K12 IT Administrators Rethinking Chromebooks After Crash?

Widespread bug crashed thousands of Chromebooks in K12 districts
Chromebook becomes Stonebook without internet access

Google Chrome OS long seemed like a solution looking for a problem. In a world dominated by Microsoft and Apple, it was hard to find a purpose for a lightweight platform that was mostly for basic applications like word processing and spreadsheet usage – and an OS that required internet access to function.

Then K12 came calling. Chromebooks – lightweight, durable, cheaper than their Apple and Microsoft alternatives – caught on with school districts looking for a suitable vehicle as 1:1 programs took on steam. However, school districts across America got a wake-up call on the potential hazards of putting all their eggs in Google’s basket when a network policy update pushed by the search giant’s administrators caused devices to temporarily lose internet connectivity. This would be a headache for any notebook computer, of course, but in a Chromebook environment, this is mission critical: without internet access, a Chromebook becomes a paperweight.

Google won’t say how many users were affected, but one school district alone believes that all 20,000 devices in its network were impacted. The issue was fixed on the same day, and Google posted a series of steps that districts could take to solve the problem. But many IT professionals are now concerned, especially if Google pushes a major update that isn’t rolled back easily.

As school districts seek to facilitate active learning, they turn to Silicon Valley in ever greater numbers seeking to adopt the right technology. But even mighty Google isn’t immune to technical difficulties.

(Source: EdSurge)

BYOD Alternatives for Classroom Polling

Digital alternatives for classroom polls and quizzes
During the course of a lesson in an active learning environment, instructors may want to conduct some type of classroom poll, which can get complicated in a BYOD (“bring your own device”) environment. Fortunately, there are several options available that allow students to participate in classroom polls while using their own laptop or tablet, or even a phone.

  • Kahoot – The company boasts commitment to keeping the product free, so responses are free up to 1000 participants. Additionally, results are exportable to Google Drive.
  • Poll Everywhere – Students can simply text responses using their phone. Instructors receive up to 40 free responses and one year student access is $14.
  • i>clicker REEF –  While this service requires students to bring their own remote, there is a 2 week free trial offered and students can obtain an access code for $15.99 that tracks their quiz answers for a year.
  • Audience Opinion – This is a simple app and is free up to 75 responses to professors with an “edu” email account.
  • Direct Poll – Easy to use and free up to 500 responses, this one is a great pick for large lectures.

Depending on the needs of the class and instructor, there is sure to be a choice that will seamlessly incorporate BYOD polling into the curriculum.
(Source: University of Delaware)

Smartphones in the Classroom

Student on smartphone in class
What if the very thing that keeps kids from focusing in school could actually help channel students’ attention? Smartphones are nearly impossible to ban, so working with them can actually allow students to become more engaged, as their lives are so technologically-centered. Since their futures depend on their ability to use technology proficiently, it could make sense to involve it in the learning process. The following are some recommended tools that utilize smartphones in the classroom:
Plickers – Teachers often need to assess how much the information is actually being grasped by the students. Plickers gives teachers the ability to ask questions in real time and have students respond with their answers directly to the instructor’s smart phone. Gauging the responses helps teachers to adjust lessons accordingly.
Trello – Organization of assignments and projects can streamline the work for students and teachers. This free service allows for multiple users to collaborate on group tasks.
White Noise – Use any number of music apps to play white noise sounds during study periods. This blocks out excess background noise and has proven to increase concentration.
Kahoot – This tool has game-like functions and a layout which will be attractive to young learners. They can create quizzes and receive feedback from their classmates as well as obtain data for graphic assignments.
Venngage – Seeing the data visually is an effective way of processing new information. Venngage offers a series of templates that students can customize to display impactful infographics.
Nearpod – This tool creates interactive lessons. Students can ask questions and receive feedback immediately, which is an advantage in keeping their attention.
Class Dojo – Students create avatars and gain or lose points for behavior. This is a motivating and incentivizing way to uphold class values.
Prezi – A presentation tool more creative and striking than PowerPoint, Prezi makes the creation and the viewing of presentations much more enjoyable.
Cold Turkey – This service can be turned on during busy work times and blocks time-wasting web sites temporarily. It can be used as an incentive to complete assignments and then turned off for free time.
These options, plus the right kind of class environment through quality technology furniture, will put new life into the learning process while utilizing the very tools that seem to get in the way of productive class time.
(Source: TeachThought.com)

