Category Archives: Tech Integration

Update on Our BRSU Managed Wireless Pilot – November 2012

This summer we started looking into setting up a managed wireless system in our schools.  As more mobile computing devices are deployed  in schools, it becomes necessary to get a better handle on managing wireless access to the Internet and other network resources.  I think making the investment in managed wireless is inevitable for all school districts, and selecting a platform comes down to: 1) how much functionality you need, and 2) how much functionality can you afford.

This summer I looked at two major vendors of cloud-based managed wireless solutions, Meraki and Aerohive.  Cloud-based managed wireless solutions allow you to monitor your wireless network from the Internet (e.g. a browser, tablet or phone, any time any where).  Each wireless access point pumps out data to a web site where an admin can view, monitor, and control the network.  This approach eliminates the need to buy a controller appliance to sit on your network.  Although cloud-based systems can be more convenient, they can also be more expensive since you must purchase an annual controller license for each access point.

Based on a tip from Amanda Bickford, a tech at Manchester Elementary-Middle School, I also added Open-Mesh to our evaluation.  Open-Mesh hardware is relatively inexpensive and uses open source firmware.  They also provide a free web-based controller platform called Cloudtrax.

For the evaluation phase, I installed each vendor’s access point in the BRSU office and then went through a technical briefing with each company except for Open Mesh.  Open Mesh does not have this kind of support since the firmware is open source.  I also did a basic cost/functionality comparison of the devices:

 

Cost

Meraki Aerohive Open Mesh
AP

$580

$580

$95

PoE Injector

$50

$60

$30 w/kit

Adapter

$29

$99

Included

Controller License

$150 per AP per year

$100 per AP per year

Included

 

Functionality

Meraki

Aerohive

Open Mesh

WPA2-Enterprise
& 802.1X

Directory service integration

Stateful policy firewall

√?

User Fingerprinting

Layer 7 application traffic
shaping

 

Pilot

After completing my evaluation and analysis, I decided to move to a pilot of Open Mesh.  The cost of Open Mesh was more in line with what we could afford, and I thought much of the extra functionality found with the Meraki and Aerohive and not found with Open Mesh (e.g. traffic shaping and content filtering) could be done on other network appliances.

The pilot includes Sunderland Elementary (70 students), Currier Memorial (100 students), and the Dorset School (170 students).  All of the schools have “1:1” computing deployments or something close to that ratio.  Open Mesh seems to be holding up well.  Dorset is having some trouble with their network using Chromebooks, but it is too early to tell if that is do to Open Mesh or other network issues.  Below are some screenshots from the Cloudtrax controller from the Sunderland network.

 

 

 

Because the system is cloud-based, we are able to check on the status of the network using any web enabled device including smart phones and tablets.  Free Android and IOS apps are provided.  The controller allows us to see the status of each access point as well as the status of the mesh.  These devices “mesh up” forming a seamless, self-healing wireless network so when students and staff move through the building, one access point hands off access to another one.  This also improves network stability since wireless devices now have multiple paths on the network.

 

Conclusions

So far so good.  We are using the MR500 devices (includes a 5-port switch).  I would like to try their OM2P in my next deployment because its radios are more powerful.  I think Open Mesh provides a good solution relative to price that would attractive for many of Vermont’s smaller schools or schools that do not need the extra functionality of the higher priced devices.

 

 

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Rethinking the Social Studies aka World Ecology

I think we need to revisit the social studies as a content area.  I have been thinking about this for a while, but I was prompted to do so after hearing a presentation this summer by Bob Goodman of the Progressive Science Initiative in New Jersey.  Bob was describing how his work had led him to reorganize the science curriculum so it made better sense to students:

  1. Physics is taught in the freshman year and students learn the necessary math as an application of the science.  At the end of the freshman year, students study quantum mechanics and atomic structure which leads into
  2. Chemistry taught in the sophomore year.  At the end of the sophomore year, students study proteins which leads into
  3. Biology and the study of life in the junior year.

