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The Marriage Between IT & Curriculum

Relationships are always a work in progress. Kayne and Kim. Will and Jada. Beyonce and Jay-Z. Carl and Renee. The list goes on and on.  Some couples make it, others end in divorce. While every couple has its own unique circumstances and situation, there are some common tips to make their marriage more successful.

Over the last few years, more and more, I feel like a marriage counselor when it comes to the couple known as “IT & Curriculum.” This relationship is a tricky one, because there is no way to opt out. While my district has what I would call a very healthy relationship between the two, it wasn’t always that way. And when I go out and speak with other districts, there seems to be some common problems that arise between curriculum and IT.

Last week at #TLTechLive event in Boston, I had the honor of being the opening keynote to address this topic head on. And while I won’t recap the entire presentation, I found some interesting insights over the course of our one hour “counseling session” that I thought I would share here.

Presenting the vows of Ed Tech

The Vows

Like any marriage, there need to be a set of agreed upon vows or standards. During my session last week, I donned some preacher robes (actually a graduation gown) to deliver the vows between IT and Curriculum. Here’s an abbreviated version:

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called….Learning.

Curriculum – Do you solemnly swear to check interoperability standards before purchasing an application?

IT – Do you solemnly swear to being open to new ideas, as long as it furthers the learning of our kids?

….in sickness and health, through printer errors and slow wifi, until death or the end of public education do us part….may I have the ringtone?”

As I recited the vows on stage, I realized that wedding vows sound an awful lot like Acceptable Use Policies.

Patient #1 – Dealing with Insecurity

With all the new applications or online textbooks being purchased almost daily it seems, our schools have many points of vulnerability when it comes to data. The IT side of the relationship wants to be open to these new programs and applications, but also is concerned about security and data privacy.

While there is no magic bullet answer to this relationship issue, many districts and states are moving toward a standard agreement when it comes to the use of student data. In fact, in Massachusetts, there is a Student Privacy Alliance which connects districts across the state to leverage the collective power in getting companies to agree to their student data privacy agreement.

With all the recent news with the Zuckerberg testimony to Congress and the subsequent avalanche of companies changing their terms of service when it comes to user data, this issue in the relationship between IT and Curriculum could soon be going away, allowing the happy couple to finally go on the honeymoon they’ve always wanted.

On stage with one of my ‘patients’ @MatthewXJoseph

Patient #2 – Spicing things up…in the classroom

If you’ve ever been a teacher and attended some state-wide or national ed tech conference, there is almost always some app or tool that you learn about that you want to try. However, when you get back home, IT says “no” before you even attempt to pilot it with your students.

The truth is, there is more than just IT that needs to vet new tools. I’ve seen many an app out there that is really just students mindlessly tapping on screens and not vetting in any type of research. In our district we have a workflow for requesting new apps for students (the app store isn’t on their iPads) as well as our League of Innovators – a group of early adopters that are willing to try and test new software or hardware. What mechanisms does your district have in place for trying new applications or tools? Is there a process for piloting new ideas?

These questions can sting an unstable relationship as it gives IT the impression that you are happy with what they are offering and your eye is starting to wander. However, a stable relationship has an open dialogue and a process for getting new ideas, if effective, into the hands of students.

Patient #3 – Feeling out of sync

After the honeymoon phase, typically a couple decides to purchase their first house. In the case of IT & Curriculum that could be in the form of a Learning Management System (LMS) or perhaps a large online textbook adoption. This new purchase has many needs and requires the attention of both sides of the relationship.

For IT, there is nothing more frustrating than finding out that Curriculum has purchased a new adoption that either doesn’t work on the district’s existing devices OR requires a lot of heavy lifting to get student data into the system. The good news is, there are more and more platforms moving to a Single-Sign On (SSO) approach and with the One Roster standard from IMS Global becoming more widely adopted, the issues of data uploads via .csv files may soon go away.

Patient #4 – Worried about our kids

@SimplySuzy – final patient of the day

At some point in a relationship, kids enter the picture. With IT & Curriculum, they are there on day one. The focus of both ‘parents’ in this marriage should ultimately be the students. Many times, districts purchase expensive software or applications in the hopes of enhancing student learning.  But how do we know if that’s actually happening? How do we measure the effectiveness of the programs we are using?

For me, it means pulling up usage statistics of over 40 applications or online resources. This process can take more than a week and the data comes in a variety of formats which is rarely longitudinal in terms of usage. Again, the good news here is that there are now tools in development to help with this efficacy of use and ultimately, learning. One company I’ve been advising with over the past year that does this very thing is CatchOn. Their motto is simple – “Simplify the evaluation of Ed Tech usage.”

Once you have the data you need at the touch of your finger, the next challenge becomes those hard conversations in the relationship around budget. Maybe curriculum is spending too much or IT is too much of a penny-pincher, whatever the case, once you have the usage data you can make better decisions for your “family” around whether to cut a program or keep it and provide more professional learning around it.

How do we save this marriage?

