Thursday, January 29, 2015

Istation on Chromebooks #TexasSuccess

Whew, thanks to all of you who wrote in yesterday about my Istation and Chromebooks post yesterday! This is quite a big thing for Texas school districts relying on, which includes Istation as a reading intervention and diagnostic tool, as well as Think Through Math.

A colleague in Texas shared the following ideas and problem:
We've been testing it out.  The deployment works from the dashboard, but the first time the app runs it asks for the domain and the peering groups.  Support told us there is no way to preconfigure this as part of the deployment, and that the peering groups don't work on the chromebooks yet.  
So we are making some materials to help teachers know how to select the correct domain.  The other question I'm waiting on an answer from support is how to change the domain if they accidentally input the wrong one.  Once you enter it, that prompt goes away on future logins.  But I think every user will have to input that domain info the very first time they launch the app.

In terms of the use of the app - it seems to have all the components of the client and looks just like it.  We are noticing that it takes longer to open than it does on the desktop clients.  It does seem to individually cache content as you open each book or resource for the first time.  But we are curious how the bandwidth hit is going to look when we get whole schools online.  We are going to start with a couple of classrooms and monitor their bandwidth usage and the scale up from there.
One response to the highlighted interrogatory, How does one change the domain if they accidentally input the wrong one?, was provided by other Texas Technology Coordinators in TCEA's TEC-SIG email group:
To get back to the domain/campus selection use the following.
Username: config
Password: config
What other experiences have you had using Istation on Chromebooks?

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Update - Thanks to Bryan Doyle for sharing his tutorial:

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Expanding Support for Chromebook #Istation #dell (Updated 1/29/2015)

In August last year Gartner forecast that Chromebook sales would reach 5.2 million units in 2014, a 79 percent increase from 2013, and that by 2017 sales would grow to 14.4 million units. (Source: ZDnet)
Before we get to the two announcements, you may want to review these neat links:

Ok, on to the two exciting announcements out that expand support for Chromebook, especially in school settings:

1) Istation app for Chromebook is now out!
After waiting, what seems forever, schools can now rely on Chromebooks for Istation, a key component of the initiative. In addition to testing the app on my Chromebook, I also tested it on my UbuntuLinux machine and it appeared to work well! So, this opens up some possibilities for GNU/Linux machines.
Note: Thanks to feedback from colleague Marguerite Lowak, it appears that as of 10:49am on 1/28/15, the app was not available to GoogleAdmins. In her phone conversation with them, they reported they would be making the app available in the Google Panel by end of day 1/28 or by morning of 1/29/2015. 

Please be aware of this press release--which includes the link to the Chromebook app--for the Istation app for Chromebooks (but it also works on regular computers running Chrome (it appears to work on GNU/Linux computers, too!)):

UPDATE 01/29/2015: Think Through Math in paragraph below... Please note that I included Think Through Math in the paragraph below, but I should have left it out! I do reflect TTM compatibility in the Chromebook Compatibility Chart, and can't think why I said it wasn't! My thanks to readers who pointed it out. Both programs--Istation and ThinkThroughMath--now work on Chromebooks!
Now, if only Think Through Math, Pearson's TestNAV could also be allowed to work on Chromebooks in Texas, Google's domination of the tool of choice in schools would be complete. Many school districts are making the transition in their 1 to 1 programs from iPads to Chromebooks, a fact reflected in Chromebook sales (uh, wait, where's my supporting links?).

The new Chromebook app means Istation curriculum is accessible in more places than ever!
FREE for registered users, the Chromebook app supports all Istation content and products, meaning schools have access to Istation Reading, IstationReading en EspaƱol, Istation Home, Istation Math, and thousands of teacher resources.

