Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Different View

With Microsoft Office 365 Personal adds running lately, articles concerning the mining of student data, and the forever debate on which cloud suite to choose, I began reflecting on my district's office suite timeline. Maybe we have traveled a different road than others, but the decisions along the way I feel have been well thought out, even if the timing was not always perfect. Since 1998 we have run on four different platforms of office suites roughly:

Microsoft Office/Exchange: 1998-2000
Sun's Star Office/E-mail: 2000-2002
Open Office/Open Webmail: 2002-2005
Microsoft Office/Exchange: 2005-2009
Google Apps: 2009-Present

This is quick overview of our journey and why I enjoy the ever changing landscape of technology.

Duck and Cover
If you think switching to something other than a Microsoft product now is tough, try doing it back in 2000, we switched top down to Star Office then, departments and all! You would have thought the world was ending, but it really wasn't that tragic when everyone became comfortable and discovered they could still do their job. In those five years we switched email to Open webmail because the Star email went away when Sun pushed star office to the Open office format. Again, a few were upset, but then they realized they could access their e-mail from anywhere with a Internet connection and things were a little better than before. When we went from a distributive server model to a data center and made the move from Linux based servers to a Server 2003 platform, we decided to give the Microsoft horse a ride again. It was ok, and I do love me some Outlook, but the back end maintenance with Exchange was present and the web version of Outlook was not well received. As far as the departments go, they were happy and I do agree that they use Office products unlike most teachers for their jobs (no offense to any teachers who are power users with the Microsoft Office suite). For the ease of our departments daily functions, we will always run Office products for them, but they all have Google apps and Gmail is the districts e-mail client (sidebar, our departments are using Google Apps to collaborate in ways they never have been able to previously).  

To the Cloud
© 2004 Michael Jastremski
When we made the most recent move to Google apps, there were many reasons why and we did look to Office 365, but it was not ready for release and we felt the road map was not there at that time. We have pushed to do everything in the cloud for a number of years and apps fits nice. Teachers were given directions on how to setup their folders for migration to Gmail and that happened without much fuss on our side and that was their biggest concern was losing email, all students k-12 and staff use Gmail. We let teachers know that we would never be upgrading Office and did a survey if they wanted it to remain on their teacher laptops. All departments are running Office and theirs will be the only ones that we will upgrade. Google apps has done more for student/ teacher, student/student collaboration than any other program I have seen in many years. The communication and endless options are what makes cloud based apps a modern day joy....always changing.

For many, all the changing we have done over the years may seem a bit much, but I think it has done a few things for us. One, it has helped staff realize that change is not such a bad thing. In a profession that is usually slow to change, it has helped create a culture that looks at change as something positive that keeps us relevant with the world and our students. Two, it keeps our tech staff always moving forward, innovating, and leading from the middle, which can be very powerful. I don't believe there is a one size fits all, so take the time to decide what fits for you and your district and don't look back.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Collaboration or Cooperation?

One Love
I recently came across this tweet from Jenny Wright that complimented what my staff and I were talking about at our gathering earlier this week and wanted to share. A good question to ask ourselves as we sit together can come right out of this tweet, "are we building on our ideas or just working together"? Working happily with each other is important, "one love"-B.Marley, but to grow as a group we will need to build on each others ideas and strengths.

The Challenge
Remember when MTV spun off The Real World and Road Rules reality shows in to the Challenge shows? They brought the craziest of the casts together and made them compete against one another. The group dynamics made for good TV because half of them were crazy, but the point when they had to actually work together to accomplish a task, at times displayed how they pulled together multiple perspectives/personalities to make things happen. When myself or someone from my staff brings forward a thought, idea, or task that we need to get done, I rely upon their ideas and knowledge to figure out the best plan of attack. If we run into bumps in the road, a room full of smart folks is better to right the ship than just one.   

Big Difference
None of the above will happen if you do not possess confidence in yourself. Sitting and sharing with peers is often a very difficult thing to do. Insecurities can keep us from opening up and letting out those magic moments that gives the group that needed lift. Creating a safe environment where collaboration is supported by leadership can instill confidence and ease insecurities. The arrogance piece is pretty self explanatory, an arrogant perspective does not encourage collaboration. Yes, folks will sometimes call someone arrogant when they don't agree with what the other person is saying, but a truly arrogant attitude will cause divide over time and that will show. It is a fine line that should not be forgotten about. Some may say posting my own tweets here is arrogant ;-).

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tech in Sochi

Up and Down

I have always enjoyed watching the Olympics, both summer and winter versions. Each of the seasons contain many events that I find exciting and some that are well, just plain boring to me. At times I think that the X Games should just change their name to the Olympics and we would be better off, but that is just an opinion, so please don't take offense. One aspect of the games that I do find interesting is the technology advancements in equipment and apparel that the athletes use to give them that ever so slight advantage when paired with their amazing athletic ability. Let us also not overlook the technology that runs the entire event, including the opening and closing ceremonies.

