Sunday, December 29, 2019

Emerging Technologies for 2020

What technology can we expect to see more of in 2020? That was the topic of discussion at the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit which took place December 2019. Leaders from across the United States came together to share the newest technologies being used in their districts.  Here's what they shared: 

Emerging Trends

AR and VR

Augmented and virtual reality are being used to expose students to cultural experiences they may not have the means to experience otherwise.

Tele-Classroom Robotics

Schools using robots for tele-classroom experiences have found that it provides more Social Emotional Learning than what they had imagined. 


This is growing across districts. As a result there is competition between districts on what is offered. Local Military are interested in recruiting eSports players to support them in areas such as drone operation.

Voice activated devices

Districts are seeing more and more value in voice activated devices. The focus must turn to addressing recommended use and privacy concerns.

Fiber optics owned by district or state

District or state owned fiber optics can provide more resources among schools systems.

Data privacy

This is a concern around what we can do with data and ultimately need to do in order to help our students.

Your Turn

Are you noticing any of these emerging technologies in your district? Which ones? Are there technologies you expect to see in the upcoming year that are missing from this list?

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Innovative Ideas for Reducing Laptop Loss / Theft

At the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit that took place December 2019, leaders in technology and education shared innovative ideas used to reduce device loss and theft across a variety of populations. This ranged from ensuring educators knew how to integrate tech into learning to speaking to important community members to get them on board. Here's what they discussed. 

Ideas for providing device ownership

Across the board, leaders agreed that providing device ownership helps reduce loss and theft. Here are some ways this takes place in districts across the U.S.


Etch student names on the bottom of devices.


Allowing students to personalize their devices both with background wallpaper and on the outside of the computer. 
Jenith Mishne, Director of Education Technology in Newport-Mesa Unified School District (USD) takes personalizatoin to a whole new level. She provides time, accessories, and stickers for students to use to personalize their device. However, she offers this word of caution: Make it clear only the backside of devices can be bedazzled.

1:1 take home programs 

1:1 take home programs were found to reduce damage of devices. 1:1 provides a better sense of ownership which means better care. 

Home Use

The consensus was that it’s a myth that kids aren’t responsible enough to take devices home. If schools and districts put the right systems and structures in place, students can be responsible enough to use devices at home and bring them back to school.

Summer Use

The end of the school year is often a drag for school technology staff who have to scramble to collect and store all student devices. This isn’t a problem in Newport-Mesa USD. Mishne simply doesn’t collect devices at the end of the school year. Students can keep the devices. This also helps address summer slide issues as the students can have access to technology even when school is out. If a device needs a repair, no problem. Students can make an appointment to bring their devices in. Students at the school keep the same laptop from year to year. This increases the feeling of ownership which reduces chances of loss.

Integration into learning

Leaders found there was a reduction in device damage if educators knew how to meaningfully integrate technology into learning. Using it not just as a substitution for paper or worksheets, but as a tool to transform learning.  When teachers do that, students are more responsible for devices. The issue however, is that districts must properly support teachers with integrating technology. It also must be an expectation included in evaluation of the teachers. 

Out-of-the-box solutions

Adam Phyall, Director of Technology and Media Services at the Newton County School System Covington, Georgia implements several effective out-of-the-box solutions to reduce theft.
  • Community relations: He speaks to key players in the community to let them know what is happening in the schools academically and how technology is supporting it. He shares with them how to identify a school device and discusses the significance these devices have in ensuring students are prepared for success. These key players include pawn shop owners as well as street organizational units (aka gangs) which community churches help to arrange. 
  • Laptop carts: When Phyall discovered some kids had devices stolen out of bags from the YMCA, the district donated extra laptop carts to them. 

Your turn

How do you handle device loss and theft where you work? Have you tried or considered any of these ideas? How do you think it would go in your school or district?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Digital Citizenship: The New Consequences for Inappropriate Use

Illustration of the SAMR Model
Learn more about SAMR
Remember the good old days of inappropriate use of the internet? The teacher would just take away the student's "privilege" of using a computer and give them paper instead. Those were the days when many educators using computers were just in the first stage of SAMR. Technology served as a "substitute" and provided no functional change.

The good old days weren't really so good

Fast forward to today and many administrators and educators realize those good old days really weren't so good after all. Today, technology, is not a privilege. Equitable access to technology is a right. It allows students to do work that is real, relevant, and authentic in ways that are not possible or even conceivable without it. The introduction of technology is no longer an enhancement of what paper can do, it transforms what students can do. Additionally, technology makes learning accessible and inclusive for all students including those with disabilities and who aren't fluent in the language.  

New consequences for inappropriate use

At the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit that took place December 2019, leaders in technology and education discussed the new consequences for inappropriate use.  Here were some ideas shared.