Through all of the issues between this couple, the keys to an effective relationship sound eerily similar to that of an actual marriage:

  1. Better communication
  2. Empathy and understanding of both sides
  3. Being open to new ideas
  4. Working together, not separate

And ultimately…we need to stay together…for the kids.

Editor’s note: Looking to learn more? Check out my book Mobile Learning Mindset: The IT Professional’s Guide to Implementation which includes an entire chapter dedicated to the marriage between IT and Curriculum.

Time for Some Digital Spring Cleaning?

It’s that time of year when the snow finally melts (well, at least for those of us south of the Mason-Dixon line), the school year is wrapping up, and we’re all planning for summer. This is also traditionally the time when households go through “spring cleaning” as we clean out our closets or kids’ closets, re-arrange the jars of random screws in the garage, and finally knock out some items on our to-do list.

More and more, I feel like we need to do the same practices when it comes to our digital lives. We now spend hours of our day online, slowly building a digital version of ourselves. Our digital selves need a place to live, work, eat, share, and surf as well. Unfortunately, in this day and age of “check out this new app” or “sign-up here for more…” we are continually cluttering our phones and our amount of accounts to keep track of.  Data privacy has been in the news heavily lately, and having many different accounts out there opens you up for more risk.

It’s time we start a “digital spring cleaning” along-side the physical one, and you don’t have to wait until spring to do this. I like to use New Year’s Day as a benchmark to clean up my digital life, but found that doing it twice a year makes it much more manageable.  What follows are some tips that I’ve used over the years to keep my digital self from becoming a virtual hoarder.

Email Accounts for Different Purposes 

Somedays, email can feel like a never ending stream of junk mail. Ads about a funny t-shirt that went on sale to a product that will greatly enhance my…well you get the idea. One thing I started several years ago was the use of 3 email accounts. One is for personal information (I use this with friends and family) but not for signing up for things. The second is for signing up for things to try out or to set up accounts to some sort of online service. The third is solely for work-related items.

While this separation can help up the amount of junk you get in your work and personal email accounts, there are times when your email will still be used for spam, so you’ll need to remain diligent in which account you use to sign up for things. If this still doesn’t work, below is a plan B.

Unsubscribe and Purge Quickly

One service that has made my life much easier and my inbox much less cluttered is Unroll.me. This free service instantly lets you go through and identify messages that are spam and others that you may still want to receive but not in your inbox. It creates a list of all your subscription emails easily in a daily digest form. Quick bit of advice, you’ll want to update this yearly as it’s amazing how many other emails have found their way in my inbox since setting this up. (I just took a detour while writing this post and found I had over 300 emails coming into my inbox without my permission since the beginning of the year!)

Delete Some Apps 

Some apps you only use occasionally. Others you added and tried out, but never use any more. Besides taking up valuable space on your phone, these apps can clutter your screen or folders. On the iPhone you can check battery usage settings to see what you’ve used the past 7 days. Besides discovering that you spend way too much of your screen time on Facebook, this can also help you determine which apps are used heavily and which ones never appear in the list.

Review your security settings

When looking through the location services section of my phone, I was surprised by the amount of apps that were tracking me even when I wasn’t using them.  When it comes to social media like Facebook and Twitter, you might be surprised at the sheer number of 3rd party applications that are using some portion of your data. Go to your account settings on all your heavily used social media platforms and purge any 3rd party app connections you won’t need or maybe didn’t even intend to approve.

Manage “Notifistractions”

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about the amount of notification distractions or “notifistractions” we get on our devices. Many of these are not necessary and can cause you anxiety, stress, or worse-yet, distract you when operating a motor vehicle. I always recommend turning off all alerts with the exception of reminders or calendar events. That email or text message can wait, but also know that on most phones you can give some folks in your contact list “VIP” access.  This means you will get an alert from them if they send you a text or message.

Google Search Yourself

You never know what’s been posted out there about you. Maybe a friend posted a photo of you without your permission or maybe you are giving people access to your personal documents without knowing it. At any rate, it’s always a good idea to “Google Yourself” fairly regularly to see what information is out there on you. A couple of quick notes to be most effective:  1 – Make sure you are not logged into your Google account or in “incognito” mode. This is what the outside world sees when they search you, if you are logged into Google, you’ll get different results. Also make sure search your full name is in “quotes” to get the most accurate results.

Back-up any important videos or photos

Every year, I do an “end of the year” family video that encapsulates much of what we did as a family throughout the previous year. While doing this to reflect on the year gone by is fun and heart-warming, it also reminds me to back up all my photos into either a physical hard drive or some sort of long term cloud storage like Dropbox. After all – you never know when your phone might break, and it would be good to have all your photo roll data backed up regularly.

Clear Those Cookies and Empty Your Trashcan

If you are like me, you use your trash can on your computer as sort of a temporary folder for items. At some point, you have to “empty” your trashcan, else you run the risk of your garbage chewing up most of your storage. The same can be said for the cookies contained within your browsers. These can be used for tracking your data and search queries and should be purged fairly regularly. Take a moment to look at and empty these on your laptop and desktop and you might find that the performance may improve on your computer when you do this.

I hope some of these tips help….Now get to cleaning!