All posts by Tony DePrato

Tony DePrato has a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University and has been working as a Director of Educational Technology since 2009. Currently, he works for Episcopal High School in in Houston Texas, USA. He has worked in the United Arab Emirates, China, South Korea, and Japan. In 2013, Tony DePrato released The BYOD Playbook a free guide for schools looking to discuss or plan a Bring Your Own Device program. Tony is originally from the US, and worked in multimedia, website development, and freelance video production. Tony is married to Kendra Perkins, who is a librarian.

What is Important is Seldom Urgent


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Presidential Planning

Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was an American politician and general who served as the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. (Source:

In terms of project planning and time management, history yields few masters equal to that of President Eisenhower. There are many methods used for time and project management. President Eisenhower grouped things into simple categories so that he could efficiently and quickly prioritise his tasks/goals. Because of Eisenhower’s great success as a leader, a model was developed from his methods and applied to the business world. The model is known as The Eisenhower Matrix.

The original model is reflected in the four quadrants above. This is a model I personally use and advocate.

Although I am no Eisenhower, I did take it upon myself to alter the bottom right corner. Instead of using it to DELETE tasks or to categorize tasks as “useless”, I use to to track personal projects or 20% Time Projects. After all, if something is useless, it stays outside the box.

My box looks like this:


Reading the Matrix

The most important thing to remember is that everything cannot be urgent and important. If the majority of your day-to-day work-life is in the upper left quadrant, then something is wrong and out-of-balance.

Most tasks that fall into a person’s normal set of responsibilities should be in the upper right quadrant. Tasks or jobs in the lower left quadrant are often things assigned by a superior, that fall outside of the normal set of responsibilities or they are favours you might be doing for others.

Examples From My Personal Matrix
Important Not Urgent:

  • Develop a new class schedule before March 20th
  • Create a new html template for PowerSchool effort reports by March 18th
  • Review email branding process before April 15th

Notice all of the above have due dates that fall within a 7-30 day period. I have had them in the list for awhile. The deadline is approaching but these are all planned.

Important and Urgent:

  • Buy music software for upcoming performance
  • Develop new Sharepoint email workflow for Human Resources

These items are IT support items which have been assigned to me from other departments.
These need to be completed immediately. I am required to do these tasks, but they were not planned, and the notice was short.

Not Important but Urgent (Delegate):

  • Telescope delivery
  • Hand out ID cards
  • Document archive packaging for accreditation team

These are all jobs anyone in my department can do. All are very time consuming. I need to make certain they are finished, but I should not be doing these myself. Occasionally this quadrant contains a task I am required to do, but is outside of my job scope.

Not Important / Not Urgent /Ideas / 20% Time

  • Redesign interface for PowerSchool Parent Portal
  • Improve code for iTunes based video streaming

These are projects I enjoy doing. If they never get finished, the impact at this point in time will be minimal or nonexistent. The systems impacted are already fully functional. The skills learned from working on projects like these often transfer to other areas. 20% time projects are excellent for professional development and often lead to exciting random discoveries.

Tools for Getting Started

A simple way to apply the Eisenhower Matrix is to use Evernote or OneNote. Office software, such as Excel of LibreCalc, will also work. However, keeping a record of all the data and reflecting on it after the school year can be tricky. I recommended using software like Priority Matrix. The interface is simple, and the software links to Evernote.


Appfluence Priority Matrix

Last year I produced a list of all the scheduled items I had completed from January to June. I was amazed not only at the variety of projects and jobs I had been involved with, but also how many should have been placed in that lower left quadrant (Delegation). I have used that data to consciously delegate more tasks.

Before beginning, I recommend organising your team together to discuss what types of projects, jobs, etc. would fall into each quadrant. Have each member bring a list of everything they have been working on for the last thirty days. Use that data to fill in the box by reaching group consensus.

If nothing else, the Eisenhower Matrix makes the mind slow down and focus. The matrix forces reflection and constantly reminds users that most things are not urgent, nor important. Stress and circumstance can often cloud judgements and shift focus away from where it should be- Students & Learning.

And remember – Important is Seldom Urgent.

Ecosystems and Widgets


By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The term ecosystem is normally used in reference to biological communities. When people think about ecosystems they often visualize the different organisms and activities that coexist to maintain a balance of sustainable life.

