Just as an FYI… We are still active! We know its been awhile since we’ve posted anything but we’ve been a bit busy… with the winter testing window opening up November first we thought we should update the testing info page. The nice thing is, there just isn’t that much to do on it! We are all very hopeful and encouraged Measured Progress is going to live up to expectations and we are looking forward to an “uneventful” testing window… The other nice thing is the CTB/McGraw Hill Tab has been DISABLED! This truly is a great Thanksgiving…
(The following is a post by @Tony_Chauncey and his views are in no way reflective of the official views of his employer!)
These are, of course, my thoughts, and not those of my employer or any other technology director in the universe.
I live in a small town. Most of my girlfriend’s paternal family lives in the next small town over. Therefore, we spend a significant amount of time in the next small town over. The only fast food place in the next small town over is a drive in. We’ll call it the Blue Devil Drive In. In general, I like to eat at drive ins. They’re an Oklahoma company with decent food that seems to contain decent ingredients. I told you all of that to tell you this… While it’s incredibly convenient to stop at the Blue Devil Drive In and grab a burger, I’d rather drive fifteen miles north to a slightly larger town (and fifteen miles out of my way) to go to the Tornado Drive In or some other place than go the Blue Devil Drive In. Why? Because every damned time I go there, I leave angry. It either takes forever (which defeats the purpose of fast food) or they screw up our order. I don’t tell you this to discourage you from going there; I’m sure that many people could tell you great things about the Blue Devil Drive In. I tell you this so that you know how I like to go about my business, and why it bothers me so much that we continue to use CTB/McGraw Hill for online state testing in Oklahoma. Two Words: CUSTOMER SERVICE.
The state of Oklahoma has a $13.5 million per year contract with CTB/McGraw Hill to provide online testing. I personally believe that this is way too much, but that’s not the point of this post. I’m sure that if CTB/McGraw Hill provided a reliable, consistent mechanism for administering tests, no one (myself included) would bat an eye at this number. They, however, do not provide anything resembling a reliable, consistent mechanism.
I’m not talking about the catastrophic failure that was the result of CTB/McGraw Hill’s overselling of their service in the spring of 2013. While that was ridiculously egregious and should have been enough to get Oklahoma’s State Department of Education to cancel it’s contract with CTB/McGraw Hill before this year started, it’s still not what I’m talking about. After that debacle, the OKSDE and CTB/McGraw Hill came to an agreement on a $1.2 million settlement, which not surprisingly resulted in additional time away from class for students and tons of extra work for Oklahoma’s School Technology Staffs, but did not actually test what needed to be tested. It did not test CTB/McGraw Hill’s ability to handle multiple states worth of students testing on their servers simultaneously, which is what caused last year’s two-day disruption. Of course, we don’t care whether CTB/McGraw Hill can provide testing for several states worth of students at once. If we did, we’d test it. Remember, “If you don’t test it, you don’t care about it.” But, again, this isn’t what I’m talking about.
In my district, all computers used for testing on any particular day go through the same process: 1) Start (or Restart) the computer; 2) Login with credentials used only for testing; 3) Student takes the test. This happens every morning. We do these things so that every computer is at the same point every morning. We have a very stable network. While we may not have all the bells and whistles that some do, I’d put our network up against anyone’s. We use all Cisco equipment, most of which has been upgraded in the last couple of years. But, again, this isn’t what I’m talking about.
What I am talking about is the constant “Please Wait…” and other communication related errors seen on CTB/McGraw Hill test clients. These messages are disruptive to students and frustrating to technology staff. Why, if I have two identical computers sitting right next to one another, does one work and one doesn’t? If computer A never worked and computer B always worked, I’d think the problem was with computer A. However, that has never been the case. Computer A might work one minute and computer B might fail, and vice versa the next minute. If computer A is working and allows a student to begin a test, why might it fail in the middle while the entire rest of the lab works just fine the entire way through the same test? We don’t have these issues on any other software used in the district. If you’re reading this, I’m probably not telling you anything that you don’t already know.
