Category Archives: 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. He has worked in the United Arab Emirates and China where he has consulted with schools in both regions on various technology topics. 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.

The Absolute Best Accessory for Your Apple Laptop

By Tony DePrato | Follow Me on LinkedIn

I am not one to recommend products. However, lately I have come to realize that since Apple removed all the useful ports on their laptops, I am reliant on a single $2.00 piece of hardware: a USB C-Port Adapter. This little piece of plastic magic makes my workflow work.

This tool is a simple design at a modest price point, yet, it is often the solution that moves a project from idea to reality. I connect dozens of devices using this technology bridge in order to deliver curriculum, podcasts, 3D printed objects, etc.

The most remarkable quality this small island of magic possesses is that is constantly reminds me that we do not need solve problems via upgrades. We should be solving problems with technology and educational technology by tightening our workflows and being resourceful.

There seems to be a constant insistence that X is not fast enough, or Y is not dependable. I constantly hear people state that the equipment they have in 2019 cannot solve a 2001 problem. The issue is rarely the stuff, the issue is usually the workflow.

Try Something New with Something Old

Here is an exercise I would recommend everyone try on their campus. This can be done for fun, as club, or as some type of fun challenge.

Have departments, staff, students, and other community members submit some issues or problems that continue to linger in the classrooms (learning spaces). Appoint a small team to review the problems, and choose one.

Finally, put this problem out to those willing to compete for a solution with the following criteria:

  1. The total budget that can be used to solve the problem must be less than $10.00 (or equivalent)
  2. Solving the problem using used equipment, materials, recyclables, etc. earns teams extra points
  3. Using school owned equipment to plan and produce a solution is required; donations are not allowed

Professionally, I actually try to follow this process all the time. The items above are on a personal check-list. My goal is to model a solution using existing resources.

What if It Works?

Often real solutions arise that are functional, but below standard. That is not a bad thing. The school has empowered a community driven development cycle, and created a working prototype under the umbrella of healthy competition. There are no losers in this game, everyone learns, and everyone wins.

In fact, if a school can continue to improve the process, and raise the standard internally, the outcome would be a community built and maintained solution. Older students can keep the momentum going as long as school mentors and leaders provide regular oversight.

Small Solutions have Real Power

This small solution below, is actually very important to my workflow.

No one needs to build a Tesla to change the world for the better. It is important to develop a philosophy of empowering students and teachers to create small things that improve daily workflows, increase efficiency, and add comfort and entertainment to the campus.

Start small. Ask questions. Find a problem. Make a prototype. Change the world.

Plagiarism When TurnItIn Cannot Help

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on LinkedIn

Plagiarism is serious issue for most high schools. It is rare to find a school without a detailed plagiarism policy. Most of these policies have a few tiers, because it is common for students to commit plagiarism more than once in their academic career.

Unfortunately, the tools educators rely on only cover a small portion of things students can plagiarize. In the last decade I have seen inauthentic:

  • Computer Science projects
  • Art projects
  • Websites
  • Math internal assessments (IB)
  • Research papers with a perfect Turn It In score
  • Foreign language course work
  • 3D printing
  • etc…

In many of these cases, the student and their parents argued that the work was not plagiarized. These people had full legal ownership of the end product, because they paid for the work, or paid for someone to help guide the work.

The work is often a result of tutoring, where the student did technically do the work, but was aided along the way. Sometimes this support did result in the tutor physically contributing to the final product.

These situations are complicated. They are well beyond someone simply copying an academic paper.

Identifying Inauthentic Work and Projects

As soon as I mention plagiarism, people are quick to react. In every conversation, people ask me, “How did you know it was not their work?” or “How did you prove they did not do it on their own?”.

I find the first problem with most project-based planning is a lack of pre-assessment. Students need a baseline assessment. Teachers should be assessing projects on some sort of trendline. The measurements being used need to monitor growth, and not simply check off rubric boxes.

If teachers set baseline assessments for every project, they can clearly find students who are developing seemingly accelerated skills in a very short time. If the teacher suspects a problem, they can require all the students to do an in-class timed assignment. These assignments need to encourage the students to practice their skills without risking their grades. Students who have been submitting inauthentic work will most likely show signs of stress, become angry, and/or ask to leave the room.