Recommended Technologies for Experiential Learning

Recommended technologies for experiential learning
Most if not all of us learn fastest and most effectively by doing. This is being recognized in the world of technology and is being dubbed “experiential learning.” Closely connected to active learning, this approach says that learning needs to be internalized through individual activity and effort, and as such, the instructor needs to help provide experiences that will help the student internalize the content.  Emotions, individual thought processes, and environment all actively contribute to our obtaining of information. Recognizing this allows us to utilize technological advances to our advantage in the world of education.
Aside from developing the environment to help the learner have those experiences – such as having the right kind of classroom furniture – the development and active usage of the following tools will greatly enhance the knowledge and education of students worldwide.

  • Online video conferencing. This method allows students to feel connected to their educators and other pupils regardless of geographical proximity. Interacting with peers and professors can ease hesitations and insecurities in the learning process.
  • Social networking. In a world that is run by social media, it is advantageous to incorporate learning into this model. Groups and pages can be created to cultivate knowledge-gaining conversation, to relay deadlines and other announcements, and to promote class camaraderie and cooperation.
  • Mobile. Tests, group messaging, video calls, emails, and course work can all be accessed via the student’s mobile phone. “On the go” learning is the technology of now and the future.
  • Digital games. Because they are already engaging, digital games can be a motivating aspect of the educational process. Advancing levels, obtaining points, and competing against others will encourage students to gain more knowledge and proficiency in a short amount of time.

Hands-on engagement and experimentation are the future of efficient and successful education. We can take advantage of available technological resources to encourage the process of discovery.
Source:EdTechReview

Embrace the New with HuddleVu: Innovative Screen Sharing and Collaboration Table Solutions from SMARTdesks

From business to education, collaboration and leadership are the cornerstones of today’s workplace. Technology, the ultimate tool for consensus building and problem solving, has shaped how we communicate ideas and develop solutions at a faster rate than ever before. From network building to our instant access to information, the culture of sharing defines how we think, work, and play.
Boost-Swan-Nebula-discussion[3]
SMARTdesks recognizes that sharing technology in the office and university increases productivity and success across an array of collaborative work environments. Our BoostTM Collaborative Conference Table presents the all-in-one solution. The BoostTM comes outfitted with a FlipIT Lift monitor display easily visible from all sides of the table, and that neatly hides away when no longer needed. In addition, the easy-to-install HuddleVuTM HDMI video switcher enables up to four users to plug their computers in and seamlessly toggle the main display to show their individual screen at the touch of a button. For small meeting rooms and open-plan spaces alike, the BoostTM and HuddleVuTM make an elegant pair, bringing collaboration to your fingertips. With a simple installation and no software or programming required, sharing your screen has never been so easy.

Classroom Design for the Modern World

The "Lampe de Marseille" is a characteristic lighting fixture by Le Corbusier, and shows the importance of aesthetic illumination in office and classroom design.
The “Lampe de Marseille” (1949-52) is a characteristic lighting fixture by Le Corbusier, and shows the importance of aesthetic illumination in office and classroom design.

