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Dedicated servers for dedicated things
I use a couple of VPS providers for Digital Bill. I'm learning with the flexibility and affordability of a VPS it makes sense to dedicate one server for one task. Read on for more...
I run a web server and an email server (MTA, MUA and MSA) on one virtual machine. I have learned this is probably a mistake. I'm slowly changing my setup so I have one server do one thing; an email server should just do email. A web server should just do web stuff. The problem is the more services running on a server, there seems to be a disproportionate rise in complexity when an issue emerges. I would imagine for an experienced and seasoned system administrator, this is obvious. But I am learning, and curious, and always exploring things. Today that's what I've learned.
Letting go / picking up
Sometimes we need to let things go to make room for new ideas.
I have made a list of projects I am letting go. I'm doing this so I have have space / room for new projects and ideas I want to work on. I have feelings of nostalgia and genuine loss as I let go of these older projects, but I am also feeling excited about working on projects I feel have value and interest for me.
So, without any further ado, I'm letting of of the following projects:
- balanced gaming (a site where I wanted to engender a conversation about balanced gaming for schools, parents and students).
- modern command (a text-based game simulating the command of a modern nation-state, powered by the pennMUSH server).
- interactive fiction
I'm picking up:
Domains, hosts, and more!
As my 3 regular readers (hi mom!) pointed out, my site was down for a few days due to an expired domain name. That’s fixed, but it’s time for some changes.
mackenty.org has been around since 2003 and I’ve switched hosts, domain name providers, etc., many times. I’m consolidating my domain registries in linode. This will actually save me a little bit of money every year, and I am in love with linode (come on, a guy can pay $300 bucks a year for a backed-up, multi-continent IP failover solution?! SHWEET!).I spend a little more time doing system administration at the command line,. but I don’t mind that.
SO, I’ll transfer my domain over, switch hosts, and mirror the database for mackenty.org. I’ve already got a mirror of this site setup, so it’s really just a question of transferring domains. If I do everything right, ahem, your should notice virtually no downtime.
What could possibly go wrong?
On Gawker and Passwords
Looks like Gawker was hacked. I’m not a “gawker” guy, but I am a lifehacker reader. And, in 2008, I left a comment about my favorite RSS reader. And, after downloading the torrent, I saw my password and email. I’m sure this will be indexable by google in a few days. I guess they didn’t store the passwords securely. oops.
I’ve been using the interwebs since AOL and 2400 baud modems, and this is the first time I’ve been aware of being compromised. Thankfully, I used my normal stupid web password, and not one of my stronger passwords. However, I will now be searching for my username and changing my password whenever I see it pop up. I’m also using a new easy-to-remember web password.
Of course, the moment lifehacker lets me delete my account, I will.
What the hell?!?
The UK is closing BECTA?! REALLY?!?!?
Becta has to be one of the best resources for ed tech I’ve ever seen. This is a great loss, and I hope whoever the hell is in charge over there, reconsiders this choice.
from the horses mouth:
Announcement on the future of Becta
The Government have announced a package of public sector savings which includes the planned closure of Becta.
Graham Badman, Chairman and Stephen Crowne, Chief Executive of Becta responded:
“Naturally we are very disappointed at the Government’s decision. Becta is a very effective organisation with an international reputation, delivering valuable services to schools, colleges and children. Our procurement arrangements save the schools and colleges many times more than Becta costs to run. Our Home Access programme will give laptops and broadband to over 200,000 of the poorest children.
Our top priorities now are to make sure we have an orderly and fair process for staff, and that as far as possible schools, colleges and children continue to benefit from the savings and support that Becta has provided. We will be talking to Government Departments and our other stakeholders including the industry about this.”
I’m off facebook
I’ve deleted my facebook account. It wasn’t one single event, but several which came together.
1. The intention of facebook went from “connecting” to “profit”. Not sure when this happened, but icky.
2. I hate like - I dont want facebook to know everything (see #1)
3. Funny thing - facebook controls your privacy from everyone except facebook. They are selling gorgeous demographic-based advertising. (see #1 and #2)
4. Facebook says they own my data. So if I write a wall post - it’s theirs. icky.
5. How hard it is to keep my student / personal information walled off. There’ some things I don’t want to know about my kids.
