Goal 2 – Robust Support System

Flickr photo by Katiew

Flickr photo by Katiew

Goal 2 –  Research and implement district wide help desk system.

This goal has been on my “to do” list for a while.  Right now, the way we provide support is somewhat fragmented.  There is no systemic process of how problems/solutions are communicated.  Email is the primary way of staff making “requests” but there are also phone calls, sticky notes, instant messages, text messages, and the friendly f2f “Hey Jen?”.  Well, as you can imagine – and I have come to realize – is that the way we prioritize and actually provide the support can also be fragmented.  Of course it is easy to prioritize big issue items like Internet, Network, Email, ect – because of the amount of users it impacts.  But the smaller requests, are more difficult especially when we are getting requests by so many different methods.  So what am I looking for?

  • Something EASY.  The last thing I want is some big complicated system that is difficult for our end-users or difficult for us (techs) to support.
  • Something CHEAP/FREE. In light of our financial status we need a system that is economical.  Is it possible to develop a system with Google Apps? Is there an open source option?  I just really need to get the bulk of my requests OUT of my inbox and into a centralized system! Which leads me to…
  • Something CENTRALIZED with ROBUST REPORTING capabilities.  Right now I can’t tell you how many issues we fix in a day, month, year –  nor can I  tell you if we have systemic “small” problems across our buildings.  Is the support load of one of our techs unmanageable?  Are their problems that consistently come up that training or support materials need to be created to support? Is there a knowledgebase of “fixes” where our end users can find their own answers?

I would LOVE to hear what your district uses and how it has helped your district!

Goal 1 – ePlanning

As one school year ends, another begins.  I am going to post to my blog my goals I would like to have accomplished during the 2010-11 school year.  (There are 10!)

Flickr photo by Jen Hega

Flickr photo by Jen Hega

Goal 1- Investigate distance/online options for teaching and learning and develop a comprehensive e-Plan for district implementation.
This year, I have seen a significant rise in the use of technology in our district.  Digital storytelling, Wiki’s, Blogging, Social Networking, as well as a wealth of Web2.0 tools are engaging and impacting learning and teaching in our classrooms.

In January, our district transitioned to Google Apps for Education, and this summer we are preparing for a student transition as well.  It is exciting to see the innovations that staff and teachers have come up with – so quickly after implementation.  To put it frankly, we are having unbelievable conversations and ideas to come up with new and much more efficient ways to obtain, collect, and communicate information.  This summer we will be integrating Google  Apps with our students.  I have even registered for a third domain for elementary students in which we can provide “walled garden” access to the suite of collaborative tools.

Our teacher’s use of Moodle is also influencing learning beyond our brick and mortar classrooms.  I announced earlier that our high school math department has unanimously decided to “ditch textbooks”. By developing their own curriculum with a blend of open education resources (oer) and teacher created content –   students will have 24/7 access to teacher content/ lecture.

We recently installed our own Moodle server so that we, as a district, have more control over design and user access with Moodle.  This summer we plan to merge several of the district systems (Active Directory, Moodle, and Google Apps) to provide a more user-friendly experience for our students and a more efficient experience for support services. (yeah!)

These examples are just the tip of the elearning iceberg.  I am very proud of what we have going on in our district, yet I truly feel that a comprehensive plan needs to be developed to put all the pieces (image) together. Right now, we have a piecemeal of activity happening, and need a systemic approach to ensure that all our students have access/experience to effective collaborative online environments.  Please note – that I feel eLearning does NOT need to be just fully online courses – but can also represent a blend of activities in the f2f or blended (part f2f/part online) classroom.

What do you think? What other pieces are there in this eLearning puzzle?  It’s going to be a journey – for sure!

A little reminder of copyright…

I was recently asked to clarify copyright laws and district policy (currently under our Acceptable Use Policy) when creating classroom/sports memorabilia movies/DVD’s.   If teachers and/or coaches use copyrighted music, (whether it has been purchased from sites like iTunes or downloaded from purchased CD’s) then the final works cannot be copied and distributed to students and families (without the owner/publisher’s permission) under copyright law.  Using music for this purpose does not qualify for Fair Use.

