Sunday, November 17, 2013

Questions about the new Google Terms of Service and GAFE

As you may already be aware, Google has recently made some changes to the Terms of Service for their Consumer Services. These changes allow users' Google+ profile information (name, +1s, reviews, comments) to appear in "Shared Endorsements". While Google has separate Terms of Service that covers Google Apps for Education, those terms only cover the "core services" of Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Sites and Vault. Non-core services like Google+, YouTube and Blogger are still covered under the Consumer Terms of Service.








I know that some districts and schools have been wondering if they should enable services like Google+ on their Google Apps for Education domains if it means that their users' information may appear in "Shared Endorsements" or even advertisements. That would be a shame because Google+ is such a terrific tool, especially considering the new Google Connected Classrooms initiative.

Rather than guess as to how the changes would impact schools and districts using Google Apps for Education, I contacted +Jordan Pedraza at Google directly to get clarification on the issue. Jordan emailed me back right away and here's what I found out:

  • The new "Shared Endorsements" feature of Google+ has NOT yet been enabled for Google Apps domains
  • When the "Shared Endorsements" feature is enabled for Google Apps domains, it will be OFF by default
  • Most importantly, domain administrators will also have options within the Admin Control Panel to prevent their end users from appearing in Shared Endorsements that Google displays as advertisements
So, Google is handling Google Apps accounts differently than consumer accounts and providing tools for organizations to prevent their users from appearing in ads. That being said, it's incredibly important for those of us managing Google Apps for Education services for our districts and schools to stay informed about any Terms of Service or Privacy Policy changes. It's also crucial to not be afraid to ask questions about any concerns you have or that are brought to your attention. In my own experience, I have found that whenever I have reached out to Google with a question or a concern, they have been very good about getting right back to me with information.

Thanks to +Vicki Davis for encouraging me to share this information with a wider audience.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Schools are NOT coffee shops

Lately, I've seen an increasingly popular meme on Twitter and "edtech" blogs echoing the same call to action; “if Starbucks and McDonald’s have the infrastructure to offer open WiFi access, why can’t schools?” This is a surprisingly glib and uninformed stance to take by anyone who claims to have educational technology expertise or experience. While I’m a strong proponent and advocate for open WiFi access for staff and students, school environments are not the same as coffee shops and fast food restaurants and it’s disingenuous to continue to make the comparison. Frankly, it’s just not that simple and I’m concerned about the messages being sent by some some of the edtech Twitterati.

Coffee

Let’s start with the most glaringly obvious difference between Starbucks and a K12 school; if Starbucks needs to upgrade their infrastructure or purchase new network hardware to facilitate offering WiFi access to their customers, they have the ability to raise revenue to do so. They are “for profit” enterprises. They can add a few cents to the cost of a cup of coffee to cover their costs without anyone blinking an eye. This is not the case with most public schools; they are unable (or prevented by law) from raising their own revenue. Yes, some schools are able to take advantage of Priority 2 E-Rate funds to improve their internal network infrastructure, but lots of schools do not come close enough to the poverty threshold (thank goodness) to make it even worth applying. Yes, parent and booster organizations can do some fundraising to help offset costs, but that is outside of the purview of the school. That means it’s up to the traditional yearly budget process, possibly capital improvement funds or a bond, to compete for the necessary funding for infrastructure upgrades. It’s well worth the effort to advocate for funds through this process, but it is neither as quick nor as simple as raising the prices of a frappucino.

Next, think about the amount of internet bandwidth necessary to support the users and their multiple devices utilizing the WiFi network. The typical coffee shop or fast food restaurant only needs to support a fraction of the concurrent users that a public school needs to consider (staff, students and visitors). Currently, some network vendors recommend planning for at least 3 connected devices per user. In a small high school of 700 students and 80 staff members, that means you need to have enough internet bandwidth to support 2,340 devices! You can look at packet and bandwidth shaping options, but these appliances tend to be very expensive and often beyond the expertise of school technology staff to install and configure. All the additional devices connected to the WiFi network also means that you need to plan for adequate internal network bandwidth. This may mean upgrading old Cat5 wiring to Cat5e/Cat6, installing or upgrading fiber optic backbones between network closets, upgrading existing switches to support PoE and gigabit speeds, and increasing switch port counts to accommodate the additional number of access points necessary to support the number of staff and student devices.