The real problem here is customer service. Why does CTB/McGraw Hill not care to put out a better product? Why do we continue to put up with this? Please wait… messages should be an anomaly, not the norm. But, I continue to hear things like “We had some issues, but it was better than last ye ar.” I hear these things from our Building Test Coordinators and on all three of the Oklahoma Technology Director Listservs of which I am a part. “Better than last year” isn’t nearly good enough. Seeing one Please wait… message should be cause for concern, but it’s become the norm. We continue to be happy with “better.” “Better” than awful isn’t worth $13.5 million per year. This is why I don’t buy burgers at the Blue Devil Drive In. If people continue to go to a place with awful customer service, that place has no reason to serve their customers better. CTB/McGraw Hill has no reason to perform any better. Our SDE appears content with this awful level of customer service, despite the increasing importance of these tests.
Perhaps the reason our SDE puts up with this level of customer service is that our SDE, under it’s current leadership, provides the same level of customer service. Amazing and dedicated people work at the SDE, but no organization can go from 500 employees to 300 employees in just a couple of years and be expected to maintain the same level of customer service for the same number of customers. Perhaps I’m wrong about this. Perhaps the SDE was a bloated organization. I don’t believe this was the case, though.
My first year in education, which was 2005, the district that I worked for was selected for an E-Rate Selective Review by the PIA at USAC. It was a pain. It wasn’t fun, but I gritted my teeth and did it. I ended up sending in about a ream of paper to answer all of their questions. I thought “Whew… Hopefully, I’ll never have to do that again.” I was wrong. The very next year, we were selected again. I was incredibly unhappy about it. Like, a lot unhappy. I wanted to know why we were selected in consecutive years. I called the education technology guy at the SDE (who is now a colleague). He called the SLD and got an answer for me. He probably should have made me do it myself, but he listened to me vent and did something about it for me. He called me back within a couple of days with an explanation. I felt like I had an advocate at the SDE. It was important to me.
The SDE, in it’s current incredibly slim form, doesn’t seem able or willing to answer questions that are, to me, incredibly important. I’ve emailed current SDE staff on multiple occasions about technology purchasing issues and I still don’t have any answers. I’ve not asked difficult questions. I just don’t get responses. Then, we have the Wave office. Remember when you could call the Wave office and talk to people who knew something about the Wave? Call them now and you might get a call back, in a week or two, maybe, from someone who doesn’t really seem to know much about the Wave.
It’s all about customer service. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about $15 worth of burgers, $13.5 million worth of testing software or contact from a governing body. It’s just customer service. It’s incredibly simple. People need to be held to higher standards and a high level of accountability. Like Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” As tax payers, parents and educators, we must stop settling for terrible service.
Director of Technology
I wrote this on Sunday night. Obviously, I also was not talking about the catastrophic failure that resulted in testing disruptions on Monday, April 21, 2014. This colossal failure looks to be more ridiculous than last year’s colossal failure. According to our State Department of Education,
“CTB said a piece of hardware – a DNS resolver – caused intermittent disruptions for about 8,100 students throughout the state. The failure affected both internal and external systems at the vendor.”
Wow… Where to start… First, does anyone know what a DNS resolver is? Also, how does a single piece of hardware cause a company that does 40% of this country’s online testing to be unable to deliver test sessions to students across the country? Does CTB/McGraw Hill not know about failover? It’s a pretty old concept. This explanation doesn’t seem to make much sense.
It’s another example of horrible customer service from CTB/McGraw Hill. Janet Costello Barresi says that she will not endorse keeping CTB/McGraw Hill as our online testing vendor for next year. Why did she recommend keeping them this year? Perhaps Mr. Einstein could shed some light on the matter…
About the February 28th stress test, according to an Oklahoma State Department of Education employee,
“(T)he stress test did take place in other states at the same time of the same day.”
