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School’s Worth of Data

My Cloud DL4100 SmallOffice imageThe days of expensive onsite data storage are over with Western Digital’s My Cloud DL4100 family. Rather than file servers or expensive blades, the DL4100 is a self-standing Network Attached Storage (NAS) system that connects to any network and has four bays for 3.5-inch drives. It tops out at 24TB of total storage potential for an economical $1,530, which should be more than enough for most small or mid-sized schools; a two-bay DL2100 version that can be had for as little as $350.

Dl 4100 screenPowered by an Intel Atom processor and housing up to 6GB of RAM, the NAS system has a pair of Ethernet connections and a trio of USB ports. For those worried about security or losing data, the DL4100 can encrypt its contents with 256-bit AES coding and work with RAID levels 0, 1, 5 and 10 for fail-safe operations. The best part is that the NAS drive can move data back and forth with several popular online storage systems.

Light up the Show

M-touch_main_NEWDespite its small size, Martin’s M-Touch has the power to turn any school’s Spring musical into a professional-looking production with a wide variety of lighting effects. It has a simple interface for independently controlling 10 different lighting channels that are controlled by moving your fingers over the touch-sensitive active surface. Any effect can be recorded for later playback at show time. Made of rugged aluminum, it weighs just 3.3-pounds so the board is easy to be moved to different venues or schools as needed.

HD on a Budget

Hc1200 dWhoever it was who said that schools don’t need high-definition projectors couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, the sharper the images, the better the content and the better focus students have on the lesson. At about $1,000, BenQ’s HC1200 makes HD cheap enough for classrooms.

The HC1200 is a one of a kind projector, at least for the moment. At 4.4- by 14.2- by 10.2-inches, its gray and black case doesn’t stand out from the crowd, but it’s what’s inside that counts. The projector has a single digital light processing (DLP) imaging chip coupled with a traditional high-pressure lamp that combine to put out 1,920 by 1,080 images at a rated 2,800 lumens of brightness.

Thanks to come clever engineering with the projector’s color wheel, optics and light source, the HC1200 sets a new standard for color fidelity that no other projector in its category can match. It can deliver over 1 billion individual colors and covers the entire sRGB color gamut.

It may lack optional lenses for different locales, but the single lens approach not only makes the HC1200 very economical, but the lens it uses is well suited to the classroom. It has a wide 1.5:1 optical zoom ratio, can fill a 6-foot screen from about 7-feet away and tops out at a 25 foot image. It comes with a tethered lens cap, but it can be hard to get your fingers in far enough to fine-tune the focus.

Hc1200 eIn addition to projecting 3-D material, the HC1200 offers three teaching templates that include blanks for penmanship, a lined screen or a blank image divided into quadrants. It lacks the ability to use interactive pens, though.

The HC1200 has one of the best assortments of input ports with a pair of VGA, composite- and S-video as well as two HDMI connectors. It adds a wired LAN plug but to connect with a wireless network, you’ll need BenQ’s $50 WiFi adapter. The system adds VGA-out port for mirroring the content as well as RS-232, USB, audio and the projector is compatible with Crestron’s and AMX’s control software.

For schools with powered screens, the HC1200 has the bonus of a 12-volt trigger button for opening and closing the screen. While most of BenQ’s competitors cut corners on their remote controls, the HC 1200’s remote not only mimics the projector’s control panel, but provides instant access to networking settings. There’s a laser pointer built-in, a luxury that every classroom should have.

Rather than the expected rectangular box, the HC1200 is shaped like a trapezoidal prism that’s larger on the top than the bottom. It has an adjustable front leg, four attachment points underneath for ceiling mounting and at about 8-pounds it is easy from one person to install it. The HC1200 comes with a padded bag for those who want to store or move it from room to room.

It might be a fast starter with the ability to put an image on the screen in 23 seconds, but it takes upwards of a minute to cool down and shut itself off when the class is done. It’s also a little on the loud side with its exhaust fan putting out 44.8 decibels 3-feet from the projector.

Hc1200cThe HC1200 has the expected vertical keystone correction, but lacks horizontal keystone correction and image shifting. Its built-in grid test pattern can help streamline getting the projector’s picture just right and its focus was spot-on from edge to edge. There’s a hot spot at the bottom, but you can hardly notice it.

