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

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.



Redefine PD with the 80/20 Principle

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

A very significant part of Educational Technology Leadership is devoted to professional development, new systems implementation, and the long term planning of support.

Every year as the semester starts-up, administrators around the world are planning for professional development (PD). There is pressure during those initial weeks to try and rapidly develop the faculty within new areas, to help everyone review all current requirements, and to re-train in areas of concern. Many of these areas rely highly, or solely, upon technology; technology is often the center of the professional development process.

Year after year, group after group, and plan after plan, results tend to be the same. There is never enough time to meet everyone’s agenda, teachers feel rushed, and confidence among many is low but silenced. So why do organizations follow this same pattern?

After many years of asking this question, and proposing options, the answers seem to come down to:

  • This is the only fair way to expose EVERYONE to EVERYTHING.
  • The goal is not mastery; the goal is introduction; mastery comes later.
  • Large groups working together help to create future support groups; the process is team building.
  • Support and resources for PD are easier to manager in mass; the first week or two of the new year shift support to critical needs.

Everyone is 100% and 100% is Wrong

The Pareto principle (80/20) is taught in economics, business, marketing, etc., because when tested, it tests true.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity)[1] states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. (

For example:

  • 20% of the customers create 80% of the revenue
  • 20% of the software bugs cause 80% of the crashes
  • 20% of the features cause 80% of the usage
  • 20% of users create 80% of the technology support tickets.

80/20 is often seen as a negative metric, when in fact, is a great opportunity to improve PD outcomes.

Following the 80/20 rule, any given PD item needs to be mastered by only 20% of the organization in order for the entire organization to benefit.

Read More @ The International Educator


Hour of Code: It Is Not Enough


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The Hour of Codeis a very popular event and activity hosted by Millions of students around the world participate in the large coordinated events, and continue to use the website to learn programming. is a good resource to get students and teachers interested in programming.

In the last year I have listened to numerous educators and administrators comment how their school participated in The Hour of Code. In many instances, I felt that these people believed this single event, and or uncoordinated participation of classes on the website, constituted a real effort in problem solving, computer science, design, and programming. I have news for everyone, an hour of programming, or even a month on, is only a half-step on a very long journey.

Read More at The International Educator

Free Books on Programming from OReilly


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

This is not a scam. I actually have already grabbed five books for myself. Yes, these are for either adults or older students, but they are free. In fact, if you are signed into your Google Account you can add them directly to your Google Drive.

Click here to grab some free books from OReilly. 











By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

School administrators are often faced with complex decisions about curriculum, assessment, and the oversight of both. There is a myopic condition that can occur as conversations lead people into a spiral of good intentions full of false understanding. This condition is the belief that learning is a one-to-one relationship, and that content is related to a course or single field of study. The truth is learning, real learning, is a one-to-many relationship where content can connect to an unpredictable number of areas if it is allowed to develop organically and time as a constant is removed.

Understanding One-to-Many Relationships

A one-to-many relationship is often used in database development.



By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

School administrators are often faced with complex decisions about curriculum, assessment, and the oversight of both. There is a myopic condition that can occur as conversations lead people into a spiral of understanding that is false, even if guided by good intensions. This condition is the belief that learning is a one to one relationship, and that content is related to a course or single field of study. The truth is that learning, real learning, is a one to many relationship where content can connect to an unpredictable number of areas if it is allowed to develop organically, and time as a constant is removed.

Still Interested? Read More Here


There is More to Learning than TEDTALKS







I like TED TALKS. I even have the channel loaded on my Roku Box. However, lately I have noticed people think TED TALKS is not just a source for inspirational summaries, but is in fact all they need to watch in order to understand a topic.

TED TALKS are only a beginning step. They are a good medium for getting people interested in a topic. Used for entertainment purposes, TED TALKS can be watched back-to-back, and discussed among friends. Used in a classroom setting, they need to be planned, connected to other material, and be seen as the first 10 minutes of day-one of a project. TED TALKS should not be the project, nor should they be considered a legitimate source.

Any speaker who is doing a TED TALK, will have some original source for their information. Students should be encouraged to find the origin, and in fact, make certain the TED TALK is authentic. After all they are called TED TALKS not TED TRUTHS.

Last year I read a book called Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam. This is a Pulitzer Prize winning book by Fredrik Logevall. The book is over 800 pages. To be honest, I had to read some parts of it multiple times. I read this book while I was traveling through Vietnam. The entire experience is something I will never forget, and my understanding of the Vietnam War shifted. The medium is not just the message, it is the roadmap and sometimes the vehicle. 

Educators looking at TED as a resource should be asking, where does this medium go, and how can it be used to form an experience that students will never forget? The experience the TED speaker has had, is not the same as the one the students should be striving to find.

Tony DePrato

Preview the book mentioned in the article:

Quotes and Comments about Progress in Ed.Tech- Everyone Has It Wrong

Am I getting ready to state that 100s if not 1000s of pundits are wrong, and I, a lone technology director working for an obscure school in Shanghai, am correct?


Proving my point will take time, more than a blog post, but I believe this post will at least force people to start asking questions. I am actually hoping those in Educational Leadership, who are not working in technology, will have more questions and comments than those working in technology. Saru mo ki kara ochiru.


I have seen no less than five quotes this week, with many “likes” associated, about people moving forward, moving at the speed of change, etc. Every quote and comment, and every post and opinion, all assume one thing- the chosen path is the correct path.

