Unified Schools

The value of cloud communications to education.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mitch Tarica

CREDIT RingCentral.pngWalk into any classroom or wander around any campus and you’ll find yourself immersed in a digital environment. Many students at K-12 schools have laptops, school email accounts and access to online learning applications and programs. Schools have set up mobile learning labs to enhance students’ learning environments and experiences. Libraries provide access to learning software and research databases and resources from around the globe. Automated alert systems are in place to notify parents of emergencies, snow days and other critical updates. Teachers and administrators leverage tools to facilitate efficient communication among themselves, as well as with students and parents. Less visible are the underlying infrastructures that enable students, faculty, administrators and parents to realize the greatest possible inter-connectedness, performance, and value from their technologies.

The future is now for education, and good communication is the foundation.

One such infrastructure is communications – the lifeblood of how content, resources, and news updates are shared. In today’s mobile-first world, legacy phone systems and tethered hardware are not options for progressive institutions. More and more, IT staff are realizing the benefits of cloud-based unified communications solutions as they look to cut costs, enable greater mobility, and meet the evolving communication needs of students, educators and administrators. In addition, shifting communications to the cloud enables integrations with third-party applications already in use by educational institutions, which adds yet another layer of seamless workflow productivity.

According to a 2015 Center for Digital Education survey of IT administrators across the U.S., 29 percent of higher education institutions and 26 percent of K-12 schools have implemented unified communications (also known as UC). Another 15 percent of higher education institutions and 13 percent of K-12 schools plan to upgrade in the next year.

An irresistible value proposition

The value proposition of using a hosted cloud platform for UC has many compelling benefits including:

o   Cost-effective video and web collaboration

o   A cloud infrastructure capable of scaling to handle thousands of users and devices across multiple locations

o   Disaster recovery and business continuity with fail-over networks to keep communications up and running

o   Online interactive chat, group teleconferences, and video capabilities providing increased productivity for students, staff and educators

o   Reduction in overhead costs for IT administrators

o   Integration with third party applications

o   Mobile collaboration capabilities for staff so they are reachable anywhere on campus.

It’s no surprise more school districts are migrating to the cloud given how critical clear, effective, reliable communication and connectivity is to their business. With school districts and university campuses often spanning multiple locations and the staff and student reliance on wireless devices for keeping in touch and accessing critical resources, the cloud solves many communication issues that have historically stymied educational institutions tethered to legacy PBX systems.

Case in Point

Most recently, the Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) replaced their communications solution. Although their existing solution was cloud-based, they were experiencing reliability and quality of service issues. Additionally, district staff and teachers needed a communication solution that facilitated omni-channel communications across any device, meaning whatever mode a faculty member wants to use, be it SMS, voice, email, or fax, they can do it from the same device.

Lastly, SCUSD needed a UC solution that enabled seamless integration with Google Apps for Education, a critical productivity tool that is used district-wide.

Among their challenging criteria:

o Provide a proven, QoS solution

o   24×7 customer support

o   45-day window to deploy the solution across 28 campuses to 1,800 users

o   Support mobile users across all locations in the school district

o   Seamless integration with Google Apps for Education

o   Secure communications that protect the privacy of users with authentication features and compliance with government requirements

SCUSD IT administration group partnered up to deploy the communications solution by the first day of school. Administrators, faculty and staff now communicate using any mode they desire on any device. Location is irrelevant because the platform makes it possible to work together as if everyone is in the same location.

Leveraging the unique capabilities of such a cloud solution, SCUSD now has the powerful, leading-edge communications it needs to provide its students with the highest quality education.

Educational institutions at all levels can future-proof their communications with cloud-based services, particularly when hosted in the cloud by a reliable provider. As districts look to increasingly modernize classroom technologies, it’s important to keep the infrastructure top of mind as well as to ensure they are keeping pace with technology innovation, while easily scaling to meet their needs. The future is now for education, and good communication is the foundation.

Mitch Tarica works for RingCentral. A University of California graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, he has also worked for Oracle and WebEx.

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Juggling Act

With new content rules for schools, controlled cloud collaboration.