Rubrics Can Be a Roadmap for Cheating

Rubrics should guide students toward a standard, but they should be flexible enough that the end result is a product of a student’s imagination and creativity. In fact, if a student has a great idea, the rubric could be put to the side (a discussion for another time.)

I have seen an increase in teachers providing students with highly detailed rubrics, designed to meet detailed criteria. In those cases, it does seem as if the teacher would like all the student work to be nearly identical. Those highly detailed rubrics are essentially a blueprint for a tutor.

Rubrics that leave no room for personalization, are going to increase cheating. There is a sense that students need to be trusted, and educators must trust students to make good decisions. However, schools usually do not let students use phones during exams, or walk into copy rooms with cameras. Why? Because they are young and impulsive. They will sometimes make bad choices, and simply using good practice to remove temptation is not a violation of trust.

Projects are Assessments, Plan them Accordingly

Many schools have an assessment calendar or planner. These are used to ensure students do not have three or four tests (or exams) on a single day. Projects are often left off of these planning documents. I have made this mistake numerous times leading project-based courses.

Project due dates are often pushed and changed, and therefore the final due date may shift. Adding a due date to an assessment calendar requires other teachers to plan their assessments around those dates. Changing those dates can create havoc. Not being able to change those dates can impact students who need more time, or were denied time due to some unforeseen past issue.

When students feel the pressure of a final project they might make the choice to seek outside help. Having a tutor is not plagiarism, but often project-based disciplines lead to the tutor doing the work on behalf of the student.

Planning projects with three or four important due dates allows student work to be assessed in stages and reduces the risk of missing the final deadline. I personally feel that having multiple stages reduces stress, although my evidence is purely anecdotal.

Current technology and online services cannot identify cheating within project-based courses. Teachers need to know their students, and plan accordingly to reduce those impulsive and misguided choices teenagers often make.

A Positive Start Matters

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on LinkedIn

Stress at the start of the school year is normal. I firmly believe that a positive start leads to a positive year. Here are some suggestions I like to give to people at the start of the year.

What do you need to start the school year?

Students. Teachers. And a place for them to meet. Many of the things people stress about are not required to actually start the school year. Remember, not everything can be the most important. If everything is critical, and everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.

No, really, what do you need to start the school year?

Here is a core checklist for the school start-up:

  • A roster of students who should be attending
  • A roster of students who left, to make certain they do not return without re-enrollment
  • Schedules (or at least a plan for the first week while scheduling is being sorted)
  • Lunch planning needs to be sorted and should be running smoothly; food is important; the communal time is important
  • Two to three weeks of lesson plans that can be executed with the resources from the previous year
  • Buddies for new staff, with a simple schedule to keep them connected and interacting
  • Short meetings scheduled to touch base on facilities issues; administrators should take the issues down and get everyone back to work
  • If the technology is being unreliable, remove layers of complexity, and simply give people access to the internet; new management protocols and summer updates can take weeks to sort out
  • Keep students connecting socially, and offline; build community first and the curriculum will be easier to deliver

Consider Staying Offline for a Few Days

For students under USA grade level 3, I would keep them offline for 2-3 weeks. Focus on social interactivity, building a relationship with their teachers, and learning how everything works within the learning environment.

For students in who are USA grade levels 3 -5 and middle school grades 6-8, I would keep them offline for at least a week. I would make sure they do a full review of the school’s AUP and Digital Citizenship program.

High school students in USA grade levels 12 and 11 should be the main focus of IT for the first two days of school. Grades 9-10 can wait. Once the upper grade technology is sorted, move down to 9-10. Remember, high school students are flexible, and they can meet IT for support in varying intervals. High school should be all online within the first four days of school.

The Big Bang is Not Good for Stress

The Big Bang Implementation Approach  (big bang), is something schools tend to do annually. Basically, they try to do everything for everyone at once. For example, connecting all BYOD devices K-12 in one day. Think about who needs access, and when they need it. Consider the curriculum. What percentage of a grade level’s content is only available with a device in hand? Do the higher percentages first, and the rest later following a steady pace.

Communicate the planning to everyone. Take a breath. And keep the school start steady, positive, and peaceful.