“Modern life demands, and is waiting for, a new kind of plan, both for the house and the city,” famous Swiss architect and designer Le Corbusier said in 1923. His words are still relevant today not only for the home and the city, but also for classroom design and office design.
Le Corbusier was among the pioneers who developed a relationship between interior design and architecture. Many of his furniture designs have become hallmarks of 20th century architecture history. Although he worked before the ubiquitous presence of computers and technology, his prescient view of furniture design and organization applies to the thinking behind cutting-edge classroom and office environments of the 21st century. Le Corbusier’s seamless integration of lighting fixtures, shelves, cupboards, and cabinets into their surrounding environment parallels the best contemporary classroom designs, where those elements are accompanied by comprehensive wire management systems, podiums, computer tables, and collaboration furniture.
High quality classroom design, complete with computer desks, computer tables, and collaboration tables, falls into a category that Le Corbusier called “human limb objects” — physical things that extend human capabilities and productivity.  In the world of furniture and classroom design, his words apply to tables and chairs as artwork of their space: “Certainly, works of art are tools — beautiful tools. And long live the good taste manifested by choice, subtlety, proportion, and harmony.”
The careful balance Le Corbusier articulates is one of aesthetics and functionality. It forms the core of sound classroom design and ergonomic desks and chairs. The versatility and flexibility of convertible computer tables are the key components of an advanced technology center or modern learning space. Architectural efficiency was one of the Le Corbusier’s most prominent ideologies, and it still plays a vital role in classroom and office space planning.
Here are a few tips and guiding questions to keep in mind when designing for efficiency in your own classroom.
1. Before beginning the planning phase, brainstorm all possible uses for the space. Does your classroom design need to include ample space for breakout activities and modular-shaped furniture, or are lines of computer tables for a more traditional approach most suited to your needs?
2. Computer tables and conference tables come in a plethora of shapes and sizes. Which accommodates your existing technology infrastructure best, and/or what is the technology infrastructure you would like to change or develop?
3. Consider the scale of your room(s). From K-12 environments to higher education to the corporate boardroom, the size of your furniture will define your space and the activities within it.
4. Similarly, what is the maximum number of people who will need to occupy the space? How can you choose furnishings in a way that makes the room feel as open as possible?
5. Chairs should encourage both comfort and good posture. This is most easily achieved through ergonomic design, which enable people to accomplish their work with greater ease and sharper focus.
6. What limits need to be placed on the available technology for your classroom design or office design? If participants will partake in both computer based and paper-and-pencil pursuits, your computer tables must offer sufficient ergonomic design to accommodate both.
7. Aesthetic and flexible wire management is an important part of designing any modern working and learning environment. Do you need moveable outlets, or would you prefer a more static arrangement? Careful consideration of technology needs will show you where and how flexible to need your computer cable organization options to be.
8. Finally, how long do you need this classroom design or office design to last? Will it be updated in the next ten years, or sooner? Think about building a space that incorporates the timeless element of high-quality furniture materials with the flexibility to update technology, such as computer monitors and smart boards, as each new model is released, and before your next major renovation.
If you’d like more ideas for designing your space, feel free to call us at 1-800-770-7042 without cost or obligation.
 

Designing the Classroom for Academic Honesty

Students are constantly faced with academic dishonesty. Unfortunately, although technology has become a powerful learning asset both inside and outside the classroom, it has also become an additional tool for cheating. According to major higher educational studies, an average of 75 percent of students admitted to at least one form of cheating over the course of their college career. But, this problem is not just found within academia. The same statistics ring true for high-school-aged children.
While we can put out a clarion call to scan student’s essays through online software that notates plagiarism and create several versions of tests for students to take, the need for combatting academic dishonesty is much more than that. It is about developing a culture of pride and personal integrity within students. Now, this is much easier said than done. Academic dishonesty has been around for decades; and will still be even in classrooms where teachers take action. But, that does not mean that it should go unnoticed.
Teachers and school districts can design their classrooms for success and honesty by:

  1. Changing the focus of learning

Cheating is increasingly prevalent during high risk assessment, like highly-weighted exams or essays. While testing can be argued to be an important aspect of learning, the focus across the United States needs to be realigned to focus more on the mastery of the skills. Teachers should consider methods other than traditional closed-book exams to test students on their ability to apply their knowledge, not simply demonstrate memorization. Students would be less likely and capable of cheating if the notion of learning focused on enrichment and mastery of skills rather than testing standards.

  1. Adding tools that decrease the possibility of cheating

How test takers are seated can affect the probability of cheating. While it is not possible in all schools, adding testing privacy shields between desks that clamp to the desk not only discourage cheating, but encourage focus. This will allow students to do their best on exams.

  1. Academic integrity code of ethics contracts

Many teachers have each student and a parent or guardian sign a code of ethics policy that clearly lays out the policy at the beginning of the year. This can help educate students on what constitutes as plagiarism or academic misconduct and lay a foundation for a no-tolerance enforcement. Students will be a lot less likely to attempt to cheat if the policy is very clearly spelled out.
4. Be an active teacher during testing
For teachers administering tests, testing day is not simply a time to catch up on reading. Teachers need to be actively looking for common cheating signs during test-taking situations. The more aware a teacher is, the more difficult it will be for a student to cheat; and the less likely they will.

