Thursday, October 29, 2015

Expanding my Boundaries by Visiting India

In two weeks I will be boarding a plane (or two) to visit a country that is 11.5 hours ahead of my timezone. Typical reactions I receive when I tell people I’m going to India—a place far from Boulder, Colorado—range from “that is not for me” to “I wish I could go”. 
I also get many comments like, “That is so cool!: “ What will you learn?” or my favorite, “I’ve been there and you will love it. Let me tell you about…”

I’ve asked myself why I’m willing to leave the comforts of home to explore something so different, and the answer is simple: I have a strong desire to push my own boundaries to explore, learn, and hopefully return with a new way of perceiving and interacting with my world. A trip like this could change the way I view and solve problems, including those I face in my role at Boulder Valley School District.

IndiaCitiesMap.jpgThis personally funded trip is led by CoSN (Consortium of School Networking), an organization I belong to that supports K-12 technology professionals through advocacy, tools, and support. CoSN visits a country each year to learn about how the educational system functions and how technology is used.
We will visit three diverse cities—Delhi, Bangalore, and Chennai—each with different cultures, food, and even religious followings. We will spend time at schools with students and administrators, and we will visit historical and cultural sites, including the Taj Mahal. This trip promises to be anything but routine.
After months of preparation and many vaccinations, I am ready to leave on November 12. I hope you will follow me on my 12-day journey through these social media tools:
  1. CoSN in India Blog
Please chime in below with your thoughts. What country you have visited that has changed the way you view the world?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Solving for the Homework Gap

My role as CIO has changed significantly over the 5 years I’ve been at BVSD. My first major challenge was to modernize IT practices and provide reliable technology and systems to support teachers. Today, that goal has been largely accomplished with open IT issues at their lowest point ever, and the reliability of our systems greatly improved.

This new, more stable environment has allowed me to focus on bigger picture issues. One in particular that strikes home for me is the “homework gap”.  Also known as the digital divide or opportunity gap, it is the recognition that some of our students go home to little or no Internet access.

Ironically, the homework gap is happening at a time when quality educational resources are rapidly moving online. The Khan Academy alone is a significant force in helping students learn outside of the traditional classroom environment. With thousands of tutorials on everything from basic math and calculus to classes in science, computer programming, history, art, and economics, Khan Academy and similar resources can be of significant help to a struggling student.

But what if you are a student with no Internet at home? What if you don’t have a mobile device to take to the library, Starbucks, or hundreds of other publicly available Internet access sites? This is what creates the homework gap, and it is real for many of our students.

At BVSD, we are working to eliminate the homework gap through these pilot programs:
  • Providing Internet at a Boulder Housing Partner site while determining the feasibility of expanding the program.
  • Promoting both the Comcast and CenturyLink $9.95 Internet access programs for students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.
  • Providing Chromebooks to all freshman at Centaurus and Broomfield High Schools through our 1:Web program.
  • Providing Chromebook carts to all schools to be used at the school's discretion, including taking the devices home. 
Although the above pilot programs are a start, I’m exploring additional ways to close the homework gap.

I am working with administration to find funding for a district-wide 1:Web rollout, but at a cost of $2.2 million it will take time and have to be balanced with other critical needs, all at a time when state K-12 funding is critically sparse. A more feasible first step may be funding 1:Web at the high schools for $800k.

This November, BVSD is asking voters to consider an override to SB152. An override would allow public/private telecommunication partnerships that are not available to BVSD today. New partnerships could allow the district to monetize the portion of the fiber that we are not using, giving the Board of Education new revenue to use at their discretion.

CoSN, a professional organization I belong to, is studying other ways to help resolve the homework gap. CoSN's CEO, Keith Krueger, is on sabbatical at Harvard studying the digital divide and how to address it. I encourage you to read his latest blog on bringing the Internet to our students.

As curriculum and educational tools move online, the need for ubiquitous Internet is becoming a necessity. I’ll continue to spend my time working to reduce the homework gap.

I would appreciate your ideas and comments on this topic.  Please chime in below.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

EasyVista or Dial "HELP" for IT Service

As IT has matured over the years, we have focused on making the customer experience easier.  However, one frustration that many of you told me about was that you couldn’t submit tickets from Chromebooks, phones, or home.   

I’m happy to let you know that over the summer, IT moved to a new, web-based service management system called EasyVista. This new system allows you to submit IT Requests (tickets) from any device (including Chromebooks and phones) and from any place, on or off the BVSD network. We made this move because we needed to make it easier for our customers to submit service requests and purchase new technology.

As you can see from the screenshot below, EasyVista has a streamlined interface with simple menu options. You can quickly submit a request for a new issue or check the status of your requests. The Purchase Technology menu lets you shop for technology from our Technology Purchase Program menu.