The Solution to No Solution

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on LinkedIn

Not every problem has a solution. Maybe a better way to express that idea is not every problem has a solution within its current construct.

Sometimes, the rules, the structure, and/or the environment are opposed to the solution. Trying and trying again will be an endless cycle; and gains will be replaced by more and more losses.

If you cannot win the game, you need to change the game you are playing.

Finding the Correct Question(s) to Ask

Recently I was reading a comment thread about a housing situation. The situation was ridiculous. I could not think of a single country or job situation where this type of agreement would be acceptable. In fact, it seemed illegal, and more like a scam than a contractual housing issue.

The person in the situation was asking, “What can I do to manage my financial loss in this situation?”

That was the wrong question to ask. This person was focusing on the result of a bad contract. The question they should be asking is, “How can I get out of this contract?”

The contract is/was the issue. If you beat the financial loss with a loophole, another jab will come from another direction. How do I know this? Because the contract is a scam. The scammer needs the scam. The scammer will not take a loss.

In another recent situation, I had 100s of devices start to fail. The software just stopped working. Initially, I was trying to fix the devices. That seems normal, but my choice was wrong.

I only attempted to fix the problem for about 45 minutes. Then I took a step back and asked myself, “What causes 100s of stable devices to systematically fail?”

There was pressure to keep trying to fix each device. I resisted. I knew that if I fixed them, they would fail again. I knew this, because a system wide failure is not created by something on one device. It had to be external.

The problem was external. It took two weeks of paperwork and the support of a two external companies to correct the issue. There was no way for me to solve the problem. The problem was unsolvable within my environment. I had to change the process, and the entire workflow, to bring everything back online.

Avoid Being Locked Into the Past

Many people get locked into a process or workflow. They get so locked in, they never look-up, the never reflect, and they always want to carry their environment with them into the future.

When this happens they spend all their time trying to make their past work in the present.

Technology can be fascinating. It is one of the only areas of the human experience where older solutions are often actually better and more evolved than current solutions. People who are locked in on a process are not always wrong. Their older solution is better compared to the new solution.

The problem is, technology solutions are often abandoned. Developers stop developing. Companies stop supporting. Licensing stops being available. Eventually, the solution does not work unless you bring the entire version of the past into the present. The software. The hardware. Everything. Not only is this not practical, eventually everyone involved is alienated except the “time-traveler”.

I have seen a school running a version of PowerSchool too old to be viable outside of the school’s local network. It was so old, it could not be upgraded using new releases from PowerSchool. So old that PowerSchool would not provide support. And, so old that it eventually did not meet data security standards for any of the other partners the school was using.

This particular implementation had amazing features. It was customized beyond normal limits. It was also something that no parent or student wanted to use anymore. The largest user groups wanted a change, and the only solution was a completely new information system. That also means the school had to hire a new department of people. Those who kept their system living well beyond its life were too entrenched to change.

Reflecting on decisions on a regular basis, and having critical input from others, will prevent these scenarios. And this type of complete rebuild scenario is common. It is far too common, and it is destructive.

A Bad Deal, is a Bad Deal

Education is often seen as an industry that does not follow common business strategy. In many cases, this is true and unavoidable. Schools do not get to choose perfect children. Schools work with students, and sometimes at great cost, to help them grow and develop.

However, the business processes, procurement planning, and infrastructural systems do not need to operate irresponsibly for educational goals to be achieved. Planning to be inefficient, and being content to lose, is not a benefit to any child.

I have seen many bad deals, bad contracts, and predatory vendor relationships. These situations create unsolvable problems. The game is rigged. The school is often getting a poor value with a low to zero return on investment.

I had the unfortunate luck of managing a bad printing contract for a school. The school had made a deal with a third-party for Xerox solutions. Xerox has their own sales force and service, so why would anyone need a third party?

The contractor not only could not manage the hardware, they had no idea how the software worked, they were not aware of all the requirements needed for an Apple Computer environment, and they did not understand the accounting system connected to the service.

What was my solution? Remove the contractor. Instead of trying to fix the printers, I spent every moment collecting evidence and documenting breaches of the contract. I eventually made a strong case, and the school switched to a direct partner relationship.

There was no win-win. The contract was bad. The situation was impossible.