This is the first time that I have heard this. We were told all along that the purpose of the stress test was to test the ability of districts to give the tests and the ability of IPS’s to provide required bandwidth. We were explicitly told that CTB/McGraw Hill’s ability to deliver test sessions to students was never under fire. If other states gave the stress test on the same day at the same time, CTB/McGraw Hill would have done themselves a favor by telling us that. It would have alleviated at least some angst toward the SDE and CTB/McGraw Hill for requiring the stress test in the first place. This is yet another example of poor customer service from our SDE or our testing vendor. You decide.
(The following is a post by @jwbrigance and his views are in no way reflective of the official views of his employer!)
This is a pure opinion piece, although I tried to do as much research as possible. This is not an exhaustive comparison, in any sense. Also, to be completely forthcoming, I am a Microsoft fan. I have a Windows Phone [as does most of my family, since I am “in charge” of supporting them], a Surface tablet, an Xbox Music Pass for my wife and I, Xbox Live Gold subscription, Windows PCs, and the school I work at has Windows 7 throughout with Office 2010, and Windows Server 2008 R2 servers. Microsoft fan – check!
- Let’s start with the most important piece of information for schools: cost. Google Apps for Education (GAFE here on out) and Office 365 for Education are both completely free to schools. Both have added-cost options, but the majority of services that would impact teachers and students are free.
File Sharing: Free
Online document creation: Free
You get the idea. What are the added cost options for both services? Email archiving, Office mobile apps (Office 365), desktop versions of Office (Office 365), voice services (Office 365) are all extra. Google also charges $30/device for Chromebook management. Office 365 does not include a management portal for devices at all – Microsoft does offer an MDM solution, but it is not tied to Office 365.
- The next key item for schools is email. Both services offer full-fledged email services, including lots of storage space, shared contacts, shared calendars, and the ability to use your own domain name.
GAFE: 30GB of storage space per user
Office 365: 50GB of storage space per user
Spam Filtering: Yes, for both.
Support for mobile email: Yes, for both.
Offline email (read and write email without an Internet connection): yes on both (kind of) Microsoft offers full support for this, with GAFE offering the capability only in Chrome.
Archiving: Yes, for both. (extra cost)
Email reliability: Google does not explicitly give what their uptime is, although for most users, we would say it’s never down. Microsoft’s services don’t go down for the most part either, but if you want a guarantee from Microsoft, you do have to pay for it by stepping up to the A3 plan.
- An item that any school looking at a 1:1 initiative should consider is document creation. This affects both teachers and students, because collaboration between both parties can be done by both services.
GAFE: includes Docs (word processor), Sheets (spreadsheets), Slides (presentation editor), and the ability to read and edit documents created on these from any web browser, on most any device.
Office 365 for Education: includes Word Online (word processor), Excel online (spreadsheets), PowerPoint Online (presentation editor), and the ability to read and edit documents created on these from any web browser. However, if you have Office on your computer, you can create and edit documents there and sync them back and forth as you see fit. Considering almost every school has Office already, and it is the standard by which documents are created (ever try having one of your advanced documents created on another service not transfer correctly to Office? See the benefit of having true Office to begin with?), this is a huge tool for schools.
- The next service that will impact any 1:1 initiative, and will change the way classrooms operate if integrated correctly, is file sharing. This ties in almost all of the above services. This service alone offers:
- Collaboration – users that have created or uploaded documents to the online drive can share the document with other users, or groups, or even publicly. Students or teachers can work on the document at the same time, making changes on the fly that replicate out to other users.
- Grading – teachers can share a document with students, allowing the students to edit the document, and then the students can send that document back to the teacher for grading purposes. Some teachers have found ways to have an automated grade (exams, pop quizzes, etc.) so that when the students input their answers and send it back to the teacher, the document is already graded and ready for the teachers’ gradebook.
GAFE: Google offers Google Drive, a 30GB drive for each user (expandable as an extra cost). Files created or uploaded to Drive can be accessed from anywhere a user has Internet access, from almost any device.
Office 365 for Education: Microsoft offers OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), a 25GB drive for each user. Files created or uploaded to OneDrive can be accessed from anywhere a user has Internet access, from any device.
