Jason Chaffetz, Better Than Watching Reality TV

Everyday I read, slashdot.org. So when the IRS and Clinton E-mail debacles happened, the Slashdot community exploded. When the people involved had to speak in front of congress, I was able to have short videos of everything one should not do in the world of IT management and/or oversight. Because either there was no management or oversight, or it was beyond incompetent. I realize that the people in question probably deleted email in order to hide something, however, the IT systems were not designed to properly archive or prevent permanent deletion. I am an amateur compared to the people running these systems, and I make it very hard for people to delete data and/or access logs.

Get some snacks and a drink, and prepare to be entertained by Mr.Chaffetz.

Tony DePrato


What Education Technology People Know About Curriculum and Why You Should Listen

Businessmans hand drawing an empty flow chart

I often find myself in meetings about curriculum projects. I am usually invited to either share my thoughts on the technology components or explain the technology options for tracking the curriculum. Sometimes the topic is sharing resources and making sure core documents can be managed and properly versioned. In all cases, I am required to have a broad overview of the K-12 curriculum. I am also required to have an understanding of the end-users and how they will apply the curriculum content to their various specialities.

Aside from two or three other people, I generally find I have the most objective overview of how things are connected and the areas that need the most support. In fact when I speak with anyone who is a technology coordinator or manager, I tend to have better curriculum discussions than when I speak to people working in more traditional roles.

The problem is because I am working within the department of technology, my opinions of curriculum topics are often politely disregarded.

All opinions aside concerning who may have the most objective outlook on curriculum, there is one fact that is nearly impossible to argue. As a technology coordinator or director I spend many hours working with data. I spend many hours managing the school’s data systems and creating reports. I spend countless time tweaking and adjusting information so it becomes useful to people who need to see one page summaries of thousands of data points.

Running algorithms and spreadsheet formulas to determine modal frequencies and trends in open responses is also a common practice in the life of an educational technology professional. Survey designs and survey data flow through my department and that data too is studied and reported. My department is the nerve center for  managing data and processing data.

Curriculum mapping is also a core aspect of educational technology. Curriculum mapping technology is not just something most educational technology professionals use, we are also often certified to train others how to use this type of technology to make accurate reports. Being trained to use technology to make reports, means that a person must understand the data and how to organise the data so that it is useful.

Those educational technology professionals who run integration or tech-coaching models are usually completely read in on the curriculum in their division (year groups and subject groups). They have actually read all the documents and plans. These people know who is doing what and when, and they have identified weaknesses that technology can help to strengthen. Clearly, they are more well versed on the curriculum compared to most other teachers.

But who is listening? Who is allowing educational technology professionals to help truly drive the curriculum with data analysis? Who is promoting the idea that the people who understand the end-game should be designing the game?

Here is a test. One of the most popular curriculum mapping tools is Atlas Rubicon. If your school uses this and you still have teachers make daily lesson plans in some form of text document or online web-form, then you are using Atlas Rubicon inappropriately. In Atlas Rubicon, on a single webpage, you can see what everyone is doing every week. Administrators using Atlas can have a weekly standards and alignment report, so that strange anomalies can be part of a weekly agenda. Weekly, so that students are not going through a bad process that is only discovered at the end of the semester.

And one more test. If a school’s analytics suggest more than 85% of the standards are being met, then those are probably wrong as well. The goal is not to hit the highest number, but to find the divergence where planning did not reflect the actual outcome. Posting high numbers usually means adjusting the plan but ignoring what the actual outcomes were.

If that last paragraph did not make sense, go find your educational technology people, because they can explain it and probably graph it.

Tony DePrato


Stopping Entitlement & The Arbitrary Security


This is one of those posts that I may regret writing in a few months. It is more of a plan than a post, and a plan I intend to sell with significant confidence.

Starting in the fall, when students roll out of the bus and into the boarding school I work for, they are going to find that technology is simply not available (unless they are in the IB program which will be less than 80 students).

Students in years 6-10 are going to have to wait and to earn their technology. For some, for a few weeks, they will be taken back to into the past, where “always on” was only in science fiction movies, and only Michael Knight could use a smart watch.

