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A Long Time Ago On A Site Visit Far, Far Away

Let me be the 1,209,487th person to remind you that Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens opens this week. If you haven’t heard about it, please share your secret as Lucas Film, Ltd. and Disney have the marketing machine in full force, branding the film with anything that stays still long enough. I have had my tickets for a few weeks and I am looking forward to the experience, but I have a confession to make. The use of the word experience wasn’t flippant. I intentionally used it because I like the atmosphere and shared excitement, but I am not a huge fan of the films (please direct hate mail to In fact, I hadn’t even seen Episodes 4-6 until three months ago (insert audible gasps here).

Though I am not a huge fan of Star Wars, there is an undeniable impact that the genre has on real life. Science fiction is about concepts, technologies, and the limitless possibilities of the future. As Stephen Hawking said science fiction is useful, both for stimulating the imagination and for defusing fear of the future.

For better or worse, things that blew the collective minds of viewers in sci-fi movies, are becoming reality.  In 1914, H.G. Wells published a little-known novel titled The World Set Free where he described a bomb based on nuclear chain reactions, several years before the Manhattan Project. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, a device remarkably similar to the iPad is used. Star Trek’s holodeck? They are giving viewers away so you can have a virtual reality experience from the comfort of your own home. Drones, driverless cars, facial recognition software, all ideas that initially introduced to the populous through the imagination and ideas presented in a sci-fi film.

While many of us aren’t seeing the benefit of driverless cars (yet), some of these disruptive technologies are transforming the education landscape, and have worked their way into world of E-rate.

This month, I had the privilege to participate in what I believe may be the first E-rate audit site visit conducted exclusively over FaceTime. I’ll admit that when the idea was initially proposed by the audit team with PricewaterhouseCoopers, I scoffed and began to think about the blog I would write mocking the process and how it was a waste of time and resources.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

It was simple and efficient. It limited disruption for the District and students, and it was more fiscally responsible than flying out an audit team for three days. PwC introduced a disruptive technology and it may (should) replace the older model of extended on-site visits.

The virtual site visit required that an individual with the District FaceTime an auditor and show them items that were on a list that was sent to the District a week prior. Another individual from the District FaceTimed me at the same time and I could clearly hear what the auditor was asking. We had our virtual walk-through and the District was able to show the auditor the site, computers connected to the internet, students using computers, etc. The auditor saw everything that they would have seen had they been on-site, but it only took a few hours instead of a few days and there was very little disruption to the students.

The virtual site visit is a great use of technology and a really innovative idea from PwC. I commend them for moving in this direction and streamlining the most disruptive part of an audit with disruptive technologies. Now we need to find a way to get a selfie stick on the Eligible Services List.    

If Star Wars continues to have real world implications on technology, and that technology continues to disrupt the status quo in the world of E-rate, I hope that the franchise continues to “live long and prosper”. 

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