An Interview with Berj Akian – CEO ClassLink Inc.

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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.

 

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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.

Should I Be Thinking About Moving to a One to One Model?

Without thinking about it consciously many of us change the emphasis of this question to make it a financial one that sounds like this: “Can I afford to go to a One to One model?” Our answer is generally, “No, I can barely afford the technology I have today!” When we think like this we believe we are being ‘realists’; but looking at educational technology this way shuts down many possibilities before we’ve fully explored them.

I like the approach that Bernajean Porter espouses:

Reality is too confining. If we are going to transform education, we need to let go of “reality”. If it is worth doing, then let’s do it. We should say “Yes!” first, then deal with questions of “How?” afterReality is too confining. If we are going to transform education, we need to let go of “reality”. If it is worth doing, then let’s do it. We should say “Yes!” first, then deal with questions of “How?” after.

If we keep deploying technology in the same ways we have for years, it seems to me, we are bound to continue getting the same results. It’s time for a new approach. One that puts technology in the hands of teachers and students so that they can move beyond the ‘many watching one’ model…

many watching one

….and ‘shared pencil’ approach that has dominated our classroom-based technology paradigms for decades.

girl boy sharing

How can we move to One to One financially? technically? pedagogically? There are lot’s of strategies to explore. There is no One Perfect Way to travel this path. In just the last two years the emergence of low-cost Netbooks,  Smartphones, new wireless standards, and  the availability of broadband in the home have made the initial cost of One to One more affordable.

In addition, Cloud Computing, virtualization, blade servers, and other new technologies have made One to One more easy to manage. All in all, One to One is more accessible to the average school district than at any time in the last 30 years.

Many visionary districts have found the answers to their questions and have created dynamic new One to One environments for learning. Many are beginning the journey with a single grade level or a single pilot. If you aren’t exploring and plannng for One to One, you should be.

It all starts with saying,”Yes!”

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

Virtualization, Thin Clients, and Energy Consumption

In previous posts I documented a financial strategy that allows the average district to afford ubiquitous and/or one-to-one computing. This week I want to broaden the strategy to energy savings. It’s amazing what a significant savings replacing traditional ‘fat clients’ with ‘thin clients’ can be.

The University of Pennsylvania produced the energy graph below which shows the average PC drawing more than 100 watts during moderate use. This doesn’t include the monitor which on average can draw approximately 75 watts. So, for the sake of today’s post, let’s settle on 175 watts for the average energy use of a typical desktop used in our schools.

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Below is another chart, from the Mr. Electricity blog, showing ranges of PC energy use.

energy-use-chart

The chart below, from Steve Greenburg, President of Thin Client Solutions, shows the average energy used by several models of WYSE Thin Clients. The 3630 model uses more energy because it has a built in monitor. The other energy readings are without monitors.

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From the same report, notice that the amount of energy consumed by Thin Clients is significantly less compared to the traditional PC.

thin-client-v-pc-graph

What kind of savings can we expect by implementing a Thin Client solution? Let’s look at a district with 1,000 computers.

Assumptions:

1. 175 watts used by each computer.

2. Each computer in moderate use 6 hours per day; 185 days per year.

3. Computers left on overnight and during the summer use approximately 35 watts.

4. The Thin Client solution uses 6 watts plus 75 watts for the monitor.

5. A utility rate of $.14 per kilowatt hour

Using these assumptions, the total amount spent on energy for our 1,000 computers is $64,680.

Now, let’s do the same calculation with the Thin Client solution

The approximate savings by implementing Thin Clients for our 1,000 computer network is $29,291 per year; a 45% savings in energy costs.

The 5 year savings = $146,455

$146,455 can be used to purchase quite a few new $450 devices.

BTW, it’s not only cost effective; but the right thing to do for our environment

pete

Note: Obviously, energy use can vary based on many equipment and usage factors. The savings shown here are illustrative only.

Top Tech Trends for 2009

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Most of you know that I don’t often spend time on the technology itself. I try to focus on how the technology can be used effectively to empower our students and transform teaching and learning.

I am taking a detour today. Why?

Because I am convinced that we are so busy with maintaining the technology status quo in our buildings and districts that we are missing some rather large paradigm shifts taking place in business networking. Shifts that can have major benefits to our students, as well as our financial bottom lines.

Let’s survey some of the trends..

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What does Gartner predict for 2009?

“Strategic technologies affect, run, grow and transform the business initiatives of an organization,” said David Cearley, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “Companies should look at these 10 opportunities and evaluate where these technologies can add value to their business services and solutions, as well as develop a process for detecting and evaluating the business value of new technologies as they enter the market.”

