Edtech Journal 2015 V1 President's Message

President's Message

by Peter Skibitzki



Over the last few months I have gone through countless drafts and revisions trying to put pen to paper in crafting a Presidential message befitting of CETPA’s 55th year as the recognized authority supporting educational technologists.

Every year you, our members, are faced with new obstacles and challenges and this year is no exception. Year after year you have amazed and astounded those you support by seeing through impediments to overcome and seize new opportunities in “Shaping the Future of Education through Technology.”

Over the past 55 years in education we have seen the role of technology and those who support it change drastically. The days of technology being relegated to the closet or backrooms of schools and district offices is long gone. The use of technology can be seen in every aspect of education from the classroom, to business, to facilities, to administration. CETPA and its nearly 1,200 members have become an integral component and partner in helping administrators, teachers, and parents educate the students of California.

Through initiatives such as the CTO Mentor program we are preparing current and future leaders from both the classified and certificated ranks to lead, develop and support educational technology in fostering student success. Now in its ninth year, the program has seen many of its graduates assume leadership roles as directors of IT, CTOs, and even superintendents.

CETPA has also seen its role as an organization change and evolve from a conference-driven organization to an influential partner in the educational arena. Over the past few years our board has negotiated several software licensing contracts to provide the nation’s best consortium pricing from software giants Microsoft and Adobe. The result is a savings to school districts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

On other fronts, the board is actively engaging in legislative advocacy at the state level and reaching out to other prominent statewide educational organizations to build partnerships and to promote funding for educational initiatives. Most recently the board worked with an outside consultant to develop a new strategic plan to support our changing role in educational technology. The experience was enlightening and beneficial and will be a guiding document for the board and our membership.

For this year’s conference we find ourselves returning to one of our most popular venues, beautiful San Diego. The entire conference will take center stage at the newly built Hilton San Diego Bayfront and conference center. Attendees will be able to take in a full schedule of breakout sessions, hands-on labs, and tech shoot-outs. Members can also get some one-on-one time with product engineers in the sandbox area and walk the vendor show featuring over 200 exhibitors. In addition, we have several featured speaker sessions and two world-class keynote speakers, Jeff Havens and Robyn Benincasa. It will be a rewarding and worthwhile experience for all who attend.

While preparing to put my final thoughts down for this message I received the sad news that one of CETPA’s own, Michael Schenck, had passed away. Michael was the director of technology at the Konocti Unified School District and a graduate of CETPA’s very first CTO Mentor cohort in 2007. Surrounded by family and loved ones, he passed peacefully at his home in Clearlake after a two-year battle with brain cancer. He was an enthusiastic supporter of educational technology and touched the lives of all he encountered with his fervor, energy, and passion for life. Michael embodied the community spirit we enjoy as members of CETPA and his contributions will be deeply missed. May you rest in peace, our friend and colleague.

Peter W. Skibitzki
Peter W. Skibitzki, Director of Administrative Operations, Placer County Office of Education. pskibitzki@placercoe.k12.ca.us
Edtech Journal 2015 V1 Engineering Review
CETPA Engineering Review captured using Gambassa LMS

Engineering Review: Content Filter

By Phil Scrivano

Abstract:

The study features four vendors, each with their own methodology to solving the content filter problem. This engineering review focuses on the user experience of students, teachers, and administrators in a real time simulation of a classroom environment. Based upon data consisting of 2,000 observations, it is clear that each methodology offers strengths and weaknesses that must be taken into account to determine the overall sentiment and effectiveness of any one content filter. Our conclusion demonstrates that there is a wide array of choices available for districts that must be evaluated according to the local needs and culture.

An Engineering Review Versus Shoot Out

An Engineering Review is where vendors can bring their products into a live setting and get real time feedback from students, teachers, and IT staff. Data is collected and measured in both rubric format and freeform comments, as well as 3 Likes and 3 Dislikes. The live events may consist of one or more vendors on the same day serving as reference points of comparison. The rubric is designed to not favor any particular vendor or product design but rather the needs of the customers. CETPA’s role in providing this opportunity is two-fold, to provide a conduit for districts to review products, whether prototyped or officially released, in a live setting and to provide vendors the ability to measure the user sentiment, user behaviors, or product efficacy in real time. The Engineering Review also allows the Vendor a freeform discussion format to either clarify, address, or seek additional feedback from the testers. This dialog can be very powerful and useful for companies testing new features, designs, and products before they are released or getting live feedback on products that are already deployed. The purpose of an Engineering Review is for Districts to simulate real time usage of products and to evaluate potential products. It is not the intent to punish any vendor or product for performing poorly, especially unreleased products. We feel that creating this dialog between district and vendor creates a compressed feedback loop. Vendors may select their own rubric or use one created by CETPA. We prefer they’d use the CETPA developed rubric in order to allow for the greatest calibration of results, however, this is not mandatory. 

The goal of an Engineering Review is to Test, Learn, and Compare. Results will generally characterize the pros and cons of a product design concept and feature concepts, and may not specifically address the product itself. The Reviews may also forecast new trends or highlight upcoming features to be found in the marketplace.

Why an Engineering Review is NOT a Shoot Out

A Shoot Out is an opportunity for officially released and Vendor sanctioned products to go head-to-head with other officially released products on an agreed CETPA rubric. The rules of a Shoot Out are different than an Engineering Review in this subtle way: The rubric’s results will go through CETPA membership peer review and be made public in the EdTech Journal. The vendors will be allowed an option to comment on their feedback results after the engineering and peer review.

The goal of our EdTech Journal Reviews is to give our membership information based on our own professional evaluation, teacher response, and student use of education products. With the premise that no technology is perfect and every district will have features that are important to them. All four vendors who stepped up to this form of evaluation deserve our respect, support and a big thank you. Although each vendor contributed financially to cover this journal's production cost, all content is free of vendor influence and CETPA remains unbiased.

The study features four vendors, each with their own methodology to solving the content filter problem. This engineering review focuses on the user experience of students, teachers, and administrators in a real time simulation of a classroom environment. Based upon data consisting of 2,000 observations, it is clear that each methodology offers strengths and weaknesses that must be taken into account to determine the overall sentiment and effectiveness of any one content filter. Our conclusion demonstrates that there is a wide array of choices available for districts that must be evaluated according to the local needs and culture.

Introduction to content filters study

Education networks have become the largest controlled networks in the world. Keeping the environment safe consists of three lines of defense, the firewall, the content filter, and staff. In a school district the firewall is the gatekeeper of all traffic in and out of the network. The content filter categorizes all content and applies rules according to acceptable use policies to determine if the content should be allowed. This engineering review gave us the opportunity to experience a live simulated classroom while observing the impact and performance of the content filters on learning activities.

Our current CETPA Content Filter engineering review featured ContentKeeper, iboss, Lightspeed, and Securly. The live event was held on January 9th, 2015 and hosted by the Ventura County Office of Education. Our reviewing team consisted of school district technology professionals representing 49,287 students (Sorce: www.ed-data.org 2013-14 ADA), three certificated teachers representing elementary and secondary, and 14 students representing grades 5 through 11.

