Research First, Angry Email Later


Despite the title, I am not in favor of sending angry emails. I use to be known for my emails, sent out of frustration, and also justified in content. However, in hindsight, I regret all of them that could have been communicated face-to-face, or after the frustration had faded.

I received an email such as this, this week. I received it after 9:oo PM, and late night bad emails are the worst. I attempt to not read email after 7 PM, because I know in an emergency people will call me, and I know late night emails are often full of stress and regret.

After reading the email, I did have to reply. I knew this person might start being aggressive with my staff the next morning, and I would not be there based-on my work plan (I cover two campuses in different areas of my city). So I asked that they give me time to research the problem, and reminded them that even though the fault seemed to fall on the IT support people, in fact, those same people had been dependable in the past. And that those people also have been working overtime to accommodate jobs that are not part of their employment contract. These are people who are mindful enough to call me when they know they have made a mistake or forgotten something.

Do Your Research

There is data everywhere. School administrators and heads of department need to start paying attention to where data comes from and where it is stored. Card swipe systems, cctv footage, security guards walking around(with smartkeys), email time-stamps, network access logs (when someone logs in and out), etc. The first step in any “he said she said” should be accessing data and not the anecdotal kind.

I always take time to look at the environment, the people, and the systems surrounding them to determine if an impartial data source exists.

Separate and Report

Often when people collect data, they get the pieces they need and make a report. The people reading the report do not see all the data (Sounds like a congressional trial transcript to me).

The best practice is to make a copy of the raw data, and archive it. I think a zip archive is an excellent way to do this, as it creates metadata. It will be clear if there was any manipulation in the data file used in the report.

Then, instead of deleting, highlight the data points that are valid for the argument.
It is ok to sort them to the top of a list, but try not to remove the other pieces. If you argument is sound, and/or, the best of the worst based on what is known (also very congressional), then the extra data is not going to hurt the report. In fact, someone may find something useful that was missed.

Then make the report, and do not use the words feel, believe, or think. State the facts that the data supports first. Then add verbal accounts of the event. Using emails as data works best if you print them as PDF files and then highlight the time-stamp and key details. Do not copy and paste emails, even forwarded emails can seem bogative.

How Did It End?

My department was not at fault. The event in question ran outside of the contractual working hours, so the space was prepared by the IT support before they left. Their two points of contact failed to respond to communication, but the room was ready. However. the event organizers did not inform security. Security walked into a large room, saw that everything was left on, and in a moment of global awareness, they shut-off the power.

After pulling the data from the door swipe system, I found that security went into the room 20 minutes after the IT support people. This room is the only place power can be accessed.

A simple call to the person overseeing the building revealed no event has been logged for that evening, so basically, no one knew what was happening. Security wanted to save the school a few dollars in energy bills, and that was the end of the story.

I have taken the opportunity to allow the person who sent the email to ponder the data.
I am hoping they do the correct thing and inform everyone what really happened, as I suspect I was not the only email recipient that evening.

Right or Wrong, Let It Go

The wrong move in situations like this is to alert everyone that you are, in fact, awesome.
The wrong move is to make everyone angry when you are correct, ensuring that they skewer you the minute you are wrong. You will be wrong. Your team will make mistakes. You will make a plan that ruins someone’s day. This is going to happen. If you want forgiveness, be prepared to be forgiving, and give people a chance to correct their mistakes.

Data is like The Force, it cannot be welded in the presence of anger or it will turn you to the Darkside.

Tony DePrato

The Devil’s Advocate Part 2: Tech Integration Should Stop

Please note: These “Devil’s Advocate” posts are not my views or daily practice. However, as an exercise I think we all need to slow down and ask ourselves if we are doing the correct things in the correct ways. In order to do this, we need to take another position and argue against our practice. I am good at fighting with myself, so I hope my intent helps anyone in a technology or educational leadership role do the same.


The fact is that we need to start building IT spaces again. Maybe not labs, but spaces. The concept of sending someone into a classroom to “support” thirty students while they are suppose to be studying is flawed. The idea that some 20-30 minute activity during English class some how expand their minds and technology skills is horribly flawed. There was a time when students went to space that we designed for them to focus and do some real work. A space designed for projects that took time and planning. A space that may have had rules and controls to force them to work within a framework, as most people do in their day-to-day life.

Now, we have only the chaos of tables and laptops with small amounts of technology being infused to achieve Wikipedia searching and interactions with low-powered online or iPad apps. A movie a student can make on an iPad in English class, is not even in the same pedagogical realm as a movie that can produced on a specialised workstation.



The ability to build and tell a story with video should take a student weeks, not 45-60 minutes. Real stories are complex and require serious time commitments. Having students do everything on a Twitter-like scale is not going to produce any deep learning.