Let’s also think about the physical layout of a Starbucks or McDonald’s compared to that of a school. For the most part, the dining/seating area is fairly wide open with few (if any) walls or barriers to consider. All you need to think about is having enough access point density to support the maximum number of users. In a school, you have lots of concrete walls to consider when deploying access points, as well as possibly multiple floors and rows of metal lockers (i.e. giant WiFi signal reflectors) lining the hallways. This means that you may need to install more access points to effectively cover the physical area and provide the density to adequately support staff and students. You also need to consider that some spaces are multi-use (the infamous “cafetorinasium”) and you need to deploy enough access points in the proper density to support the maximum number of users that may use that space at any one time.

Consider also that the usage of a school network is very different than the WiFi network use at a coffee shop or restaurant. In a school, there are a wide variety of types of users that require different levels of access to resources on the network. Administrative staff members need access to student information systems, online IEP systems, financial systems, and human resource systems. Teachers need access to online gradebooks, student information system portals, and a wide array of educational resources (including YouTube). Students need to have access to all their learning resources and tools, while still being filtering according to district or school policy, even when using their own devices. All of this requires careful planning, proper network design, capable network equipment (from wireless access point, to switch, to router, to firewall, to content filter), and lots of discussion with various stakeholders about their needs and what the WiFi network should provide. As you can imagine, it can take time and lots of testing to get everything configured and working properly. Many times, the priority for schools is to get their “internal” WiFi network up and running first and then work on their open/guest/BYOD networks.

Quality of WiFi access being offered is also a key consideration in the planning process for schools. Not to be picky, but I don’t find that the quality of access that I get at a coffee shop or local restaurant to be all that great. I utilize Gmail and Google Docs quite a bit (including to write this blog post offline on a flight home from vacation) and I’m often disconnected multiple times while working at any of my favorite coffee/pastry chain locations. I also find that, depending upon how many people are online at once, the effective speed of the WiFi connection to be frustratingly slow. In addition, during my aforementioned vacation, my family and I attempted to utilize the WiFi access provided to registered guests at a brand-new Disney resort. All of us were using different devices (a Chromebook, a Nexus 7 tablet, a Kindle Fire, and a Nintendo 3DS) and we all had numerous issues with the reliability and performance of the connectivity. My wife became so frustrated that she stopped trying midway into our week long stay. So, if even Disney with all their resources struggles to get this right, why can’t we cut K12 schools a little slack and be patient while the planning and design process is in the works?

Lastly, districts and schools may need to consider updating their policies prior to offering open WiFi access to staff, teachers and students. What are the district’s responsibilities and liability if there are issues with how staff and students utilize the WiFi network with their own devices? What are the district’s responsibilities and capabilities to provide support? Should the district consider implementing some sort of network access control (NAC) solution to ensure that staff and students that unknowingly bring in infected or compromised devices don’t unintentionally cause problems for other users outside the district or school network? I would surmise that Starbucks and McDonald’s have much larger legal budgets than most K12 public school districts, so they can be less concerned with a legal issue depleting a budgetary line item or diverting resources from more crucial areas.

All of this being said, I firmly believe that schools absolutely should offer open/guest/BYOD WiFi access to staff, teachers and students. Connectivity and ubiquitous access to information are becoming the norm in our society and I do not think that schools should use any of the challenges listed above as excuses not to have a plan in place. We’re in the beginning stages of that plan in my own district and have had some success, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Let’s all continue to make the case for the importance of open WiFi access for teachers and students to the other decision and policy makers in our districts, schools, towns and cities. Let’s work together to advocate for the necessary resources for K12 schools to offer WiFi access to all members of the school community. Let’s make the time to talk with our colleagues that may still be harboring concerns or putting up roadblocks within their own districts. Let’s also stop making it seem that schools (or their technology staff) are inept because Starbucks is able to offer enough WiFi access for their customers to check their email or do some online shopping while sipping their triple latte.

Photo attribution, Timothy Boyd, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dyobmit/18588671/

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Replacement for the Google Listen app

Podcasts are a terrific source of information for both professional growth and personal entertainment. Since Google has cancelled their Listen podcast app, I've been searching for a new podcast app for Android. I listen to a LOT of podcasts, both at work and on the treadmill while I run, so it was really important to me to find an app that had the right mix of features and ease of use. While I know that Google Listen is far from perfect, I liked its easy to use interface (once you know its quirks) and the integration with Google Reader. The fact that it was free also didn't hurt.

I've been testing three different apps; DoggCatcher, Pocket Casts, and BeyondPod. Unfortunately, none of these apps are completely free (BeyondPod has a limited free version), so I needed to shell out a little money to give them all a fair test. Normally, I wouldn't buy an app just to test it out, but because podcast discovery and playback is so important to me, I made an exception.