This next part is when my opinion really shows through. It relates to the above, but is significant for those schools looking to integrate the technology they purchase with either GAFE or Office 365.
This is where Google walks all over Microsoft. You can think about this multiple ways, but it boils down to this:
Chromebooks are cheap. Literally. The school I work for just purchased 30 + accidental damage for each for less than 15 iPads. Not iPads + accidental damage. Just iPads. No covers, keyboards, app vouchers, etc. The entire cost of the Chromebooks and accidental damage was cheaper than just 15 Pad Airs.
Professional Development in OK centers on GAFE. This one is huge. This is the main reason that the school I work at chose to migrate all of our main services to GAFE. What use is Office 365, and its main advantages over GAFE (mainly Office compatibility), if schools can’t find a good way to learn how to use it?
Let me dig more in to detail into both points here. With both GAFE and Office 365 for Education, students and teachers are given a login to those services. With both Chromebooks and any Windows 8 machine, students and teachers can log on and receive a customized interface for them. Students only see what they have created in Docs, Sheets, or Slides, or what was shared with them. Students only see their email. The same goes with Windows 8. However, most Windows 8 tablets or computers are nowhere near as fast or as cheap as a Chromebook. Put the blame where you want, it’s just the way it is right now.
If you mention Windows 8 machines, IT people automatically think about domains, group policy, etc. So, in this case, the Windows 8 machine would have to have Windows 8 Professional. RT and 8 Core do not connect to domains. So, the pricing of those machines that can handle Windows 8 Pro is much, much higher than a Chromebook.
Take away the need for Windows 8 Pro, and, for the most part, you’re still not in the ballpark pricing-wise as a Chromebook. A Surface 2 (not Pro, just 2) is $449. This machine has 2GB of memory, and 32GB of storage. The Chromebooks we just purchased (Acer C720) have 2GB of memory, and 16GB of storage. They cost $199. And, since they’re basically a glorified web browser, they are extremely fast. I’ve seen them boot to the log in screen in 2 – 3 seconds. Battery life is really good as well, around 10 hours per charge.
That’s a large difference for devices in schools. Because schools usually purchase in large amounts, a $250 difference multiplied by 100 could buy many more devices. Or lower the purchase price in case there weren’t enough funds.
I put some blame on IT people, and I’m pointing every finger at myself seeing as I am one. When we hear about iPads (or we purchase iPads), we don’t care if they won’t connect to the domain. Or work with Group Policy. If Android tablets or Chromebooks were rolled out throughout the school, we don’t care that they won’t work with Group Policy. But as soon as the word Windows is thrown out there, we just have to make sure it works on our domain. I have a Surface 2, and it connects just fine to my servers at school so I can get files from there. It doesn’t run older Windows programs, so I can’t get viruses like other Windows machines. It has Office built in, and it is a really fast machine. Do I care that it can’t connect to the domain, and that I can’t push policies out to it? No, because I can’t do the same with iPads or Chromebooks either.
If your school is blessed with a good MDM solution, then some of this is handled for you. But Chromebooks still beat Windows machines (cost wise) here, with Google’s option for a $30/device management console. I believe it just adds on to the Administration Console that you already have if your school is enrolled in GAFE.
The second point (Professional Development) may not be entirely accurate, but from what I have seen and heard, there’s not much talk about Office 365 out there. Businesses may talk about it, but not schools. Every EdCamp I have been to or read about always centers on GAFE. I’ve even heard some people talk about Office 365 not being an option because it costs. But it doesn’t. It’s free. The costs would be the same for Google for the same services (archiving is an example).
I guess what I’m saying is – don’t discount Microsoft. Look at both services equally. Look at where you want your school to be, and what devices and services you want your students to use. The decision you make will change the future. I mean that. Look at what Apple did to mobile. Google is doing the same thing, not just in mobile, but to devices and applications also. We may be on the verge of a major shift away from the current standard (Microsoft) to a whole different standard.
