Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why We Do What We Do

It is often easy to lose sight of the real reason we are in this business. You can get distracted by the paperwork, meetings, conferences, projects and day-to-day operations. It is always a good thing to be reminded of our main purpose and focal point of the items listed above.

I had a lengthy conversation today with a vendor partner about many, many topics - ranging from planning, management, purchasing and technical pieces. At the end of the conversation he said "I always ask myself regarding decisions and discussions - how does this affect the fourth grade student?" It is refreshing to see a technical vendor understand the objective of the K-12 environment. Every decision we make - we should ask ourselves that question - how does it impact the learning of that fourth grade student?

As I sit here tonight catching up on work related items while out of the office, I pause and reflect on why I do what I do. I can easily be distracted by personnel issues, paperwork and other organizations that a reminder from time to time is nice.

I ask you - as a K-12 educational technology leader, district/school administrator, teacher, support staff and instructional aides - make sure all decisions have an impact on the fourth grade student. If you keep that at the forefront of all things - you will be successful in this world.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ning vs. Facebook: Which one for K-12?

Our district is in the process of adopting a Social Networking Policy to ensure the safe and appropriate use of all social networking tools by faculty, staff and students. The policy was created because of the demand by our teachers to have access to these resources (of which I think is awesome) and to ensure the district communicates its expectations on how these applications are to be used.

All of that to say...one of the most popular requests we have had this semester is the use of Facebook. Teachers have created projects or other special assignments and asked to use Facebook as a means to facilitate the project. I personally have no problem with this and enjoy seeing our teachers embrace these tools as a means to extend communication and interaction beyond the classsroom. However, I have been asking myself one question over the past few days/weeks - can my school district get the same desired outcome with Ning?

Ning is an online platform that allows users to create their own social networks. The idea is a user has an idea / topic that they "create" with forums, events, photos, etc. It is customized and then launched, allowing others to join and connect / communicate within the Ning. Each user has the ability to customize their own page within that specific Ning.

The differences between Facebook and Ning are:
  • Ning allows full site customization including color, theme and elements. Facebook allows limited custom elements. Both allow pictures, videos and polls.
  • Ning gives an admin the ability to approve / disapprove membership, comments and discussions. Facebook allows admins to moderate comments and discussion, but not membership.
  • All Ning content is contained internally, where the content is viewable to the membership. Facebook content / information is viewable to all FB users.
  • Facebook conversations tend to be broad and generic. Even within groups, it is difficult to focus on a certain topic. Ning provides a more narrowed conversation, primarily because its members are moderated and approved for membership to that group.
Should K-12 environments look to Ning over Facebook? In my opinion, Ning allows all that FB does within a private system / membership and provides a more authentic dialouge.

Is your classroom or district utilizing one or both of these tools? What do you see as the Pros / Cons of either application?


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Friday, October 16, 2009

iPhone 3.1 Experience

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

After weeks of delaying the update - here goes nothing. My initial thought was "wait, let them work out any bugs" or "I don't really need MMS, do I?"

Here goes nothing...my step by step experience in upgrading to 3.1. This time...I did a full backup first.

(10:58am CST) Not off to a great start...every time I would plug my iPhone into my PC - iTunes would freeze up. I updated to the latest version of iTunes, rebooted the iPhone and the PC - nothing. Finally I started doing some research on the web and found a "bug" via the Apple discussion forums. Apparently if you have podcasts that were downloaded on the iPhone and hadn't been synced with iTunes, it caused iTunes to lock up. I started by disabling the auto sync feature in iTunes - no luck. So, I deleted the podcasts from my iPhone (only about 10) - restarted iTunes and what do you know...it works. Note: use Airplane Mode when doing a backup on your device & via @ujdmc - when you are downloading movies/music, etc. otherwise you will continue to be prompted for a password due to a hung file.

(11:27am CST) I am running another backup right now...just to be safe.

(11:56am CST) Backup complete - finally. Nothing like a phone call in the middle of the backup to force it to restart the process.

(11:58am CST) Update to version 3.1.2 begins.

(12:01pm CST) Software downloaded...installation begins. Preparing iPhone for software update.

(12:04pm CST) Updating iPhone software...

(12:07pm CST) Verifying updated iPhone software... (didn't take quite as long as I anticipated to install)

(12:11pm CST) Updating iPhone firmware...

(12:13pm CST) iPhone restarting...installation/update complete

(12:14pm CST) Updating iPhone carrier settings

(12:16pm CST) Calendar/Contacts from Exchange server are missing....

(12:17pm CST) Calendar appears...odd...Calendar defaults to April 2006. No events in current month/year. Still no contacts.

(12:19pm CST) 150/185 contacts are synced. Most current calendar events are synced.

(12:20pm CST) All contacts have synced. Some calendar items still missing...

(12:21pm CST) First test with MMS messaging. (Takes longer than I expected to send the message...) Why am I so excited about an old technology that should have come standard with this phone / service??? Message finally sends after approximately 45 seconds...

(12:24pm CST) Calendar items still syncing...enough have synced to this point for my satisfaction.