In addition to three color temperature settings, the HC1200 has four projection modes and the ability to project onto different colored walls. While its Dynamic setting is very bright, it has a lot of green in it and Presentation has over-saturated colors, Cinema has a warm feel. Overall, the sRGB setting offers the best balance between brightness and color fidelity. You can also set up two user-defined modes with presets of your own choosing.

The HC1200 can put 2,894 lumens on the screen in Dynamic mode, just above its rating. Using the system’s EcoSmart setting, the projector delivers 10-percent lower brightness, but reduces the HC1200’s power draw from 375- to 315-watts.

The projector doesn’t require a dust filter, so maintenance is a snap and the projector’s optics have been designed so that its colors don’t fade over time. Its $350 replacement lamp is rated to last 2,000 hours and can be swapped in about two minutes. It adds up to estimated annual costs of $352 if it’s used for 8 hours every school day and electricity costs the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. This is high compared to other projectors with lower resolution, but not to HD devices.

At around $1,000 the HC 1200 sets a new standard for projectors at roughly 50-percent less than comparable devices, removing all the excuses for not getting HD projectors. It not only leads in color fidelity and resolution in the classroom, but upfront costs as well. 



BenQ HC1200

Price: $1,000

+ Excellent color fidelity

+ Inexpensive

+ Wide optical zoom lens

+ Laser pointer

+ Case


- Lacks image shift and horizontal keystone correction

- High operational costs


One Stop Classroom

Engrade aYou can end the wasted time and effort of logging into every classroom activity separately with McGraw Hill Education’s Engrade. The software lets you consolidate lesson plans, while interacting with educational software and online apps. There’re places to post grades and go over results as well as a behavior section for tracking trouble-makers.

Getting Into Form

Jotform bMost schools are stuck in the 20th century as far as forms goes with piles of paper needed each year per student. JotForm can put an end to it with an online form-maker that has been designed with schools in mind and doesn’t require any programming. With it you can make everything from enrollment forms and quizzes to teacher evaluations and payment for lunch or activities. There are plenty of templates for repetitive tasks and forms have routing built-in so that they require minimal human input and are automatically compiled. The results can be tracked, saved in DropBox online and you can even thank the filer after submission.



Freebee Friday: Next Tech

You gov ieeeIt’s true that we all love and secretly loathe new technologies because they have the power to enrich the classroom but often leave behind other technologies we were just getting used to. According to a survey sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers of over two thousand adults conducted by YouGov, the most important STEM subjects in You govsecondary education are math, science and overall technology. Over the coming year, the poll respondents thought that the most influential technologies will be Smartphones (42 percent), tablets (37 percent) and 3-D printers (32 percent). 

What’s going to be left behind? Based on the responses, digital music players and cameras are on the outs as stand-alone devices. That’s mostly because their roles have been taken over by even the cheapest tablets and phones.

Freebee Friday: Digital Hand Outs

HandoutThe age of the printed worksheet is long dead, but nothing has replaced it in the digital realm, until now. Handouts has the power to distribute anything to a class of students, from a lab set-up sheet or homework assignment to a take-home quiz. The basic software is free and can be had for either Android or iPads, but there’s nothing for Windows tablets or notebooks. The app can have students hand the work in and it comes with an excellent teacher’s guide. The free version allows teachers to use it for a single class of up to 25 students, while the Pro version can be used with an unlimited number of students and costs $100 per year. Districts and schools can get a discount.

Speed Printing

Samsung MF4530It’s amazing how fast printers can produce documents when they print in just black toner. Samsung’s ProXpress $650 M4530ND is a high-speed printer that puts 1,200- by 1,200-dots per inch onto paper and tops out at 47 pages per minute of output. There’s also the $850 M4530NX that adds a color touch control screen. Both are suitable for a department, entire floor or a small school to share, have duplexing and can be connected via USB, a wired or wireless network or even with an optional NFC connection device for tap and print operations. The printers can also integrate with cloud storage systems for quick printing of stored items. While the standard toner module holds enough for 7,000 pages, Samsung makes cartridges for as many as 40,000 pages that can drive down printing costs dramatically.

Chromebook View of the Cloud

Neverware cloud readyChromebooks are great for saving money both upfront and on daily expenses, but how do you get from a PC or Mac to a Chromebook? Neverware’s CloudReady can help get what’s on a PC onto a Chromebook by using cloud storage as an intermediary. Administrators can not only provision any client, but use Google’s Admin screen to monitor what’s going on.