After lots of testing, I've found that all three apps could get the job done, but with varying degrees of effort.

DoggCatcher turned out to be my least favorite of the three, mostly because of its cluttered and confusing user interface. I don't want to have to struggle to move around the app and learn its basic features. I think that, over time, I could get used to the interface and the app would be fine. Honestly, I just didn't want (or think I should) have to put in that much effort to learn to get around and use it.

The interface for Pocket Casts was much simpler than DoggCatcher and I was able to learn how to use the app pretty quickly. It also has the coolest icon of all three apps. I wasn't crazy about the red on black color scheme of the interface, but it wasn't a real issue. I really liked the fact that you can bring up an episode's "show notes" right from the player. What turned out to be a deal breaker for me was that you can't add a podcast episode to the playlist unless the episode is fully downloaded. I don't necessarily want to download every episode BEFORE I decide whether or not to add it to the playlist. Yes, I could just automatically download new episodes in the background, but that takes up storage space. Also, there weren't enough options on how to handle what happens when skipping past a playing podcast. My preference is to mark it as listened and remove it from the playlist.

My ultimate choice as the replacement for Google Listen is BeyondPod. Of the three apps I tested, it has the best balance of a good, simple to use interface and a complete feature set. I was able to learn how to navigate the interface fairly quickly and tweak all the settings to my liking (or at least what I'm used to from Google Listen). The Playlist works the way I would expect and I like the fact that I can even add episodes that are not downloaded. In fact, you can add episodes to the Playlist that you you never intend to download and would prefer to simply stream. The only feature that I really want that BeyondPod doesn't currently have is the ability to sync your progress and playlist between devices. Supposedly, this feature is in development. All in all, BeyondPod is an excellent podcast player and it will be what I use going forward.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stuff I brought to SchoolCIO and ISTE 2012

One of the toughest things I find about packing for conferences and events like the SchoolCIO Tech Summit and ISTE 2012 is figuring out what technology tools I need/want to bring. Obviously, some of the deciding factors are:
  • How long will I be away from home and the office?
  • How will I be traveling?
  • Will I be presenting/speaking at the event/conference?
  • What tools and services are available at the hotel and conference facilities?
  • Can I count on ubiquitous and reliable WiFi access?
Since this was a fairly long trip for me, both in time (8 days/2 events) and in distance (RI to CA), here is what I decided to bring and why.

Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook

During this trip, I expect to do lots of communicating with colleagues using Gmail and Twitter, writing a few blog posts, storing and accessing important travel information in Evernote, attending some sessions focused on Google Docs, and making a presentation using Google Docs, I decided that a Chromebook would be the perfect "main working" device. I am not a huge iPad (or tablet) fan when it comes to writing (the virtual keyboard is just OK) and I think that adding an external keyboard just creates an inferior netbook/notebook.

The Chomebook provides me with a very thin and light notebook that works very well for all the tasks that I listed above, as well as provides battery life that will last all day. My old Cr-48 Chromebook can be frustratingly slow at times, but this new model from Samsung is fast and smooth. I've even been testing the Chrome Remote Desktop Beta and it allows me to easily access a Windows 7 desktop back in my office if I need to respond to an emergency that can't wait until I return. Yes, I could also have brought an Ultrabook or a MacBook Air (I have neither), but I like the fact that if something happens to the Chromebook, I won't lose any important data. It's also much less expensive and I feel more comfortable bringing it than I might with a more expensive notebook.

The only rub is that in order for a ChromeOS device to be useful, it needs to have internet access. Otherwise, it's pretty much a brick. So this leads me to...

Verizon 4G mobile hotspot

I've attended too many workshops, events and conferences that were unable to provide reliable WiFi access. When you think about it, it's an incredibly daunting task, especially if the event is expected to be large AND the attendees will largely be edtech geeks (present company included) who will be carrying multiple devices. So, bringing your own internet access is almost a necessity. While I could use my phone as a hotspot, it's only 3G and that is a sure fire way to drain the battery. The Verizon mobile hotspot is a perfect solution. It's small, light and will provide 4G speeds (if available in the area).

Dell Latitude 2120 netbook

Honestly, the only reason I'm bringing the Dell netbook is because I am scheduled to present a Case Study at the SchoolCIO Tech Summit and I need to connect to a projector (my presentation was created is using Google Docs). The new Chromebook arrived 2 days before I was scheduled to fly out to San Diego and does not have a standard VGA output. It does have a DisplayPort, which would work fine, but I didn't have time to pick up a DisplayPort to VGA adapter. So, the Dell netbook will provide me with a fairly small and light machine that I can connect using VGA. Once I can pickup an adapter for the new Chromebook, I won't need to consider bringing this netbook or a fullsize laptop when I need to present.

