Cool Tool | MIDAS Education

CREDIT MIDAS EducationHere’s one system where you can use one log-in to handle all of your teaching and learning needs. Call it an “EEM” (Education Enterprise Management) solution, MIDAS does not make a district’s disparate systems “talk” together; it replaces them all with one system built on Amazon Web Services. When users create or select an assignment, MIDAS updates the parent portal, the grade book, all class pages, Google Drive, and your master file with one click. An acronym for Massively Integrated Data Analytics System, it is built on a single database, which allows all stakeholders to build their own customizable data dashboards that update in real-time. In addition to managing curriculum and assessment information, MIDAS also facilitates individualized instruction by giving “permissions” to all stakeholders to surround the student with a system of support based on their role and relationship to the student. Parents can set up automated “triggers” to notify them of impending attendance or grade concerns. Administrators can be notified of SPED, behavior, or student achievement issues by student, class, grade level, school, or across the district. Most importantly, the students themselves can take an active role in “owning” their education. MIDAS does all this while automating the reporting and compliance needs so teachers can focus on teaching. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | Kids Discover Online

CREDIT Kids Discover OnlineTo provide teachers with age-appropriate, accurate, and engaging nonfiction for elementary and middle school students, long-time educational publisher Kids Discover has developed Kids Discover Online, a digital collection of its entire library. The web-based platform brings articles and nonfiction texts to life through interactive GIFs, historical photos, and illustrations. Readers in third through eighth grade can choose among three different Lexile levels. Before designing and developing the collection, the publisher engaged in more than six months of research, surveying teachers, students, and school administrators to find out what would work best for them. To create its online library, they partnered with subject experts from leading institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, and The Smithsonian Institute to ensure the the accuracy and quality of the content. To keep students engaged with its more than 1,000 science and social studies lessons, the platform offers lively infographics and the Discover Map, an interactive concept map that demonstrates the linkages between different units and topics in the library. Teachers have the ability to build cross-curricular lessons by mixing and matching content from across the library. The platform can play a key role in a flipped classroom setting, and teachers use it for activities from quiet reading to leading student research. It’s optimized for screens as large as a whiteboard and as small as a mobile phone. Whether districts have implemented 1:1 programs using tablets or Chromebooks or have chosen a BYOD approach, the platform provides high-interest nonfiction resources that students can view on the device of their choice. Learn more.

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Tools to Reach Everyone

Ease of use makes the difference for emergency notifications.

GUEST COLUMN | by Pat Scheckel

CREDIT singlewire InformaCastDuring a school emergency, time is crucial. Whether its an injury, intruder or active shooter, notifying personnel of the situation in a timely manner to start responding and managing the crisis can make all the difference. But, it’s not just about having the proper procedures in place, it’s about having the tools to reach everyone, wherever they are in a building or campus. To help with this challenge, many schools are implementing emergency notification systems are to bring together disparate systems and notify everyone. However, with rapidly changing technologies, it can be difficult to know which solution will be the best fit for your school.

Schools should look for systems that are easy to use, offer multiple message options for notifications, alerts to help manage almost any scenario, and new technology that leverages investments in existing systems.

Schools should look for systems that are easy to use, offer multiple message options for notifications, alerts to help manage almost any scenario, and new technology that leverages investments in existing systems.

Easy to Use

In an emergency situation, asking for help should be as easy as a push of a button. Whether that’s a discreet panic button, a built-in feature on a desk phone or the swipe of a smartphone, the last thing you want is for people to worry about remembering a complex set of steps to trigger a notification. It’s also important to utilize a system that can send to multiple communication methods with a single push. Systems that offer the ability to build groups make it easy to notify everyone on multiple devices without the need to draft and send separate messages.

Multiple Message Types

When sending a message, it’s important to be able to provide the appropriate amount of context. Look for a system that lets you send text, audio, and images to give your staff the information they need to manage the situation. SMS, push notifications, email, desktop notifications and text to speech functionalities help ensure messages reach everyone, wherever they are.

Respond to Any Situation

A truly robust system will go beyond alerts for intruders. School officials should look for additional features that monitor for severe weather alerts that might impact schedules, and bell systems to automate class changes, recess, and end of day bells. The ability to initiate lockdowns, monitor and record 911 calls and alert people about medical emergencies are also important features for many schools.

Technology Integration

School budgets are limited, so look for a system that can integrate with existing technologies to help save on costs. Door locks, overheard paging systems, panic buttons and other legacy technology should be able to work with an emergency notification system to help keep people safe and aware during an emergency.

Mobile Matters

Perhaps the most important feature to look for in an emergency mass notification system is its mobile capabilities. Mobile devices provide direct access to alert people of a situation. A system that offers push notifications, text and audio messaging, group conference calling and real-time response monitoring can help ensure a successful outcome during an emergency.

Pat Scheckel is the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Singlewire Software, the developer of InformaCast, a leading emergency notification system. K-12 schools and college campuses use InformaCast to communicate lockdowns, intruders and severe weather alerts to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff.

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Gone Data Gone

Three ways higher ed can protect students, faculty, and staff data.

GUEST COLUMN | by Vijay Ramanathan

CREDIT Code42The computer’s data is gone. Just thinking about such a data disaster can cause hearts to race in higher education students, faculty and staff—and create a sinking feeling in the stomachs of the IT professionals responsible for helping them deal with such disasters. The causes for data disasters vary: a hard drive crash, a laptop left on a bus or stolen from a dining hall, ransomware that locks a student out of his or her computer. But the result is the same—hours or even days spent trying to recover or recreate lost files, up to and including valuable or even irreplaceable laboratory research, papers, student records, and other data.