Titles Represented:

  • Chief Technology Officer
  • Database/Network Analyst
  • Director Of Technology
  • Lead Technology Specialist
  • Network Specialist
  • Network Systems Analyst
  • Student
  • Teacher
  • Technical Supervisor
  • Technology Specialist

Districts:

  • Filmore USD
  • Montecito Unified School District
  • Oak Park Unified School District
  • Ocean View School District
  • Oxnard Unified
  • Placer County Office of Education
  • Ventura County Office of Education
  • Ventura Unified School District

The review process started with building a vendor-approved rubric. The rubric produced over 2,000 data points including numerical data and reviewer feedback. The day was organized into two parts; hands-on engineering review in the morning and Q&A session with a sales person in the afternoon. During the morning engineering session each vendor placed their product in-line with a room specific wireless access point on the inside LAN port and unfiltered WAN connection on the external port of the filtering device. The exception to this setup was Securly which is a web hosted solution that required routing changes to the network during the Securly demonstration. CETPA professionals and teachers were given direct access to the management web interface of each product in order to score rubric questions and interact with the vendor engineer. All other vendor employees were out of the room during the morning session. Students were given the task to evaluate if the product was over-blocking or under-blocking education content based on researching assigned topics: gun control, human organ trafficking, and legalizing marijuana. Students were also give the additional task of evaluating if they could circumvent the content filter and if so, how hard was it. A note needs to be made that student selection was based on best and brightest at grade levels and interest in technology.

Rubric Details:

CETPA professionals and teachers shared the same rubric while students used a separate rubric based on the end user. Two example adult rubric questions:

Rate a 1-4 score for the description that most closely matches your evaluation

Admin Interface Rating
1 => Design is confusing and very difficult to navigate
2 => Design lacks intuition and could be easier to navigate
3 => Design is clear, but assistance is needed to navigate some areas
4 => Design is clear, easy to navigate, logical, and provides an effective means to administer the filter
Comments:
Local Allow and Local Block Rating
1 => Site requests for review are difficult to manage
2 => Site requests for review are time intensive to create rules for
3 => Site requests for review are easy to manage and create local allow/block rules
4 => Site requests for review are easy to manage and create local allow/block rules based on groups or other criteria
Comments:

During the morning engineering session each vendor was able to watch scoring and comments in real time. This empowered our vendors to prepare and respond during the afternoon session to reviewers' concerns and feedback. Vendors could see the information, but the contributor's identification was kept private. This setup made for a focused and direct discussion in the afternoon sessions. The following evaluations are based on scoring, comments, and a like/dislike response from each evaluator.

Findings

The order of vendors below reflects the reviewers' overall scoring based on 2000 data points. The content within the vendors product write-up reflects the thematic observations and sentiments of the group.


 



iboss Cybersecurity

Likes:

The top feature listed by all three groups, IT professions, teachers, and students, is the iboss content filter's ability to view web content that is encrypted between two hosts such as Facebook and a user logged into Facebook. SSL Encryption was originally developed by Netscape to secure MasterCard transactions over the Internet. Today, Facebook, Google, and many other web-based social media use this technology to protect the privacy of adult users. In a public school setting there is no expectation of privacy and sadly, being able to alert of social behaviors such as bullying, suicide, and harassment is part of maintaining a safe environment for learning. iboss accomplishes this without the need to install an agent on devices on the network.

Related to student safety is the ability to force all YouTube videos through a hosted search type engine called Cleanvideosearch.com. This engine strips user-feedback and advertisements plus inappropriate video content. The importance of this level of safety was expressed by a third grade male student's mother who was forced to discuss sexuality with her son due to inappropriate pictures displayed to the student's computer. The parent had hoped to approach this subject much later. There is no undoing the impact of this content on a child's mind.

Teachers were impressed by the override abilities of this filter because a teacher is able to view what the student rule-set will allow or block from the teacher workstation; no trial-and-error while looking over the shoulder of the student.

iboss technology goes beyond basic filtering by most notably applying threat rules that monitor much more than web content, such as identifying malicious behaviors traversing network (backdoor communications, botnets, DDOS attacks, chat rooms etc.) As stated by one IT Professional, “very impressive and clearly the most robust from a filtering and traffic shaping point of view.”

Bandwidth shaping was the second theme that users liked. iboss has the ability to limit how much bandwidth a user or group can use while at the same time guaranteeing maximum bandwidth for certain destinations such as CAASPP testing.

Students at all levels reported that iboss did the best job of not under-blocking or over-blocking content while being one of the most difficult to circumvent.

All three groups found the graphical interface controls well laid out, easy to navigate, and flexible.

Dislikes:

The iboss product relies on Active Directory / LDAP groups to apply policies. With no classroom level grouping ability, the teacher is unable to create instantaneous policy changes for overrides. This possibly limits teacher ability based on directory services groups and makes management of the filter dependent on a well-staffed and approachable IT department.

Licensing is based on device counts versus ADA, Average Daily Attendance, which is verifiable at http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us. No matter how the price is calculated, the chief business official produces a cost model based on price per student. It is less complicated when companies give straight forward pricing based on cost per ADA up front.

One secondary student articulated an important viewpoint that needs to be part of any technology security product. He writes iboss is “Extremely un-private,” staff “know exactly who, what, when, where, and such when accessing anything. Teachers could use it to take students' private info, even though it's unlikely, you never know.“

Vendor Response:

Although pricing typically based by device which is common with web security products, iboss can and has offered pricing based on ADA should it be desired.

With regards to the secondary students comment, we would like to clarify that this is a strength of the iboss product. iboss can provide detailed, user based reporting of all data that is not sensitive (i.e. Financial). This level of visibility is unmatched and while any solution with this level of detailed reporting can be used for purposes outside of its intent by administrators, it is unlikely, because those managing the systems are professionals. It’s important to note that this level of detailed reporting is essential for investigations during incident response. This greatly reduces the burden on resources and time during investigations, while also providing clear visibility into what actually occurred.

That said, the ability to tune the reporter to provide less visibility is possible if desired.

Robert Erwin - Director, Marketing




Peer Review Comment:

John Patten 05/20/2015

Nice review! As we are current iBoss users, I would also like to share that the reporting, such as threat reporting can be very useful. In a pinch we have used the realtime threat reporting feature to track down malware infested computers. Also, like many county offices of education, Stanislaus County Office of Ed provides the iBoss filtering service to districts that select that service. The iBoss management capabilities allows for individual groups to be created and managed independently by the subscribing district. This gives the member districts a quasi-cloud based solution as the member district receiving the service does not have to worry about managing the hardware. This makes iBoss a nice solution for small to medium sized districts in a shared, but independently managed, environment.