2) Dell's KACE K1000 Appliance supports Chromebooks
This is a great announcement:
Dell has announced an upgrade to its Kace 1000 Systems Management Appliance, version 6.3 delivering "first-to-market systems management support of Chromebook", along with agentless inventory of Windows servers plus agentless discovery and asset management of connected non-PC devices such as printers and projectors.
It's hard to imagine how else Chromebooks could be made easier to manage, but according to the article linked above, the following is true:
With the version 6.3 software, the K1000 will extract Chromebook data that's currently made available by Google (see screenshot above), allowing the appliance to perform day-to-day management tasks like hardware inventory, reporting and service desk functions.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

3 Steps to Encrypting/Decrypting @Evernote with ParanoiaWorks #iOS #Android #Win #Mac #Linux Tools

About two years ago, I bemoaned the fact that Evernote--free or Premium--lacked built-in support for GPG public/private key encryption. Although many have shared that Evernote offers many encryption/privacy options for the notes, the truth is, some may not be satisfied with that because Evernote controls the encryption key(s).
Online at

In a previous blog entry a year ago, I shared how you can encrypt Evernote notes using a free Chrome add-on, Mailvelope

This blog entry explores using two tools I have grown fond of--Paranoia Text Encryption (PTE) and Secret Space Encryptor (SSE)--to encrypt Evernote notes  and attachments, respectively. 

I use these tools quite a bit and have shown everyone I work with how to use them as well. That's important given how often confidential data falls into hackers' hands due to un-encrypted communications and/or files on USB flash drives, or in the cloud (e.g. Dropbox).

An overview of the tools:

  • Text Encryption and File Encryption solutions for most platforms.
  • Securely encrypt your private and confidential files or whole folders. Wiping (secure delete) feature is included for computer and Android versions.

In this short walkthrough, you'll see how to accomplish the following:
  1. Get PTE and SSE for Your Computer or mobile device
  2. Encrypt and Decrypt Evernote Notes with PTE
  3. Encrypt and Decrypt File Attachments with SSE you can place in Evernote.

Step 1 - Get PTE and SSE for Your Device

Note that Secret Space Encryptor isn't available for iOS devices, so you'll need to take that into consideration.

Step 2 - Encrypt and Decrypt Notes with PTE
Encrypting text is pretty easy. You can type it up in a word processor, text editor, then copy-n-paste it into the PTE window (the top one, as shown below, with unencrypted text). 
Tip: You wouldn't want to type up your secret to-be-encrypted text in Evernote or any cloud service since it's automatically saved on Evernote's or cloud servers.
To accomplish the encryption, click on ENCRYPT and you'll get the encrypted text. Note that although there are various choices for encryption algorithm, I'm going to use AES (256 bit) for the purposes of this example. You can get higher level encryption on the Android and Windows version if you pay for the Pro (really, a donation) version. However, to take advantage of the cross-platform version, you'll have to stick with what's available "for free."

Copy-n-paste the encrypted text into an Evernote note...

To decrypt, open up your Evernote Note where you saved your work (for example, here's what the web version of Evernote looks like) and paste it in:

To decrypt, paste your encrypted text in the bottom half of the PTE window then, after entering your top secret password, click DECRYPT button:

Note that throughout this, I've chosen to "show" my password. You can actually choose to "hide" the password and it's gone when you quit PTE.

If you are on an iOS device, here's what it looks like decrypting:

a) Open up PTE on your iOS device. You'll be prompted for a password, so enter the one you used to encrypt text earlier:

Click SET and PTE is ready to go (it will go to the more familiar split screen for encrypting/decrypting text)

b) Copy-n-paste text from your Evernote app windows, as shown below:

c) Paste encrypted text into the bottom window, then tap on the Decrypt button. That will show you the decrypted text in the top window.

This process looks a bit different on's an older screenshot via Man Versus Technology Blog:
Message Encryptor Screen
The Android version also includes a Password Vault, as well as the SSE feature. I have encrypted files on my computer, transferred them to my phone for portability, decrypted them on my phone, and vice versa. The ability to do that provides another layer of security for mobile devices.

Speaking of SSE....

Step 3 - Encrypt and Decrypt Files with SSE
To encrypt files--that you add or attach to Evernote, you can use the Secret Space Encryptor (SSE). You can choose to encrypt files individually or drop them all into a folder and encrypt them all at once as ONE file.

All encrypted files have the filename extension of enc so you will know.

The process is similar once you launch Secret Space Encryptor (SSE) and see this:

Essentially, you type in your password then drag the file you want to encrypt into the SSE window (as indicated by instructions, Drag and Drop File(s) or Folder(s) into the Red Bordered Area). 

Once the file is encrypted, it will appear in the same place as the original un-encrypted file:

Remember, you can drop an entire folder onto SSE and it will encrypt the whole works exactly the same way. To decrypt, simply drop the "enc" file into the SSE red bordered area and it will decrypt the encrypted file.