  1. Consider school-wide devices over BYOD

In a 21st century school, technology is prevalent. If the school has a policy of providing students with individual iPads or laptops that they can use in the classroom, there is more of a possibility that the school can utilize computer monitoring software that bars students from browser windows and tracks where they go. Blended learning and the use of technology in the classroom is arguably extremely beneficial, as long as the teacher is knowledgeable of the technology.
How do you create a culture of academic honesty within your school?

Workplace Productivity? Try Community + Engagement

Results from a 2013 Gallup study provided a surprising (and rather dismal) statistic: of 25 million workers polled, only 30% were actively engaged in their work, and the other 70% fell short of their productivity potential. According to the same study, employees who are engaged in their work are enthusiastic, committed participants in their company whose creativity generates new ideas, attracts customers, and contributes positively to their organization as a whole.
This chart from the Gallup poll shows that since 2000, employee engagement levels across the US have barely changed.
Screenshot-2014-06-28-22.49.05-624x667
So, what is to be done?
Assuming that employee engagement levels are tied to feelings of (1) personal satisfaction, (2) balance, and (3) enthusiasm in their companies, it makes sense to examine how spatial design can improve these three aspects of their working lives.
(1) Personal Satisfaction
Easy-to-work-in office settings are crucial to a developing a sense of personal satisfaction among employees. The instant-gratification of younger office workers can see one another and easily interact, the same way they do with the instant technology-based communication that they use in their daily lives.
(2) Balance
Environments that foster interaction among employees — whether friendly or professional — are likely to improve company morale and willingness to work. A physically balanced space in the office can guide employees to a sense of psychological balance in their own lives. According to this blog post from WorkDesign magazine, breaking down walls in the office in favor of open architecture can drastically improve employee performance and productivity. Removing barriers between office also removes barriers between employees and enables them to connect on a personal level.
(3) Enthusiasm
Spatial design, coupled with charismatic leadership, boosts employee engagement tremendously. Settings that offer the possibility for both individual and group work, as well as welcoming meeting spaces, build community and camaraderie in the workplace. Flexible furniture offers the option to work individually or in groups – employees have control over their workspace, whether they’re problem solving on their own or as a team.
And not to be forgotten…company management / leaders also play a key role in defining workplace engagement (see this Huffpost blog).
Did you know? “Employee engagement” is such a hot topic right now that it has its own Wikipedia page. It also has increased significantly in relevance in Google’s search engines (based on a growing number of searches) according to the graphic below.
Emplyengagetrend-624x371

Workplace Collaboration: Why You Need It and How to Achieve It

Collaboration in the workplace not only allows companies to provide their consumers with the best solutions, but it helps employees stay on task and stay motivated. When looking to start a new business or revamp an existing business, executives should consider adopting a collaborative model. As this article from TechRadar aptly expresses, the prevalence of social media, mobile technology, and an international information-based economy have developed, so too has a greater need for collaboration in the global marketplace.
Why you need it…

  1. Increased Innovation

Through collaboration, employees bring together expertise and experience to develop the best solutions  for customers. Working on a team employees utilize their own unique strengths and abilities that go beyond their job descriptions and allows for greater creative input. According to this Crain’s New York Business article, open offices even spur employees to set more ambitious goals in the workplace.

  1. Better Rapport

While a job may be a 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. commitment, to truly encourage commitment and success within a company, the members of each team need to know each other. The standard cube-style office approach encourages employees to be closed off from one another. By encouraging a collaborative workspace, it allows employees to get to know each other on a deeper level. Employees can open up and feel at-ease when expressing new business ideas. Google is following (or perhaps even setting!) this trend with their new GoogleDocs features, and increased storage in the cloud, which allows collaborators to share and edit their work together even when they are a world apart from one another.
How to achieve it…

SmartDesks is currently running a limited time sweepstakes to win a set of 6 igroup tables to help businesses promote collaboration.
iGroup-Accessorized
The iGroup is known as the “origami of interaction” because the tables are flexible in formation – you can create hexagon, pinwheel, star, wave, and abstract shapes among many other options. The iGroup is ideal for both the workplace and educational institutions.
igroup-giveaway-FB-LikeBar

  • The value of this prize is $5,000!
  • Entries will be accepted until 7/30/14, 12pm EST.
  • One entry per person, please.
  • The winner will be notified via email on 7/31/14.
  • If winner does not respond via email within 48 hours, a new winner will be notified. (Watch your email & check junk mail.)