Step 1: Lock down the filtering 
Step 2: Only open it up after students have: 
  • Completed an online course in digital citizenship 
  • Met with the guidance counselor to address the issue 
  • Discussed the issue with their family and school staff
This strategy doesn't focus on punishment. It focuses on helping the student learn and grow.

Your turn

How does your school or district handle inappropriate use? Have you tried the ideas mentioned above? Others? What's worked? What hasn't?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

6 Insights from Ed Tech Leaders Across the U.S.

Leaders in education and technology came from around the country to the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit. There they spoke openly and passionately about current trends, critical problems, and possible solutions. 


Home use:

It’s a myth that kids aren’t responsible enough to take devices home. There was a consensus among attendees that If schools and districts put the right systems and structures in place, students can not only use devices at home during the school year, but they can also use them during breaks and in the summertime. Doing so benefits students and the feeling of device ownership reduces damage.

Ransomware and phishing: 

These are now emerging as enormous areas of concerns for educational institutions. 

Device diversity: 

Attendees were split on the idea of student choice when it comes to devices. Some districts felt it was important for students to pick the right technology for the task. In other districts it was an equity issue. It would not be okay for some students to have zippy brand new devices while others had older devices that couldn’t perform the same tasks. These districts provide all students with the same device. 

Evolving conversations: 

Joe Kuzo, Director of Technology at Quakertown Community School District in Pennsylvania, shared that it was nice to hear about the emotional, life-changing impact technology had on students' lives. 

Shifting digital citizenship conversations: 

Paul Sanfrancesco, Director of Technology for Owen J. Roberts School District in Pottstown, PA pointed out that the focus used to be on ensuring students are using technology responsibly. These days, the focus is shifting to ensuring the adults, teachers and parents, are responsible users. It is likely that our students will fix some of the mess we are experiencing now with responsible use. 

Student data privacy: 

We keep coming back to the conversation of student data privacy. We need to figure this out and get beyond this so we can get to focusing on the teaching and learning that students need.

Your turn

What do you think? Are these topics ones that come up where you work? What are some of the trends and insights in your school or district?

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Digital Equity: Urban, Suburban, Rural Districts Weigh In at #TLTechLive Leadership Summit

Educational Leaders from various US districts gathered at the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit in New Orleans, LA on December 2019 to discuss current trends in education and technology and share how each of us have been working to solve some critical problems. At the top of the list was digital equity.

Leaders from urban, suburban, and rural districts were challenged to consider what digital equity looked like and discuss pain points and solutions. 

Highlights included:

Home access

Access at home was a pain point for several districts, however, this included both ends of the spectrum:  
  • Pain point: Home WiFi
    • Teachers perceive students DON’T have internet access at home, but they do. 
      • Result: They are not integrating work that includes the internet.
    • Teachers perceive students DO have internet access at home, but they don’t.
      • Result: They are integrating the internet even though many students don’t have access.
  • Possible solutions: 
    • Survey students so expectations are based on reality rather than presumptions.
    • Determine ways to provide home internet for students who need it. 


Technology Integration

Across districts, even when there is digital equity, adults often get in the way of student learning because they are not integrating the technology students know and want to use. Ensuring teachers are comfortable using digital content was a challenge for several reasons:
  • Challenges
    • Time is not allocated to provide professional learning opportunities
    • Teachers are not evaluated on tech integration
    • Veteran teachers are resistant to change 
  • Possible solutions
    • School and district leadership must be intentional about providing time for teacher learning
    • Work to include tech integration in teacher and leader evaluation
    • School and district leadership can model effective tech integration
    • Ensure veteran teachers understand real benefits and provide them with in classroom coaching and support
    • Include technology leadership in the central and cabinet level


Device damage

Another issue for districts is intentional damage to devices. This was most likely to happen in cases where devices are not being used in meaningful ways. When teachers don’t integrate technology or understand it’s value the students respond accordingly and are not respectful or responsible with their devices. 

Access points

In rural communities, access points are a pain point. Ways this is being addressed ranged from hotspots on activity buses to mifi and other hotspots to take home, some points;
  • On buses, many start with activity buses and then expand
  • Buses can be parked in neighborhoods
  • Provide Verizon hotspots
  • Should added costs be pushed to families?
  • It needs to be metered so you know how it is being used 
  • Companies provide grants for this 
  • Access must be filtered, otherwise it becomes mom and dad’s device for the household


Digital Accessibility for Families

Urban districts discussed the problem of families not understanding anything that is happening in schools because they are unable to access content due to language barriers or disability. This led to a discussion of the importance of ensuring staff understand how to create accessible content written in plain language so it is easily translatable by a machine and can be perceived by those with disabilities. 

Most districts have yet to take on this challenge. However, the Office of Civil Rights is approaching more and more districts requiring them to ensure content adheres to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.  Many website platforms are not up to the challenge. However, companies like eChalk and Edlio do support content accessibility. There is a desire for eRate funding to help cover the cost of using such solutions. 


