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  • Andrew T Schwab 8:44 am on November 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    #CUERockstar Reflection – Day 3 

    Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

    Robert Frost

    I feel the same way about teaching with technology sometimes…

    I’m going to stick with the Tech as Tool theme for a bit longer because what I loved about Rockstar Admin Camp was the focus on culture, leading and pushing mindset. There were plenty of tech tools present, but the conversations didn’t start and end with them. While it was cool to help one of our principals build a walkthrough form with automated email replies (thank you @Chaugen, Google Forms and FormMule), Rockstar Admin did much more. Over the last three days, my thinking around integrating tech into the classroom has been reignited and supercharged.

    So lets flesh out the tool metaphor a bit and consider the simple paint brush. Using the same paint brush, someone can paint a house, a stick figure or the Mona Lisa. Becoming proficient with a paint brush (painting) and creating art with one are two very different (but dependent) things. Through years of practice the artist may develop their craft to the point where a painting like the Mona Lisa becomes possible. Or they might not. Over that time, the paint brush may change somewhat, but probably not too much. It is generally the technique, honed through the experience born from trial and error, that evolves to the point where the Mona Lisa becomes possible.

    Teaching is very much a combination of art and craft. While the art side may be inherently related to individuality and uniqueness, the craft most certainly comes from developing instructional techniques over time. Many of the techniques currently in use across classrooms everywhere were designed and built for the tools of the day. That day being the turn of the century. Overheads, Whiteboards and even to a large extent, SmartBoards, weren’t sufficiently transformative as to require new techniques. The introduction of 1:1 technology has changed that. As artisan and craftspeople educators, it is our responsibility to adapt the profession’s techniques to the tools of today.

    Unfortunately, much of the PD being offered today is focused on the tools. That by itself isn’t an issue. What is an issue is the lack of discussion about new (or adapted) teaching techniques specifically designed to effectively integrate technology into instruction. I think it’s been missing because not enough of us have had access to the devices to have a profession level discussion around it. That is changing. Basic tool PD (or training) is needed but the rapid expansion of student devices has exposed a real need to focus on the HOW of teaching again.

    On my first day of teaching I had never been through a credential class, had no curriculum (and no lesson plan!) and only a vague idea of what I should be doing as a “teacher”, mostly from having watched other teachers while fixing computers in classrooms and skimming the Harry Wong “First Days of School” book a few days before. What I did have was a lab full of computers and the memory of school not being much fun when I was a kid. I wish I could say I just went with the computers and focused on engaging kids, but it took me a while to get there. Instead I used some of those First Day of School techniques and tried not to smile until Christmas.

    What I quickly discovered was that in a 1:1 learning environment, most of what I was learning about classroom instruction in my credential classes really didn’t apply. Two things saved me there. First, my CTE credential program focused more on Adult Learning than classroom instruction (or maybe that’s just the part I remember the most). Second, I was able to seek out and visit folks that were pushing the 1:1 learning envelop to supplement my credential classes lack of instructional specifics. As it turned out, I had some amazing innovative educators nearby. The things I learned from them (and also through more trial and error) that I found the most useful were usually the techniques they were using to integrate technology into their classrooms.

    The challenge with technology is that the tools change fast and by fast, I mean FAST. That makes mastering tools a constant moving target. What we need as educators are instructional techniques for effectively using technology that can transcend tools. Interestingly enough, much of what I learned technique wise back in 2009 is still relevant in 1:1 classrooms today, even though the technology tools have changed substantially since then (remember the days of crashing a google doc with more than 20 collaborators?).

    Unfortunately, the current instructional techniques paradigm was built around concepts like limited access to information, a lack of student devices, scripted curriculum and explicit direct instruction. These are the mainstay techniques that have been used in our classrooms for the last fifteen years. I feel very lucky to have escaped that reality even though I spent many a late night cursing under my breath as I was neck deep in developing my own curriculum by pulling in resources from all over the web, trying to survive as a new teacher and wishing someone would just hand me a binder full of units so I could get on with “teaching”. I get it but I also recognize we need more and better (more better?) for 1:1 learning environments.

    We need  simple, effective and approachable techniques that teachers (and students) can, in the words of Jon Corippo, “Level Up” through as they add more and more technology into the mix. Techniques that can effectively start out on paper and transition to digital. Techniques that engage kids in information literacy, critical thinking, collaboration and presentation. Techniques that harness the power of technology to save teachers time and improve learning outcomes for kids with real time feedback. We need new techniques built for 1:1 technology integrated learning environments that are flexible. They can’t be dependent on a specific tech tool or packaged curriculum to function. We need techniques designed more like lego Mindstorms, where tech tools can be interchanged as easily as changing out one lego for another as they come and go (or dare I say, based on individual student preference).

    And that is precisely why we need PD opportunities like Rockstar Camps. Places where educators can come together to unlearn what they have learned. Where we can collectively build the future of learning we wish to see in the world. Where we can jump into the Hero’s Journey’s and together take the path less traveled. Bravo CUE Rockstar Admin Camp, Bravo.

