How school IT pros can use BYOD principles to ace the BYOA test

Just when school IT administrators thought they were on level ground after wading through the murky waters of BYOD (bring-your-own-device), a new challenge has emerged.

BYOD has led to the burgeoning popularity of BYOA (bring-your-own-application). Students and teachers alike are now using their own apps, on their own devices, for their own educational purposes. Video streaming, word processing, and other online learning tools are all apps, and they’re increasingly being used to both supplement and even replace traditional forms of learning in all grades and education levels.

BYOA presents a number of IT challenges. In addition to the strain that applications and data usage can put on school networks, users will undoubtedly be using unauthorized apps that may compromise network security. School administrators will need to do double-duty. They must make sure that their networks are running seamlessly, while locking them down to ensure unerring security, all without compromising the user experience.

The BYOD Foundation

Fortunately, schools that have already weathered the initial BYOD phase will find themselves well-positioned for BYOA. IT professionals who already have a good BYOD plan in place can take solace in the fact that they have established a solid foundation for BYOA.

Most likely, these teams are already using network monitoring tools and techniques to see how these devices are being used on their networks. They are automatically checking for “rogue,” unauthorized devices to ensure better network security, and monitoring usage patterns to make sure devices are not impeding overall network performance.

These same techniques and strategies can be applied to mobile applications monitoring. For example, IT can use network monitoring to help ensure that network performance remains consistent, even in the face of heavy data and application use. That’s important, especially if teachers are using bandwidth-hogging video applications in their learning environments.

Monitoring and bandwidth analysis tools can help IT professionals pinpoint where bottlenecks are occurring. They can analyze network traffic and discover which applications are creating the most concern. They can then act accordingly, limiting the use of suspect applications, or taking other actions to resolve bandwidth issues and enhance performance.

These tools can also be helpful in detecting potential security issues. They have the ability to alert teams if an unauthorized application is being used, or if an intrusion occurs. Specifically, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems are effective at monitoring application activity and providing valuable, 24/7 insight and alerts into potential security threats. IT professionals can respond quickly to these alerts and address the threat before any significant damage occurs or data is compromised.

(Next page: Building on the BYOD foundation and producing the BYOA-Game)


#8: 3 must-have skills for today’s librarians

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on July 17th of this year, was our #8 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2017 countdown!]

Districts nationwide are looking for new and innovative ways to provide training and resources for their staff, all while keeping within a limited budget. What many administrators fail to notice is that their greatest asset is already in their building.

It’s the 21st century, and school librarians are no longer just “the keepers of the books.” Librarians and media specialists are highly trained, highly versatile staff members, whose scope of responsibilities spans all students and all subjects.

I represent library media specialists at the district level. This means that I am in charge of maintaining a district media committee for vetting district-provided digital resources, and I am also responsible for the professional development for our school librarians.

As the first certified library media specialist at the district level in this system, I have been busy building a strong standard of practice for our librarians. We embrace a train-the-trainer model when adopting new technologies or programs, so I make sure that our librarians have the training they need to not only implement these innovations, but to share them with their teachers.

I want our school librarians to be seen as experts in new tools and resources, so I teach all of them these three essential skills:

technology school

1) How to Introduce New Technology

During monthly department meetings, we spend time discussing how to implement new tools and technologies into our schools. We hear from each other about best practices, new ideas, and about what is working—and what isn’t.

The library veterans are getting this same information, but they are also given opportunities to pilot new programs and make recommendations. They advise me on policy and procedures, and provide their professional opinions as “experts on the ground.”

I often engage in PD that asks all media staff to stretch their thinking about what libraries do, the impact they can make, and how to expand their personal learning networks to grow and adapt with this quickly changing landscape.

The school librarian is no longer just the manager of a room full of books, but a resource and technology expert, reading teacher, curriculum designer, program administrator, professional development coordinator, information literacy teacher, and a school leader with a finger on the pulse of every classroom. A good librarian knows who is doing what in each grade level and subject area, and is ready with strategies, resources, and tools to help teachers make a deeper impact with their students.