Robotics and engineering work best in spaces that are purpose built for them. Additional materials make these activities powerful. Materials require storage and management, and cannot be floating around on a campus. Projects within the discipline of engineering again take weeks to complete. They require students to put order to chaos, and they cannot be completed with an iPad or any equipment that is fragile. Computers controlling equipment need to be configured properly and should be standardised. Calibration is essential, and if students use their laptops, then every day they will need to re-adjust or re-calibrate. Instead of walking into a space and working, they will waste 10-20 minutes just getting setup.

Writing is another area where technology integration and push-in programs of all kinds have failed. Students do not need to type in school. Yes, they need to submit digital copies of work and it must be typed. However, since 90% of their third party external exams (IB, AP, SAT, etc.) are all hand written, they should be constantly writing by hand. Until the third party external exams change, schools need to prepare students to manage the given format.

Software licensing is still designed for school own spaces. Companies prefer to be able to audit specific devices in specific locations. Once a student takes a laptop home, regardless of the laptop program model, they have the opportunity to pirate software. Why take the risk? Do they really need to be using Photoshop at home? Probably not. They need to be focusing on the endless projects requiring typing and primitive online research. This is something students can accomplish with fairly low-end equipment. If they need to do a special project with media, they can work late at school.

It is time to just acknowledge that the model everyone believes in is flawed. Teachers and administrators secretly want to voice this as their opinion. Students are wasting time on small projects that have little to no scale. Students are not truly given the time and resources to master anything complex. Let’s change the model. Let’s look to the past. Let’s start making spaces and stop trying to turn every room into technology hub.

Tony DePrato

Folders, Files, Sharing, Storing and the Myth of Speed

Blackblaze Research

Warning: This is about Educational Technology, Teachers, and Students. This is not a cloud for business article, although some points are valid for all groups of cloud users.

Let us get this out of the way: Harddrives go bad, and they fail more often that anyone wants to admit. That means data loss, often total data loss.

The graph to the left was created by Backblaze. The amount of and variety of drives they tested was impressive. Their research was discussed on Lifehacker and other sites like PC Magazine.

If you are lucky to recover any of the data from a failed drive, it will mostly likely look like the second picture to the left.

Have fun trying to open and name all Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 8.36.06 AMthose files.

I have moved large groups of people before from local network shares to cloud services. However, every time I undertake this, I receive the same complaints. I normally get pretty annoyed, because it does not occur to people that I personally have nothing to gain by helping them move from a failure-prone system with possibly one real layer of redundancy, to a system that has multiple layers of redundancy and a team of professionals keeping it operating well for world-wide business operations.

Reasons People Get Angry When Moving Files to the Cloud

Many people have the ability to use tools to SYNC files to their cloud account. However, some people are on old or incompatible operating systems that cannot support such functions with a given cloud service.

In addition, many users are not aware that the current interface design for cloud storage supports, and encourages, drag-and-drop. Users tend to believe they have to upload only one file at a time. This angers them. Knowing the shear number of files they need will take them 100s of upload button clicks.

The truth is they can drag-and-drop 50-100 files at once. A simple process, that needs to be reiterated to everyone, and often. Drag-and-drop helps take the anger from an 11 to a 7. You don’t want to see users go to 11.

The other aspect of moving to the cloud that angers the user base is the inability of some services to create layers and layers of folders.

How long does it take to make 100 folders?

About 45-60 minutes.

I did a sample of 20 folders and made the estimate. It is work. However, it is easy. Department shares in the cloud are even easier, because folders can be made by everyone in the department at the same time. Simply divide and conquer.

The department working together is a great process in itself. It hopefully will occur to them that they do not need those lesson plans from 2009. If the school needs them, the school can and should archive them. Moving to cloud should equal cleaning the data house.

Folders and Speed

Most people on network shares believe they have some speed advantage over the cloud. This is true if you are streaming video, or working with large amounts of data. Based-on network bandwidth studies, I personal exceed the daily bandwidth average by about 2 GB. That means that most teachers on-campus are using at least 2GB less than me, and I am 90% cloud-based. I work with video nearly everyday. I work with large data sets everyday. I am doing more. Creating more. Sharing more. I have not used a network share for anything except storing large video files, in the last 5 years. If people tell me “check on the shared drive”, I find the item in question and put it in the cloud.

Network shares, especially the ones that auto-mount, add overhead to the computer. A better way to say that is, they slow down the computer. So maybe that Word doc opens .4 seconds faster, but the computer stops and spins for 3 minutes 10 times a day in the middle of working.

Folders, especially nested folders, are not fast of efficient ways to store data. For example:

English –> Year 5 –>Homework –> Shakespeare — Unit 1 — doc1.docx

Doing network audits can be interesting. Not only will you find complex nesting, but you will find 20 files named “doc1.docx”.  Guess what that means? Network searching will fail. Results will be slow, and there will be numerous false positives.

