PTC Wizard Wins eSchool Media 2012 Readers’ Choice Award

Parent Teacher Conference Award This past fall eSchool News asked their readers and visitors – comprised of educators, administrators and technologists – to nominate Ed-tech product or service vendors that they have found to be indispensable in creating a successful educational program. With over 1,400 readers responding, hundreds of Ed-tech vendors were nominated, but only 50, including PTC Wizard, received sufficient nominations to be awarded as winners.

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Social Media and Teachers – Can You Tweet Like Everyone Else?


Imagine you just finished teaching your rowdy class of 7th graders.  It was a really bad day. None of the kids were participating and one student had to be sent out of the classroom for referring to you in the foulest of ways. Of course, to top it all off, your disciplinary measures caused your popularity rating to seriously slip.


You are officially in a bad mood.


Now aside from planning on how to better manage your classroom, you have several choices to relieve your immediate frustration and anger.


You can meditate – breathe deeply and visualize joyous and relaxing scenarios. You can hit the gym and get the endorphins pumping. Or maybe have a glass of wine and listen to some relaxing music.


But under no circumstances, should you be venting, even anonymously, on any online medium. Telling your friends and family on Facebook or Twitter about how your students are total jerks is almost certain to create trouble for your career as a teacher.


But why you might ask, are teachers any different than other citizens? Is there no freedom of speech for teachers?


These are fair questions. However, let’s take a look at several reasons that should give you pause before tweeting about your students.


Precedent for Dismissal or Suspension

A recent article in the New York Times discussed several cases where teachers were suspended for making negative comments about their students on their blogs, Facebook pages or on Twitter.


Of course, there are those that support these teachers. But until the dust settles and a precedent has been set in favor of teachers speaking out online, it would be prudent and pragmatic to avoid any potential controversy.


Public Profile for Professionals

There has been a major discussion about doctors and appropriate online behavior. Aside from legal issues surrounding the breach of patient privacy and what exactly constitutes a breach, there are several other factors to consider.


Imagine that an anonymous doctor tweets about treating a very embarrassing and private medical condition. They don’t mention the patient name or location, but they joke about the patient and their predicament.


Patients with similar conditions can now read what this doctor wrote and in the future, they are likely to feel uncomfortable with their own doctor as a result.


Doctors hold a venerated position in society. Mere mortals place their trust in them when it comes to healthcare. By speaking crudely and insensitively about patients (even if privacy is maintained), doctors harm their own professional standing in the eyes of the public. Additionally, patients might even withhold critical information, due to a fear of the doctor sharing that information with others.


Similarly, teachers have (or should have) an honored position in society. By acting inappropriately online, they demean themselves and their profession. Students and parents will not be sympathetic of a teacher’s inability to manage a classroom or their own emotions.


Additionally, students are extremely sensitive. If they feel the teacher has insulted them, they will be much less receptive to learning from that teacher and possibly others as well. In their mind, they might lump all educators together, as two-faced fakers who act professionally in the class, but don’t truly care about students, as evidenced by their online comments.


We know this is a hot topic, so although we have taken one side of the debate, we would love to hear your thoughts on this matter. Please share real-life experiences so we call can gain insight from it.



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Single Sign-On – It’s Easier to Setup Than You Think!


Most people I know are not interested in hassles, long waits on line, delays or any other type of complication in their lives.


Yet, as creatures of habit, we stick to the same old routines and patterns, which quite often are not the simplest or easiest way of doing things.


Sometimes, we will even turn down an opportunity to improve our lives, simply because learning new techniques or technologies seems like too much work and effort.


And so we stay stuck in our rut.


But when it comes to some things, like single sign-on (SSO), we can have our cake and eat it too!


If you are dealing with multiple student information systems for your school or district, not only will single sign-on make your work so much easier, it’s really not a big deal to integrate into your existing systems.


Life without Single Sign-On

Say you are a parent and you want to check out your child’s homework assignments or grades via the school’s online portal. Don’t forget your password!

After that pleasant experience, you want to make sure the cafeteria is doling out nutritious lunches – also via another one of the school’s online systems. Where’s that piece of paper with the list of usernames?!

Finally, you want to schedule an appointment (again online) for the upcoming parent-teacher conference so you can tell the teacher that the alfalfa sprouts served at the cafeteria are hurting your kid’s grades. Darn it! Someone cleared the cache and you need to re-enter usernames and passowords!


At this point, you probably will want to scream but will settle for complaining to the IT staff that signing-in to 3 or more student systems is a total pain.


