Friday, November 3, 2017

Modernizing BVSD's Digital Communications

As technology continues its rapid advance, digital communications are taking on a new level of importance. In order to fully utilize these tools, BVSD is officially embarking on an update and modernization of our communication avenues and we need your help. This effort will impact all of our student, parent, and employee communications, including district websites, mobile apps, branding, and logos, so we need your feedback. Our goal will be to establish modern, consistent and accessible communications with all stakeholders, including those with visual, audio or other disabilities.

We recognize that this will be a significant undertaking. For this reason BVSD has contracted with a company that specializes in the understanding of digital communications. iFactory has worked with several educational facilities such as Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Colorado State University, and Perkins School for the Blind to redesign their digital communications, and they will be working with us this school year.

DSC00514.JPGAs a part of iFactory’s work, focus groups surveys will help  gather input about what is working well and what needs still exist.  Through this process we will hear from all of our stakeholders, including students, parents, teachers, and administrators. The input from these groups, along with iFactory’s expertise, will provide us with a framework to redesign our digital communications with a focus on meeting the needs of our all of our users.

Our work with iFactory is only the first phase in a large scale project that will likely take 2-4 years to complete. I recognize that this may seem like a long path, but because this is such a big venture, we want to ensure we do a quality job from the beginning.

We value your input!

We need your feedback throughout this entire process, but most importantly during this initial phase. Our work with iFactory will set the stage for the rest of our work -- giving us a clear path forward as we move into implementation. If you are asked to participate in a focus group, please join! When you get the survey -- please give us honest answers. Additionally, if you have thoughts that you would like to share, please leave a comment below.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Fairview Student Helps Convert PhET Simulations

andrea profile.jpg
*Photo courtesy of Andrea Lin
As part of our move to cloud-based resources, I understand the concern from our teachers about resources that aren’t yet fully cloud-ready. For example, PhET Simulations designed for K-12 math and science lessons were originally based in dated technology like Flash or Java which does not work on Chromebooks and iPads due to security issues.

Yet, the work to make these simulations ready for devices like Chromebooks and iPads has already begun! Recently, I met with Fairview High School Student, Andrea Lin, a high school intern for PhET at CU - Boulder. Her journey as an intern connects to the work PhET is now doing to to ensure their simulations are fully accessible from the cloud.

Andrea knows that she wants a career in Computer Science. Because of this goal, she is involved in a variety of CS-driven organizations and clubs both at Fairview and in the Boulder community. Through these avenues, she connected with Ariel Paul, Director of Development at PhET Simulations. After Andrea’s first month working on smaller projects, Ariel realized that she had potential to help with the conversion of PhET Simulations from Flash/Java to HTML5. Andrea joined PhET last summer as their first high school student intern.

DSC00971.JPGWhile listening to Andrea speak about this experience, it is clear that her passion and excitement for her work with PhET and her future career goals in computer science make her a powerful learner. Andrea had a limited knowledge of the programming language needed to port a simulation from Flash/Java to HTML5. Remarkably, she had to learn and teach herself JavaScript, the programming language needed for the development of these updated simulations. Andrea remarked that “I would learn something, read it in a book, and apply it the next day”. She went on to say that because of the value she placed on the work she was doing (making a PhET simulation available on all devices), the learning meant more to her and has stayed with her.

The on-time, on-demand access that Andrea has to learning resources, as well as the immediate need to implement this learning, is the driving force behind 1:Web in BVSD -- we want all of our students to have these kinds of meaningful learning experiences both inside and outside the classroom. The essence of 1:Web is access.

DSC01018.JPGFor teachers that use PhET Simulations for their students, many are already converted to HTML5, and can be viewed here. Many more are on their way. Recently, I’ve been in contact with Ariel Paul from PhET to discuss the possibility of speeding up the conversion process for the highest-need simulations. Supporting Ariel's efforts to covert to HTML5 is a priority for me as I recognize PhET simulations that don't run in the cloud are a barrier to our staff and students who would like to use iPads and Chromebooks to access these resources.