  • Kajeet provides innovative WiFi solutions.
  • Waterford Upstart provides four-year-old children access to the highest form of academic support in their early education at no cost to participants: personalized family education and coaching, a new computer and Internet if needed, and adaptive educational software.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Can PDFs Be Made Accessible?

PDFs are one of the biggest issues for website accessibility. In fact, research from WebAim showed that 75.1% of respondents indicated that PDF documents are very or somewhat likely to pose significant accessibility issues. That's because making PDFs accessible takes work, training, and includes a software purchase.

Common PDF Accessibility Errors

To make PDFs accessible you should have a paid for version of Adobe Acrobat. Using that software you can These are the most common accessibility errors to check for:
  • Missing document title
  • Missing or illogical reading order
  • Images missing ALT text
  • Wrong/confusing heading semantics
  • Language settings
  • Tables with no defined header

What Does it Look Like to Check PDFs for Accessibility

You can visit see how one goes about checking and remediating a PDF with the Adobe Acrobat software in this video from campus suite.
Screenshot of a video from campus suite with logos from Adobe Acrobat Standard DC and PAVE
Making PDFs on Websites Accessible Video. Start at 14:00.

PDF Myths

The question to ask, is do you really need a PDF on your website? Sometimes people want a PDF because of Often people have false views on why PDFs are needed such as:

  • Myth: The content is secure.
  • Reality: All digital content can be manipulated.
  • Myth: It can be read more easily across platforms.
  • Reality: Content placed directly on your site following WCAG guidelines can be read more easily across platforms.
  • Myth: People will want to print my content from my website.
  • Reality: Today most people prefer to read via mobile.
  • Myth: PDFs should be used for forms.
  • Reality: Rather than having visitors print forms out, you can provide them with an accessible digital form they can submit.

The Verdict

The best way to ensure your website is accessible is to place content directly into your website following web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG). If, for some reason, a document absolutely must be provided via PDF, provide the same information on your website in HTML as well.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Accessibility Tip: Provide Materials Before, Not After

Woman speaking at podium to an audience in an auditorium. There is a screen behind her featuring a slide that provides the session title as well as how to access content.
The arrows point to the URL & QR code provided to participants
before, during, and after the Website Accessibility Summit.

Easy peasy accessibility tip:

Provide participants with handouts before, not after, workshops, learning opportunities, or any type of event.

What do you mean?

Have you ever been to an event where they tell you that you'll get slides and handouts after the event or in a follow-up email? This is an example of getting materials after an event. This reduces accessibility. This is because for some people, having a digital copy of the materials makes learning about and understanding the topic easier. This can apply to a variety of learning styles, disabilities, or for those not fluent in the language. 

Why not just provide the material afterward?

Some people may want to follow along during, not after, an event. They may want to access the material live. 

How does providing digital content before an event help?

Providing access to materials in advance can be helpful in obvious ways as well as ways that may never have occurred to us. Here are some of the more obvious ways having materials in advance can help.

Blind/Low vision

Those needing visual accommodations can access the materials by adjusting size, color contrast, or using a braille or screen reader.

Deaf/Hard of Hearing

Providing materials in advance of an event helps those needing hearing accommodations in a variety of ways. For example, if you have a slide show, ensure the transcript is in the presenter notes, so those who do not hear well can read what you are saying. During the presentation, turn closed captioning on your slides, to provide additional support.

Cognitive Preferences

When participants have the materials, they don’t have to worry as much about missing something. They can go back and reference it. Additionally, for some people, it is helpful to have the material that is being presented, in advance so they can interact with it in a variety of ways and focus on the learning. They may want to highlight pieces, take notes on what they are learning, file or store the information in ways that make sense to them, for later access, etc. 

Practical Considerations

An easy way to provide access to all materials is to provide a hyperdoc agenda. This means an agenda with links to all relevant materials, handouts, and presentations. Place a link to this agenda in promotional materials, emails, calendar invites, flyers, etc.

Why isn’t everybody doing this?

Some people may feel that if someone wants an accommodation such as receiving materials in advance, they should just ask for it. While this does provide access, it is not inclusive and it singles people out. 

Presenters may be hesitant to provide materials in advance because people may decide:
  • Not to attend if they have the materials in advance
  • Not to pay attention to the presenter  
  • To steal their proprietary content 

Each of these hesitations can be addressed in the following ways.
  • Attendance
    • Ensure you make clear the benefits of attending i.e. interactive activities, networking opportunities
  • Paying attention to the presenter
    • Direct participants on where their attention should be focused
  • Stealing content
    • On slides and handouts indicate the author and sharing permissions

Your turn

Now that you know providing materials in advance, doesn’t take any more effort and it provides a better experience for your participants, how might you change your practice? Do you still hold some fears about sharing content with participants or are you ready to give it a shot?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Wordpress, and Blackboard, and Wix. Oh My! Which School Website Platform Should You Choose?