The top 10 strategic technologies for 2009 include:

Virtualization. Much of the current buzz is focused on server virtualization,…Hosted virtual images deliver a near-identical result to blade-based PCs. But, instead of the motherboard function being located in the data center as hardware, it is located there as a virtual machine bubble.

Cloud Computing. Cloud computing is a style of computing that characterizes a model in which providers deliver a variety of IT-enabled capabilities to consumers. Although cost is a potential benefit for small companies, the biggest benefits are the built-in elasticity and scalability, which not only reduce barriers to entry, but also enable these companies to grow quickly.

How about CNN’s predictions for 2009?

Spiraling netbooks

The computer industry now ships more portable computers such as laptops than desktops, and an increasingly important part of the mix will be mini-notebook computers, known as netbooks. Industry sources say computer makers will sell more than 11 million netbooks worldwide in 2008, up from just around a million in 2007, and netbook sales could easily double in the new year

Hey, you, get onto my cloud

Evangelists such as Salesforce.com (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff have been predicting for years a revolution in so-called cloud services and computing, in which software and other applications are delivered to end-users over networks, or “the cloud.” This may be the year Benioff and the cloud crowd are proven right.

Corporate cloud computing is getting a big boost from consumers who already get a fair number of services via the Net. Photo-sharing sites are great examples of cloud services, as is just about any service that lets consumers store data or information anywhere but their computer or mobile phone. “In the consumer space it isn’t hype,” said HP’s Robison. “It’s actually quite far along.

Virtualization becomes reality

Like cloud computing, “virtualization” helps companies reduce the cost of operating machines such as servers. The technology basically allows a single piece of hardware to run systems or applications that previously had run on multiple machines – essentially allowing companies to squeeze more out of existing hardware and even defer new purchases.

Virtualization has only been around in earnest for about three years, says Dell senior vice president Paul Bell, but he thinks corporate customers are starting to embrace it.

Obviously, I had to abridge the predictions; but over and over Cloud Computing, Virtualization, and Netbooks were in the tech trends lists I researched. I also found a move to Open Source software, and continued adoption of Web 2.0 in most of the lists.

The benefits of these three technology trends to businesses are clear and there are even greater benefits for education. Both Cloud Computing and Virtualization involve moving the applications away from the PC itself.

“There’s a clear direction … away from people thinking, ‘This is my PC, this is my hard drive,’ to ‘This is how I interact with information, this is how I interact with the web,'” – Dave Armstrong, Google Enterprise

Putting applications on servers that deliver them when needed allows a consistent and ubiquitous experience. I don’t have to be sitting at a specific machine that has the application I want on it. I can be at any machine and my applications are delivered to me.

BTW it doesn’t need to be a computer in my school. I can access my applications at home. Want to finish a Photoshop project but don’t have it on your home computer? Access the Cloud or the Virtualized application servers and you’ve got it. The school network just got extended into the home, or the library.

Want another reason to take these trends seriously for k-12?

Make your network “device independent!”

Buy netbooks, thin clients, or PDA’s and virtualize them.

Take a $300 thin client or a $450 netbook and instead of loading its hard rive with tons of application software, put that software in the Cloud or on VIrtualized application servers and they no longer are ‘toys’. They run every application that a big $900 computer can run.

Does purchasing two netbooks for every one desktop sound like a good idea in these tough fiscal times?

More computers, more access, from more places…

Maybe, someday we’ll allow kids to bring their laptops or mobile devices from home. They’ll be able to log into the app servers or Cloud and get their school software. Maybe instead of having to buy every kid in our school a device for our ‘one to one’ initiatives, we’ll just have to fill in the gaps for those who don’t have computers.

One more area that may appeal to cash strapped ed tech budgets is a longer replacement cycle. We’ve been on the replacement merry-go -ound for a years. No doubt, computers get old and have to be replaced; but what if we could double their useful life? Wouldn’t that help the bottom line? Wouldn’t that allow us to spend a little more on increasing the number of computers available to kids?

We need to pay attention to these trends that are being widely endorsed and implemented throughout the business community. We’ve been pretty quick to point out educators and administrators who are slow to change the way they teach and lead. We’ve complained about their unwillingness to adopt technology and new ways of doing things.

Now, here we are confronted with some emerging technology trends that require us to shift our own paradigms. Just like educators who resist the potential that technology can bring to their classrooms, it’s easy for us to throw up arguments and pick apart a thing or two with each of these technologies… and miss the big picture.

Maybe the paradigm shift seems too big for us to absorb at one time. Then perhaps a small pilot will suffice. It gets us started down the road of learning without the fear of upsetting the entire applecart.

It’s time to begin implementing new ways of delivering educational content. It will take these new approaches, a clear vision, and as always, courageous leadership, to break the stranglehold of past practice.