Nearly 1.5 hours after the process started - my iPhone is officially running version 3.1.2 and now capable of sending MMS messages, along with Genius recommendations for Apps, ability to organize Apps in iTunes and download ringtones via wireless. Here are the other features of 3.1 via Apple's website:

iPhone OS 3.1 also includes these features and updates:

  • Improved syncing for music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and photos1
  • iTunes U content organization1
  • Redeem iTunes Gift Cards, codes, and certificates in the App Store
  • Display available iTunes account credits in the App Store and iTunes Store
  • Save video from Mail and MMS into Camera Roll
  • Option to "Save as new clip" when trimming a video on iPhone 3GS
  • Better iPhone 3G Wi-Fi performance when Bluetooth is turned on
  • Remotely lock iPhone with a passcode via MobileMe
  • Use Voice Control on iPhone 3GS with Bluetooth headsets
  • Paste phone numbers into the keypad
  • Option to use Home button to turn on accessibility features on iPhone 3GS
  • Warn when visiting fraudulent websites in Safari (anti-phishing)
  • Improved Exchange calendar syncing and invitation handling
  • Fixes issue that cause some app icons to display incorrectly

I am officially signing off this post. Who can I bombard with MMS messages???


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Thursday, October 15, 2009


I came across this application via someone I follow on Twitter and I must say it is the best app I have come across for managing multiple social networking feeds, etc. in one location.

I have used Tweet Deck, People Browsr and other online applications that seemed clunky. (I stopped using Tweet Deck at the office because it occasionally would freeze, lock up or stop displaying images.) I had settled on using Twhirl as my Twitter app - but then along came Yoono.

Yoono allows you to update Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, FriendFeed, AIM, Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger all from a single interface / login. I am currently using it to manage Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Google Talk - as those are the applications I use daily. I use Yoono as an add-on to Firefox, but you can also add it on to IE or as a stand alone application.

For those of you who are looking for that single app to manage multiple social networking sites, I strongly suggest you give Yoono a try. I believe you will be impressed.

Yoono's Website: http://www.yoono.com/
FireFox Add-On: Here
Follow Yoono on Twitter: http://twitter.com/yoono

Here is a screenshot of Yoono in action on my work PC: Here



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Monday, October 5, 2009

District Technology - Part II

Colored Abstract VisionImage by Etolane via Flickr

Last month I posted an entry on how our District Technology Committee was taking a new direction...you can read that entry here.

We met for the first time last week and had, in my opinion, the most productive, thought provoking and visionary discussions this group has had in my 5.5 years as CIO. I give partial credit to some new blood within the group and their willingness to share and offer ideas. We also have the unique perspective of a student (who did a fantastic job) along with community members, board members and school personnel who all equally contributed to the successful meeting.

Out of that meeting came a lot of work into our Acceptable Use Policy and its accompanying documents. We created a more "student-friendly" Student AUP Agreement, refined language / purpose in our Personal Device Policy and approved our newly drafted Social Networking Policy. All of those documents will go before our board of education for final approval in the coming weeks.

We also discussed and revised our Technology Timeline, which serves as the direction for funding, staffing, IT services, student learning and professional development for all things IT related in our district. The timeline was extended to 2011-2012 providing places for such as items as: expanding / increasing wireless, VOIP, replacement schedule for teacher stations / replace with laptops, digital citizenship incorporation in curriculum and staff training.

The group identified our biggest need as that of staff training / professional development. We have been blessed to have the support of our administration and board to successful upgrade major network components and other hardware / software throughout the district. That has been the primary focus of my office for the past 3-4 years and we have accomplished most goals that were set forth. However, we are turning the corner and ready to focus more time and energy on the instructional support necessary to ensure effective use of these tools and resources.

The ideas, strategies and vision laid out in our plan serve as the vehicle to drive the technical and instructional services for our IT department. It is a great feeling to be surrounded by an outstanding committee that puts forth the time and effort to review, give feedback / constructive criticism and help champion our mission and vision.

Thanks to all of those who help carry the banner.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Is 1:1 The Solution?

apple-tablet-pc-2Image by nDevilTV via Flickr

I have wrestled with this question over the last 2-3 years, trying to determine what the correct answer is. Is a 1:1 laptop/student device solution absolutely necessary to achieve a true technology rich environment in K-12; or are there other ways/methods to accomplish that task?

I posed a similar question in an earlier post this year, while talking about Cellphones in the Classroom. (Click here to read.) That post centered around the cost of a 1:1 and could it be achieved in a "non-traditional" method, either via personally owned devices, cellphones, iTouch, etc. This has been my philosophy over the past 2-3 years, that there are other ways to reach this tech-rich environment without breaking the bank. If we provide the highway, students will bring their own cars.

On the flip side, I am now hearing from teachers, administrators and others in my district their desire for a 1:1 environment. I am curious whether neighboring districts adopting this style has started the spinning of wheels, or if this is a true belief. They argue we will never reach a true tech-rich school without students having unlimited access to a device 24/7/365.

It is inspiring to hear such words from our district's teachers. To know they believe technology has such a profound impact on student learning is music to my ears. However, it also poses the question of am I doing enough in providing the necessary resources and tools to my students? Is there something more I could be doing?

What are your thoughts on 1:1 initiatives? Are they successful in schools? Are they necessary to have a true technology rich environment?


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