Copyright for Kids does a good job of how to ask permission from record companies to use all or portions of music in these productions.   However, I find this somewhat tedious and time consuming especially since permission must be asked of each song used. There is no guarantee you will have proper permission to use these works in a timely fashion to distribute your copies.

But what is an educator to do? I would encourage you to look for background music under the Creative Commons.  This is a fairly new set of copyright licenses in which authors and creators of content determine how their works are to be shared on the Internet. (Versus you having to seek permission)  Please click the video below to help you understand how Creative Commons works.

To learn more about the specifics of these  licenses please visit the Creative Commons About Licenses website.  Below are several sites in which you can look for music to use in your videos.

To learn more about the law and the use of music in educational multimedia presentations, please look at the University of Texas’s Fair Use Guidelines For Educational Multimedia.  I think they do a very good job interpreting the law under fair use.

Bidding adieu to textbooks…

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Andrew Wertheimer

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Andrew Wertheimer

This summer our high school math department will be leaving their old, heavy, dusty textbooks behind and will be developing and moving their curriculum online.  While this may seem like a considerable charge (for a team of five) there are several reasons why they decided – Now is the time to move!

  • Money talks – Especially when there is none.  Just like most districts in the state of MN, our district is facing budget reductions.  There is no money for new textbooks.
  • New Standards – The state of MN has been shifting and restructuring the math standards and many of the current HS math courses need adjusting to match those standards – starting in the 2010-11 school year.
  • Current textbook Use – The team has identified that the  majority of our students do not use textbook as learning resources but use them for homework assignments only. They are heavy, dated, and lack real world application.
  • Open Education – New open education resources like Hippocampus, Curriki, or Connexions are free online sites with organized learning modules so teachers do not have to reinvent the wheel. (many are multimedia rich)
  • Learning Styles – Textbooks only address a limited number of learning styles and are generally not for the visual or auditory learners.  They are not interactive, very impersonal, and lack the collaborative learning students today crave.
  • Access 24/7 – The math department has already made the decision to begin recording video SMART board lessons/lectures/demonstrations, storing them on Youtube, and organizing the content within Moodle.  Students will have 24/7 access to these resources, and can watch and (RE)watch the recordings as many times as it takes to understand the concepts.  (Many students will not ask questions in class in fear of looking  “stupid” in front of their peers)
  • Living Curriculum – Since the team will be creating the curriculum – they will also be able to adjust and improve upon the courses as needed.  Forever.
  • Future  Delivery of Public Education – Reports indicate that half of high school courses could be online by 2019.  Governor Pawlenty recently proposed to require every high school graduate, beginning in 2013, to take an online course, participate in an online experience or participate in online experiences.  Developing a blended curriculum in the math department will prepare our students AND teachers for the eminent shift in the delivery of public education.

There may be many more benefits than the ones I have identified above.  There will also be roadblocks that we will have to address. (like computer access)  We will tackle those problems as they occur.  I am looking forward to this new journey and the opportunities it will give our students!

Teachers computers on lockdown…

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Daniel Y. Go

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Daniel Y. Go

I can relate to  Doug Johnson’s blog post The Changing Role of Tech Support.  In his blog, he describes how some district’s:

“…technology departments are raising barriers rather than creating possibilities about new resources – especially when the objections seem rather spurious (security of GoogleApps, bandwidth for YouTube, predators on Facebook, licensing of Skype, etc.). Are the concerns real or just because the way of doing something is different?”

In a recent discussion…  blaming problems of spyware, malware it was the opinion of some districts tech departments to block and lock down everything – including teacher systems. Software like Deep Freeze, was being installed on teacher computers and teachers did not have “administrative” rights to bypass this security allowing them to install software, including opensource/free apps.    They (techs) decide what apps are allowed on the machines and teachers are left to talk the techs into installing the software for them, when it is convenient to the techs.