 



Lightspeed

Likes:

Lightspeed reporting was rated “best in class” by all three groups participating, IT professionals, teachers, and students. There is a robust menu of standard reports from web activity to suspicious web searches. Each report has an additional customization panel to the right which enables the administrator to drill down on specific users, IP addresses, time, protocols, etc. A top performer is the Suspicious Search report which has a filter option to summarize the report on several criterion. Using the summarize option by user produces a pie chart graphic at the top of the report that tells the story for non-technical people. As robust as the out-of-the-box reports are, Lightspeed offers custom reports to meet the individual needs of a district. This is an important function because Lightspeed recognizes that there is no such thing as a typical school district and each district has individual cultures and needs.

Another strong like for this product is the teacher override function which enables teachers to override filter settings to a certain level. It is important to recognize that some categories such as “child pornography” should never be allowed to override in a school setting. Typically what happens is a user makes a typing error that has the potential to go to an inappropriate site. Overrides can be device and group based depending how the directory services are set up and the type of devices being used. Students report it has “WebZones” for easy and quick content unblocking for a class.

Other likes for this product were the accuracy of the database update process that includes data from all school districts' local allow and local block activity. Help documentation is user community based and the company provides oversight of the information for accuracy.

Dislikes:

Students reported that Lightspeed does not block new proxy type servers not yet in the database and is vulnerable. The product should detect a proxy type server is being used and block it in real time. Another strong student concern was under-blocking on most Google images. Students also reported that most of the blocked websites can be opened by putting “https://” in front of the URL. The “s” in “https://” creates an SSL, Secure Socket Layer, encrypted session for the site. Another student concern was blocking of important educational sites because all “Blog” type sites are blocked. This is unacceptable and should not be labeled bad just because sites have open feedback capability. Ability to access sites through VPN programs such as “Hotspot Shield” is also a concern.

IT Professionals reported that Web Activity and Suspicious Search reports are the most used reports, the basis of all user searching. But these reports are buried towards the bottom of the web page.

Common themes were the lack of in-line version-proxy blocking, no bandwidth controls, does not seem to inspect SSL, and site encryption is strictly block/unblock which causes issues with YouTube and Facebook.

Vendor Response:

Many issues cited (including lack of SSL inspection, lack of granularity in handling https sites, and unblocked proxy sites) were the result of an equipment issue during the review. The on-site Rocket appliance was not able to be installed and therefore filtering policies were not able to be adjusted for the evaluation.

Rob Chambers - VP Product Development




ContentKeeper

Likes:

ContentKeeper distinguishes itself with the ability to inspect and manage SSL and Web 2.0 content which allows a more finely tuned experience with social media sites. For example, it was demonstrated that Facebook can be allowed while at the same time blocking inappropriate comments within a posting. Top level domains are sites such as Facebook, Craigslist, and YouTube. Within a site such as Craigslist, the section titled “Personals” can be blocked while allowing “Jobs” to remain open. This is done by deploying a trusted root certificate to each client enabling full decryption and inspection of HTTPS content on the district network. Google is leading the charge to have most web content delivered in an SSL encryption format. ContentKeeper's SSL full decryption can also set limits on particular pages and selectively decode traffic. Sites such as Bank of America can be set to fully retain user privacy to prevent ID theft.

Another significant benefit of a certificate based connection between the client and the filter is near wireline speed over the network and through the content filter. This is important as districts are choosing hosted solutions such as Google products and learning management systems and have Internet connections exceeding 1GB speeds.

The ContentKeeper database runs differently than the other companies reviewed. ContentKeeper does not go out to scan websites, but relies on user requests to identify sites/pages to classify. The database has 92 categories and works on the premise of learning and healing based on user experience on the Internet. There are several levels to this technology. The first question is how a new site that is unknown to the database is handled. There are two choices local administration can make in this situation based on local culture and direction of the superintendent. Choice one is to block new sites unknown to the database. ContentKeeper states that the site will be categorized within 24 hours.  If a local administrator adds the unknown site to the local database, the site will be re-categorized instantly to what ever category the local administrator selects. The second choice is to allow unknown sites. The site will be evaluated and categorized within 24 hours. As with choice number one, administrator intervention accelerates the categorization process. The database “heals” by receiving notification of any categorize changes made by local administrators. Sites are not automatically recategorized, but follow a process similar to unknown sites. All three groups of reviewers commented that this product has good policy and role selection across grade levels and site groups that authenticate via Microsoft Active Directory, proxy authentication, radius authentication, and teacher coaching that enables policy elevation for normally blocked sites.

Student feedback for ContentKeeper was the most positive. Students had a difficult time circumventing the filter. Only one student found a way around it which was outstanding considering the caliber and grade levels of students in the room. Students liked the graphical interface and stated that there was almost no frustration over sites that were blocked. Students were impressed with the ability to block part of website, ie. Facebook posts. One high school student stated noted that “you could go to lots of websites that were school related that are usually blocked by other filters.” These sites were unblocked for the desired content while at the same time inappropriate pop-ups or content within the site, at the page level, was blocked.

Dislikes:

There were two common themes for the dislikes of the ContentKeeper product. The first was concern over the administrator user interface. IT professionals felt it was not intuitive, hard to find appropriate settings, and that there is a lack of “Breadcrumbs” or navigation links that help you to see where you are in the hierarchy/tree of a sitemap. Some felt the interface had a “90's” look and feel or at a minimum is outdated.

The second feedback was about requiring a default email client on the user machine if the teacher or student needs to request a site be opened or blocked. Many districts have gone to web based email systems which do not require a client setup. More than one company evaluated had the same issue. One company did have a web based direct email communication setup like most web based stores. Look for this to become standard on all products.

Vendor Response:

ContentKeeper has some great plans to simplify the interface, the first items of which can be seen in our new Gen II Report Central dashboard components (V166.47 and newer). It provides a very simply to use, one click reporting overview with very intuitive report field customization. I have attached an example - it’s a one click customizable dashboard block report. We also have a new CK-Mobile Admin App for the iPhone which allows ContentKeeper administrators to control the box for anywhere. This App was developed very quickly and is driven totally via our new interface API.

ContentKeeper has been working on separating the user Interface layer from the underlying filtering and configuration code for over two years now. The driver for this initially came from a large Telco filtering project we are doing with Chunghwa Telecom (in Taiwan, they are the major telco there) who needed an interface in Chinese. That project produced a secure XML based API within ContentKeeper. This API separates the interface totally. This allows us to easily render any new interface we like in any language quickly and efficiently. We are expecting this to provide us with a major competitive advantage in the years to come as demands for simplicity and different styles of interface design evolve and change. The XML API reduces the development time to render a new interface from years of programming to just a few weeks of programmer time.

Breadcrumbs can easily be added so that will go into the mix also.

You should see ContentKeeper's user interface evolve quickly now to address the demands we are seeing for intuitive, simple to use, uncluttered interface design. So keep watching our releases over the new 6-12 months and I am sure you will be suitably impressed.

