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PVNC Principals are outstanding. You can see some of the fantastic things they are doing on our hashtags, #pvnclearns, #pvncserves and #pvncleads. A conversation with one of them is the genesis for this blog and changed the way I think about deploying technology in our schools.

In the beginning technology deployment was all about ratios, how many computers we had to how many students we had. This model had the benefit of being easy to manage and justify and had the illusion of fairness and perhaps it was fair in 2005. In 2011 I realised that large schools had economies of scale and were able to do more with their budgets. When we rolled out additional technology to support our libraries through a “21st Century Library” project, we did not consider student enrolment. We gave each school, regardless of size, 16 ipads and 8 netbooks. I think, by most accounts, this was an improvement and gave small schools a leg up when they need it.

Back to my conversation with one of our awesome principals…he highlighted for me another issue to contend with, parent income. I started to dig into this and discovered that the data team at Global News took census data from Statistics Canada and created maps showing the average income in each area of the country. Here is a map of Peterborough with the average income shown by the blue shading:

This map is typical, each of the communities we serve has discrepancies in income, as I am sure every school board does. Here is the same chart with our schools mapped onto it:

As we renew our board’s technology plan I am trying to figure out how to incorporate this data into a new model for technology deployment. We are seeing the impact of household income on our wireless network dashboard. My early looks at the data seems to indicate schools in higher income neighbourhoods have a higher percentage of personal devices on the network. This has real implications for our planning and preparing for our Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy. It is not reasonable to expect that we will have the same percentage of students with personal devices across the board when we do not have a uniform household income across the board. Our goal is to give each school the opportunity to have a device for every child by using a combination of board purchased, school purchased and BYOD…if we want this opportunity to be equal then we must increase board and school spending where we expect BYOD takeup to be lower.

Michael Fullan, in his work entitled A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning makes some statements with which I take issue. He states in Table 7 of the document that a device can be purchased for $220. While the time is coming when a device that both School Board IT Manager and modern day student will find acceptable can be purchased for $220, that time is not here yet. The other idea is that $50 of each device will be subsidized by each parent. I think this is wrong headed as well. My central thesis in this article is that we have parents that can’t afford $50 for a device and we also have parents that can afford $400 for a device. Again, equal treatment is not always fair.

Another example of “equality” is not financial, but geographical. My colleague is piloting wifi on school buses. His reasoning: a student that walks 20 minutes to and from school has a two hour time advantage on the student that rides the bus for 80 minutes. Wifi on the bus allows those students to get a head start on their research and homework. I would imagine the cost of this pilot project is expensive but it highlights the notion that my principal friend shared, sometimes we have to spend an unequal amount of money to ensure that each of our students is treated fairly.

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In reviewing the themes for my planned blog articles I noticed more than a few deal with a refinement of strategy or plans over the years. When PVNC first deployed our teacher laptops in 2007 Greg Reeves and I went to the board meeting and, for what I am sure was the first time ever, we asked the trustees to not approve the project. Do not approve this project, we said, if you are not prepared to continue it for the four years necessary to deploy to all our teachers. Do not approve this project if we cannot replace the laptops after four years, because once they have them, they will want to keep them. At the time I figured a laptop should last four years so that if we deployed to ¼ of our teachers each year we would keep our costs relatively stable and be well positioned to renew the program in year 5. Back in those days we used to call this “evergreening” although evergreen seems to be taking on a new definition these days.

Our first year we decided to roll out laptops to our primary teachers, K-3. We struck a focus group and developed a professional development (PD) plan. We implemented software that would allow us to track the usage of the laptops and determine if they were being used. We discovered that we had a small cohort of teachers who, even after their two days of PD, were still not using their laptop. We worked with the school principals to bring these teachers in for an additional PD day. We got our count of reluctant users down to a single teacher, which for a cohort of 230, I thought was pretty good.

When we started our 21st Century Library project in 2012 we developed a similar plan. We were rolling out netbooks and iPads, both devices we expected would last four years. In picking ¼ of the schools we changed things up. We only took volunteers and selected volunteer schools where there was a willingness in school administration and the library to transform the library into a technology embedded hub. We wanted the “Coalition of the Willing.” We had volunteers until our fourth and final year when all we had was a group of schools that for whatever reason had delayed. Some of this was a “Let’s wait and see” approach…In a few cases I think there was hope that the digital transformation of the library was a fad that would surely blow over. Whatever the reason, we had a tool in our arsenal that we did not have when we did our teacher laptop project..a cohort of librarians who had all volunteered, who were keen and had been involved with the project for over three years. This secret weapon helped to save the day in that fourth year.

One of the charts I see often in my MBA is Gartner’s Hype Cycle. It shows how consumer’s attitudes towards technology evolve over time, starting with adoption/introduction of the technology, called “the trigger” and ending with the “plateau of productivity.”

