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Tech Update: BYOD

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Tech Update: BYOD

The latest developments in hot areas of school technology. 
By Calvin Hennick

At a recent workshop on digital education, the presenter threw attendees a curveball and asked everyone to complete a brief survey using Google Docs.

“In this room of 50 tech-savvy adults, you’ve got tablets, Android devices, phones, and a handful of people with nothing,” says attendee Ann Lee Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association. “A lot of people couldn’t get [the program] to open.”

The point? This is what bring-your-own-device initiatives look like in schools without adequate support systems. If implementing BYOD means stopping a lesson to make sure that students’ operating systems are up to date, that they have the correct app installed, and that they’re all able to connect to the school’s network, it’s no wonder some teachers drag their feet when it comes to BYOD.

These difficulties make Flynn skeptical about BYOD as a long-term solution. With device costs coming down, more schools will be able to afford to provide all students with district-owned devices through one-to-one initiatives—a move Flynn says is vital for ensuring ­educational equity. “The current belief is, all kids have devices,” she says. “Well, no, they don’t. And trying to type a term paper on a smartphone is very different from typing on a laptop. It’s not a level playing field.”

Even if BYOD proves to be just a step on the road to one-to-one, it’s a current reality for many districts, some of which have found ways to both narrow the digital divide and make it easier for teachers to incorporate student devices in their lessons.

In Katy, Texas, the district buys its own devices to supplement its BYOD program, so teachers don’t find themselves in a bind when students don’t own devices, leave them at home, or forget to charge the batteries. The district provides enough devices for 30 percent of its students, and also allows kids to check out tablets and use mobile Wi-Fi hot spots. The wide availability of devices has increased teachers’ willingness to implement BYOD, says Darlene Rankin, director of instructional technology for Katy Independent School District.

The district also encourages BYOD implementation through continued PD opportunities for teachers, and recently adopted a single sign-on system where kids can access learning apps through the school’s network.

Previously, students had to download apps onto their own devices, which proved problematic. Some students’ devices were running on older operating systems that didn’t support newer apps. Some parents had locked the devices, making it impossible for students to install the apps. And, Rankin says, even when kids did have the apps, they sometimes forgot their passwords and couldn’t log in.

With the new system, students don’t have to worry about installing the apps, since they can access them through the Internet. Rankin expects the single sign-on system to drive BYOD adoption among teachers. “I think it will definitely go up,” she says.

Illustration: Viktor Koen

What You Need to Know When Shopping for an ID Card System

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What You Need to Know When Shopping for an ID Card System

Determining your schools’ needs will help you zero in on the right choice for your district. By Maged Atiya

Being in school every day is vital for a student’s success, and with state funding associated with attendance, it is also important financially for school districts to minimize absenteeism. Improvements in ID Card System technology are helping to streamline the attendance process in timely, cost-effective ways.

Many districts have discovered that implementing such a system is well worth the commitment and investment, and others are finding that it’s time to upgrade their current systems.

There are a number of important factors to consider when you’re shopping around for an ID Card vendor/partner; here are some key elements to think about.

Dumb Cards or Smart Cards?

What do you want your card to do, how much functionality do you need, how secure must it be, and how fast does the card need to be read?

Dumb cards: These are cards with a magnetic stripe or bar code on them that usually do only simple things: they can open a door or pull up a food service or library account. Staff members typically swipe these cards to enter a building, which is easy enough to do. However, the wear and tear of swiping reduces the card’s lifespan.

Smart cards: These cards provide a host of options. They are contactless and use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology; students tap their cards onto a reader and they are logged in, quickly and easily. Readers can be installed on buses, in the classroom, in the cafeteria, in the gym, or in the auditorium, which makes tracking students extremely efficient. In fact, some configurations can process a thousand students in just minutes.

Smart cards are coded with a unique ID number that is assigned to one individual; it’s the back-end computer that maintains all the information on that person. This means that additional functionality can be added quickly, all at once, at any time, on the base computer. School districts can start with a straightforward ID system, and add features at a later date when budgets or needs change.

Some smart card companies can interact with legacy card programs—those ID card systems that are already in a school district. So the upgrade to smart technologies doesn’t always mean the existing service cannot be used.

To Cloud or Not To Cloud?

We hear all about “the cloud”—and we know it’s important—but do you need a cloud-based ID card system?

In a non-cloud-based system, your data resides in a server somewhere in your school district. It is maintained by your IT department, and if you needed to expand your memory or upgrade your processing speed, then the district would buy a new, bigger computer/server.

If you want to upgrade functionality or software, your IT person has to go from school to school and manage each computer. And if there was a flood, fire, system crash, or security breach, all of your data could be lost and you’d have to start from scratch. Maintaining a traditional land-based system like this can be very costly—in time as well as in money spent.

Cloud computing means that your data resides virtually, in off-site servers, with backup systems in place, so if something happens, your data is safe and always available. Improvements are also simple to make: because the program resides in one place, it has to be upgraded in only one place, and added functionality can be transferred to every school instantly. This service-based process is more streamlined and cost effective.

Cloud services offer significant advantages, but make sure that your vendor/partner uses the highest level of data security available. There are international security standards (PCI, FISMA, SSAE16, to be specific), which are used by banks, credit card companies, hospitals and others, so look for them in your cloud-based ID card system.

Emergency! Emergency!

Sadly, it seems as though we hear about school lockdowns on a weekly basis. ID card systems can certainly help keep your buildings more secure, but there’s more to it than just knowing who came in the front door.

