December 7, 2013 § 3 Comments
It’s been 4 months since I started my new job as the Technology Director for La Vernia ISD. There have been times over the last 4 months where I felt more than overwhelmed. There have been times that I felt downright under-qualified. The transition from one leader to another is always fraught with bumps in the road, but having almost 6 weeks between when the previous director retired and I was brought on board made for some rather large potholes.
My staff has done a great job of filling me in where they know the answers, and the previous director has been kind enough to answer my frantic emails wondering where things are located, but it has been a little more rocky than I would have preferred. Such is life in a small school district, though. So many times people take on multiple jobs and when they leave the district, their knowledge of how those jobs were done leaves with them.
I do feel, though, like I’m finally starting to hit a stride and be able to make a plan for moving forward. I’ve found that when you’re taking someone’s place, especially someone who was there for a very long time (in this case 15+ years), you have to deal with the “this is the way the previous guy did it” a lot.
But knowing what I need and being able to justify it for the good of the district, for the educational value to our students, is what I’m going to focus on for the next several months. I’m learning to let go of the need to be in classrooms on a weekly basis, because if I don’t let that go other things simply don’t get done.
I don’t want to lose my connection to the classroom, but I do know that I’m going to have to cut back on how often I wanted to visit classrooms, at least until I can get some key personnel in place.
I also have other plans. Big plans. Last month, we provisioned Google Apps accounts for every adult in the district. This week, we released directions for everyone to get in, and in January, we’ll start some training. I sat with one of our principals for 45 minutes yesterday going over some how-to’s and general use cases for Google Docs. He was very excited to get started with it. I also had a teacher this week ask me about using it with her 5th grade students. I told her that we’d be thrilled to have her as one of our beta testers for student use. I’m encouraged by this response and excited by the possibilities.
We’ll be evaluating other online tools throughout the year to see if we can make the jump to a more cloud based district. We just launched our online application portal last week, and we’re moving toward an online sub finder system this spring.
From a device standpoint we also have 5 Chromebooks on the way that we’re going to put in student hands to have them try out. I’m going to try to diversify our student devices a bit. I’m looking at Nexus tablets, Windows 8 tablets, iPad minis, even iPod touches. But before we put any of that in to play, we have to rethink how we manage these devices. Apple is driving me to drink with their device “management.” Trying to manage iPads for multiple users is a flat out nightmare. Apple has wholly failed in this respect. They like to tout that they’re all about education, but they refuse to come up with a decent fix for managing iPads. So we have to think out of the box on this, and try to come up with the best use case scenario that’s going to work for our campuses. From now on, when we buy devices, we’re looking at the management piece first, then beta testing with one campus or maybe even just one classroom, then we’ll decide if it’s worth it to move forward with those types of devices.
Our high school librarian is looking at purchasing furniture with built in charging stations so students can use their devices during class and come to recharge in the library. We have BYOD in place, but from discussions I’ve had with people, it seems as though it’s very limited in classroom use. I’d like our teachers to feel free to have their students use their devices, and having convenient charging areas is a step toward helping with that. We also need to have more staff development on the philosophy around student-centered learning, which I think would lead to more students using their devices in class.
Being able to make these plans is a big step for me as a director. Having solid research behind what we buy means that we’re not going to jump in with the newest and greatest until we can see that it will help improve education for our students.
There is still a lot of work to be done, but I’m looking forward to the journey and being able to learn from everyone along the way.
November 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I’m going to try to be the example here for the staff in our district.
We are trying to implement a new model of technology staff development here in La Vernia ISD in that, we want our staff to go out and find something that interests them to learn about. Stepping out of that box, breaking the mold of what staff development entails is going to be a challenge.
I honestly don’t think our staff believed us when we told them they could learn on their own. School staff are used to being sat down for a couple of days every year and having the fire hose turned on them. We are trying to turn off the fire hose, and do more of a garden sprinkler approach. We’ll give you little bits and pieces that can help, but it’s entirely up to you what to learn and when to learn it.
We have a group of staff members (not just teachers) who have to get 16 hours of technology staff development, and we figured that we’d much rather have them find something to learn that they’re interested in, rather than the technology staff deciding what was important.
I did my Master’s research on this exact thing. I knew from sitting through staff development myself, that I really only used about half of what I was ever taught, and that’s a conservative estimate. The other problem with blasting folks with a bunch of stuff during a few key days in August and January is that by the time they get around to using what you’ve taught them, they’ve likely forgotten most of it, and need additional help.
