Category Archives: transformation

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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2010 VT FOSSED Presentation

Here is my presentation from the 2010 Vermont Open Source & Education Conference.

The David Hargreaves papers referenced in the presentation (Education Epidemic and Working Laterally) can be downloaded for free as pdf files from the Demos website.

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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.



  • 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 (
-Ning features (blog, forum, video)
-subscribing to ning content
-create your own ning and more help

Using Feeds
-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

Twitter hashtag (#vsa)

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Transforming Vermont’s System of Public Education

The State Board of Education has embarked on an initiative to transform Vermont’s public schools. This initiative is focused on making our schools, and high schools in particular, more relevant to students. Although this is important and timely work, I believe the focus is off target. The quality of Vermont’s public education system is already very high. We should be directing our transformative energies towards a commonly accepted but rarely examined aspect of our public school system: it’s poor organization and inefficiency. The current economic situation makes this inefficiency especially intolerable, but I believe it is through the current economic crisis that we can finally find the necessary political will to transform these systemic deficiencies.

Vermont’s system of public education is actually not much of a system, but rather a very loose confederation of local districts that can choose to work together, or not, when they see fit. This semi-structure is rife with duplication of effort and wasted time and money. The chief cause of this inefficiency is the political nature of the system. Politics always makes systems more inefficient, and our educational system, from top to bottom, is overly political.

In Vermont, the political nature of our education system is frequently expressed in a blind allegiance towards “local control” even though there is truly not much local control, and some of the things that are controlled locally (hiring, purchasing, contracting, etc.) are the very things that make public education in Vermont at times inefficient, complex, and costly. From a mathematical perspective:


To become more efficient, we need to start thinking of our public education structure as a true system. At the heart of this effort will be the need to re-examine issues of local control vs. centralization. This will not mean abandoning local control altogether. We need to consider, however, what aspects of the system should remain within the purview of local decision making and what areas should be managed centrally in order to achieve a greater efficiency.

A compromise between local control and centralization would seem to be the creation of a regional school district system. A series of policy initiatives should be introduced that makes the regionalization of educational services more attractive or maintaining the status quo too expensive. Such strategically designed policy initiatives when considered within the context of our current economic crisis can provide the necessary energy to start transforming our current system into one that is more efficient. I suggest the following areas for policy consideration:

  • The small schools grant should be reduced to support only those small schools that meet newly created socio-economic and geographic guidelines. These guidelines would establish funding criteria based on the socio-economic status of a community and the relative distance of a small school from other schools.
  • Districts that do not operate schools should be forced to consolidate with other districts. Even if a district does not operate a school, it presents a cost liability to the system by being a corporate entity that can, and will be, sued. These districts are also required to meet the same regulatory, policy, and financial reporting requirements of districts that do operate schools. Eliminating these districts would reduce administrative costs.
  • The current configuration of school districts and supervisory unions should be reviewed for consolidation. A commission similar to a “base closing” commission should be formed to oversee this process.
  • New regional school districts should be formed with expanded authority over the major operational areas that affect cost:
    1. Hiring – These regional districts should be the only entities allowed to employ individuals. This would force the consolidation of union master agreements and allow staff to be shared among schools more efficiently.
    2. Business Services – All business services should be housed in these regional school districts in order to reduce duplication of effort and to provide better control and reporting systems.
    3. Purchasing and Contracting – These regional districts should be the only entities allowed to make purchases and to contract for services. This would promote more efficient purchasing and would allow services, including student transportation, to be better coordinated within a region.
    4. Charter Schools – These regional school districts should be given statutory authority to create innovative learning structures along the lines of charter schools. These structures would employ new technologies and provide greater flexibility for students and families at lower costs.
    5. Consolidated Grand Lists – The formation of regional school districts allows for the consolidation of education property tax grand lists within these regions. Such consolidation would likely reduce the statistical volatility of the Common Level of Appraisal, a major cause of property tax increases in recent years.
  • A state-wide student information system, special education management system, and financial accounting system should be implemented. We currently do not have a uniform approach to data systems. Public education is a very complex business; we need to have standardized data systems matched to uniform governance entities so we can better manage our programs and their related costs.

These are examples of the types of policies I would introduce to start transforming our public education system. We need to move beyond pedagogical debate, reactionary tinkering and political rhetoric to take advantage of this important moment in history to restructure our public education system so that it can become more efficient, manageable, and sustainable. This work will no doubt require significant political leadership, but if we do not act now we jeopardize the future social and economic well being of our state.

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UCLA Report on State Departments of Education

UCLA has come out with an interesting report on how state departments of education are configure to support student learning.

When a state education agency (SEA) undertakes to provide a statewide system of support for school improvement, it realizes that its organizational structure, resource streams, communication channels, and ways of interfacing with districts and schools fit like a straitjacket. … While compliance monitoring requires precise definition, circumscription, certain boundaries, and standardization, school improvement demands agility, responsiveness, keen judgment, and differentiation. – Sam Redding

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Amherst College Campus Electronics

BusinessWeek reports the following data gathered by Peter Schilling, the director of IT at Amherst College.  I wonder how these students got by in their public schools without access to these resources?  How did they learn this stuff if we didn’t teach it to them?  Hmmm . . .