David Wigley CEO ContentKeeper Technologies



Securly

Likes:

Securly was the new player on the block for educational content filtering. The product is easy to implement, can filter encrypted traffic, and is fully cloud based, requiring no internal hardware. Firewall settings are configured to require traffic to go through the hosted filter. This means this is currently a low ongoing cost solution based on no hardware to maintain and setup.

This company seems to have a new and interesting take on Web filtering such as detecting and identifying bullying and self harm. Social media reporting for encrypted sites is done for Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus postings; although no other social media sites at this time. Securly for parents shares what students are doing online and tracts trends.

The group's consensus was that it had an easy to use user-interface that can block or unblock sites quickly and effective login and submit feature for submitting requests to the company. Students reported that the filter was reasonable in what it blocked and allowed.

Dislikes:

Still new and being developed. The administrator interface is basic, but does not provide much depth of use. It is a product that looks like it's in its infancy as in beta.

Another major concern is that users can only authenticate via Google based authentication, however, Microsoft Active Directory authentication is promised soon.

Teacher overrides apply to entire school site so this would not apply to just their classroom. A teacher, utilizing a student computer, logs in to a teacher's Google account in order to set up white-list entry. Once the teacher logs off, the entire site is white-listed for the whole school. There is no way to white-list sub domains. A teacher can temporarily override for the entire site, but IT needs to make final approval.

Block request launches default email client which is surprising since Google integration is a key element. There is currently no customization for the block page users get. Opening and blocking sites is currently a manual process that is associated with the appropriate group such as students.

The database updates process is currently hidden because it is cloud based. Content categorization is done by a third party located in Israel (Komodia). There are currently a limited number of categories and it was unclear to our reviewers how much focus is on K-12. Categorizations apply to entire domain which means there is no way to whitelist sub domains. The filter always allows unknown content through and then reviews. Database needs improvement and needs finer control of policy exceptions.

At this time there is little in the way of reporting other than searching through at the audit trail tool to generate report of student usage. Keeping an eye on the dashboard "latest Activity" and audit trail would be necessary to drill down into issues. Basically, there is no reporting feature at this time.

Categorization rules affect an entire domain as such, there is no way to whitelist specific sub domains. The rules logic for categorization needs to have more granularity. The lack of specificity in filter rules left the impression that the product was not fully developed.

Students reported that there are lots of key words blocked, such as marijuana. After marijuana would not show the student reported trying to search for “Diet Coke” and “Chicken Breast Recipes,” and neither worked. One student got one blocked site and seven unblocked sites that should have been blocked. Due to being term-based filtering, If you typed the keyword halfway or partially, you could access what was blocked and there are only a few sites that were blocked. For example, Securly blocks keywords on search engines, but you can still go onto sites like Gambling.com, Minecraft.net, and Steam. Students also reported that Securly was the easiest filter to bypass using unblocked tools such as Tor, and VPN Hotspot Shield.

Vendor Response:

Since the evaluation, we have significantly revamped our approach to filtering. We have phased out Komodia for filtering and rely on our PageScan technology to add dynamically to our filter database. PageScan works as follows: (i) Each time any of our 500K users world wide go to a site that is not classified in our database, we use offline analysis (scanning HTTP response content) to dynamically classify the site as belonging to one of several CIPA categories. (ii) Any subsequent access to that domain across any of our customers would then be blocked. PageScan is currently live in production and is scanning 100K new sites every week for inappropriate content that is then pro-actively blocked.

We have used User Experience studies (and continue to do so) with the target group (IT admins) to come up with a User Interface that is clean and easy to navigate. Several of our customers love this aspect of our product. Perhaps one way to go as we continue to add features is to have a "Power User" section.

We are still considering AD integration and will very likely execute on it at some point. The question really is not so much "Can we do it?" but "Should we do it?". With Chromebooks taking off virally in the K-12 space, most schools we speak to (including the larger districts) seem happy with Google SSO. So implementing this additional functionality would simply be a function of market demand which we are not seeing enough of yet.

The ability to whitelist sub-domains has been introduced since the evaluation.

The Teacher Whitelist was meant to give teachers over-ride privileges without Admin intervention and that is exactly what this feature does. In fact, since the evaluation, we have extended this functionality to allow teachers to whitelist YouTube channels that are not found in YouTube for Education.

User reports (ability to pull a PDF report on a single user in a given date range) has been introduced since the evaluation.

Bharath Madhusudan - Co-Founder/CTO



Conclusion

The study features four vendors, each with their own methodology to solving the content filter problem. This study highlights the user experience implications for each methodology from the perspective of the student, teacher, IT and administration. What was not covered here, and should be included with any discussion concerning comparative technologies, are user privacy, total costs, and the efficiency of getting users on the network.

Phil Scrivano CETPA
Special Thanks to the Ventura County Office of Education for hosting the event.
Authored by Phil Scrivano
Edtech Journal 2015 V1 Legal

Technology Services Agreements:
Education Lawyer As Frenemy

By Gretchen Shipley



Based on the calls I receive as an education lawyer, I can only imagine the pressures of working in a technology services department ("IT") to support an entire school district. In a day and age when the quality and capacity of a technology program drives the quality and reputation of an educational program, IT has a lot riding on its shoulders.

As an attorney, my interactions with IT are largely IT staff telling me, "My boss told me to run this contract past you," or when defending a bid protest, eRate audit, or supporting a financing agreement, me explaining to IT staff, "I need to have a better understanding for what went wrong in the procurement process." I'm always the bad guy.

I appreciate the immense responsibility IT has to research, identify and procure the technology and infrastructure to support a whole school system and complete these tasks in time to meet board meeting and eRate deadlines. However, please know that if legal counsel ever recommends that a contract be revised or rejected, rather than be approved by a board, the attorney is truly just looking out for the best interests of the district (and the IT staff) and not trying to stand in the way of progress.

For example, I was recently contacted by an IT director who reluctantly asked me to review a statement of work that had been provided by a vendor for the installation of a data management system. Out of the twelve page document, one sentence cross-referenced the company's website to access the terms and conditions of the agreement being formed between the parties. By clicking on the link, I discovered six additional pages of fine print. There were several terms I was concerned about, so I called the IT director back and suggest he try to negotiate some of the terms of the agreement. Flabbergasted, he informed me that the agreement was scheduled to go to the board in two days and there simply wasn't any time for negotiating any terms. In response, I pointed out just one of the provisions that gave me heartache:

‘In performance of services by [software provider], it may be necessary to obtain, receive or collect data . . . School district grants worldwide, perpetual, non-revocable, license to use, compile, distribute, store, reproduce data to [software provider] . . . District represents that it has obtained legally sufficient consent necessary to use and transfer data within and outside of the country.’