    CTO’s Log. 11-21-15 10:47pm

    Post reflection reflection:

    Today was Saturday. Attendance was a bit off from Friday. By a bit I mean like 50%. That was ok because it meant more opportunities for seats with a view of the lake during lunch. @jkloczko got those brave remaining few up and dancing in public during the morning keynote. The disco ball must have had hypnotic powers. @principalUMS  took the opportunity to take pictures of me attempting to dance which I am sure will factor into some future edtech request. Our team excused ourselves from the morning Hero activity and reflected/brainstormed to come up with next steps. We’re definitely sending more people to the next Admin Camp in April. Oh yeah, CUE announced another Admin Camp in April. And we are hosting a Rockstar Black Label event at our district in April too. The final sessions didn’t repeat, which threw us for a loop. After two days of repeating sessions, we were used to being able to attend as a team, but today the team split up. We all made it back in one piece for lunch. Lunch was a caesar chicken wrap. That’s important. Having survived our individual sessions, the team shared out over lunch. At some point during lunch I remembered the online companion guides, with all of the session resources, and I may have tuned out for a bit while staring at the ducks floating on the lake. After lunch, there was an unconference, which I think was Jon Corippo‘s new code word for “time to visit the gift shop and head home”. I should have skipped the gift shop. Wine is heavy. Ran into some mild traffic on the way home. Typical. Missing the Special World already. I might have to join the team in April, you know, because the Journey never really ends.

    End Of Line


    • Lisa 6:09 pm on November 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      It’s hard to leave good PD events; always feel like I left a part of myself back there… not feeling whole.

  • Andrew T Schwab 10:45 am on November 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    #CUERockstar Admin Day 2 Reflection 

    I’ve been Han Solo’d


    Big thanks to @adnanedtech for memorializing my Rockstar Admin experience forever.

    Day 2 of CUE Rockstar Admin Camp started off strong with #edugrandpa Jon Corippo going all Captain Chaos on us with a book study by frayer activity. The frayer template is one of those simple little things I wish I knew about when I was teaching, because I would have been telling every one of my fellow teachers about it. Together with other simple instructional strategies like PowerPoint Karaoke, Somebody Wanted But So Then, Iron Chef Lessons and good old fashion Blogging, students could be empowered with a robust learning framework without feeling like they are always starting over at “I don’t know how to do that”.

    For session number two, I wondered into Catina Haugen’s session on PD. Catina had a lot of great ideas to share but I actually left early because I’m very fortunate to work in a district that already has a lot of exceptional PD going on at the moment. And because I needed more hot tea. And because, “Rule of 2 Feet”.

    By happy accident on my way to find tea, I happened upon @PrincipalDurham lounging in one of the incredible rooms at Skywalker’s Big Sky Ranch. We had a nice chat about the challenges inherent in providing relevant edtech Professional Development for teachers and how the focus really needs to shift from Tech Tools to Lesson Design. One thing about the location for this Rockstar Admin Camp is the incredible spaces. There are great spaces where you can just sit down and enjoy the amazing views all over the place. Sadly, no pictures allowed inside, so you’ll just have to imagine it, or sign up to attend next year. But I digress.

    StarWars In The Classroom stopped by for a mini-keynote. They are a group of teachers using the Star Wars Universe to connect kids to learning. As the kid whose first movie ever was Star Wars (back when Han shot first and before there was such a thing as a New Hope), I really wish these Rogue teachers had been around back in the day.

    After lunch, I was fortunate to find myself in Joe Wood‘s session with the entire Union team. Joe shared his experiences with going 1:1 and facilitated a great brainstorming session on next steps for PD to support technology integration in the classroom. We also had an opportunity to create an elevator pitch response to the “Why 1:1?” question. Our best effort came from @PrincipalUMS and @ddclay1999:

    “We want our students to have a learning experience reflective of the world they’re a part of.”

    Rockstar Admin Camp has already been a great event and Day 3 is still to come. Let the Hero’s Journey continue!

    • Todd 11:24 am on November 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Please note that quote was stolen from Mr. Wood and only slightly modified, if at all.

  • Andrew T Schwab 7:15 am on November 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    My To Do List From #CUERockstar Admin Camp 

    My To Do list from CUE Rockstar Admin Camp:

    1. Coalesce leadership around a common vision for Instructional Practice
    2. Re-imagine our PD plan around integrating tech and core (ELA/Math)
    3. Help administrators use tech to setup simple time saving workflows
    4. Develop story tellers throughout the district to help get the message out about all the great things happening in our schools every day

    I’ve got more ideas running around in my head but these are the main themes. Thanks CUE Rockstar Admin Camp for pushing my thinking yet again. Always nice to stretch outside the comfort zone. Helps to stand on the shoulders of exceptional lead learners.

    speical world

    It’s my final day in the Special World and I’m missing it already!

  • Andrew T Schwab 8:45 am on November 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    #CUERockstar Admin Camp Day 1 – 2am Reflection 


    I think we say Technology is just a tool so as not to scare people away from it but the truth is, technology is a powerful disrupter of the status quo and the idea of disturbing the status quo is very scary to a lot of people. As Jon Corippo said to me recently, if we as educators are merely content delivery systems, then replacing us with technology will only get easier and easier. Anyone can deliver content, even (and especially) an Internet connected computer. As Educators, the art and the craft of our profession is in designing the learning experiences in our schools and classrooms. In the age of ubiquitous access to content, we are responsible for more than just access to the what, we are, now more than ever, responsible for the how of learning. The challenge is to effectively utilize the transformative powers of technology to engage, inspire and connect kids to their own learning, to build a compelling how for all students.

    The highlight of my Rockstar Admin Camp Day 1 was hearing from Joe Sanfelippo about how his district is using technology to connect his community and his students to share their stories. It’s an amazing example of how technology can be used to build transformative cultures that support student learning. #gocrickets.