Today’s school librarian is an active, integrated educator who knows how to teach, but also how to design quality programs, collect data on those programs, and assess student learning. Just like the classroom teacher, the school librarian has to hit the ground running every single day and make a conscious effort to stay connected to trends and issues.

(Next page: 2 more skills for today’s librarians)


#9: 4 good computer habits every teacher should have

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on March 6th of this year, was our #9 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2017 countdown!]

They say computers make life easier. I say they sometimes make our lives miserable.

During the past two years, I’ve visited Apple’s Genius Bar eight times. I’ve watched a student cry in front of her PC after she found a Word document she had worked on for days corrupted. I’ve witnessed someone spill coffee on my colleague’s MacBook, and then felt enraged when he had to spend almost half its price to make the thing work again.

Now you may ask me: What’s going on with our computers? Well, there is nothing wrong with the computers. It’s us. It’s our bad habits that led to these tragedies.

That’s what I’d like to share with you today: four good computer habits every teacher should have in the digital age. These habits may affect your productivity, data security, and health. Health…seriously? Yes: A survey claims that Americans spend two hours a week waiting on their slow computers, which are sources of immense frustration and constant stress.

Let’s jump right in. How many of these habits are a part of your teaching life?

1. Back up your computer: This may sound old-school, and you’ve probably heard people say it all the time; but let me tell you again that backup is the single most effective way to prevent data loss.

You may think data loss will never happen to you, but it happens to everyone at some point. It’s often too late when you realize it, the moment when you accidentally deleted a student’s assignment from your flash drive; worse yet, when your computer crashed all of a sudden due to unexpected errors. Having an up-to-date backup will avoid frustration and save you time to restore.

How to do? If you are using a PC or Mac, you can set up Windows System Backup or Time Machine to backup your computer regularly. For those important files, such as the students’ assignments and your teaching materials, make sure you also save at least one copy saved to an external hard drive. Another alternative that’s also convenient nowadays is online backup. For example, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox all make it easy for us to upload files to the cloud and their services are free to get started. See also: An appliance approach to data backup.

2. Clean your desktop and hard drive: We all like to save files and folders to the computer desktop to make them easier to access. You probably never locate a file by clicking “This PC” (for Windows) or “Macintosh HD” (for macOS) because it’s a waste of time. But if your computer desktop looks cluttered with dozens of files, folders, or shortcut icons, it’s time to clean them up a little bit. Not only does a cluttered desktop affect your productivity, as files are harder to find, but it can even slow down your computer if you use a Mac.

Likewise, clean up your hard drive. Research shows that the first 50 percent of a hard drive performs better than the second 50 percent due to the way disk storage works. Also, if the internal hard drive of your computer is almost full, chances are everything will slow down and you’ll wait longer for your PC to fully startup, and apps won’t run any quicker than before.

How to do? Start by transferring large files to an external drive, then delete duplicates and remove third-party programs you no longer use. Last but never least, be more organized by having fewer folders to categorize all the files you have—your computer will be more productive and so will you.

(Next page: Good computer habits for teachers 3-5)


Form 471 filing window dates announced

USAC’s Schools and Libraries Division has announced important Funding Year (FY) 2018 dates and deadlines.

The FY 2018 FCC Form 471 application filing window opens Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at 12:00 noon EST and closes on Thursday, March 22, 2018, at 11:59 PM EDT. This filing window is more in keeping with those used in prior funding years.

Representatives at USAC’s Client Service Bureau are available to help applicants at 888-203-8100. Applicants also can open a customer service case in the E-rate Productivity Center to receive assistance.

The announcement has further details about the filing window and how to prepare. Click here for the full announcement.


App of the Week: Have students reveal work in their own style

Ed. noteApp of the Week picks are now being curated by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to read the full app review.

