Sunday, December 7, 2014

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

Want One
Every time I see a Tesla driving down the road, I want one. They look great, go fast, are environmentally friendly (don't worry I am not giving up my gas lawn mower just yet :-), and the technology in these cars is cutting edge. I occasionally construct my order online and arrive at checkout, which is where I am brought back down to earth, then go outside and sit in my Prius. Some of the things I find interesting with this company is the process that is used to construct their vehicles and the importance of man and machine working together to make it happen.

 Image: CNET / CBS Interactive
I recently came across a Tech Republic article, which after reading I found the title to be a bit silly, but it caught my attention because of a podcast I listened to recently about robot automation. Basically the podcast was stating there are not enough skilled workers who can actually work on the robots to keep them running, and a few big companies were starting programs to train their people for these skilled positions. The "boring" reference in the article title was pointing out how the introduction of bots could increase the "drudgery" of the 9-5 job in some cases. The example was centered around the Amazon Kiva bots that are used in some of their US fulfillment centers, which Amazon recently has been discussing with the holiday season upon us. You can read the article for yourself and determine the message that the writer has intended, but for myself I tend to reflect on the discussion that has been going on for years about the ever changing careers that technology influences.

Skilled Workforce
We have been hearing and reading about the shortage of skilled workers for some time now and how the 21st Century Learner is going to need different skills for the modern workplace. With automation and jobs that require a different skill set, it is important we don't lose focus on the solid foundation needed for our students to be able to leave the K-12 and higher education system ready for the ever changing workplace, on the job training and new careers. The question remains are we preparing them for such a world? I came across this very interesting article about Toyota and the Bluegrass Community Technical College, who have partnered to create the AMT program. A statement that caught my attention was from Dennis Dio Parker, an assistant manager at Toyota, "Parker says high schools and colleges in the U.S. are failing to turn out graduates with the mix of technical expertise, problem-solving ability and communication skills that companies like Toyota needs." Technical fields may not be for every student, but shouldn't all students have the ability to communicate and problem solve? If our students simply master the 4 c's, they will be prepared to adapt to any situation including technologies influence on the world and careers.  

Jobs will continually change and become more technical. Some jobs may be eliminated, while new ones will take their place, creating different skill requirements. Gilbert Passin VP of Manufacturing for Tesla made a comment in Tesla Motors Part 2, "Robots are extremely good at repeatability and accuracy of motion, humans are more intelligent than robots therefore we need to use them where there is a lot of value for that intelligence." The future only has to be boring if that is the way we view it.   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How Many Times?

Just Ask
How many times have you heard an adult say "just ask the students how to do it" when talking technology in the classroom or anywhere for that matter? I will admit that when I need a tip about making my Instagram posts look better I ask my 11 year old daughter, and when my son rolls his eyes at me and says "you just don't understand", about what kids are watching on YouTube, I ask him to explain. I have experienced a few situations lately that have reinforced the notion that just because kids are kids, doesn't mean they understand technology.

Here's an Idea
Recently at home I upgraded our video editing software and it had been awhile, so it jumped a few versions. My son's passion right now is creating videos of his friends video game activity, which prompted the "you just don't understand" when I asked him why. At any rate, I knew he would spin out when he realized how different the suite now looked. He took it in stride though and worked through the changes with one issue, the software was horribly slow. I gave the standard answer, Google the problem and see if others are experiencing the same thing. That was met with resistance and why don't we just go back to the old version. The real issue however wasn't that he was trying to avoid the problem, but he didn't understand where to begin or how to intelligently "Google" the problem. I assumed he had already opened up task manager to check how much processing power was being used, what percentage of memory was available, was the program producing any error messages, etc. Once we sat down together and started looking closer, we found the program was scanning the entire my documents folders for pictures and videos, and slowing things down. Problem solved and valuable lesson learned about trouble shooting a software issue.

Don't Assume

We must be careful not to assume just because kids are kids they know everything about technology. I see students struggle to access their Google Apps account and create a document, share it with their peers and collaborate efficiently. These skills seem simple on the surface and any student should be able to do this, but many can not. As educators we must find ways to have these teachable moments in our classrooms. As administrators we must make sure that our teachers have the training, devices and resources to make this happen. Our students today are as just as smart and motivated as any generation has ever been, they just need that little bit of guidance and then they will go and make it even better for tomorrow.

Monday, September 1, 2014

E-rate Reality

Anyone who is familiar with the E-rate program has hopefully stayed on top of the modernization efforts and countless opinions, informational webinars, and meetings with E-rate consultants concerning the changes. E-rate works in the past, present, and future and during this time of year is when we prepare for the filing of next year's funding requests. Even though I personally have stayed abreast of the changes, the reality of the phase down and elimination of services gives me mixed emotions about some of the modernization efforts.

The E-rate program has been around for the last 17 years and it is true that during this time the program has remained relatively unchanged. With any program, change must be a part of the road map to insure you are keeping up with the ever changing landscape that is necessary to remain relevant. The overall goals of the modernization do make sense and I applaud their acknowledgement, but they do come at the expense of existing areas of the program that school districts for better or worse have come to rely upon. A few of the affected areas for phasing down and elimination for 2015 include; support for voice services, certain phone features, e-mail, web hosting, voicemail and data plans.

