Saving Schools

Why open-technology mobile platforms are critical for 21st-century classrooms.

GUEST COLUMN | by Steve Rokov

CREDIT splashtop imageRadical changes in mobile technology have created seismic shifts in the way schools build out the 21st century classroom. With many maintenance and operations budgets being slashed, and with classroom sizes spiraling upwards, an increase in technology spending is favored to improve overall student performance. Not only are these new technologies more cost effective to existing alternatives but they are also shown to boost interactivity, student engagement, and curriculum delivery.

At play are a number of market forces:

Continuing Budget Pressures. With budgets increasingly scarce, there is a need to do more with less. New, cost effective, open, user-friendly technologies will win the day.

BYOD in the Classroom. teachers and students are using the latest technologies at home and on the road. This consumerization of IT is a reality, especially in the face of budget constraints.

Ever Changing Curriculum. Integrating technology within the instructional model – for example using iPads and eBooks – is a great to adjust to changes in the curriculum.

Availability of Open, Standard Mobile Platforms. There’s an app for that! Personalizing or re-purposing a mobile device to support different tasks is as easy as downloading apps from the appstore.

The Flipped Classroom. Flipped classrooms describe changes to instruction whereby students read or research a topic as homework. Back at school, teachers then work with students to demonstrate concepts and help answer questions so all students have a good understanding of the topic.

Transition to Digital Textbooks. The LEAD commission reported that the FCC evaluated a Project RED study and released new side-by-side cost models of traditional learning versus “new” learning, illustrating a savings of $250 per student each year if schools move to digital textbooks.

University administrators, school superintendents, principals, and heads of IT realize that it is much more affordable to provide iPads or Android tablets than expensive alternatives like smart boards in every classroom. Now that educators are embracing the

The days of educators standing in front of the board have dissolved like a white cloud of chalk dust.

transformation of the education within a technological context it is important to consider the benefits for building a 21st century classroom.

The benefits and capabilities of a digital classroom seem limitless. Educators have increased mobility and are able to maintain control of the class without being at the front of the room. They can annotate documents and images and access school resources like printers, video cameras and servers via mobile devices.

Teachers are now able to greet their students at the door and take attendance applications on their devices. Mobility is also helping enhance the special education experience for students. Visually impaired or disabled students can control the classroom computer without even moving from their desk.

With the evolution of the classroom come greater opportunities for engagement and collaboration with students. No matter the stage of education, students are excited to use a medium that they are already familiar with. They love being connected and having the ability to take control and present their ideas from their own device. The need for common educational tools like dictionaries and calculators has been eliminated, which proves to be another cost saving proof point.

Having the ability to use applications that are already active on desktop or laptops and buying application licenses in bulk for the entire school allows for additional reduction in costs and risks. The days of educators standing in front of the board have dissolved like a white cloud of chalk dust. Even whiteboards are on their way out. Students are now encountering an enhanced educational experience where they learn in more collaborative and interactive environments. Welcome to the 21st-century classroom.

Steve Rokov works at San Jose-based Splashtop, delivering cross-screen productivity and collaboration experiences, bridging smartphones, tablets, computers, TVs, and clouds. Write to:

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Under Pressure

What must education do to thrive in the Social Age?

GUEST COLUMN | by Mark Babbitt

“Change happens only as the result of insurmountable market pressure.” — A World Gone Social’s Law of Change

CREDIT A World Gone Social Coine BabbittIn the business world, social media has proven to be an insurmountable market force, changing how business innovates, collaborates, serves customers, hires and develops team members, displays character, and demonstrates accountability. This monumental change isn’t change for the sake of change like other trends and fads that came before. This is real, systemic change. Human change. Global change. Welcome to the Social Age.

No more waiting for parent-teacher conferences, surveys or school board meetings. Stakeholders are on social media right now saying exactly how they feel.

