Why school technology projects fail

Cloud computing in schoolsLook around you – it sure seems that everything technology in school districts is a big, expensive & lengthy project. The rest of the world has pretty much moved in the opposite direction. Try a cloud-based, inexpensive pay-as-you-go service for maybe 50 bucks (heck, almost every one has a free trial anyway). Put something in production quickly and see what works.

Except in our schools. They’re stuck in the world of annual/multi-year contracts, lengthy bureaucratic purchasing procedures, technology ROI assessment etc. There’s no way to just try something out and see if it works even for $50. Yes, school districts have annual budgets and they’re getting tighter all the time. All the more reason for pay-as-you-go.

Large Technology projects mostly fail
Depending on who you ask, more than half of all large tech projects fail with the LAUSD iPad project serving [probably unfairly] as the current poster child. But, truly assessing the ROI of technology in advance is pretty much “fiction” and not just in schools. There are too many variables from training to process re-engineering to adoption. In practice, it turns into a vendor finding an internal champion who will “market” the vendor’s ROI to executives. And, in many large companies executives sign off on multi-year projects knowing they’ll be gone before the project is ever deployed. Companies, however, have wised up to the benefits of trial and error.

Trial and Error (or Think BIG but start small) works
Einstein may have been the master of thought experiments. But, for most of us, we try stuff out. From medical research to car repairs to diets, it’s part of our life. We adopt what works and discard what doesn’t. Software’s the same. Instead of the above-mentioned lengthy studies, just sign up online and try it out. Get a few people to use it – teachers, staff, or parents. Cloud-based software + monthly contracts make it easy.

Cloud and PAYG have huge benefits
The benefits are obvious and extensively detailed elsewhere from no upfront fees or lengthy contracts to zero installation to on-demand scaling to quick trial-and-error. The rest of the world is signing on at an unprecedented pace. Except schools – it’s 1:1 digital learning programs and flipped classrooms (translation: buy 10,000 iPads and change the way 1000s of teachers work). What about small-scale, quick and easy solutions?

We see this all the time – our customers in industry love cloud software, pay-as-you-go and pay only for what you use. Now, if only we could get our schools to do the same.

Are teachers dealing with too much paperwork?

School and college teachers, principals and administrators are extremely busy people. They’re dedicated to their students and would love to simply focus on teaching and helping students. Yet, they must deal with unnecessary paperwork for things like mileage reimbursements, conference travel expenses, leave approvals etc.

There’s a better way with Electronic Approval Workflows from frevvo. You can dramatically reduce this paperwork, free up time & resources to focus on students and help the environment. Watch this short video (less than 100 sec) to see how.

If you want to save money, help the environment and make life easier for everyone, visit our web site to learn more and get started for free.

Let parents give E-Consent

Is your school sending paper consent forms home for parents to sign? How often do parents forget to send them in? How much time to teachers spend chasing down missing permission slips? How many times do students miss out because of lack of consent forms?

There’s a better way with E-Consent solutions from frevvo. Check out this short video (less than 90 sec) to see how.

If you want to save money, help the environment and make life easier for everyone, visit our web site to learn more and get started for free.

Designing Highly Usable Forms That Can Collect LOTS of Information

When designing forms, designers must always consider the usability of the form. Usability refers to a person’s ability to intuitively understand what is expected of them and easily perform the task. Achieving a high level of usability for small forms is not too challenging but what about when a lot of information must be collected such as when on-boarding a new hire?

One solution is to create a large single form with everything on it.  There are several problems with this. First, you may overwhelm the user by presenting every single field all at once. If a field has an error, the employee has to scan the entire form to find it. Also gigantic forms make for a particularly poor experience on phones and tablets where real estate is limited. Another solution is to group related fields together and put them in sections or tabs.  Sections are definitely useful to a point.  However, experience shows that tabs in general are harder to use (see Form Usability: The Pitfall of Inline Accordion and Tab Designs). Tabs particularly suffer on mobile devices with their smaller screens.

With frevvo, you can easily create highly usable forms that collect lots of information by using screen flows.  Screen flows create a wizard-like experience that presents the form in a series of small easily digestible steps.  By breaking the form up this way, users aren’t overwhelmed and will have a great experience regardless of the end user’s device (laptop, phone, tablet, whatever).  In our employee on-boarding form, the information has been broken into 3 steps:

1) demographics 2) health plan enrollment 3) direct deposit.  The images below show how the steps are displayed to someone using the form on an iPad:

Demographics

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 1.11.48 PM

Health Plan

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 1.13.48 PM

Direct Deposit

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 1.16.02 PM

Large forms that collect LOTS of information are very common. With frevvo, you can easily make them usable on any device so your customers are more likely to have an enjoyable user experience and submit complete, accurate data.