Category 2
Priority 2 services, now known as Category 2, will focus on internal connections to provide wi-fi connectivity within your buildings. As a district we have not seen Priority 2 funding for many years due to our eligible rate falling under the percentage awarded, so the per student formula is a bright spot. However much of the controversy surrounding the modernization effort revolves around how funding will be sustainable in this area. At this time, the Category 2 funding plan is based on a 5 year budget and depending on who you speak with, only the first two years of funding is guaranteed. If you have not begun to review your existing network infrastructure or plan to implement wireless, now is the time. 

Reach Out
There are so many things to discuss concerning the modernization plan, both on a political and philosophical level, that could continue on for pages. I feel there is valid argument for the continued funding of a couple of the services being eliminated and the importance of having a long range plan for Category 2. The conversation about phaseouts and elimination is over, but there is still time to ask questions and advocate for a more solid long range plan for infrastructure hardware. At any rate, if you do not work with an E-rate consultant or do not have a strong group of peers that can assist you through the filing process in this time of change, I would suggest reaching out so that your district can best plan your approach for 2015. Good luck!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

le Tour

Andrei Loas 

July brings so many exciting events, FIFA World Cup Finals, RedBud National, and Le Tour de France are among my favorites this year. Each of these events brings many rich traditions and I enjoy them for a number of reasons. The Tour de France however, is the event that amazes me for so many reasons. To think these athletes will cover over 2,200 miles, ride through the steep mountains passes in the Alps and Pyrenees, draw 3.5 billion television viewers annually and 12 million spectators along the route, it is not hard to understand why it is the world's largest annual sporting event. For the average person that isn't into cycling, the Tour may just seem like another person pedaling a bike around France, but for the enthusiast, it is the ultimate test of endurance and team work that takes place every July.

Working Together
The Tour de France is a great example of teams working together for one common goal.  Each team has one chosen leader on their 9 person squad that all other team riders (domestiques) will support. The leader may be going for the overall Tour win, a particular stage win, or in contention for one of the colored jerseys each representing a different classification. Each rider on the team has strengths that compliment the leader and the overall team strategy. No matter what the goal is, the supporting riders on the team are servant in helping achieve the leaders success.

Every school district has a vision statement that defines their goals, creates an identity and shapes their culture. All parts of the organization work together to support the vision statement and make it a reality. Similar to the way a Tour team creates their vision for the team leader, a school district has a number of domestiques working together for the success of their students.  If you follow the Tour closely, you can see how each team struggles with issues and the leader can not go solo as they need their supporting cast. From the classroom teacher to the bus driver that transports students, to the technology staff that provides working devices and a solid network, every part of the team must work together in a school system in similar fashion.

Final Stage
The road to the Champs-Élysées is a commitment that requires all the pieces of a Tour team working together. When they ride the final stage on the last day, all the teams in the peloton are together, celebrating the end of their long journey. Accomplishing such an arduous task is gratifying when working alongside others, think about the stages of the school year as your Tour and pedal on!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

School's Out For Summer

Willie Style
Who can forget when the Fresh Prince was throwin down "summer, summer, summertime, time to sit back and
unwind?" I am showing my age with that bit of information, that song was the first single on his Homebase album, released in May of 1991, nice play record studio. As educators we all know that summertime doesn't afford much time to unwind, although we try to sneak in a little time for "cool shootin some b-ball outside the school," the downtime is used in different way. Teachers are busy searching for new resources, building their PLN's, and planning for the upcoming school year, which is a full time job. Tech staff is using this time to upgrade hardware, implement new software, and refresh thousands of devices before the new school year arrives. Frantic as it may seem however, this may be the time to seek out new ways to collect resources, build your PLN, upgrade devices, and take a deep breath before the new school year arrives.

Your Not Alone
If you are a student, teacher, administrator, or techie, there are thousands of your same kind out there working on similar projects looking to collaborate with others. So how about taking a little time this summer to connect with others, gather some great resources, and build your 
PLN by following other educators on 
Twitter. Twitter is arguably one of the best places online to gather educational ideas and resources. Follow people like Free For Teachers @rmbyrne, hashtag #chromebooks, or if iPads interest you, guru @tonyvincent! The great thing is, you don't have to work hard to find great educators to follow, here is a list of educators that will get you started by content area/title, you can even add yourself after you create your Twitter account If you would like to take it a step further and participate in a Twitter chat, follow this link for times and hashtags (thank you @MrsKim_Reynolds for sharing). 

                                           Change It Up
Summertime is also a chance to reflect on the traditional things that we seem to do when this time of year rolls around. Speaking from the technology side of the house, the first thought that comes to mind is re-imaging of devices. Spring always seems like the time when new images are being built for deployment, so the second the students and teachers are out the door, massive re-imaging starts taking place. Often we can't avoid this type of scenario, we will be doing our fair share of imaging this summer, but maybe there is a better way. Use this time to reflect on the processes and see how you can eliminate some of the lengthy projects that seem to take up most of those summer days that you could be focusing on other areas.

Another idea that is always refreshing during the summer months is the start of the day. When school is in session, start times are critical for providing good customer support. Summer can allow flexibility for your tech staff to start the day off in a different way. Use this time to have brief 15-30 minute sit downs to share how their summer projects are rolling along, collaborate on any issues that may be happening and enjoy a nice ice coffee or smoothie to start the day! 


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.