No matter how much we want something to work, or be a solution, there is a point in the process where we need to step back. We need to ask, is this worth it? Is there a better way? Are we driving the process, or is it driving us?

STEAM/STEM Core Skills

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Developing STEM and STEAM programs (Science Technology Engineering/Art Mathematics) is very exciting, but I have noticed recently there is a lack of cohesive standards to measure progress.

Like many people, I am working on building a set of standards. Some are customized, and some are licensed.

In my research, and through various networking engagements, I have settled on a set of core skills that need to be incorporated throughout the STEAM environment. The standards are being built around these skills.

I have found more engagement among students if the skills are presented first. The skills tend to fuel the desire for hands on work. I also want students to not focus on grades and common rubric models. I want them to focus on creating and going through the design process.

These skills have been developed by the MIT FabLab Program. The FabLab has been operating for well over a decade, and many FabLab partners have developed programs for younger students as well.

The overall philosophy is to learn the skills at every level, but increase the difficulty and complexity within the projects as students gain experience.

The List

DIGITAL FABRICATION PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES
COMPUTER-AIDED DESIGN, MANUFACTURING, AND MODELING
COMPUTER-CONTROLLED CUTTING / Drawing
ELECTRONICS DESIGN AND PRODUCTION
COMPUTER-CONTROLLED MACHINING
EMBEDDED PROGRAMMING
3D MOLDING AND CASTING
COLLABORATIVE TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT
3D SCANNING AND PRINTING
SENSORS, ACTUATORS, AND DISPLAYS
INTERFACE AND APPLICATION PROGRAMMING
EMBEDDED NETWORKING AND COMMUNICATIONS
MACHINE DESIGN
DIGITAL FABRICATION APPLICATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
INVENTION, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, AND BUSINESS MODELS
DIGITAL FABRICATION PROJECT DEVELOPMENT

Looking at this list, it might seem impossible to imagine a Grade 3 or even Grade 8 students accomplishing these in a meaningful way. I would argue that all are achievable at least at the planning and design thinking stage. Most of these are achievable with the correct level or equipment and/or some creative outsourcing.

The Game

Gamification has been a buzzword at conferences for some time. I have finally found an fairly universal way to “gamify” the list and formally track progress.

As students learn a core skill at different levels, their progress as a class or individual can be color coded.

Sample Using Colors

For better analysis, the color bands can also connect to numeric values. There are many ways to approach tracking. Even curriculum mapping systems can do this.

The best part about this structure, is each school can decide what their levels mean for their students.

I look at this as age independent. It is very possible for a grade 5 student to be a beginner in many skills, and have completed others at a level. It is also very likely that many older students who have never attempted STEAM topics, would fine they can quickly master Levels 1-3, while struggling with the final two levels.

As a student, I would like to see this type of grid and work towards being in the all green club :).

As a teacher, I would like to have students be all green, and after the smiles settle, add Level 6.

If you are inclined, share how you are measuring STEAM and STEM skills or standards. You can do this in the comments, or email me directly. I will post all ideas and give you full credit. ~ tony.deprato@gmail.com

Over Developing Ideas

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Questions are the important thing, answers are less important. Learning to ask a good question is the heart of intelligence. Learning the answer-well, answers are for students. Questions are for thinkers. ~Roger Schank

Elevators are interesting. I use elevators as a model on the first day of any programming class, interface design unit, or STEM class. I find it fascinating to have students stop and think about how everything works and how everything is designed.

I use elevators because they are a universal norm; a mode of transport every student is familiar with using. However, the best part about using elevators on the first day of class, is everyone thinks they know everything about them. As students deconstruct the elevator, they realize there is an entire world of creation they have never noticed.

The day after the initial class, students often tell me they are angry. They are angry because now they are studying every small detail when they use the elevator, it is not longer just a quick hassle free ride.

Recently I  experienced two elevators in two very different hotels. The first hotel was a fairly standard US chain. The second hotel was on the upper end of the luxury scale in Asia. In both places, the elevators had horrible design flaws. I am certain that elevator number two was significantly more expensive to purchase. That fact did not negate the issues with user interface or reliability.