As human beings, we model from what we know. When creating new things, humans often start with a single widget[1], and then expand until there is a system of widgets all interacting.

Thus, the cycle of widgets evolves. Some last for many years, others have a short-term existence. Popularity often determines the life span of a technology widget.


Schools using technology have an ecosystem of widgets. Very few people in a school seem to have a complete understanding of how all these widgets come together to form the web communication and processing which is essential for the day-to-day success of school life.

Unlike the biological complexity in a square meter of a rice paddy, the edtech ecosystem is a knowable system. It is a system everyone can learn, can discuss, and can protect.


Map it Out

Most technology ecosystems have a common characteristic; they require people to be identifiable. Being anonymous is not good practice. When a person is part of the system, the system should know who they are.

Because of this characteristic, it is simple to draw the center of the ecosystem map. The center represents what technology(s) are employed that allow people to sign into computers and the Internet (network).

Next, the most logical thing is to illustrate all the ways people communicate after they join the system. Do not over think this. List out or draw things like email, forums, support tickets, online forms, etc. If there is a widget that facilitates communication, find it, and define it.

Moving through the web of protocols, sharing would be the next concept. How do people share files? How do they collaborate with/without-downloading files? Who can own things? Who can delete things? Who can see everything? How are parents and groups outside the normal community of practice allowed to interact?

These questions can be answered in bullet points, mind maps, or paragraphs. They are knowable and discoverable.

As the journey continues more and more questions will arise. The final foundational pieces to connect are related to data. Where does school data live? This is business data, academic data, curriculum data, etc. These systems normally connected back through the sharing, communication, and authentication (or at least they should).

This is not simple, but nor is it as complicated as school accreditation. If a leadership team can work through accreditation, they can be fully informed about the edtech ecosystem within the school.

Invasive Species

There are many case studies concerning feral animals being introduced into non-native environments. These animals are known as invasive species. Invasive species can destroy the balance and harmony in an ecosystem.

As with a biological system, invasive systems can wreak havoc on a school’s edtech ecosystem. Within a school, people often ask to introduce new services and software. A new tools can cause a negative impact on the existing system.

For example, switching everyone to a new email so they can access a widget, while also requiring him or her to use another email for official communication, can literally bring communication to a halt.

Consider the impact of subscribing to a video streaming service without having enough bandwidth to allow the majority of users to stream during class-time. This would negate that service’s usefulness as a teaching tool.

Within school and edtech leadership, spotting invasive tools is not difficult if people have taken the time to map and understand how various pieces of the ecosystem are connected.

Widget Reasoning

There is a temptation to communicate with branding and jargon. Early in my academic career while studying speech communication, I read studies concerning people being separated from knowledge by the constant use of jargon. I make a point to avoid jargon unless I am certain the group clearly understands it.

People seem to have a tendency to use brands to group things together. American’s often refer to tissue as Kleenex®. Kleenex is a brand. Searching on the Internet is termed Googling by many people.

Filtering brand names allows for everyone to focus on function and purpose. Including brand names can alienate people who either do not know the brand or simply do not like the brand.

I choose to use generic terms when discussing technology. I also tend to focus on function and outcome, instead of creating action words from brand names. I suggest this communication strategy as a norm when groups of non-tech-savvy people are mingling with those who feel at home with tech jargon.

Software in a Suitcase vs The Learner Profile


By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The Problem

Curriculum in a Suitcase, this is a common term and point of discussion in international schools. For anyone not familiar with the reference, it addresses the common practice of teachers arriving at a new school and bringing with them a curriculum they are comfortable delivering.

The current practice around curriculum planning and mapping is to avoid this practice. A school should have a curriculum that students and families can depend on, regardless of the staffing.

In Educational Technology there is similar practice known as Software in a Suitcase. Using the word software is being simplistic. Software, subscriptions, services, and even computer brands and operating systems are included.When teachers move from one school to another, they often try to avoid the new school’s technology plan, and attempt to implement an ad-hoc technology plan they are familiar with.

Technology plans can be flexible, but if a school is a Windows 10 Tablet school, or if they are using PowerSchool, those core structural pieces are not flexible. In fact, they are required from the first day. Usage is not negotiable.