In this era of heightened concern for data privacy, in this instance, a community member could easily challenge a school board for failing to comply with legal requirements and thus, allege that it entered into an illegal contract. As readers may be aware, technology services agreements entered into, amended, or renewed after January 1, 2015 must include specific provisions. These requirements apply to contracts for digital storage, management and retrieval of pupil records, as well as educational software that authorizes a third-party provider to access, store and use pupil records. All of the following provisions must be included in such contracts:

  • A statement that pupil records continue to be the property of and under the control of the school district;
  • A description of the means by which pupils may retain possession and control of their own pupil-generated content, if applicable, including options by which a pupil may transfer pupil-generated content to a personal account;
  • A prohibition against the third party using any information in the pupil record for any purpose other than those required or specifically permitted by the contract;
  • A description of the procedures by which a parent, legal guardian, or eligible pupil may review personally identifiable information in the pupil's records and correct erroneous information;
  • A description of the actions the third party will take—including the designation and training of responsible individuals—to ensure the security and confidentiality of pupil records;
  • A description of the procedures for notifying the affected parent, legal guardian, or eligible pupil in the event of an unauthorized disclosure of the pupil's records;
  • A certification that a pupil's records shall not be retained or available to the third party upon completion of the terms of the contract and a description of how that certification will be enforced;
  • A description of how the district and the third party will jointly ensure compliance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act; and
  • A prohibition against the third party using personally identifiable information in pupil records to engage in targeted advertising.

While these provisions might be difficult to comply with, I would be reluctant to recommend approval of a contract to a board that doesn't meet the requirements. School boards are dependent on staff to recommend contracts. Such contracts are often agendized with numerous other agreements and board members typically don’t have the opportunity to re-review contracts to independently verify legality and yet, it is the school board members who are held accountable for approving the contracts. For these reasons, it is important that the district staff member responsible for IT procurement not take a vendor and/or salesperson's word at face value that a contract can be piggybacked or that it is legally complaint for school districts in California. Rather, technology procurement staff are strongly encouraged to perform an independent analysis of whether a contract must be bid, meets data privacy compliance standards, eRate compliance requirements, and all of the provisions of the Public Contract Code and Education Code.

More importantly, IT procurement staff should feel empowered to negotiate contract terms with technology vendors. It is anticipated that most nationwide technology companies do not have contracts that are tailored to California law, much less laws specific to the education context. Therefore, it is incumbent on school districts to look out for their own interests and, in some instances, might have to educate the technology vendors on what is required to contract with a California local educational agency. Ultimately, this knowledge, understanding, and implementation of procedures for quickly evolving education technology laws to address the rapid influx of technology in education is a tremendous leadership opportunity for IT staff and the platform to become a powerful voice in your school community.

Doc: 00005-00003/724817.1

Gretchen M. Shipley, Partner
Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP

Gretchen M. Shipley, Partner

Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP

1525 Faraday Avenue, Suite 300

Carlsbad, CA 92008

Phone: (760) 304-6000

Email:  gshipley@f3law.com

Edtech Journal 2015 V1 The Professional

Building Partnerships That Work

by Amy Fong



Technology is all around us. For some of us, it’s our job to keep the bits moving, 3D printers printing, virtual server farms happily humming in triple redundant, super secure, public-private-hybrid cloud of your (or your local governing school board’s) choice. It’s an exciting time to be technology. Technology is the fun part. Maybe it’s even the easy part. Cisco’s Chief Futurist, Dave Evans, in 2013 inspiringly blogged about the intersection of technology and humanity[i]. Take away the technology, and what do you have left? Clients, peers, staff, management and other stakeholders. Before technology, and after technology, there are people. There are people with needs, and there are people who can help you do great things.

A few years ago, retired Starbuck’s President Howard Behar keynoted a session for CETPA. He spoke about his book, It’s Not About the Coffee, and his servant leadership philosophy, framing it as being in the people business serving coffee, not the other way around. His work was in the people business, and his book elaborated on ten principles that make it evident that his success was built on soft skills and how he interacted with people. Those people interacted with other people and so on, resulting in formidable products and market share.

Even if your game plan doesn’t include world domination via coffee products, it probably does include implementing great services that those clients, peers, and stakeholders will appreciate and it should definitely include a decent look at your plan for the people who will help make those visions a reality. People and organizations interacting and forming partnerships can do great things.

Partnerships Within an Organization

In the education arena, not much gets done in a vacuum, and modern organizations focus on collaboration. Today, instead of a “build it and they will come” mentality, it’s about bringing people around to the campfire and figuring out how it can be done. A great example of cross-functional partnering is agile software development, where twelve principles[ii] help focus the team on clients, outcomes and on what works. In 2001 The Agile Manifesto was written to express a new strategy for the digital age:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.[iii]

At CSIS, it was quite a shift to move from the waterfall software development methodology to something as wild west as agile with frightening visions of development teams run amok, of thin documentation and work breakdown structure plans left by the wayside. Change is hard, but in the end, agile created opportunities for public and private individual interactions. Publicly, individuals share their contributions to the project. During the 15-minute daily scrum, team members speak to what they accomplished yesterday, what they were planning to do today, and raise issues that need to be resolved. Bright and early each morning, individuals demonstrate their value to the team in this open forum. During the sprint retrospective, individuals identify things that went well, and create a to-do list of things that need to change for the next iteration. They hold each other accountable to do better next time. These interactions provide the kind of honest transparency needed in successful partnerships. Privately, business analysts, developers and testers have developed flexible, open, social communication models [iv] that keep information flowing, issues identified and solutions vetted outside the larger public meetings. As individuals in a small organization, moving around in the building, whether getting coffee or a snack in the kitchen or riding the elevator together, provides additional information sharing opportunities that prove to be quite useful because they are ad hoc, innocuous and informal. Often, it is conversations that aren’t specifically about the business at hand that reveal individuals’ personalities and strengthen partnerships at the individual level.

Partnering with External Organizations

Flexing lines of communication and ad hoc chances at collaboration are admittedly more difficult when partnering with external organizations. Because proximity and access can be an issue, finding and responding to opportunities to build relationships is even more important. Every opportunity should be viewed as coming to the campfire to strengthen the partnership. Seek to utilize a variety of channels to communicate – digitally, over the phone, in person, publicly, privately, formally, informally – but remember that the comfort level between the parties is one that grows mutually and with time. It is like any other relationship; it requires care and feeding, and, if the members of the partnership are very different in how they operate, a good amount of patience as well.

A terribly mundane, unglamorous communication and collaboration opportunity common to all partnerships and trying the patience of many is “the meeting”. All partnerships have them – status meetings, planning meetings, perhaps even meetings about meetings. Frequently, they are squandered opportunities for a variety of reasons. Meetings kill productivity[v]. A decade ago, Microsoft drew upon 38,000 people in 200 countries to find that on average workers have only three productive work days a week[vi]. Shockingly, other researchers have found that “no amount of money can buy a 25-hour day”[vii]. Think about how much time is spent in a meeting, how many people are involved, how much it is costing each organization. From a dollars and cents perspective, the costs can be staggering, and there are calculators to prove it[viii].

