Look Before You Leap – CTO look fors in a new job

(Many thanks to my editorial board on this post)

It’s the understatement of the decade to say there’s a lot going on with ed tech in K-12 education. In our BYOD, 1:1, blended learning world, CTOs who are looking to move on to a new role have a lot to weigh: the organization’s propensity for change…support structure…people power – IT and instructional support…does the people power know what they’re doing…past/recent success…past/recent failures…infrastructure…administrative structure…is this place’s infrastructure messed up and if it is am I willing to deal with it?

With the exception of one friend, I have yet to talk to someone who has took on a challenge in a new district and said – “boy this place has it all put together!”

The discoveries of new CTOs is more that like this:

“wait…we’re going one-to-one and there isn’t an access point in every room and the controllers are worthless. And we have no reliable SSID for BYOD kids”


“There isn’t a single system in this district that integrates with another.”


“I’m so sick of people complaining about the wireless, I just want to rip the !@#% out and start over!”


“We have two email systems” (a non CTO friend was telling me that she was spending her night cleaning out messages from her THREE school emails accounts)


“We have a $2 million dollar a year technology budget” but that includes all salaries, telephones, printers, SIS, HR and payroll systems, security systems and everything else that plugs in.


Your office is a converted janitorial closet in a windowless basement. It smells funny.

Is it possible to figure out what is under the hood before saying Yes to the Dress? I would venture a guess that it’s 100% impossible for you to find all the issues large and small before you commit. What one needs is to be observant and to ask good questions. That’s all you really have, unless you have an inside mole in the district to let you know what’s going on.


Where are their priorities? Are they talking a lot about technology or about how they’ll be using technology.

Beware of server rooms that look too tidy. Look closer…those color coded cables might be disguising something.

Listen to how people talk about technology. Any good CTO knows when someone is full of it.

Ask good questions:

Ask how students are using technology to drive their learning.

Ask if the teaching and learning plan are integrated with the technology plan.

My old standard is “what do you want out of a CTO?”

What are your organizations goals?

What kind of service are you all getting from the technology department?

Ask for average ticket open times on help desk requests. Ask for average first response times.

Ask for greatest technology dept strengths. Areas of improvement.

Ask how technology staff are alerted to failing switches, overtaxed servers, issues with connection to the internet.

Ask how staff members monitor the network.

Ask for an org chart.

Ask for detailed budget.

Ask for data/tech security manual.

Ask for tech plan

Ask for record of network outages and downtime

Ask for network diagram

Ask about replacement schedules

Ask to see your office

No one is going to catch everything, but gathering as much intel as possible before making the call is in your’s, and the prospective new organization’s favor. No one wants a bad fit, either way, and good decisions are made with good information. Take the time to give your own vetting process due diligence. Look before you leap!

Rediscovering My Library/Information Science Pride

I’ve been out of the library media specialist game for five and a half years now. The economic downturn saw to that. In my next act I was re-purposed as a technology coach – for a lack of a better, more universally understood term. That was a good gig too, but I can’t say I ever found SMART Board training a good use of my time – nor was doing a run down of the drop down menus on an application, but that was the popular work. I enjoyed helping students with databases or understanding Boolean logic much more than your average Google Apps run through. I’ll even take plagiarism and copyright over explaining how to create a quiz in Moodle.

For whatever reason, I’m remembering and reflecting on that right now – and I never have before. I’m trying to track back what triggered this realization, but I can’t put a finger on it. Lately I’ve been really interested in the usually business centric-world of information systems and wondered why there wasn’t more cross over between the two. Information systems is often cited as a great and growing field to be getting into. On the other hand, library science is often considered the worst. Why don’t these two disciplines find easier intersections or common paths together?

For me it’s always been more about connecting online – to find the info you need or meet up with people who can help build on the work you’ve done. That for me is where the exciting stuff is. Give me Howard Rheingold any day and I’m in 7th heaven. Digging in deep on how our brains work online was a recent topic in Wired. What I really enjoyed about this piece was thinking about how we think online and trying to unravel that rats nest of how our brain works. So cool to me…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying one this in better than the other – library/information skills vs tech integration. They are both needed skills for learning leaders in schools. I’m simply saying that I’m and information science geek and I’m proud of it. I’m going to work to find more connections this year between information science and information systems.

Wish me luck!

After School PD #EpicFail

After 12 year of experience in professional development over 4 different districts – some large with over 20 buildings, and others just with a single building, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt, after school PD that is optional is a bridge to nowhere. Folks will tell you – “Tuesday’s don’t work…if you have it on Thursdays, then I’ll come.” And someone will tell you the exact opposite. It’s not that folks don’t care or don’t want to improve – life is just plain busy – and if it’s not something required of you per the contract, more often than not, it’s not going to happen.

A friend in another district has a good thing going with face-to-face PD and also with leveraging Atomic Learning. The main difference is that it’s part of the work day. Another had the same experience, all the staff learning took place during the work day. The work has to happen during the contract, or more often then not, it won’t happen. So many other initiatives suck up the PD time, that there isn’t much left these days after that. If we want to move the needle past what Doug Johnson wrote about this week with $3,400 pieces of chalk and $9,000 solutions for spiral notebooks, the work needs to be prioritized.

