go beyond the rules of the iPad, to change the rules of the iPad, or to create anything that was not predicted.
Microsoft has made amazing strides recently, and I do like their products. Not laptops running Windows. Specifically, I like Microsoft products such as the Surface. However, the Surface products are too expensive, and there is still massive security issues involved in running Microsoft products. The Microsoft hardware does not reflect the actual cost of ownership, when much of that cost is used for defending the organizational ecosystem.
The rest of the market is too fragmented to build a stable platform. Unless a school directs students to only by a specific make a model every year (and every year it will change) there is no hope to establish a level playing field with BYOD students.
But. Maybe there is hope. An unplanned, and possibly accidental partnership. Chromebook + Amazon.
Google has been a big education player for some time. Overall, their services and branded hardware are dependable and flexible. The hardware changes often, but the Chrome OS is consistent.
Chrome OS is a solution for any school that has reliable internet access. Therefore, Chromebooks make a great hardware platform for such schools. Chromebooks have some reasonable opposition among many EdTech leaders:
The platform cannot run powerful applications like Photoshop, Video Editing Packages, Etc.
The platform is slow when working outside the core Google products
Chromebooks have one official browser, and are not fully compatible with all websites/applications
Although it is possible to code and create software on a Chromebook, the development options are lacking those of a traditional laptop (This is important for schools developing computer science and/or app development curricula.)
What if these four issues, were eliminated? Would the Chromebook be a better choice for most BYOD families or for schools buying hardware for students?
Enter Amazon Workspaces.
I tested Amazon Windows 10 Workspaces last year. I liked the experience, but had no reason to use the service. However, it occurred to me if Amazon Workspaces supported Chrome OS, then I could create a flexible platform for BYOD that used Chromebooks.
I have tested this platform for 6 weeks now using the new Samsung Chromebook and an Apple Laptop. I wanted to compare the performance of the Workspace’s Client service on two hardware platforms. Here is what I have found:
All four issues above were resolved. I even installed Photoshop and used it at the office.
Google + Amazon is a great concept for BYOD for education. The problem is, no one at Google or Amazon has realized it yet. This means the concept is not easy to implement at scale.
Although Chrome OS is free, Workspaces is not free. They do have a very affordable educational package. However, the entire process of getting signed-up, and calculating the price, is very convoluted. Amazon for Business is mature. Amazon for education seems like a discount coupon, not a well directed initiative.
The next issue is setting up management for the Workspaces. The cost of doing this at scale is currently not clear. The cost is clear online, but the actual bills do not match the flat rates. I constantly ask for my costs to be explained. I send scenarios to people at Amazon to get pricing, and then I wait for the bill. The bill never matches the predictions.
This is only part one of this research and possible new BYOD model. I am close to having what I would consider an affordable and reasonable deployment model for Workspaces with Chromebooks.
Keep in mind with Amazon you pay for what you use. Imagine having the ability to enable 60 Workspaces for one semester for students doing an Introduction to Graphic Design. Then paying only for a limited number of licenses for all the software. After the semester, students who are keen to grow and develop their skills retain access, those who want to move onto a new topic lose their access.
How many schools pay for a campus level license for Adobe Creative Cloud, yet only use a fraction of the licenses in any concurrent period?
How many schools give all students a license for Windows 10, just in case they take one or two courses where Windows is required for the curriculum?
If this concept can become reasonable and predictable, then we get much closer to the goal of being able to create equal access and opportunity without over burdening families and budgets.
Part two of this topic is pending until July, when I receive my next bill.
In the Part 1 I surveyed teacher to see how they feel about the 1:1 program. overall the teachers are still very enthusiastic about it, but when asked if the iPad was the best device based on what and how they teach many felt that it wasn’t. They thought that Chromebooks may be a better option.