There are, of course, pragmatic ways to improve the quality of meetings[ix], but the most strategic way is one where the outcome strengthens the partnership. To know what strengthens the partnership requires candor, mindful listening and paying attention to verbal and non-verbal communication. What problems need to be solved? When is the other party just venting? Do they really want this new technology implemented or is this anxiety about change? Perhaps a dose of patience is needed. A cooling off period is better than escalation that leads to détente, impasses that stall plans and unravel partnerships. More often than not, technology itself is not the real issue. Soft skills and working through alternate channels to prevent escalation can help bring a measure of confidence, trust and transparency. Take a moment to assuage fears by identifying true risks and addressing real issues. Follow up with Implementation Plan B or Plan C or whatever plan gets systems online and in use; as technologists, that part is going to be our sweet spot. We need to get there together.

People + People = Great Things

Whether internal or external, partnerships thrive in an environment where each party engages in the work and contributes something meaningful and valued. While there is value to the partnership in commitment, accountability, and holding people’s feet to the fire, it is important to understand that no one’s going to want to step up to the campfire if their toes keep getting burnt off. No relationship is perfect. When things go sideways, what makes it better is the ability for partners to recap/learn, forgive and move on. As in the Agile Manifesto, it is important to foster sustainable relationships, to focus on people over process.

Process driven organizations often put effort into identifying key performance indicators and collecting metrics. Measuring interactions, collaboration and communication is a tricky thing. Partnering and building relationships is an organic activity. Examining interactions and measuring their effectiveness, identifying gaps, and aligning solutions is important work, but it is not the same as putting people first. For example, instead of strategies for using metrics and putting big data to work, Behar’s book covers the importance of having a culture where people bring out the best in themselves and their partners to achieve goals.

In the end, a key principle to remember when bringing people together is to engage and communicate like people. Be transparent; be accountable; build trust. Demonstrate value. Have patience. Focus on people. The core element of a great people business lies in building partnerships that work. We earn the relationships we deserve.[xi] Now, go do great things!

As the Information Systems Officer, Amy Fong leads the highly skilled technical team at CSIS and is energized about designing and implementing future friendly technology solutions. With an undergraduate degree in Humanities and a master of science degree in Information Systems, she enjoys working with people and technology. The depth of her experience comes from 20 years of progressively high profile responsibilities ranging from network support to web development, database administration and management. She comes from a family that takes pride in public service and attributes her passion for improving education to her mother, who was a middle-school teacher and lifelong learner.

References

[1] "Cisco Live 2013 Shows Life in 2023, Thanks to the Internet of Everything." Blogs@Cisco - Cisco Blogs. http://blogs.cisco.com/ioe/cisco-live-2013-shows-life-in-2023-thanks-to-the-internet-of-everything. In January 2015, in contrast to the #thingnado offerings at CES 2015, the grand idea of Internet of Things gets a reality check. The FTC report (http://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/federal-trade-commission-staff-report-november-2013-workshop-entitled-internet-things-privacy/150127iotrpt.pdf) reminds us of the important work we technologists do as stewards of information and the need to maintain privacy. Be sure to check out Gretchen Shipley’s privacy related article in this issue of Ed Tech Journal.

[11] "Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto." Manifesto for Agile Software Development. http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html. A group of 17 well regarded software development professionals articulated the agile manifesto to help improve how software is made.

[111] Manifesto for Agile Software Development. http://agilemanifesto.org/. The agile manifesto is a statement of four values and twelve principles, and some would argue it is not a methodology at all. The website maintains a running list of signatories.

[1V] Brown, John Seely, and Paul Duguid. The Social Life of Information. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002. Clustered ecologies of information that balance the formal and informal, the spontaneity of practice and the structure of organization are discussed in Chapter 6.

[V]"Why Meetings Kill Productivity." Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201204/why-meetings-kill-productivity.

[VI] "Survey Finds Workers Average Only Three Productive Days Per Week | News Center." News Center | News, Perspectives and Press Materials from Microsoft on News and Events Affecting the Company and the Tech Industry in General. http://news.microsoft.com/2005/03/15/survey-finds-workers-average-only-three-productive-days-per-week/.

[VII] Mankins, Michael C., Chris Brahm, and Gregory Caimi. "Your Scarcest Resource." Harvard Business Review, 2014. https://hbr.org/2014/05/your-scarcest-resource.

[VIII] "Meeting Cost Calculator with Timer | Laurence Gellert's Blog." Laurence Gellert's Blog| Re: Software. http://www.laurencegellert.com/calculators/meeting-cost-calculator-with-timer/. If a blog is too old school for you, there’s an app for that: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mmp-cost-meeting-calculator/id436278185?mt=8 . Actually, there are plenty of apps for that according to Google.

[VIIII] "Your Scarcest Resource" cited above offers some solutions. Mankins previously published a separate article on how to stop wasting valuable time: Mankins, Michael C. "Stop Wasting Valuable Time." Harvard Business Review, 2004. https://hbr.org/2004/09/stop-wasting-valuable-time.

[X] Image via Solis, Brian. https://www.flickr.com/photos/briansolis/14060587721/sizes/o/, 2014 used under Creative Commons license.

[XI] Solis, Brian. Engage!. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2011. This book brings elements of Brown and Deguid’s analysis into the age of the social web, discussing online ecosystems and interactions of companies and their client communities.
Edtech Journal 2015 V1 Money

Why zero-based budgeting is more effective

By Michelle Plumbtree

It’s time to begin thinking about the 2015-16 budget.

Should you wait for funding to be allocated to the technology department and try to live within that amount, whatever it may be, or take the initiative and begin developing your department’s budget even before you are asked?

We suggest the latter.

Begin working on next year’s budget even before you are asked. Plan ahead and understand what your department will need to be successful next year. You may not get the budget you request, but you will gain a better understanding of what is necessary to operate a successful department.

FCMAT suggests that you use a zero-based approach in developing your budget. In zero-based budgeting, each expenditure must be justified each year as compared to traditional budgeting, which is often called incremental budgeting, or “rollover budgeting.” Each method may have some advantages, but zero-based budgeting is preferable because rollover budgeting assumes past decisions are correct. Since spending levels are based on these decisions, you will have to live with the same allocation year after year even when they were based on inaccurate information.

To learn more about why zero-based budgeting is more effective, let’s explore these two different types of approaches in more depth:

What is Rollover Budgeting?

Traditional, incremental, or rollover budgeting takes the previous year’s budget as its starting point in developing a new document and increases or decreases the amounts to reflect changing assumptions in the new budget year. To obtain expenditure increases from the previous year, the budget manager is usually required to justify a request for additional funding. However, justification is not usually required to maintain the same level of budget because the prior year’s budget essentially is approved for the following year automatically.

The advantages of rollover budgeting include that it is simple to develop and understand, budgets are consistent from year to year, and departmental conflicts are more easily avoided since departments do not have to compete with each other on which will obtain additional funding.