When there’s an emergency, look for an ID card system that can ensure that:

  • All doors in a building or across the district can be locked down with a single command, which can be issued from any wireless device or any computer. This immediacy improves time to action and can save lives.
  • An accurate location report is available on a tablet or computer that shows which staff members and students used their card for attendance and therefore can be identified in the building, in a specific room, which can help first responders react fast.

To automate the process even more effectively, some districts provide their local police and fire departments with precinct- or school-specific ID cards that allow them immediate access into school buildings.

Active or Passive RFID?

School districts have to strike a delicate balance between protecting students when they are on campus, and protecting a student’s right to privacy. You can defend yourself from litigation by making sure your RFID-based ID card system is passive, not active. You can also save yourself some money, too.

Usually battery-powered, active RFID tags have a transmitter and their own power source that is used to run the card’s microchip circuitry and to broadcast a signal to a reader (the way a cell phone transmits signals to a base station). This allows a student’s or teacher’s card to be read at any time—the card can be hanging around a person’s neck, held onto his or her belt loop, or in their backpack, and the reader can pick up its signal, as long as it is within a certain range.

Because the card transmits data, badge holders can be tracked and found anywhere, at any time. And while this may be an enticing scenario, schools have to consider student privacy rights as well. Also Active RFID cards require a battery and are heavier, more expensive, and need significantly more maintenance.

Passive tags have no battery. Instead, they draw power from the reader, and require a student to take an action, like tapping it on a screen, for the card to be read. This process makes it easy to track where students are, and you can get an accurate count of how many students (or teachers, or staff) have checked in at any particular time. However, because it is a passive process, these ID cards do not infringe on privacy. Also, passive cards are less expensive and last longer, hence they have lower overall cost.

Imagine That

Technological advances with ID card systems can make a host of administrative processes easier and more efficient. Here are just a few examples of what’s already happening in school districts across the country.

Attendance: An automated ID card system that generates a list of late/absent children; the parents of those children are then called by an automated system that reports them as absent, making the process more streamlined so office staff can focus on other tasks.

Classroom: Students tap their cards upon entering a classroom, so teachers don’t have to take attendance and substitutes always have an accurate count. Children tap out if they leave the class early and tap into the main office/nurse/guidance office, etc., which makes student movement easy to track.

Visitor Management: When a visitor arrives, there are visitor management modules that determine if he or she has been to the school before. If the person is recognized, a paper badge can be printed; if he or she isn’t in the database, the system determines if there are any district-defined exclusionary alerts regarding the person, while simultaneously checking for a match against the sexual offender database. An automatic alert is sent to the district, making the school even more secure.

Location and Time Clock Management: Staff members use their ID cards to open locked doors to enter school buildings or portable classrooms. Students with disabilities or injuries use their cards to access building elevators. Facility staff members use time clock kiosks to sign in and out of work, which keeps track of their time spent, their current location, and any overtime hours they work.

Students: ID cards are used at cafeteria registers and at libraries to check out books. The database carries personal schedule information, and cards are checked by hall monitors using mobile devices to verify that students are going to the correct class for the proper period.

Accountability and Control: ID cards are tapped for events that take place in buildings after school and/or at night. Students tap in to attend a sporting event, dance, concert, or any other school-sponsored program, which adds accountability and control to event administrators and lets them know who is in the venue for that event.

LASTLY

It’s important to plan ahead. With the pace of technology advances, make sure you find a partner that understands the needs you have today, what you might want in the future, and how you can plan to get there. And now that you’re armed with these important ideas, you can find an ID card system that works best for your schools.

Maged Atiya, Ph.D., is ScholarChip’s founder and principal partner, responsible for managing system and application developments with an eye towards emerging technologies. He founded the company to provide school districts with fast and powerful computing in order to centralize security and operations into a single low maintenance system.

Tech Update: Common Core

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TECH Update: Common Core

The latest developments in hot areas of school technology. By Calvin Hennick

When Susan Gendron was commissioner of education for Maine, the state’s SAT scores dropped from within the top 10 in the country to dead last overnight. But there wasn’t any backlash. People were expecting it.

That’s because, for the first time, Maine was requiring all of its students (not just those going to college) to take the test, and Gendron had spent months telling the state’s education reporters and politicians to expect the 50th-place finish.

“It was the best thing we did,” Gendron, now president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, says of the public relations move.

Gendron recommends that school districts take a similar approach to the first round of Common Core–aligned test results. It’s widely assumed that, because of the enhanced rigor of the new standards, scores will drop dramatically in most locales. Given the antipathy with which the standards have already been greeted in some circles, plunging scores could cause an uproar in districts that lack a strong communication plan.

Gendron says administrators should talk to local press about the new tests, put sample questions in school newsletters, and enlist area employers to provide testimonials about how the skills assessed by the exams are valuable in the workplace. School leaders should also take to social media channels and board and PTA meetings to warn about the score drop, she says.

But schools shouldn’t just tell people that scores will be low. Leaders should also explain what they’re going to do about it. Results from the new tests are expected to come in much earlier than data from previous state assessments, and Gendron says schools should use the numbers to form a plan that addresses the areas of highest need.

“In the past, schools got scores so late that it was difficult to do anything with them,” Gendron says, noting that results used to come in as late as the fall. Schools are now ­expected to get them in the spring—early enough to help inform instruction for the end of the school year, or the following fall. “The intent is to give actionable data to the schools. They can reprioritize what they offer for student intervention, they can act upon the data in summer school, they can offer PD for teachers,” Gendron explains.

If parents, teachers, or community members are concerned about low scores, administrators would do well to tell the story of Kentucky. The Bluegrass State was the first to administer Common Core–aligned assessments, and schools saw the predicted drop in scores during the first year of implementation. But the numbers have risen, and state officials say that more students are graduating ready for college and careers than in previous years.