Desktops Can Still Do It – Virtualization Isn’t the Answer to Everything

Run from desktops…we were told a couple of years ago. Desktop computers are old and antiquated…only people that “don’t get it” will keep them around. Go wireless or get laughed out of the tech conference.

But, we live in reality and there is still a place for them – as Miguel Guhlin has written about before. In my experience other options to run high-end applications just don’t work.

I inherited a virtualization project. The partner that helped with installation made a big deal out of it, like it was the wave of the future for schools with a 1:1 initiative. Honestly, I wasn’t much help in the project because of my lack of knowledge with the technology. Looking back, it couldn’t have gone any worse. I remember back in the day having some thin clients, but kids didn’t find them useful because you couldn’t us an old timey (now old timey) spining 3.5 inch floppy disk (this was 2003). So, I shouldn’t have been all that surprised that this didn’t work out.

On the surface it might seem to make sense – you’re buying cheap wireless devices that don’t have a lot of processing, so have host servers do the heavy lifting. What confused me the most through the whole process was teachers saying they were told that they could wirelessly run InDesign or SolidWorks…not problem.


I’ve learned enough networking on the job to be barely dangerous, but that claim made no sense to me.  30 computers on 1 AP trying to pull resources to run an application. I can’t show the detailed arithmetic outside of that, but the math doesn’t add up.

There was and continues to be a lot of buzz about outsourcing, virtualizing and going to the cloud, but I think ed tech needs to get back to some basic things that just flat work. Labs aren’t the wave of the future but, in some instances a good old desktop with locally installed programs is all that you need to do to meet your learning goals for the day.

Long live the desktop! Yes, it’s death was greatly exaggerated.

Searching for Focus: #Creativity & Efficiency. Weird combo? #1:1

This school year I have been conducting 1-on-1 student interviews to figure out what these wireless devices are getting used for. Communication? Yup, happening all the time. Obviously, there’s plenty of room to improve student online communication using tools like email, chat and social media…but it is certainly happening. Collaboration? Yup, every student I talked to mentioned using Google Drive/Docs for group work. The next step would be using tools to collaborate outside the school with other students and experts, but the first rung on the ladder of collaboration has been reached. Productivity? Again, every student spoke about researching, writing and organizing. The effectiveness of said productivity would clearly be the place to look for growth over time.

Creativity? We certainly have neat pockets where students are using technology to engage in biotech research and creating presentations for a local company on new conference rooms, but that type of engagement isn’t as prevalent. I feel like you roll the devices out, provide a little bit of training the the top pieces listed above SHOULD take care of themselves. All of it’s important, but I don’t think I need to go out on a research-based Dan Pink/Tom Friedman/Sir Ken Robinson lecture on creativity. They’re all better at that and as the Bare Naked Ladies once said – It’s All Been Done. No need to remake the point.

As an ed tech leader, providing great support is important to the organization. Obviously, it needs to be friendly support, but it needs to be timely so students and teachers can get back to learning. Other staff members need to get back to supporting learning as is possible. My friends in other districts have been tracking the amount of time a ticket is open for years, which is something I started paying attention to last winter. We’ve made great strides based on personal growth, teamwork with folks who are now more familiar (we had 50% turn over in 2013-2014) and better partnerships. CDW-G and Lenovo have been great partners repairing warranty and accidental damage repairs. I’d suggest them to anyone. While we’ve made improvements, we can always improve here. I’d love to have a year where we stay under 20 work hours for an average ticket.

I’m moving myself in the direction of focusing on these two areas – Creativity and Efficiency. They seem like strange bedfellows, but I think they are two of the most important things I can work to focus on in the coming months to drive improvement in the organization.

What are your priorities?

You know #SAMR and #TPACK and Donner and Blitzen…will any instructional technology framework ever catch on?

Many smart people have done work create frameworks for teachers to follow to improve/deepen the usage of instructional technologies. I even gave it a stab once upon a time with Doug Johnson.

Of course you have SAMR and TPACK.

At SLATE this year in Wisconsin, Scot McLeod asked what effective technology integration looks like. He shared with us a collaborative work called trudacot. You can read more about it here and here and watch McLeod’s presentation below.

Will any of them be adopted on a large scale? I’m not talking about Charlotte Danielson – taking the world by storm adopted, but widely used and accepted as the or one of the standards for educators to follow?

I’m not convinced anything will ever organically catch on, just fill niches. In the end, it all comes back to what the research says about good instruction and timely, descriptive feedback. Currently I believe we’re better off following the work of John Hattie and Danielson on what impacts learning. Hattie’s work tracks that formative evaluation and feedback have high effect sizes – there are plenty of technologies out there that can streamline feedback loops between student and teacher (but we need to remember that humans can only assess meaningful work so quickly…). Danielson’s Domain 3 lauds student leadership in learning – I can see that taking place in one of our computer programming classes that is offered online, but the group meets everyday in school. Those students have found online resources to learn from that are far superior to the book they’ve been given. They teach each other and share those resources. It’s been a neat group to watch come together.

