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.

Unchained from the Desk: How I Went Completely Wireless

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Disclaimer: Normally I do not like to specifically discuss products, but in this case I will be required to do so. I am not recommending any products, I am only explaining how I used a combination of two products to achieve my goals. Other products on the market will certainly work, and possibly better.

In the spring when I was planning a brand new STEM space, I had a few non-negotiable goals. One of those goals was to have a decentralized and fully modular classroom and workshop.
I knew I wanted to have full wireless audio and video from my laptop, mobile device, or desktop computer; I knew I wanted students to be able to use the display(s) as well without any physical connection; I wanted a hardware based solution that was centrally managed; and I wanted the display and even the tables to be mobile.

In the end, I achieved the solution for about 1500 USD for the wireless functions and interactivity; the actually display can be anything with an HDMI input. A cheap 65 inch LED TV for example with a rolling stand would be large enough for a big room. If you wanted, you could use an existing classroom projector as well.

That means, on scale, the cost would be $2100-$3000 USD per classroom (depending on the display choice) that allows the teacher and the students to quickly connect and share their device screens/work.

I Can Do That with Software Over the School Wifi

I have used software only solutions in the past, they are ok. They are very affordable.
However, they can be unstable, they can be interrupted by the Wifi traffic, and they are a security risk if they are not properly setup.

When working with audio, software solutions do not really have any features to truly stream audio and video. They are simply allowing the students to connect through the teachers laptop/desktop to the display. The teacher workstation is still wired.

Apple TV and other Streaming Boxes

The Apple TV is a common solution to doing wireless display. However, it is limited in features, it is a consumer solution, and it has no central management for the hardware. As an IT Director I do not want 50 Apple TVs in the building that cannot be centrally managed.

Also, I want students and teachers with Windows and Apple to be able to interact and not limited by brand compatibility. In a STEM space, some equipment only works well with Windows. Therefore, students should have some operating system flexibility.

Other companies like Roku and Xiaomi make very cool boxes that allow for wireless connections. Some of these boxes do not require any special brands; nor do they all require an account like Apple.

However, they have performance issues and lack central management. They are consumer products designed for home entertainment not the classroom.

I Did it with Barco ClickShare

SMART, Promethean, Apple, Windows, etc. are all common names in educational technology. But Barco? Not really.

This is how it works:

  1. Barco has a base station with HDMI; and it can be assigned an IP address and managed on the network. These base stations have different versions at different price points. The one I have supports 8 interactive laptops or mobiles devices.
  2. The base station creates it’s own network (very cool), so it does not need the bandwidth from the student/teacher Wifi network.
  3. Each table in STEM lab, and the teacher workstation, has a “button”.
    The USB goes into the laptop; and then there is a small program that has to be launched. The process takes about 30 seconds. But so far I have a 100% success rate. The connection is immediate. Tablets and phones share the screen with an App and QR code.
  4. When I want a student to show their work, they tap the button. The student’s laptop video and audio streams to the display in realtime.
  5. The buttons can be purchased separately, and registered to any base station. The more expensive base stations support more buttons.

How this Changed My Class Dynamic

The best thing about this, is I am not the center. Most display systems waste time keeping the teacher in the front of the room in an attempt to use gadgets and features.

When the students come to class, I choose someone to be the pilot or the driver. They work through the lesson, problems, activities, etc. and share with everyone else.

When team work is completed, the team can easily share their work, and immediately take feedback and make changes.

In my style of teaching/instruction, I would have challenges and goals ready for the students online before they arrive. I would spend a few minutes launching the class, but then I switch off my display and let them take over (sometimes nervously).

Since the display is mobile, I can rearrange the entire room per the needs of the students and project.

Safety issues and repair issues with cords etc. are eliminated immediately. So even a single Barco with one button would be ideal for classrooms with smaller children full of kinetic energy.

In fact, one button is so easy to pass from table to table, that having a button per table is not needed. Sharing is easy, and the delay of 30 seconds is not going to impact a lesson.

I really like being free of the chains of cables and wires, and the STEM spaces are whatever they need to be, when they need to be. The spaces are fun.

I’m not really sure when “play” becomes immature, irresponsible, or un-cool in the minds of most adults but I think it’s time to take “play” more seriously. ~ Dan Kerr

 

Inverse Relationships: Project Based Subjects and Class Size

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

A classroom containing 18–24 students appears to be the ideal number. Anything less and you lose the unique excitement that comes from a critical mass of engaged students. ~A Commentary and Review of Malcom Gladwell’s research on small class sizes; David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

The Hattie Research

I was introduced to Visible Learning by John Hattie   a few years ago. After studying the data, and doing a course that focused on the data, I was forced to reflect on my beliefs and practices as an educator.

As an IT professional that actually uses meta data to make decisions, I knew the power of data about data.

I think the one point that must be made is that the data and analysis used by Hattie is what is known as long-tail data. Hattie did not find a “smoking gun” or a “big reveal”. He found a collection of things, that when working in combination, make a difference in learning out comes.

This data, when studied, must be studied as a collection. Focusing on a single point, and believing doing “that one thing” will make a difference, is a mistake.