So I sat down with the division heads (or principals if you like) and let them take a peek at the results. We discussed them and I got some of their opinions and then we talked about what the next step should be. I wanted to survey the parents and gather how they feel about this possible switch. The middle school division head spoke up and she thought that surveying the students may yield better results. I believe she is right. These students are the ones using the devices each and every day. The parents on the other hand most likely rarely know the devices as well as their children and probably (not in all cases of course) are unaware of the differences between an iPad, Chromebook, Windows S and so on.
Instead of surveying the entire middle school (5th – 8th grade). We decided on just the 8th graders. They are leaving us this year and had used their iPads for four years. Since they were leaving us we figured they would be far more honest and be able to draw upon their experiences. So here we go!
The survey itself has four sections of questions:
1) Section 1 – 1:1 program and the use of the iPad
2) Section 2 – Technology offerings
3) Section 3 – Student printing
4) Section 4 – In general
We had nearly 80% of our 8th graders respond to the survey which I was very pleased with and their results were pretty enlightening as well. I will not go through each question and dissect the results but hit the highlights. For your information 1 = Yes and a 4 = No
The first question was about having the device.
As you can see just over half feel that a device to take home is important. Perhaps the indifference is due to teachers not leveraging the iPad or maybe that students wanted a different type of device.
Another highlight was about how well students felt they could research on an iPad. This was surprising. I did not expect this answer to be so positive. I really thought that a mobile browser would hinder or slow this down, but students did not seem to mind.
I did ask about typing on the iPad. As you might guess more than 70% of the students felt that the iPad was not easy to type on.
However, the next question did surprise. In fact of all the questions about the iPad this one made me really pause. I asked if they felt the iPad is good at taking photos and/or videos. Check out the results (remember 1 is very good and 4 is very bad).
Now here comes the million dollar question. If you were an incoming 5th grader which device would you prefer?
As you can see, Chromebooks and (WOW) Windows S machines make up 88% of the responses! Three people typed in MacBooks and one person (2.9%) voted for a new iPad.
That last bit of information coupled with the teacher results tell us that iPads aren’t really working for us. Who knows, iPads may be the best choice in a few years or even Windows S but right now it seems or teachers and students are of a similar mind and we will be exploring Chromebooks starting in the fall for our fifth graders.
Alright! The day of the big event has happened and here is how it shook out. Overall the day was great due to the awesome planning from the PE department. So the day went well but how did the Google Form and Google Sheet hold up? In short it did fine but there are still some issues so let’s get into it.
The set up
We do not have WiFi outside at my school. Originally I envisioned that teachers who were manning the station would open up the form on their phone and enter the results. The organizers weren’t thrilled with this idea. First, we are asking teachers to use their personal phone and their own data which is admirable but maybe not the fairest thing to do. Then there is the possibility that their phone could be damaged and well … that is not a fun scenario. Then there is the possibility that the teacher will enter the information incorrectly causing problems.
So we have the organizers putting inputting all the results. The people running the event scored everything on a score sheet and then turned it in at the end. The problem is that the form was meant for individuals to input the results for a single team per event. For one person inputting all these at once is a problem. It just takes too long. It got done but it was a bit of a rush.
In the future I will make the Google Form so the organizer can input all results for an event at one time. The spreadsheet part will not change too much. The math will still work the same way.
I mentioned before that ties are a problem with the spreadsheet. The vlookup function does handle ties well. Check out the image below to see what I mean.
Now the problem here isn’t that Denmark got all of those points because they did not. Check out the image below for proof.
The problem is the other teams get the shaft a little. Even though the four other teams did just as well as Denmark they receive progressively less points.
I need to figure this out and if you have any suggestions please leave them in the comments below.
This is a fun event and really the winner(s) is not the most important thing. We have two weeks until school is out and everyone is stressed and this is a great way to help get some of that energy out and forget about your worries for a day.
The Google Form and the Google Sheet did hold up very well. It seemed to have no issues recording and then handling the data. Overall, it worked and worked fairly well. I just need to tweak it and try to make it better.
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)