Cool Tool | KUBI

CREDIT KUBI imageKUBI is a telepresence robot that delivers a simple and elegant solution for more engaging video conferencing and distance learning. Japanese for neck, it’s a flexible, affordable robotic platform that holds any tablet. This enables remote students or teachers to make the tablet pan and tilt, letting them look around and interact with others during video calls. It transforms the remote student from a passive listener to an active participant within the group, as that student can now easily engage with anyone in the room. Be they higher education or K-12, students now have the means to meaningfully participate in class remotely. Not only can the student look around to see who is asking a question, they can engage in small group discussions as well. This is an enormous step forward, especially for distance students or students that need to be out of class for extended periods of time due to medical or other issues. KUBI also makes it easy for outside experts to deliver distance lectures and other presentations. At $499, this educational technology can be put in each classroom, letting remote students easily “teleport” from one class to another, whether the Kubi is next door or on a different campus. Check it out.

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An Issue of School Culture

Tech wisdom from one of the nation’s first fully digital curriculum public school districts.

GUEST COLUMN | by Matt Federoff

CERDIT Vail School District ArizonaEducation today has to meet the expectations that our learners bring from the rest of their daily experiences. As they expect their communications, news, and social interactions to happen anytime and anywhere, so too do they expect to be able to learn anytime and anywhere. The idea that “learning” is an activity that happens only in a designated area called a “classroom” (and only between the hours of 8 and 3) seems absurd to modern students. Further, the notion that a designated instructor is the sole source for information and opinion no longer holds true. With ubiquitous wireless devices, widespread Wi-Fi, and vast amounts of digital content, our users have demanding expectations on how, when, and where they will learn.

IT leaders must acknowledge that our users expect fast, reliable, and seamless wireless coverage everywhere on campus. 

Modern learners (both the students and teachers) expect to be able to learn (and teach!) anywhere on campus. Every classroom, office, library, and conference area is a potential instructional space. IT leaders must acknowledge that our users expect fast, reliable, and seamless wireless coverage everywhere on campus. This used to be the exception, but now it’s the expectation at every school — whether K-5, middle school, or high school.

Vail School District is located in the historical ranching and mining community in Vail, Arizona and boasts 18 schools, 1,700 employees, and more than 12,000 students. Vail’s five high schools are “1:1″, with a mix of district devices and BYOD. Along with a rapidly growing district and an all-digital curriculum, the Vail data network has very high expectations to meet.

Vail opened Arizona’s first 1:1 high school in 2005, and the nation’s first official BYOD initiative in 2009. After multiple iterations of wireless networking, Vail settled on a Cisco controller-based model in 2009. In general, the solution worked well for the needs of the time, but the intrinsic limitations of this approach became more evident as more demands were placed on the wireless network. A controller-based network architecture routes all wireless traffic through the controller, an inefficient model across widely distributed campuses. It also creates a single point of failure in the controller itself. These limitations, along with the mounting costs for licensing fees, firmware updates and costs of sparing equipment led us to search for an alternative solution that could provide better performance, resiliency, and lower costs.

The Aerohive approach of putting more intelligence into the wireless access point and moving management to the cloud was the perfect fit for us. As their access points deal with traffic locally rather than requiring it all to go back to the controller, network utilization is more efficient and latency is reduced. Each access point can work autonomously, so there is no single point of failure.

Vail School District has multiple networks in place for students, staff and guests to accommodate thousands of users and devices. The District has standardized on Aerohive for all new schools since 2012, along with HiveManager Online for cloud-based network management and policy control.

The flexibility and features of the their solution enables the district to easily manage and control the network. For example, if students break online user agreements, the solution provider enables Vail to relegate them to the ‘no-fun network’, resulting in only being allowed on a network that has access to educational resources, without social media or entertainment options.

A controller-less solution reduces capital expenditures and allows the district to scale and grow as needed by easily adding access points, without heavy expenses for additional controllers, or other costs associated with licensing fees.

Wireless performance is a classroom management issue, as poor reliability gives students more opportunities for off-task behavior. Wireless performance is an instructional issue, as precious teaching minutes are lost struggling with the technology, rather than using it.

In the 21st century, wireless performance ultimately is a school culture issue. We can’t create the learning experiences our students need without creating the learning spaces to support them. These spaces have pervasive high quality wireless, and it’s up to us in IT to provide this wireless network and help move our schools forward.