The Hattie data can be viewed here. 

The following image focuses on the areas addressed in this post.

 

The Class Size Issue in Project Based Subjects

The relationship between class size and project based subjects is inverse compared to studies that look at traditional courses where instruction is rote, and the differentiation needs to be very focused.

Of the top 22 Hattie indicators, 10 connect directly to courses that at project based:

  • Self Report Grades
  • Piagetian Programs
  • Response to Intervention
  • Cognitive Task Analysis
  • Classroom Discussion
  • Teacher Clarity (Students Questioning Teacher Instruction)
  • Reciprocal Teaching (6 Facets of Understanding)
  • Feedback
  • Formative Evaluation
  • Self Questioning

Class size has been a central focus in nearly every school improvement plan I have been connect with. In fact, I recently helped build a schedule that was nearly solely dictated by class size.

As some one who solely works in project based subjects, team driven contests, and peer reviewed assessment I can attest that small classes are detrimental to learning in these environments.

When a class falls below 12 students, the student input, instances of serendipitous discoveries, the diversity of teams, and the needed conflict to fuel trial and error scenarios  all diminish. To be clear: the class becomes boring and stagnant.

Students need to be formed and re-formed into teams and groups in a project based environment. They need variety of opinion. They need to take the lead and be the teacher; they need to lead their peers; and they need their peers to explain “what went wrong” when failure happens. And failure will happen more often than trophies are presented.

If a class size is too small, this process (learning spiral) becomes repetitive and predictable. In my experience, small classes can be a stimulus for groupthink.

As a teacher, I can entertain and keep the energy going. As a believer in a student-centered environment where there is no “front of the room”, being the center of attention undermines that belief.

Successful Projects are Busy and Messy

I recently visited three MIT powered Fablabs. All the labs were busy, messy, and had learners ranging in age from 16-60.

These people were working on entrepreneurial projects, or science projects. The work is difficult at every turn, and the skills are interdisciplinary. In fact, I doubt it is possible for a single person to do their entire project alone. There is collaboration, and exchange of work and ideas, and a general consensus that failure is going to be very common.

These labs run programs and open work days based on simple metrics:

  1. The capacity of the room
  2. The availability of the staff/instructors to help people with specialized equipment

They do not balance sessions to keep the number of people to an optimal level of learning, because they know that having a variety of people means having a variety of talents and ideas.

Project based subjects are not about giving everyone an opinion or platform for an idea. These subjects revolve around taking an idea and making it a reality. Students not only have a variety of known talents, they also have a hidden talents.

Engaging students with a group of people they may not socialize with; allowing them to team up to offset each other’s weaknesses; and scaffolding peer/self criticism into every project is the secret to unlocking a students potential. New potential will lead students to see new opportunities.

Creating opportunity for students should always supersede creating small classes for the sake of creating small classes.

 

 

Negative Effects of App Attachment

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I was speaking to a friend recently about an argument he had with a teacher. The teacher was adamant that if they could not use one particular app, their classes would come to a halt, and learning would immediately be suspended until further notice.

Obviously, I cannot think of a single application or subscription that is that critical to learning. I am not referring to a complete environment like Google Apps for Education. I am referring to people getting angry, and going into a panic, over a single application or service.

More and more I see these conflicts among teachers and schools (similar to the Curriculum in a Suitcase problem).

Schools and teachers need to be aware that being a fanboy or fangirl will not be rewarded. In fact, the odds are that being too connected to a particular solution will more than likely lead to a lack of resources and very real disappointment.

Cancelled Without Notice

This is an excellent page to look at: Cancelled Google Services

There are 43 services listed that have been cancelled, even though many were used by numerous people. Google Wave was hugely popular with schools, and then one day, Google closed it down with very little notice.

In 2017, the popular library service RefMe was bought by a competitor and shutdown. This service had a popular paid version, and customers still lost access to the product they wanted.

The fact is many of these companies are funded by venture capital. If they do not meet their required metrics, they lose their funding and are quickly shutdown or sold. Often when companies are sold, the services they provide are shutdown. The intellectual property and user data is more valuable than the actual application.

Where does all this leave a person who has built their entire practice around a single service or product? Desperate and angry.

A Basket of Solutions

A basket of currencies is an interesting model to reflect on when setting asset management policies. A basket of currencies helps set a value, so that if one currency happens to plummet in value, the value of the target currency is not impacted significantly.

Applying this to educational technology asset management, schools would:

  • Make a requirement that departments have a defined set of resources they are using
  • Complete a regular review of those resources
  • Develop a process to allow teachers to regularly propose and pilot new resources

The influx of a few new solutions will buffer the school against big changes made by products and services they are using. Thus, not allowing a single company’s decisions to shift the learning, purchasing, or culture of the school.

In addition, there must be an annual expectation that technology will change and training will happen. Having a culture where people expect stagnation is dangerous in a technology driven environment that is based on companies constantly cannibalizing one another.

Brands Do Not Care About Learning

I have been recommending Apple laptops for many years. However, after the recent round of Apple changes to their base laptops, I am no longer recommending Apple without a discussion about the current downside of the new designs; and a review of the briefly held negative status of the Macbook Pro published by Consumer Reports.