  1. Percentage of first-year applicants who applied online in 2003: 33%.
  2. Percentage of applicants who did last year: 89%.
  3. Year that an incoming Amherst College class first created a Facebook group so that they could socialize and otherwise get to know each other prior to arriving on campus: 2006.
  4. By the end of August 2008 the total number of members and posts at the Amherst College Class of 2012 Facebook group: 432 members and 3,225 posts.
  5. Students in the class of 2012 who registered computers, IPhones, game consoles, etc. on the campus network by the end of the day on August 24th, the day they moved into their dorm rooms: 370 students registered 443 devices.
  6. Number of students in the class of 2012 who brought desktop computers to campus: 14.
  7. Number that brought iPhones/iTouches: 93.
  8. Likelihood that a student with an iPhone/iTouch is in the class of 2012: approximately 1 in 2.
  9. Total number of students on campus this year that have landline phone service: 5.
  10. Mac or PC? Of the four classes currently on campus the classes of 2009 and 2010 are more likely to own Windows, while the classes of 2011 and 2012 are more likely to own Macs.
  11. Total bandwidth to and from the Internet available on campus in September 2000: 3 megabits per second.
  12. Total bandwidth to and from the Internet available on campus today: 100 megabits per second for the Internet and 45 for Internet 2.
  13. Ratio of network bandwidth available per Ethernet port today to that which will be available when the current campus network upgrade is complete: 1 to 100.
  14. Percentage of College classrooms that have an LCD projector and a computer or laptop hookup: 85%.
  15. For students adding/dropping courses this semester, the number of requests for access to the electronic resources associated with courses: 564.
  16. The number of individual film titles in the College’s digital video streaming collection: 1,260.
  17. The number of times these films were watched last year: 20,662.
  18. Average number of emails received per day: 180,000.
  19. Percentage of email that arrives on campus that is spam: 94%.
  20. Percentage of storage space taken up by email, a system designed to send brief text messages, that is actually taken up the files attached to the emails: 95%.
  21. Ratio of the storage required for email and attachments for just the year 2007 to that of all of the preceding 5 years together: 1 to 1.
  22. Increase in the total number of College-owned computers in use on campus from 2005 to 2008: 413 for a 2008 total of 1,308.
  23. Total number of calls and emails to the IT Help Desk in 2007: 8,650.
  24. Average time required to close a help-desk ticket: 39 minutes.
  25. Based on the first 9 months of 2008, estimated percentage increase in help-desk tickets in 2008 over 2007: 11% (or 15.6 weeks of work for a staff member).
  26. Candidates for administrative and staff job openings who applied through the College’s web-based job applicant system in the first 10 months it was available: 4,037.
  27. Job applicants interviewed for 12 openings in IT in the last year who learned about our positions through postings in regional, national, or professional, publications, websites, or lists: 1.
  28. Estimated number of hours it would have taken to update the graphics, navigation, and organization of the 2005-2006 College web site (static HTML): 50,000.
  29. Hours it took to roll out the new web site in August 2008 (database-driven): 3.5.
  30. Total number of alumni who have logged in to the College web site: 7,354.
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Death of Education, Dawn of Learning

Here is a great video with some clips from Daniel Pink among others – I think this is where we are headed.

This is a very exciting time for learning.  It is the death of education, but it is the dawn of learning.

-Ken Kay, Partnership for 21st Century Skills

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Some Thoughts on Best Practice

I was recently pulling some thoughts together from the BLC conference. A session on Northern Ireland’s educational system was particularly interesting. The speaker characterized “best practice” as a top-down approach.

He also mentioned an article that was extremely influential in European school reform entitled Education Epidemic. The article was written in 2003 by DH Hargreaves and published by London-based think tank called Demos.

What is meant by ‘good practice’? Sometimes it refers to standard practices that are considered effective, part of a profession’s repertoire or ‘custom and practice’. Novices are expected to learn these. Sometimes the term refers to a less common or recently devised practice that is thought to be better or more effective than the standard; many innovations fall into this category, especially when they remain untested but are advocated by their creators. However, greater effectiveness is not necessarily more efficient. For example, a new practice for the teacher may help a student learn better, but the cost to the teacher, in terms of time or energy, may be so great that the costs of the new practice outweigh the benefits. For a practice to be a good one it should have high leverage, that is, it should have a large effect for a small energy input. A new practice of low leverage, where the energy input is disproportionate to the outcome achieved, hardly qualifies as ‘good practice’. High leverage is the key to teachers working smarter, not harder, and should be at the heart of transferred innovation.

It is interesting reading, and has much to say about where we are as a supervisory union and a state particularly in light of Vermont’s new interest in “school transformation.” My intention behind bringing staff into a collaborative platform such as Google Apps is to leverage technology in order to cultivate a culture of innovation in each of our schools, while at the same time providing a convenient means to spread those innovations that are deemed to be both “high leverage” and effective among all of our schools.

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