So far, our education system – K-12 and higher education – is on the outside of this movement, looking in. Education wasn’t exactly early an adopter of social like the marketing teams of big companies. They didn’t embrace social as newer companies like Zappos, Jet Blue and Tangerine Bank did. And education hasn’t really changed their method of communication; for the most part, teaching is still done as it was in the Industrial Age: by talking at students, at parents and at stakeholders.

So how can education catch up to the social tsunami – and adapt to new expectations of students and parents (K-12) and customers (higher education)?

They must follow the precedent set by those businesses and non-profits doing amazing work in our new economic climate: they must go social. Here’s how:

Actively Listen

At no time in history have customers been able to raise their voices – independently and collectively – as they can today. Exceed the expectations of a student or parent, and watch the praise on Facebook and Twitter swell into positive momentum. Disappoint or fail on a large scale, and you may be witness to – or a victim of – a social firestorm.

And at no time has a vendor – whether a business making widgets or an institution dispensing education – had the opportunity to actively listen; to hear what stakeholders really feel about them, in real-time. No more waiting for parent-teacher conferences, surveys or school board meetings. Stakeholders are on social media right now saying exactly how they feel.

The role of education in this new reality: listen.

Don’t try to control the message, as we’ve always done in the past. Don’t assume one-way “communication” is an acceptable form of engagement. Don’t use your two ears and one mouth disproportionately. Listen. Then think. Then act.

Build Trust by Building Community

In the Social Age, a community is not bound by structure, rules or authoritarian leadership – it is fueled by two things: 1) belief in a common mission and 2) trust. Organically, members of a community work together to improve situations, meet challenges or solve problems.

By default, education is built around a common mission: the safety, welfare and knowledge of the student. And 9 out of 10 of those students, and-or their parents, are already on social media; they are already communicating with each other. The question is: do they trust educators enough to invite them into the dialogue?

Social – through effective and open communication – enables us to build trust. Start a Facebook page. Build a Google+ circle. Create a school-branded hashtag. Spark discussion. Extend conversations. Abandon the role of administrator, and become “Chief Facilitator.” From there, build trust and then community.

Get Small, Be Nimble

Those companies – even the largest enterprises – that excel in the Social Age have learned: small and nimble wins. Quicker decisions are made. Teams move faster. Creative thinking becomes the norm.

Education – regardless of the baggage and bureaucracy that might exist – must emulate this trend. So they can adapt quickly, K-12 must cut through TWWADI (the-way-we’ve-always-done-it) syndrome and create innovative learning solutions. Higher education must compete – and send real-world ready graduates into the workforce – by implementing the 21st-century needs of their customers with a far greater sense of urgency.

The alternative: remain weighed down by tradition and old-school thinking – and run the risk of becoming obsolete.


In A World Gone Social, we dedicate an entire chapter to the ultimate catalyst of success in the Social Age: OPEN.

The OPEN (short for “Ordinary Person | Extraordinary Network”) concept is simple: one person – no matter how talented – can only do so much. Bring in community members and invite experts from personal and professional networks to take on a challenge, however, and real change – and true innovation – happens.

For schools to adapt and thrive in the Social Age, they must abandon their command-and-control leadership style. They must be willing to relinquish control. They must embrace OPEN.

Education may not be counted among the early-adopters of social media. One school, district and campus at a time, however — they can be master emulators. They can change.

And they will. Because that insurmountable market pressure is coming.

Mark Babbitt is CEO and Founder of YouTern, a social community for college students, recent graduates and young professionals that Mashable calls a “Top 5 Online Community for Starting Your Career” and Forbes has named to their “Top Website for Your Career” lists in 2012 and 2013.

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Cool Tool | Edulastic

CREDIT Edulastic gifEdulastic is a free formative assessment platform that supports student mastery of the Common Core State Standards. Teachers can track student comprehension day-by-day—with homework and in-class assignments—to provide personalized feedback, remediation, and intervention. Edulastic also makes it easy to create and administer Next Generation Assessments with PARCC & SBAC-styled Technology-Enhanced Items. Districts can collect valuable response data to deliver actionable information to students, educators, parents, and policymakers. The app and platform gives students everyday practice with interactive questions while collecting deep insights into what they know or don’t know—and how a teacher can help. Check it out for yourself.