This is a simplification of Bob’s work, but it resonated with me.  Content curriculum should make sense to students as a narrative, and I believe this type of approach is needed for the social studies, which suffer from fragmentation.  At the same conference where I heard Bob speak, I asked the conference sponsor, Alan November, what he thought about the social studies.  He agreed that it was time revisit this content especially in light of new technologies.  He suggested a more appropriate title for the social studies could be World Ecology.

If World Ecology works as a new discipline, I think it needs some design questions.  The one I have come up with so far is, “Why is the world the way it is?”  Imagine having 10 years (my schools are preK-8) to explain the world to students in a way that made sense from a narrative perspective, and in a way that was both relevant and engaging.

I think the way to do this would be to adopt Geography as the overarching content structure.  Since Geography by definition covers everything about the Earth both in terms of its physical and human characteristics, I think it would be particularly well suited for making sense of things.  We could structure a curriculum around the 5 Themes and the Geography Standards.  We could also embellish units with foreign language study using products such as Rosetta Stone Classroom.

I am going to start working on a structure for this “World Ecology” curriculum using Curriki.  If you would like to help out, contact me.

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Tech Thoughts for the 10/14/10 New Superintendents Meeting

Here are some of my thoughts on technology and organizational change as it pertains to Vermont school districts.

Personalization of Instruction – the objective is to leverage new technology to achieve our progressive ideals; all learning is social, and we can now customize learning experiences at the individual level while at the same expanding learning opportunities for all students. See the National Tech Plan for a big picture perspective. My work in this area at BRSU has been at several levels, attended to at the same time:

  • Educate district leaders about the potential for new technologies to transform the structure of education. A great way to do this is to attend the BLC conference in Boston with a team. See my Disrupting Class blog activity as an example.
  • Technology Integration – equip classrooms and teachers with instructional technology and move organizational processes to cloud-based applications (e.g. professional development and teacher re-licensing with MyLearningPlan).
  • Put technology in the hands of students – 1:1 initiatives
  • Deploy teaching and learning online through cloud-based content management systems (CMS – we use SchoolFusion) and learning management systems (LMS – we use Brainhoney). See more information below under Areas of Focus.

Opening Up Education – move from a Corporate IT Infrastructure to an Educational IT Infrastructure

  • Remove directory services, mail and file servers and go to a cloud-based collaboration platform (we use Google Apps) and network attached storage devices (NASs – we use Buffalo) and/or cloud-based storage.
  • Remove filtering appliances or filtering services at the firewall in favor of simpler approaches such as OpenDNS and teacher-based filtering.
  • Deploy managed wireless access throughout all buildings
  • Abandon commercial and proprietary software in favor of open source software – OpenOffice or LibreOffice as a replacement for MS Office, Linux as a replacement for Windows or Mac.
  • Through social media applications such as blogs, feeds (Google Reader), social bookmarking (Delicious), Twitter, Facebook, and the VSA ning, develop a reflexive disposition towards sharing and creating information. Create content under a Creative Commons license.
  • Secure the necessary bandwidth to support the needs of your districts.

Areas of Focus for “Virtual Merger” Provisions of Act 153

  • Collaboration Platform – implement a cloud-based, organization-wide, collaboration platform (such as Google Apps) that includes students.
  • LMS/SIS – the LMS and student information system (SIS) market is changing rapidly and is being disrupted by cloud-based applications. LMSs are becoming more SIS-like, and SISs are adding LMS functionality. New LMSs are cloud-based and relatively affordable. Most SISs are primarily used to print report cards – do we need this functionality as we move to web-based platforms where students and parents can monitor learning progress in real time? We will need some basic “compliance” functionality (eg attendance, demographics, etc.) from a SIS but most SISs are not well-suited for supporting the personalization of instruction and have a high total cost of ownership. Examples of new LMS/SISs: Spiral Universe, Schoology.
  • Accounting-HR System – integrate accounting-HR in a single platform and provide web-based self service to employees and real time dashboard indicators of organizational status to decision makers. Two leading vendors in Vermont are Unifund and Tyler.
  • Instructional Management Systems – manage professional development, teacher evaluation, curriculum, special education, etc. Examples include MyLearningPlanCurrikiiObservationMcRELGoalView.
  • Transportation – systems such as Transfinder allow districts to better manage the location of bus stops and routes, and the maintenance of equipment.
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My Google Apps Presentation

Here is the outline of my Google Apps presentation for the VPA conference on May 11, 2010.