You can do the same thing in Android, making this an ideal, cross-platform tool for file/folder encryption. iOS is the only unsupported platform.

Once the file is encrypted, you can add it to an Evernote note the way you would any other document.

A few quick warnings:
  1. Encrypt data in an Evernote note with this approach, you won't be able to search it. To offset this drawback, take advantage of Notebook placement and tags to better describe what you have without giving it away.
  2. Both iOS and Android are supported by Paranoia Text Encryption (PTE), but only Android has Secret Space Encryptor (SSE) for file encryption. If you're just encrypting notes, then PTE should be sufficient on iOS and Android.
  3. Pay attention to what algorithm (e.g. AES256, Blowfish, etc) you use to encrypt your notes with PTE. You'll need to be consistent across platforms.
  4. File attachments will need to be encrypted with SSE.
  5. None of this happens automatically. Simply, don't put anything into Evernote unencrypted (it's so easy to make that mistake these days).
  6. Think of something else? Leave a note in the comments.
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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Google Sheets Tip - Separating Out Email Components

A short time ago, I indulged and allowed myself to facilitate a workshop for paraeducators. What a wonderful experience that was, doing something I hadn't done in a long time--how to training on spreadsheets. I've often reflected at the simple fact that "how-to" training is often unnecessary these days. . .many of us just watch a YouTube video and learn that way. Of course, teachers and those in K-12 education still have a profound need to learn how to do technology related tasks in a face to face environment.
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Often, though, we assume that since folks do have access to an abundance of online tutorials--printed tutorials, videos--that anyone who begins to create how-to resources must surely ask himself, "Should I do this if there's already tons of stuff online via YouTube and WikiHow?"

The answer should be, "Yes, of course." I have arrived at that answer through the pleasant experience of re-discovering how much fun preparing for a workshop can be. It may be that we have all the answers, but no one is asking the questions. With the Web, though, it's so easy to share and realize that some may find your contribution worthwhile.

Below is a sample "real life" problem I am able to solve with spreadsheets. I had not played with this myself, having left those tasks to others. I hope you'll find these resources helpful. Of course, they feature one or two of my work colleagues.

You can find the original online in the "real problems" section at my Spreadsheet Magic site. I don't want to suggest that any of this is brilliantly original work...only that it's my attempt at working through a few items and I hope you find it useful.

Problem - Separating Out Email Components
What if you had a list of email addresses and needed to pull out the person's first name and last name? For example, the ECISD email address is composed of a person's first name and last name, separated by a period. It looks like this...

...where the firstname is "juan," the last name is "guhlin." If you have only a few of these, you can probably separate them by hand, but what if you have 50 or more?

In this solution, we'll use several formulas involving LEFT, RIGHT, SEARCH and FIND functions in GoogleSheets. Here's what the formulas look like and what the desired result is:
In the example above, you can see the full email address is "" To separate out the first name and last name, we first want to grab the Username (everything to the left of the @ sign) so we can then separate it out. The formula to grab the username is displayed in red above and looks like this:

To separate out the first name, the following formula is used and is displayed in green:

To separate out the last name, the following formula is used and displayed in blue:

If you wanted to do a mail merge, you wouldn't want the Firstname and Lastname to be lowercase, but rather, capitalized. Here's how you could do would include =Proper BEFORE the formulas above so that they would like this:

FirstName: =PROPER(LEFT(B3,FIND(".",B3)-1))


You could put the results of that together and CONCATENATE everything:
=concatenate(C3," ",D3)

This is what the final product would look like:
You could then take the components above and use them in a mail merge.