    Having attended the first two Rockstar Teacher Camps (20102011), I’ve been a fan of the Rockstar experience since the beginning. While the content is great, it’s not particularly unique to Rockstar (don’t tell anyone I told you so). It’s the structure of the event (the how!) that really makes Rockstar the powerful professional development learning experience it is. Longer sessions, longer (collaborative) lunch, time to meet new people, time to meet the Rockstar Faculty, just enough session choice to allow for differentiation without being totally overwhelming. The learning environment at a Rockstar camp is no accident, it’s by design.

    What reinforced that idea for me again on day 1 of Rockstar Admin Camp was browsing through all of the session content. Because at Rockstar, it doesn’t matter what session you physically chose to go to on Day 1, you will have access to all of the content online. Which tells me, learning at a Rockstar Camp isn’t about shoveling stuff at me in powerpoint slide decks, or showing off the latest and greatest tech tool (although AudioBoom is pretty cool). It’s about building an environment, The Rockstar Camp Experience, where learning happens and content is just another resource in the room.

    To wrap things up, Corippo came out with a great session title a while back, “HOW to do Common Core – we already know the WHY”. In my head somehow I’ve managed to subvert that into, “HOW to do Common Core, we already know the WHAT.” Because at the end of the day, standards are standards, it’s the how we teach that really matters to kids and Rockstar is all about the how.

    That would be my 2am, can’t stop thinking about Day 1 attempt to explain the power of a Rockstar Camp but really, you should experience one for yourself.

  • Andrew T Schwab 9:00 am on November 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    More Than Just A Tool – Technology As Transformative Opportunity 

    Technology is more than just a tool, it is a total game changer. To paraphrase an old Jedi Master, we must unlearn how we learned. To my mind, there are several transformative opportunities for teaching made possible by technology that go way beyond trading paper and pen for a Chromebook or iPad.

    Ubiquitous Access To Information

    In a classroom where students have anytime access to the Internet at their fingertips, the opportunities are endless. This is a big shift in thinking about how information should be presented to students; no longer wrapped and bound in a sequenced set of pages, but rather presented as a guided discovery process with hidden nooks and crannies and undiscovered continents behind every new question. Learning should be an adventure, not a fixed stairway that eventually leads to a single doorway. In the 21st Century, the literacy of searching, of accessing information, should be as fundamental as reading and writing.

    Instant Feedback

    The end of week quiz must have been born from necessity, a form of feedback that was made super simple by the Scantron (thankfully I skipped them in my classes but sadly still managed to mirror the experience with Moodle quizzes). The drawbacks of the Scantron, or weekly spelling test or INSERT ANY TRADITIONAL PAPER QUIZ/TEST HERE form of assessment is that the results have a built in time delay, namely the teacher’s grading cycle. With technology tools like Socrative, Kahoot and heck, even a basic Google Form, the feedback cycle can be cut to ZERO. Kids can know immediately wether they got something right or wrong, and giving the test over and over again until everyone (or the magic 80%) get it right, is super simple. Why everyone isn’t jumping on this form of instant feedback assessment is beyond me. It may take a bit more effort to initially setup (no way it’s as hard as building a Moodle quiz) but once it’s done, the time savings alone are worth it. Oh yeah, and it’s better for kids too. Dare I say transformative?


    Google Docs. It’s all there. Real time student collaboration with teacher monitoring and input. Asynchronous collaboration with tracked changes. It’s freakin amazing and still there are folks out there that see Google Docs as just an App to use like Word. Nope. Because kids can work together to solve problems, answer questions, form hypotheses, develop stories, INSERT ANYTHING YOU CAN IMAGINE HERE. The possibilities are endless. Real collaboration, used to solve real problems, is the employment currency for the next generation. Technology has transformed how people communicate, collaborate and work in the real world, our classrooms have to adapt to that new reality.

    Publish or Perish

    It used to be if you wanted to be a TV Star, you had to somehow have access to a hundred million dollar TV network. Not many people made it because not many people had access. Creating, producing and distributing TV shows was expensive. Now, the cost to create and publish is effectively ZERO. That means everyone can be a TV Star. YouTube is the prime example. If everything a student produced in class, call it an artifact of learning or an assessment, was published online to a learning history, how powerful would that story be? The cost to do it is no longer money, now it’s mindset. Publish often or perish. Learning to present, argue, persuade to a real audience, in the digital mediums of the present, outside the four walls of the classroom, is certainly transformative for students.

    Just a tool. Really? What do you think?

  • Andrew T Schwab 11:52 am on October 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Disintermediating IT: The Secret Sauce To Small School EdTech Success 

    Vollmert Hanging an AP

    My first job in education was at a small rural high school district. I was their first full time “IT Guy”. And when I say full time, I’m stretching a bit, as I was actually farmed out to one of the feeder elementary schools for 2 days a week. Prior to my arrival, they had been contracting with a local tech services company for their onsite break/fix tech needs. The high school district was fortunate enough to recognize that to make forward progress with technology, they had to make a change.

    So there I was, fresh off a year of doing HA (High Availability) distributed cluster design/support for a Software as a Service (SaS) start up, thrown backwards in time, supporting 4 schools in two districts whose prior tech strategy had been “keep those eight year old computers running indefinitely”. By the time I left in 2011, the high school district was going 1:1 and the elementary districts realized they needed full time support too if they were going to move into the 20th century (much less the 21st).

