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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Shneur Garb of UnGarbled Tech at Educause 2017. (Credit: Shneur Garb)

UnGarbled-Tech will be celebrating its 300th column this month. I have written in the past that it is my honor to write for such a wonderful publication as The Jewish Link. The staff has nurtured, tolerated and mentored me on how to properly write a column. I am forever in their debt for this chance to share what I love to do.

This year I was privileged to be both an attendee and a media reporter for the first time at a major event. Educause 2017 is a yearly convention held in Philadelphia. Most of the vendors are in the Higher Ed arena. This would include every college and university not only in the states but worldwide. The exhibitors are higher-end companies and some startups that are a force to be reckoned with. There is a high cost to be an exhibitor and the ROI (return on investment) is never guaranteed.

Educause 2017 lasts three days and I would compare it to Disneyland, where you can be there three days and never feel it was enough time. The vendors range from large companies like Dell, Microsoft, Oracle and Amazon to small startups like Turnitin, Ruckus WiFi and many more.

Launching a startup isn’t something I have covered in the past as I am a MSP (managed service provider) by trade, but if you will indulge me to allow some of my thanks to my team, I hope to show a little insight into what launching a software startup is and all the work it takes to do so.

What better place to announce that after 10 years of managing education institutions, The Garb Consulting Group (GCG) has developed its own software called ArWare Software. The software team of Avi Wollman and some of the engineers like Ari Richter (the software is named after Ari!) have worked so hard and I am forever grateful to have them.

Chromebooks rollouts solely for education are exploding all over the world. Just five years ago GCG had not installed even one Chromebook. This past summer, we installed over 5,000! Chromebooks have surpassed both Windows OS and iPads in the schools. Many schools have met with GCG to discuss rolling out Chromebooks on a large or smaller level.

ArWare Software is a white-glove service encompassing Windows Imaging, Chromebooks 1:1 onboarding and Converting MAC/Windows to Chrome OS.

Now that ArWare/GCG is a software developer, we are meeting with resellers, schools and even colleges to discuss using ArWare Software. Attending conventions is now are part of our day-to-day work at GCG/Arware. This is software GCG has used for our clients for years but selling the concept is no easy task, even for a product that we use every day.

Educause is just an enormous show. Here are some of the highlights and products for education that are coming out or already in the market.

Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud LMS (Learning Management System) really dominated the show and had the most attendance in sessions. LMS is how schools manage their day-to-day operations. No longer are email and Excel spreadsheets sufficient to run even a smaller school. There are also other smaller LMS programs. Moodle is a free online learning management system, providing educators around the world with an open-source solution for e-learning. Blackboard, Canvas Lms and Schoology are a few more of these.

Here are some companies that really impressed me and stood out:

EdBooks creates high-quality, affordable mediabooks for general education courses. These can serve as competitive textbook replacements or as complete frameworks for online and hybrid courses. Students pay $19 for the mediabooks and, for that price, can access their content online or offline, in digital or print formats. Students retain lifetime access to their content, coursework and performance records. EdBooks products emphasize educational literacies and competencies, helping students understand lesson content and process it both deeply and personally.

There was one exhibitor whose product allows professors to publish their book either for free or at a price they set and offer the book to students. A professor or teacher can edit the book with rights and create a custom lesson plan that looks like the book itself with chapters added or subtracted. I saw this tech in action and it’s amazing.

Then there were vendors who offer charging carts and high-end furniture; this isn’t your Costco tables or a fancy way to hide extension cords. For the laptop carts, students can check out a laptop fully charged and put in either their Student ID or credit card to take the laptop for the day (kind of like the Citibikes we see in NYC).

Wifi of course has many vendors ranging from RuKus, Aruba to smaller companies that solely address the bandwidth needs at schools. Virtual Servers like Vmware were like old friends when we met them.

Google Cloud of course was the most attended as G-suite Email and Google Classroom are the forerunners in this arena. I spent a lot of time talking to them, probably more than I should have, discussing what new products are coming from Google for education, particularly since my company has concentrated on Chromebooks solutions and implementations.

Some of the fun companies like Turnitin.com make products for students who now submit most of their work over the internet. Turnitin.com will fact check the attachment or Google doc to ensure no plagiarism has been done.

Grammerly.com is a product I use 100 times a day. Grammarly will spell check and grammar check your Gmail, Word and many other online websites like Facebook.com. Grammarly isn’t your standard spell or grammar check. The GUI (graphical user interface) is amazing and goes far beyond any standard program you may have used.

Paperclip is a program that many schools do not have but should. Printer ink, paper and printer maintenance is a major issue and expense in schools. I see this firsthand in many schools where reams of paper and pallets of ink are spent daily. Personally, I do wonder whether schools need to print as much as they do when there is much technology in the schools. Paperclip will audit printer usage, ink and other printer metrics.

My ArWare Software attorney and friend Michael Reich accompanied me to Educause and has been an outstanding captain on this software launch ship. Chaim Stadtmauer, Esq., who has also taken my late-night calls and endless emails, was not able to attend with us this time. Good attorneys that understand tech, I have learned, are critical to launching a software startup.

I warned Michael that the “Swag Bag Ladies” are so great that all you are coming for is the swag—the last hour we were like everyone else and could not resist. There were lightsabers, USB keys, chocolates, Squishes and robots, though my favorite was a company that gave out tongs. Why? Because their product is like a cookbook for education. Swag also included T-shirts and, of course, bags.

It was hard to remember after three days that this whole convention was dedicated just to education technology. In my 20 years in EdTech, we have come a long way.

Overall, being a software developer at Educause was not only entertaining but educational. Meeting the vendors and presidents of the companies is thrilling and informative. I do feel blessed that I get to finally combine my passions of education and technology.

A special thank you to Moshe Kinderlehrer for allowing me to cover the event and our hosts who invited ArWare Software, JourneyEd.com. There was such a long line of people to meet that it looked like a Black Friday sale.

My thanks to all of the readers who read my column in the past years. I am always looking to experiment with tech and interview professionals in the field to bring to the Jewish Link readership.

Every software company dreams of being the next Waze or Facebook. As I have seen so far it’s nothing but hard work, hours of coding and endless conference calls. Though there is nothing more amazing when our engineers see our product being used in action.

It’s an everyday blessing when I am surrounded by engineers, attorneys, family members and professionals who inspire me as well as those around them. As they say, it takes a village.

By Shneur Garb

 Shneur Garb is the CEO of The Garb I.T. Consulting Group and launched a school-serving software called ArWare Software. Comments can be sent to [email protected]