Students shouldn’t be left out of this conversation, Gendron advises. Kids can see that they’re being asked to do different things on the new assessments, and they may not be surprised that their scores take a dip.

“We have to say to kids, ‘We can’t compare to where you were before. This is a starting point,’ ” Gendron says. “We want kids to own their learning so they can start to measure their own progress.”

Illustration: Viktor Koen

Creating a Digital HR Department

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Creating a Digital HR Department

Streamlining your application process with technology can save money and improve teacher hiring. By Ron Huberman

In recent years, we’ve seen a significant shift toward making classrooms digital to offer alternative learning methods and more effective instruction. Since students are the top priority, it makes sense that we invest in technology in the classroom to improve teaching and learning. But this transformation leads to the question: Where else might this trend foster improvement? Could districts save money and streamline their hiring processes by creating digital HR departments?

Using technology to hire teachers and process paperwork can decrease the time it takes to secure a new teacher in the classroom. Typical paperwork consists of W2 forms, affidavits, resumes, licensure, etc. Many schools still use paper documents and file cabinets, which increases the time it takes to collect and keep information organized. Further, whenever an HR director or principal needs information on a candidate, someone has to manually sort through a file cabinet to find that candidate’s file. These tedious, logistical tasks can be automated and streamlined through digital systems, which gives HR personnel more time to spend on important, strategic activities like attracting top talent and making careful, more informed hiring decisions.

In addition, paper documents and filing systems lead to financial and institutional costs that can result from losing the best candidates and increasing the time it takes to replace a teacher. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, “districts experience teacher turnover costs at two levels: 1) the central office expends resources when recruiting, hiring, processing, and training teachers; and 2) schools incur costs when employees interview, hire, process, orient, and develop new teachers.” The cost of losing a teacher ranges from $3,600 to $8,600, not including district-level costs and the even more important loss of student learning time. Furthermore, the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that when teachers are absent for 10 days, there is a significant decrease in student outcomes. When teachers are absent more than 10 days, the decrease in student achievement is even more significant; it may be akin to the difference between having a brand new teacher and one with two or three years more experience, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Another study, Missed Opportunities, found that when the hiring processes push districts’ timelines back, between 31 and nearly 60 percent of applicants withdraw from the process, often to accept jobs with districts that made offers earlier. The majority cited the late hiring timeline as a major reason they took other jobs. When schools efficiently move qualified candidates through the hiring process, the candidate is more likely to accept the position and the school will have a new teacher in the classroom faster. When quality candidates become disengaged due to delays, hiring managers have to consider less qualified candidates.

 These financial and institutional costs demonstrate just how crucial it is to secure quality teachers as efficiently as possible. Creating a digital HR department is one solution. So how can you digitalize teacher hiring?

1. Use a robust applicant tracking system to collect the necessary information from the start.

Applicant tracking systems streamline the hiring process by collecting and organizing candidate files from the moment they apply. These systems can also store and share digital copies of important paperwork that candidates can fill out as part of their application. 

“We’re working to build a custom functionality that will allow us to streamline the [hiring] process even further,” says Dan Pavletich, HR director at Elmbrook. “We’ll be able to digitalize all of our paperwork and keep it in the system so that when we hire a new teacher, he or she can log into the system to fill out the necessary forms and we can go in and easily see what paperwork has been completed. Then it’s on file forever; we don’t have to have hundreds of pieces of loose paper filed in a cabinet.”

2. Use a cloud service to store and send documents electronically.

Google Drive and Office 365 both let you share and download documents which makes it easy to send a document to a candidate, have him or her fill it out electronically, and send it back. You can then download the document and save it in the cloud service. Google Drive also lets you have a desktop version of the cloud so that you can access the files without using an Internet browser.

3. Create a website specifically for teacher candidates.

Clark County School District in Nevada created a website exclusively for new teacher hires. The website offers information and forms, new teacher resources, and welcome information.

It’s important to remember that student performance can be supported outside the classroom. Schools should begin to think about how to use technology to streamline processes in other departments. Changing your HR office is a small initiative you can take that has a lasting, positive impact on hiring time and cost, and will ultimately help place an effective teacher in the classroom faster to improve student learning experiences.

Ron Huberman is a former superintendent and the co-founder of TeacherMatch, an advanced K–12 talent management system that uses predictive analytics and data to help school districts identify, hire, and develop effective teachers.

Image: Chris Ryan/Media Bakery

Tech Tools: Software Picks 2015

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Software Picks 2015

The latest and greatest education-friendly tech tools. By Brian Nadel

OverDrive.
In OverDrive’s library, e-books are just like physical volumes, only more navigable. The software lets students browse the catalog and check out e-books that can be read on free versions of OverDrive for PCs, Macs, Androids, iPads, and Chromebooks. The e-book is automatically returned to the collection on its due date. OverDrive displays the material in several fonts and sizes, plus readers can get definitions, use bookmarks, and easily search the entire book. You can even use the software for audiobooks, which can be played at a variety of speeds. overdrive.com/schools

Aerohive ID Manager.
Whether you use Macs, PCs, or Androids—or all three—Aerohive’s ID Manager can make sense of an increasingly complicated networking landscape. The app emphasizes the self-service approach by providing every new client with a secure encryption key that can be generated from a student list or configured on the fly for a guest. Students can be added or dropped at any time. Price upon request. aerohive.com

Netop Vision ME.
Netop’s Vision ME not only puts the teacher in control of what every student sees on
their screens and blocks Web access but also broadcasts to a select group or displays any student’s screen on the projector. It’s integrated with Google Drive and Dropbox so that items can be stored locally or online. Available for iPad only. Price upon request. netop.com/visionme

