An Interview with Berj Akian – CEO ClassLink Inc.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 1.16.28 PM

Join me for an interview with Berj Akian, CEO and founder of ClassLink Inc.. Berj set out to improve education by creating world class technology tools for students and teachers. What started out as an effort to help one local school integrate a cutting edge technology environment became a stepping stone that led to the establishment of ClassLink, Inc. Prior to paving a new foundation for technology in the educational realm, Berj was with Technology Crossover Ventures, a leading venture capital firm. Previous to TCV he specialized in restructuring and attest services for large technology and educational publishing clients with Arthur Andersen. Berj graduated cum laude from Baruch College in New York

See The Entire Interview at A Path With Heart

Berj discusses a wide range of topics including:

The Key Elements of Effective Leaders

 

The Teacher’s Burden

 

Standards

 

See The Entire Interview at A Path With Heart

 

What is ClassLink?  ClassLink solves the problem of too many passwords, and too many files scScreen Shot 2016-03-04 at 1.16.40 PMattered about. It’s a one click single sign-on solution that gives students access to everything they need to learn, anywhere, with just one password. Accessible from any device, ClassLink is the perfect tool for ensuring the success of a 1:1 or BYOD initiative.

 

One to One Computing: A Daydream

I closed the cover of my Chromebook, tucked it into my backpack and headed off to English class. I skipped lunch today so I had time to see the MIT lecture on Mitosis and Miosis because we were going to be covering Mitosis and Miosis in Science class this afternoon. Never hurts to get a head start.

Lucky for me, Mrs. Woodruff’s class was just around the corner from the cafeteria where lunch was just finishing up. Anyway, I wanted to get there early to ‘text’ Jamie Milledge, who was helping me build out my “Fahrenheit 451” wiki.

farneheit_451.jpgJamie would be up by now. I live on the East coast and she goes to school in Torrence, California. She is a major Ray Bradbury fan. We met up about a month ago when I found some of her science fiction writing on the Fan Fiction web page. Turns out she is the same age and studying “451” in her English class the same as me. We FaceBook each other all the time now.

I get to class and whip out my computer.

Jamie wassup?
Getting dressed.
Did you find the movie?
Yeah. Not easy to get.
Great.
What part do we want to use?
I love the RR tracks scene.
Where they all become their favorite books?
Yeah. So cool!
OK. I’ll upload it at lunch today.
You’re the best.

We chat until the class is ready to start.

Mrs. Woodruff is already leaning over a student helping them with whatever project they’re working on.

Last night I searched out some blogs that deal with “451″ and have added them to the RSS feeds in my aggregator. They may come in handy as we go through the book.

“Okay class, you can get into your teams now.”

Mrs. Woodruff speaks over the discussions that have already begun. I don’t know why she feels she has to say this every day because we never wait for her. We’re already in our groups.

Our group project is to build out a vocabulary blog for “451” . We each take a few chapters, find the more difficult words, and look them up online. Usually, when we do this we create a team blog where we post the sentence from the book that contains the word, as well as the definitions of the words. We organize it all by chapter. Here’s the vocabulary blog we did on our last book, “The Outsiders”.

This time, in addition to what we usually do, we decide to add some online photos from Flickr, drag them in Comic Life, and write the words used in funny contexts. Michael, our team leader, is really good at coming up with the funny stuff.

(This example courtesy of Jim Coe and Tom Woodward of Bionic Teaching)

After a bit, Mrs. Woodruff asks us to close our computers and report out on how we are doing. One group has done research on all the books that have been banned over the years. Marcy plugs into the projector and shows the Censorship website they’ve created. They’ve worked with the school library media specialist, and a number of outside organizations who are very anti-censorship. I’m surprised at some of the titles on the list. I copy the URL. I want to check it out when I get to study hall later today.