Unfortunately, publishing a list of resources before new teachers arrive is not very helpful. They are counting on a miracle, because the motivating force is being comfortable and confident in what they are using. I cannot fault anyone for wanting to use tools that work or tools they have mastered. Nor can I blame a teacher for making a persuasive argument for trying to acquire a resource that has proven track record improving learning for their students.

The fact remains, limitations are limitations. Long term multi-year technology plans create a structure, but they also form boundaries and budgets. Creating niche technology projects around a large campus, without a planned budget, is impossible to support and sustain.

The Solution

The IB Learner Profile and ISTE Teacher Standards hold the solution to the problem of software in a suitcase. If schools want students to embody the ideals of the IB Learner Profile, then teachers and administrators need to model those ideals. Technology is the perfect medium to demonstrate communication, risk-taking, inquiry, and subject knowledge.

Being dependent on a set method and set of resources does not achieve the outcomes expected of IB students, nor does it meet the ISTE criteria for teachers to Model digital age work and learning and Engage in professional growth and leadership. 

Every year when new teachers are completing orientation, these core concepts should be part of every discussion around curriculum, assessment, and technology. Pushing people to see themselves in the light of the IB and/or the ITSE standards actually creates the middle ground needed to move beyond the problem. The challenge to be an adaptable problem solver, as a model to students, is one every teacher should accept. Adapting to a new technology structure should be seamlessly integrated into adapting to a new curriculum structure.

The trap with technology is discussing brands. People will often say, “I need XYZ software.” Replying, “Well we have WTY software.”, is not going to resolve the situation. This dialogue only creates a partisan debate.

The best way to approach issues related to technology is simply to ask, “What are you trying to accomplish?” The focus should always be on the why first, or the outcome. From there, people can brainstorm the how.  Sometimes, the why is not even inline or aligned to the curriculum. Reiterating the technology plan is also not very useful. The core problem stems from an emotional reaction to change not a misunderstanding of a written plan.

Here is a common dialogue I have with new teachers coming to China:
Teacher: I just came from a Google School, and I need to use Google Drive even though I know it is not accessible in China.
Me: Ok. What do you use it for? (Avoiding the name immediately)
Teacher: I use it to store files and share files with students.
Me: Ok. So you need to have a solution to store files and collaborate with students.
Teacher: Yes.
Me: We have that. Can I show you? I can even help you move your resources quickly.

In most cases, there is a solution. Often, the solution is just time. Time to adjust. Time to privately realise the influence a brand is having on decisions. Time to see other options.
Support cannot be forced. People have to be ready to change. Creating the middle ground and bringing a person back to the core ideals they are working towards with students is definitely the best path to positive outcomes. In an IB school, that is The Learner Profile. The ISTE Standards, those are just for an extra shot of professionalism.

How Dirty is Your Data?


By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

My basic rule for data is, unless there is a life and death scenario unfolding, bad or unclean data is not going to be used. I have yet to encounter a situation where releasing data, which will eventually wreak havoc throughout the school, is an essential and lifesaving endeavor. Delaying systems access due to data issues is difficult. Even the smallest of systems have vocal advocates who will passionately state the damage being done to learning for every day a system is offline.

The best way to exist in a data-driven environment is to be prepared. Being prepared means being aware. Awareness comes from a regular, I would argue monthly, check of all core databases and having policies and procedures for correcting problems.

The real question is this: how does someone not involved in direct data management, check data? And how does someone who is an end user of data set policies to protect the data they need?

Validate and Verify

Anyone dealing with an IT manager, Technology Director, School Information System Specialist, or even a Business Manager should know about validation and verification.

When you validate, you are making certain the contents and format are correct. For example, if I ask you to type your name, and you instead you type your phone number, then you will not be validated. Your data is invalid.

When you verify, you are looking at data that is already in a system to see if it is correct and  in the correct place. For example, when you check a list of student names, you may find all middle names are part of the first name. If this was not by design, you could determine that the data failed verification.

When dealing with assets we often want to verify that what we ordered is what we received. When this type of questioning occurs, verification is happening.

Most people are hit with validation constantly while using the internet. Validation is ubiquitous. Websites often ask you to enter answers to questions, passwords, and CAPTCHA to validate your actions.