In my opinion this is just another reality of technology taking a back seat – as it should – so the focus can be on learning.

What I’m doing to build credentials to support being an educational technology leader – @CoSN @WisconsinDPI @LearningatCisco @CompTIA

As I wrote last night, I’ve taken CoSN’s CETL exam. That was step one in my personal learning path to build skills to support my district as an educational technology leader. I think this is a pretty obvious step for all in this role.  Take a look, for more information on CoSN’s framework. Again, hopefully state departments of ed take note – no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Next I’ve decided to take on Cisco Certifications based on my own deficits and what I believe to be paramount in an ed tech leader’s skill set – a deeper understanding of networking. When I walked into my current position 19 months ago I wasn’t  sure what a 10/100 switch was, had no clue about the 7 Layers of the OSI model (and maybe I don’t really need to know that), nor did I have much of an understanding of how a wireless network functioned. I’ve learned much on the job (I learned the 7 layers via reading and video training) but I believe I need a deeper understanding of what happens on a network for two reasons:

1) I know what the district needs and what the district needs to buy without relying solely on a vendor or reseller
2) So I can serve as a backup support if something happens with the network when network staff are out of the district.

In order to meet this learning need, I plopped down $60 for 6-months of access to Cisco’s own training videos for CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Techncian) and CCNA (Cisco Certified Networking Associate) credentials. I’ll start out with the CCENT exam hopefully this spring and move onto the CCNA from there. In terms of technical certificates, the next one I have interest in is CompTIA’s Storage+ offering. We’re in the middle of exploring SAN solutions so I’ve learned on the job, and find it interesting enough to pursue further. 6 months ago I had no clue what SATA or SAS drives were, nor what the heck a 7.2k RPM meant.

This morning I talked to a former colleague about this approach. He is from an IT background and his interest lies in the ITIL Certification, which focuses on Service Delivery and Service Support. This is another worthy learning path that directly applies to supporting the organization. Another fellow director is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt – this learning has helped him drive support efficiency in his department. I’ve thought that project management credentials through the Project Management Institute would be another quality goal for down the road as well.

The bottom line, is we all bring different skills to the table. How we supplement them in up to us. Personally, I have far too many interests to keep going back to grad school, so independent learning through books and videos is the route I’m going to focus on for now. Don’t get my wrong, I loved grad school…I hope I have a PhD still in me after our boys are a little more independent, but I think this route can give me an opportunity to focus my sometimes scattered curiosities and grow my skill sets.

How do we define/credential a school technology leader? #CETL @cosn @WisconsinDPI

Sometime around the turn of the century Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction created a 92 administrative license for an “instructional technology coordinator.” This is what they came up with.

Today, it’s pretty much dead, because colleges and universities can’t find enough students to keep a program going. I never took on the task, because I didn’t see the value. I went the principal/director of instruction route in grad school because I thought it was more useful to build my skill set in those places – school law, operating a school, working with families and improving instruction. I stand by my decision for grad school, but 1.5 years into the role of technology director I see the folly of not having a deeper understanding of storage, networking and the nuts and bolts of student information systems.

I believe CoSN has done a nice job with their CETL framework. I passed Exam I and am currently waiting on results from Exam II, which is essay based. In the next few years I’d like to see state education organizations adopt these types of nationally standardized expectations for school leaders. The CEO of Manpower in Milwaukee is a fellow school parent and when I heard him speak last year at a school function he spoke about the importance of certifications to prove one’s ability in a field – Cisco networking, project management, HR – that is the future, not more grad school programs. In a world where folks may need to change careers multiple times, no one can afford to keep going back to school. They need to pick up skills through alternative methods and reinvent their career. It would make sense for education to take a hint from the labor markets and move in that direction.

#eRate Giveth and eRate Taketh Away

Many are celebrating the eRate Modernization Order. It’s great that funds are being focused on wireless and switching infrastructure, but one needs to remember that this is a 0 sum game – if money goes one way, it’s got to come from another place. A lot of money used to fund other things in our schools is gone or disappearing. Maybe that’s good, but but me down as one person skeptical on how this first round of funding is going to go down. Billions have been put behind these changes. All are encouraged to put in for Category 2 internal connections, but I think the non-traditional Priority 2 schools and libraries will still be left out in the cold. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t have a lot of hope that these changes are going to help my organization all that much. We could use some new switches, but I want to be sure that the best use of our 5-year cap on funding for internal connections. I’m not 100% sure that’s the best route yet.

Let me be clear – I hope I’m wrong – but I think there is a lack of skepticism with these changes and it looks like I’m looking to fill that void.

My Favorite Place to Think…

The Bay of Green Bay as seen from our room at the Landmark Resort in Egg Harbor. I spent some quality time looking out on this thinking about what’s next in 2015. Portfolios kept coming to mind – personally and for professional. This site is my first step to create a personal portfolio. Next will need to be what it could look like for students. I feel like I was ahead of the curve in 2006 when I told charter school teachers they should just let the students use whatever tools they find useful to demonstrate their talents. Sadly…that never went anywhere. I’m looking forward to working with folks on a meaningful portfolio process that goes somewhere.