I also already have a pretty well-established web presence, I’m building a bigger web-presence, and I never had trouble with people getting in touch with me.
I’ll miss remembering people’s birthdays, I suppose.
Poland, here I come!
I'm pleased to announce I have been hired by the American School of Warsaw as the new director of technology. I just finished a week-long meet and greet, and I am mightily impressed. The school is focused, passionate, and forward-thinking in their application of technology and learning. They have a great 1:1 program, and are implementing a bevvy of interesting technologies to support learning.
I am sketching out themes, ideas, categories, and issues. I am also examining my assumptions and understandings of educational technology as I look to first-year challenges. I am thinking about where I want to move the school, partnering with all the different stakeholders to take our school from "good to great".
It is a wonderful moment, one which I savor. I will miss New York City, but I am stoked to get started!
Average child spends 10 hours, 45 minutes per day using media
This is buzzing around the net, I thought I’d add to the discussion. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (pdf here) kids are spending 10 hours using media every day!
From the article:
“Over the past five years, young people have increased the amount of time they spend consuming media by an hour and seventeen minutes daily, from 6:21 to 7:38—almost the amount of time most adults spend at work each day, except that young people use media seven days a week instead of five.
Moreover, given the amount of time they spend using more than one medium at a time, today’s youth pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those daily 7½ hours—an increase of almost 2¼ hours of media exposure per day over the past five years.”
Ok, I’m surprised. I knew kids used media, but the sheer volume is staggering. What are the practical implications for teachers and educational technology?
1. We need to focus on digital citizenship (like here).
2. Critical thinking remains a “keystone skill”
3. We need to educate parents about the importance of “off”
4. As educators, we need to realize that kids see and interact with world differently than we did, and change our teaching approach accordingly.
5. As educators, we need to really evaluate different media as an effective learning tool (just because they use it, doesn’t mean it’s good).
I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Outsourcing a school website
I’ve written about this before, but again I am confronted with a dilemma.
Our elementary school is in dire need of a new website - the current design is static, the information out of date, and no one “owns” the site. When I think of “what makes a good website, I use this rubric. Our current elementary school website meets none of these criteria. To be clear, our problem is both technical and organizational.
I could redesign the site and throw it into my favorite website publishing system. In fact, I did this with the High School website, and it is working fairly well. But I won’t be here forever, and someone will have to take over. Herein lay the point of this post:
If I buy a solution for my school, I get consistency and accountability but I lose flexibility and control. If I have someone on my staff who is smart enough to write a beautiful website, I’m lucky…until they leave.
How to deal with this?
1. If I buy a solution, buy an open-source solution that can be extended, and data can be easily be extracted.
2. If we homebrew a solution, be clear about code ownership and write very clean and clear code.
I investigated a proposal from a well-known company to redesign and run our school website. It was about $30,000 for the whole deal, and it looks like top-drawer work. Is it worth it? I think so. We have outsourced the following services for our school, and they are working extraordinarily well for us:
1. Our counseling department uses Naviance for everything counseling
2. Our athletic department uses oline sports for all games
3. Both schools use Net directories for bulk email communications
4. Our after school program uses Imperisoft for registration
5. We host our moodle using remote learner
All of these systems directly support our school and they work. Perhaps more importantly, we could not host these services ourselves (and do a good job).
I hope to add school website services and google applications to this list soon.
I’ve started a consulting business called Balanced Gaming. Balanced Gaming is targeted towards three groups:
1. Gamers - I’d like to talk to you about how to enjoy computer games in the context of a balanced life. Click here to learn more.
2. Parents - I can help you understand how to guide, support, and evaluate computer games and media use for your kids. Click here to learn more.
3. Schools - Computer and video games are powerful learning tools - when used correctly. I can help you understand how games work in education. Click here to learn more.
If you’d like to connect with me, and learn a little more, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
I would appreciate your help is spreading the word about this.
Discernment and EdTech
Interesting article in the New York Times about 1:1 laptop programs not working..