These two concepts,validation and verification, are the main tools needed to help the non-data managing people to engage and work with data managers.

Data Auditing

Many people will start auditing data by requesting a spreadsheet of data. This is a mistake.
Data without context is very difficult to understand.

The first step in auditing is simpe. Using questions, learn  how the data is validated:

  1. Where does a new record come from? (Paper + Manual Entry, Online form, Over the Phone + Manual Entry, Software running on computers at the school, etc.)
  2. How are errors prevented and checked?
  3. May I see the…form, paper, call script?
  4. May I do a sample and test the process?
  5. How do I know, after I complete the process, what data was collected?

I often find people are blown away by the time they get to step 5. They are either shocked at how amazing the system is, or appalled at the short comings. Since most data in schools comes from either families or is connected to student assessment, shortcomings do not sit well.

There is nothing to fix at this point. Even if there is a strong belief the system needs to be changed, change should always be data driven, and in this case, driven by the data quality. Until the data is actually reviewed, pause any immediate desire to change things.

The next step is to verify the data, and this can be done by requesting spreadsheets. If the school has a school information system (SIS) like PowerSchool, iSams, Blackbaud, etc. the first set of data needs to come from the SIS. This data should be the primary set used to create accounts in other systems.

Before asking for data, fields must be specified. For example, full name, date of birth, mother’s email address, etc. Be as specific as possible. When people are not specific, data managers take fields and manipulate them. You should be looking at raw data, not data that is filtered and/or edited.

When scanning the data from the SIS, after knowing how the data was collected, errors should start jumping out. If anything seems weird, make a note of it for further discussion. This process usually reveals patterns, such as, everyone having the same zipcode (yes that happened to me).

The secondary systems such as Moodle, Accelerated Reader, Discovery Streaming, etc. can have their data exported to be checked as well. These system often export a .csv file. Don’t worry. Excel, Numbers, and Libre Office can open .csv files. After the file is open, save it as Excel so that it is easier to work with.

Remember, it is not about being certain, it is about being suspicious and asking questions around those suspicions.


Problem Solving with Technology: A List of Topics and Standards


By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Core Concepts and Definitions

Digital Native is a term that refers to children who have been born after the advent of the modern personal computer and affordable personal laptop. There is a belief that these children have a very high aptitude with technology. This curriculum plan completely disagrees with this belief and reaffirms that all children need a solid foundation in problem solving in, and creating with, technology. The normal life of the average Digital Native is one of a consumer and user of things others have created.

Computer Science is not programming, although programming is required to practice the discipline. Computer Science is a field of study which seeks to automate processes using algorithms, and to solve problems using algorithmic based strategies. Computer Science often involves simulating outcomes using data-sets, after creating a hypothesis. A person who studies computer science may not be able to creatively express themselves through the mediums of web design, multimedia, game design, etc.

Programming (Coding) is a generic term used to categorize the actions taken to make computers, devices, websites, games, etc. function. Programming is not a single knowledge base. Programming is comprised of vast options which are explored based-on the type of outcome needed and the type of system that is being engaged. A programmer may have aptitude to perform computer science related work, or, they may not. Students can learn to program hardware that they set free to interact with the world. Machines of all types can be programmed. Limiting exposure to programming mediums limits opportunity.

Cloud-based educational technology resources refer to environments such as Google Apps for Education and Office 365 for Education.

Portfolios and Project Tracking

In an ideal world, at the end of each semester student work should be submitted to the school following this model:

  • Each student must submit three pieces of work (good, average, and below average) per year they have created, even if that work is only documentation. The work must be original and comply with all copyright laws.
  • The school will submit the work to a network/district wide repository that utilizes standard tagging and search techniques found in cloud-based environments. Think #hashtags.
  • Each school/district can then evaluate what students are doing.
  • Students participating in third-party curricula, such as the IB Program, will be required to produce work for internal and external assessments. The final marking of these assessments can be compared to previous projects to help internally moderate scores and performance indicators.
  • Students from Year 11 should have a personal repository to share their portfolio work outside of the school community. This public repository should be maintained for two years after graduation.