Assessments Put to the Test

Naiku create testWith so much riding on tests today, it’s never been more important that schools get a grip on the actual assessments they’re giving from every possible angle. From making sure that every assessment is important, easy to administer to being as close to uniform from class to class, testing is just as important to the future of the school as it is to every student.

Naiku’s Districts/Schools has a deep library of questions to use and the automatic tabulation of testing results. When the dust has cleared, the service can create insightful reports on student and class progress as well as allow teachers to see who is leading and who is lagging.

Because Naiku is an online service, there’s no software to load. Just log into an account with just about any connected system and get started. In addition to Windows and Mac systems, it works with iPads, Android tablets and Chromebooks. It can even be used with phones and the interface magnifies the question and answer section to make it readable on the small screen.

Naiku importThe best part is that the service requires minimal resources, so older computers will do just fine for administering assessments. In the background, Naiku automatically scores tests as they are taken for nearly instantaneous results. For those schools without the equipment or where the network that doesn’t reach every classroom, teachers can print Naiku assessments and do everything the old fashioned way. The paper tests can be graded manually or scanned and scored using GradeCam software.

Naiku’s green and white interface is bright and works well with low-resolution screens. It has the look of an actual printed test and includes instructions for taking the test at hand. On top of an area to fill in the answers, the test blank has optional sections for the student to fill in his or her confidence level and leave a passage about how he or she felt about the question or subject matter. Unfortunately, schools and districts can’t customize Naiku’s interface beyond adding a picture to the screen.

Tests can have a time-limit or be broken up over several sessions, but Naiku’s online connection is its greatest strength and – unfortunately – weakness. Sure, it allows a wide assortment of systems to be used without loading any extra software for administering the assessments, but it doesn’t work as well offline. Kids can finish tests that were started in online mode if the Internet link is broken or the school-day ends, but that’s about it. They need to wait for network access to submit their answers or start a new test.

Naiku’s test generator is a gem and requires no programming to get the most out of it. You can choose questions in a variety of formats, including multiple-choice or multiple-select, True/False, drag and drop matching, constructed response, passage and essay. While the majority are automatically scored and are quickly posted for viewing by teachers during the exam, some items need to be scored and tabulated manually by a teacher. All grades can be automatically dropped into just about any digital gradebook that the school cares to use.

Naiku teacher screenThe company’s Benchmark Now! Service has a variety of tests available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Assess2Know Benchmark Item Bank for grades 3 through high school. A school or district can also create a wide assortment of tests from curriculum maps in a matter of minutes. The service includes access to about 45,000 Common Core categorized and aligned questions, but they are not aligned with popular textbooks.

You can add new items from TestGen, ExamView and even import them from existing tests or from .doc, .pdf or .xml sources. In fact, Naiku’s QuickKey wizard can turn just about anything into a test.

Tests can be shared among teachers and administrators or kept private. To reduce cheating, any test can have its questions rotated or scrambled from student to student or class to class.

Naiku covers the full gamut from kindergarten to a high school’s senior classes. Full tests can be shared across a grade, school or district, meaning that there can be a level of standardization to assessments given at different schools for the same class. It also means that teachers can stop reinventing the wheel when it comes to tests.

The tests can contain everything from reading selections to complicated math and science symbols as well as graphs. Questions have been mapped to online curriculum materials that have videos, worksheets and extra practice items. Each assessment can have a time limit and an included countdown clock and when time is up, no answers can be entered. The teacher can transfer the results to a gradebook or go through the questions and answers with the class immediately for greater impact.

Naiku reportWhen the testing is done, Naiku comes into its own. There are reports that can be shared among teachers, local administrators and state education officials. In addition to a longitudinal look at scores, Naiku can quickly prepare reports on a particular subject or individual question as well as each student, class and school. In addition, the service can track how each class is doing on common core areas or specific state requirements.

At $159 per teacher, the annual Naiku subscription is worth every penny. In addition to a free trial, the service has discounts for district-wide deployment, making Naiku a testing service that schools can’t afford not to use. 



Naiku for Districts/Schools

$159 per teacher 

+ Nice library of questions

+ Easy to use testing interface

+ Automatic tabulation of results

+ Several testing formats

+ Real-time response

+ Insightful reports


- Requires online connection




Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.