    Unfortunately for small rural school districts, finding competent tech support is still a challenge. While local IT services companies may do an ok job of break/fix, contracting with them is a ticket to status quo at best and sometimes serious frustration at worst. Local IT service companies tend to be business focused, just like school IT shops of old, and are not well versed in the unique edtech challenges facing classrooms today. They also tend to struggle with basic services in schools, like wifi, because frankly they don’t often have the skill set or experience needed to provide services beyond “small business”. Every school district, no matter how small, will outgrow the “business” IT support contract model as they move towards 1:1 student centered learning.

    The main reason: the shift towards authentic technology integration into everyday instruction is happening right now. The demands of this type of learning environment cannot be met with traditional outsourced business focused IT support. Successful implementation of technology integration requires new ways of thinking and looking at what is really needed to provide tech services to the classroom. Mike Vollmert and I have been helping a small, one school, district do just that over the past year.

    So what’s our secret sauce? Well, I’ve talked about this many times before, but here it goes again:

    • Bandwidth
    • Wifi
    • Google Apps for Education
    • Teacher Devices
    • Student Devices
    • Tech Support
    • PD
    • Repeat


    How do we get reliable bandwidth at a decent rate? In California, the best way to approach this is to work with the County Office of Education (COE) on getting the most bandwidth a district can afford/qualify for. Wether it be wireless microwave or dark fiber, districts should get enough bandwidth for now and the future, while making sure either the ISP or the COE is responsible for supporting it. District’s don’t want to be messing around with routers and need a single point of contact to call in the event “the Internet” stops working.

    For our small district, we eliminated a network bottleneck that had been overlooked by the local IT service contractor. In doing so, we doubled the bandwidth available to the district. We are now working on an e-rate application to double it again. The district uses the COE’s firewall for perimeter network security and works closely with them on troubleshooting ISP connectivity.

    Wifi (and by inference, the wiring and switches needed to support it)

    Just a few years ago, you needed to be a networking expert with real skills to provide for a robust wireless network that could support multiple devices per user. School networks were often overly complex and over engineered. Today, complexity in the network is not your friend. The network for most small school districts should be a simple star topology with one smart switch and a lot of dumb ports. The key is good fiber between buildings and good cable into the classrooms for the Access Points. Running good cable up front will save tons of issues down the road. I’ve seen too many districts spend a ton of money on expensive networking equipment and advanced feature sets they did not need only to plug it in to “net day” grade wiring with disastrous results. Overspending on hardware is another symptom of a dysfunctional support system where the people designing the network and recommending the equipment to buy are also the ones selling it and installing it.

    With our small district, we went a different route. We installed a Meraki Access Point in every classroom. Now day to day wireless network management is handled by an enthusiastic “techie teacher” who had all of 30 minutes of training with the dashboard. Thanks to the simplification of network management that Meraki brings to the table, the teacher was easily able to setup SSIDs for an edtech event hosted at the school for over 100 educators. For a school that usually only has 180 students and a dozen teachers on campus, to be able to setup and run an edtech event with no wifi issues is a testament to how easy it has become to provide enterprise grade service without paying a fortune for support.

    Our next upgrade will include a Meraki switch in every IDF and over time, our techie teacher will continue to learn more about supporting the network from the dashboard. He’s always just a Google Hangout away from support if he needs it, but by reducing the complexity of the network down to a few key components, the level of troubleshooting required when things don’t work is greatly reduced.

    Google Apps for Education

    Because with limited support staff, there is no reason to run a local email server. Ever. For our small school, we moved all users off of AD and into Google Apps for Education. Every user can now be managed from the Google Apps Admin Panel. Adding/removing and changing accounts is easy. The only thing required is an Internet connection. Before we made this change, users were locked down on their desktops and complicated Active Directory settings made handing off account support to a teacher impossible. Google support is now just a phone call away if needed. Going Google is a no-brainer for a small district.

    Teacher Devices

    One of the most difficult things to overcome when being serviced by an outside support vendor is the “lockdown”. Locking down systems makes support easier, because it limits what people can do to their computers and in a business environment that can wait a week for flash updates, it makes sense. However, in the classroom, where technology needs to work or it will become a barrier to learning instead of an accelerator, locked down may as well mean locked out. Teachers need control of their device. They need the freedom to install apps, run updates and use their devices at home, even if that means messing it up.

    Our small district was struggling with all of these challenges, so we removed all staff computers from the Active Directory domain and moved them to local admin accounts. Combined with migrating all of their file storage to their Google Apps for Education Drive account, we effectively eliminated the need for Active Directory in the district and gave teachers full control over their device, both at school and at home.

    Student Devices

    Desktops don’t qualify as student devices. Computer labs don’t qualify as student devices. Virtual Desktops (VDI) do not qualify as student devices. Student devices are mobile, personal and available where and when students need them. There are a few options that work well with limited support. The most full featured option, but one that requires a leap of faith, is the ubermixed notebook. Ubermix is a linux operating system that provides a full featured computing environment that is so easy to deploy and support, any middle school student can learn how to do it in under 10 minutes. Ubermix has the added advantage of having local apps that will work without Internet access, a big consideration for many small, rural school districts where student access is a challenge.

    Of course chromebooks and iPads (or android tablets) are out there. I would advocate for any mobile device solution that put access into every student’s hands. However, for small and rural with limited support and home Internet access challenges, #ubermix wins, hands down.

    Tech Support

    My goal is always to design for simple and self-sufficiency. Choosing solutions that have “enough” features, are easy to manage and can be supported with low-mid level skills is critical. Providing a “support in depth” strategy, from student tech helpers that can image ubermix laptops, to techie teachers that can do basic troubleshooting and be remote hands for onsite tasks, paired with knowledgable experts with advanced troubleshooting and school planning experience, provide a school focused, self-sufficient support model that cannot be matched by simply outsourcing to a traditional IT services company.