This scenario plays itself out the same way, especially if you are on the school faculty side of things. As a teacher or principal, you don’t want to keep track of multiple usernames and passwords, let alone enter them every time you access a different system. And the list of systems is long with library, cafeteria, transportation, grades, attendance, and scheduling just some of the many SIS that schools use on a daily basis.


The Single Sign-On Life


With single sign-on, just one username and password gives you access to all the systems you need. Simply sign-in once and you can glide from attendance reports to viewing outstanding library books and more, all with just a few clicks.


Additionally, single sign significantly cuts IT costs, as people are able to remember their single username and password and as such don’t require IT help to access the system(s) after they forget their password(s).


Parent involvement is also improved by making it much easier for parents to access their children’s information and records.


In terms of security, if you only have one username and password, you will likely be able to keep it securely stored in your head – as opposed to a long list of multiple usernames you would have to store somewhere if not for SSO.


Implementation of Single Sign-On


Of course, you are probably thinking that all this is fine and good…but it will take too much work and effort to implement single sign-on.


The truth however, is that single sign-on is not only relatively straightforward to setup, all vendors should already be compatible, with minimum integration requirements.


In terms of next steps, definitely have a chat with your software providers and see what they suggest. It probably will be a piece of cake!


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Four Ways Schools Can Thrive With Limited Budgets


With numerous states cutting back on education spending, schools and districts are finding themselves with serious deficits and limited spending ability.


As a result many valuable programs, such as full-day kindergarten, summer school, yellow bus transportation, education technology and projects that encourage parent involvement, are all being cut out nationwide.


Of course, parents and educators are protesting, and hopefully education budgets will not be slashed, but district superintendants and school principals need to be prepared for the worst and craft a cost-reduction plan to help save (or make) money.


Lets’ take a look at some ideas that might work for your school or district:


Go Green
With energy costs seemingly always on the rise, implementing some of the following ideas for energy efficiency might be a source for huge savings:

  • Outsource all data and server requirements to virtual server farms. By  eliminating in-house servers, you can seriously cut back on electricity spent running the servers 24/7 as well as on the requisite air conditioning that keeps server rooms cool.
  • Only buy energy efficient laptops, or use virtualized desktop computers.
  • Replace inkjet printers for individual teachers with shared network, laser printers with double-sided printing.
  • Use energy efficient lighting solutions (such as LED) for your school.


    Creating Student Data Efficiencies
    Using fully integrated student information systems eliminates hours of redundant data entry. Creating these efficiencies has far-reaching impact on unnecessary administrative costs.


    For example, instead of entering student information multiple times into multiple systems (library, cafeteria, transportation, etc.) an integrated SIS will automatically propagate all systems with a single entry.


    Another example is parent teacher conference scheduling. So much time (and paper) is wasted with forms being sent home, phone calls being made and endless schedule spreadsheets being prepared.


    However, with web-based scheduling solutions, districts and schools can significantly reduce the administrative cost and time spent typically associated with parent teacher conferences.


    Technology Fees
    Everyone wants their children to be well prepared to enter the workforce. In today’s Web 2.0 environment, that means providing cutting-edge technology education so when students graduate, they will be “digitally literate” and highly marketable.


    Asking parents to chip in with a $25 tech fee might be taking parent involvement to a new level – but it sure can go a long way in increasing school IT budgets.


    Although asking for money is never easy, in this case, the sales pitch is straightforward. If you want your kids to have access to costly tech tools that will enhance their education, you will need to participate financially.


    Buying Refurbished Goods
    Everyone likes getting brand-new stuff. But you can find refurbished products in excellent condition, for often less than half the price of the new version.


    Everything from laptops to chairs and more can be purchased in bulk with very significant savings.


    And if you are worried about buying junk, many computer resellers provide multi-year warranties, ensuring that schools don’t get stuck with lemons.


    Hopefully, some of these ideas will provide you with food for thought on how your school or district can thrive, even on a tight budget.



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    Surgeons, Diagnosticians, Ed Tech and Parent Involvement


    You probably are wondering about this post’s title and what ed tech has got to do with various careers in medicine.
    We all understand that serious parent involvement is always a good thing for getting kids into medical school. But what might come as a surprise, is that the way students are learning during their K-12 years can significantly impact their capabilities later in life. Technology in particular is playing a large role in molding the way people think, as well as their ability to perform certain tasks.