SchoolCircle.
SchoolCircle can streamline the complicated process of setting up a parent–teacher conference. It’s as simple as inviting a parent to a meeting. The system can also be used for scheduling field trips, events, and open-house nights, as well as providing key documents or daily classroom updates to parents. Free. schoolcircle.com

Kickboard Parent Student Portal.
Kickboard’s classroom management system consolidated everything needed to educate kids, but one thing was missing: parental involvement. That changes with the company’s Parent Student Portal, which delivers easy-to-read behavior and progress reports as well as alerts for assignments that have not been completed. Free. kickboardforteachers.com

Sponsored Content: Making Connections

As schools increasingly rely on resources outside the district to deliver instructional content and operational applications, a strong, reliable network is more important than ever. Article sponsored by Comcast.

Comcast V14

To test his network in preparation for the Common Core–aligned PARCC assessment, Keith Bockwoldt packed a gymnasium with 225 iPad-wielding students and asked them to all fire up YouTube videos at the same time.

The trial went off without a hitch.

“We didn’t have any buffering or any loss of connectivity,” says Bockwoldt, director of technology services for Township High School District 214 in northern Illinois. “A couple of years ago, we wouldn’t have had enough bandwidth to support that.”

In 2004, the district switched from an early networking technology with limited bandwidth to Comcast Ethernet. Since then, the schools have upgraded their capacity several times to keep up with demand.

“We’ve had exponential growth,” says Bockwoldt. “We currently have over 9,000 iPads deployed for 12,000 students. Next year, we’re looking at all students having a device, so it’s critical for us to have the capacity to support instruction in the classrooms.”

Two decades after the Internet began to transform the way teachers and students access information, most educators are well aware of the need for a fast connection. But high-speed Internet is only one piece of a school district’s connectivity puzzle. Strong connectivity between schools and other sites, in the form of a robust wide area network (WAN), is just as important. Increasingly, so are connections to external data centers and cloud-hosted systems—both of which can expand schools’ IT capacities without adding any physical infrastructure on-site. Finally, recognizing that the need for connectivity doesn’t end with the school day, a number of districts have found ways to help students and their families get online when they’re at home.

More Bandwidth

When the Internet first came into schools, it was largely used for basic research, and everyone was happy to wait a minute or two for webpages to load—that was still much faster than taking a trip to the library and riffling through the card catalog. That has all changed—­dramatically.

“You have streaming videos, with sites like YouTube and Khan Academy,” says Bock­woldt. “And there’s a plethora of tools that teachers are accessing. You need to have the bandwidth and the infrastructure. Otherwise, teachers and students aren’t going to have a good experience, and your staff will lose trust
in the system.”

In a 2013 Pew survey of Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers, 92 percent said the Internet has a “major impact” on their ability to access content, resources, and materials for their teaching.

Intradistrict Connections

A high-speed Internet connection won’t do school districts any good unless they have a network robust enough to support it.

“While the Internet pipe needs to be big enough, so do those connections that go to the schools,” says Bockwoldt.

Fort Wayne Community Schools in Indiana gets its Internet connection through the state but relies on Comcast Ethernet to connect more than 50 sites in its WAN, and the district recently doubled the connection speed to its high schools to keep up with increasing demand.

Jack Byrd, director of technology for Fort Wayne, says that high-capacity intradistrict connections are vital, especially for delivering multimedia learning tools. “If we have any Internet or wide area network disruptions, that’s affecting instruction,” he says.

A WAN that is private, secure, and highly available is the foundation for resource distribution within a school district. It’s what allows schools to adopt new applications that enhance both instruction and business operations, and then push those applications out to every school in the district.

For example, both District 214 and Fort Wayne have moved away from analog phone systems to voice over Internet protocol (VOIP), which offers districts new features and can also reduce phone bills. Byrd notes that VOIP would be impossible if Fort Wayne hadn’t upgraded its WAN more than a decade ago. “Our voice communications, our video communications, and, of course, our data—that’s all done through Comcast’s network,” he says. 

Data Centers and Cloud Computing

When school districts run out of space to store servers—or when they simply want to move their data to a more controlled environment—they often turn to third-party data centers. Or, if they want to outsource some or all of their servers entirely, they look to cloud service providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

A data center allows districts to rent space with adequate power, cooling, and security for their servers, eliminating the chance that a custodian might accidentally spill water on the equipment or unplug it. Some districts connect to these off-site data centers via the Internet, but increasingly, schools are using an Ethernet connection that replicates the performance of their WANs.

Cloud service providers allow school districts to eliminate their physical servers and rent out virtual servers instead, and these virtual servers can be accessed via the Internet or a private connection to the provider.

Even among districts that continue to maintain their own servers on-site, nearly all schools are using some type of business or instructional software that is hosted in the cloud. Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365, which allow students and staff to create, edit, and collaborate on projects that are stored in the cloud, are prime examples of this. Many districts also rely on the cloud for applications like teacher evaluation programs and learning management systems.

Connecting at Home

Fort Wayne is getting ready to switch to Office 365, which allows students to store their work in the cloud. If they save a draft of a research paper while they’re at school, they can access that same draft at home later—but only if they’re connected to the Internet. The district and Comcast have joined forces to make sure all students can have a robust home connection.

A number of Fort Wayne students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch receive home Internet service through Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which offers broadband at a reduced rate for those students and their families.

The district has participated in the program for several years, but Byrd says that home Internet is becoming increasingly important as schools move toward more cloud-hosted learning software that students need a connection to access.