I began to wonder about the people who worked on designing these elevators, building them, and selling them to the hotels. These teams had to be worlds apart, yet, making the same mistakes. These teams obviously had very different and diverse backgrounds, yet, they ended-up in the same place with the same problems.

In a connected world this type of outcome should be fairly rare. It seems as if people should be able to study existing models, research back through history, physically explore and test systems that already exist, and easily interview people about their experiences. Yet, these team did not do that. I believe they worked in an insular fashion, and over complicated a traditional and reliable system.

Over Design and Over Development

Solutions are normally constructed with a series of processes all working together, and usually in some required order. There is a tendency for people to focus on a single link in the chain and the over develop that particular area. When this happens, the solutions and/or design weakens as a whole.

For example, assume someone is designing the security system in an elevator. The default process is to use a simple card swipe. Someone decides to make the product and solution more modern by removing the card swipe and switching to bio-metrics. This requires the use of fingerprints for everyone who is known to work in the building. The technology works, but many challenges start to appear:

  1. Dust on the surface is tough to manage
  2. The scanner is not adjustable, and not accessible to people who are in wheelchairs or on crutches
  3. The fingerprint database has an additional cost due to backups and emergency power
  4. A by-pass has to be installed for VIPs who may take the wrong elevator, thus allowing anonymous access
  5. Updating the system is slow, and requires all security guards to have an additional 6 hours of training

This example is not entirely fiction. There are many case studies on situations like this where people over develop solutions.  An older example, but truly timeless in my opinion, is the Denver Airport Baggage System. I will not go into details, but it is worth a read.

Another consequence of over designing and over thinking is stagnation. Good ideas simply never get off the ground. The desire for perfection starts to consume the project, and eventually, the momentum fades. People will generally find a solution or work around for their problems, even if that means compromising in areas that should be held to a high standard.

When solving a problem or developing a new idea the best rule to follow is to look-up and look-out. Explore the world and the ideas of the past and present. Find the same idea, or similar idea, and ask questions. Get the story, including the anecdotes, because facts and function are rarely where the secrets live.

 

Stop the Downturn: Data for Student Support

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

For many years I have been involved in student support planning. As an EdTech professional, I am heavily involved in managing and using student data. Student assessment data is normally used to make lists of students that need support.

The ideal scenario, is that students get the help they need BEFORE the grade falls below the recovery level. There is normally a point in the term where the grade cannot be recovered. The mean will be too low. If the school uses a few final exams to determine the final grade, the situation is even more dire for students who have early downturns.

Here are some recommendations for making certain that you are using student data correctly, and promptly, to support those who are beginning to have unfavorable results.

Set the Bar High

I start my trend analysis at the C+ level, or “average”, level. I look for students who have a C+, and see if they had a C+ the week before. This can be done fairly quickly in a spreadsheet with live data sets.

Students who have moved from a C+ to a C, a C- to a D, etc., would all need a weekly review.

This seems tedious, but I firmly believe interventions need to happen as early as possible in the process.

Do not Assume Students are Lazy

I am often guilty of assuming a student is simply not trying hard enough, or not paying attention. I think this is a very common initial reaction to falling grades.

Every student deserves to have the benefit of the doubt. Take the time to look at least 1-2 weeks back in the grading. Look for courses they are not struggling in, and see how the assessments differ.

Most importantly, take time to engage the student. Ask them about the situation, and listen for clues. Many times teenagers seems cagey, but they simply may not be able to articulate the problem.

Check the Class Average

Class averages often hold insight into student issues. If you have a class, and the average is 80%, and the grade distribution is on a normal curve, then prepare to have many students struggling.

That bottom group of students is going to be fighting all term for a low B or high C (80%-76%). This does not mean they need extra support, but it does mean that they need to be using their time very efficiently. The margin for error, and laziness, is very low.

Also, do not jump to make the class easier. Some topics are tough, and they should be.

Convert Standards Grades to Numbers

This is an internal process. Students and parents will not see the conversion. This is not about creating a 100 point scale. This is simply a better way for administrators to quickly review data. You can use any scale you wish.

If you have only three standard’s indicators, and you are only grading against four standards, you would generate 12 data points, per student, per assessment. That is 216 data points per 18 students, per assignment.

Assigning numbers to letters, using a simple find-and-replace function, would make it possible to run common mathematical analysis.