    Of all the areas where small schools have the biggest uphill challenge with integrating technology into their classrooms, professional development is it. The challenges of geographic isolation, funding and local resources are monumental. However, there is hope. I recently attended a fist annual edtech summit hosted in a very remote county in northern California (Go Siskiyou!). It was awesome. To see so many local educators come from across the geographically dispersed county for a day of edtech learning was incredible. It shows that where there is a will, there is a way.

    For small school districts, the key to growing edtech adoption in classrooms is making connections. The best way to do that in the beginning is to go to edTech events. Starting with traditional edtech conferences is good. Branching out in to non-tradtional (like edCamps) is better. The point is to go out and see and learn from what others are doing. For rural districts, it might mean a 6 hour drive but it will be worth it. Getting teachers excited about technology requires that they see what is possible with it. That’s a hard proposition in isolation. Connect, make new friends, continue the learning through twitter, Google Hangouts and the Internet. PD is an investment that pays dividends down the road.


    None of what I’ve listed above is a one and done deal. It all requires continuous reflection, ongoing care and feeding and a growth mindset. There will always be a need for more bandwidth, the wireless infrastructure will need to evolve to keep up with newer, faster devices. Student devices will wear out and become more trouble than they are worth to try and keep them running, teacher devices will need to be refreshed so that teachers can do what they need to without worrying about wether or not their computer will work when they need it, tech support needs will evolve with the environment, PD will need to be a continuous journey of learning, not a one stop shop, but Google Apps will be forever! Districts cannot afford to let their technology become static. A long range vision, paired with an evolving strategy and regular reflection will allow for adaptation and evolution.

    To sum all this up, small school districts have a tremendous opportunity to embrace the edtech revolution. The technology available today makes it possible to shift the support paradigm on it’s head and put the power of technology into the user’s hands. There is no reason why small school districts should not have the same educational technology learning opportunities for their students as big city districts do. We are disintermediating the traditional IT stack to move support down as close to the end user as possible. Just in time, where and when it is needed.

    Making the shift will take some vision, some strategy and a different way of thinking about IT support, but it can be done. I know because I’ve done it and it’s a sad day when I see a small district’s potential being stifled by outside consultants that don’t understand what technology in schools is all about.

    Of course all of this falls apart at scale where the trick is in seamlessly leveraging complexity to make everything appear to be simple and easy to manage.

  • Andrew T Schwab 8:45 am on September 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    How Much Tech Support Is Enough 

    I wish there was a simple answer to Robert’s questions, but unfortunately, estimating the proper level of IT staff in K-12 education is more dark arts than solid science. I will try to share my thinking on the matter, having experience with evaluating and building out IT support organizations in both private sector and California K-12 districts.

    Let’s start to answer Robert’s question by looking at staffing levels. Device to tech staffing ratios vary widely across districts. I have seen anywhere from 500:1 to 1000:1 and even higher. What straight up device to tech ratios miss are factors such as the distance between schools, number of computer labs per school, number of mobile devices vs. fixed desktops vs. virtual desktops vs. iPads, device age, dispatch or site based support models, tech skill levels and many more.

    For an end user support staff recommendation, rather than calculate a ratio of device to tech, I prefer to use a school based calculation (with the major assumption being we are moving towards a one device per student environment and will all get there eventually). Up until recently, those staffing level recommendations looked like this:

    • 1 Site Tech per High School
    • 1 Site Tech per 2 Middle Schools
    • 1 Site Tech per 3-4 Elementary Schools

    By Site Tech, I am talking basic break/fix troubleshooting, printer add/move/change, phone connectivity and desktop application support. Server and network support is a different staffing discussion entirely. This is purely end user, site based (in the classroom or office) technical support. Unfortunately, the above numbers always represented a significant increase in most district’s technical support staffing levels and sadly more telling, in my opinion even these levels really aren’t sufficient to properly support a Future Ready, 21st Century Learning Organization (also known as schools in the year 2015).

    If we are going to ask teachers to integrate technology into their everyday learning activities, if we are going to ask them to relay on technology for their core workflows, if we are going to ensure students have the skills to leverage the access to information made possible by technology, then what I have come to realize is that we have to provide support for the technology when and where it is being used (or where we want it to be used). And that would be in the classroom, at the school site.

    The problem with the above recommendations then is the 2, 3 or 4 schools per technician. Sharing tech support isn’t realistic in a technology rich environment. Technology failures, if not addressed in a timely manner (minutes, not hours, hours and not days) will crush any large scale technology adoption. If the tech doesn’t work even just one time, the hurdle to getting that teacher to try it again is immense but instant (or near-instant) support can help mitigate that reaction. In my district, we recently addressed the onsite support issue by re-defining and expanding the Library Media Tech role to include site tech support responsibilities. We now have a site tech per school.