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Digital Classrooms 2016

Why 2016 is the year digital classrooms become the dominant paradigm and what infrastructure steps schools should take to be a part of it.

GUEST COLUMN | by Daniel Rivera

CREDIT Aruba digital classroomFor some years, K-12 educators and experts have discussed the coming of “the digital classroom” with many schools deploying various types of technologies in an effort to turn the vision into reality. Although 90 percent of teachers now report technology is having a positive effect on student participation, most classrooms still look the same as they did 50 years ago. But, in 2016, that’s about to change.

Although 90 percent of teachers now report technology is having a positive effect on student participation, most classrooms still look the same as they did 50 years ago. But, in 2016, that’s about to change.

Historically, the classroom has reflected the business world. For example, the one-room schoolhouse for our agrarian society gave way to the needs of the industrial revolution, with students divided by grade level and rows of desks, mirroring a factory assembly line.

Today, workplaces are rapidly becoming collaborative spaces, with expectations employees will work in teams and alternate between leadership and contribution roles. Naturally, K-12 schools are evolving to prepare students for these new workday requirements with collaborative classrooms, project-based learning and the movement toward “learners” and “facilitators” rather than students and teachers.

So why is 2016 the year when digital classrooms make the leap from experimental to mainstream? Although the short answer is mobility, it’s really about a convergence of factors. Here’s what you need to know to help your school make the transformation successfully.

Digital Curriculums Have Arrived. When talk of the digital classrooms began, the vision was exciting but teachers lacked curriculum to make it happen. Then research on digital curricula began and, today, many accredited options are available.

Educator Tech Proficiency Has Reached Critical Mass. Everyone knows that smartphones and tablets have fundamentally changed societies around the world. It’s no different in education. Gone are the days when only the youngest or most intrepid teachers became excited about technology. However, this doesn’t negate the value of professional development. Quite the opposite, as training remains critical.

Mobile Devices Prove the Perfect Classroom Tools. Unlike desktop computers, which students had to share, today’s powerful and ubiquitous mobile devices are proving the perfect tools for classroom learning. Whether schools provide mobile devices, or leverage BYOD, there’s no more time wasted fiddling with misbehaving desktop machines.

Instead, today’s devices are fast and easy to use. Want to take a poll? Ask everyone to whip out their smartphone. Need to share a student’s screen to help make a point? Just send it to the classroom projector or flat panel display.

Modern Wi-Fi Systems Provide the Conduit. Mobile devices can perform their magic when robust, secure Wi-Fi networks supply the high-performance infrastructure required to handle the digital load. Fortunately, modern Wi-Fi systems pack the power required. (For details, see “5 Tips for Enabling Digital Classrooms,” below.)

E-rate Supplies the Funding. Unlike years past, in 2015 all schools that submitted timely and eligible E-rate applications will receive funding for their “Category 2” Wi-Fi infrastructure projects. Best of all, this trend is expected to continue in 2016 and beyond. In other words, it’s definitely worth dedicating resources to the application process because the supply of available funds now matches the demand.

5 Tips for Enabling Digital Classrooms

To ensure their schools can fully adopt the digital classroom paradigm, most K-12 institutions will need to modernize their Wi-Fi. The following recommendations will help schools make the right investments.

1) Plan for Increasing Device Densities

Just a few years ago, K-12 schools focused on ensuring Wi-Fi coverage. Now, it’s all about capacity. With K-12 learners and facilitators utilizing an average of two devices each, it’s wise to plan for at least 60 simultaneous connections per 30-student classroom.

2) Invest in 802.11ac

Systems based on the latest IEEE wireless standard, 802.11ac, provide wire-like experiences, earning them the nickname “Gigabit Wi-Fi.” The first generation of 802.11ac access points (APs), called Wave 1, improve wireless speeds by about 3X – versus the previous 801.11n standard – delivering data rates of up to 1.3 Gbps.