What’s It Like? 

Wizer is a website where K-12 teachers can create augmented digital worksheets in any subject area. Once users sign up for an account, they can immediately start browsing or creating worksheets. Users choose a template and then add a title along with written and/or voice-recorded instructions and create their questions based on videos, images, charts, tables, and more. Once teachers save, preview, and assign the worksheet, students can access them on computers or mobile devices via LMS logins (Google, Edmodo, Microsoft), a class code, or a link to a URL. Teachers can opt to give students a choice of response format, such as verbal, written, or drawn.

Price: Free, Paid

Grades: K-12

Rating: 4/5

Pros: Attractive user interface makes for easy assigning, submissions, and feedback; user-created resource bank lightens workload.

Cons: Some limits to how students can demonstrate understanding of concepts; some features may not work on all devices.

Bottom line: Students will appreciate this 21st-century take on worksheets, and teachers will love all the different options for creation and assessment.


#10: Why personalized learning should start in school libraries

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 3rd of this year, was our #10 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2017 countdown!]

With personalization a growing initiative in schools, the library may not be the first thing educators think of as a resource. However, according to Michelle Luhtala, library department chair at New Canaan High School, CT, and Jackie Whiting, librarian at New Canaan High School, the library is often the best place to look for personalizing instruction through assessing, reading and making.

How Libraries are Personalized Learning Hotspots

1. Libraries can track unique student data

During Luhtala and Whiting’s webinar “Personalizing Instruction Through the Library,” hosted by and sponsored by Mackin Educational Resources, the library experts discussed how the New Canaan High School Library uses a database to keep track of the work done with students, enabling educators to keep tabs on any students in need of extra help.

2. Libraries can help close learning gaps

The library also has a “text the library” service, which allows students to anonymously text questions to the library. The webinar presenters said these questions help provide insight on any instructional gaps within the classroom, which the library can later give a lesson on. By encouraging the use of technology, the students can help take charge of their learning, as well as highlight what they would like to focus on during their lessons.

3. Libraries can encourage learning through personal interests

To personalize reading to the students, Whiting uses some of the library’s empty shelf space to create book displays based off themes of interest like movies, sports, and history. She also asked New Canaan’s teachers to take pictures with their favorite books and hung the pictures around the library. That way, she explained, students could get book recommendations from their favorite teachers. Luhtala and Whiting have also provided different spaces of the library for different kinds of learning. “We really want them to be thoughtful about how they’re going to use their time in the space and choose a space that suits their learning needs at that moment,” said Luhtala.

(Next page: How libraries encourage personalized learning 3-6)


Video of the Week: 3 tips for great formative assessment

Ed. note: Video of the Week picks are supplied by the editors of Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best ed-tech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Click here to watch the video at Common Sense Education.

Video Description: Unlock the full potential of formative assessment in your classroom! Check out these tips for how to use formative assessment apps and games such as Kahoot, Socrative, Plickers, and Poll Everywhere to check for understanding and encourage student self-assessment. For more, visit this collection of formative assessment resources.



Interesting: Rural schools are outpacing others on in-school tech access

Although schools in rural areas traditionally hit roadblocks when it comes to securing technology tools and high-speed internet access in classrooms and student homes, a new study suggests students in those schools actually outperform their urban and suburban peers in access at school.

The data comes from data management and learning analytics firm BrightBytes, which analyzed more than 180 million data points collected via a national survey gauging educational technology access, use and effectiveness across 8,558 U.S. schools.

The study compares characteristics of the top 5 percent and bottom 5 percent of schools and looks at factors that impact technology access and use. And according to that data, rural schools outpace urban and suburban schools when it comes to providing technology to students and teachers.

“The report provides district and school leaders with insights into what works to improve student outcomes,” said Teela Watson, Director of Digital Learning at Education Service Center Region 11 in Fort Worth, Texas. “The information has allowed us, for the first time, to accurately and clearly communicate the effectiveness of our technology initiatives.”