The truth is, there are many options now that are better for many types of schools and users. Apple changed. They changed to meet their market. They did not make decisions to improve learning at K-12 organizations. Apple chose to make more money.

This holds true for all the big players in educational technology. Their decisions are focused on growth and profit. They want to take as much of the market as possible. Sometimes that means creating innovative new features, and sometimes it means making a cheaper product to increase margins.

Hardware is normally purchased in cycles of 3-5 years. That means, every year 2 or year 4, a platform review should occur. The practice of always buying the same brand without a critical analysis of that brand is the equivalent of letting the brand dictate the options available for teachers and students.

Schools should make good choices and be able to adjust to the market. Teachers should be aware that change is always on the horizon, and using technology is an agnostic endeavor.

Buy into the school. Buy into the curriculum. Buy into people and ideas. Do not sellout to software, services, and nicely branded machines.

 

Redefine PD with the 80/20 Principle

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

A very significant part of Educational Technology Leadership is devoted to professional development, new systems implementation, and the long term planning of support.

Every year as the semester starts-up, administrators around the world are planning for professional development (PD). There is pressure during those initial weeks to try and rapidly develop the faculty within new areas, to help everyone review all current requirements, and to re-train in areas of concern. Many of these areas rely highly, or solely, upon technology; technology is often the center of the professional development process.

Year after year, group after group, and plan after plan, results tend to be the same. There is never enough time to meet everyone’s agenda, teachers feel rushed, and confidence among many is low but silenced. So why do organizations follow this same pattern?

After many years of asking this question, and proposing options, the answers seem to come down to:

  • This is the only fair way to expose EVERYONE to EVERYTHING.
  • The goal is not mastery; the goal is introduction; mastery comes later.
  • Large groups working together help to create future support groups; the process is team building.
  • Support and resources for PD are easier to manager in mass; the first week or two of the new year shift support to critical needs.

Everyone is 100% and 100% is Wrong

The Pareto principle (80/20) is taught in economics, business, marketing, etc., because when tested, it tests true.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity)[1] states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Pareto_principle)

For example:

  • 20% of the customers create 80% of the revenue
  • 20% of the software bugs cause 80% of the crashes
  • 20% of the features cause 80% of the usage
  • 20% of users create 80% of the technology support tickets.

80/20 is often seen as a negative metric, when in fact, is a great opportunity to improve PD outcomes.

Following the 80/20 rule, any given PD item needs to be mastered by only 20% of the organization in order for the entire organization to benefit.

As an example, an international school wanting to implement a new system like Google Apps for Education only needs to formally train 20% of the end-users in each user group (Administrators, Teachers, Students, etc.). This 20% can then work with the remaining 80% to achieve the desired results; results which are often very niche and vary by division and department.

In another case, consider a school purchasing Microsoft Surface Laptops for their staff. Only 20% of the end-users need to have the full training on the hardware and software in order to fuel the future deployment.

The optics of 100% are not really fair when the majority of the 100% are not actually gaining the information and skills need for mastery. In education there is always pressure on students to reach mastery. That same expectation should be placed on everyone, and embedded in every initiative. Organizations working towards a good introduction, are not working towards their full potential.

Words to Actions

Randomly selecting 20% of a group to master a new PD initiative is a mistake. That would only work if the entire group were known equals. New and existing staff should be surveyed to identify their current knowledge and aptitude. Identifying aptitude is essential. New initiatives tend to have a limited experienced population within the organization; but aptitude is around every corner.

Years ago I took the 80/20 approach when switching a very large campus to Apple. I made certain all required hardware and software was available for 20% of the staff before summer. I selected the staff based-on their current familiarity with Apple and their ability to work with their colleagues.

The switch went very well, and after about three weeks the technology support issues declined by 75% from the previous year. The switch to Apple while following a 80/20 implementation plan reduced the non-Apple issues as well as the issues with the new hardware.

Recently, using an 80/20 plan, I sent a core group of people for training on a new school information system. Those people were tasked at training, and evangelism, within a hostile environment.

Knowing the system was actually in competition with other plans, a final meeting was held to determine if the school would continue with the new information system. The option was on the table to remove the new and bring back the old. The old was rejected. I do not believe this would have been possible without the core 80/20 group.

Keep in mind during each of these difficult transitional experiences the remaining 80% were not always happy. They new change had arrived, they were being delayed access at different stages, and they were not being trained or equipment immediately. This was noise. And noise should never dictate a plan or process.

The optics of 80/20 do not look as “nice” compared to working with 100%. However, the outcomes will be fair, balanced, and better. Most importantly, those suffering in silence will have a smaller more agile group for support.

Take a chance. Make a change. Go for 80/20.

More 80/20 Resources

Technology Surveys for New Hires

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Since 2008, I have been working with groups of new hires. There is much stress and confusion when people are relocating to another country. I always try and provide the information new hires need to understand the technology culture at the school, and within the country.

Initially, I was simply doing Q and A, and creating FAQ documents. One year, I realized that I was missing a huge opportunity to do some data driven decision making. I began to develop a set of surveys.