The 5th Ring
By now the 5th ring of the Olympic symbol is famous, being stubborn and refusing to open was all part of it's mischevious plan to seperate itself from the other four rings at the opening ceremonies in Sochi. We all know that somewhere in Russia, someone was blaming that dang technology for not working properly and ruing the lesson, I mean show. All IT people around the world were probably cringing when they saw that ring thinking about itself and not the countless tech folks who put hours into programming, setup, and testing to make that one moment go off without a fuss. We all know it's part of the game and the amount of technology at Sochi is quite staggering when you take a closer look.

Courtesy of CNET News. Adiba explained that the technology infrastructure is composed of 400 servers, 1,000 security network devices, and 5,600 computers that are responsible for things such as providing real-time Olympics information to 9,500 accredited broadcasters and members of the media. As well, it is delivering competition results to a global audience in less than a second; processing and activating accreditation badges for 200,000 "members of the Olympic Family;" and collecting and processing data for all of the more than 5,500 athletes taking part in the games.   
My favorite tech stat from the opening ceremony is the 2.64 million lumens that were created by the 132 projectors working together to illuminate the stadium floor. I am not sure however if that tops the security perimeter setup around the games to scan texts, emails, cell calls and facially recoginize anyone attending, but that is a post for another day.

Other Technology
There are many other forms of technology worth noting that many wouldn't directly relate to someone sitting behind a laptop punching keys for hours. Matt McFarland pulled together seven examples in his Washing Post article and I wanted to highlight a few. 
1. New speed skating suit created by a collaboration between the apparel company Under Armour and Lockheed Martin. Who would have thought a defense company and sports clothing maker could come together to make a speed skating suit? Even if the US skaters are calling the suit in question after a poor start, large amount of technology here.
2. An ultra lightweight zipper on the jackets of freestyle skiers, that get this, is waterproof. I tease, but the zipper is bonded directly to the fabric, very cool if you ever have sewn a zipper back on.
3. Raising money through cryptocurrency. This form of exchange still confuses me, but this is how the Jamaican bobsled team and an Indian luger made it to Sochi.
Bring It Home
I did not take the time to research exactly how many people it takes just to make sure the technology at Sochi runs smoothly. After reflecting a bit on such a number, it really doesn't matter, because at some point technology plays a role in just about every aspect of our daily lives, including the Olympics. From social media to security, fancy zippers to 132 projectors, technology is embedded in our environment. Our students of today will be planning the Olympics of tomorrow and I just bet they won't be pushing a pencil to make things happen. Just remember to keep that 5th ring in check so all the IT folks around the world don't have to hold their breath in the future.  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Puzzle Pieces

Another Hero

I am not sure what specifically prompted me to begin singing the Tina Turner song "We Don't Need Another Hero" recently. Usually that song only pops into my head when someone is trying to take a little more credit for something than they should, or when reminiscing about back in the day when my friends and I would jump garbage bags with a metal milk crate and piece of plywood on our bmx bikes. This time however, I believe I was watching a sporting event and thinking about how incredible the athletes really are. I am definitely not a fan of the over the top, look at me athletes, those types can curl up to the Tina Turner song and keep telling themselves how great they are. I admire the humble, hard working athletes who let their actions speak for themselves. Thinking about the leadership role that these athletes play in their specific discipline, lead me to draw comparison to leaders in the workplace.

Behind The Success
The humble hardworking athletes I mentioned earlier will always mention the individuals that help them maintain their regiment that allows them to perform the way they do. If you think that a top level athlete is doing it all by themselves, think again. These athletes have strength trainers, dietitians, specific discipline coaches, personal assistants, family and more that assist with putting together all the proper pieces so the athlete can achieve their goals. I find this very similar in many ways to the role that a leader plays on a daily basis. A leader is out front, answering questions, concerns, planning, influencing, basically performing like an athlete. The individuals behind the leader are all part of the puzzle and that leader will only perform well if all the pieces to the puzzle are fitting together. If an athlete or parts of their program are struggling, they must maintain communication with their support team to quickly address the issue. A leader does this much the same way in the workplace to reach the desired outcome.

On The Podium
I am not a huge Nascar fan, but I think most people have probably seen the winners circle after a Nascar race. There are so many team members you often can't find the driver amongst the group. This is a good example of how many individuals are behind that car making it to the winners circle and if just one of them has a bad day, it can keep the entire team from reaching their goal. One thing you can count on from that driver when interviewed, they will thank everyone behind their win that day. Leaders should not be different than that driver, take every opportunity you can to thank all the pieces to the puzzle that are allowing you to be successful, because you can not do it alone.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Smartphone or Spyphone?