We can’t afford to ignore technology trends that can greatly improve teaching and learning. Our kids are too important.

pete

Times Are Changing

A mythical Ed Tech Leader reflects on his mythical network.

I’ve got a network and it works fairly well. I’ve got just enough technical staff to keep things running and our heads above water. We’re doing our best to replace the older and more obsolete computers; but the budget is shrinking and it’s getting harder to keep up.

Question to Self: Self, is this the best way to do business?
Answer: I think so. It’s the way most people handle their school infrastructure and access.

Question to Self: So basically, unless the school district wins the lottery, the number of computers we have available for students and teachers is going to remain pretty near what it is today?
Answer: I guess so. I’m not hearing too many complaints about access, and even if I had the money to add computers, I wouldn’t have the staff to properly support them.

Question to Self: What if I didn’t have to replace the older computers?
Answer: That would free up a good chunk of money that I could spend on expanding access for students and staff. The problem is no old computer is going to run forever. Eventually it’s got to be replaced.

Question to Self: Would it help if you could keep it running the latest and greatest software for the next 10 years?
Answer: Well, yes it would. I could put off replacing them every 5-6 years because they can’t run the latest operating system or whatever.

Question to Self: What if when you take this freed up money you have from not buying replacement computers and you bought 2 devices for every one that you used to buy and added that to your existing inventory of computers?
Answer: Well, I’d be expanding at twice the rate. Instead of buying 50 full blown computers, I could buy 100 thin or slimmed down computers.

Question to Self: What if when you increased the number of computers you didn’t have to add more staff to support them?
Answer: That can’t be possible. I can barely handle what I have today.

Question to Self: But what if?
Answer: It would be great. But how can I keep old computers in place? How can I buy new devices at half the cost of what I used to buy? How can I do all this adding of equipment and not add support staff?

Question to Self: Hey, I’m asking the questions here!
Answer: Anything that sounds to good to be true usually is!

Question: Have you heard of virtualization?
Answer: Yes, of course. It’s been around for quite a few years; but it’s not for me.

Question to Self: Why not?
Answer: Well, you need to buy Citrix licenses which aren’t cheap. I heard that it can’t run video and multimedia very well, and I also think there are applications that are so processor intense, like Video Editing and AutoCad, that they don’t run well either.

Question to Self: When was the last time you took a really close look at ‘vitualization’?
Answer: Like I said, a few years ago.

Question to Self: What are a few of the things that you’ve seen change in the last few years?
Answer: Well servers are more powerful and can probably handle more ‘virtual user sessions than in past years. That would probably make things a bit less expensive. I wouldn’t need to buy as many servers. Oh!, and then there’s the sub-$500 dollar mini-notebook and thin client market that has exploded. I see that’s where I’d get the 2 for 1 purchasing power.

Question to Self: Did you know that new Microsoft Server OS developments can remove the need to buy Citrix for every device?
Answer: No, I didn’t. If that’s true it would greatly reduce the cost of ‘virtualizing’.

Question to Self: So what’s the big deal breaker that’s holding you back?
Answer: Like I said earlier, it can’t run every application.

Question to Self: Could you run 80%-90% of you applications from an application server and run the few applications that don’t run best in this environment on the local hard drives the way you do today? Any harm in a hybrid environment?
Answer: No. I don’t think so.

Question to Self: When you put 80%-90% of the software on servers that you manage centrally and the devices that attach to the servers are thin clients, fat clients, mini-notebooks, or obsolete computers that have nothing but the ‘virtualization” client on them, do you think it will be easier to support the network?
Answer: Absolutely. No more Ghosting and re-Ghosting the local workstation image. I’ll still have to have technicians but they won’t be spending nearly the time they spend today working on the end-user devices. They’ll probably be spending more time working on the switches and the servers.

Question to Self: So you can expand the number of end-user devices and not have to increase the number of support techs?
Answer: I think each tech in this new environment could handle many more devices because he’s not really working with the devices. He’s more focused on what’s going on with the application servers.

Question to Self: So, I’ll ask again. What’s the big hang up?
Answer: I feel like I don’t know enough about ‘virtualization’ to commit to it. It’s a big change.

Question to Self: Do you agree that it can deliver major benefits?
Answer: Yes. I can see that.

Question to Self: So what is a good first step?
Answer: I think I need to visit some successful sites. I could probably put together a pilot. I’d learn a lot from getting my hands dirty.

Question to Self: Why not get going?
Answer: Okay! Okay! Leave me alone. I’ll start working on it tomorrow.

Question to Self: Tomorrow?
Answer: You know me too well. I’ll start on it right away.