EasyVista isn’t the only change from our IT Service Desk. We have a new phone number that is easy to remember: 720-561-HELP (4357). But don’t worry if you have our old extension (x5065) committed to memory—it still works! Our chat feature is also still available and linked directly to the EasyVista homepage.

Eventually EasyVista will be expanded to other departments, the goal being to have one place to submit service requests to Payroll, HR, Maintenance, Security, and IT. Watch for this change to take place over the next couple years.

I hope your transition to EasyVista is seamless, and that you find the interface clean and easy to use.

Please let me know what your experience has been so far in the comments below.


Friday, June 19, 2015

BVSD is Becoming Future Ready

BVSD is committed to being Future Ready. We’ve always been in the business of preparing students for the future, but how we prepare them is changing because our world is becoming more connected through technology.

FutureReady_Badges03a (3).png

Our superintendent, Bruce Messinger, recently signed the Future Ready Pledge, part of the federal government’s ConnectED Initiative, which recognizes the importance of:

“building human capacity within schools and districts for effectively using increased connectivity and new devices to transform teaching and learning.

In other words, we are committed to supporting our educators who transform the way students learn using technology with professional development.

This short video illustrates what being Future Ready means for our students. I hope you take a few moments to watch it and be inspired.

I recently attended the Future Ready Schools summit in Denver wtih Dr. Messinger, Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services & Equity Ron Cabrera, and Ed Tech Director Kelly Sain. The summit, one of many across the nation, is sponsored by the US Department of Education and the Alliance for Excellent Education to help ensure that we, as leaders in public education, are proactively planning for the future of education.  I was pleasantly surprised that the summit was not exclusively about technology; it was about the support that our teachers need in order to be successful.We used our time together to plan how technology can improve student learning, and to identify the issues that need to be addressed so that we can transition smoothly into a digital learning environment. Specifically, we discussed:
  check  curriculum, instruction, and assessment
  check  professional learning
  check  technology, networks, and hardware
  check  budget and resources
  check  data and privacy
  check  use of time
  check  community partnerships

I’m happy to say that BVSD has already been working to address these topics.
  • We are working to update our current 7-year curriculum adoption model, which was optimized for print materials, to a model that can handle subscription-based digital curriculum materials.
  • We are supporting teachers at our 1:Web pilot schools, Centaurus High and Broomfield High, with extensive professional development that we will eventually scale up when 1:Web becomes district-wide.
  • We are upgrading our internet pipe this summer to 4 times its current capacity.
  • We are updating our student data privacy practices and policies.
  • We will begin using the innovation funds from the recent bond to create areas for collaboration and learning within the schools.

Our biggest challenge to meeting the Future Ready Pledge is budget and resources. We need roughly $2.2 million per year to provide a digital device for every student and professional development for every teacher. Even with a budget of $300 million, this is still a big number.

In the meantime, our 1:Web pilots will continue so that we learn and prepare for the change in our educational practices over the next decade. 

I appreciate your thoughts, so please chime in below with how you are becoming “Future Ready.”


Monday, May 18, 2015

Moving Toward a Printing Press in Every Backpack

Giving students access to technology is an essential part of my job. When I began in BVSD in 2010, we were a district of mostly Windows desktops, and not enough of them to go around. I’ve worked diligently to bring more devices into the district, starting with opening the door to Apple devices and continuing with Chromebooks (8,500 and counting), and now Android tablets. Through the 1:Web pilot, BVSD IT has provided take home digital devices to hundreds more.

But as I’ve spent time with teachers and students, principals and parents, I’ve come to understand the greater impact that these devices are having on society as a whole and on education in particular. We are living through a time when how people connect with ideas and with each other is fundamentally changing. 

And it all started with the printing press.

That’s right, fans of inventor Johannes Gutenberg, it all began in 1450, the year of the first printing press. The thing that made it so special—so revolutionary in the truest sense of the word—was that it was a tool for publishing new ideas quickly and in quantity. (We may not think of it as fast now, but consider the time it takes to painstakingly copy a book by hand.) New ideas were shared and new voices heard that were once silent. Publishing flooded the world with new knowledge.

And now it’s happening again. Except this time the printing press is the device you carry in your pocket, your purse, or your backpack. These mobile devices aren’t just the new pencil: they aren’t just tools for capturing ideas, they’re tools for releasing those ideas into the world. Now there is nothing between the ideas you have and the audience you want to reach. 

Everyone is a publisher.

So what does that have to do with education? What does it change when you realize that a student can publish a blog about the writing process instead of writing yet another report? What if a class can publish the results of their microclimate study, and somewhere across the country a climate scientist reads it? I think it changes everything. When a student can create something with words or music or video and then shares their creation in an authentic way, it makes their learning more meaningful. Some of those creations will change the world.