GUEST COLUMN | by Trevor Hellebuyck

CREDIT Metalogix.pngWe’re smack in the middle of a new era of collaboration, and nowhere is that clearer than in the educational world. Students and educators alike do their work and share information much differently than they did just a decade ago. Think about today’s classrooms, where content is in constant motion between students, teachers, platforms, and a wide range of electronic devices.

Students and educators alike do their work and share information much differently than they did just a decade ago.

Yet like our physical world, our digital world is not uniform, and no single educational institution will be standardized on just one enterprise content management or cloud collaboration platform. This can make it difficult for IT administrators to monitor and manage all of these disparate platforms. Since there is no single point of control for content management coming from within the organization, students (and instructors as well) often find themselves turning to cloud solutions that IT has not sanctioned—such as Dropbox, Box, Google for Work, or Salesforce—to be able to get their work done.

There are a few problems with this piecemeal approach, both from an organizational and educational perspective. Since these platforms have been neither approved nor deployed by IT, they lack the type of rigorous compliance and governance rules—internally and externally—as sanctioned on-premises solutions. Despite this reality, IT still is charged with managing and monitoring these platforms to protect their content. From the student and teacher perspectives, content entrusted to public cloud collaboration solutions is not necessarily secure. The public cloud has long been criticized for its penetrability by hackers, potentially jeopardizing personal data (students and/or educational institution staff), as well as educational data, such as academic research content that may be privileged or confidential.

Yet when we’re talking about today’s learning institutions, the last thing we want to do is lose the freedom that the cloud offers. Students and educators need the ability to do research and get their work done from anywhere, at anytime. They must be able to communicate and share information with fellow students and colleagues—no matter which platform or device others are using—on and off campus.

Fortunately, a new type of technology solution has emerged that allows students and teachers alike to enjoy the freedom of classic cloud collaboration, but in a controlled setting. This solution provides one point of control through which IT administrators can both monitor and manage the panoply of cloud collaboration platforms likely to be seen on any campus, no matter who has deployed them. It works via a comprehensive set of cloud apps that allow for content lifecycle management of data stored and shared across diverse cloud platforms.

Here are some benefits for educational institutions that embrace this new form of controlled cloud collaboration:

  • Any-to-any migration. Having a simple cloud-based interface allows for moving content from any type of file share solution onto the platform chosen by the IT administrator, for greater consistency, compliance, and security. In addition to any-to-any cloud migration, controlled cloud collaboration also facilitates content replication, synchronization, and platform provisioning.
  • Easy permissions management. Permissions is an important part of safeguarding data for educational users, and controlled cloud collaboration simplifies the process with a single interface for permissions management for any cloud collaboration platform, as well as auditing and reporting. The solution additionally enables content classification, cloud service management, and monitoring/reporting on usage.
  • Protection of sensitive content. Controlled cloud collaboration uses a single interface to allow administrators to quickly scan their extended collaboration environment. They can easily find and move sensitive content, provision users, and manage usage.
  • Security monitoring. To protect educational users’ content, the solution monitors unauthorized usage, scanning continuously for suspicious or inappropriate content placement. Controlled cloud collaboration backs up and archives content no matter where it is housed in the cloud.

In conclusion, it is clear this trend is not going away, it is only growing in popularity and soon (if not already) will be grouped inarguably under “best practices.” Students, educators and administration will continue to require the freedom to choose the platform that best fits their needs for content management and collaboration. To limit their ability to do this, is to limit their ability to learn, collaborate and be successful in today’s dynamic global learning environment.

Luckily, IT professionals now have the power to retain/regain control of their end clients’ disparate platform choices. By leveraging a solution that empowers IT with a single point of control to monitor, manage and protect, IT can balance its own goals and requirements while ensuring user freedom and optimized productivity. This is what we call a win-win.

Trevor Hellebuyck is Chief Strategy and Product Officer at Metalogix.

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Shaping the Future

At the intersection of education and technology, working with the most creative minds.

GUEST COLUMN | by Anne Wintroub

CREDIT ATT Aspire Accelerator.pngAs part of AT&T’s Aspire initiative – which accelerates the learning revolution and connects it with the young people who need it most– we’ve invested more than $350 million to help ensure all students have access to the skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. We know that in order to truly accomplish this mission, we must look to those “on the ground”: the teachers and inventors who are creating solutions for our students using the power of technology.

