My Favorite Teachers

Categories: Philosophy, The Classroom
Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: June 8, 2015

My favorite teachers ask questions.

The day we stop learning is the day we stop living, and that’s especially critical for teachers. Not just learning in their field, but in their classroom, about their students, about teaching, and yes, about technology.

Today, one of our teachers sat down with me to learn more about using Google Classroom and Google Apps in class. He’s one of our veteran teachers, not particularly tech savvy. He told me, “I could retire, but I don’t want to yet, and I want to be the best teacher I can be.” We’re going forward with a Chromebook 1:1/BYOT hybrid next year, and he wants to be ready for it.

I was blown away.

Not because it was him doing the asking, but because he’s the first teacher in my ten years with the district to do so. Sure, a few have called me to their room for some refreshers, but he is the first teacher to ask for one-on-one instruction in the Summer after they’ve all clocked out for the school year.

He worried about imposing on my time, and to be honest, many of the others do, too. I’m running a one-man show across three buildings with a wide variety of devices and tasks that larger districts assign a tech staff to. But he asked, and I told him, by all means, come on in.

We spent over an hour together. I took him on a tour of Google Classroom and Docs, and we did some hands-on training with him building a class and me opening and submitting assignments as a student. We also touched on Drive, and we used Flubaroo to grade a Google Form. He took notes along the way, and at the end we agreed to sit down again in a couple of weeks: he would play with things and come up with questions, and maybe we’d look at something else new as well.

I loved every minute of it. This is the part of the job I feel is key. Keeping the servers running and the computers working is one thing, but this is the part that impacts student learning. If all goes well, he’ll be able to do new things with students, and the students will get to work that much more with technology. Win-win.

My favorite teachers ask the questions that help them improve. My favorite teachers are curious, learning technology because they want it to make them better, because they trust that it can help them in the long run, not because they have to fulfill an evaluation obligation or tick a checkbox in a certification form.

Even the self-motivated tech learners like Steve Hayes will find something to ask me, because they’re hungry to learn more and occasionally they get tripped up by the technology itself. They’re my favorite teachers because they’re not too embarrassed (or are willing to be embarrassed) to ask for help, just like their students who may meet roadblocks in their classrooms.

Technology is changing. Teaching is changing. Our students are changing, and the world is changing. If we don’t work together, we’re never going to keep up.

If we can’t keep up with today, our students will never be prepared for tomorrow.

Profile Manager to the Rescue

Categories: The Server Room
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Published on: June 9, 2011

I’ve talked a few times about what I’d like to see Google accomplish with device management from Google Apps, and it appears Apple has beat them to the punch. The following is the advertised Profile Manager features for Lion Server:

Profile Manager offers you simple yet powerful ways to set up and remotely manage computers running Lion and iOS devices such as iPad and iPhone. It also simplifies the creation of user accounts for mail, calendar, contacts, and chat; enforcement of restrictions; PIN and password policies; configuration of system settings; and more. Because it’s integrated with the Apple Push Notification service, Profile Manager can send out updated configurations over the air automatically. And it includes web-based administration, so you can manage your server from any modern web browser. Profile Manager even gives users access to a self-service web portal where they can download and install new configuration profiles, as well as clear passcodes and remotely lock or wipe devices that are lost or stolen.

In short, it’s the hoped-for iPhone Configuration Utility on Steroids™. Clearing passcodes alone is going to be huge for schools, as in two separate meetings that was the single biggest complaint from technicians managing iPad deployments. Apparently some kids think it’s hilarious to set a passcode on a shared device so the next class can’t use it, and the technician had to have the device in-hand to reset the device and clear the passcode.

Doing it all wirelessly is the single biggest feature. Having to plug them all in would have been a pain in the neck at best. Pushing updates and apps out over the air is critical in a multi-building or multi-campus district. We should have known it would only be a matter of time before this came around, and I’m thrilled to see it sooner rather than later.