Motorola Xoom tablet

While I don't like tablets for general writing, I do like them quite a bit for checking email, keeping up with Twitter, and watching video/Netflix. The flight from the east coast to San Diego is a long one and I know that I'm going to need something to keep me occupied. While I will certainly read and play some games, nothing passes the time like watching a good (or even fair) movie. I can't count on the airline to show a movie at all, never mind one I want to watch, so bringing along an iPad or tablet is a great alternative. I am probably one of the few people on the planet who prefers an Android tablet (if it's running Ice Cream Sandwich) to an iPad, so the Xoom tablet fits the bill. Yes, it is heavier and clunkier than an iPad, but I still prefer the integration with my Google accounts and the flexibility of Android widgets/notifications. Offline movies from the Google Play work very well, provided you can find something you want to watch (the selection is nowhere near as good as iTunes).

Amazon Kindle

I am a voracious reader, so I expect to spend quite a bit of time on the plane reading some of the books I picked up using an Amazon gift card I received as a Father's Day present. I don't like reading on an LCD screen, so using a laptop or tablet is not an option. The e-ink version of the Amazon Kindle (or B&N Nook) is perfect for recreational reading. The device is small, light, and has terrific battery life. It's definitely a lot easier that dragging along 2 or 3 paperbacks (or books from my local public library).

Nintendo 3DS

Again, I'm going to be spending a whole bunch of time traveling by air, so having a variety of things to keep me busy during the long flights is a plus. I don't normally have much time to play video games, but when I do, the Nintendo 3DS is perfect solution. It's small, has games that I enjoy, and I can network and play with/against my 10-year old son. I also really enjoy the StreetPass feature that allows you to virtually "meet" other 3DS users that you pass by. Just leave the device in sleep mode, put it in your bag or pocket, and you will "tag" other people you pass by that also have a 3DS. I'm thinking that at a conference of 18,000+ participants, I should meet a whole bunch of new gaming "friends".

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Setting up an iTunes Account/Apple ID without a credit card

Deploying iOS devices on a large scale can be difficult and time consuming, partially due to the way that Apple handles (controls) the distribution of "apps", both free and paid. One way to make the process easier is for each individual user to setup their own iTunes account/Apple ID so that they can download and install their own free apps. Unfortunately, the process of creating an iTunes account/Apple ID without a credit card is less than obvious.

Apple has instructions that you can follow here, http://support.apple.com/kb/ht2534

I've also created some step by step instructions with screenshots that may be easier to follow. You can find them at http://technology.bsd-ri.net/ipad-tips/create-an-itunes-account-without-a-credit-card

Hope this helps


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Using Google Docs with Students

Article cross-posted from the RISTE blog

Like many districts, our teachers and staff members have so many things on their plates that finding time to offer Professional Development is becoming increasingly difficult. In an attempt to offer more flexible and accessible PD sessions, we are just starting to use Adobe Connect to host and record short webinars for staff.

I just recorded our inaugural webinar for high school staff on "Using Google Docs with Students". Overall, I think that it turned out pretty well. I definitely still have a lot to learn and improve upon, but it wasn't too difficult to get to this point.

I wanted to share our initial effort in the event that the content may prove to be worthwhile to your own schools. I would also love to get some comments about how your own teachers are using Google Docs with their own students and build up some "best practices".


The recorded webinar can be found at http://goo.gl/COAZN

The accompanying presentation can be found at http://goo.gl/3VNp3

I have also embedded the presentation below


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Google Calendar Daily Agenda

This post is cross-posted from the RISTE blog at http://blog.ri-iste.org

Howdy RISTE colleagues! We're hoping that this blog will grow to be a repository of "tips and tricks" and knowledge that we can all share with each other. Here's a quick tip about how you can setup Google Calendar to email you a daily agenda each morning. For those of us without secretaries, that Daily Agenda email can be invaluable.

1. When looking at your Google Calendar, click the "gear" icon in the upper right corner of the page and select "Calendar settings"

2. On the Calendar Settings page, click the "Calendars" link

3. Click the "Notifications" to the right of your calendar

4. Check the "Daily Agenda" box and click "Save"

5. You can also click the "Notifications" links next to the Group/Shared calendars that you have access to and have notifications from those calendars included in your Daily Agenda email

I hope this helps and that your new Google "virtual secretary" keeps you from missing important meetings!