I must admit that I have drug my feet a bit adopting new smartphones over the years. In all fairness, I am lucky enough to be provided a phone through my employer and for that I am extremely grateful. Our smartphones have allowed myself and staff to answer tech tickets, research issues and contact one another, at any hour of the day. Until recently however, we have used our phones until they can no longer be fixed with electrical tape and super glue, then the spares are used until they turn into dust as well.  Because of this I hung on to my Blackberry(s) for far to long until graduating to an HTC Windows phone about a year ago and most recently a Samsung SIII. With the addition of the iPhone 5C as a choice now, we are finally living closer to what the real world has available to them.

by Mark A. Hicks
One topic that has been coming up recently in conversation with all the media buzz around NSA, security and Skynet conspiracy theories, is app permissions. Each app that I download seems to have additional permissions that seem very invasive. Don't get me wrong, eight out of ten times I am still going to download the app, however I need someone to explain to me why a flashlight app needs permission to take pictures and videos without my confirmation. Another permission that seemed a bit troubling was an app that asks for permission to my messages and asks for the ability to edit, read, receive, monitor and possibly delete my text messages without making me aware of the actions. I'm not concerned yet about Neo having to levitate in on the Nebuchadnezzar and save humankind from intelligent machines, rather where is the line for why an app needs permission for deleting a text that I haven't read yet?

Carry On
I am not going to retire my beloved Android phone because of a few app permissions I think may be stretching a bit, at least Android makes me aware of these permissions. What is a good idea is to take some time and become more familiar with why an app may need the permission it is asking for. I stumbled across "Why Does This Android App Need So Many Permissions?" article on that contains a number of great resources on app permissions, why they are necessary for certain app functions and what to look out for. With close to a million Android apps and over a million apps in the iPhone app store, it is safe to say that we need to be aware of what we are downloading to our pockets. As a bonus, this may be a great opportunity to introduce our younger generation to Arnold and the T1000 in a teachable moment about becoming responsible cyber citizens!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Nominations for the 2013 Edublogs Awards

If this post looks very similar to one by Tracy Watanabe, your are correct. We actually do follow many of the same blogs, so no shame for borrowing from her list. Although my list is not identical, nominating any one blog per category is difficult as there are so many bloggers out there contributing great things everyday!

The purpose of the Edublog Awards, or Eddies, is to raise awareness of educational blogging and social media for learning.

Image Credit: Edublogs
Here are my nominations:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dump Truck Model

Back Up

Models haven't changed much over the years when it comes to implementing technology in our schools. I have by not been perfect by any means, but have learned a few things along the way that I use as guiding questions before making implementation decisions. However often circumstances seem to get in the way and decisions are made that produce large blanket purchases of technology that is hastily thrown into classrooms. We have seen this happen many times and on such a large scale that it gathers negative press when things don't go oh so perfect. My concern with the dump truck model is the negative impact it could have on the smaller roll outs that generally take more effort to set in motion.

Don't get me wrong, there are any number of large roll outs around the world that have been well planned and executed and remain a model for others to follow. It is those scenarios that we need to celebrate and hold up as examples to promote the importance of providing our students the relevant environment they deserve. The recent publicity that LAUSD has received with their billion dollar ipad initiative is one that is too big to fail. Without being involved in such a gigantic project, I can only reserve judgment on why they have had their issues, but it has drawn attention and gives the nay sayers fuel that is unfairly used in other situations. LAUSD will work out their issues and find success, they have to, and it will benefit other educational technology projects in many ways. Many of us do not have the resources that larger districts possess and having a successful model with resources to share is important for success outside of LAUSD.

Take Steps
I did a quick search for "steps for implementing technology" and had a wide range of returns, which included a variety of business world ideas also. One article that held my attention was titled, "Eight steps for implementing a technological overhaul", written by Ken Tysiac and highlighted the work of author and consultant Geoffrey Moore. Although the focus was business, many of his eight points easily cross over to the K-12 environment and I have highlighted a few below that I feel are very relevant to implementing a successful technology implementation.

  • Determine which tools would have the biggest impact on effectiveness in those key moments with clients.
  • Calibrate ambitions with their organization’s technology adoption tendencies, such as whether employees tend to be innovators, pragmatists, or conservatives.
  • Recruit to the effort first those employees who tend to embrace new ideas.
  • Engage with outside help to design and prototype the first new tools for communications and interactions
  • Focus on user experience as the critical acceptance criterion.
  • Get feedback from early adopters to create the case for applying the system to more pragmatic, less enthusiastic adopters.
  • Align the technology to solve a particular issue that causes the pragmatists pain, and do whatever it takes to solve that issue.
  • Once pragmatists are convinced, deploy a global roll-out.

Moore's ideas were addressing a specific need for client employee relationships and did not include the initial employee input on the best tools to address the need, which is something we rely on in the K-12 space, or should. But the idea of recruiting the high flyers that are always willing to embrace new ideas and listening to their feedback is critical.

It is difficult not to take advantage of grants, overrides, large funding sources of any kind when they present themselves. My hope is that the dump truck model is put in perspective and the audience, early adopters, and their feedback is kept in mind before that familiar sound is heard...beep...beep...beep.