Problem Solving with Technology by Year Level

Year 3 (8-9 Years Old) :

  • Object Based Drag-and-Drop Trial and Error Systems (An Example would be SCRATCH)
  • Arduino Based Manipulatives (An Example would be Makey Makey)

See Standards

Year 4 :

  • Object Based Drag-and-Drop Trial and Error Systems
  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Programmable Robotics (An Example would be Lego, VEX, or similar)
  • Mechanical Skills Challenge Based Competitive Robotics

See Standards
Year 5 :

  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Programmable Robotics
  • Challenge Based Competitive Robotics
  • Mathematic Basics with Javascript.
  • Hyperlinking Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Asynchronous Communication Concepts using Cloud-based Resources

See Standards
Year 6 :

  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Programmable Robotics
  • Operating System Manipulation
  • Mathematics, Arrays, Functions, and External Referencing with Javascript.
  • Hyperlinking Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Asynchronous Communication Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Peer Review Concepts using Cloud-based Resources

See Standards
Year 7 :

  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Operating System Manipulation
  • Computer-to-Computer Communication without the Internet
  • Mathematics, Arrays, Functions, and External Referencing- Language Choices Flexible
  • Peer Review Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Team Base Projects Using Arduino, Robotics, or Client Side Programming, with Documentation
  • Story Boarding Concepts for Media and Games

See Standards
Year 8 :

  • Computer-to-Computer Communication without “The Internet” (This refers to learning simple protocols)
  • Game Programming with Story Boards – Language Choices Flexible
  • Tutorial and Documentation Development for Primary School Learners
  • Team Base Projects Using Arduino, Robotics, or Client Side Programming, with Documentation
  • Local Server Concepts with Pre-Configured Servers Hosting WordPress (An Example would be MAMP or XAMP)

See Standards
Year 9 :

  • Game Programming with Story Boards – Language Choices Flexible
  • Tutorial and Documentation Development for Primary School Learners
  • Local Server with WordPress and Customisations
  • Local Server to Live Server Migration with WordPress
  • Math and Program Control Basics with Java, Javascript, PHP, or Python

See Standards
Year 10 :

  • Robotics or Automation without the GUI
  • Java or Python Core Programming Libraries
  • SQL Basics with Java, Javascript, PHP, or Python
  • Math Concepts: Game Theory and Probability (To be Simulated with Programming)

See Standards
Years 11 & 12 :

  • IB Computer Science
  • Public Website Design and Development
  • Mobile Game Development or Flash Game Development
  • Design Technology- CAD and 3D Printing

See Standards


download1By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

School administrators are often faced with complex decisions about curriculum, assessment, and the oversight of both. There is a myopic condition that can occur as conversations lead people into a spiral of good intentions full of false understanding. This condition is the belief that learning is a one-to-one relationship, and that content is related to a course or single field of study. The truth is learning, real learning, is a one-to-many relationship where content can connect to an unpredictable number of areas if it is allowed to develop organically and time as a constant is removed.

Understanding One-to-Many Relationships

A one-to-many relationship is often used in database development. It is normally defined as a situation where an element of A may be linked to many elements of B, but a member of B is linked to only one element of A. For instance, think of A as mothers, and B as children. A mother can have several children, but a child can have only one mother.[1]

In terms of education and learning, a one-to-many relationship is created when something learned in one context becomes relevant in another context. For example, a student in a math course learns about sample size. Then when they are working on a psychology research paper they apply that concept to their survey initiatives. I used math and psychology as examples because I have often spoken with students who enjoy psychology, but claim they are not skilled in math. Flipping the relationship, if students studied sample size mathematics in psychology I wonder if they would feel the same about their computational abilities?

Unlike the database model, there is no real restriction on the relationships between knowledge. An idea (a child) can form new paths and ideas and become a parent.

Supporting the Unpredictable

As administrators debate, decide, and set policy they should consider that the best outcomes are often unpredictable. The history of invention has taught the human race this lesson, yet we seem to constantly try to create outcomes instead of observing what is happening without constant intervention.

The only true way for students to experience one-to-many relationships is to set guidelines for teachers that stress a continuum of learning around a single topic. Most topics have many layers, and as students spiral through the topic they can experience connections to other topics.

The concept of mastery becomes a single question: Have I gone as far as I can go?