“One of our goals is that kids can learn anytime, anywhere,” Byrd says. “Learning doesn’t stop at the school walls.”

Illustration: Laura Rolwing

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TECH Update: Blended Learning

The latest developments in hot areas of school technology.
By Calvin Hennick

During the 2011–12 school year, Arthur Ashe Charter School in New Orleans tried a blended learning model for the first time. The Ashe students, compared with students at three other schools in the charter network, gained an extra four percent in math scores. In English language arts, no substantive impact was measured.

Does that four percent gain in math mean the initiative was a success, given that teachers were implementing a new program? Or is it much too small a return for a school to expect after investing in new technology and training?

Your answer to that question likely determines how you view the latest research on blended learning. (Blended learning is a model in which students learn at least in part through online delivery of instruction, with some level of control over pacing, in addition to receiving traditional, in-person instruction.)

“When you’re looking at something as new as blended learning, there is no established, agreed-upon, single metric for success,” says Cheryl Niehaus, program officer for U.S. Education at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “It’s a very early-stage innovation, and there are different expectations about how quickly any intervention should start to demonstrate results.”

The Dell Foundation funded a May 2014 study that analyzed the impact of blended learning on students at Ashe and several other schools. As at Ashe, the results at most of the other schools showed a slight increase in gains compared with students at peer schools. The findings may be modest, but they’re strong enough that the foundation has continued to make investments in blended learning.

The approach remains exciting, Niehaus says, because of its potential to differentiate and individualize instruction. “The promise of blended and other personalized learning models is to pinpoint where each student is and identify a learning experience that is directly responsive to their needs,” she explains.

Another study, from December 2014, examined results in schools that implemented the Teach to One: Math blended learning model. That study showed gains in math skills that were 15 percent higher than the national average in year one, and 47 percent above national norms in year two.

These results are “promising,” says Douglas Ready, associate professor of education and public policy at Columbia University and the author of the Teach to One study. But he acknowledges that it’s impossible to say whether the gains should be attributed to the new technology, the emphasis on differentiated instruction, or some other variable. A future study, Ready says, will help uncover “what’s inside the black box.”

Justin Reich, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, points out that these studies, like many others on blended learning, are quasi-experimental, meaning they don’t include a true randomized control group. The schools implementing blended learning are often extremely motivated to improve their performance, he says, which can skew the results. “In many cases, just about any intervention works a little bit if you have a group of people who are trying to get better at something,” he notes.

Reich says true experimental findings on blended learning can “charitably” be described as “mixed,” but he acknowledges that the idea of using technology to increase differentiation is compelling, and he thinks the model merits continued study.

The hope among blended learning advocates is that developers will use what they’ve learned from the existing research to improve programs—and that even better results will follow. “This is early days,” says Niehaus. “What is most important is leaders are looking at qualitative and quantitative data to understand what we know and what we need to focus on to keep getting better.”

Illustration: Viktor Koen

Here Come the Chromebooks

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Tablets used to reign as schools’ top hardware choice. But Google’s low-cost laptops are cutting into Apple’s share of the education market.
By Michelle R. Davis

The iPad implosion in the Los Angeles Unified School District may have been the first sign of real rouble. But there had long been grumblings about the Apple table not playing nicely with other software and costing nearly twice as much as some alternatives.

Enter the keyboard-based Chromebook as challenger in the race for dominant digital device in K-12 schools. With its simplified technology management and a suite of Google tools and apps designed for students and teachers, the Chromebook is starting to draw market share away from the iPad.

Chromebooks can sell for as little as $150, while iPads can be several hundred dollars more. The Chromebook also has a keyboard, crucial for meeting Common Core testing requirements,and provides automatic operating system updates.

All of these factors combine to make Chromebooks attractive to schools and districts, says Douglas Levin, former executive director for the State Educational Technology Directors Association. “Apple was a little bit challenged in providing those types of tools because the iPad was built first for personal use and not for enterprise use—either business or school,” he says. “Apple has since developed powerful tools, but Chromebooks were built for that type of use from the ground up.”

Despite its benefits, the Chromebook does face obstacles, including the perception that the iPad and other touch-screen tablets do a better job of encouraging students' creativity and curiosity. Additional issues are student data privacy concerns with Google software and districts’ disappointing experiences with a previous round of low-cost laptops known as netbooks.

Catching Up to the iPad

As of 2013, Chromebooks had 20 percent of education’s mobile computing device market, compared to iPad's 40 percent. But Chromebook sales have increased sharply since then, creating competition for iPads, which previously competed mainly with traditional laptops that cost more or lacked necessary computing power.

Apple claimed 85 percent of the U.S. education market for tablets last summer, but during the third quarter of 2014, about 715,500 Chromebooks were shipped to K12 schools, compared with 702,000 iPads, says Rajani Singh, a senior research analyst for the International Data Corporation, a market analysis company. “Chromebooks as a product category have become the hottest-selling device [for schools],” a first for the Google-centered technologies, she says.

It’s hard to compare school sales of the devices, since iPads are made only by Apple, while Chromebooks are produced and sold by a variety of companies, including Samsung, HP, Dell, and Acer. And iPads are much more popular than Chromebooks outside of education settings. Only about 20 percent of iPads are sold to schools, while 75 percent of Chromebooks sold wind up in classrooms, Singh said.

A “One-Stop Shop”

In the spacious cyber café at Kennedy Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, students might sit on wooden benches hunched over their Chromebooks or balance on inflatable blue exercise balls as they tap away on keyboards. The low-income school launched a one-to-one Chromebook initiative this year.

Those same students might also experiment with iPads mounted on tables in the cyber café, or use a PC or a different tablet in class.