Think about it. Two people come to a fork in the road. The left side is normal. Paved. Two lane. The right side is different. It has a new type of surface and it includes a bicycle. The assumption is that the path on the right will allow someone to travel faster, and thus, succeed or achieve at a higher rate than the person on the left.

But no one ever stops to ask, where do these roads end? Or do they end? Do they just circle back onto one another? Do they cross? Can a traveler ever get off this path? Does one lead straight to Chernobyl?

If a person chooses the wrong road, it does not matter how fast they move down it, and their progress certainly has nothing to do with the person on the other road. The choice and the reason for that choice, are significantly more important then the speed.


We should not be relating education, learning, and forward-thinking to the concept of speed. Speed can destroy, at the same time it creates. In fact, the physical concept of speed does create vacuums, wind, and destructive forces. The speed of change is no different than the physical concept of speed. In fact, it could be much worse considering speed of change can leave people behind, and not just dust and objects.

Progress in learning, educational technology, and other areas that impact children should be measured in opportunity(or the inverse- opportunity cost). School leaders need to stop asking, “What new technology do we have?”, and the need to ask, “What new opportunities will this create for our students?”; or “In five years from now how will what you are doing help these students”?

Looking at technology, or any subject, as a NOW instead of as a LATER satisfies only curriculum benchmarks and paperwork. It is exciting and great for conferences and presentations as well. However, that outlook does not demonstrate a concern for the future knowledge children will need to create solutions from past experiences.

Creation VS Consumption

I have a slight disdain for App Culture. App Culture exists when students and teachers stop making and solving, and instead simply start buying Apps that short-cut the processes of making and solving. K-12 education should not be about polished ready to use and perfectly functional software. K-12 education should be the place where experiments and chaos lead entire groups of people towards new ideas, and where failure is expected.
Failure leads to Feedback.

More importantly, data and products created by students and teachers should be able to be used by students and teachers in the future, regardless of devices, software licensing, and subscriptions. Schools should also be able to access these artifacts as needed to show growth or even problems within the curriculum.

I personally have projects and data from the 1990’s that I can still use. Situations and problems are rarely new, they are simply in a different package. Believing all solutions are in the future, negates the need for studying the past. Human history has taught the world what happens when we fail to study the past, therefore we make a great effort to include history in all modern curricula.

Keeping the past alive and accessible should be a conscience endeavor of all institutions focused on learning. These endeavors cannot ignore data and digital artifacts, and therefore institutions must strive to set the bar higher for the technology that is allowed to play a core function within the classroom.

The priority should be on technology and environments that encourage creating, making, solving, reusing, and even breaking. There should be oversight to prevent the day-to-day life of a student from being consumed by pushing buttons that simply redistribute trivial content, and promote badges over authentic feedback.


Here is a video from 1983. This video features Seymour Paper who is the founder of constructionism. After watching this video, I am hoping most people will realize that the trends in education now are frightening. Ignore the polish and quality of the graphics. Focus on the process. Focus on the learning connections and augmented reality. Then ask yourself, when did education get away from this path, and why is everyone so happy about it?

Tony DePrato

Some people have 10 years of experience. Other people have 1 year of experience 10 times.

Some people have 10 years of experience. Other people have 1 year of experience 10 times, I wish this were my quote. However, it came from a source on Slashdot – which I always recommend everyone read a few times a week.

There was an article titled, Lessons From a Decade of IT Failures :The takeaways from tracking the big IT debacles of the last 10 yearsThe quote actually came from the comments about the article.

It struck me in a profound way. I immediately, and sadly, thought of many of my co-workers who fall into this category. I also thought of key institutional indicators which could be warning signs that decisions are not being made from the “right place”.

The Right Place


There are many schools that run teacher centered, adminstration centered, and community centered models of education. These can all be reviewed at another time, but what they all have in common is that the needs of the student are not the priority.

Research in Education in the last twenty years overwhelmingly supports student centered learning. To be in the right place a school should be following student centered approaches. This requires fairly frequent adjustments to scheduling, assessment practice, learning support, etc. Being student centered means supporting a culture of change. Not always large swooping change, but often small adjustments that ripple influence like a stone hitting the water.

Key Indicators of a Problem

If change is supported in a student centered environment, a school administrator would not see the following (would not, think negative, think dark):

  • The same schedule being followed for more than three years
  • No curriculum revision cycle
  • Lack of data for moving students to different levels
  • A small number of PD requests from teachers
  • The absence of a formal school improvement plan
  • No effort given to defining of hours related to subject completion or academic success
  • People in non-leadership roles running programs from a “playbook”
  • Teachers and Administrators without improvement indicators attached to their annual review

Technology Can Help

Of all the things we can use technology for in school, nothing is easier and more clear cut than using it to collect and study data. From basic Excel implementations to Powerschool, there are many options to allow a small group of administrators to collect and study data.

This process, and hopefully a regular one at that, would quickly flag trends leading to the negative list of key indicators above.

Finding the problem after it has occurred is not going to be enough. The only way to have a real solution, is to stop the problem before it reaches a critical mass and becomes embedded in the culture.

Like a video game with flaw or loophole: If you detect it before you launch the game then it is classified as an error; if you detect it after you launch the game it is classified as a feature.

Tony DePrato