    This gets us site based support for “just in time” triage but it still leaves open gaps in coverage due to illness, vacation and limited skill sets. To fill in these gaps, we’ve taken a”defense in depth” approach by maintaining existing levels of support. We left in place our district level Site Techs who had been supporting all users across the district. Instead of being the first responders to triage support issues, they now provide escalation, coverage and on the job training to the school site techs on a more proactive basis. Our end user tech support layers now look like this:

    • 1 6 hour, 10 Month Library/Media Site Tech per Elementary School
    • 1 8 hour, 10 Month Site Tech per Middle School
    • 3 8 hour, 12 Month District Site Techs (1 per 2 Middle Schools+ the District Office and 1 per 3 Elementary Schools)

    What does this level of staffing mean for us? It means we have responsive support for every teacher (regardless of number or type of device) at every school site, in every classroom. It means we can be proactive in making sure teachers and students technology is working. It means teachers are not waiting on their schools “site tech day” to have their support issue looked at. It means technology can become seamless because teachers know that if something does go wrong, someone will be there when they need them to help them get through it.

    To Robert’s second part regarding staffing for GAFE vs. Microsoft, I’m not going to get into how choosing one platform over another can reduce the need for tech support, primarily because those arguments are generally used to justify not having enough tech support to support teachers when and where they need it in the first place.

    Yes iPads are deployment beasts, and yes Chromebooks are easy (and easy to swap out when they don’t work, and when you have 5,000, some don’t work) but the differences between supporting different platforms these days is less about numbers and more about skill set and environmental (network, server and directory) complexity. Lower skill sets and higher complexity = slower responses, less adaptability and more support resources required. Higher skill sets and less complexity = faster responses, more adaptability and fewer support resources required (or an opportunity to re-direct resources to support classroom learning)

    Going chromebooks over ipads or ipads over windows laptops isn’t going to reduce the number of printer tickets (it might actually increase them) or cut down on the number of projector support calls (again, if more people are using tech, the “ancillary” support calls are going to increase).

    Providing appropriate levels of support for school technology really comes down to customer service, not device to technician ratios. If Teachers feel like their support needs are being met in a timely and satisfactory way for them to be comfortable integrating technology on a regular basis, then you have enough support. If they feel like nothing ever works, or gets fixed in a timely manner or using technology is just “frustrating”, then you don’t.

    Are staffing levels like these realistic for every district? Like the affordability of 1:1 learning, the answer comes down to priorities. If building future ready learning environments is important, then merely providing devices isn’t enough. The support structures need to be in place for teachers to be successful.

    Don’t even get me started on how much edTech PD is enough…


    • Mike Vollmert 9:51 am on September 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Don’t even get me started on Ubermix over OSX / Windows and support required.

      • Andrew T Schwab 7:32 pm on September 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Don’t you have a ‘meter for that somewhere?

  • Andrew T Schwab 8:30 am on September 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    The GAFE vs. MS Question For K-8 

    My thoughts on GAFE vs. MS for a small(ish) K-8 district…

    We are a 5600 student K-8 district. We are Microsoft (MS) Windows and MS Office for the Business and school office folks but we are GAFE district wide for email/calendaring and online Docs. We did not go the O365 route. If staff want docs in the cloud, GAFE is the platform. We are MacBook, MS Office for Mac and GAFE on the instructional staff side. MacBooks are not in AD. For students, we are MS free with GAFE on Chromebooks grades 2-8 (with the exception of some legacy Windows n-Computing devices I try not to think about). We are moving towards iPads in K-1. We use #ubermix (Linux) for Minecraft at the Middle Schools.

    We are, in effect, a multi-platform, OS agnostic environment. Each platform has it’s strengths and I believe we are using each one where it is best suited to be used, however, the unifying element across all of them is GAFE. We are all in it, everyday and that does make a big difference. It was a bit more work on the backend initially, but now it’s just the way it is. We continually look for ways to “manage” less.

    A few more thoughts for Robert’s particular case study:

    • Go all in with GAFE. Why support Exchange, AD and Office on the Instructional side if you are already paying in the Google playground? When you get to 1:1, 95% of your “users” will be in the classroom, go with the collaborative web based platform that works best for learning (that would be GAFE, in case you missed the hint).
    • Upgrade those old teacher laptops. Like yesterday. You can’t teach with tech on 8 year old crap. The Internet will break, and often.
    • Go free willy with teacher laptops. Why tie them to AD if they are using Google Apps? Laptop “Management” and “Control” suck time and resources. If a teacher hoses a laptop, re-image, login to GAFE, done. Better yet, buy them MacBooks (or Chromebooks!).
    • You effectively have 4-6 “labs” per school. The more the carts move, the faster the wear and tear and support needs go up. Staff up end user tech support at the school sites to support increased technology use. Go part time if you have to, but make it available every day. Backfill them with district dispatched support.
    • Replace any desktop that is over 5 years old (3 year old refurbs with 5 year warranties are cheap). Or better yet, swap them out for Chromebooks, Chromebases or Chromeboxes. Basically, anything ChromeOS!
    • Get rock solid Wifi. If you can’t add a new SSID in under a minute, you can’t adapt your network fast enough to deal with 1:1 mobile devices in a K12 environment. Stuff comes up at school sites. We’re rebuilding the plane in mid air, we don’t have weeks to make things happen, we have minutes.
    • MDM those iPads. Then, strategically buy some teachers sets of android tablets. They aren’t as flashy, but they are way easier to manage.
    • Think “Cloud Based” and “Hosted” whenever possible. It’s easier to focus on the needs of the classroom with less servers around.
    • Cisco isn’t a four letter word, but it should be for small K-12 schools. Cisco anything = time, complexity and money. Small districts should run for the hills when the Cisco people come knocking. But Cisco Meraki is another thing entirely.
    • Do EdTech PD like crazy.

    All you really need to build the environment for transforming learning for kids is decent bandwidth, rock solid Wifi, good teacher laptops, a device for every kid and site based support (both tech and edTech). Done.