Like many schools, Kennedy, which is part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, has a variety of devices for students to use, but the Chromebook is dominant: The school has 720 Chromebooks, about 50 iPads, and a scattering of personal computers and Samsung tablets.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg is in the process of implementing a district-wide middle school one-to-one Chromebook initiative with nearly 33,000 devices. Price—each Chromebook cost about $220—was important, says Valerie Truesdale, the district’s chief of technology, personalization, and engagement. “It was a huge factor,” she says, noting that iPads cost $369 per device.

For Kennedy principal Kevin Sudimack, there are other benefits to Chromebooks, which run on Google’s Chrome operating system and host apps and data storage in the cloud. The whole system, which updates automatically, creates a “kind of one-stop shop,” he says. Students get access to Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and a host of other free tools and apps. Last year, Google began offering unlimited storage for students and educators, and in 2013, the company introduced Google Play for Education to give students better access to Chrome and Android educational games and apps. The cloud-based platform allows students to access their work from home, even though they are not yet permitted to take their devices out of school, Sudimack says.

Kyle Pace, an instructional technology specialist at Lee's Summit R-7 School District in Missouri, says his district, which has purchased 7,000 Chromebooks, likes the machine for many of the same reasons. “The biggest thing is the seamless integration with all of the Google applications. The management of them is just so easy.”

Integration Versus Creativity

From an IT perspective, Chromebooks are easy to manage, says Bob Jensen, the director of assessment, technology, and information services at Sioux Falls School District. The South Dakota district runs a one-to-one Chromebook initiative in grades 3-12, with about 24,000 devices. For younger students, the district offers iPads—about 3,000 of them, says Jensen.

From his office, Jensen can do things like push out specific apps soley to seventh graders (although that feature costs extra, a one-time license of $30 per device). For similar iPad management, Jensen had to purchase outside software, and it doesn’t always work seamlessly, he notes. Jensen also likes the automatic operating system updates from Google; during district and state testing time, he has the ability to freeze the updates.

But Jensen and others say there are things that iPads just do better. Until recently, for example, Chromebooks had no touch screen, a feature that's particularly important at lower grade levels, where most students aren’t adept with a keyboard.

Other educators point to increased creativity with iPads, particularly with video. Eric J. Chagala, principal at Vista Innovation and Design Academy, a grade 6-8 magnet school in California’s Vista Unified School District, says that unlike Chromebook cameras, the iPad camera can face toward or away from the user to shoot video, and the tablets are more portable. And editing apps like iMovie allow students to be more imaginative. For now, most of the Google apps “are not as creative and there are not as many options,” he says.

Security and Privacy Concerns

Google has had to face hard questions about the privacy and security of student data collected through its Apps for Education. Just this month, Google belatedly signed on to President Barack Obama’s “Student Privacy Pledge” to safeguard student information, after initially declining to officially support it. Apple and Microsoft signed up immediately.

Privacy and student data issues continue to be a concern for educators. Last year, Google’s admission that it data-mined student e-mails in a way that could be used for targeted advertising gave some educators pause. The company has since discontinued that practice and created an Education Trust website detailing company policies on education data protection, data ownership, and advertising.

The Chromebook’s reliance on the cloud is also a concern, Jensen says. Educators in the Sioux Falls district are barred from saving sensitive student information in the cloud. “If you’re using Google Docs and trying to store student names and I.D. numbers, that’s a no-no,” he says.

Even as Chromebooks increase their school market share, then, more traditional laptops, tablets, or even PCs will continue to capture a good portion of the market, says Sudimack, the Kennedy Middle School principal. Despite the one-to-one Chromebook initiative at his school, he’s made it a priority for students to access a wide range of devices and technologies.

“We’ve got to expose children to multiple platforms, so they’ll know how to use the iPad or iOS,” he explains. “We’re being intentional about using different platforms so we’re not so Google-heavy.”

Playing Nice

Where is the iPad situated among tablets in the education market? Five years after they were introduced, iPads are no longer as distinctive as they once were when it comes to what they can do or how well they can do it—especially when compared with hybrid laptop/tablets like Microsoft’s Surface Pro, e-readers like Amazon’s Fire HD Kids Edition, or even smartphones like the iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy S5.

And then there are the touch-screen Chromebooks that are in the works. In January, HP unveiled a touch-screen Chromebook that retails for under $450, and Acer has said it has one coming out, too.

In the meantime, the iPad and Chromebook are starting to interact a bit more effortlessly, says Patrick Larkin, assistant superintendent of Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts, which has a one-to-one iPad initiative. Burlington is a Google Apps for Education district, using Google apps offered through the iPad. “The Google environment plays a lot nicer with the iPad environment now,” he says.

Image: Tom Wang/Shutterstock

CoSN’s 2015 Team Winner: Henrico County Public Schools

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CoSN’s 2015 Team Winner: Henrico County Public Schools

Fourteen years after first handing out laptops to students, this district continues to lead. By Caralee Adams

The fifth graders in Ellen Beane’s class at Sandston Elementary School in Virginia are scattered throughout the room, on the floor and at desks, working with an iPad in pairs to do a math activity about elapsed time.

“Focus, focus,” says Louis to his partner, D’Anthony, as both boys giggle. While one uses an app with the word problem, the other toggles between an app with an interactive clock and an app with a whiteboard to do his work. D’Anthony solves the problem and Louis enters the answer. On the iPad screen good work and a check mark reward the duo.

This scene is typical of how kids learn in Beane’s classroom. She spends less than an hour a day in whole-group instruction, preferring instead to customize activities for students to do in small, fluid groups. This past fall, Beane’s students used their devices to create digital portfolios for student-led conferences with parents.