We wanted to change that. By letting staff members find something that was of interest to them, we figured we would gain their buy-in from the start, and they would likely find something to learn that they could use immediately in their practice.
In theory, it sounds great. In reality (so far anyway) not so much.
Now, it’s only been two weeks since we introduced this whole concept to them, but I haven’t seen everyone jumping in with both feet. OK, I’m being too nice about that. I’ve only seen 2 people actually do anything. In other words, it looks like we have very reluctant students.
Maybe we threw too much at them all at once. We talked about Twitter, Google+, and Blogging along with telling them that they’d be responsible for their own learning. Maybe it was just completely overwhelming and they don’t know where to start.
That is why I’m starting here. I want to model for our staff how to reflect on their learning, just like I’m doing. Sometimes, writing down what you’ve done can help you work through the problems at hand. Sometimes tweeting about it can get valuable responses.
Here’s the thing, though. I don’t want to make things too scripted. I want these folks to learn how to learn. I’m sure most of them already do know how to learn, but I really want them to understand that it’s OK to let students learn organically, just as we’re going to let them learn. Do you have to do some step-by-step stuff? Sure, just not too much. I can do the “here’s how you get started on twitter, ” but I really want them to figure out the best way for them to be on twitter for them.
So I think maybe what we should do this week at our training (if anyone shows up) is to just go over one of those things we talked about at our last training a little more in depth. Give them some hands-on.
Jeez…you’d think I was brand new to this whole staff development game.
November 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
So on November 4, I tweeted this:
Hey @chevron, if you want me to pay my gas card bill, you might want to get your website up. Been down at least 24 hours.
— Scott Laleman (@slaleman) November 4, 2013
The Chevron/Texaco consumer credit card page had been down at that point for a full day. I had tried to pay my bill the day before, and the site was unreachable. Tried throughout the day, actually, and found that all of the other chevron card sites were up and running, just the consumer one was down.
I tried again the next day at work, to no avail, hence the tweet.
Now, I appreciate corporations paying attention to social media, and to be fair, Chevron doesn’t run that web site. It’s actually part of GE Capital Credit, which does a lot of consumer credit cards for all sorts of companies. However, Chevron did follow through, and the next day, I received a phone call from them about, as the message put it, “your inquiry.” I didn’t bother to call back, because by that time, the web site was up and running again, and I had paid my bill.
So my first point in this post is: Tweets get results. Companies pay attention to social media.
I received another phone call two days later, with the same message. Just this weekend, I received a LETTER. In the MAIL of all things! The letter is from Tricia Zevallos, but it doesn’t say what Ms. Zevallos’ position in the company is. Here’s an excerpt:
Please allow us to apologize for any frustration you may have experienced as a result of the inability to access online services. Please note there are FAQ’s listed on the website at http://www.chevrontexacocards.com and an option to chat with a live representative to assist with any login or error message issues. Additionally, our Customer Service Agents are available to assist at 1-800-243-8766.
As I said before, kudos to Chevron for being on the ball and responding to an issue that came to them via social media, and passing it along to the people who handle their consumer accounts. Here’s where I run into a problem, though, and my second point for this post.
Understand your customer.
Remember where I complained? Over there on twitter? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just tweet back to me, “Hey @slaleman, sorry about the issues. Our IT team is working on it. Site should be up soon”. Or ”@slaleman sorry for the inconvenience. Site is up and running again so you can pay your bill.”
Instead, GE Capital Credit called me twice and left messages to call back, then sent me a letter, all of which cost them money to do! The letter also directed me back to the web site that was inaccessible (completely, as in no error messages, no web site, no nothing) as part of their steps to solve my problem. So 1) they showed they didn’t understand my problem to begin with and 2) didn’t understand that the best way to reach me was where I reached out to them to begin with. In short, they didn’t understand their customer.
Again, I have to give them some credit for responding, but they’re a big corporation with (I”m sure) lots of smart executives getting paid a lot of money. They should know how the quickest, easiest, and least costly way to reach out to this customer was to tweet back.
November 13, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Look, maybe I’m being a total Google fanboy here, but I’m having this argument over on G+ and I feel like I have to explain myself. I know I’m coming across like a jerk, but here’s the thing. If you’re going to say that a certain device (in this case, a chromebook) isn’t a worthwhile device to have, and wonder why in the world anyone would buy it, you’d better have your arguments ready to go if you’re going to mouth off about it.