Survey data helps to shape the professional development for orientation and possible configurations for IT systems. Additionally, the data aids in the team building process by identifying new people with higher level skills. These people can then immediately contribute at the level they should be contributing instead of being sidelined because they are new.

Meet Them Where They Are

Many schools are hesitant to do surveys because new hires have a tremendous amount of paperwork to complete. Schools often do not want to add any additional communication to an already very busy process.

I do understand this view point, however, new hires will not be overwhelmed if a technology survey is incorporated into an already required technology process.

In the spring, I recommend all schools setup and activate the email accounts for the new hires. The moment they sign in the first time, they are a captive audience. The first email they see in their inbox could be the technology survey. New hires usually like getting their new account in the spring, so they will not be irritated at the process.

If the school has setup social media for new hires, such as a Facebook Group, those accounts can also be used to share links to surveys.

Survey Platforms

The only important thing to remember when choosing a survey platform is that it must support branching. Another way to say that, is it must support “if-then-then-that” (ifttt). Therefore, email based surveys are to be completely avoided.

Branching allows people to skip questions that are not relevant to their experience. Branching prevents the survey from wasting their time.

For example, if my school uses PowerSchool, I might want to know if new hires have used PowerSchool. If they have, then I want to know more about their experience, if they have not then I want them to move on to another section.

Both Google Forms and Office 365 Forms support branching. Both of these free services also help tally and graph responses. Remember, saving time needs to be on both ends of the equation, and email will always be a mistake laden waste of time.

Open Ended Questions

Having long form paragraph style open ended questions seems like a very politically correct way to make a survey. However, these questions are very difficult to measure, and they are extremely time consuming.

I firmly believe these types of questions should be optional, and only at the end of sections with structured questions. For example, asking someone to rate their experience with Google Drive on a scale of 1-5 is a structured question. Following that with an optional opinion would be good use of an open ended question about Google Drive.

Check Multiple

Most survey systems allow people to check multiple options to answer a question. I find these question types to be the most useful for broad group planning; and hitting larger professional development targets.

Here is an example:

Assuming the participant response rate is high enough, I could use this single graph to align their most recent experience with the technology culture at my campus. Knowing the similarities and differences among these services is a requirement, but that happens to be a requirement for my profession :).

Choose the Best Statement

Using questions that direct participants to choose the best statement, or the most correct statement, allows for them to show a weakness or preference in a more positive context. For example, instead of asking someone to rate themselves on Apple computer proficiency, I can offer them these options:

Instantly, I know that 50% of this group can help support the other 50% in learning how to master Apple hardware and software. I can now go into the individual responses, find those 50% who are very confident, and ask them if they would be willing to help lead in the professional development. Instead of wasting their time, I am utilizing their skill set and asking them to lead.

Survey tools are easier than ever to access and use. Every year consider making surveys for new hires part of the process, and use the data to make decisions. You can evolve over ten years and have ten unique experiences; or you can repeat the same year ten times. I try and avoid the latter.

 

Understanding The End of Year Process: Tech in the Spring Determines Tech in the Fall

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

In August or September, the first week of a new school year, do you find that your campus seems to have problems that are unexpected and out of line with the status quo from the spring term? If so, then there is probably one or many problems embedded in the execution of the school’s End of Year Process (EOY). Although this post is going to focus on technology EOY, the fact is all systems and departments have (or should have) an EOY.

Any system, department, etc., that is not practicing a well thought out EOY will not only struggle, but create a cascade of problems that will spread through out the community. This cascade will feel like a sudden and unseen wave of chaos, or a series of seemingly small disconnected problems.

An Example of a Technology EOY

Here is a list of EOY processes/jobs that must be completed before the end of the first week of July. I have simplified some of them as most have multiple steps to complete.

Active Directory access for all non-returning staff needs to be removed.
Active Directory accounts and groupings for all new staff needs to be created
Active Directory Student Accounts Need to Be Moved to the Next Year Group
New School Student Enrollment Complete/Check/Verify
Leaving Grade 5 Students in PowerSchool
All other Primary School Leaving Students Transfer After RollOver and Remove AD Accounts
Destiny needs to be updated
Powerschool Roll Over and Back to School Update (If Required)
Powerschool Records must be Cleaned- teachers/students/etc/ use PowerTools to Check Data Issues
PS Database Backup to Test Server
Make Primary School School Teams
Primary School Backup Report PDFs Generated
Secondary School Backup Report PDFs Generated
New Courses for Primary School Imported/ Old Courses Off
New Courses for Secondary School Imported/ Old Courses Off
PowerSchool- Plugins Update
Office 365 users and groups need to be adjusted to match the schools AD
Turn-It-In, and Naviance Updates/Staff/Students/Etc
ATLAS- Add new Hires and Remove All Old Accounts
Prepare all laptops, printers, and other necessary equipment that have been damaged sent for repair
Prepare all laptops, printers, and other necessary equipment to be recycled
Year 17-18 Orders – All Paperwork completed so items arrive in August
New Constructions/ Building – Checked and Tested
Websense Sync and Configure
Filewave Sync and Configure
Secondary School School Server Room Cleaned and Placed in Correct Working Order
Secondary School Switch Rooms Cleaned and Checked
Primary School School Server Room Cleaned and Placed in Correct Working Order
Primary School School Switch Rooms Cleaned and Checked

This list does not include the procurement process, as that connects to other EOYs in other departments. 