For more information: Visit the official sweepstakes page.
 
 

The Common Core State Standards, widespread standardized testing, and the American education industry

Standardized testing is historically a hot-button topic in the American public education system.  From the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002 and Race to the Top in 2009, to the more recent controversy surrounding the release of the Common Core State Standards in 2010, questions abound as to whether standardized testing can provide an accurate metric for academic success, in terms of both teacher and student performance.
According to the Common Core website, the standards “provide clear and consistent learning goals to help prepare students for college, career, and life. The standards clearly demonstrate what students are expected to learn at each grade level, so that every parent and teacher can understand and support their learning.” The ultimate goal of the standards is to produce college and career readiness from a young age — beginning in the elementary years. 
But concerns remain about how exactly to prepare students for college, especially across a diverse array of school districts and student bodies. Some who oppose the Common Core cite the limiting influence of “teaching to the test,” which according to this editorial could create a standardized test meritocracy, defining students by ratings and rankings rather than their individual intellectual and creative strengths (which are not well measured by multiple choice tests). In addition, the Common Core standards were written by 27 members of the organization Student Achievement Partners. Many of these writers are involved in the pre-existing standardized testing industry and maintain interests in its economic growth. 
On the other hand, proponents of the program argue that because the standards merely indicate what students should be capable of as they progress through the grade levels. Individual curricula are still left to the discretion of their teachers and schools. As such, they claim that teaching a standardized skill set within the flexible framework of the Common Core will, on the whole, boost students’ academic performance.
SMARTdesks and the Common Core  
SMARTdesks is a firm believer the project-based learning and collaborative work allows students to grow in ways that exclusively “teaching to the test” does not offer. Standards have the capacity to enrich education, but they also must constantly adjust to account for students and their individual learning needs. Just as rows of desks are a dated classroom layout, uniform standards can curb the opportunity to foster creativity and entrepreneurship from an early age.
This Washington Post article offers a pertinent critique of the standards and their dependence on standardized testing as a measure of success, calling this method the “test-and-punish” approach as opposed to a “support-and-improve” model. Involved diagnostic entities working to improve education – such as the California Collaborative mentioned in the article – can identify strengths and weaknesses of schools in a way that the ranking inherent in standardized testing cannot. This approach emphasizes constructive feedback rather than punitive sanctions, and enables educators to better design curricula without the looming threat of losing their jobs based on their students’ standardized test scores. 
In general, how much do Americans really know about the Common Core?
A UConn poll from earlier this month showed that the more Americans know about the initiative, the less likely they will be to support it.
Some Statistics:

  • 39% of Americans have heard of the much-debated initiative in 44  states; 95% have heard of No Child Left Behind;
  • 33% believe adopting Common Core standards will increase the quality of education in their communities, 27% say it will have no effect, 30% believe it will damage education;
  • 29% believe the Common Core will increase the number of students who attend college;
  • 33% say the initiative will mean that more of those Americans who graduate college will be ready for a career;
  • 53% of liberals favor the policy, compared to 24% of conservatives who responded to the poll.

And…38% believe Common Core is a good policy, in contrast to the 44% who believe the opposite.
This reticence perhaps stems from the consequences of No Child Left Behind, which some consider a fundamentally flawed program due to its dependence on test scores. The cost has been hefty as well; pre-NCLB annual state spending on standardized tests totaled $423 million, a figure which rose to $1.1 billion in 2008, according to this Huff Post blog entry.
For the Common Core’s response to criticism click here for the program’s elucidation of “myths vs. facts” regarding its standards.
In your opinion…Do you think the Common Core will help or harm students and teachers in the long run? What does college-and-career readiness mean to you?