Currently, at my school, we have Chromebooks. And iPads. And Windows 7 machines. A few Windows 8 machines. A few Macs. Hardly any Androids, other than students’ phones. Students are on the verge of being able to pick up any device and get to work. This is a major shift – I’m surprised by how quickly it seems to be happening.
There are those relationships our brain has had to make the choice to end for our own good but the heart holds on to for a long time… That type of separation is like a slow burn of conflicting emotions that culminates in that last long passionate kiss goodbye. We know it’s the right thing to do but dang it hurts… But that kiss… That’s something…
To that end… We’ve been suckin’ face with Windows XP and the hardware it runs on far too long.
We must move on… We on the tech side of the school house are fully aware of this.
Where we move to though is a big expensive question and the paths to take still aren’t completely clear… We bought XP and we have ridden it very successfully for many years and we want to duplicate that success to get more bang for the buck… But bucks are hard to come by and trying to pick a path to accommodate a student’s needs for their education while being chained to the seemingly ever obscure requirements for state testing seems next to impossible. Plus, anything we buy today will never last as long as our XP boxes have… Google even tells you with a ChromeBook you basically have three or so years to use the device before it is “end of life”… Not the software… The device.
Flipping the switch on a commitment like this is huge but that’s exactly what needs to happen. And while I wouldn’t say “Pick this! This is the way to go!” because what I would suggest may not fit your district, I will say this… It is time to implement a plan and allocate money from whatever source to move on… However your district can do it.
1. Microsoft considers XP dead. It has for several years now… It will remain that way. As time progresses, the lack of support for XP from Microsoft will introduce security vulnerabilities into the network.
2. Early XP boxes have less computing power than some smart phones but yet we try to provide all things educational including state testing on them. Does it work today? Yep… barely and with effort and patience from a techie… Will it work in the future? No… The main reason is the more “Technically Enhanced” test questions of the future will be too big of a challenge for hardware bought in 2003. The tests are going to be difficult enough without having a student wait for a test question to “paint” onto the screen and respond to clicks. Testing as we all know, has become far too big of an influence on education and we should try our best to not let the tech be the weak link and get in the way of a kids performance.
—2a. Processor and memory hardware from the XP era may or may not work with future test clients regardless of what operating system they run.
—2b. The standard issue and affordable video card of the XP era is also going to have a real issue with future test clients because the amount of resources those clients will demand in order to render test question elements.
3. XP is far removed from any modern operating system. With XP we always said “What difference does an operating system make, its just a way of launching Word so you can type.” Not anymore… The modern operating system, regardless of which one, is a basis for not only interacting with those legacy type programs but also used for collaborating inside those programs and others in an effective way… Its a level of computing XP and the hardware it runs on was never designed for.
Replacing XP is no longer about keeping up with the “cool districts” who seem to get new tech constantly… It’s about making sure the tech associated with Education and accountability doesn’t get in the way of student performance.
Now that was interesting…
There is really no way to accurately describe EdCampOKC this past weekend that would do it much justice… I could tell you a bunch a fluffy stuff that might give you either the desire to go next time, wax nostalgically because you were there, or puke because platitudinous sounding phrases have that effect on you… It all depends on your particular personality disorder. So I won’t go there…
But here is where I will go…
First – To the people who put the many, many hours of their PERSONAL time and PERSONAL money into pulling Saturday off… Great job and thank you! You guys did good. Your efforts embodied everything that is good and works in #oklaed.
Second – While this is not an endorsement , because this blog actually does loosely represent a group of over 90 members,., I would like to say thank you Joy Hofmeister, Republican candidate for State Superintendent (@JoyHofmeister), for taking the time to see Oklahoma teachers in action. What you saw was a very small sampling of what is really happening in #oklaed. There are great things going on every day in Oklahoma schools, regardless of what my Republican party seems to think right now… (Ooops… might have slipped a bit there)
Third – I came away with a few things to consider for my district… But the one biggie I came away with is the importance of Tech Mentors in my district… There are many teachers who are still on the sidelines of tech for whatever reason. Some are there by choice. Some are there because we let them sit there. They want to get in the middle but its just daunting to look at such an absolutely huge landscape of possibilities and picking a place to even start. Identifying those teachers who actually use tech in there classroom, even just a little, to pair up with someone that wants a little guidance would go a long way to pull a teacher off the bench and into the tech game.