This list is share as an online dashboard. Jobs are assigned to team members. Each job has a status, due date, and comment box.

Many of the systems on the list above have embedded EOY processes as well. For example, PowerSchool and Atlas Rubicon have steps to follow every year to close out the school year.

If any of these jobs is not completed, or not completed with enough time to repair problems or make some adjustments to the fall planning, the start of school will be rough.

The Myth of the Summer Staff

Many schools assume that EOY processes can be done slowly during the summer because they have summer staff. This is a myth, and it usually does not work well because the logic is flawed.

First off, summer staff are always fewer in number than the staff during the normal year. So unless the school is completely closed down, then they will actually have less time to focus on meaningful work. For example, unless the schools avoids summer camps, conferences, admissions tours, etc., the summer staff will become distracted. Their jobs many seem less demanding, but EOY processes take hours to complete, and require large blocks of time. Large blocks of time require more human resources than are available during the summer.

Secondly, summer staff tend to work a different work schedule. The hours are reduced, and oversight is lacking. Knowing it takes 4-6 weeks at 40 hours a week to complete the EOY, how is it possible for fewer people working fewer hours to complete the same job in 4-6 weeks? The math simply does not work. Departments trying to fulfill EOY with limited summer staff will be setting the stage for an anxiety and problem ridden start of the year.

Finally, unless summer staff have 100% full signature authority and empowerment to make decisions, many jobs will be partially done and awaiting a manager to return. Not only will this cause delays, but it will also cause project fragmentation. Think of a multiple puzzles missing multiple pieces in order to visualize this problem.

EOY is End of Year not The Beginning of Next Year

EOY processes are designed to allow the time needed to make upgrades, backups, repairs, etc. These processes need to finish no more than a few weeks after the last day with students (and many need to be completed on or before the last day with students).

Do the EOY on time, prevent the cascade of problems, and start the year on a forward moving pace that exceed the status quo. I firmly believe a good start leads to a good year.

Further Recommended Reading:

The Systems Lifecycle

https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Systems_development_life_cycle

 

Understanding Ransomeware


                     By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

On Friday, 12 May 2017, a large cyber-attack using it was launched, infecting more than 230,000 computers in 150 countries, demanding ransom payments in the cryptocurrency bitcoin in 28 languages. This type of malicious attack is classified as ransomeware.

The ransomeware concept is fairly simple. Once the package infects a system, it begins to encrypt all the data. The data is still on the machine, but it is not accessible unless the user enters a decryption key. In order to obtain the key, money must be sent to the “owner” of the ransomeware. Usually this money is requested in the form of cryptocurrency, to make it difficult (if not impossible) to trace the payment.

Ransomeware Targets Everyone

Schools often believe that certain security measures and protocols followed in the corporate world do not apply to them. There is often a consensus on-campus that technology needs to be friendly and open. Because of this cultural approach to planning technology many rules and regulations are simply not followed, especially if those rules and regulations are designed for extreme scenarios.

For example, it would be odd to find a school that did not have user managed passwords for email. When users get their email account, they change and manage their own password. However, if someone recommends that school personnel setup multistep authentication, that expires every thirty days, that recommendation is probably going to be rejected. Any multistep authentication process requires that users learn more about security and manage security more regularly. If a user makes a mistake, the delay for resetting their services is often considered unacceptable.

IT policies and procedures that would prevent a school from being a victim of ransomeware, or other sophisticated attacks, are going to be policies that create barriers and limits. These measures would slow people down at times, and restrict certain types of technology from being used on-campus.

Managing network and data security is a discipline that must be followed regardless of an organizational mission or definition. Best practice scenarios need to be studied as universal best practice scenarios. Studying best practice scenarios for only a single type of organization (like a K-12 International School) limits exposure to case-studies, creative ideas, and threat assessment.

Ransomeware Prevention and Protection

Investing money and IT security planning have something in common. If a person makes a future decision, strictly on past performance, they are very likely to be investing in a plan that is expensive with lower future yield. IT security threats work because they are original, and because a purchasable defensive solution was not available at the time of the threat.

Many organizations make the mistake of preparing for the future by buying protection for a threat that is no longer unique.  This is useful if the threat resurfaces, but it is useless against new threats.

If an organization truly wants to be well prepared for ransomeware threats, everyone in the organization should be able to answer ‘Yes’ to this statement:

“I can take my laptop/desktop/primary device and throw it away right now without severely impacting my work or life.”

Answering ‘Yes’ to that statement means that a person understands the data  is more important than the machine is resides on. Just like investing in retirement, only diversification will save someone during a new and aggressive IT security threat.