Another group shows the product they are creating in response to the “451″ WebQuest they were working on. (Courtesy of Mr. Dan Thompson)

The other groups plug in to show their particular projects; but Terry’s group gets into trouble because they havn’t done much since the last time they presented. Terry says that they have been doing a lot of the work after school; but they havn’t had an online work session this week because a few of them had late sports practices. Terry’s team always has an excuse. The truth is they put in no effort. They do what they can during free time in school, but they almost never hold group work sessions at night. They’ve got to get themselves a better leader or they’re gonna get creamed at the end of the marking period.

I can’t wait to show the vocabulary site we created. Everyone laughs at Michael’s funny comments that are in the Comic Life bubbles. I also take a moment to show the “451” wiki site that Jamie from California and I have been working on. Believe it or not, Jamie has already uploaded a scene from the movie. I click on it and play a minute or so.

Mrs. Woodruff claps her hands, “Great job! guys. Now, let’s get to our writing projects.”

We all pull our desks back a few feet from the groups we were in so we can work on our own for awhile. I pull up the draft of the paper I have been writing from my virtual locker storage space. I’m working on an essay topic from an old Regents exam. I figure it’s good practice. We write in silence, saving frequently, as we have been taught to do. Mrs. Woodruff walks around giving some individual advice to different folks. I run my paper through the online Writing Evaluator. I like this because it picks up most of the simple mistakes I tend to make when I write. It saves Mrs. Woodruff some time, too.

“Class!” She says. We all look up. She walks to the SmartBoard in the front of the room and taps on it a few times. Up come the notes from last week. She enlarges the words THEME and PLOT.

“I see a number of you are getting theme and plot confused. What is the difference between the theme and plot?”

A few brave souls raise their hands.

“You know what? Rather than doing this verbally, I want you to e-mail me your explanations for homework tonight. Include the basic theme of “451” . I don’t need you to rehash the plot.”

Man, more homework.

Mrs. Woodruff continued, “We’re getting close to the bell, so just a reminder that I will be online for extra help on Thursday from 8:00pm till 9:00pm. Terry, I expect that at least one member of your team should be there. Your team needs lot’s of help.”

The bell rings. I sling my Asus into my backpack and dash out of the room. My science class is at the other end of the building; I’ve gotta hustle.

pete

This is a Re-Post from 2008.

It is a daydream. I’m sure there are many more creative ideas out there. The Asus and other products used in this post are for illustrative purposes only and not an endorsement.

The technology is transparent. The Asus is one of a number of sub-$500, mobile, wireless computers. WIreless access from everywhere in the school. VIrtualized desktops with access to all school applications and files from anywhere, including the home. Appropriate software. Engaged and empowered students AND teachers, learning both in school and outside of school, formally and informally, collaboratively and individually. Learning partners that extend outside the classroom.

Special thanks to Tom Woodward and Jim Coe, two groundbreaking educators from the Henrico schools who are making the daydream reality.

Two Roadblocks to Transformation We Have Yet to Address

Hundreds of educational technology bloggers and conference speakers hold forth on the need for transformational change in our educational system, and the conversation can get pretty lofty and philosophical.

I am a strong advocate for transformational reform; but it seems to me there are two very serious roadblocks in our way that we have yet to address.

The first roadblock is our school structure:

How does a Middle School or High School teacher use technology to create a student-centered, project-based learning classroom environment, when they have less than 45 minutes with their students per day?

BTW, they  must use these precious minutes to meet demanding state NCLB standards, and their curriculum may be governed by detailed ‘maps’ that outline the pace and sequence of teaching and learning in their classrooms.

Maybe the teacher does their best to squeeze in a project or two for the students during the year; but that doesn’t significantly change the primary classroom dynamic that is presently dominating secondary education.

The second roadblock is our technology deployment practices:

How does a Middle School or High School teacher use technology to move to student-centered, project-based learning, when they generally have only one or two computers, and maybe an interactive whiteboard and projector in their classrooms?