Require Regular Comments

End of term comments are nice, but they are useless for a true support intervention process. Teachers need to be required to tag assignments at the student level when those assignments indicate a downturn.

Many administrators are often sitting in a room without the teacher trying to understand the data. Simple comments bring clarity to assessment data. This is true even in standards-based environments.

I would even argue semester and trimester comments are useless. Action needs to be swift, and data needs to be updated weekly.

Require Teachers to Update Grades Often

Obviously, without data, no action can transpire. Data needs to be updated every 5-10 school days. If a teachers gives 4 significant assessments in a month, and updates their grades only once every 4-6 weeks, how far will the grade(s) fall before an intervention can happen?

Keep in mind there is a gap between the time the issue is discovered, and the engagement with the student(s). Every day matters. Make a point to be the annoying administrator who is sending “gentle reminders” about grading and data updates.

 

 

 

 

Scheduling , Why Wait?

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

If your phone battery is not at 100%, would you still use it? Or, would you sit and wait for it to charge?

If your water bottle is 50% empty, would you continue to use it, or would you immediately go refill it?

If a schedule is 70% ready to be built, would you start building it, or wait until you have 100% of the information?

Here are the correct answers: Use It; Drink It; Make It Now

Start Now, it is Never too Early

I have built many schedules. For new schools, new programs, residential life, and events. In my experience the most important rule about academic scheduling, PK-12, is to start now, because it is never too early. Literally, after the first week of the academic year, most schedule issues arise. Issues need solutions. Solutions need a process. Processes take time. Time is always the main currency of any PK-12 organization, and currency should not be wasted.

Scheduling is All About Percentages

Imagine  planning a very  traditional elementary school schedule. The homeroom kind of schedule found in many American Schools.

There are 50 teachers. In August the school is getting 10 new teachers. Do I wait for those teachers to arrive to plan the schedule?

Let’s state that another way. I have 83% of my team. Can I make a plan with 83% of my team? Yes.

Observable data and experience would easily indicate that very few people in a school want to be responsible for scheduling. This data would also indicate, that more senior staff are more likely to have the desire to be involved, as they are aware of the issues.

And, do not forget, these 10 new people probably have email or other methods to communicate their goals for scheduling well in advance of the start date. There is no need to wait for their arrival, to incorporate their ideas.

More than 50% of any team can get a tremendous amount of work done. The Pareto Principle is a further reminder that only 20% of the total team is needed to produce 80% of the required output. That is 2 out of 10 people, assuming they have the skills to do the work

Many times the motivation to wait is not related to waiting on data. It is the inverse. The person believes they have enough information. Therefore, they can simply wait to finish the work at an ebb in the their annual workflow. I know have done this many times, and it would be the misjudgment that haunts me the most frequently.

Percentages work both ways. Scheduling is deceptive. People often seem to look at all the information and conclude, “I can wait. I have 90% of the work done.”

In my experience, that last 10% takes just as long, or longer, than the first 90%. The last 10% often involves meeting niche requirements for students, negotiating time sharing with another division, a pending change to a curriculum that will add (or subtract) required hours, etc.

This is another reason to start scheduling for the next year, as early as possible. The time to complete the work is deceptive and often inconsistent.

Waiting for 100% of everything is a waste of scheduling time, and waiting to complete 10% is also a waste of scheduling time. Both strategies can have the same result: an incomplete schedule on opening-day.

The Reality of the Flexibility

There is something I like to call, The Reality of the Flexibility.

Often new scheduling ideas come from a sense of concern: Our children need more…or Our Children need less. Legitimate, and exactly what a school loves to hear from their staff.

However, most schools follow a curriculum, and have to meet requirements outside of their control. For example, a governing body may require every student have four, forty-minute Spanish classes every week. A curriculum connected to a third-party organization might insist that every high school student complete 120 minutes of mathematics every week. This list is endless and often complex.

Having discussions about making changes is important, but most suggestions can be quickly sorted into the “possible” and “impossible” categories.

The day has a finite amount of time, and the year has a finite amount of days. The number of changes possible in any schedule is usually a very small percentage of the total. The reality is, the schedule is usually not that flexible.