Take notice of the peak, the trough and the plateau. While I find the Hype cycle interesting, I think it gets very interesting (and helpful) when I layered four of them over one another and shifted each by one year, in effect showing where each cohort of a four year rollout is on their journey with a new technology.

Things to note about my “evergreen” version:

When the year 1 cohort (red) is in their trough of disillusionment, the year 2 cohort (blue) is in their peak. The positive energy from the new cohort helps the previous cohort through the trough. This happens each year.

When you are in the fourth and final year you may not have the same excitement as you did with the early adopters but this is offset by the fact that your year 1 and 2 cohorts are now in their plateau of productivity. What we noticed in our library project is these early cohorts were excellent troubleshooters and were able to share their success stories to help along their colleagues who came later to the project.

In year 5, or the first refresh of the technology, you will have your first cohort in the peak, your 2nd and 3rd cohort in the productivity plateau, all available and willing to help your 4th cohort through the trough.

An obvious drawback to this strategy is that it takes four years to fully implement but my experience has been that for large system level change it is best to go this slow. It stabilizes cost, allows for the organisation to adapt and gives time for new capabilities to be embedded in the culture. In conclusion, evergreen+hype cycle=success.

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It may seem odd given my recent post explaining why I will not be buying an app that I would encourage my dear loyal reader(s) to buy their mobile apps but a recent discussion with my children has prompted me to do so.

“Dad, what will your next vehicle be…a truck?”

Me: “A truck would be nice, it sure would make towing the camper trailer easier.”

“If you buy a truck, you should buy a Dodge.”

Me: “Why is that?”

“They can tow anything!”

Me: “Thanks, buddy…how do you know that?”

This discussion leads me to the first reason I believe schools (and school districts) should buy apps for their students, children are extremely susceptible to advertising. This should not be news to anyone. In fact, in Canada, advertisers have been governed by the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards since 1963. The code states “advertising that is directed to children must not exploit their credulity, lack of experience or their sense of loyalty, and must not present information or illustrations that might result in their physical, emotional or moral harm.” This is good in theory, and we can see these standards play out in broadcast media, but I would challenge anyone using a “free” children’s app to look discerningly at the in-app ads and maintain that they meet this standard, and in a world of rotating push advertising, that they meet this standard all the time. The response I hear most often to this concern is “we just ignore them.” I refer back to the Code and highlight the “lack of experience” children have. As adults, we recognise the almost coercive power of advertising, all the hooks that are specifically designed to get us to click through. Children have not yet developed this “muscle” but if anything, it would be an excellent topic for class discussion. According to the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Paying Attention to Literacy Literacy involves the capacity to access, manage, create and evaluate information. This could lead to some fascinating and helpful discussions around advertising and its role in the new digital media.

Let me be clear, I do not have anything against content creators getting paid. In fact, it is the opposite. Have you ever tried to program an app? It is hard work, even harder to make all the visual elements of the app appealing. An article in Venture Beat reported that app store superstar Supercell, makers of Clash of Clans, Boom Beach and Hay Day, made profits of $964 million on revenue of $2 326 million in 2015. To put that another way, Supercell had expenses of $1 362 million to create and support just three apps. That is an oversimplified view of their operations to be sure but it gives an idea of the cost and effort it takes to create compelling apps. A Business Insider report pegged the cost to produce Grand Theft Auto V at $266 million. Again, an extreme example but the point is, developing an app is challenging and the people doing it deserve to be compensated. I think the best model for allowing that to happen in a mobile app store is the in-app purchase of advertising removal. In a school, this would allow the teacher to try the app at no cost and if deemed appropriate for the classroom, remove the advertising with an in app purchase. Unfortunately this method does not work well on a school district level where Apple’s Volume Purchase Program (VPP) is typically used to purchase apps. Recommendations for a work around are described on Jamf Nation

Finally, app advertising can create security risks. This will get a little bit technical but some of the new attack vectors related to app advertising are worth noting. Cloudflare details on their blog how an ad network can be leveraged to kick off a distributed denial of service attack. While one of the appeals of the iOS App Store is that it is curated and secured, there is a much lower level of security and curation on the ads that are served. In fact, iOS 10.3 rolled out with support for 3rd party advertising. This opens the door for exploits similar to Stegano which targeted website banner advertising. This attack vector could be used to exploit a future vulnerability in iOS or Android.

In summary, there are three reasons to purchase apps for our students (free apps are not free):

There is a cost to allowing our children to be bombarded with ads
There is a cost to develop the apps we want to use
There is a cost to opening up an additional attack vector into our devices

What do you think of ad supported apps in the classroom?

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