Matt Federoff is CIO of Vail Unified School District. For 15-plus years, he has designed and managed the implementation of instructional and information technology at the fastest-growing school district in Arizona. He established the district as the widely recognized leader in edtech in Arizona, opening 14 schools, including Arizona’s first “one-to-one” school in 2005 and the first “textbook-free” high school in the U.S. Additionally, he co-created the digital content repository “Beyond Textbooks” initiative in 2008, implemented Arizona’s first “BYOD” initiative in 2009, and installed Wi-Fi on school buses in 2010, making Vail one of the first public school districts in the U.S. to do so. He is a national and international presenter on education technology in K-12 and higher education, including at ISTE, COSN, SXSW, NSBA, T+L, and a number of other state and regional events.

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Cool Tool | GuideK12 SchoolSearch

CREDIT GuideK12 SchoolSearchA powerful online tool for districts to communicate school location, boundaries and program options to families, GuideK12 SchoolSearch™ is an interactive platform offering numerous enhancements that enable parents to make smart decisions about their children and schools, while reducing calls and cost for the district. Parents enter an address to find the assigned schools in their area along with boundary lines. The map is interactive so each school “pin” can be selected to see customizable district information such as links to the school website, registration links, school grades etc. Distance in time and miles is automatically calculated to all schools on the map. SchoolSearch can eliminate hundreds or thousands of calls realtors and district families make to the district office every year. What really makes it unique is the completely customizable, advanced search functionality. For districts with different school types or a range of programs offerings, parents can filter and select the school types and programs they are interested in and compare offerings before making a decision. School districts are under growing pressure from non-district programs seeking to attract new students. With better communication tools for families, districts can retain and attract students more effectively. Check it out.

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Laying the Groundwork

FCC’s E-Rate program closes the Wi-Fi gap and opens up digital learning environments.

GUEST COLUMN | by Shane Buckley

CREDIT xirrusOver the next several years, the education industry will see a major shift. The implementation of new standards, the move to next-generation assessments, the prevalence of individualized learning techniques and the affordability of mobile devices, technology and Wi-Fi laid the groundwork for a digital learning movement.

However, we are not on track to achieve the objective of a digital learning environment. According to the Education Superhighway survey, 72 percent of K-12 public schools in the U.S. still do not have sufficient Internet infrastructure to support digital learning.

The E-rate program not only modernizes education, it also closes the digital divide. 

Today, schools across the country feel the pressure to embrace digital learning. To execute this successfully, teachers need a combination of technology and digital content to personalize instruction for their students in the classroom. This allows every student to learn at his or her own pace.

In December 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Second E-rate Modernization Order. The order made funding available for schools and libraries to purchase high-speed broadband connectivity, capable of delivering gigabit service over the next five years. The goal: to make digital learning a reality for every school, not just the ones that have the budget to make it possible.

By adding $1.5 billion in additional funds, this order brought the total amount to $3.9 billion – the largest amount that has ever been made available to K-12 schools in the history of the U.S. education program. While the media primarily focused on the $1.5 billion increase of funding, we would be remiss not to consider the program’s objectives. According to the FCC, E-rate will accomplish three major goals:

  1. Significantly expand funding for Wi-Fi networks and distribute it fairly to all schools and libraries while recognizing the needs of the nation’s rural and disadvantaged school districts.
  1. Maximize the cost-effectiveness of E-rate spending through greater pricing transparency, encouraging consortia and bulk purchasing, and better enforcement of existing rules.
  1. Streamline and simplify the E-rate application process and overall program administration.

Funding may be requested under two categories of service: services that distribute support to a school or library (e.g., telecommunications, telecommunications services and Internet access) and services that deliver Internet access within schools and libraries (e.g., internal connections, basic maintenance of internal connections and managed internal broadband services). The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and school or library location, urban or rural, determines funding levels..

According to the FCC, three out of five schools in the U.S. lack the Wi-Fi needed to deploy digital learning tools. Moreover, half of school buildings have older, slower internal wiring, unable to carry data at today’s broadband speeds. When Wi-Fi improves in the classroom, connectivity increases, and teachers can enhance learning. Student satisfaction rises when libraries and study halls deploy scalable, Wi-Fi access. Additionally, when schools invest in more reliable school-wide Wi-Fi that require less network equipment, implementation and management costs reduce significantly. Implementing an upgradable robust Wi-Fi network provides a long lasting IT infrastructure that grows with digital learning innovations without the need to make additional investments replacing equipment.

The E-rate program not only modernizes education, it also closes the digital divide. It gives disadvantaged schools the funds to invest in a cost-effective, scalable Wi-Fi network and digital devices to make individualized learning possible. Many school districts are still unaware of the additional $1.5 billion that was made available in December. The application window for the 2015 funding year closes at midnight Thursday, February 26. The application window for 2016 will open up in September 2015.

Shane Buckley is CEO of Xirrus. If you are a school district looking calculate your funding eligibility or apply for funding, check out this resource center: http://erate.xirrus.com/  If you’re a school district looking to calculate your funds, check out this resource: http://eratewifi.xirrus.com/

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