One example given was a district decision NOT to support or install JING, a free screen capture tool from Techsmith.  The district only supported Camstudio, another free app.  As an advocate for transparent educational technology – I really want my teachers to find the tool that they are most comfortable with to adapt and – most of all – integrate into their classrooms to support student learning.  I am more proud of the fact they are recording tutorials/resources for their students rather than scrutinizing what tool they want to use to do it.

Doug describes this problem as techs being reluctant to change.  I would agree.  Just as teachers need to move from the “sole givers of information” techs also need to move from the “sole givers of the technology”.  Do you think a better understanding of classroom pedagogy and instructional design would help these reluctant districts  accept that teachers need to have the flexibility to find, install, and practice with emerging tools to match and support their students individual learning styles and needs?

I will admit – I genuinely enjoy collaborating with (not policing) teachers when trying THEIR new ideas within their classrooms! The benefits to our students have been AMAZING!

Going Google – part 2

It has been approximately 2 months since our district went live with Google Apps for Education.  Almost immediately, our schools were buzzing with innovation and increased productivity!  I have developed a presentation for other districts who are considering implementing the Google apps.  We will go live with our students this April/May.  Good luck to you and if you have questions – please send me an email (jen.hegna@byron.k12.mn.us)!

Click the FULL SCREEN Button to view the ultra tiny print!

Going Google

Our Google Apps logo

Our Google Apps logo

Back in December, at our District Technology Committee, we were discussing  technologies  like online learning, cloud computing social media, collaborative learning, and  mobile learning when  I had mentioned  Google Apps for Education.   This was a free suite of tools (Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Talk,  Google Groups, and Google Calendar)  that could be managed under our districts umbrella.

Our district was having email issues and we would be looking at purchasing a new server….or another option would be to look at Google Apps as Gmail (Google’s email) was one of the apps we could utilize RIGHT NOW.  Going with Google Apps, just for Gmail alone, would save our district around 5-6,000 dollars. There was no “licensing” or yearly fees.  It came with a FREE spam/Virus checker, and it was all hosted AND backed up on Google’s infrastructure. One other big problem Google apps was going to help solve for me…was the increasing number of  SMART phones making there way into our district.  Staff wanted the ability to access email on their phones.   Because many of these phones were personal, we couldnt standardize on any one.  Google Apps solved that problem and is completely compatible with the Window, iPhone, Blackberry, and of course Android phones.

By the time I left the meeting, Google Apps was a GO!  Because many of our service agreements were coming up for renewal – We needed to act fast!

Google had a great 6 week deployment plan that was very helpful in our deployment.  Even though there is a short inservice scheduled, our hopes are that staff will  take a self learning approach and take advantage the newly created Byron Apps training site. ( developed by using Google Sites and a FREE template) Also, because this is Google, and we were all use to “Googling” for information – it is simply amazing the resources available on the web OR Youtube to help users find print or video content about whatever help they need within Google Apps.

This past Friday, we actually went live with the new application.  On Thursday at 3pm we cleared the queue and shut down the email server.  At midnight, the switch occurred and when we arrived at school Friday morning, mail was already beginning to arrive in our gmail inboxes.  (I had expected it to take 48 hours )  It was business as usual.   Over the next few weeks, staff will be working on uploading their email and because we used the email client Mozilla’s Thunderbird, I found a sweet little add-on, called Zindus, that would allow users to synch their personal addressbooks with Byron Apps Gmail.  (after some much needed clean up of course!)  Also, adding an Imap account in Thunderbird,  for the new Byron Apps gmail, would allow users to copy and Synch emails too.  This is going to take some time for staff, but will be well worth it in the end!

Here is a great video from Google that explains why YOU should go with Google Apps too!

My learning addiction…

Flickr image by CarrotcreativeSeriously folks – if you want a great support group while keeping a pulse on the latest technology and research,  I highly recommend you start using TWITTER!  I can not tell you how many times I have fallen into some great discussion, great research, and great resources.  Below are groups that I follow.  Check them out – find someone who interests you and by all means FOLLOW them!