The Ideal Timeline

If you want to see some dramatic improvements in scheduling, and have a more pleasant summer vacation, I recommend the following:

  • After the first month of school, create a schedule planning document. Send it to anyone who is involved in scheduling. If you need to see a planning document, email me directly. tony.deprato@gmail.com
  • Have new ideas for schedules submitted by the end of the third month of school.
  • At the top of the second semester, top of the third quarter, or bottom of the second trimester (hopefully you see the pattern) have the first version of all the new schedules ready.
  • Gather feedback. Adjust. Repeat.
  • Do course requests if required.
  • After spring break plan a new schedule walkthrough for every division. Find the problems before they are real problems.
  • Gather feedback. Adjust. Repeat.
  • Have all final schedules in the hands of teachers, students, and parents by the last week of school. Include the following line: “Schedules may change slightly without notice.”

Finding SSO: Complexity for IT, Simplicity for You

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

SSO, or Single Sign On, is something I often discuss with school leadership, teachers, parents, and students. SSO refers to the ability for users to have one login and password that gives them access to all, or the majority of, the services they use. I have achieved this, and I would like to share the path I followed.

The Scope

The scope of SSO is very important. Many people will feel they have achieved SSO if their Google Apps account connects them to a few services. I would classify this as a very limited scope.

In the SSO implementation I am suggesting, the scope is:

  1. Email and Groupware Systems/Cloud (Google Apps, Office 365, etc.)
  2. School Information Systems (For example, PowerSchool)
  3. School Wifi and LAN Network Access. Accessing the network with the single account. This prevents unauthorized users from simply using the network with a shared SSID.
  4. Login Windows for School Owned Laptops and Desktops. This means users apply the same username and password for the school hardware.
  5. Printing and copying access
  6. Additional systems such as Follet Destiny, BrainPop, etc.

With this implementation, all the core IT services on-and-off campus can use, and require, the SSO. Each user uses one username and password to connect to 90% of their resources; and they simply match their username and password on systems that may not be compliant.

For the end sure, this is a transparent process.

The Heart of the Solution

Are you a Google Apps for Education School? If the answer is ‘yes’, then the answer to true SSO is a bit more complicated. Google does not offer a traditional directory service. In order to facilitate a full SSO implementation Google schools need a middle solution.

The concept is that the middle solution has permission to access and use the Google Apps accounts. Once this is enabled, the middle solution will sync and/or translate access between services. The login will either be the username(which is the first part of the email), or the full email itself. The password is managed in the middle solution.

I do not like to promote any specific services. However, for this design I made a special agreement with a company called JumpCloud. There are other services that will do the same job, and unlike traditional methods used for SSO, these cloud based solutions are easy to migrate from in the future.

If you are not a Google Apps for Education school, then odds are you do have Office 365. Microsoft now provides most of the needed features in their Azure Cloud, using Active Directory in the Cloud. This can be free, or licensed, depending on your needs.

If you do not have Google or Office365, then you probably can use any number of Open LDAP Cloud services, or you could technically build and host your our service with Amazon.

If you notice, I am staying in The Cloud. In my experience, very few schools have the in-house talent and resources to facilitate SSO using onsite servers. They can get the services to work, but the speed and quality is no where near that of the cloud based providers. I used a self-hosted solution in China for four years, and once I was able to move off-sight, the end user experience greatly improved.

Enough of the Tech Speak

If you are not working in technology, the sections above will help you immensely in speaking with your technology leadership about SSO. However, to rebound from the monotony of SSO vocabulary and processes, I would like to take a trip through the end user experience.

A new person (employee or student) joins your school. They sit down, and they activate their GMAIL.

When the GMAIL is activated, there is a message in their inbox. They open it. The message directs them to the middle solution provider. The user re-enters their password, and confirms their email.

A few minutes later they get another email, this one is for Office 365. The user opens it, and agrees to terms or service by entering their username and password.

From this point on, that username and password are now linked to all the services, including the school owned devices and network.

The initial steps can be done for new staff before they come to the school. This is an excellent time saver, and I find that new staff like this engagement. If they make a mistake, their email will always work for them. The other services are not critical until they arrive.

The student experience is a little different. I find it is best to have an initial registration process and location for new students. In this location, the WIFI network is open.