The end of PDF forms

PDF forms are dead

Just look around and it’s obvious that mobile is taking over the Internet and an astounding 65% of email gets opened first on a mobile device. If your content is PDF, most people simply don’t bother to read it.

Fillable PDFs are even worse – often they simply don’t work unless you download and install a special app and if they require a signature, you’ll probably still have to print it anyway. Try it – here’s a General Permission form for a school. It’s a nightmare to use even with Adobe’s PDF Reader app. You have to pinch and zoom to fill out fields, it’s a frustrating user experience and most people simply give up. PDFs just aren’t responsive.

Is your paperless strategy fillable PDFs?
No one’s going to fill them out!!

What should you do? For your web site,  Luckily, creating responsive web forms that just work naturally on mobile devices isn’t that hard. Try the same form above on any device and you’ll see that it works smoothly and “responds” to the form factor of the device. Even with the limited real estate of a smart phone screen, it is reasonably easy to use. You can sign it right there without printing. It’ll automatically render in a different language if available and your phone is set to that language. Here’s the Spanish version.

PDF forms simply cannot adapt to the huge variety of screen sizes and resolutions of modern mobile devices. Just like PDF no longer makes sense for emails or newsletters, it makes no sense to push out fillable PDF forms.

Paperless Field Trips – Infographic

Paperless Field Trips

Click the image to enlarge

Field trips are an invaluable learning tool. But a positive learning experience takes significant planning and execution. One of the painful and expensive aspects is getting the necessary signatures from parents, collecting emergency information, medications and figuring out who can be chaperones.

This wastes paper, time & ultimately money. After getting the necessary approval from the principal/superintendent, teachers must hand out paper documents and forms to students (e.g. here’s Miami-Dade County’s packet of forms) and hope that students will take them home to parents, get them signed and bring them back. Of course, many students forget or they lose the form and teachers must follow up with students and parents.

Automating these parental permissions is easy with frevvo + Google Apps. It boils down to a few simple steps.

Teacher:

  1. Create a folder in Google Drive and a spreadsheet with student info.
  2. In the frevvo form, enter field trip details. frevvo will retrieve the list of students and automatically send an email to each parent with field trip details and a link to a permission form.

Parents:

  1. Click the link, review information, sign electronically and submit.
  2. If you would like to chaperone, check the box and verify information.

Teacher:

  1. The list of students and chaperones is in the spreadsheet. View it anytime!
  2. frevvo will send reminders to parents who have not yet signed. No need to chase students down.

It’s fast, easy & affordable. Check out the infographic at right and if you like what you see, visit our web site or contact us for more information.

How much paper do schools use?

How much paper does my school use? What does it cost? It’s not easy to answer that question but we’ll try.paperstack01

According to the NYC Government, the paper discarded during the school year in one NYC school added up to 28 pounds for each student, teacher, and staff member. A standard sheet of laser-printer paper of the usual thickness, either US “letter” size or international “A4″ size, weighs 4.5 grams. That means 100 sheets weighs almost exactly one pound. Put the above two together and you get about 2,800 sheets of paper per person every year.

For a district with 10,000 students, teachers & staff, that’s 28,000,000 sheets of paper. At Staples, a pallet (200,000 sheets) costs $1,400. So, our 10,000 student school district spends at least $200,000 every year on paper. And, that’s not even taking into account printers, toner & other supplies which could easily double or triple the cost.

Imagine ifflash-drive that was all electronic. If a sheet of paper holds about 2K of information, all 2,800 sheets would fit into about 5.5MB. For our 10,000 student school district, all the information would fit on this $24.95 flash drive and you’d have some room to spare. And, you don’t even have to spend 25 bucks – you can put it all in Google Drive with unlimited free storage for education.

And, it’s not just money you’ll save. You’ll help the environment too by saving 2,500 trees and 55,000 gallons of oil.

Of course, you can’t just stick millions of sheets of paper on a flash drive. The reality is far more complex but you can start chipping away today. It’s easy to reduce paper use with technology like frevvo forms/workflows & Google Apps/Drive. There’s simply no excuse for not getting started.

Interested in learning more? Contact frevvo today.

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