Why move to Google Apps?

  • FUD (and sometimes FUDD) Concerns
    • COPPA – “If you are using Google Docs within Google Apps Education Edition for your school domain, your school assumes the responsibility for complying with COPPA and the information that students submit. When offering online services to children under 13, schools must be cognizant of Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).  COPPA is a regulation that requires parental consent for the online collection of information about users under 13.  Per the Google Apps Education Edition Agreement, any school administering Google Apps Education Edition acknowledges and agrees that it is solely responsible for compliance with COPPA, including, but not limited to, obtaining parental consent concerning collection of students’ personal information used in connection with the provisioning and use of the Services by the Customer and End Users. Parental consent and notification could take place in form of a permission slip granting use of Google Apps and/or other technology services at the school.”
    • FERPA – Google’s Privacy Policy
    • CIPA – A free message security service can make the system CIPA compliant.
    • Archiving – Google provides each user with over 7 GB of email storage.  A message discovery service is available for a fee.
    • Technology Schools Can Trust
  • The Case of Oregon
    • state-wide access to Google Apps for schools through the Oregon Virtual School District
    • Oregon negotiated a state-wide agreement with Google to address privacy and protection concerns for all of their schools
    • Accelerate Oregon – “a public-private partnership is dedicated to providing Oregon schools with the tools necessary to advance teaching and learning with Technology”
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Report of the Superintendent of Schools 2009

During the 2009 school year, new administrative job descriptions were adopted. This work culminated in the design and implementation of a superintendent evaluation process that will serve as a model for the evaluation of all administrative staff. The results of the superintendent evaluation were reduced down to specific organizational priorities. These priorities can be viewed on the BRSU website.

These priorities focus on strengthening our instructional systems, personalizing learning opportunities for students through the use of technology, and improving the efficiency of our operations. In terms of operational efficiency, the accounting services for the Manchester School District were shifted to the BRSU office in Sunderland. This change will save Manchester approximately $37,000 a year and will greatly enhance our financial reporting capabilities. The Mettawee School District transitioned their accounting services to the central office in 2008. Consolidating our back office operations saves money, streamlines audit processes, and provides greater oversight to board members and the public.

Another major structural change being implemented pertains to our early education programs. The supervisory union and its districts are navigating a new law, Act 62, which provides incentives for the expansion of early education programs. Based on these changes, we will be eliminating a full-time director position at the BRSU and some of the responsibilities for administering the school-based early education programs will be shifted to administrators in the schools.

We have made substantial progress in improving the efficiency of our operations, but there is still more work to be done in this area. Since 80% of our costs are attributed to personnel, our major strategy for achieving greater efficiency will be to seek opportunities to share personnel and services among our districts. I believe this points to the necessity for governance reform; our current structure of 9 districts and 10 boards is too cumbersome and inhibits our ability to respond to changing economic circumstances and declining student numbers. Governance reform is being considered at the state level, but our districts are not waiting for these decisions to be made in Montpelier. We are engaged in a serious review of our systems and will be organizing opportunities in the coming months for broad community input on this topic as our boards establish Ends policies.

Through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), our districts have received additional federal “stimulus” funds. These funds have been received through federal formula programs and must be spent in accordance with the guidelines of these programs. We have received approximately $90,000 in Title I and $400,000 in IDEAB or special education. All of these funds are one-time funds and must be spent in two years. The Title I funds are being allocated to the three BRSU districts that are eligible to receive these funds (Currier, Mettawee, and Sunderland), and the IDEAB funds will be spent centrally to reduce the costs of our special education programs. Most likely we will use these funds to establish special education programs at the supervisory union level in order to reduce costs for sending students out of the district for these services. We will also be reviewing the transportation costs of these programs to see if it would be more cost effective to run our own transportation services.

In spite of these additional funds, all of our districts have struggled this year to adopt budgets that are both fiscally responsive and sensitive to student program needs. The majority of our districts, however, have been able to achieve decreases in their expenditure budgets which is no small accomplishment considering many of our fixed costs are increasing. We will need your continued involvement and support to ensure we can navigate these challenging economic circumstances while at the same time ensuring our children obtain a quality education. Thank you for your support.