Here is the plan to stop the initial entitlement of technology and access to the internet:

Years 9-10, and the IGCSE Program

These students are in a BYOD program. They will not have their devices activated on the network for at least two full weeks. During this time they have to settle into the board school routine. Their network activation and device privileges will be based on reports from their house masters, their joining of at least one sport and one club, and their completing of a one hour seminar on digital citizenship. During the seminar the AUP will be fully reviewed and signed by all of them.

Once all these steps are completed, they will have a weekend to activate their email, join the school LMS, post a reply confirming they are connected, use their cloud and share a file, and finally access a flipped classroom lesson set.

Unless all these steps are completed, week three will be technology free for them; but teachers will be allowed to start requiring technology. Weeks one and two are designated as technology free in all lessons, however, once week three begins some work will require the use of a laptop.

Years 6-7-8, Custom Bilingual Curriculum

Year 6-7 use school own devices. Year 8 is on BYOD, but their laptops are not allowed to be stored in their rooms. This is the introductory point to the BYOD program.

These students will not have their one-to-one devices for 4 weeks. I know, how can they live? How can they be people? How can they traverse the world without mindless games and WeChat?

These students will have to achieve points to get their devices. The campus will turn into one massive game board. Points can be earned by helping people, earning effort grades by the end of week 4, and completing a series tasks. This group also has to join a sport and club, have good dorm behaviour, attend a workshop to review the AUP, and eventually activate their email, cloud storage, etc.

Because the Year 6 students do use iPads, an additional task will face them during their first week of having the device. They will need to demonstrate competence in the APP CYCLE. That is what I call the insane series of apps needed to complete mundane tasks.

I am not pro-iPad, but I am working with a pro-iPad group so I have to make sure the devices are as effective as possible, yet, I like mocking them whenever possible :).

That summarises the removal of the device entitlement, the next part of this plan is eliminating arbitrary security. In a school tightly managing devices and internet access normally results in students waiting to get home to work on their own equipment.

In a boarding school there is no home to run to for technology freedom. Since the students need to feel at home, locking them down like a Denver Boot is not fair and does not help them develop responsible technology habits.

The plan is fairly straight forward. Students in years 8-11, who come out of week two with shining reviews from their house masters, will only be restricted via out network policies. Students who have poor reviews will have their BYOD machines bound to our hardware management system (this includes a firmware lock and removal of all boot options). This binding will be review at the beginning of semester 2, and if the student is doing well, the binding will be removed.

By all current estimates, this will be about 30-40 students by the end of the second month of school. That leaves around 320-330 students free to work and manage their own technology. This will not increase our staffing requirements, nor will it affect our budget.

This plan only impacts students who are negatively impacting their whole community. Students who are working in class, staying within normal teenage boundaries in the residences, and who are participating in the community will have freedom to be on their devices and use all the other technology resources the school offers.

As the new year approaches, the IT department is acquiring new devices which connect to laptops. These devices, all of them, require administrative rights to use. Without a BYOD program in place, we would not be able to effectively connect all the students to these resources without adding more people to the staff headcount. I prefer to spend money on resources, than security, whenever possible.

If anyone is interested in running a program like this, please comment. I need ideas for the year 6-8 group. I really want to build a game like atmosphere that has multiple paths to success. I would love it if a student could earn their device in a week instead of four weeks by beating the system.

Tony DePrato


Get Your PING ON

I am declaring war on all network technicians and engineers. I am doing this because they are ruining my life, and the lives of children…THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

As always I was coming home from a day of asking, W*frack, and I sat down to watch a few old episodes of …Kitchen Nightmares.  The shear speed and effectiveness of Chef Ramsay’s methods always inspires me. I always tell people, when introducing them to Kitchen Nightmares, that Ramsay has a formula for great restaurants.

  1. Keep the menu small and focused
  2. Use locally produced products to maintain freshness
  3. Care about everything you make

That is a quick summary, but #3 has an additional bullet point which I would like all network specialists (that now encompasses the terms technician and engineer, see what I did there?) to pay attention to:

3. Care about everything you make

It is a pretty simple concept. Do not let other people eat what you have made, unless you have tasted it first. Network specialists- test your network, as you build it, section by section. I have not seen a single case in the last five years where a network installation was properly tested without supervision from a third-party. Not a single case. Considering the reliance we have on networks in education, you would think that in every contract their would be a paragraph that reads:

For every 100 milliseconds of speed we lose, you lose $5.00 to us, paid in cash weekly. 