“It’s like a magician’s briefcase that keeps opening up new opportunities. It’s their dictionary, atlas, encyclopedia,” Beane says of the tablets issued to the students as a pilot last year. “It opens up opportunities for these children that would otherwise be impossible.”

Sandston Elementary is part of Henrico County Public Schools, winner of the 2015 Team Award to be presented in March by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

Henrico was the one of the first districts in the country to launch a major one-to-one initiative in 2001. Each student in grades 6–12 receives a laptop; last year, the district began to experiment with giving PCs to some students in third to fifth grades at Sandston. The 50,000-student district curves around the city of Richmond. It has a diverse population—40 percent of which is low-income—and technology is viewed as a tool to help level the playing field.

Now, the district is being recognized for continuing to innovate and build out a system that put students at the center of learning to prepare them for the increasingly digitally connected world.

“Henrico has been intently focused on identifying rubrics for defining 21st-century skills, implementing it countywide, and developing an accountability process to change instruction in the classroom,” says Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive officer.

It was 14 years ago that then-superintendent Mark Edwards led the district in its big splash with devices for secondary students. The well-respected technology leader has since moved to Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina, where he has garnered numerous awards, including the CoSN Team Award in 2013.

The remaining technology team in Henrico continues to push forward, they say, because students, teachers, and parents have come to expect it.

There is no turning back, says Debra Adams Roethke, assistant director of Instructional technology, who has been with the district for 27 years and was part of the original 1:1 rollout. While some in the district didn’t know what a laptop was 14 years ago, cell phones and computers are now ubiquitous at Henrico.

“Everything keeps progressing at such a rapid pace,” says Roethke. “It’s the world of kids, so we have to go where they are.”

Using technology in the district is connecting teachers and students, and making the world one big classroom, says Kourtney Bostain, educational specialist for instructional technology in the district’s high schools.

“[W]e are doing a disservice to [students] if we are not leveraging modern tools in the classroom and really equipping [them] with the skills they are going to need to be successful outside of school,” Bostain says. The district is committed to integrating technology in the schools for the long term and that has helped keep the momentum going and empowered a diverse group to own the teaching process.

Developing a Common Language

Henrico’s laser focus on developing 21st-century skills provided a framework for teaching and technology. To prepare students in four areas—research and information fluency, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and creativity and innovation—the district adopted a common instructional vision called TIPC, or Teaching Innovation/Integration Progression Chart.

A year in the making, TIPC has categories that include an overview of skills covered and expectations of students and teachers in each area. The rubric ranges from “entry” (student-driven instruction) to “ideal” (student-centered, teacher-facilitated) with the aim of becoming a 21st-century classroom with engaged, student-led learning.

“It’s been the introduction of the common language around TIPC that’s really allowed us to sustain over time,” says Katie Owens, educational specialist for instructional technology at the middle school level in Henrico. Through new initiatives and changes in superintendents, TIPC has been the fallback and document that guides all district activities, she says.

Building Community and Highlighting Success

Along with the instructional rubric, the county launched an online repository to swap best practices. Henrico 21 has 1,200 teacher-created projects and lessons that span all content areas and grades. Through this portal, the district is both honoring teachers’ work and providing a useful exchange platform for ideas, says Roethke.

The instructional technology team launched Student 21 in 2010 so students could post and share their work with one another, their parents, and the community. Going beyond the 1,000 items on the website, the country developed a competition to recognize the most innovative work. Each spring, winners are honored at a ceremony and the best student work displayed. The event has featured 3D printing and robotics demonstrations, gaming displays, and even a photo booth.

“That was an attempt to build community and raises awareness,” says Bostain. “It celebrates and helps everyone involved to see why we are doing this. The kids really shine at that event. It’s another outlet. We have sports and awards…this is another opportunity reach students.”

Keeping Everyone Up to Speed

Over time, the technology team says there have been lessons learned with professional development. Among them: “Lead with the skill, not the tool,” says Bostain. Although the equipment can be exciting, the real impact cannot be realized unless the focus is on quality instruction and training that accompanies the device.

Considerable staff turnover in the past two years has provided “fresh blood” and reenergized the technology team with new ideas, says Jon Wirsing, who works with the elementary schools as an educational specialist for instructional technology. “It’s not all been a bed of roses. We’ve had failures,” he says, noting that the team has collectively reviewed missteps but adapted and recovered.

Initially, it was all about the technology and computers, Roethke says. The team revamped its approach to training to revolve around creating a 21st-century classroom. At one point, they tried to take technology out of the framework for teaching, but that was a mistake, Roethke admits. Finally, a balanced approach of student-centered learning, technology, and content knowledge skills emerged and became the foundation for their model.

While there are still some large whole-group training sessions, smaller group PD and individual coaching have become more common. Job-embedded and consistent PD customized to the teachers’ needs has worked best, says Bostain.

Henrico technology experts help teachers work through new processes in small, scaffolded steps, notes Owens. The key: “Being patient,” she says. “Understanding what they want to accomplish…and build on success after each accomplishment.”

Leveraging Technology to Build Achievement

Henrico is continually working to improve instruction and innovative classroom practices, yet it has been difficult to show connections between the district’s progress with technology and student achievement.

While there was variation by school, overall, students’ scores dropped on the recent round of testing on the Virginia Standards of Learning. Henrico was not alone, however, as the commonwealth has changed its standards and made the test more rigorous, district officials note.

CoSN’s Krueger raises the question of whether the tests are measuring the 21st-century skills, such as creativity and collaboration, which Henrico is emphasizing. “Those are unlikely to be reflected in traditional, high-stakes tests,” he says.