(Next page: How urban, suburban and rural schools stack up)


Are gifted students now an underserved population?

With all of the focus on helping struggling students achieve grade-level proficiency, students at the very top end of the academic spectrum often aren’t getting the challenges they need to stay engaged in school or tap their full potential.

Matthew Jaskol aims to change that. He is the program director and co-founder of Pioneer Academics, which identifies and empowers high-achieving students with university professors so they can take part in challenging and creative research opportunities across a wide range of disciplines while still in high school.

In an interview, Jaskol explained the thinking this bold approach Pioneer invented six years ago—and how it can help keep gifted students engaged.

Q: Why do you think the needs of many gifted students aren’t being met in schools today?

A: For decades now, the federal government has required public school teachers to implement “full inclusion” classrooms, where students of all levels and abilities are taught the same curriculum and lessons and given the same tests. In today’s diverse schools, this often means that special needs and struggling students receive much-needed extra support through help rooms or accommodations with testing, leaving little attention for gifted students.

According to the US Department of Education, in 2011–2012 there were approximately 3.2 million public-school students in gifted and talented programs. While federal law acknowledges that gifted students have academic needs that are not traditionally met in regular school settings, there are no specific requirements in place for serving these students. Instead, gifted education is a local responsibility. As a result, gifted students can end up as an underserved population.

Q: Can you describe the approach you have taken to help solve this challenge?

A: As a former advisor in curriculum design for elective courses and extracurricular programs, I’ve discovered that many gifted students feel they need to shift their time away from their interests and get caught in the rat race of taking as many standardized tests as possible, believing this will distinguish them among candidates for selective colleges.

In my experience, many high schools have top students who finish their school credits early or choose to take more AP courses to fill in their time. In fact, they need a stimulating learning experience, but they don’t necessarily know what opportunities are available that help to maximize their potential.

I believe the best challenges are customized and open-ended, rather a simple search for the correct answer. This conviction, and the guidance of our advisors, who include a professor who is now dean at Oberlin, and a former dean of admissions at Hamilton College and director of admissions at Johns Hopkins, led to the creation of Pioneer Academics six year ago.

Pioneer Academics offers gifted students access to college professors who mentor them on original and in-depth research studies. The students choose from 26 academic research areas covering STEM, social sciences, humanities, and pre-professional; and each study culminates with an undergraduate-level research paper that showcases students’ originality, articulation, analytical skills, and writing.

This new way of guiding gifted students reconnects gifted students’ learning with their interests and challenges their intellectual potential in a tailored way—sort of like a mini Ph.D. Besides the learning stimulation, this research helps students get ready for college and adds an unusual achievement to their college applications. In short, pursuing their interests is no longer a distraction from their college preparatory work.

(Next page: 1:1 mentoring for gifted students)


Are you Dyslexia aware? Take this short, 10 question quiz

Dyslexia is the most common disability affecting young learners today, with 5 to 20 percent of the student population affected, say some studies.

Dyslexic learners struggle in school and often do not receive the help they need due to a lack of educator and parental awareness. In order to reverse the negative academic trajectory these students often face, awareness is a crucial first step in helping learners get the help they need.

The following true/false quiz addresses many of the common myths and misunderstandings surrounding the learning disability. See how you score on this awareness test!


1. Dyslexia is a disease.

2. Dyslexia can be cured.

3. Dyslexic individuals can acquire reading and literacy skills at any age.

4. Dyslexic individuals have a limited capacity for learning.

5. Writing words and numbers backwards is an early sign of dyslexia.

6. Dyslexia is often associated with difficulty in solving problems.

7. Dyslexia is hereditary.

8. There are upsides to dyslexia.

9. At its core, dyslexia is a disability associated with vision problems.

10. Dyslexic learners are protected by federal law.

(Next page: Dyslexia questions answered)