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Technology and the Future of Education

The following notes were shared with BRSU boards as part of a presentation on understanding the implications of technology on education in September 2009.

Most people acknowledge that technology is having and will have a tremendous impact on education. This impact needs to be considered when developing plans for the future. I can categorize this impact in two areas: learning, and operations.

Learning

Operations

  • Digitization (information systems and record management) – huge opportunity
  • Flattening – fewer intervening layers between management and staff
  • Communication and collaboration across traditional organizational boundaries; increased stakeholder participation;
  • Potential for greater efficiencies and lower costs

“Death of Education, the Dawn of Learning”

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August 13 Tech Session: Learning Communities and Web 2.0

Introduction – the Larger Context

Web 2.0 technologies are essential tools for educators to build collaborative learning communities in their schools, districts, states, and around the world. I believe such communities are necessary to expand educational opportunities for all students in an interconnected world.

Employing these technologies can enhance educational practice in several areas:

  1. Focusing and Extending Professional Development – Web 2.0 technologies are an effective means for educators to reflect upon new learning and to share that learning with other educators. Using these technologies, professional development opportunities can be expanded to have a larger impact on personal and organizational learning.
  2. Harvesting New Ideas on the Future of Education – New ideas about how we organize educational experiences for students are being published almost exclusively using Web 2.0 media. This is a large, global conversation. Educators need to be fluent in the tools necessary to aggregate, filter, and synthesize this information so that they can better understand the future vision of education and help contribute towards that vision.
  3. Improving Society – Students use these Web 2.0 tools in social networks 24/7. Educators need to be participants in the social networks of their students so they can shape the use of these technologies to serve the larger social good. This is the essential and historic purpose of schooling.

How to Move Forward

Looking at the various technologies available, I think it is essential that each educator establish their own personal account with Google. This will provide access to a variety of Web 2.0 tools under one account and allow educators to collaborate with each other in an easy manner.

  • Google Reader – use Google Reader to aggregate RSS feeds, take notes on them, and share feeds and comments with other educators.
  • Blogger – use Google Blogger to publish and share information about professional development and educational practices.
  • Delicious – use Delicious to bookmark or tag websites, and then share these tags and comments with other educators.
  • Twitter – use Twitter to share ideas and to follow the ideas of others.

Session Content

The focus of this session is on using specific Web 2.0 social technologies to assist members in creating professional learning communities within the Association and in their own organizations.

VSA Ning (http://vtsupers.ning.com)
-Ning features (blog, forum, video)
-subscribing to ning content
-create your own ning and more help

Using Feeds
Firefox
-setting up a Google account
-using Google Reader
-more help with Google Reader

Google Account Features
-blogging with Blogger
more help with Blogger
Google Voice
Google Wave

Microblogging with Twitter
-using a hashtag to create a group – #vsa
-Twitter clients (TweetDeck, DestroyTwitter – both of these require that you first install Adobe AIR)

Social Bookmarking with Delicious
-install Firefox Add-on
-using Delicious (create VSA group or tweet to #vsa hashtag)
more help with Delicious

Vocabulary/concepts
embed
RSS
feed
url
tags
Twitter hashtag (#vsa)

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CoSN Report on Educational Leadership and Web 2.0

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) recently released a report on the use of Web 2.0 technologies in schools and the disposition of educational leaders towards these tools. This report, entitled “Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise and Reality,” gives insight into the challenges facing educational leaders as they seek to move their schools forward in this area.

School district administrators acknowledged the critical need to use Web 2.0 to transform teaching and learning, and to change the structure of schools over the next decade. And yet, few had systemically begun to research, plan, or implement effective uses of Web 2.0, nor had they used Web 2.0 to restructure their schools into more participatory cultures.

More than 95% of district administrators said that Web 2.0 will require a new type of teacher training, 86% said that Web 2.0 will result in a blending between formal and informal learning, and 79% said that schools should take full responsibility for modeling Web 2.0 to deepen learning. Yet only 44% reported taking full responsibility for the restructuring of schools to accommodate Web 2.0.

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