Of course, you could do all the steps above using ONE formula and that would result in "Jill Sievers"


So far, we've worked magic on only ONE person's email. But we can quickly duplicate the formula so that it affects more than one. Watch this short video (on YouTube) to see "Fill Down" in action:

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Data-Driven Districts Experience Growing Pains (Updated)

"You know," I shared with a colleague in Texas, "we're looking for a 'Systems Interface Specialist,' which is another term for someone with database administrator (DBA) skills but whose salary won't rival the superintendent's!" We'd both lamented earlier at the high cost of database administrators, who enjoy salaries in excess of $90,000.
"I have a story to tell you," responded my friend, a CTO in a larger school district. "I spent much of the year articulating the why this position was necessary to the superintendent. When the position was finally posted, we interviewed and hired a person for the DBA position."
"What does your position pay?" I wondered aloud. Maybe I wasn't recruiting in the right place. He held up his hand, indicating he had more to say.
"You won't believe this. When I offered the candidate the position, he demanded a $10K increase to the $85,000 annual salary. So, I went back to the superintendent and justified the pay increase. That was in September."
He paused before continuing. "At the end of December, he came back and said to me, 'I've been offered six figures to do the same thing I'm doing for you.' And he was gone."
In my own experience in a large school district, there was a "Data Warehouse" team composed of a Director who, according to him, worked 14 hours a day, as well as 3 data warehouse specialists. The 3 specialist positions were revolving doors, as each of those was hired by companies like, a well-known San Antonio-based Internet Service Provider, and server host. The funny reports that would come back from these individuals included higher pay and the ability to wear slippers at work.

True or not, one fact is incontrovertible--school districts need access to a bewildering array of just-in-time data collection, analysis, aggregation/disaggregation tools that intersect along a multitude of points (e.g. student demographics, teacher quality, end of course). Worse, it's not enough to just house the data from your student information system and be able to query it. You also have to be able to generate a variety of data files.

Here's one diagram for a "data dashboard" to a data warehouse in one school was my first attempt to try to explain to others how data needed to interact with each other.

As pointed out in this job announcement for Systems Interface Specialist, the primary task involves having in-house district staff to accomplish the following:
The Systems Interface Specialist will be responsible for working with a variety of technology systems, specializing in database interfaces between student or business information systems and third party vendors. 
Doug Johnson elaborates on this expectation in The Evolving Role of the Student Information Manager:
The traditional role of the Student Information System manager is therefore changing as well. No longer the keeper or a single, complex database that handles demographics, scheduling, grading, health, discipline, class rank, etc., the SIS manager now must also facilitate the transfer of accurate data among systems.
Source: DecisionEd Demo (over 600+ reports available)
To help justify the new type of position needed, and the subsequent need for an internal data warehouse, the following scenarios were solicited from teachers and campus instructional specialists. I also video-recorded a few of them explaining the challenges...quite powerful testimony to get the message across. Still, for smaller districts, these costs can be...well...prohibitive.

In Texas, several school districts shared the solutions they were using:

The prices range from relatively inexpensive to astronomical...of course, depending on your district's need, there are tons of reports. For example, DecisionEd (approximately $200K+) is a self-hosted solution with annual maintenance costs that offers a plethora of relevant reports. I remember being truly amazed at the scope of those.

Whatever the needs, it's obvious to me that state education agencies and regional education service centers need to step up their exemplary services to meet the exploding needs of local education agencies.

For example, if your student information system is hosted by an education service center, you may to setup a local "mirror" of the district data stored at that ESC. This enables your district staff to query the data locally without constantly requesting ESC staff (at a cost) to generate requisite data files.

Here is one possible diagram describing the process:

Although some solutions--like Clever--are working to bridge the gap, it can be difficult for school districts. Consider the following points:
Another challenge facing innovators in educational data is the difficulty of accessing and standardizing data stored in legacy student information systems (SIS). Startups including San Francisco-based LearnSprout and Clever have made some inroads in this area, with offerings that synchronize SIS data across multiple educational technology platforms and save developers the messy work of implementing cross-system compatibility. 
Breaking down SIS barriers that are imposed on developers will also encourage the deployment of more advanced data science initiatives that use educational data. In addition, specific policy interventions can encourage participation and use. (Read more)
Clever's explanation includes the following:
Clever securely connects with your SIS and synchronizes rosters for you automatically. Clever offers both “pull” (credentials-based) and “push” (SFTP) syncing, and takes just five minutes to set up.
Unfortunately, Clever doesn't support of Istation and Think Through Math intervention and diagnostic tools many districts in Texas use--not to mention several other issues. As a result, the position of DBA or "systems interface specialist" has to exist to manage the data file creation/generation requests and synching them up to vendors.