However, after they activate, they switch to their official network, and they sign-in with their new ID. Remember, there is no anonymous access. Once implementation is over, only those who are trusted members of the school can use the same networks as students and employees.

If you want to know more about creating seamless SSO experiences, or if you would like to share your own experience, please comment or email me directly, tony.deprato@gmail.com .

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

The Accidental BYOD Solution


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

In 2008, I would have said Apple is the best BYOD solution for any school or family that could afford the platform. Then Apple started to change. I think it could be argued, they quietly have abandoned the education market.

Event the recent iPad and classroom management software changes barely address most of the issues. In fact, in many parts of the world, managing Apps legally and efficiently is not even possible.

Aside from oddly developed apps like Swift Playgrounds, iPad App development eventually falls into two categories:

  1. A Focus on Consumer Consumption over Learning
  2. A “Make it the way the App Says” Philosophy

There is no ability for students to go beyond the rules of the iPad, to change the rules of the iPad, or to create anything that was not predicted. The iPad experience is shallow compared to the opportunity to take a blank slate, and build it to a specification or idea(like an opportunity found on a laptop/desktop computing platform).

Microsoft has made amazing strides recently. Specifically, Microsoft products such as the Surface.  However, the Surface products are expensive considering their feature set. There are also security issues involved in running Microsoft products. The Microsoft hardware does not reflect the actual cost of ownership, when much of that cost is used for defending the organizational ecosystem.

It is difficult to recommend a Surface product to a family, because they can spend less for an Apple product.

The rest of the market is too fragmented to build a stable long term platform plan. Unless a school directs students to only by a specific make a model every year (and every year it will change), there is no hope to establish a level playing field with BYOD students.

But. Maybe there is hope. An unplanned, and possibly accidental partnership. Google Chromebook + Amazon.

Google has been a big education player for some time. Their services and branded hardware are dependable and flexible. The hardware changes often, but the Chrome OS is consistent.

Chrome OS is a solution for any school that has reliable internet access. Chromebooks can make an excellent hardware platform, yet have some reasonable opposition among many EdTech leaders:

  1. The platform cannot run powerful applications like Photoshop, Video Editing Packages, Etc.
  2. The platform is slow when working outside the core Google products
  3. Chromebooks have one official browser, and are not fully compatible with all websites/applications
  4. Although it is possible to code and create software on a Chromebook, the development options are lacking compared to those of a traditional laptop (This is important for schools developing computer science and/or app development curricula.)

What if these four issues were eliminated? Would the Chromebook be a better choice for most BYOD families or for schools buying hardware for students?

Enter Amazon Workspaces.

I tested Amazon Windows 10 Workspaces last year. I liked the experience, but had no reason to use the service. It occurred to me recently that if Amazon Workspaces supported Chrome OS, then I could create a flexible platform for BYOD that used Chromebooks.

Guess what? There is a Workspaces Client and App for Chrome OS.

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I have tested this platform for the last 6 weeks using the new Samsung Chromebook and an Apple Laptop. I wanted to compare the performance of the Workspace’s Client service on two hardware platforms. Here is what I have found:

All four issues above were resolved. I even installed Photoshop and used it at the office.

Although Chrome OS is free, Workspaces is not free. They do have a seemingly affordable educational package. The downside to the Chromebook+Amazon combination is the entire process, of getting signed-up and calculating the price, is very convoluted. Amazon for Enterprise Business is mature. Amazon for education seems like a discount coupon, not a well directed initiative.

The next issue is setting up management for the Workspaces. The cost of doing this at scale is currently not clear. The cost is clear online, but the actual bills do not match the flat rates. I regularly ask for my costs to be explained. I send scenarios to people at Amazon to get pricing, and then I wait for the bill. The bill never matches the predictions.

I am close to having what I would consider an affordable and reasonable deployment model for Workspaces with Chromebooks.

Keep in mind with Amazon you pay for what you use. How many schools pay for a campus level licenses for Adobe Creative Cloud, yet only use a fraction of the licenses in any one semester?

How many schools give all students a license for Windows 10, just in case they take one or two courses where Windows is required for the curriculum?

Imagine only paying for what is needed, when it is needed.

Part two of this topic is pending until July, when I receive my next bill. 🙂