There are numerous ways to achieve a high level of data diversity and redundancy. Here are a few that can be implemented with policy and practice:

  • The standard for file storage should be in the cloud.
  • Do not use SYNC software such as Google Drive Sync or OneDrive sync.
  • Laptops given to staff and students should have very small hard drives to discourage hoarding data and storing old files.
  • Weekly or Monthly archiving of data should not be in the same environment as data for daily work. For example, I use Google Drive everyday for work, but once a month I backup the important data to DropBox. The larger archives are for emergencies, and held within a different environment.
  • Offline backups on external drives are good, but hardware can fail. Consider what data is critical and make sure the offline backup is not the primary copy.
  • Systems like TimeMachine can actually corrupt data if they are backing-up automatically. Consider manually initiating backups, only after you have scanned your machine/servers for malware.
  • Photos and media can be challenging to keep organized in the cloud. Services like Google Photos, Instagram, etc. are designed for media. Use media centric services to manage media.
  • Email is not for data storage. If email is compromised, the communication threads should be all that is lost.
  • Schools using local network shared drives and NAS systems (Synology etc.) need to be restrictive and vigilant with permissions. If these services have been planned with “Ease of Use” as the driving force, they are at risk of being turned into an engine that will rapidly spread a threat.
  • Limit non-cloud based data sharing to special groups or departments to reduce the need to constantly update and patch these systems.

A final note to those who are making and enforcing policy. A single human vector who introduces one of these threats onto a network can create a cascade of destruction. Allowing anyone to circumvent a policy because of their title or position is placing everyone at risk.


WannaCry RansomeWare Impact
The ransomware campaign was unprecedented in scale according to Europol.[9] The attack affected many National Health Service hospitals in England and Scotland,[50] and up to 70,000 devices — including computers, MRI scanners, blood-storage refrigerators and theatre equipment — may have been affected.[51] On 12 May, some NHS services had to turn away non-critical emergencies, and some ambulances were diverted.[12][52] In 2016, thousands of computers in 42 separate NHS trusts in England were reported to be still running Windows XP.[46] NHS hospitals in Wales and Northern Ireland were unaffected by the attack.[10][12]
Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK in Tyne and Wear, one of Europe‘s most productive car manufacturing plants, halted production after the ransomware infected some of their systems. Renault also stopped production at several sites in an attempt to stop the spread of the ransomware.[53][54]
According to experts[who?] the attack’s impact could have been much worse if no kill-switch was built in by the malware’s creators.[55][56]
Cybersecurity expert Ori Eisen said that the attack appears to be “low-level” stuff, given the ransom demands of $300 and states that the same thing could be done to crucial infrastructure, like nuclear power plants, dams or railway systems.[57]
List of affected organization
São Paulo Court of Justice (Brazil)[58]
Vivo Telefônica Brasil) (Brazil)[58]
Lakeridge Health (Canada)[59]
PetroChina (China)[16]
Public Security Bureaus (China)[60]
Sun Yat-sen University (China)[61]
Instituto Nacional de Salud (Colombia)[62]
Renault (France)[63]
Deutsche Bahn (Germany)[64]
Telenor Hungary (Hungary)[65]
Andhra Pradesh Police (India)[66]
Dharmais Hospital (Indonesia)[61]
Harapan Kita Hospital (Indonesia)[61]
University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy)[67]
Q-Park (The Netherlands)[68]
Portugal Telecom (Portugal)[69]
Automobile Dacia (Romania)[70]
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Romania)[71]
MegaFon (Russia)[72]
Ministry of Internal Affairs (Russia)[73]
Russian Railways (Russia)[74]
LATAM Airlines Group (Chile)[75]
Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (Spain)[76]
Telefónica (Spain)[76]
Sandvik (Sweden)[61]
Garena Blade and Soul (Thailand)[77]
National Health Service (England) (United Kingdom)[78][12][10]
NHS Scotland (United Kingdom)[12][10]
Nissan UK (United Kingdom)[78]
FedEx (United States)[79]
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
Saudi Telecom (Saudi Arabia)[80]

The Maker Portfolio and University Admissions

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I am always focused on the end-game. The end-game for students is the next level after they leave K-12. Preparing students to compete and succeed is difficult. There is always a huge debate over where time should be allocated, what subjects are more important, and what skills will be required ten years after graduation.

I do believe there are always trends, and finding those trends can be difficult. Most of the data we gravitate towards, is data that we are directed to look at. The trick to finding trends, is to find new questions to ask. In order to find those questions, I try and look at data through a variety of lenses.

College Admissions Data

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) publishes a report called the State of College Admission. I decided to research the 2014 and 2016 reports (data range from 2006-2015) after being very intrigued by a 2007 article titled, Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard. 

The author, 

Of course, evolution is not the same as progress. These kids have an AP history textbook that has been specially created to match the content of the AP test, as well as review books and tutors for those tests. We had no AP textbook; many of our readings came from primary documents, and there was no Princeton Review then. I was never tutored in anything and walked into the SATs without having seen a sample SAT question.

As for my bean sprouts project, as bad it was, I did it alone. I interview kids who describe how their schools provide a statistician to analyze their science project data.

I started to wonder, aside from academics, are university admission processes valuing all the extracurricular work students are doing, and all the stress and time involved in this competitive process. Many extracurricular options involve technology, and require significant investment in time and money.

The data from NACAC was interesting. There are four common summary columns: Considerable Importance, Moderate Importance, Limited Importance, No Importance.