All public schools must have accessible websites. With so many options, which platform should you choose? To help you figure that out in the alphabetical listing below you can:
    All logos mentioned in this post are displayed.
  • Visit the site
  • Check out the accessibility guidance
  • Watch a video clip from each platform as they share information about what they provided in a showcase to New York City school webmasters.
The platforms listed below are ones who demonstrated their commitment to school website accessibility by participating in the Website Accessibility Summit on November 5th in New York City.

This is the whole video and after that you can click on the link to go straight to a particular platform vendor.

Blackboard / Schoolwires

Website Accessibility Summit Showcase video for Blackboard Schoolwires
Presentation: Blackboard / Schoolwires Accessibility Showcase


eChalk accessibility guidance
Website Accessibility Summit Showcase video for eChalk
Presentation: eChalk Showcase


Edlio accessibility guidance
Website Accessibility Summit Showcase Video for Edlio
Presentation: Edlio Showcase

Google Sites

Google Sites accessibility guidance

Website Accessibility Showcase Video for Google Sites
Presentation: Google Showcase
Website Accessibility Summit Showcase Video for Wix
Presentation: Wix Showcase


Make WordPress Accessible

Website Accessibility Summit Showcase Video for WordPress
Presentation: WordPress Showcase

Your turn

What do you think? Are you using a platform that supports digital accessibility?
If so, which one? What have been your successes and challenges?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Website Platforms Share Accessibility Support with Schools at #NYCSchoolsDigIn Summit

All government agencies must have accessible websites. This means all public schools or schools who receive federal funding must have accessible websites. The United States Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has agreements with various school districts to help ensure institutions provide content that is accessible to everyone including people with disabilities and those who speak languages other than English.  And it’s the right thing to do! 

Pick me! Pick me!

On Tuesday, November 5th, more than 200 school webmasters and content contributors came together from across New York City schools to hear from representatives from a variety of platforms. 

They came from around the globe to be a part of the largest school district accessibility projects in the world. In attendance were the following website platforms:
  • Blackboard / Schoolwires
  • eChalk
  • Edlio
  • Google
  • Intrado / School Messenger
  • Wix
  • WordPress. com

Representatives from each company shared:

  • What each website provider offers, in terms of: 
    • their platform
    • how they would ensure all website content—pictures, documents, and text on a page—would be made accessible
    • support provided to schools 
    • costs 
  • What webmasters need to do to make content accessible
Bringing all the website platforms together in one space to speak with staff provided an effective way for schools to make an informed decision. It also enabled these platforms to learn what the other is doing and get ideas how to provide better products for schools.

What people were saying

Participants were abuzz with their learning on social media. In fact the project hashtag trended on Twitter that day. You can see some of what they were saying on social media as follows:

Your Turn

How is your school or district helping schools create accessible content on their website?

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Face Off - Microsoft or Adobe for #Accessibility

Word & PDF logos with boxing gloves punching in between
As accessibility consciousness increases, more and more people are wondering what provider to use to make accessible content? WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind)* surveyed preferences of screen reader users comparing Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF. 

Creating accessible content is not only important because it is the right thing to do. It is also important because not doing so leaves institutions and businesses at risk for lawsuits and loss of funding. 

The verdict?

WebAIM research showed that respondents were much more favorable of Word documents than of PDF documents - 30.9% indicated that Word documents are very or somewhat likely to pose significant accessibility issues, compared to 75.1% for PDF documents.


Because it is a challenge to make Adobe products accessible, a institutions like Penn State, are suggesting staff avoid Adobe.

Accessible first. Not accessible search.

It’s not that Adobe can’t be made accessible. The problem is it’s not intuitive. For example, the two most important tools for reviewing and repairing PDF accessibility are the Tags pane and the Accessibility tools pane. They are both hidden by default in Acrobat. Accessibility should be the default, not the thing some people search to try to accomplish. Another problem is that several languages are not supported and there is no timeline for a fix. 

Heading navigation is key

Regardless of the platform used, the research indicates that navigating headings remains the predominant method for finding page information by those using screen readers. It also makes a page much easier and comfortable for everyone to digest. 

Up next?

Let’s put out a challenge for WebAIM to see how Google and Apple fare with feedback from respondents who use screen readers.

*WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) provides comprehensive web accessibility solutions and is a leading provider of web accessibility expertise internationally. WebAIM is a non-profit organization based at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. WebAIM's mission is to expand the potential of the web for people with disabilities by providing the knowledge, technical skills, tools, organizational leadership strategies, and vision that empower organizations to make their own content accessible to people with disabilities.