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David Goes to Phoenix – Dec 2019 AESA Conference Day 1

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

The EduTechGuys have been a staple of the AESA Conference for the past 4 years. This year, the guys weren’t able to provide the podcast coverage the event has come to expect, but the guys hope to be back for the next one!

David, though, was able to attend through his education service agency. Here are his thoughts on Day 1:

I attended three sessions during the day (not including keynotes and special events arranged by the conference). The first session covered CyberSecurity Insurance being brokered by a group called USI. In Arkansas, Southwest Arkansas Education Cooperative received over $400,000 in a grant to provide USI services to schools in the state. The presentation took a 30,000ft view of cybersecurity issues and what possible money and time would be heaped upon affected schools should they become victim. The discussion afterward centered on exceptions, future thoughts on ways to reduce premiums, etc. As I sat there, I thought of IoT (Internet of Things) and what their impact is on the insurance. “So, looking into the crystal ball, as it were, do you see premiums or exceptions being affected by organizations who have IoT devices on their networks?” I asked. The presenters pondered a moment, then nodded and said they thought there could be a chance for that. I explained to the room what IoT was (“IoT devices are things on your network such as Alexa, Ring Doorbells, etc” The room filled with the sound of sudden understanding, “Ahhh…” At that point, interest in my question grew – we all know of schools where such devices are sitting in classrooms, hanging out on networks, wide open to the world.

The second session centered on Technology Audits for 1:1 schools. Did 1:1 do what it set out to do in those schools? For that matter, what DID the schools expect when they implemented 1:1? It was informative, yet not surprising. A pre-survey, if you will, showed that students and teachers thought tech was being used in about 85-90% of classrooms each day. The audit (a walkthrough observation) showed it was closer to 65-70%. Honestly, I thought it was still better than what I would have guessed. The presentation discussed more results, but mainly focused on the “after.” How could the service agency help schools now that the results were in? What did teachers need/want? Turns out, no surprise really, they want training. Teachers want to feel comfortable with the tech. An interesting conversation ensued regarding cell phones. People don’t get training on how to use their cell phones. They figure it out. Why? Because the have to, and because generally, they are alone with the technology so there is no one to help them figure it out at the moment they need something figured out. It’s “just-in-time, self-directed training.” (my term)

The final presentation of the day focused on three areas in which an Indian service agency provides services: Group purchasing buses; media services for schools; and online courses for students. The agency provides the single largest bus purchasing group in the state. They write specs, do the research, and offer the buses up for purchase from the vendors in the state. Small districts can save lots of money because the group buys in bulk. Large schools do not save money, often times, but they save the time and effort in man-hours it takes to put together specs, bids, etc for large bus orders. It is a HUGE success for the agency. As for media services, the agency provides video recording/editing services to schools and other entities. They record promos, commercials, and longer pieces for referendum items (such as going to the voters for millage increase, etc). What I liked most, though, was that they use High School interns during the process and they seek assistance from students when it is inconvenient for the media service group to record (usually this is centered on B-Roll and shots needed/wanted after the primary recording is done). Finally, the agency provides home-grown, standards-based courses for students across the state. It turns out, they also work with entities like Virtual Arkansas in something of a “course-sharing” arrangement. I asked questions of each presenter:

Q: You sell training video (media services) to schools. Why would a school buy yours when there are free videos everywhere? A: The videos are specific to Indiana state standards, and focus on expectations of the state’s students.

Q: Does Indiana have a statewide bid/contract system where schools can purchase items without having to do the bids? If so, how does your bus buying service compare in terms of competition? A: There is kind of a system, but it doesn’t include buses. In fact, the state approached the agency about providing the service, which is partly how it came to be. Some schools still buy outside of the purchasing group.

Q: You said there is no cost to school districts for online courses, but you said it is $245 per student. Could you clarify that? Also, you said you are not a school, but you have your own SIS and provide the teachers. How does that not constitute being a school? A: Schools do not pay to become a member of the online course program. Each student is charged $245 and it is up to the school whether that is paid for by the school or if the student has to pay the fee. We have our own SIS that we export the data to CSV and send it to the schools to import into their own SIS. (Quick note: I tend to forget that not every state has a Machiavellian approach to their schools systems. In Arkansas, the state forces every district to use a single SIS solution. Guess that’s why we’re not called “independent schools” in Arkansas… I digress)

It’s been a while since I’ve attended this conference as an actual participant, and I enjoyed seeing what other education service agencies are doing for their schools. It also showed me how different each state, and each region within a state, really is. The concept of “standardized” anything is bunk. And, frankly, that’s not a bad thing.

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