Finally, what should the process look like? Since no ravings of a madman could be complete without a hand-sketched drawing, I'm including one:

By the way, some desired features in a Data Warehouse include the following:

  1. Local district-hosted, turn-key solution that interface with internal and external data sources
  2. Has a perpetual license for server administration, report development, query development, dashboard development, and end user access for District Staff and School administrators (non-classroom staff).
  3. Robust, secure reporting features customized for Texas school districts that allow for
  4. Excel, PDF, HTML export capabilities (and the ability to turn those on/off as needed)
  5. The ability to structure results that include information such as student assessments, student attendance,student marks and GPA, student interventions, student program participation, student enrollment and behavior, transcripts, special education.
  6. Role-based dashboards with drag-n-drop functionality for customization
  7. Custom tools that work with existing vendors (e.g. Eduphoria)
  8. Professional Learning Opportunities for district, campus staff, and high-end training for data experts (e.g. Curriculum staff).

What would you add?

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7 Top Add-Ons for #GoogleForms and Sheets #gafe

Wish you could do more with GoogleForms and GoogleSheets? Then check out these "You can't live without 'em!" add-ons to our favorite Google tools!

Do you use GoogleForms and/or Google Sheets regularly? I'm amazed at how many neat tools are available to enhance these two Google tools.

Here are a few of the ones I've noticed and, when possible, begun slipping into my arsenal of tools to take these two to the next level:
  1. autoCrat: A nifty tool for blending your GoogleForm responses into PDF templates. Imagine collecting data via GoogleForm then merging it into a PDF form you can print out. Here's how it's described: "Automates the creation and sharing of personalized (e.g. merged) Google Docs or PDF email attachments from columns of data in a Google Sheet. Optionally merge documents when forms are submitted!"
  2. FormLimiter: This has to be THE form enhancer that everyone has been clamoring for: "formLimiter automatically sets Google Forms to stop accepting responses after a maximum number of responses, at a specific date and time, or when a spreadsheet cell contains a specified value."
  3. FormPublisher: This is simply amazing, and solves one of the big challenges for folks--how to "disaggregate" data from GoogleForm responses into separate documents without having to export it into a database program or something else. "Form Publisher Add-On generates Google Docs or Google Sheets from a created template, using a Google Form responses."
  4. Form Router: Although only available to a "test group" (which it is easy to join, then you get access), "FormRouter appends Google Form question responses to additional Google Spreadsheet destinations." That means, you can send ONE Google Form responses to MANY destinations. That's cool.
  5. Flubaroo & Forms: This combination allows you to have self-graded assessments, as well as push the ability to notify students of their grades. Rather than use an LMS (e.g. Moodle, Edmodo) to assess teachers on digital citizenship with a multiple choice quiz (yes, we still do those), we used Flubaroo and a GoogleForm. Worked great! You may want to read this blog entry that goes into more detail.
  6. MailMerge Add-ons: If you're like me, you may have been using a bulk email program of some sort (e.g. MaxBulk Mailer) to get messages out to lists of people. Now that I carry a Chromebook, I want the same ability with GoogleApps.

    Although this is the view of "Yet Another Mail Merge" add on, the brightly colored box to the right highlights "Styles" add on for GoogleSheets. It makes it easier for you to format the data in your cells.
    Here are two solutions that help you do this:
    1. Yet Another Mail Merge - While it may be "yet another" one, I've used this one to great effect. Folks have no idea that you've done a mail merge from a GoogleSheet, and it makes it easier for you as the email sender to customize the information. There are a zillion uses of this in education, especially for campus/district administrators.
    2. ValMerge - I ran across this one at Spreadsheet Madness and haven't used it yet. Looks fairly straightforward.
Ok, if you're like me, this list is already TOO long and you are going to need some serious playtime. Have fun and check back for the second part of this post on GoogleSheets!

Other neat stuff to check out:

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Retweet Worthy?

Ok, as a fun experiment, I've written several blog entries this evening while listening to the awesome Lindsey Stirling...

  1. My Top 5 Chromebook Productivity Tools for Leaders and Managers
  2. Have a Boost!
  3. Give that you may live!
  4. TCEA 2015: An Invitation to Be More
  5. Trying Something Different - Manjaro Linux

I predict that #1 will be the most retweeted. This blog entry is set to auto-post at 9:00pm CST, which is about 13 minutes from now. Will it end up as a RT or just a favorite?

Oh, the suspense. Go ahead...shatter.

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