  • Andrew T Schwab 8:00 am on August 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    The Meraki Sandwich 

    Our upgrade to 10Gb on the LAN is nearly complete. With the exception of one fiber run that refuses to support 10Gb (I suspect it has something to do with the 50′ fiber patch cable being used to get from the IDF to the fiber panel), we are up and running. A major relief given all of our OM1 rated multi-mode fiber (read, old and slow and 62.5nm and 10Gb = bad!).

    Thank goodness for the 10Gb LRM! Designed to make old 62.5 multi mode fiber run 10Gb out to distances of 220m, these miracle modules have done the trick. We do have a few MDF links that are +.1-.5 dbm hot on the receiving side, but no link errors to date and we are planning to add some attenuation to those links shortly. It looks like the Cisco 4500X is more sensitive than the Meraki MS320 switches.

    Speaking of which, we’re running in a configuration I’ve started calling the Meraki Sandwich. We have a Cisco 4500X core switch connected at 10Gb to the Meraki MS320 IDF switches with our previous 3750X switch stacks hanging off of the Merakis at 1Gb. Since most of our heavy use is over Wireless, relegating phones and printers to a 1Gb uplink should be fine. It’s working great now. I wish I could say that was the case last week.

    Some interesting things happen when you break the laws of nature and sandwich a Meraki switch in between two Cisco switches (and yes, I know the Meraki switch says Cisco on it, but it’s a lie!).

    First, Cisco switches require Mode Conditioning Patch (MCP) Cables with 10Gb LRM modules. Meraki switches do not. Good luck finding this in the documentation. We discovered it when we could not for the life of us get a Cisco to link up to a Meraki over 10Gb using MCP cables on both sides. That almost ended our project real quick. After much head scratching and a few days wasted troubleshooting, we decided to rotate through different module and cable combinations, and low and behold, Meraki + 10Gb LRM SFP (Meraki or Cisco brand) with a regular SC-LC fiber patch cable connected to a Cisco + 10Gb LRM SFP with a Mode Conditioning Patch Cable on the other end worked!

    The next thing we ran into was missing VLANs. Yes, missing. This problem almost sunk us. Intermittently, our staff and student VLANs would stop working. We saw this manifest as clients connecting to Wifi, pulling an IP address and DNS settings from the DHCP server and then disappearing from the network. It was happening sporadically across the district which took us a few days to identify. Thankfully, we could consistently reproduce the symptoms in one IDF and we began troubleshooting in earnest.

    At first we suspected our VLAN trunks were having issues. We reviewed them across the district, both on the switches that were “working” (or we didn’t see connectivity issues with) and those that were not. Frustratingly, we would confirm a working wing one day only to come back later and find the clients unable to connect in that wing later. After going round and round on our VLAN trunk settings, we finally decided something else had to be causing the problem and started looking deeper.

    Unfortunately, we were running up against hosting a County edtech day at one of our Middle Schools on the Friday before teachers officially came back. Since there was an expectation that the wifi would work for the event and we had narrowed the problem down to something related to the 3750X stack hanging off the Meraki, the night before the event we reconfigured the network, directly patching the Cisco stacks in the IDF through to the 4500X in the MDF. Luckily we just had enough free ports on the 4500X to cover the wings where we were hosting the event. That and using the Meraki NAT option for the event SSID got us through the day. I love the Meraki NAT option for event SSIDs. Totally awesome!

    We continued troubleshooting on Saturday. Having narrowed down the issue to the interaction between the 3750X and the Meraki MS320, we used the packet capture tools built into the Meraki to see what was going on. Actually, throughout the entire ordeal, having the visibility provided by the Meraki dashboard was invaluable.

    Our next step was to strip all the proprietary cisco protocols off of the 4500X and 3750X switches. We removed EIGRP and went to good old fashioned static routes. We removed QoS and Multi-cast routing and anything else that looked like it might cause a problem with the Meraki switches. And just when we thought that was it, the problem persisted.

    The next thing we tried was the MTU setting. Since we were seeing packets leave the MS320 but not come back, we figured maybe the Cisco core switches were dropping packets for some reason. It turns out that the default MTU setting for Meraki switches is 9600. However, the default for Cisco, even on 10Gb links, is 1500. While they should play well together, with the Meraki 9600 sized packets being chopped up into 1500 sized packets (and all seemed to be working fine with most switches), we decided to play it safe and set the Meraki MTU to 1500. This required a switch reboot. Again, we let it sit overnight, came back and things looked good. Until they didn’t and the issues persisted. (Having read up on MTU and Jumbo fames, we’ve decided to leave all switches at 1500, the performance gain on regular network traffic not being enough to justify having to reconfigure every cisco switch at this time).

    After days of staring at configurations, we were getting crossed eyed. We had ruled out problems with the DHCP server, routing protocols, Access Point configs, clients, switch configs, pretty much everything, and yet we were still seeing the issue. I was ready to bypass the Meraki switches entirely while we continued to work through the issue with Cisco and Meraki support (an interesting back and forth experience to be sure).

    And then, in our darkest hour, out of the light came VTP. On Saturday, while rebooting a cisco switch for the upteenth time, one that had just been cleaned of any cisco proprietary protocols from the running config, there, staring at us on the screen was VTP. Cisco’s proprietary VLAN Trunking Protocol. Enabled, by default, but hidden from view in a show run command, VTP allows cisco switches to communicate VLAN information between each other. And apparently when there is a non-cisco switch in the middle, odd things can happen. Like in the Meraki Sandwich. As soon as we disabled VTP (put it into transparent mode) on the Cisco 4500X, no more missing VLANs.