The disadvantages of this system outweigh the advantages mainly because this method assumes all fiscal and department needs will stay the same, which rarely occurs, making the status quo the norm. Budget managers have no incentive to be innovative or creative or even to determine whether the prior level of services was adequate. This method also assumes that past decisions are correct even when they were not. In fact, budget managers often spend money in an approved budget even if there is no real need to avoid a year-end surplus that would result in a decrease in future-year budgets. This is often known as the “use it or lose it mentality,” which leads to wasteful spending.

What is Zero-Based or Incremental Budgeting?

Zero-based budgeting requires all expenses to be justified and have a purpose in the new budget year. Funds must be prioritized and allocated based on the greatest need. Instead of starting with the previous year’s budget amounts, every budget begins the new year at zero, and each expenditure request must first be determined to be essential before it is approved and added to the budget. As a result, there is no assumption that last year’s costs will automatically be approved for the new budget year.

Zero-based budgeting requires much more detail than rollover budgeting. Every budget line and expenditure request must be approved whether new or ongoing, and must be comprehensive, justified and complete. This process often motivates a department to identify alternatives, such as leasing or purchasing, or outsourcing or completing a project directly, if limited budget funds can be used more efficiently. Overall, departments are more accountable for their final budget.

The advantages of zero-based budgeting include the following:

  • Wasteful or unnecessary expenditures are identified and eliminated, allowing budgets to be redirected to more productive areas.

  • Limited funds are spent more wisely.

  • Budget managers have an incentive to look for more cost-effective methods or alternative approaches to improve operations.

  • Budgetary allocations are more understandable because they reflect the current reality, not past spending.

  • The process requires better communication in the organization about budgets and overall needs.

  • Costs often decrease as blanket increases are avoided.

  • Continuing expenditures must be justified on the basis of their usefulness and need.

The disadvantages of zero-based budgeting include the following:

  • It takes more time to develop the budget since all budget managers contend for the same sources of money.

  • Consensus is difficult to obtain.

  • Some expenditures are difficult to justify if they lack tangible benefits.

  • Commitment, preparation and a professional attitude are required to properly develop a budget.

  • It is not as effective without the appropriate training because of the complexity involved.

Zero-based budgeting holds budget managers accountable and often motivates staff to stay within budget since they participate in budget development. It is a systematic method, and while it may require an extensive amount of time and even research, the result is a budget that clearly more represents actual need.

If you begin using zero-based budgeting, you should be proactive to more clearly understand the needs in running a more effective technology department, and remember that this method entails a substantial amount of work. It will take time to appropriately complete and may not realize the full benefit in the first year.

One approach is to initially combine zero-based budgeting with traditional budgeting and incrementally transition to the latter method to increase understanding and acceptance among those that may be reluctant to change.

When accomplished correctly, zero-based budgeting ultimately ensures that all budgets, including that of the technology department, more accurately reflect reality; unnecessary expenditures are minimized; and understanding increases regarding what is necessary to operate a successful department.

Michelle Plumbtree, Chief Management Analyst. mplumbtree@fcmat.org

Michelle Plumbtree, Chief Management Analyst. mplumbtree@fcmat.org

Edtech Journal 2015 V1 Legislative

Education Technology at an
Important Crossroads in California

by Barrett Snider, Partner, Capitol Advisors Group

The policy debate around education technology in Sacramento is one of the more frustrating topics. While it is filled with good intentions and a genuine desire by all parties to provide every child with a 21st Century education, it is also plagued with issues of general unawareness, scope, and cost. In order to move education technology into the appropriate sphere of consciousness for California policymakers, it will take a coming-together of the education community to push for a unified vision that is appropriately funded.

For a long time, technology lived in the general “administration” of schools. Over the past few decades it has evolved from payroll and data processing to copy machines and computer labs to fully networked agencies with email and data reporting to classrooms where technology delivers interactive content to students. But most recently, California’s school have taken an evolutionary leap in technology with the requirement that all students take state standardized tests that are online and adaptive (questions change based upon the student’s previous answers). The scope of this is huge both in terms of the infrastructure needed to support such a policy (broadband networks, sufficient number of capable computers, well-trained staff, etc.), but also in terms of definitively moving the role of technology in schools from mere administration to being a necessarily integrated component of every students’ classroom experience. Additionally, the communities that elect local school boards are supporting, if not demanding, their children get an education that includes the use of technology.

As schools have attempted to meet this demand and implement the online assessments, it has occurred in the context of “local control,” which has its benefits and its drawbacks. For schools that planned well, local control has been great - no red tape meant schools could move efficiently and quickly. However, for some school districts, particularly very large and very small ones, the task of rapidly integrating and updating technology has been understandably challenging and that has led to some failures. The press coverage of the LAUSD iPad debacle is the one folks in the Capitol ask about when debating future state investments in education technology. Many policymakers and staff are reticent to support additional funding for education technology without taking additional steps to ensure that kind of thing doesn't happen again. That is an immediate challenge the entire education community needs to come together to resolve in order to move forward. Some have suggested possible solutions include a regional or state support structure and better tech planning.

There are a number of associations and agencies in California that have influence over the policy discussions regarding education technology, including the California Educational Technology Professionals Association (CETPA), K-12 High Speed Network (K-12 HSN), Computer Using Educators (CUE), Technology and Telecommunications Steering Committee (TTSC) of the County Superintendent’s Association (CCSESA), and the Technology Leadership Group within the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), among others. These organizations should take the lead and come together in 2015 to establish a unified front to provide solutions to a broad array of policy questions facing the future of education technology in California. In addition to the issues raised by the LAUSD iPad fallout, some other issues include:


  • Establishing an awareness of cost - There is nothing cheap about technology. To ignore that in policy conversations seems unwise. It would benefit schools to have better estimates of the costs of hardware, software, and people (often highly trained employees competing in a high-wage environment) whenever something related to technology is being debated in Sacramento. The state has thrown some money at the problem (think: $1 billion of one-time funds for Common Core implementation that could be used for technology, professional development, and instructional materials). But we’ve never had a good accounting of the statewide costs of technology requirements related to the common core tests. There is a mandate reimbursement test claim going through the process that could shake things up, but that will take some time. Additionally, the state has not provided funds to schools explicitly for technology costs since the Digital High School project in the late 1990s.
  • Data sharing and privacy - It is one of the more nebulous issues because data on the Internet is difficult and expensive to protect - even for companies like Target… There is also a profound lack of clarity among school administrators regarding the appropriate instances when individually identifiable student data can be sent outside the school agency. This is particularly problematic for many high-needs students that require coordination with other social service agencies (foster care, mental health, etc.). This needs some additional clarity.
  • Equity - We’ve watched some schools deploy technology rich environments for students, while other schools have virtually no technology integrated into the classroom, other than testing. This can draw a particularly stark contrast when you think about the typing advantage some students get from using a keyboard every day vs. those students that rarely do anything other than text, among other things. Many education technology professionals and superintendents have asked about the potential for equity lawsuit on this issue, not unlike the Williams Case. It might make sense to give the Governor and Legislature some guidance on the inequities that exist and what role the state might play in addressing them.
Barrett Snider is a founding partner of Capitol Advisors Group in Sacramento, California. He is the Legislative Advocate for CETPA.

