ezTask Blog: All things technology!
Tired of your drives failing? Try glass.
Sep 26 2012 - 08:36:00 am
The folks over at Hitachi were well aware of the life cycle and expiration date of both solid-state and spinning drives. The company claims it has found a new, revolutionary way around conventional technology...using glass to store things in memory "forever". Click here for the full article.

Click here to check out other neat technologies on our Pinterest.
7 Ways to Enrich Traditional Education Practices with Technology
Sep 19 2012 - 08:43:00 am
Technology and education go hand-in-hand. Without a solid educational system, advancements in technology would not be possible. Those advancements transform the way teachers can do their jobs while providing young students with a solid background in technology at the same time. Using technology in the classroom enhances traditional educational practices, even simple ones like taking attendance, and transforms them into hands-on lessons that students don’t know their participating in.

1. Geography Class
Teachers can combine social media and Google Earth to teach students about geography.  The game goes something like this. One of the teacher’s twitter followers tweets their longitude and latitude. Students manipulate Google Earth to find the follower. Teachers can change the game by having one of her followers use place names.

2. Attendance
Taking attendance is part of every teacher’s job and the boring five minute-long task eats up valuable class time. To change up this age-old task, ask students to send a one-word answer to a question asked at the conclusion of class via a twitter each day. It’s a great way to show parents what kids are learning about each day.

3. Guest Lecturers
Guest lecturers have been restricted to local experts. With Skype and other video conferencing technology, experts from all over the world can step into the classroom and educate students.

4. Parent-Teacher Conference
s
Parents can’t always meet teachers on the designated meeting day. From whatever location, parents and teachers can meet up on Skype or another video conferencing software. The parents don’t even need to be in the same country.

5. English Class
The Internet offers instant publishing. Students can post poetry or other writing assignments on a school blog.

6. Grade Books
The old-fashioned paper grade books have two major faults. First, teachers have to calculate each student’s grade manually each marking period. Electronic grade books cut the time teachers spend calculating grades by up to 75 percent. Secondly, the paper book is easily damaged and accessible to students, who might want to change their grades. Electronic grade books are safely behind a password.

7. Games
Game shows are an entertaining way for teachers to review the curriculum and prepare students for tests.  Teachers can use software, like powerpoint, to create their version of Jeopardy or Family Feud. Plus, teachers can reuse the games without having to store it.  Teachers can also use Foursquare as a way to keep track of which person is winning the scavenger hunt.

These common activities and practices are just the tip of the iceberg. Technology has a role in teaching today’s students.  Exposing students to technology prepares them for the future. And that’s the primary goal for teachers and school administration.

What other ways can teachers and school administration use technology to enhance the learning experience?
The future of calculators...
Sep 12 2012 - 11:40:00 am
When calculators first emerged, mathematicians rejoiced and teachers everywhere panicked. While scientists and other hard sciences would be more efficient than ever before, everyone else wondered how students could learn manual math when they had access to machines that would crunch numbers for them. This brings us to the Wolfram Alpha dilemma.

This online "computational knowledge engine" (basically a calculator for far more than numbers) can tell you nearly anything you want to know. Whether you're seeking history, science, facts, analytical insight, or nearly any kind of data, Wolfram Alpha returns astounding feedback.

What does this mean for the classroom? When students have access to a seemingly infinite knowledge base from anything web-ready (including smartphones, of course), will they be more likely to rely on the interne --rather than their own knowledge-- to attack their homework?

Check out the Wolfram Alpha blog and tell them how you plan to use this product in the classroom. Check out our pin to link to/see a tour of the product, and to add it to your resource boards on Pinterest!
Top 12 Pitfalls in the E-Rate Filing Process
Sep 05 2012 - 10:57:00 am
This paper outlines 12 common pitfalls of the E-Rate program and how to avoid them.
(Courtesy of Trillion Partners, Inc.)

Overview
The federal E-Rate program has transformed the technology landscape of school districts and libraries across America. Over the past 10 years, billions of dollars of E-Rate money has subsidized communications and technology, and now over 98% of all school districts and libraries nationwide provide basic Internet access to their students and faculty. However, receiving funding is not always a sure thing, and following the E-Rate process is critical - especially when thousands, even millions, of dollars are at stake for your district. Unfortunately, district personnel sometimes unknowingly make a mistake that results in a denial of their E-Rate application.

1. Form 470 request does not tie to technology plan
Most applicants have a technology plan on file; however, sometimes the plans are not kept current. This can result in a denial during a PIA (Program Integrity Assurance) review. (Tip: Make sure your technology plan actually addresses the technology or service you are requesting E-Rate funding for.)

2. Not understanding the state and local requirements for the competitive bid process
It is crucial that applicants understand not only the E-Rate rules for open, fair and competitive bids, but also the state and local requirements -- requirements will vary from district to district. For example, some state and local governments require that the requested services be posted in the local paper for a minimum of two weeks. Others require that the applicant respond in writing to all interested bidders.

Tip: Make sure your district understands and documents its efforts to comply with all requirements for a valid competitive bid process at the local, state, as well as federal level.


3. Form 470 and Request for Proposal (RFP) not available for 28 days

It is important to verify that both the Form 470 and the RFP have been available for 28 days. Trillion has seen cases where an RFP was issued weeks after the Form 470 was filed. This guideline can be confusing for district personnel because the due date on the Form 471 is tied to the Form 470 filing date. If an RFP was issued after the Form 470 was filed, the district must wait until the RFP has also been available for 28 days before selecting a vendor.

Tip: Ensure both the Form 470 and any RFP related to the service or technology have both been available for a minimum of 28 days.