As for Andrea, I asked what her advice would be for the next generation of students passionate about computer science. Her face lit up as she shared her inspirational circles for this work. These include things like participating in math events, science fairs, math groups, computer science clubs, etc. Her recommendation is just get involved!

For the work in BVSD, it’s heartening to hear that our own students are working to provide the shift to cloud-based applications and resources. My previous blog detailed the move in BVSD to devices that need these kinds of resources. Andrea’s story, as well as the continued support from our educational community to work on this together, demonstrates that we are heading in the right direction.

Please chime in below with your thoughts and comments.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cloud Computing and Learning @BVSD

DSC00481.JPGToday’s teaching environment is broader and more accessible than ever before. The online environment, or “cloud”, that our educators are able to access offers a robust supply of resources, experiences, and connections for both teachers and their students.

Yet, the move to Chomebooks, and cloud computing, in BVSD is sometimes perceived as a limit to experiences and resources needed for learning or working. And while this view is not surprising, especially for those who grew up in an age of Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and locally installed software, it no longer accurately portrays the access that Chromebooks and cloud computing provide for learning and participating in our global society.

In my role as CIO, I use the Chrome environment and have not turned on my Mac in months. I’ve learned the device does not matter--it’s what I can access through the portal of the device that really impacts my work. I can communicate, collaborate, create, learn and lead with the resources available online. I see this shift to cloud computing in education as even companies like Microsoft are developing tools like the Cloudbook, a future competitor of Chromebooks.

Birchdec16 32.jpgIn the shift to cloud devices and resources, we have a dilemma.  As a parent I want to see BVSD eliminate 40-pound backpacks and physical textbooks in favor of digital resources that are hosted in the cloud, but this shift requires devices and time. I’ve heard we don’t need devices until we have digital curriculum, and I’ve also heard that we don’t need digital curriculum until we have devices. The classic catch-22.

Like most transitions, at some point a leap is needed. In our case in BVSD, that leap is to the Chromebook, a device that allows for learning to happen anywhere and at anytime. In the move to the modern world of the cloud, BVSD has purchased an extensive set of educational technology software that is cloud-based -- powerful tools like Google Earth, WeVideo, BrainPop, Voicethread and G Suite (Google Apps) for Education to name a few.  BVSD is exploring digital content resources available from companies like Discovery Education that could potentially replace the physical textbooks that many of our courses still require. In addition, there are many free open-access resources, like Khan Academy, that can begin some of this work now.

This shift to cloud computing is evident in many classrooms in BVSD. For example, Kay Davidson, 1:Web Specialist and Biology teacher at Broomfield High School, leads the efforts to transform teaching by using cloud-based learning. This year, she’s exploring how Google Classroom helps her connect with students beyond the limits of face to face and in an online, blended environment where students can learn and collaborate in real-time. Kay has presented on these ideas in her work with the 21st Century Cohort. Her reflection on her time in the cohort illustrates how these connections impacted her students:

You can view a variety of projects designed and produced by BVSD students using cloud-based resources in our student examples collection.

BHGT 01.jpgIn the transition to education in the cloud, BVSD will continue to support many device types including PCs, Macs, iPads, and Chromebooks.  There are still a few programs in our schools (Digital Arts, Engineering, etc.) that need a device like a PC or Mac to run software for those specific courses. Even still, many of these programs are moving to the cloud and I anticipate will be available on a Chromebook soon. The latest graphics based program to move from the device to the cloud/browser is Google Earth. It runs just as well on a $180 Chromebook as it does on a $1200 Mac. The same can be said of the iMovie replacement, cloud-based WeVideo.

Regardless of where you are on the journey to using educational resources in the cloud, the transition is happening quickly. BVSD’s general move to Chromebooks and the ability to teach from resources that are always up-to-date and accessible highlights this change.

I know the full transition to the cloud will take a few more years. Be assured that IT and Ed Tech are here for you. We all can learn together in this migration to anywhere, anyplace, anytime education using the cloud.

I want to hear from you!  Please chime in below with your thoughts and questions and maybe examples of any software you rely on that requires a Mac or PC.