    The Bright Side of Tech in the Classroom
    If you are a principal or district superintendant, you know that everyone is looking for ways to increase technology in the classroom. As wireless schools are becoming ubiquitous, the state of Maine and districts like Van Meter in Iowa are providing 1:1 computing where each student receives a laptop for all school work.


    Others, are contemplating BYOD (bring your own device) where students are encouraged to use their personal laptops or other smart devices for school work.
    Some schools are even introducing online gaming to help students learn about global issues and problem solve geo-political conflicts. Others use video games to induce kids to read and solve math problems.


    Positive results and feedback are already helping fuel the ed tech trend. Districts in California are seeing grades improve after issuing iPads to middle-school students and of course students are raving about using technology they are so fluent in, for their education.


    Now you might be a bit skeptical if tech is the real answer for improving education, but the following observations made by educators across the country are quite impressive:

    • Students who are visual learners can access video content on any topic – enabling them to learn the material in a manner best suited for them
    • Likewise, a student can submit an animated book report in place of a written one – enabling those with better graphics skills to show they read and understood the material
    • Instructional videos on any topic are available for students to review as many times as they want, and at their own pace – thereby removing the stigma of not getting it the first time
    • Students are more engaged as they are using technology, so much a part of their lives already, for mastering school material
    • Students become more marketable for jobs, as gaining knowledge of “digital literacies” is becoming almost as important as the 3 R’s.


    The Educational Costs of Tech in the Classroom
    We have seen that technology has no doubt benefited many students. But as always, change, even for the better can come with a price tag.


    According to UCLA researcher, Dr. Patricia Greenfield, while use of technology has improved visual intelligence, critical and abstract reasoning skills have declined. An information overload, available in links, video and endless search, contributes to an extreme form of multi-tasking that results in a shallow or superficial understanding of subject matter.
    In addition, vocabulary can be negatively affected as video instruction replaces reading.
    She also found that students with unrestricted access to the internet were distracted during classes and didn’t retain as much knowledge as students without access.


    Despite these negative findings, there is a silver lining for some of them. For example, studies show that students who play video games and engage in other visual learning are likely to perform better at tasks such as surgery which require high-levels of visual intelligence. But again, despite their proficiency in manipulating medical equipment during surgery, they might not make the best diagnosticians, as that skill requires more abstract and analytical thinking.


    Similarly, the intense multi-tasking online environment of chat, email and more can be ideal training for airplane pilots who need to contend with multiple control panels and screens to stay airborne. However, a career in law, where reading or writing contracts and rigorous analysis is standard fare, is better prepared for by a rich diet of reading and deep thinking activities.


    Balance is the Best
    In summary, schools want the best for their students. So while increasing the use of technology is important, if not essential, emphasis must be put on maintaining or improving standards in the basics like reading and math. And of course, parent involvement will be critical as ed tech goes mainstream, with parents helping smooth the transition, in any way they can.


    That way, your students can become (among other great things) excellent surgeons and diagnosticians, improving themselves and humanity with the fruits of their rich education.






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    Making Parent Involvement Easy for Your School Event


    As a school principal or administrator, you are probably familiar with scheduling software for parent teacher conferences. These popular web-based solutions enable the effortless creation of highly organized conferences – saving school staff hours of extra work.


    However, there are many other school events which include parent involvement that can also be arranged much more easily when using online scheduling systems.


    Let’s take a look at several common school events and see how scheduling software can make a huge difference in the amount of time and effort faculty spend on setting it up.


    Field Trips

    Your 6th grade class is planning a trip to the zoo. The kids are excited but the teachers are going to need some extra helping hands. As it is, keeping things running smoothly on school grounds is a challenge. Field trips just make supervision and safety so much more complicated.


    To help out your faculty you want to enlist some parent volunteers to come along and chaperone the trip.

    In the past, you might have spent hours calling parents and arranging logistics.

    Now, you can leverage the power of online scheduling and save your staff (and parents) a ton of time and headache.


    For example, using the PTC Wizard online scheduling system, you can easily set up events (like a field trip). Then using the “sessions” module you can define the number of buses needed for transportation. You can also limit the seats available on each bus for the volunteers. At this point, your work is done.


    Parents are simply notified by email that the school needs some volunteers and that they can sign-up online.


    All they need to do is login to the school’s scheduling site, select the relevant event (field trip) and choose which bus they want to be on. If the bus is already full, they simply won’t be able to volunteer.


    The parents that successfully signed-up are informed by email of the details, and everything is set to go – without the need for faculty intervention or involvement.