I decided only to review the change of “importance” in the No Importance category. The first three categories are variable. No Importance is not variable, it is absolute, and reflects a definitive negative statement.

The concept is fairly simply. I have 100 points. I weight each of the four categories until I run out of points. In this game, I can decide to declare something a waste of time and effort by using that last category, No Importance.

Here are the results:

Google Sheet View 

This data is troubling. Aside from IB/AP scores, most internal non-academic criteria are losing importance.

Why Has the Value Decreased?

Looking on Reddit and some forums, I found some interviews between admissions officers, students, and parents. Interestingly, I found a comments from these people that resonated with the Harvard interviewer from 2007.

A few things were clear from this small, but powerful, sample:

  • Students working on or in teams need to clearly explain their roles and their contributions; simply being on a team is not enough.
  • Students working without structure, and on original independent projects, are very interesting to the admissions team.
  • Students working inside of a managed program are not really that different from one another.

The value has not decreased, but the supply of students who are doing the same things, and have the same basic profiles, has increased. The demand for those students is lower than the demand for students who are more independent.

The Maker Portfolio

In 2013 MIT introduced a different option for admissions. They called it (and are calling it) The Maker Portfolio.  “In many respects, the Maker Portfolio has been a resounding success. Over the last two years, more than 2000 students have used it to show us the things they make, from surfboards to solar cells, code to cosplay, prosthetics to particle accelerators. We believe the Maker Portfolio has improved our assessment of these applicants and offers us a competitive advantage over our peers who have not developed the processes to identify and evaluate this kind of talent.”~Chris Peterson, Hal Abelson

Since then, a quick Google Search will reveal other universities are aligning with MIT. Washington University, Tufts, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, California College of the Arts, and more are now offering this option for admissions.

What does this all mean to K-12 education and educational technology?  Activities that used to be hobbies, now need to be student lead within the curriculum. Students need to find an interest, and develop it themselves with as little support as possible. A student should be able to articulate their specific contributions, failures, and growth through a variety of methods, and in a very succinct manner.

Technology investment must shift not only to equipment and resources that allow students to plan and create, but also to systems that will help schools optimize schedules and planning to ensure academic rigor is not sacrificed.

I encourage everyone to review all the resources that went into this post, and I leave you with this comment from Chris Peterson from the MIT Admissions department, “Sometimes students ask me if MIT wants students who are well-rounded. I usually say I don’t care as much if you’re well-rounded or pointy, what I care about is evaluating the space enclosed by the shape.

Resources

  1. Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard
  2. Former Ivy League admissions officer reveals how schools pick students
  3. Hi I’m Nelson Ureña, I am a former admissions officer from Cornell and currently an admissions counselor
  4. 10 College Admissions Secrets: An Inside Look From an Elite College Counselor
  5. 3 Hooks in College Admissions
  6. When Makers Apply to College
  7. I’m an MIT Admissions Officer & longtime FIRST person, AMA
  8. Admissions Revolution As 80 colleges unite to create new application and portfolio platform
  9. 2016 State of College Admission Report from NACAC
  10. 2014 State of College Admission Report from NACAC

 

 

 

There is No App for That



By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

“Read every line item until you get it.” ~Michael Burry 

During the last four weeks I have been reading literature, academic studies, and news articles on finance. I have studied graphs, looked through numerous sets of data, watched Youtube videos, and read two full books on asset allocation.  I am doing this research in my free-time, because I want to make a new investment. I want to fully understand how to manage the investment, and the longterm risks involved. There is No App for This. This is work, and it will only get more complicated as I get more involved.

Adding to my research, I watched a few fiction and non-fiction movies about the 2008 economic crisis. Studying humanity’s failures on a grand scale is always enlightening. Through my reading, and viewing, of this event I learned that Dr. Michael Burry discovered the market problems by reading 1000s of individual mortgages. He instructed his staff to read 1000s of records as well and to interpret the data. There is No App for This. This is work, and it only gets more complicated as it develops.

The systems and tools that allow a few people to manage tens of thousands of data points, to connect the community, to inform families, and to track what is happening formatively are not trivial systems. These systems have Apps that allow for a few conveniences, but all the power and value is in the strategic and creative development of these systems by the schools that use them, not the companies that own them.

 22353 Points of Data

In one semester, at a school with less than 600 students, 22353 points of academic data was collected in the school information system. This data spanned ten subjects, and was surrounded by long form formative comments.

There are pre-built reports that show median and modal representations of the data. However, if an administrator or teacher would like to apply a trend line or percentage change to such data, they would need to clearly define and model the parameters. Designing parameters to report on this data, to compare it to the comments, to graph it, to learn from it…There is No App for That. 

6908 Words on a Map

A single grade 5 science curriculum map contained 6908 words. Many of the words linked to evidence. Each thought, link, and comment represents a point of data. Each standard matched against to an assessment represents someones belief in progress, or lack thereof.

Running a true analysis on curriculum data goes well beyond using simple menus and pre-made options. True analysis requires spending time creating questions and hypothesis, and then devising clever ways to answer and test those. There is No App for That.