Maybe the teacher has a student use the interactive whiteboard while the rest of the class sits and watches, maybe the class watches a good video clip, or simulation; but the one computer classroom is a passive one and does not fully utilize the potential of technology to empower each individual student.

Unless we fully address these two basic questions, our best PD and transformational change efforts will make little impact on what is really going on in our schools.

pete

Pilot Opportunities


One-to-One  & Ubiquitous Computing

‘Pilot’ Opportunities

Ed Tech Journeys is seeking school districts interested in exploring the possibilities of One-to-One computing and desktop virtualization. Right now we are seeking districts for the 2009-2010 school year. To learn more contact me by e-mail:  preilly@edtechjourneys.com

You can get a good idea of what a proof of concept might entail by downloading a copy of one of the final Pilot Reports below:

Deer Park USFD One to One project completed in June 2009


The Shoreham-Wading River  CSD  One-to-One project completed in June 2009

The Wethersfield Schools (CT)  Virtualization project completed in June 2009


The Niagara-Wheatfield CSD  One-to-One project completed in March  2009

If you are interested in learning more, contact me:
preilly@edtechjourneys.com
pete

Vision

Amid the fast changing world of educational technology, a new and exciting vision is emerging; one that ultimately has the potential to transform teaching and learning. What is that vision? At the highest level it is one of ubiquitous student access to the tools and resources of learning.

2497554577_a76239098e.jpg

Just exactly how does ubiquitous access transform teaching and learning? The way technology always does…by putting more control in the hands of the end user; in this case, the student. Traditional print and broadcast media has been disrupted by end user access to hundreds of thousands of alternative news and direct publishing sources available on the web.

The traditional music industry paradigm is being shifted by peer to peer web distribution of content. Banks and financial institutions, manufacturing, science, text book manufacturing, global trade, traditional telephone systems, medicine, ticketing, shopping, etc.; have all tasted a wave of technology change that has transformed business models that succeeded for decades.

What is behind all truly transformative and disruptive technologies?

User control…user access.

2228929879_608f06475b.jpg

Schools have been slow to feel the effects of technology. Over the past 15 years they have worked diligently to build technology infrastructures where none existed and to push the student per computer ratio from 16-1 in 1995, to 4-1 in 2002. The number of computers in the schools has stalled at the 4-1 mark; not because this ratio is optimum for student learning; but because of finances.

So why dream a dream of ubiquitous access if it is not financially viable?

Because in the last three years there have been dramatic changes in technology itself. Changes that create the environment for the dream, the vision of ubiquitous access, to become reality.

Just what are these changes?

First, thanks to visionary leaders like Nicholas Negroponte, who believes that every child on earth should have a laptop and access to the Internet, (OLPC Project) a new generation of inexpensive, portable, wireless notebooks and laptops have been developed. These devices ranging $200-$500 per device are ‘game changers’. We can purchase 2 or 3 of these for every one of the old style, full blown desktop computers.

inexpensive-laptops.jpg

Second, changes in “virtualization” technologies that have taken place in the last 3 years, allow these inexpensive devices to do almost anything their expensive, full blown desktop predecessors can do. By connecting either by traditional Ethernet cable or wirelessly to a ‘virtualized’ network, students have access to educational applications running on servers that are not physically present on their notebook, laptop, or for that matter, a full blown desktop computer that they may be using.

Think about that. No matter where the student is, no matter what device they are using, if they can access the Internet, they can access their school network, it’s educational applications, and all their files.

These two developments, combined with the spectacular plethora of educational software, tools, and resources create the foundation for “barrier free”, ubiquitous, access to learning.

2496407007_df62a2c27b.jpg

How this will transform teaching and learning is anybodies’ guess; but one thing is for sure, smaller portable devices in the hands of all students, virtualized to provide access to the best educational resources, will create a user empowered, learning environment that sets the scene…

… for a new school paradigm to emerge.

pete

Virtualization Concerns

In two recent posts (Sustaining the Unsustainable, Towards a New Paradigm) I laid out the case for a new networking paradigm based on ‘virtualizing’ as much of our technology infrastructure as possible.