When we first launched the AT&T Aspire Accelerator in 2015, it was with the goal of finding and fostering the ideas of these very individuals, who represent the most innovative, groundbreaking startups in edtech.

We know that in order to truly accomplish this mission, we must look to those ‘on the ground’ – the teachers and inventors who are creating solutions for our students using the power of technology.

Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most creative minds in the edtech startup world. I find myself constantly learning from these folks and rethinking where learning and technology intersect. This past year, I’ve been able to work with companies like Bitsbox, which teaches school-aged kids to love coding, and Cogent Education, a company developing “interactive case studies” that allow students to solve real-world problems by applying the scientific method and real time teacher feedback. We also worked hand in hand with Talking Points, an organization that connects educators, parents and students through a multilingual texting platform allowing educators to communicate with parents in their own languages via two-way translation.

In addition to the $100,000 financial investment and mentorship from AT&T[1], the participating startups benefit from working with other industry pioneers. For that reason, we created an Accelerator Board of Advisors made up of leading innovators from education and technology – Charles Best, the Founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org, Sebastian Thrun, the Founder and CEO of Udacity, and Kimberly Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code – just to name a few. As is the case with any startup, and particularly within edtech, the input and feedback from those that have made waves in the industry is invaluable.

I often have people ask me what the true role of technology in education should be. For me, the answer is as simple as looking at the other industries we engage every day – retail, transportation, healthcare. 20, 15, even 10 years ago, technology wasn’t a critical piece of the puzzle in these arenas. Today, you couldn’t imagine life without the technology we have so readily available – when we check out at the grocery store, when we’re waiting for the next train to come, or when we’re trying to find and book a doctor’s appointment. Why should education be any different?

We know that the jobs of tomorrow will require skills steeped in technology. We also realize that today’s students live surrounded by technology that wasn’t a reality for the generations before them. Technology can improve how students learn both in and out of the classroom. We truly believe that the startups that have been and will be a part of the AT&T Aspire Accelerator will be the individuals helping to shape what the future of edtech will look like, and we’re excited to be along for this important ride.

[1] The Accelerator welcomes for profit and no-profit companies. The non-profit companies receive charitable contributions instead of investments.

Anne Wintroub is the Director of Social Innovation at AT&T and runs the Aspire Accelerator program, which is accepting applications for the 2017 class thru February 7. Visit www.att.com/aspireaccelerator to learn more.

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Trends | The Modern Learner

CREDIT Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon.pngWill Richardson and Bruce Dixon have put together an excellent case—actually an urgent case, for the reimagining of today’s schools. In 10 Principles for Schools of Modern Learning: The Urgent Case for Reimagining Today’s Schools, they have composed a deeply thoughtful essay gleaned from years of experience and timely in its delivery here and now in 2017. “On one side are the centuries old traditions, expectations, and practices of a system of education and schooling created for another time but still deeply rooted in our various cultural fabrics. On the other side is a fast-changing and expanding new story of learning in a globally networked world, one marked by new opportunities and complex challenges, driven by the increasingly ubiquitous technologies that connect us,” they write. In the whitepaper, published by Educating Modern Learners, the pair articulate a compelling case for change, and provide plenty of actionable steps to do so. We live in interesting, exciting times, and Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon have not only captured that, but are graciously pleading for your continued participation and your strong leadership in transforming our education system into a more ideal environment. They also have a plan to help get us there. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | RefME

CREDIT RefME.pngThis may be one of the world’s first multi-platform tools to completely automate the citation, referencing and bibliography process for over 7,000 referencing styles. With it students can create accurate citations for any source in seconds and complete an entire bibliography in minutes. They can create separate projects for each essay or piece of research, storing all of the references together, ready to export straight into their papers as a ready made bibliography. They can collaborate or share work with others by inviting them to join a project, which gives them full access to view, add, and annotate citations. RefME’s award-winning mobile app lets students scan a book’s barcode using their smartphone’s camera, or search for its title, author or ISBN number in order to generate the citation. All one’s work is synced and stored across every device and on RefME.com, where students can find a more extensive interface and even more tools at their disposal. Desktop users can also make use of RefME’s handy WebClipper add-on for Google Chrome, letting them instantly add a citation for the web page or online journal straight into the relevant project on RefME.

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