Even if the scores don’t demonstrate it, Roethke says, students are learning more and the excitement in the classroom is apparent. Teachers have green signs on their doors when visitors are welcome for peer observation, and the culture of sharing best practices is spreading.

Using the testing data on specific areas where students are falling short, the district is trying to zero in on PD for teachers to address those deficits.

Student-centered learning is taking hold and each day kids are aware of their individual goals. In the elementary school, there are statements that start with “I can…” posted in the classrooms as a daily reminder of the academic expectations.

In a seventh-grade Spanish class at Short Pump Middle School in Glen Allen, teacher Patrick Wininger moves through the classroom checking in on students as they work through a lesson on their laptops at their own pace. Contemporary Latin music provides soft background noise.

Wininger says the technology allows the students to be more creative, for instance, allowing them to create a digital storybook using a website about the things they do and don’t like to do.

“We can get a lot more specific. It is a lot more real-world solutions than just a simple test,” Wininger says. “I want them to be able to use what they are learning, not just learn stuff. The computers enable us to do that and everyone is equal in that regard—everybody has the same resources and opportunity.”

2015 CoSN Team Award
Merit Award: District of Columbia Public Schools, Washington D.C.: Given in recognition of DCPS’ successes as a large, urban district that is working to overcome significant socioeconomic barriers.

Merit Award: Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, Texas: Honored for demonstrating an exceptional commitment to district infrastructure.

CoSN’s 2015 Withrow Award: Vince Scheivert

The chief information officer in Albemarle County PS aims to bring connectivity to each student’s home. 

As a teacher turned technology guru, Vince Scheivert is combining his expertise in the classroom with his passion for technology as chief information officer in the 14,000-student district in central Virginia.

His goal is to empower all students to have access to the latest tools they need to be successful—both at home and at school. To that end, Scheivert has advocated for a broadband, wireless network that will make high-speed Internet access available for free to students at home in his 768-square-mile county. The equipment has been field-tested and the rollout began this year.

“We always talk about providing a 21st-century learning environment. Well, it’s 15 years into the 21st century, I think our aspirations should be a little bit further. That’s what drives me,” says Scheivert, who has been with the district for 12 years and CIO for four. “If we know there is a better way, we should be pushing for it.”

In addition to universal online access, Scheivert is also overseeing a new 1:1 initiative where all students in grades 6–12 will receive a learning device to use at school and at home next year.

“You have to be willing to do something different,” says Scheivert. “You have to know you are making the right decision, and when you are making a decision that’s in the best interest of kids, you are doing it.”

Through his efforts, Scheivert is trying to eliminate the digital divide and live up to the plaque on his superintendent’s desk that reads all means all.

Image: Chris Adams 

Audio and the Core Assessments

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Audio and the Core Assessments

All you need to know to choose between headphones and earbuds for test-taking students. By Tim Ridgway

 When school technology directors and administrators are thinking about this year’s newly mandated audio requirements for language arts assessment, their minds immediately turn to headphones and headsets. And they should. However, there’s another audio option that many may not be aware of, one that involves a much smaller investment: earbuds, which come in a variety of models that sport diverse features to fit the needs of any classroom. 

Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced require audio technology be available to students for use during the English language arts test. Students who require text-to-speech features on the mathematics test also need this option. Earbuds fulfill Common Core State Standards assessment requirements.

Not all earbuds are created equal, though. Here is what decisions makers should look for when selecting earbuds for student use.

 Affordability

All school district leaders, regardless of district size, are looking for cost-effective solutions to maximize budget when investing in education technology. Earbuds are a budget-friendly strategy to prepare for assessments and equip students with a single-use solution in today’s classrooms. At a fraction of the cost of headphones, earbuds fulfill both assessment and daily-learning requirements.

 Warranties

An important factor to consider when purchasing audio ed tech is whether the tools come with a warranty. Saving money in the short term doesn’t help if you spend more later. Select earbuds include a one-year warranty specifically to cover use in schools. Read warranties carefully as consumer brands typically consider school use as “institutional” and more demanding than less stressful home usage. Those warranties may not cover the day-in and day-out demands placed on products by students in classrooms.

 Microphones

Headsets aren’t the only audio tools to feature microphones. Many earbuds offer inline microphones on the cords to support speech intelligibility and develop speaking and listening skills defined in state standards. Finding earbuds that include this feature can save money by investing in a single device for multiple types of work.

 Resizable

Not all learners are the same. Earbuds that include an extra pair of ear pads can better fit younger learners.

 Diverse Plugs

With 1:1 initiatives continuing to roll out in districts around the country, earbuds that are available with a variety of plugs are versatile tools that can work with a number of mobile devices. Some earbud options include a 3.5mm plug and similar plugs that can be used with computers, tablets, and smartphones, while some earbuds feature a USB plug for increased compatibility with devices. Each plug is designed to fit the needs of individual classrooms and can be chosen based on student learning needs and device availability.

 Single Use and Reusable

Because earbuds can be single use or reusable, they are appropriate for multiple educational settings. Single-use earbuds are the most affordable option for providing audio equipment, so they are a cost-savvy strategy for fulfilling testing and classroom needs. Reusable earbuds are an alternative option for classrooms using audio equipment in learning environments other than a one-time testing situation.

 Just as not all schools are the same, not all earbuds and AV equipment are the same. The advantage of this is that you have the opportunity to select from a diverse pool of solutions in order to maximize your technology investment and support learning and assessment goals in your district.

Tim Ridgway is vice president of marketing for Califone International LLC. To learn more about choosing the right audio equipment for your school, visit califone.com/blog

Image: Getty Images

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.