I’m also excited because it looks like it will have the same ease of use and management as the current Workgroup Manager utility for user management. When I just want to tweak a few settings quick, I hate having to wade through option after option to find what I’m looking for (*cough*Active Directory*cough*). This also makes it much easier to delegate management and train end users when the time comes.

The low cost of upgrade and iCloud seal the deal. I’m waiting to hear if schools and businesses will be able to set up accounts on iCloud for managing their devices, but even without that, iCloud could be a tremendous advantage for students. For free, no less! I think this is a brilliant move on Apple’s part, and is a shot at both Amazon and Google.

Given I already have the Apple infrastructure in place, it’s looking more and more like iPads will be a no-brainer for my district.

Your move, Android.

Google Coming Around on Management?

Categories: Apps, The Server Room
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Published on: May 16, 2011

Google may have a solution to device management after all, though it’s just a start. Check out the Google Apps Device Policy app on the Android Market. Right now it looks more like a competitor to Apple’s MobileMe features such as location reporting and remote wiping, but it’s a start for security for schools or companies.

According to this announcement, it’s only available for Google Apps for Business, Government, or Education customers. This at least gives IT folks some options in securing their users’ devices, especially if those devices are company-issued. Judging by user reviews, it also appears the app is difficult (if not impossible without rooting/jailbreaking) to remove.

It doesn’t say anything about pushing out apps, restricting apps or setting wireless passwords, or managing things like proxies or DNS settings. I’m also curious whether the My Devices page it mentions will list device serial numbers and activated accounts. If we get serious about testing an Android tablet at my workplace, I’ll be installing this and taking it for a test drive.

Enter the Chromebook

Categories: Gadgetry
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: May 11, 2011

How quickly thing change. For weeks, my school district has been discussing tablets in a 1:1 environment. Just yesterday I was talking about user management and device profiles for tablets.

Today, Google made the Chromebook official:

That is slick. For $20 a month, students can get a laptop computer running ChromeOS, putting them online all the time with 3G access. We’ve pushed several of our services onto the cloud, including our email and a good portion of our documents via Google Apps for Education, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to do something like this. It even has a web-based management console featuring the same controls I talked about in yesterday’s post!

There’s just one problem: it’s about three years too late.

I realize the back end was probably not ready to go for this three years ago. Google Apps (as it exists now) wasn’t even on our radar, and ChromeOS was a distant rumor. But with tablets on the scene, I’m curious to see how well this is going to work.

For starters, it’s not as portable as a tablet. Yes, it gives students a full-featured keyboard, but it’s bulkier to keep on a desk or to use for quick notes. A nitpick to be sure, but we’re just getting warmed up.

It costs $20/month. That’s a great price, one I bet most parents would even be able to pay in a cash-strapped school district. However, for $240/year, they could just about own a basic Android device or, in two years, an iPad or top-tier Android tablet.

That $20/month only includes 100MB of data over 3G. A teenager could burn that up in ten minutes. Sure, the device also has WiFi, which students will use in school and, ideally, at home. But our rural district has several students in dial-up only areas or don’t have WiFi at home. If they’re going to use the device without WiFi available, the total cost just doubled to $40/month to include a better data plan.

Student athletes will have the same problem. If they’re trying to do homework on an hour-plus bus ride, or even just want to listen to their music on Google Music or kill time with a few videos on YouTube, they’re going to eat up a lot of 3G data transfer.

Is there a Web app for that? Yes, a lot can be done with a student’s Google Apps account and some of the extras like Picasa and Google Books. But is it as extensive as the Android or iOS app stores? Are you going to get instant-on, always-available service from a web app? Sure, you can store books on your account, but will it have all the textbooks available? Or the new textbook apps available on iOS devices?

Some of those questions may be answered soon, and they’re not necessarily deal killers. It could at the very least be an affordable way for smaller schools already hooked into Google Apps to get more technology into students’ hands.

Now if only there were a similar purchase plan for the top-notch Android tablets…

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