Curriculum mapping software is only useful when it is driven by the intellect and creative mind. No shortcut programmed in the menu can help anyone to truly understand the trends in the curriculum. The construct and definition of a curriculum report are the path to the answers, not the links in the menu.

9263 Documents in an Archive

An organization collects all the practices, policies, procedures, and artifacts that equal the sum of its existence. Using this trove of information an outsider can understand how the organization has evolved, where the organization is going, and if the organization is going to achieve its mission.

Those responsible for absorbing and interpreting this information must ultimately articulate their ideas and findings into a report that can be easily disseminated and applied. In other words, 10,000 documents, reduced to a few dozen.

This process requires both technical and intellectual tools that are varied and chaotic. There are tools available to aid in the process. These tools must be used when needed, and set aside when they are a distraction. Some of the work is analog, and other parts are purely digital. There is No App for This.

The Myth of Simplicity

The lines are getting blurred between ordering a car with Uber, and analyzing 10,000 points of data related to student performance. Difficult jobs, requiring technology solutions, are still difficult.

School administrators, teachers, and students still need real tools and the skills to master those tools.

The software and services powering a modern educational institution are full of the information needed to make better decisions in all aspects of the organizational structure. Accessing this information and using it still requires a plan, time commitment, and a deep understanding of the systems used to collect and curate it.

In order to create a meaningful outcome, someone has to make a decision and set parameters. The question should not be, what App is easiest for this job? . The question should be, what are the best tools for this job? .

Leading change and improvement is not a simple task. Growth and improvement take a plan, time, creativity, and organizational resilience. Simply put, There is No App for That.

Trending Upward to Exhaustion

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

I have written before about measurement and time management. These two concepts are essential for anyone in a leadership position to understand and practice well. However, as leaders, do you ever ask yourself how much is too much? Or, how much time is enough time? When does my job end, and when does my life begin? Are those two things (job/life) the same, and should they be the same?

I believe most people want to work more efficiently, and have more time to focus on things outside of work. Changing focus is where I find inspiration and the energy needed to solve problems, and I have to be believe other people are similar. Change is difficult, but achievable.

Trending Upward

This graph represents the lives of many people I know. Regardless of what they do, and how well they do it, time is always a problem. Based-on this diagram, a person would never finish solving problems. The result is their life is Trending Upward to Exhaustion . The wheel never stops, and the demand is never met.

The goal  should be to achieve something known as a backward bending supply line. A very cool concept from economics.

If your work life and personal life reflected this graph, it would indicate you are completing more tasks/projects in less time. This indicates that the longer you are involved in a career, job, etc. your efficiency improves.

The long term effects of reaching this goal are substantial:

  • You leave work on-time
  • You can take time-off sometimes for personal needs
  • Vacations, are vacations
  • There is time to innovate and experiment
  • Professional networking can be weekly and not just the big conferences
  • This list…can be endless

Achieving a Better Balance

The only tools needed to achieve a better balance are a clock, a spreadsheet or journal, and an alarm/calendar. The process is simple:

  1. Every day at the contractual end of the work day, set an alarm or calendar reminder.
  2. Look at what work is still pending, it does not matter if that work is pending from the past, or if the work is new. Look at the work, and type of work. Record each unique task that is pending.
  3. When you finally leave to go home, make a note of the time.
  4. Continues this process for about two weeks.

You will start to notice things fall into a few categories:

  1. Tasks you have started on your own initiative
  2. Tasks someone else has given you
  3. Off plan tasks created either internally or externally

As you begin to look at and categorize data, certain trends will emerge.

First off, you will immediately identify people who are outliers. These people will either be always requesting or always complaining above the norm. For example, I once found one person accounted for 12% of all IT Support Requests. Once I had that data, I spoke to their line manager and the problem was sorted. Imagine 12% of all last minute noncritical requests being eliminated.

In another case, I found that one employee in a weekly meeting hoarded problems. They left the problems off the agenda, and sprung the problems like a trap. Because there was an agenda, only a small percentage of problems could ever be addressed, and thus problems spilled-over into another meeting, another day, etc. I started managing my time in the meeting. Since there was an agenda, if the items did not pertain to me, I would asked to be excused. This forced the person in question to schedule a direct meeting with me, and thus, I was able to insist on all issues being in writing, in advance. The result was that 90% of the issues were dealt with outside of a meeting, and via email. Sometimes, I could delegate the issues to another team member, and avoid direct involvement.

Next, you will notice tasks that you have volunteered to do. Those are simple enough to manage. Volunteering is a choice, and doing it too much will shift from choice to responsibility. Moderation is the key.

Finally, within your team/department you will notice inefficiencies that are spilling-over. If your team is supposed to complete jobs A-B-C, and they only complete A and C, who is going to do B? You cannot do B. You have to figure out how to help them do A-B-C and properly meet their responsibilities.

When I started finding the daily issues caused by spillover, I knew something needed to change. I solved most of the spillover issues after discovering the cause was within the human resources policies my team was following.

The solution is in the trend. To find the trend you need the data. Use time in its various forms as the benchmark and boundary for the data. Be diligent in the routine and if you cannot be objective, find someone to help with the analysis.

Find the balance, your life and your school will appreciate the outcome.