This fundamental shift in education is not some abstract concept in the distant future; it is happening right now in our district. I see it when I visit classrooms and talk with students, teachers, and principals. Here are some BVSD student products across all grade levels and content areas that demonstrate the power of publishing. Our Ed Tech team also supports student publishing--check out their blog post, Don't Turn It In, Publish It.

You’ve probably heard it said, “It’s not about the tools, it’s about the learning.” Now, looking at these examples and reflecting on what I’ve seen in BVSD classrooms, I truly understand what that means. When every device is a printing press, every student is a publisher with the power to share their ideas with the world.

Chime in below with your thoughts about student publishing.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Transitioning Away from MediaCAST

A lot has changed in streaming media since 2008, the year that BVSD adopted a video streaming platform called MediaCAST to replace the VHS tapes and DVDs that circulated throughout the district. The amount and quality of streaming resources available on the internet prompted us to reevaluate our need for this type of service. After reviewing the content, quality, and use of the resource, and through extensive discussion and feedback from various stakeholder groups, we are ending our contract with MediaCAST at the end of the 2014-15 school year, contingent upon our bandwidth increasing this summer.

Three factors weighed heavily on this decision:

  1. Stakeholder feedback — Feedback from MediaCAST focus groups*, coupled with a district-wide survey on MediaCAST, showed that usage was low and that content was not available anytime/anywhere and on any device.

  1. Availability of other media — Free, educational streaming sites, which better meet the needs defined by our stakeholder groups, are now available online. Examples include Kahn Academy, Bill Nye, Discovery Education and many more.
  2. Cost — MediaCAST includes expensive onsite hardware and subscription fees.

*Focus groups included members from Instructional Services and Equity (ISE), teacher librarians, tech contacts, teachers, administration and other support staff.

What is replacing MediaCAST?

A combination of resources will replace MediaCAST, including free, educational streaming sites. There are an increasing number of these types of sites now than there were in 2008, and the number is growing to meet the demand for quality, online content.

Ed Tech has also started a shared spreadsheet of streaming resources that can replace MediaCAST videos. We encourage you to contribute your favorite videos to these lists so that others can benefit.

Example of a TED Ed video:

How can I get support in moving away from MediaCAST?

If you rely on specific videos within MediaCAST, please let us know what they are by filling out this form. BVSD Ed Tech is working with stakeholder groups, including the ISE directors, to make sure that this content is available elsewhere or replaced with online options.

For more information and FAQs, visit our MediaCAST webpage.

Please chime in below with your thoughts about the transition from MediaCAST to more modern media streaming tools at BVSD.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tech Refresh Gets a New Look

New technology is coming to many schools this summer as part of the BVSD Tech Refresh program. I’m excited to see the technology landscape evolving at BVSD, with Chromebooks now accounting for almost half of the devices in schools. Through this program we can continue to get even more technology into the hands of students. Please read on to get an overview of the Tech Refresh program.

What is Tech Refresh?
Tech Refresh is the program that allows schools to purchase new technology on a recurring basis. Currently there is approximately $1.3M in a technology fund that is shared across the district.

What has it looked like in the past?
Previously, Tech Refresh happened in a four-year cycle. IT replaced elementary and middle school computers once every four years and replaced one quarter of high schools computers annually. In some Tech Refresh cycles, a fifth year was set aside for bigger projects like installing projectors.   

What is the new schedule?
In the new model, BVSD schools* will receive points every other year to purchase new technology. Schools have been divided into two groups: Odd-Year Schools and Even-Year Schools. Click here to view your school’s group. The only exceptions to this schedule are the 1:Web pilot schools, which are getting new technology every year for incoming freshman.

Central administration (i.e., Ed Center staff) will continue to receive new computers every four years.

Also as part of the new model, schools will no longer return their existing gear when their new gear is deployed. IT will support this older technology until there is a hardware failure such as a bad hard drive or power supply.

*Boulder Prep and Justice High currently do not participate in the BVSD Tech Refresh program.

What are the new tools?
Over the years this menu has evolved from a narrow selection of desktops and laptops to a broad array that includes Windows laptops and desktops, Android tablets, Chromebooks, Chrome accessories, and Apple products.

Schools can find out how many points they have and which technology they can purchase by using the Tech Refresh Calculator found on the BVSD Tech Refresh website. Points are calculated based on the previous October Count and may fluctuate from year to year depending on enrollment.

The new selection of tools might spark discussions within your building about which ones are right for your school. Contact an Ed Tech team member to help you find the best tools for your educational objectives.

What do schools need to do?
Since schools will be making purchasing decisions every other year, we recommend that each school reinvigorate their tech committee. This group can provide valuable input about the technology needs of their students and staff.