    As it turns out, the Meraki wasn’t playing nice with the Cisco’s active VTP traffic and VLANs were intermittently being dropped. This is a known issue with Cisco VTP domains and Meraki switches. So on the Saturday night, the weekend before Teachers started the new school year, we disabled VTP on all of the Cisco switches, put the Middle School network back together and called it a day. High value, high impact 10Gb LAN upgrade project saved after a week of intense troubleshooting.

    We’re now running with the Meraki Sandwich at 10Gb to every IDF. Had we not been up against the start of school deadline, this would not have been as stressful, but our cable project got off to a late start and faced several delays along the way, which meant we weren’t in a position to discover this issue until just two weeks before the start of school. The time crunch added to our unfamiliarity with 10Gb networking (it’s slightly more involved than 1Gb) and the Meraki/Cisco interoperability configurations made for a challenging two weeks.

    And before you ask, yes, we did pilot this configuration prior to going on all in and we thought we had all the configuration issues sorted out. But when doing a complete network overhaul, you never really know what you’re going to find until you’re in the weeds.

    So that’s the Meraki Sandwich. If you are thinking about taking advantage of the affordable 10Gb options from Meraki while gaining the awesome network visibility of the Dashboard and leveraging existing Cisco switches and 62.5nm fiber in the process, read the links below. They will save you some headaches along the way.


    10Gb LR SFP –

    VLANS –

    MTU Settings –

    VTP –


  • Andrew T Schwab 8:00 am on August 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    All Tech All The Time? 


    This is in response to a question that Robert Pronovost recently asked me about how much technology should be used in the classroom. My initial answer was that technology should be used when it’s needed and that we shouldn’t expect to see technology being used all the time in classrooms. After pondering on this a bit more, I think that was a safe answer. It’s an answer that doesn’t reflect the world we live in and leaves room for some to say, we’re learning, so we don’t need technology. Well…

    We like to talk SAMR from the teacher’s perspective but I think technology in the classroom needs to start with the students. Having access to 1:1 devices has the potential to transform how students learn. Technology does not replace; technology enhances, augments, and accelerates. Technology is a disruptor, it eliminates the middle man from traditional models. In the classroom, the middle man is the textbook, the worksheet. the memorization of facts and yes, even the summative assessment.

    I am going to take a very student centered view on this answer and say that technology should be used whenever students need it. Just like we do in real life.

    The challenge is, what does that really mean for the classroom? I think it means that whenever a student needs information they should be able to use technology to access resources to look it up. Those resources might be the Internet, a social network or their friend in the next classroom. I also think it means teachers need to model this behavior for their students. 

    Artificially restricting a student’s access to information, their social network or their peers is a purely 20th century concept of learning. Providing a sheet of paper (or text book, digital or otherwise) that students then use to “find” and copy information into a worksheet is tantamount to teaching malpractice in the digital age. Students need real skills if they are going to develop fundamental digital literacy. Nobody outside of a classroom looks for answers in a textbook. Today, online information search, acquisition and retrieval is critical for college, career and life long learning. In every 1:1 classroom, how students access information should be radically different.

    The same can be said for creating content. While paper and pencil shouldn’t necessarily disappear, the power of a 1:1 classroom to create content for a broader audience, beyond the teacher and the classroom is another critical literacy in the digital economy of today. No matter how student work is created, whether online or on paper, technology should be leveraged in the classroom to share with the outside world. Technology should be used to expand student audience to other classes on campus, to parents and community, and across the globe. A picture is worth a thousand words, sharing a picture of a student project with a broader audience, on a regular basis, in a safe classroom environment, will prepare students for the world of online sharing that awaits them outside of school.

    Using online tools instead of traditional paper/pencil activities lends itself to fostering collaboration especially if students are using a collaboration suite like Google Docs where the teacher can provide feedback in real time. Students can easily work collaboratively on projects across time and space as they learn to navigate the anytime, anywhere learning that is another fundamental literacy of today’s digital age.

    The more I think about it, the more I believe that the core backbone of instruction should be built around a digital ecosystem with digital workflows using the technology we have available today to access information and create content across the “curriculum”. I think students need fundamental digital literacy skills to be successful, self sufficient, lifelong learners and those sills cannot be learned without ubiquitous access to technology.

    Why education chooses to focus so much on content vs. learning has always puzzled me. Facts are free, ideas cost money. We spend so much money on facts (curriculum) instead of ideas (pedagogy, professional development, learning to learn) and then we spend even more money assessing content knowledge over the knowledge to learn. It’s kind of crazy actually.

    In every 1:1 classroom, the expectation should be that students use technology to access information through online resources and social networks, to collaborate with their peers and content experts, to create and share their ideas, thoughts and projects with the world. And all of this requires that we teach kids how to do this, responsibly, safely and effectively which means, we need teachers to model and teach these skills as well.

    To make this happen, Teachers need digital workflows, frameworks and scaffolding. I believe this is where the focus of teacher professional development should be, instructional practice with technology infused into the process. Districts that still separate content area instruction from educational technology are missing the point. It’s all about good instruction, and today, that means technology infused instruction, where students choose when and how to use technology to empower their learning.

    Thanks to Robert for making me think about this because it’s certainly a timely topic and as we push more technology into classrooms and have discussions about what that technology use should look like, I think it’s important that we take on these big questions.

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