On a side note – you must must must download and install an Twitter application, like Tweetdeck, to manage and track all of this information.  You can also follow and unfollow from this application.

Jen’s hints for a building a good Twitter learning community

  1. I follow people who have interesting things to say or share!
  2. I do not automatically follow everyone who follows me.
  3. When I follow someone – I look and see who they follow – after all, they get their information from somewhere.
  4. Look for the big thinkers – the people, authors, specialists  you have admired for awhile…Find them, follow them. You will be actively learning WITH them!
  5. I am not afraid to block people either.  There is alot of Internet Marketers and even some spammers (I havent had any issues in a while) that will follow me – well – if they are not up to any good I BLOCK them.
  6. Contribute to the masses – if you find something interesting, worth sharing, tweet it.  We cant learn without you!
  7. If you have a question – ask (tweet).  There are alot of helpful people out there!
  8. Its ok to shut twitter off!  Sometimes all the tweeting can be distracting – so if it is interrupting you – by all means – shut it down. (only temporarily though!)

carrotcreative. Twitter Pack. [Online Image] (March 2008).  Retrieved December 8, 2009 from Flickr Creative Commons. http://www.flickr.com/photos/carrotcreative/2511539541/

Facebook, Friending, and Security

This summer I was fortunate to collaborate with Doug Johnson, Blue Skunk Blogger, on the “Guidelines for Educators Using Social and Educational Networking Sites”. [Version (1)(2)]

Starting this week, I will be traveling to our buildings to discuss with teachers about friending and security settings within one of the most popular social networking sites… Facebook.  I have created a slideshare (below) to coincide with the discussion.  If you have trouble seeing some of the slides, it will be helpful to put it into full screen mode.

Teachers, please be informed and make good choices when creating your social profiles and posting personal information in the online environment!

The Rubber has Met the Road

The Long Road - Flickr photo by Ohad

The Long Road - Flickr photo by Ohad

Two weeks from today, schools in Minnesota will be in session.  Our homes  and schools are in a whirlwind preparing for the 09-10 school year.  Parents are hopefully finishing their school shopping while many of our teachers are beginning to get their classroom ready for their incoming students.

But – will all our classrooms truly ready for these learners?  For the past 3 years, Byron has been fortunate to have great thinkers share their thoughts during our summer’s professional growth academy. In 2007, Dr. Scott McLeod started his virtual keynote address s by quoting Bob Dylan’s phrase  “Times are a changing…”  The following summer, Doug Johnson described  Schools and Libraries for the Net Generation. This summer, David Warlick presented to a group of 50+ Byron educators about the need for Byron school district to Redefine Literacy for the 21st century and the importance of educators to develop their own personal learning networks!

Today…times are not only changing – they HAVE changed.  I began my journey with this district 13 years ago and as I reflect on how the world has evolved….it is astounding!  Back in 1996, the district installed its first LAN with 30 Windows 95 – Pentium 133 MHZ desktops.  Email was a luxury, gradebooks weren’t electronic, word processing wasn’t quite the norm, and no one had even heard of Google. Today, email is viewed as an archaic method of communication, students and parents have portal access to their teacher’s gradebook, desktop word processing is being replaced with cloud computing, and students come to class with Google in their pockets.

This year is pivotal. I have had many educators come to me with BRILLIANT ideas –  Blended learning, Wikis, Classroom Blogs, Video projects, podcasting,  and classrooms infused with Web2.0  tools to  assess their students’ learning.

So what is the worry?  I am fearful that there are still educators who are dusting of the curriculum and lesson plans that was utilized back in the days of the 133mhz Pentiums.   Furthermore, I am even more worried about the future of the students whom will sit (and get) the same education as students did 13 years ago.  As many of our educators are rising to the 21st century education challenge, taking risks,  continuously trying to improve and develop high quality, relevant courses and classrooms, there are still those whom are perfectly content teaching as they did in 1996.   Is this still acceptable?   Are these classrooms preparing our students to truly be lifelong learners in a global economy?