Mike Goodyear (Director of Service Delivery & Client Technologies) and his team have already started visiting Odd-Year schools to discuss their Tech Refresh decisions. Principals will need to submit their final orders by April 17, 2015.

Do you have questions or comments about the new Tech Refresh model? Please sign in to chime in below.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Schoology Selected as BVSD Learning Management System

The Board of Education recently approved the purchase of Schoology as the district’s Learning Management System (LMS). Schoology was awarded the contract after a vetting process to determine the best fit for BVSD.


Schoology is a cloud-based learning management system that makes it easier to create and share academic content. It combines several functions, including:
  • personalizing instruction
  • delivering instructional content
  • sharing curriculum and resources
  • assessing learning goals and standards
  • collecting data to inform instruction

Eventually Schoology will be integrated with Infinite Campus to create an even more seamless environment, but at this point we are still determining a feasible timeline for connecting these two complex systems.  

Diana Gamboa, Director of Online Learning, is the business/education owner of Schoology; her team will lead the rollout and implementation of the new system, which will include training to support teachers. The projected go-live date is August 1, 2015. The Office of Online Learning will be releasing more information soon about the implementation timeline and training offerings.

Of course, the real question on everyone’s mind is, “How do I pronounce Schoology? Is it three syllables or four?” The official word from the company is that it’s pronounced Skool'uhjee. Mystery solved!

Please chime in with your thoughts about Schoology below. Don't forget to login.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Preparing for Online Testing, Spring 2015

March is a big time of year for testing. IT has been preparing our network and devices for the increase in traffic. Below is information you can use to help create the most ideal environment for students taking online assessments.

Preparing your devices
Our field technicians have been visiting all schools to ensure that computers are ready for testing. If you have any concerns about specific devices, please don’t hesitate to submit an IT Service Request or call IT at x5065. 

Only BVSD devices can be used for testing. To verify that you have a BVSD device, look for the blue asset tag on the back.

Managing your bandwidth
We have plenty of bandwidth for testing as long as we are conscious of how we use it. To conserve the bandwidth in your building on testing days, limit streaming video and turn off the wireless on personal devices (phones, tablets, etc.)

We also have other measures in place to save bandwidth. The assessments are downloaded to the student devices from a server rather than directly from the Pearson site. Chromebooks are also prevented from receiving updates during the testing period. Both of these measures will reduce the strain on our internet pipe.

Using the wireless
Our new wireless infrastructure was designed to handle all the testing devices connecting to the network. Also, student Chromebooks have recently been moved from the BVSD-Guest or BVSD-Guest-Fast network to the BVSD (secure) network; not only does this strengthen the wireless connectivity, it also eliminates the “use of this network” pop-up that students used to see when they logged into Chromebooks. 

However, if you still notice any issues with wireless, please submit an IT Service Request immediately or call IT at x5065.

I hope that your assessments go smoothly in March. Please let me know if you have any concerns. As always, I appreciate your comments below. Don't forget to log in to post a comment.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Internet Bandwidth in BVSD

The transition to online assessments is a journey for everyone. Here in IT, we know that online testing during PARCC, CMAS, i-Ready, and i-Station not only causes stress to you, but to our internet bandwidth as well.

Bandwidth in BVSD
Less than a year ago we had only a 700Mbps connection from the internet. Last April 2014 we increased that capacity to 1Gbps because we were bumping up against that ceiling. And now, just 8 months later, we are again exceeding our new 1GB ceiling.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as calling our Internet Service Provider (ISP) and telling them to give us more bandwidth; we have to upgrade the equipment and software that runs our network, and that is a big project.

With resources made available from the bond, we will spend this spring and early summer designing and implementing a bigger pipeline that will accommodate our needs for years to come. By the start of the 2015-16 school year we will have at least double, and up to quadruple, the internet bandwidth we have today.

Short-Term Solutions
Until we have a long-term solution to our bandwidth constraints, we may use several temporary measures to ensure that testing goes as smoothly as possible. These could include:

  • Rate limiting—restricting the amount of bandwidth that any one person can use.

  • Traffic shaping—limiting the type of traffic that bogs down our internet, such as smartphone updates.

  • Quality of service—giving priority to certain types of traffic, such as PARCC testing

What can you do?
Based on our analysis of traffic coming into BVSD from the internet, we know that a measurable amount of it is not directly related to instruction or school district business. March Madness is one example of a time when it might be tempting to check the game during the day, but when many people stream video simultaneously it can use a lot of bandwidth, to the detriment of instruction and testing.

I ask that we all be considerate of our personal internet browsing and limit it to what is essential during school hours.

Our network is indispensable to the education mission of BVSD—it’s a responsibility that IT takes seriously. With your help, I’m confident we can maintain a stable and responsive network environment now and in the future.

Comments?  Please log in to chime in below.