I should know. I go through the same thing with Apple fanboys every time I bash iPads.
So now it’s my turn. The tech-punditry are smearing chromebooks, and I’ve found that, for me anyway, the arguments against chromebooks fall flat. I’m also tired of the misconceptions and the “it won’t do xyz” so when someone said in a post on G+ that chromebooks don’t do xyz, I guess I went a little “Falling Down” and cut loose, throwing the Chromebook smackdown at this poor, unsuspecting soul.
You can see the entire conversation here, but basically, it went like this:
He said: “The problem with Chromebook is that it covers 90% of day to day activities for most people, but then these pesky 10% really making you bite you elbows.
Maybe in a few years it will mature enough to cover most people needs though.”
And I said, “ the 10% is probably out there in the cloud somewhere, it’s just that the people complaining about it are too lazy to look for it.”
Then he gave me a list of things that he didn’t know if a chromebook could do, thus proving my point that he hadn’t bothered to look to see if it could be done. Here’s the list (and whether he thought a chromebook could or couldn’t do it):
- web browsing (Chromebook does it)
- printing to network printer (Chromebook doesn’t do that)
- downloading torrents (not sure if Chromebook does it)
- Skype calls (Chromebook doesn’t do that)
- downloading ebooks, conventing formar uploading to Kindle and Nook (not sure if Chromebook does it)
- creating presentations in PowerPoint saving to flashdrive for offline access (not sure if possible with Chromebook)
- uploading music to iPod using iTunes (not sure if possible with Chromebook)
- accessing some IE-only sites (corporate)
- editing graphics in Gimp (what’s a good cloud alternative?)
- uploading photos from camera (DSLR) to Google+ using Picasa (is it possible with Chromebook?)
- DJing (using Traktor)
- Scanning documents
The last four items, he added after I made my initial response, which was this:
-Printing to network printer – if you have it set up through cloud print, it will do it. You just have to have those printers set up on another machine that you sign in to Chrome with. But, by the way, if you use Google Docs, you don’t really need to print out documents because you can share them directly from your Google drive.
- Skype calls – you’re right…it doesn’t do skype, but it does do Google Hangouts, which IMHO is better than skype – screen sharing, multiple people in the conversation, etc..
- Torrents – add the uTorrent extension for Chrome.
- Kindle cloud reader, but if you’re looking for a converter, try zamzar. You can then email the converted file to your kindle’s email address. No physical connection necessary.
- Powerpoints can be converted to Google Presentations and viewed via the web, or downloaded as a ppt, PDF and a variety of other formats.
- IE tab chrome extension will work for the vast majority of web sites that require IE (yes, I have tried it)
So, the ONLY thing here that a chromebook can’t do is upload music to an iPod. However, if you have an android device, you can transfer music to it, or use Google Play music to stream your music from the cloud.
Now, if you’re stuck on the name-brand stuff, I can’t help you, but there are plenty of alternatives to accomplish virtually all of the things you’ve thrown out here. I admit, I still have a PC, but it serves as the family media center. I use it to organize my photos and keep a backup copy of my music (which automatically uploads to Google Music any time I purchase something new from a service other than Google). But like I said, the chromebook is my daily driver. I even use it to remote in to my Windows servers at work to do updates. I purchased the Chrome RDP app to do that, and if I ever need to use the family PC, I use Chrome Remote Desktop to remote into that one.
Did I come across as a snob? Probably. But he also totally proved my initial point, which was that the other 10% of things people think chromebooks can’t do is actually out there, you just have to go looking for it. Obviously, he hadn’t.
And I’ll be honest, there are some things that a chromebook can’t do. Those things just happen to be so few and far between for me that spending the extra money on a heavy, full windows laptop ($1000 MacBook wasn’t even in the equation) just didn’t make sense. For the portability and price, I think the chromebook is a great value. Would I buy one for $450? Not a chance, and I said as much when they first came out. But Samsung and Google hit the sweet spot on price and specs last year when the ARM based Samsung Series 3 chromebook came out. The HP 11 hits the same spot, as do both Acer models.
As for education, I think the chromebook is a great device for students. The one thing I hear a lot about iPads is that kids have a hard time doing research and writing papers because there’s no mouse and keyboard. Those two simple things make a big difference when you’re trying to do research and write a paper, and the chromebook has both at half the cost of an iPad.
By the way, I just cut the PO on our first chromebook purchases here in La Vernia today.