Thursday, December 23, 2010

Going Google

It seems like you cannot go a day without using Google or hearing Google used in a sentence.

I have been using Google Apps for a solid year now and I must say that it has definitely had a profound impact. My entire department (a whole three people) have adopted Google Docs and Google Calendar in order to track our daily activities in district and collaborate on projects/presentations while not in the office, which is almost every day.

I was recently asked to pilot Google Apps. for Education by our Regional Information Center, who has been working with my organization to migrate our email services to a new client. We're currently using Lotus Notes and had been exploring Outlook and Groupwise.

Nevertheless, we've decided to run with Google Apps. for the time being and examine gmail as a possible mail client. That being said, we created a domain and created usernames for several teachers/administrators who were interested in piloting the program.

As the lead, I received several emails pertaining to our pilot program. Ironically, our filters blocked access to our new gmail domain thus blocking our users from accessing their new accounts. Hopefully, my techs will be able to work that out in due time i.e. during the holiday break.

However, I also received several troubling emails that said:

"I've been talking with some of my colleagues about the proposed gmail system, and have been trying it out at home.  As we discussed at the meeting, I've tried to note some concerns I'm hearing and I have have about the new system:
  • Who will own the data stored on the gmail server—BOCES or Google?  Will that apply to information on personal email if it is merged into school gmail?
  • Since our personal agreements with gmail and other accounts permit them to mine our data, how will that be separated from school gmail?
  • School email often contains private information about students, sent by parents or students themselves.  How will Google safeguard this privacy against hacks and other invasion?  If privacy is breached, will a teacher be liable for an exposed conversation about a student?
  • How does Google’s privacy policy comply with FERPA regulations?
  • BOCES has the right to view anything on our school email accounts; how will this work if our personal gmail (and other private email) accounts are connected with our school accounts?
  • When we migrate to the new system, what will happen to messages stored on the old server?  Will we have time to access and copy information we need from the old email system before it disappears?  Will mail for @ouboces accounts be forwarded, or will we have to restart subscriptions?
  • Will our email still be  If not, many of us will have to change a lot of subscriptions, enews and professional contacts.
  • Will smartphone access to gmail involving other service providers (Verizon, AT&T, Blackberry, etc.) raise more privacy issues?  It might be an advantage to be able to check school email on your phone, but then there will be a lot more companies in a position to view and use our data."
Where to begin? These were not easily answered questions to say the least. Fortunately, Google has recognized and addressed many of these concerns on their website. Those sections can be found at:
Are their risks with using Google Apps to collaborate and share information? Yes. However, you also run the risk when using Lotus Notes, Outlook, and/or Groupwise. There is always a risk; such is life in a wired world.

As previously mentioned, Google has outlined their privacy policies as it relates to school data and FERPA regulations. However, the question was posed regarding personal mail that is merged into one's work email. Rather than going through an entire explanation and review of Acceptable Use Policies, I can sum it up in one response - don't merge your personal mail data with your work mail! If you don't want your employer archiving and reviewing your personal data then don't merge it through your work mail and don't access it while on work computers!

Nevertheless, I am excited to be moving forward with Google Apps. As we continue with our pilot, I have a feeling that I'll post a few more thoughts about the matter. I am optimistic that this will go well, but I will have an uphill battle with some individuals who are Google-shy.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Empowering Students

As a follow up to "Becoming Obsolete," I'd like to pose a few ideas that would help us empower our students, especially for those who are contemplating the idea, but don't know where to start.

1. Establish a Technology Advisory Council - you can't take on this project by yourself. Devise a group of interested teachers, administrators, PTO members, and students who are willing to develop a plan, oversee its integration, and regularly assess the impact of said plan.

2. Mobile Learning Device Agreements - are you going to allow students and teachers to bring their own mobile learning devices to school? Who will be responsible for said equipment? What will happen if something breaks or is stolen? Will your techs be responsible for maintaining and repairing the equipment if something happens to it?

I'd suggest creating a "Mobile Learning Device Agreement" that would be signed by all parties who bring in their own equipment. The agreement should include, but not be limited to:
  • Appropriate use clause.
  • An understanding of the risks i.e. theft and/or damage.
  • A clause stating that the maintenance and repair of student/teacher personal equipment is the sole responsibility of said student and/or teacher.
  • Repercussions for those who fail to adhere to the building's agreement. 
I'd also suggest having the students fill out the make, model, and serial number of their device(s) on the form as well for a reference point. If something is stolen or misplaced, you have identifiable information on record. 

Both students and their parents would need to sign the agreement, which would remain on file and available if and when necessary. 

This agreement must be approved by building and district administrators and may need to be reviewed by the school board and/or district lawyer. 

3. Student Accessable WiFi - What's the point of bringing these devices into the building if they can't access the cloud? There are differing opinions in terms of content filtering and permissions. I'll leave that discussion for another day. In the meantime, go with your gut.

4. Powering Stations  - As your roll out your plan, make sure that there are locations and/or available power strips for students to plug in during the class day. At some point in the day, their batteries will start to run low and they're going to need to plug in, recharge, and continue working.

5. Re-purposing Equipment - Every school will have a number of students who do not have their own mobile learning devices. Why not establish a loaner policy? You already have a number of netbooks and/or laptops available that are not being used as much as you'd like. Why not set up a program where students can sign them out in the morning or during class and use it for a set amount of time? In classroom of 20-25 students, you may only need 5 loaner computers. You may have your tech(s) distribute devices prior to first period and collect them at the end of the day. Be creative. Do what works best for your building.