Each time a student re-enters the topic they move closer and closer to the answer to that question. They may never reach the end, but they will reach a satisfactory point where they can justify saying, “For now, I am finished.”


Supporting this type of learning is difficult. It requires the administration to discourage small unit based learning and timed slices of activities. School leadership also has to set policies and procedures that allow students to constantly revise and revisit previous projects and topics for additional credit and potential accolades.

From the top level down to the classroom, many aspects of daily life must change to accommodate the organic nature of a continuum of learning. One barrier many students face is an appointed single subject resource. Textbooks, websites, and other pre-selected and filtered materials box students into silo of information. Inside of a silo, they may not see connections to other ideas, and students may dislike the format(s). Department leaders need to be required, not requested, to diversify the options to allow students some choice in the formal materials required to meet the curriculum requirements.

One might think the internet allows for unlimited access to learning. Unfortunately unstructured materials are just as bad as a limited materials. Teachers are subject experts, and they need to help students make smart choices. Having diversity in resources, does not omit the need for standards.

As a computer science teacher I would often have three to four textbooks students could use. I did not set units of work with books, I set projects that I knew could be supported with all the books. Each book was structured differently and had an appeal to different students. Never forget, the medium is the message.[1]

Large scale change to improve learning does not require administrators to sit in a room and write dozens of standards. Developing core concepts that people can understand and support creates a mission everyone can support. And ‘people’, must include students.

When you push students towards an endless formative outcome, the stress and pressure are as real as preparing for an all encompassing summative assessment. The only difference is the student(s) will work until they find the end, and not stop because someone has told them the end is now.

Understanding The Cloud


By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Cloud computing is one of the most difficult concepts to explain to people who spend most of their time working with children, running a school, and monitoring educational processes. Cloud computing is difficult to explain because it is imbued with industry jargon and misleading sales language, and when most people think about it, the concept is odd. After all, if cloud computing is fairly new, and the Internet is not new, then what were people doing before? How were they working? Why did anyone need, or want, to switch from one way of working to another?

Clearing the Jargon & Defining the Concept

The official definition of cloud computing according to Wikipedia is a kind of Internet-based computing that provides shared processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand. It is a model for enabling ubiquitous, on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services),[1][2] which can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort. Cloud computing and storage solutions provide users and enterprises with various capabilities to store and process their data in third-party data centers.[3] It relies on sharing of resources to achieve coherence and economy of scale, similar to a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network.[1]

In the past few years I have spoken at a few cloud computing conferences.  Companies like Microsoft and Amazon were represented by experts, sales people, and users. From these experiences, and from using multiple cloud services, I have determined that a cloud based solution should meet a few basic criteria in order to be considered a “cloud technology”:

  1. The cloud is a storage flexible experience. This means it is simple to add extra storage space, or reduce storage space, without moving or damaging existing data.
  2. Cloud systems can burst and get more power when they need more power. Imagine a fast food restaurant that serves breakfast. They know that 98% of Mondays require four staff to handle the 6:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. crowd. However, they always have a manager on staff as well, just in case there is a Monday where a fifth person is needed for an unexpected 7:30 a.m.- 8:00 a.m. rush. This person is already resourced, there is no extra cost to the organization as long as they are only helping out (bursting) for a short period of time.
  3. The cloud offers software as a service (SAAS). For many decades, using software meant a person needed to install something on a personal computer or use software hosted on an local network, intranet, or extranet. SAAS allows a single browser (Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Etc.,) to access and run software with little to no data being stored on a personal computer or device. The Chrome Book using Google Chrome is an excellent example of this idea in action.
  4. Collaboration and sharing, at various permission levels, are a foundational part of cloud based solutions. This does not mean sharing via email and attachments. This refers to the ability to have a central source of data that individuals can work on in real-time. The work can be synchronous or asynchronous.
  5. Backing-up data and protecting deleted files is done automatically. Cloud technology includes a few levels of backup protection that require little to no professional management. This helps supplement private/local backup and archival processes.

Vendors and brands are often associated with cloud solutions, however, there are plenty of private cloud solutions that meet all five criteria above, and are managed like any other technology inside a company. There are cloud based hardware and software solutions that medium and small businesses can buy to easily manage their own solutions and protect all their data. In fact, using a cloud based solution does not mean that people are required to surrender all their data and privacy to big companies.