    School Carnival or Fair

    In this scenario your school needs parents to help staff booths and tables at the carnival or fair.


    With PTC Wizard online scheduling, you first create the event, which in this case, is the carnival. Then, using the “sessions” module, you set up any number of carnival booths/tables with as many timeslots as you require. For example, if the carnival runs all day, you might want to have volunteer timeslots for the morning and afternoon.


    Parents that want to participate can select which booth they want to manage and their preferred timeslot as well.


    Again, there is no need for the administration to get involved on the micro-level. Parents that volunteered automatically receive a confirmation for their assigned booth/timeslot, and everything is ready to roll.


    Other School Events

    Scheduling software can streamline just about any school related events.  School dinners, team-tryouts, band sign-up, educational seminars, campus tours, open-house registration, interviews or assessments are just some of the examples of the extra-curricular activities that can be supported by web-based scheduling.


    Start increasing parent involvement by using scheduling software for your school event, today!


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    Parent Involvement and the Evolution of 3rd Party Education Technologies


    When we think about a successful school, we usually envision students who are well adjusted and achieving academic excellence. We imagine a faculty dedicated to the highest standards of education and the development of their student’s innate abilities.


    What we don’t always pay attention to, is the fact that parent involvement is the real key to a school’s success. Students will reflect their parent’s values. If the parents are not involved and don’t care about school, it’s highly likely that their children will feel the same.


    In that scenario, even the most talented teachers will face an uphill educational battle.

    As such, schools need to make an effort to increase parent involvement by making parent teacher communication as easy as possible. Parents, like most people, are busy and not interested in exerting too much effort for any given task.


    At the same time, constant innovation and technology development is making everything faster and easier – with the result that both parents and schools are demanding ed tech that does the same.


    To better understand and prepare for where school technology is headed, let’s take a look at how student information systems and 3rd party technologies have evolved recently.


    Stand-Alone Systems

    Student information systems allow schools to store student and faculty data. Usually, a system will support a few features like class enrollment and scheduling, recording of exams and grades, or attendance tracking.


    However, if schools want to use information systems to manage things like library or cafeteria use, they generally need to implement additional 3rd party software. A familiar example of this is parent-teacher scheduling systems. In a stand-alone setup, there is relatively little work to be done by the school administration. They just upload faculty info and schedules, and all that’s left if for the parents to login and setup meetings with teachers. The only catch here is that parents need to know which classes/teachers their children have. If they don’t know, this can cause mix-ups and some extra legwork to get things ironed out.


    Stand-alone systems, while very helpful, are really just the first stage of leveraging technology in the school setting.


    Import/Export Options

    As 3rd party applications for schools proliferate, administrators are realizing that there is too much redundant data entry for too many disparate systems. Librarians need to enter student details and cafeteria managers the same. So the IT team creates custom patches and hooks to import/export data from one system to the next.  While this allows students and parents to access everything they need without hassle, the import/export method is fraught with problems.


    Creating custom software and manipulating data to match different SIS formats is very time-consuming and susceptible to human error. Additionally, the entire process needs to be repeated for each individual application. To top it all off, the process must be repeated several times a year, as student and faculty information changes.

    As such, import/export is not sustainable as schools increasingly rely on more 3rd party applications to get work done.


    Full Integration

    Currently, the best option for schools with multiple student information systems and applications is full integration. Once the different systems are integrated, all data is shared and synchronized automatically. Any changes or updates will be reflected across all the systems, with zero room for error – and no need for redundant data entry.  This clearly reduces the workload for administration and IT as they no longer need to deal with multiple import/exports or manual data entry and manipulation.


    It also caters to parents as it allows them to easily login and access different applications such as online report cards, homework, or parent-teacher conference scheduling. When dealing with integration on a district level, parents with children in different schools (say elementary and high school) can login once to access information for all their children.

    The key to this full integration is creating open standards that allow different applications to share information with one another.


    The SIF Association is a leading example of ed tech integration standards. Their open-source platform allows full integration for many student information systems.


    PTC Wizard and Full Integration

    Recognizing the need for full integration, PTC Wizard is fully compatible with all SIF certified education information systems. Combined with its “single sign-on” API, the PTC Wizard online scheduling platform seamlessly integrates with any SIF compliant student information system.  This feature eliminates the need for multiple passwords for multiple systems.


    PTC Wizard is also compatible with several smaller integration platforms, and is currently working with additional vendors to even further broaden compatibility.


    For more information, please contact PTC Wizard to check available integration options.





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