Those that have adequate equipment may also consider extended loaner programs where students would be able to loan the device out for the semester and/or school year. I know a few of you just cringed. It's okay. The students will respect the equipment. It'll come back in one piece. However, if you go this route, you'll want to establish another "loaner agreement" that will outline appropriate use, maintenance, theft, etc.

6. Professional Development Workshops - Empowering your students and allowing the integration of student-owned devices in your building is going to change how you conduct business one way or another. The learning process is going to be different. Therefore, you're going to need to prepare your teaches for change.

You may want to consider devising workshops to help teachers transition. You may want to consider the following workshops or similar programming:
  • Integration technology in the classroom.
  • Web-based Applications and Projects.
  • Project/Problem-based Collaboration.
  • Google Applications for Educators
  • Internet Safety
  • Digital Privacy, CyberEthics, and Netiquette
Here's another novel idea - include your students in the workshops! (1) They need to be involved in internet safety, digital privacy, cyberethics, and netiquette workshops (2) It's a great way to get their insight (3) they can learn alongside their teachers as active learners.


In rolling out this program, I'd suggest starting small. Set up a couple pilot classrooms - maybe one or two per grade level. Maybe start with the high school first and then introduce it to the middle school. You may or may not want to roll this out with your elementary students - I'll leave that decision up to you.

I'd also suggest putting together a student/parent survey prior to rolling out this new initiative. Find out how many students have mobile learning devices? Do they have internet capability at home? Are the parents responsive to the idea?

From your survey you might want to run a few informational session for the parents so that you can explain the plan and respond to any concerns that they have. Also be sure to explain that parents WILL NOT have to run out and purchase devices for their child and that a loaner program will be in place for those who need one during the school day.

Hey - It just might work!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Becoming Obsolete

The Daily Riff recently released a list of "21 things that will become obsolete in education by 2020." There of those of us that will sit back and simply say "and....?" There are others whose knuckles turn white as they dig their nails into the armrests of their chairs in fear and/or anger.

Think about it though. Take a look at your students - what do they know - what are they using now that we never imagined?

I have a four-year-old at home. She has grown up in a world with digital cameras, DVRs, Netflix, various mobile learning devices, and constant access to the internet. At age two, she had learned to navigate YouTube and click on her favorite recommended videos (i.e. anything with Disney princesses). By age 3, she is able to navigate around on a computer, access her favorite apps, and can operate her mom's digital camera better than many adults.

Education is changing; it has been changing. Our students know more and do more than we give them credit for. Unfortunately, many of our learning institutions have failed to effectively integration technology and learning. They have added this, that, and the other thing. They have put together workshop after workshop, but there's still a profound gap between integration and learning.

I honestly hate to say this, but part of the blame lays among teachers. Now I cannot blame all teachers. There are those who actively engage their students and integrate technology into their lessons. However, there is a much larger majority that do not. My department conducts up to six workshops a semester. I am lucky to get an average of seven people per workshop. Next semester we are pushing out up to six workshops a month and I fear our enrollment numbers will be weak at best. Mind you, these workshops are offered to seventeen districts and I still can't fill a class.

So what can be done? If we can't rely on the teachers, who can we rely on? In a recent meeting with one of my districts, I simply suggested empowering the students. (1) Allowing them to incorporate their own technology will equate to less equipment the district has to purchase. (2) The students eat, sleep, and breathe technology. Why not letter them stay connected in the classroom? Why not let them incorporate their skill set in the classroom? Why not transform education and put the power in the hands of the student? Maybe our students will embrace the opportunity, especially seeing that many of our teachers are still lagging behind.

I also encourage districts to run pilot programs with their more capable teachers who are willing to integrate technology and work with their students. Devise usage policies where students can bring in their own mobile learning devices, access the building's WiFi, and engage themselves. Districts could also establish loaner programs where students without mobile learning devices can borrow one for the day or the term depending on availability.

If the teachers aren't going to use the equipment, why not put it in the hands of those who will?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Deciphering the Laws of Cyberbullying

After completing a case study for my Educational Law course that I am taking for graduate school, I discovered that there is a great deal of confusion among educators, lawmakers, and everyone else for that matter.

What laws are in place to protect our students?

What are our rights and responsibilities as educators?

What policies and/or programs do we have in place to educate our parents, students, and teachers? 

These are questions that I have not necessarily found all the answers to. However, I have put together a few resources to help individuals learn more about Cyberbullying and its impact on education.

The first is a link to my case study review, "Deciphering the Laws of Cyberbullying" where I have reviewed several incidents and the court's ruling on the matter. This can be found at:

A second piece is a presentation that I put together for a faculty workshop pertaining to Internet Safety and Digital Citizenship:

Feel free to share this information with other interested parties. I just ask that you quote your sources.


I'd like to take a moment to introduce myself and share a few thoughts on "Teaching in a Wired World."

My name is Art Schouten and I am the Lead Technology Integration Specialist for a BOCES program in New York State. I oversee our Model Schools Consortium and eLearning initiatives for 17 component programs as well as several BOCES programs.

I entered this program in November 2009 and since then I have been put in charge of overseeing our program, vendor licensing, troubleshooting, etc. I have two additional Technology Integration Specialists who "work with me." In actuality, we spend roughly 95% of our time in district meaning that we almost never see one another and we see our offices even less.

As the Lead Technology Integration Specialist and an aspiring administrator, I have begun to look at various topics, programs, changes in education that have or will have a profound impact on our learning institutions. That being said, I hope to share some of my thoughts and ideas as well as thoughts and ideas of others.

The opinions expressed are those of myself and are not the opinions of my districts or the organization whom I work for. These are simply observations made, thoughts hashed out, and ideas that may spur further dialogue among other educators.