Why Did Schools Start to Switching to the Cloud?

In 2011, Yale University announced they were moving from their locally hosted e-mail solution to Google Apps for Education. This was not an easy move, nor a move that was without controversy. However, when Yale did make the move, any doubts around the legitimacy of working in an educational cloud based environment were laid to rest. Currently there are over 100,000 million educational cloud users. Some of these people are using the technology as individuals, and others as part of an organization.

When a school runs all their technology inside of a school owned building/property, they incur many costs. As the school grows and expands, the costs will eventually become fixed onto a cycle.  It is a misconception that the cycle of expenditure will stop once a school creates a stable ecosystem. Every 3-5 years upgrades will be required, items will need to be replaced,and  training and certifications must be regularly provided to staff. Running servers, software, storage, and other resources on premises is expensive.

When companies like Google began to offer email, storage, software, and other services to schools for fraction of the cost, and without the need to maintain a large IT staff, schools took the offer. Institutions like Yale found they could re-purpose their infrastructure to create niche resources for research based departments, engineering, media, and other disciplines requiring technology that needed to be on-campus.

Although schools may have been working in a similar fashion in the pre-cloud environment, they were paying a higher rate to do that same work than they are in a cloud based environment. I also believe that many educators and students also like the flexibility and choices available on cloud platforms. They are not solely dependent on a single IT department to solve their problems and approve solutions.

The Cost of the Cloud

A misconception with cloud technology is that it is 100% free. Schools should budget between $4.00  – $9.00 USD a month per teacher and administrator in order to ensure there is an annual line item to pay for cloud services. This price range will cover most plans offered to schools that qualify for educational pricing, with some money left over for third-party subscriptions. Students are usually free.

These additional costs often include:

  1. Special or additional storage
  2. Video streaming
  3. Interactive Classrooms sitting atop the cloud services
  4. Branding services for email
  5. Software as a Service(SAAS) from third parties

Steve Jobs famously avoided using focus groups. He said, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. As users use a new service, they create a demand for solutions that were currently non-existent.

A very common scenario demanding budgetary resources would go something like this:

  • A teacher shares a file to a class of students.
  • Everyone enjoins the collaboration.
  • The teacher would like to do real-time formative assessment within the collaborative environment.
  • This feature is provided by a third-party, or must be developed by the school. Therefore, an unexpected cost is incurred.

In scenarios like this one, having the pre-arranged line item allows the school to be as flexible as the cloud.

Should Schools Be Using Cloud Services?

In my opinion, for most schools, the answer is absolutely ‘Yes’. When schools run everything internally their technology resources and support end up being mainly focused on school infrastructure and day-to-day operations. There is little time for improving the technology involved in teaching and learning without adding more people to the problem and straining the HR budget.

Cloud based solutions can not only liberate physical and digital resources, they can also allow employees to refocus on other areas within teaching and learning.

Many talented people working in schools spend a significant amount of their time keeping the gears oiled and the engine humming. These people could be focused on implementing new technology that connects to the classroom, to the parents, or to saving valuable time for teachers.


The EdTech Blog for School Administrators

By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Let’s talk numbers.

  • The number of iPads sold in the first quarter of 2014: 26 million[i]
  • Revenue generated in 2015 for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3: $1.1 billion US Dollars[ii]
  • Number of Google Apps for Education users in 2015: 40+ million[iii]
  • Apps categorized as educational in the Apple App Store: 75,000+
  • Purchasing 100 MacBook Air based models: $80,000.00+ US Dollars

Technology in all of its forms is a ubiquitous presence both on and off campus. The use and misuse of technology can positively and negatively impact learning, school culture, and school community. Senior leadership need to be well informed about technology, and they need strategies to efficiently provide oversight and make decisions concerning complex choices.

Learning to maintain and nurture the status quo when it is working well, is just as important as innovating and implementing change when the status quo is not working. These decisions often fall upon small teams of senior leaders who will ultimately be accountable for success or failure.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee[iv] who, despite Al Gore’s comments[v], did invent the world wide web and was knighted for this accomplishment. Sir Tim once said, “We can’t blame the technology when we make mistakes.” However, technology is often blamed, when errors are very human. Oversight and management of technology is difficult and should be a focused team effort, that includes a clear understanding of the important, urgent, and trivial.