Barrett Snider is a founding partner of Capitol Advisors Group in Sacramento, California. He is the Legislative Advocate for CETPA.

Edtech Journal 2015 V1 Cue View

CUE View: Collaborative Inquiry for
Professional Learning Leaders

By Dr. Lisa Gonzales and Randy Kolset

If you look around at the audience of administrators in our school districts, most have been around for a while. Or at least long enough to have seen the difference between what was known as “traditional” professional development and the newer trend toward a more effective approach of collaborative learning. Yet, many of the professional development programs for administrators still have that old school feel.

Professional development through collaborative inquiry offers learners a chance to investigate shared questions of practice as they relate to both student and adult learning. At the center of this type of learning are collaborative learning sessions, which eschew pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all solutions in favor of experiences that are grounded in the use of technology to communicate and collaborate. Professional learning is also based on a recurring cycle of planning, action and reflection, all while building professional knowledge and reflecting on the impacts of the actions of leaders.

In its most effective form, collaborative inquiry should include an emphasis on adult learning theory, design of presentations, and personal learning networks. Fortunately, all three areas are emphasized in a new educational technology and curriculum innovation training designed by Leading Edge Certification (LEC). Whether you’re interested in exploring the concepts of collaborative inquiry as a professional learning leader or want to become nationally certified, the research on adult learning paired with current emphases in public education will help educators better understand how technology changes teaching and learning.

Adult Learning Theory. One of the benefits of collaborative inquiry is the foundation that reinforces the key concepts of adult learning theory. In the 1980s, researcher Malcolm Knowles identified six characteristics of adult learning that should be considered in the design and facilitation of professional development, including connections to experience, readiness to learn, a problem-centered orientation, internal motivation, need to know, and the ability to be self-directed.

When it comes to using technology, particularly with the population of today’s administrators, experience and comfort levels vary greatly. Many will take technology in both professional use and as a learner and run with it. Still others may fall into that “technophobe” category, and may need some help in breaking down barriers and rebuilding that sense of control and “need to know” that is so important for adult learning. Some tips for combating adult learning blocks will help move toward self-direction and participatory learning include:

  • Identification of assumptions (what are the underlying feelings, attitudes and beliefs getting in the way of learning)

  • Analysis of assumptions (help the adult learner understand why she or he feels this way)

  • Development of alternative behaviors

  • Reflection on the learning

Presentation Design. Another perk of collaborative inquiry is that it helps expand learners’ skills in communication and presentation, since whenever an individual wants to deliver information to an audience, it is typically done in the form of a presentation. Understanding the fundamentals to presentation design gives leaders the opportunity to create efficient and engaging presentations, qualities imperative to engage audiences from parents to board and community members. Likewise, honing these skills is crucial in the design of an exceptional professional development program.

Adults need to see the importance and relations of the information to their work. A well designed presentation will make these connections. Focused professional development and coaching on presentations is important.

When designing a presentation, basic elements such as design, content, story and humor should be considered. But let’s face it. How many of us have been taught how to do this well? The design and flow of a training, meeting or workshop can make or break the message and time is never plentiful in our line of work. Getting it right the first time is the goal. With that in mind, learners should be willing to engage in collaborative inquiry with colleagues and to request feedback as they design and perfect their presentations. Rather than relying on the same old PowerPoint presentations, new approaches, such as PowToons, Voki, Prezi, Mindomo, SlideRocket, and more can be tried.

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). PLNs are a less formal way for learners to engage in the learning process. A PLN is about sharing ideas and resources, collaboration, and learning in different ways, using different media and tools. However, the essence is the same: the PLN can be the best collective inquiry in which a learner can engage, and it’s available 24/7.

So how does a PLN take informal conversations and begin to solidify them into structure practice? It can often start with blogs. As people begin to recognize individuals that can construct ideas and organize programs through a written structure, they can begin implementing those ideas. Finding well-written and thoughtful blogs grows PLNs and improves educational practice as wells as professional development.

Learning for students and adults has shifted noticeably over the past few years. Today, there are opportunities to learn from a truly global audience. Professional Learning Leaders need to design their instruction for adults to take advantage of new learning models and create opportunities of demonstration for educators so they can visualize how this model can be used with students. Twitter is valuable way to engage in learning, particularly with many different people. Need help? Send out a tweet in a selected, focused #edchat and begin the exploration with others. During professional development sessions, look for back channels, or places to converse with others while engaging with the presentation.

Next Steps. One truly collaborative and engaging professional development model is provided by Leading Edge Certifications. Whether trainings for administrators, digital educators, or the new Professional Learning Leader (PLL) the perspective on training offers an alternative to the old-school one-size-fits-all approach to professional learning. The collaborative inquiry model changes the experience for the learner, reframing professional knowledge into one that is constructed and applied. The educator takes on the role of actively constructing professional knowledge and treating their classrooms, schools, and districts as sites for investigation.

If you have provided professional development for years or are interested in honing your skills, it is important to have a 21st century view on how to make your program effective for your clients, teachers, or staff. How we used to provide professional training is shifting, just as teaching and learning has shifted in the classroom. Working with adults has become even more complex since they have the power to decide when how and with whom they will work. The Leading Edge Certification for the PLL will provide an opportunity for anyone to learn how to navigate the new complexities in professional development and modify their instruction to make a lasting impact.

Interested in expanding your skills in professional learning via collaborative inquiry? Consider the Leading Edge Certification for Professional Learning Leaders. The PLL certification focuses on those who provide professional development to educators across all curricular areas and is comprised of multiple modules, including the design of learning environments, developing community, and building a vision for digital literacy.

The six to eight week course is delivered through a combination of face-to-face and online trainings. PLL Certification is now being offered by both Leading Edge Core and Stakeholder Alliance members, including CUE, TICAL, and the Orange County Department of Education. For more information, contact any of the organizations for dates or visit the LEC website at: http://www.leadingedgecertification.org/professional-learning-leader.html.

Dr. Lisa Gonzales is Superintendent in the Portola Valley School District
Randy Kolset is Coordinator of Online and Professional Development for the Orange County Department of Education

Dr. Lisa Gonzales is Superintendent in the Portola Valley School District and serves on CUE’s Advocacy Team. Randy Kolset is Coordinator of Online and Professional Development for the Orange County Department of Education. Both Lisa and Randy are members of TICAL and are certified trainers for the Leading Edge Certification - Professional Learning Leader.  



CUE View is a regular column that provides voice to Teachers and Administrators. It is a direct result of the partnership between CUE and CETPA. In exchange CETPA leaders write “On IT with CETPA”, a column that appears in the On CUE Journal.