In 95% of cases, a percentage I can only support through my anger and conjecture, the network specialist will blame the telecommunications company and say, “Oh ATT&W needs to fix the problem and also maybe you need more bandwidth.”

Of course we need more BANDWIDTH! Everyone does. More bandwidth is awesome, but I am not 10 years old. I was alive during the Apple II, AOL, and Napster. I was doing more online with a 128 kpbs ISDN line than with the two 20 mpbs lines that I have now. I don’t think it is the bandwidth, I think it is everything else.

Oh, and by the way, Mr. or Ms. Network Specialist I can prove it is your fault. You served me the food, and unfortunately for you I have the tools I need to inspect it.

Advanced network testing with tools like Backtrack Linux, is something most people cannot do. Simple network testing is something everyone can do. All you need to know are 4 letters, p i n g.

When you ping a network, a website, or network device you see how long it takes for the information to travel. Based on decades of science you can find the average ping time over a given distance. For example the average ping time for 100 km distance is about .67 milliseconds. So if you ran a ping between your campus and www.moodle.org, and the speed was .700 – 1.000, then probably everything is fine.

If you ping the DHCP server, active directory server, or even your co-workers laptop in your building and the speed is .600- then you need to explode in anger. Sure there could be 100 km of cable between you and your server, but if someone installed 100 km of cable for a 100 meter job, then you still get to scream at the alleged network specialist.

So what do you need to actually take the idea of using ping and turn that idea into evidence?

    • On Windows  you need to be able to open the terminal/command line and on Mac the Network Utility. You also need to know the IP of your default gateway.OS X find the Default Gateway- Scroll Down to the Second Part

      OS X Instructions to Ping

      Window 7 Ping Instructions with Default Gateway Instructions

      When you ping copy the results or take a screenshot. You are not only looking for the speed in milliseconds, but how much it varies. For example, if you get 67, 70, 20, 20, 10, 80, 60, 60, then there is an issue with stability. The speed, even if it is slow, should be fairly consistent.

    • You need the IP Address of a few devices on your network, these are easy to obtain so do not panic.The best way to do this is to ask your network manger for the IP addresses of your: DHCP server, Active Directory Server, Core Switch, and a Switch in your section of the building. If they are not cooperative- find a co-worker, get on their computer and find their IP using the instructions above. Instead of the default gateway, you just need their IP address. Write down the IPs of people in different sections of campus. Note if they are on WIFI or the wired LAN because these speeds will vary.

      Again it is very important to copy your results or take a screenshot.

    • You need to know the external line speed. You may have more than one line so find out.This is fairly straight forward. If you are paying for a 20 mbps line you should expect the test below to be between 15 mbps – 20 mpbs.
    • You need to test the external speed with a simple program like Speedtest.Run speed test two or three times. Look at the speed and the GRAPH. The graph should not have many peaks or valleys. A stable connection should be a straight line.

      Take a screenshot of the results, and try to include the graph.

    • Finally, ping an external site. Any site will do, but do not pick one that is filtered or blocked in your location. Moodle.org is a good one. In the ping command you enter: http://www.moodle.org.Compare the external numbers to the internal numbers. If you can put these side-by-side it will help to facilitate a conversation.

What is the actual point of all this? The point is not for you to understand all the data, or even make a judgement. The point is for you to walk into a room full of network specialists, put data in front of them, and ask them what it means. In fact, I would not even tell them what the internal ip addresses are. I would ask them to look at the results and tell me what they see. Then I would explain the data as I collected it.

It is difficult to argue with data, especially data that they failed to collect. This is equivalent to blind folding a chef, feeding the chef their own food, and asking them to critique it. A bit evil, but very effective.

I believe in being involved in helping with problems, and not just complaining. There is always something a regular person can do in a specialists field, if they choose to act. There is no magic with technology. Technology is based-on rules that were either followed, loosely followed, or not followed at all.

In the span of this post you have the information you need to bring people into a discussion and lead it, without having to be an expert. It is time to level the playing field with the network specialists. It is time to get your ping on.

Tony DePrato