The main focus of this blog will not be to review products and services. Readers will get a regular and concise point-of-view that can be used for current and important discussions. Comments will be welcome and responses will be timely. The mission and vision of the blog is to help inform and shape policy through ideas and discourse. The writing will help readers work towards clarity in technology concepts, look at methods for providing oversight, and reflect on methods to integrate technology into other levels of leadership.

Every attempt will be made to provide enough background information and support material so that further and informed research can be conducted by readers. Personal opinion, practice, and stories will hopefully add comedic relief, but those will always be on-target and concise. Unless requested by readers, rants and raves will not be the norm.

Welcome to all future readers, and please do not hesitate to comment.






Measurement in the Change Process

By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato


Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, brokering and solutions company. They did an extensive study on change management. In the study they state immediately and without hesitation, “Measurement is among the biggest drivers of overall change success, and it cannot start midway through the initiative”.

Telling someone, “Hey! Great idea. Measure it!”, is not going to work either. Stakeholders in any initiative need a plan with third-party indicators. Oversight requires those metrics to not be solely dictated by people directly working on a project or process. Because many activities are difficult to reduce to a number, observable criteria and anecdotal evidence need to be considered.

Measurement in Technology Driven Initiatives and Processes

Here is a common scenario. A new laptop is requested by a Department Head. The laptop is delivered by the IT department, and all paperwork formalities are completed. The laptop starts up, makes a little beep, and a nice picture appears on the screen. The person delivering the laptop would probably conclude they were successful. They might even give themselves a silent high-five and fist bump.

The fact is, the laptop is still useless. The end user needs to go through many steps in order to apply this new piece of technology to their work. Stating something works, because there has been no sign of error, is a common problem with technology implementation. Those doing the implementation are measuring their success based-on criteria that suits their scope of work.

In order to avoid any type of tunnel vision with regards to measurement, school leadership need to be certain all plans outline what success will look like, and how it can and will be reported. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to find an example from a similar project. Normally, this requires networking with other schools or organizations, but it is well worth the effort. Merely describing success with a list of features is less productive than demonstrating success with a set of functions.

Beware of Examples and Case Studies from Vendors

Many technology initiatives require new or upgraded products or services. Vendors normally include best case scenario examples and case studies. These case studies of successful implementation form the foundation that vendors use to create metrics of success.

Vendors are motivated by their sales and margins. Most of the examples and case studies will not fit into the actual plan most organizations have created. The true details and complications faced by other clients are usually left out or simply not known. The triumph of the implementation is within these hidden organizational specific criteria, problems, and solutions.

I was once contacted by a company and asked to write a case study about an implementation that my team and I had completed very successfully. I was excited, because this meant we had done an excellent job, we were the example. I spent two days putting all the details together. When the case study was finally published, it contained about 25% of the details, and left out what I considered to be core information other schools would need to follow in our footsteps.

Vendors work for the benefit of themselves, so their metrics cannot be used to measure the success of any school’s (or school district’s) local project. Schools need to set their own standards and criteria for success.

Measuring Technology Projects

Technology projects can be challenging to measure. Although the implementation phases usually have a checklist, the professional development processes and various data management pieces can become very cumbersome for a quality oversight initiative. I recommend creating some simple metrics before the project or new process is launched.

For example, let’s take the topic of attendance. Imagine for a moment that the school will grow from 200 students to 500 students within a year. When it is at 500 students, attendance taking will be more difficult. The current process is fairly informal, and done via emails sent to the office. Therefore, a new IT system has been approved for attendance.

For an administrative team to track and measure a project like this, they could and should:

  • Evaluate the current system.
  • List the top 5-10 aspects that the team feels are part of successful attendance. For example, timeliness, reporting format, alerting parents, etc.
  • Rate those aspects on a simple scale (1-5, 1-7, etc.) until the group comes to a consensus on the ratings.

Using these simple steps, the new attendance process can be measured against the previous one. The ratings system is independent of the technology implementation checklist.

Measurement does not need to be complicated. It does need to be consistent and deliberate. Although we may strive to measure ourselves with as little bias as possible, only a third-party measurement can protect us from ourselves.