Now it’s time to turn awareness into action by empowering university users to protect their data.

The increased media attention around data breaches has created a general awareness of cybersecurity within the higher ed community. Now it’s time to turn awareness into action by empowering university users to protect their data. Here are three ways higher ed IT professionals can help students, faculty and staff avoid data loss disasters and, when disasters do occur, make data recovery quick, painless, and do-it-yourself.

Make Backup Easy: Perhaps the most important way higher ed IT professionals can help protect end users from data loss is to implement policies supported by smart tech in which end user data is automatically and continuously backed up to the cloud. Many IT professionals still expect users to manually back-up their data—to external hard-drives, or encrypted local datacenters or cloud services. Manual backup policies repeatedly fail because it is too easy for users to postpone backup. Instead, IT professionals need to implement policies that require, or at least strongly encourage, users to install software that continuously and unobtrusively backs up data, making backup a set-it-and-forget-it affair with perpetual benefits.

Educate Users: Higher ed institutions have programs in place to educate students, faculty and staff on sexual harassment, substance abuse, and crime prevention. Why not educate them on data protection and security, as well? Data protection and security best practices might seem obvious to IT professionals, but not everyone on a college campus understands the risk of opening an attachment from an unknown source, or what to do when a ransomware attack strikes. Moreover, even when end users are aware of best practices, reminders at regular intervals increase adherence. A little education on backup best practices, laptop theft avoidance, who to contact in the event a laptop is stolen or lost, and how to recognize social engineering will go a long way in promoting data protection and security, with the potential to stop data disasters before they happen.

Monitor and Measure: Implementing policies to move students, faculty and staff to adopt automatic backup software on their computers, and educating them on data protection and security best practices are the first steps. Knowing whether or not policies are working and adoption is widespread is another. It might be cliché, but it’s still true—you can’t manage what you don’t measure. IT teams can measure the success of these programs if they institute processes and use software that enables campus-wide visibility of software installation and backup health on each device. With visibility of data backup initiatives, IT professionals know if policies and practices are actually working, or if more end-user training is required.

Smart software, end-user education, and the ability to monitor and measure adoption and utilization require time and effort. Yet, by reducing data disasters and making recovery from such disasters faster and easier, IT professionals will save time and effort overall by avoiding the time-consuming chore of data disaster recovery. In addition, IT pros will protect their institution’s students and faculty, its research and records, and the knowledge and reputation built within the university—by ensuring its most valuable assets are securely preserved.

Vijay Ramanathan is Vice President of Product Management at Code42, a global enterprise SaaS provider of endpoint data protection and security to more than 39,000 organizations, including the most recognized brands in business and education. 

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Streamlined and Strengthened

Five new best practices for securing student data.

GUEST COLUMN | by Adam Eberle

CREDIT SUNGARD K-12A vital responsibility of school districts is to safeguard all statistics and information they gather about their students. While that data must be kept secure to protect student privacy, it also needs to be available for a variety of reasons to students, parents, teachers, administrators, policymakers, researchers, and members of the community.

As a result, superintendents navigate a world where information about their students is collected and shared, while also guarded against inappropriate access or use. Setting policy, monitoring implementation and reporting results are among the challenges district administrators must meet when education data and student privacy overlap.

Setting policy, monitoring implementation and reporting results are among the challenges district administrators must meet when education data and student privacy overlap.

Here are five ways K-12 education leaders are currently working with administrative software providers to streamline data management and strengthen data security in their districts.

Student Privacy Pledge

Introduced jointly last year by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association, the Student Privacy Pledge has already been signed by 250-plus education technology companies. It spells out best practices and provides helpful information for districts to share with stakeholders about the who-what-where-how of student data collection and use. Districts increasingly want to work with educational technology providers who have signed the pledge.

Integrate privacy regulations

Best practices in this area say that awareness is not sufficient; current law should always be integrated with your school software solutions. So here’s advice from StriveTogether, which has been developing guidelines on student data privacy since 2014. It offers guidance and links to regulatory agencies so that you can work with your software company to make sure your district is abiding by the rules of FERPA and HIPAA and COPPA.

Speed it up

Instead of working with companies in a piecemeal approach, partner with an administrative software company capable of meeting all your integrated technology needs. It’s an effective, efficient, and smart way to boost data management from intake to distribution.

Collect and share appropriately

Transparency is vital. District policy should inform all stakeholders of what information is being collected—along with how and why it will be used—while removing personally identifying information as needed. From there, however, experts advise caution whenever data gathering is proposed. “We don’t collect data just because somebody wants to look,” said Robert Swiggum, deputy superintendent of technology services for education in the state of Georgia, at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing in March. Rather, districts should establish and adhere to policies and principles regarding the purposes of collecting and sharing data.

Customize and personalize

None of the 13,500-plus school districts in the U.S. are the same. That’s why each needs a customized solution to optimize information management for school success. The National Center for Education & Statistics currently offers multiple ways to analyze basic data, but we like this simple equation: adaptability = flexibility and depth. Using the right school success solution, a district may prioritize data for teachers to use to help students individually and collectively. Or it may collect data on student needs and achievement in order to more deeply engage its community. All districts, however, can benefit from working with educational technology companies that can offer strategies for individualizing and strategically sharing student information.

Adam Eberle is Chief Commercial Officer with SunGard K-12. His company is a leading provider of technology solutions and thought leadership programs that drive student achievement in school districts across the country.

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