4. Filing an additional Form 470 for a multi-year contract.
A new Form 470 is only required for the first year of a multi-year contract. This establishing Form 470 must be referenced for each successive year of the contract on the Form 471. Filing an additional Form 470 will be confusing to vendors who think there are new services they can bid on. Also, when you are in a later year of a multi-year contract, if your Form 471 refers to a new Form 470 instead of the establishing Form 470, your application will be in danger of being denied.

Tip: When filing for services under a multi-year contract, make sure that the Form 471 references the original Form 470.


5. Failure to notify bidders of disqualification factor(s)
This is a little-known rule that has caught several applicants by surprise when they’ve received a denial. If, during the review process, you decide to disqualify a vendor that has bid on your Form 470, you must notify that vendor as to why you have disqualified them. Keep records of all communication. (Note: this does not apply to vendors that you considered but did not ultimately select, only to vendors you eliminate (disqualify) from the bidding process and therefore do not even consider.)

Tip: If you disqualify a vendor, ensure they are notified in writing that they are disqualified and the reasons for that disqualification.

6. Incomplete or no documentation of the selection process

This is a critical step for school districts. Applicants must document all communications with potential vendors, evaluation criteria, etc. All documentation must be kept for a minimum of five years.

Tip: Identify one point of contact in your school district for all E-Rate communications and document all communications related to the E-Rate process.


7. Signing a contract or getting board approval prior to the 28-day waiting period

This requirement has tripped up some applicants also. Most E-Rate coordinators understand that they must wait 28 days before selecting a vendor and filing a Form 471; however, some applicants have made the mistake of selecting a vendor at a board meeting that occurs before the 28 day period. This mistake is most likely to occur when applicants are pushing the close of the filing window for their Form 471.

Tip: Ensure that all decisions are made after the 28 day waiting period. A Form 470 may be filed at any time before the ERate window opens. Filing the Form 470 as early as possible gives you more time to meet the 28 day requirement, hold the board meeting, and file the Form 471 during the E-Rate window.


8. Filing a Form 470 for the incorrect category of service
This sounds straight forward; however, districts have made this mistake in the past. Remember, Internet Access is for “basic conduit access” only. All other Priority One services must go under the Telecommunications Services category. Interconnected Voice over IP can go in either category, but the SLD recommends filing your Form 470 under both categories just in case.

Tip: Double check that your Form 470 specifies the same category of service you are requesting on your Form 471.

9. Referencing an incorrect Form 470 on a Form 471 Block 5
The Block 5 section of the Form 471 is the section where applicants list information about the vendor, amount of money requested from the E-Rate program, category of service, contract details, etc. Sometimes applicants make a mistake when filling multiple Form 471s and reference the wrong Form 470.

Tip: Double check that the Form 471 Block 5 is referencing the correct Form 470 for your particular vendor. Make certain that the allowable contract date and the contract award date make sense.


10. Omitting non-instructional facilities from a Form 471 Block 4
The Block 4 section of the Form 471 is the section where applicants list information about the district, number of students, percentage of students participating in the free and reduced lunch program, etc. In the first year of the program, non-instructional facilities such as the school administrative building, school bus barn, cafeteria offices, athletic offices, etc. were not covered by E-Rate. However, that is no longer the case. Beginning in funding year 2004, non-instructional facilities are eligible for Priority 1 E-Rate eligible services and must be listed on the Block 4.

For more information visit:
http://www.usac.org/sl/applicants/step05/non-instructional-facilities.aspx

There is also some concern amongst applicants that including these facilities could negatively impact their discount percentage, because there are no students at these facilities. That is not the case. If there are no students at the facility then the weighted average for the district will be applied to that site.

Tip: Ensure that all non-instructional facilities receiving services are included on the Form 471 Block 4.

11. Failure to produce adequate budget documentation

PIA reviewers will often request verification that applicants have adequately budgeted to cover their portion of the E-Rate eligible services. Failure to show ability to cover your portion of E-Rate can lead to a denial.

Tip: Ensure that the district has supporting documentation that shows the ability to cover the applicant’s portion of all services to be covered by E-Rate.


12. Failure to respond to PIA reviewers before the deadline
PIA reviewers will attempt to contact the designated E-Rate contact using multiple communication methods such as phone, e-mail, mail, and fax. It is the applicant’s responsibility to respond to a PIA inquiry. If a PIA reviewer makes attempts to communicate with the applicant and there is no response, the Form 471 will be denied. For example, in one case, a Form 471 was denied because the E-Rate contact had left the district, and the E-Rate contact information had not been updated with the SLD. In another case, the district E-Rate contact received the PIA reviewer’s communications but did not respond to the PIA review by the requested deadline. In both situations the Form 471s were denied, and the districts had to go through an appeals process to seek funding.

Tip: Ensure that your district’s E-Rate contact information is up to date and be very responsive when contacted by a PIA reviewer. You can always ask for an extension if you are not in a position to respond, just don’t ignore the requests.

What to do if you are Denied
First, do everything you can to avoid being denied. If you do find yourself in that spot, the Schools and Libraries Division does have something similar to an appeals process. If you are a Trillion customer, Trillion can work with you to assist you in preparing an appeal and work with you through that process.

Conclusion
Dealing with the federal E-Rate program can be intimidating, especially when thousands, even millions, of dollars are on the line. However, understanding the rules, and watching for these 12 pitfalls can better your chances of not getting the dreaded denial of funding. Vendors are prohibited from helping you through the Form 470 filing process, but a vendor can help you through the Form 471 process. Having provided Priority 1 E-Rate eligible services for the past 10 years, Trillion’s team of E-Rate experts is here to help.

For more information about the Federal E-Rate program, visit www.usac.org/sl.

Excerpt from: "How to Avoid the Top 12 Pitfalls of Applying for E-Rate" whitepaper, Trillion Partners, Inc., 2008.