As I pointed out previously, a simplistic explanation of ‘virtualization’ is that we remove the software applications that now reside on individual hard drives and install them on centralized file servers. When a student or teacher uses a piece of software, it is not running on their individual workstation, it is running on a file server; thus their workstation is a ‘virtual’ one.

There are many benefits to ‘virtualizing’ workstations (see Towards a New Paradigm); but today I wanted to focus on the challenges that we face when setting out to ‘virtualize’ our networks.

1. More servers…
In this new paradigm, we run our software on servers and not on individual hard drives, thus we need more servers. In the current environment the file server is primarily a storage device. One server can service more than 150 workstations. In our new environment we may assign a server to every 30-50 workstations. Because these servers are actually using processing power and RAM to run educational software applications, we want to be careful not to oversubscribe them because doing so will affect application performance. Using a 500 workstation environment as an example, might require approximately (10) application servers.

2. Reliable networking infrastructure…
In the current environment most of the action takes place at the local workstation, and other than Internet use, the network itself is primarily used to store or retrieve files. In the new environment the network is used constantly because the software running on the servers is communicating with the local workstation. In fact, every mouse click and keyboard stroke is sent over the network. In order to create a seamless experience for the user, the network needs to be sound and reliable. The greater the network speeds the better. Typically, we’re talking about 100mbs to the desktop and a gig backbone.

3. High Speed and reliable WAN infrastructure…

If we decide to gather the application file servers into a centralized server farm, then the Wide Area Network needs to be robust and reliable.

Heidi Has Gable comments:

“In a virtualized world, you rely heavily on your WAN connection. Now, if your Internet is slow or even down, you can’t do anything with the computers! If your apps are running locally, at least you could work on the local machine until the Internet circuit gets fixed! I could write in Word, do mind-maps in Inspiration, etc…”

What Heidi observes is partially correct. In a virtualized world when your connection to the server farm is gone so is your ability to use the software that is on the servers. This has nothing to do with the Internet connection. If the Internet is down, you are still able to work, as long as your local connection to the server farm is up.

Some schools mitigate the chances of losing their connection to the application servers by abandoning the “server farm” and deploying their application servers locally in the buildings with the workstations they are serving. By eliminating the WAN they are eliminating a potential point of failure. However, there is no doubt, the most efficient and cost effective deployment is to locate all application servers in a single server farm located centrally somewhere in the district.

Another strategy to combat the worst-case scenario of losing the connection to the application server farm is to put a single application server in each building as an emergency back up. 98% of the time the workstations in the building are using the ‘application server farm’ ; but if the connection to the ‘farm’ goes down, the school building can temporarily log on to the local application server and work until the ‘server farm’ is back online again.

4. Hybrid environments…
One of the most frequently asked question is how does a ‘virtualized’ network handle large multimedia files, Photo Shop, AutoCad, movie making, digital story telling, and high end Adobe applications?

The key to remember is that we can create hybrid environments. Virtualization is not an ‘all or nothing’ proposition. If we have labs or workstations that do ‘high-end’, processor heavy applications, then it makes sense to load and run that specific software locally as we do today.

But a great advantage of software ‘virtualization’ is that even if the PhotoShop software is stored and run locally, we can also install a number of copies of the software on the application servers in the ‘farm’, so that when students go home they can continue to work on the application when they log in remotely.

Hybrid environments can also apply to the hardware employed in the virtualization paradigm. It’s not uncommon for folks to equate virtualization with thin client technology because it lends itself so well to a diskless hardware environment; but realistically, the most common and effective method of virtualizing a network infrastructure is to create a hybrid of older, existing computers with hard drives, thin clients where they make sense, laptops and smaller devices like the Asus Eee.

I will examine several other concerns and the costs of virtualization in a future post.

pete