Sunday, January 31, 2016

Microsoft Makes Mail Work on iOS

Over the past several months I have been noticing something odd.  More and more on my iPad I have been turning to apps made by Microsoft.  You might suspect that the most frequent culprits are Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  You would be correct that these are among my most frequently used apps.  After all, the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint file formats are the de facto standard for document, spreadsheets and presentations.  But, as it turns out, the apps that I find myself using the most are the incredible calendar app Sunrise, which Microsoft bought in February, 2015 for just over $100 million, and Microsoft Outlook.

My primary employer is a Microsoft Exchange user, so I had to find a mail app that handled Exchange accounts, however, two of the universities to which I connect were Google Gmail users.  In addition, I have three or four personal Gmail accounts along with a Google Apps for Education account.  But of foremost concern from the productivity side was my dependence on Google calendar.  Actually, multiple Google calendars.  At last count, I managed or subscribed to about 20 Google Calendars.  The Gmail app did great with the Google accounts but never handled the Exchange accounts.  The built-in Apple Mail app could not handle the Gmail accounts.  The same went for the Google Calendar app.  I struggled for a solution.

I must have purchased a dozen mail apps until I saw that Microsoft had released Outlook for iOS.  I have to admit, I was dubious but I installed it.  It is a free app so there was no downside other than a bit of time to set it up.  So I did and within a few hours I was impressed.  Within a few days, I had moved it to my dock.  Within a couple of weeks, I had completely removed my accounts from Apple Mail.  The Outlook interface is slick and easy to use. The mail handling is quick and reliable.  It is so good that I oftentimes pick up my iPhone to triage email even while I am sitting in front of my laptop.

As for the calendar, I still rely on Sunrise.  From the beginning Microsoft had announced that the purpose behind the purchase was to make calendaring better in the Outlook app.  In October of 2015, Microsoft officially announced that once Sunrise was completely integrated into Outlook, Sunrise would be discontinued.  No timetable was provided, however, and both apps have been updated regularly.  If Microsoft is true to their word and completely integrates Sunrise, I will probably go to Outlook as my all in one Personal Information Manager (PIM), however, there are some conditions.  Microsoft, you must include the incredible month view that I use on my iPad.  I live with the month view on the iPhone because I realize the space is not there, but on the iPad I want that nice big month at a glance view I have become accustomed to having.  Make sure that Exchange integration works perfectly for the calendar.  Currently, even Sunrise doesn't love Exchange calendars.  I don't even use my Exchange calendar in the office because it just doesn't sync well.  I want to put an event on my personal Google Calendar and have it sync to my Exchange calendar and vice versa.  Have never been able to see this happen.  Make Sunrise continue to support the Google calendars as well as it does now and add smooth Exchange calendar syncing and I'll never use anything else!  Oh, and I'd pay for the app then too!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Digital Curriculum

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to participate in the Learning Counsel's ( Digital Curriculum Tactics Discussion held at the Hawthorne Center in Cobb County, Georgia. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the future of digital curriculum and how school districts should integrate it into their collection of resources. Several Georgia school districts were represented along with a handful of vendors that provided digital curriculum of some sort.

Much of the conversation centered around the need for educational resources and digital content from the wide variety of sources to be formatted so that it could be easily integrated into the many different learning management systems that are available today. The recognized format for this to happen is known as common cartridge. Common cartridge outlines the specifics of  formatting and meta-data that should be included along with any educational resource so that it can easily be imported into other systems.

Near the end of the day a panel discussion was held in which I had been asked to be a part of. Along with several other educational leaders, each of them in much more loftier positions than me, were ask several questions related to the current and future trends in digital curriculum.

While there were several takeaways for me from the day, the issue that stood out most was the need for teachers to become much more critical of valuators of digital curriculum. There were several mentions of not giving into trends or nifty ideas without the effective evaluation that is necessary to ensure that digital resources are cost-effective and educationally sound.

Additionally, the Learning Counsel is forming a committee that will look to evaluate current instructional design models to adapt them to digital curriculum design or, more likely, develop a new instructional design model that fits the digital framework.  I have spoken with the chairperson and hope to be a part of this committee moving forward. This will be an interesting area of both research and practical application. I'll keep everyone abreast of the developments.

Introduction and Purpose

Welcome to the Big Tech Coach blog.  My name is Keith George and I have been involved in Instructional Technology for the past fifteen years.  Currently I work for the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) in the Office of Educational Technology.  I hold an Educational Specialist degree in Instructional Leadership- Instructional Technology from the University of Alabama, where I am currently working to complete my Ph.D in the same major.

I serve as an adjunct faculty member for the School of Education at Auburn University Montgomery (AUM) teaching Computer-based Instructional Technology at the Graduate level.  Previously, I co-taught Technology Leadership and Resource Management at the University of Montevallo (UM).

I am a Google Certified Educator (Level I) and SymbalooEDU Basic Certified.  I also serve as an Education Expert for Participate Learning (

I have worked as an instructional technology coach (ITC) and that is also the focus of my dissertation.  I have trained ITCs as part of my work with the ALSDE and the courses at both UM and AUM.  I have presented on the topic at educational conference across Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.  I have spoken with scores of ITCs and have become an advocate for them across the state.

From all of these experiences, I have developed a passion of technology coaching and feel I have the background and experience to provide at least some level of advice and guidance for current and prospective ITCs as well as all technology integrating educators, which should include them all.

This is my personal blog, so I plan to comment on a variety of technology and educational issues.  The opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect those of my employer or the institutions for which I teach.  Please take a moment to look over the disclaimer page for additional information related to that as well as a couple of disclosure items.

I plan to include write about instructional technology practices and policies as well as educational software, apps and websites.  Heck, I may even throw in some hardware reviews as things come along.

I hope that you will check out my first couple of posts and determine for yourself if this blog will interest and inform you.  If so, take a moment to subscribe.  If there are topics related to educational technology that you would like to see covered, drop me an email at