As a future-proofing strategy, some schools are eyeing the next generation of 802.11ac APs, known as Wave 2. Initially boosting Wi-Fi speeds to 1.7Gbps, up 30 percent over Wave 1, Wave 2 could usher in 3.4 Gbps data rates as the related FCC regulations evolve.

3) Leverage a Phased or Tiered Approach

Although K-12 IT departments are familiar with phased deployments, a tiered approach offers another option. In short, a tiered approach matches use cases with corresponding APs. For example, Wave 1 APs may be appropriate in lower-density administrative offices. Wave 2 APs are more suitable for high-density spaces, such as auditoriums and large testing areas.

4) Upgrade to Multi-Gigabit Switches

Gaining all the benefits of Gigabit Wi-Fi requires appropriate engineering, from APs to the data center core. This can mean updating to multi-gigabit Ethernet edge switches, including emerging solutions that can automatically detect and provide the proper connection such as 1, 2.5, 5 or 10GigE. This technology results from work by the NBASE-T and MGBASE-T technology alliances, which the IEEE is utilizing to create the 802.3bz Ethernet specification.

Most importantly, multi-gig switches enable deploying Wave 2 using existing Cat 5e/Cat 6 cabling – a significant savings over running new cable – as we expect to see vendors introducing APs with 2.5GigE uplinks in 2016. Thus, it’s appropriate to consider multi-gig switches during your next wired infrastructure refresh.

5) Adopt Robust Wi-Fi Security & Optimization Tools

To ensure lean K-12 IT departments can provide a secure mobile environment while efficiently managing hundreds of APs and user devices, robust administrative tools are critical. This includes software to automate Wi-Fi network access, supplying the proper credentials to people and devices, as well as tools to keep the network running at peak performance. Robust offerings also provide multi-vendor support to enable unified administration of wired and wireless networks – within a single pane of glass.

Next Up: Location-Awareness

Whether freeing up learning time for productive uses or augmenting security, location-aware technology is the next step in wireless innovations. With location-awareness, teachers can eliminate wasted time taking attendance and administrators can see exactly who is on campus, and where, at any moment. With new solutions offering improved management options, 2016 may be the year to take a closer look.

Regardless of your specific situation, it’s an exciting time in the digital classroom. With adequate federal, state and local funding, along with improved Wi-Fi infrastructure options, the coming year will see more schools empowering their learners and facilitators in more ways than ever before.

Dan Rivera is a product marketing manager and E-rate expert for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Dan’s career in the information technology industry spans over 25 years, during which he focused on the Primary Education Sector. Write to:


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Trends | Coding, Electronics and Creativity Collide

CREDIT Arduino and AutodeskIt’s exciting to see how many schools and libraries are getting started with 3D design and 3D printing. But there is something else out there for teachers looking to bring maker-based learning into their classes this fall – electronics. Recently Autodesk announced that it’s teaming up with Arduino to bring creativity and electronics to everyone with the release of the Arduino Basic Kit. This kit for teachers comes with 15 step-by-step tutorials available through the Project Ignite learning platform. What’s in the Arduino Basic Kit:

  • All the physical and digital components you need to build simple projects and learn how to turn an idea into reality using Arduino and Autodesk 123D Circuits.
  • The digital simulations in 123D Circuits provide a unique experience to engage and learn about the power of smart objects.
  • Exclusive online access to 15 step-by-step tutorials, through the Project Ignite learning platform, to make simple projects using components that let you control the physical world.

Highlighted Projects include:

  • Get to know your tools: An introduction to the concepts you need to know  to advance
  • Love-O-Meter to measure how hot-blooded you are
  • Zoetrope to create a mechanical animation you can play forward or reverse
  • Knock Lock to tap a secret code and open the door                                              

With the kit ($84), teachers can access digital simulations for a unique experience, tapping right into the power of smart objects. Check it out at

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