Assuming people are self motivated learners is a mistake we often make with students… I am guilty of assuming the same of teachers. Big pictures are great… But big pictures get started from a single small brush stroke…
Unless of course your starting out with “Happy Clouds”… That’s generally a bigger brush stroke… But I digress…
We herby declare, the day February 25th is set aside to honor those who are giving their lives to better education through the use of technology…
Yes, February 25th, from this day forward, will forever be known as:
TECH DIRECTOR’S DAY!
That’s right… If we have learned anything over the past several years in #oklaed, we have learned if you don’t toot your own horn once in awhile it won’t ever get tooted!
Plus, I’ll be darned if we will loose another generation of Tech Directors! We must save them by giving them Starbucks gift cards and maybe buying them lunch once a year!
We must let these dear overworked, and mildly cranky, individuals know they are appreciated! Otherwise, all these private companies who are showing such great interest in education right now, will realize what a great resource Oklahoma Education’s tech people are and start hiring them away!
Now… Why February 25th you may ask… Well that’s a good question…
First, it is the 56th day of the year in honor of the infamous Question 56. Question number 56, you may remember, was a question posed during state testing by CTB-McGraw Hill to a bunch of Junior High kids all across the state of Oklahoma that had no correct answer assigned to it as a choice… (#56) One of many defining moments CTB provide us in the Spring of 2013!
Second… and most importantly… it is the birthday of Zeppo Marx! Zeppo was born February 25, 1901 in New York City and started out playing the straight man to the rest of the Marx Brothers until he got tired of it and moved on. In his next career, he used his engineering skills to start up his own company in 1941 and is credited with the production of the bomb clamps used on the Enola Gay to carry and release the first atom bomb as well as a wristwatch used by heart patients to monitor their pulse. He was also known to be a musician, a commercial fisherman, a talent agent, and a couple of other things. For more info on Zeppo go here
Notice the diversity in Zeppo’s careers and interests? He was Multi-talented… He could work with a diverse group of people… He was a hard worker… He was good at more than one thing… He was the kind of guy who could identifying needs and then design a solution and implement it… Yes… Zeppo was a generalist! And a really good one!
So, it’s in the spirit of Zeppo, and his dedication to excellence in many disciplines we say:
Stand proud Oklahoma Tech Directors!
You Are Appreciated!
I’m not a weather professional… I’m more of a “Weather Generalist.” I do know enough to know there is a Zen art to actually coming up with what’s going to happen three or four days down the road. But if I could have done something different in life I would have been a meteorologist…
Or a ninja…
That being said, if you have never visited Mesonet.org and you are a classroom teacher or one of those people who get to make decisions based on severe weather you should check it out. There are several classroom resources and It’s a great tool to go along with the live coverage we get from our local weather outlets. Plus, it makes the weather channel information look silly.
Also on this site is a piece of free software called WeatherScope you will want to take a look at… Its basically your very own customizable weather map designed to give you the most recent weather info from all across Oklahoma… To check it out and download the software go HERE. My district has been using this program for the last few years to help make school closure decisions as well as assess other severe weather threats and have found it an important piece of our weather puzzle…
Because the map in WeatherScope is so customizable, it can be a little confusing until you find what you are looking for and figure out the software’s terminology for its element layers… The good news is, on the download page there are several different ready made scripts you can download and open up in the WeatherScope program to get you started… And if you want one that has a combination of several of those downloads you can get the one sponsored by oktechdirectors.com RIGHT HERE!
Play with both the site and the software a bit and then you can impress your family, co-workers, and the old farts at church with your meteorological ninja skills the next time a weather event happens!