In the cloud, this whole nested concept can simply fade away. The cloud storage structure is simple and easy, and it allows smart and organizes search. For example:

English –> Y5-Shakespeare-unit1 [TAG Homework]

In the cloud model, I would use one folder for the subject, and simply name the file(s), what the file(s) is about. Now, search will work. In fact, search will work and group things by “Y5”, “Shakespeare”, “Unit1”, and “Homework”.

Not to mention there is no browsing. No staring at size 10-12 font scanning 100s of files and hoping you remember the folder names, 3-4 layers down.

Files and Versioning

All cloud services I am familiar with support version control. This means you can keep one file, using the same name, but the most recent version, or the system will simply add a number, 1,2,3, etc., to the file name. This makes it clear which version you are working on.

The file view in cloud services is usually customisable. This means the ability to see files in the way you need to read them. Maybe by date modified, date created, or size. Everyone has different needs.

Operating systems support this, and I use these filters all the time. However, in 10 years of training teachers and school administrators, I have rarely gotten them to remember to switch to a detailed file view. Most people surf thumbnails like Ponce de León looking for the fountain of youth. 

As a cloud service admin, I default the departmental shares to organize the file view so it shows the most recent files and the most recent versions. I also default it to show who created the file and the last person who modified it. This is quietly saving people time.

Sharing not Emailing

Cloud services encourage users to share. Sharing can be a bit of a mental tornado. Teaching people permission levels, and how to share with students versus colleagues is also challenging.

I suppose that in some cases, emailing an attachment is innately safer and easier. Unfortunately the practice of attaching is unintentionally excluding people. Mobile device users, iPad users, and anyone not on a traditional computing platform will struggle with email based attachments.

The world is changing. From Andorid to Windows 8, things do not work as they use to work.  Mobile devices and new operating system designs rely on the cloud for storage, updates, and authentication. They are designed for sharing, and not attaching.

Teachers existing on network shares cannot share and truly connect with students, if those students are not on the same platform and network that the teachers are on. This usually means no access from home, no ability to collaborate with iPads or other devices, and no asynchronous communications.

Cloud based documents allow for asynchronous(async) feedback and corrections. The async method allows teachers to assign work in smaller more focused modules, with the goal of expanding on the problems that occur as the assignment develops. Very few people have time for real-time feedback and correction. Cloud based services natively fuel collaboration between teachers and students without asking for more face-to-face time.

What if there is no Internet?

I have worked in two places where the internet was very suspect. It would be up and down very regularly. Every time the internet would fail, I never noticed that people said, “Hey I can still get all my work done. I have the network shares.”  Just the opposite. My office was filled with people telling me how it was impossible for them to do their work.

One can guess at why. Maybe it was because the contents of many of those network documents are taken from online. It could be entire departments rely on websites for their curriculum activities. Also, it is possible, that they students were getting all their assignments from work that was moved from the local network, to an online learning environment.

The fact is, if the internet goes down, the “plan-b” is never to have a party on the network shares. The “plan-b” should be to work and learn without technology. Making a good backup plan for no internet days is another topic for discussion, but I would never include any technology in a backup plan that is to be used in the event of a major network failure.

Someone asked me once at a conference, “So what if Google goes down. Or Microsoft goes down? What then?”

I responded, “I would rather be the person standing with the millions of people working-on and demanding a solution than the one IT professional trying to recover data from a single server room failure.” Who wants to be that guy?


The easiest thing for an IT department to do is give user a big bin to throw their stuff into. Unmanaged. Not optimised for speed. Little to no redundancy. Set it and forget it.

This is not good practice. To manage local shares correctly, someone needs to dedicate time and money to the process. Most companies overtask their IT people when it comes to infrastructure, so the lack of concern for someone else’s data is low.

The hardest thing for an IT department to do, is create something that is customisable at the school, departmental, and personal levels. To, in fact, differentiate the technology for needs, when those needs arise. Moving to the cloud is not easy, or a free pass for the technology team, it is just the best way for most organisations to create new opportunities.

Cloud services have so many benefits to education, that writing about them would require a book, or a few 100 posts. That writing is being done daily all over the internet, and all over the world. My message to teachers, students, and anyone is this : Before being critical of change, take time to look around. Take time to look it up. Take time to see the changes happening NOW.

If it were really slower, worse, and a waste of time why would so many educational organisations all over the world be in the cloud or switching to the cloud?

Do the research. Release the anger on proving this post wrong. In the end, just get on with it. Make a few folders. Move the files. Start collaborating. Use that iPad for something other than games and reading novels.

Tony DePrato