First of all, I’m disappointed the 1:1 program didn’t work for Liverpool. After seven years, it looks like they gave the program their best effort, and it failed. There was no measurable increase on test scores, teachers were disappointed and frustrated, and more resources were devoted to fixing the laptops than training the teachers how to use them. It certainly gives me pause to consider the role and use of technology in the classroom. I am certainly motivated to examine the failure and figure out how we can avoid their mistakes.
Secondly, I’m struck at the lack of sophisticated discourse about technology in education. This simple thinking - “throw a computer in front of them and hope for the best” is born from a profound lack of understanding in technology in education. Many people simply do not understand how technology can support learning and teaching. Moreover, we are still using an educational organizational framework from a long time ago (see below).
Amusingly, many people agree how vitally important technology for our kids, but very few understand how to do it. Why does this feel like a bad comedy?
There is a difference between teaching with technology and learning with technology. Using technology:
1) Teachers can communicate with parents, students and each other more effectively and efficiently.
2) Teachers can save class notes and online - allowing students to review and prepare more effectively.
3) Teachers can easily embed movies, audio and pictures into a presentation - allowing for a deeper presentation of content material.
4) Teachers can easily make lesson plans, rubrics, classroom notices, newsletters, etc…
5) Teachers can use a discussion board to see what types of questions students are asking.
6) Using a quick-response system, teachers can very quickly get feedback or assessment.
But does technology make learning better? Does technology do a better job than traditional teaching methods? This is much more difficult to grok.
I’m 37. Without sounding like an old-codger, I believe the internet and computing has fundamentally changed our kids. They have shorter attention-spans, they multi-task, they are impatient, see things in black and white, and generally move faster than kids did 20 years ago. Time magazine has done some good stories about the intersections between kids, technology, and education. The point? We are teaching to a different kid using the same pedagogy.
The bad-assessment argument
One common theme I hear when about educational technology is technology teaches in ways traditional assessment can’t measure. For example (from the article) if we ask kids to review the (online) saturated fat contents from 3 different fast-food restaurants, and then ask kids to choose the healthiest meal - have they done something importantly educational? I think so, but does that translate to a standardized test?
However, does this activity translate into assessable knowledge?
I guess it depends on the assessment instrument, yes? One of the points made in Time magazine was this exact idea; when you ask for basic understandings, you get basic teachings, da?
We must be sure our kids understand basic facts and ideas - we must also be sure that’s not all they understand.
Technology gets in it’s own way
From a classroom teacher: “I spend more time focused on the technology than the teaching.” There is a relationship between the ease of use and educational efficacy. One of the failures in Liverpool was related to technical problems. Technical problems often spell the end of technology use by teachers. I remember a class I observed where the teacher was using a smartboard. The lesson was a disaster. The smart board wasn’t working as he expected, the laptop he was using was all screwed up, and the out of 40 minutes of class, he taught for 10. We need simple, workable, problem-free computers. I note the idea behind Alpha Smart is wise; simple and basically indestructible. I’m curious about these $100 laptops.
This is also where effective support enters - and the idea of TCO comes in. Cash-strapped schools don’t often account for the whole cost of buying a computer…training, support, and replacement are often dropped. BUY A LONG TERM SUPPORT CONTRACT WHEN YOU BUY A LAPTOP FOR YOUR SCHOOL!!!!.
Oh, and by the way, this is why I like Macs in education. Simplicity equals success.
It’s a tool
Here’s a funny story about banning pencils. At the end of the day, technology is a tool, to be used (and abused) like any other tool.
Let’s look at paper notebooks. Kids can write notes to their friends, draw pictures, or use the notebook in an ineffective educational manner. This is slightly related to control; if a teacher feels they cannot control or relate to technology they may be less inclined to use it.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
We’ve had some bad news on the ed-tech front lately; I for one, welcome it. I believe we need to closely scrutinize how we are using technology, and start using technology in a way which makes real sense. The days of blanket use of tech is over. We need to discern the role of technology in the classroom!
I believe there are 2 ways to think about technology:Administrative use
Technology can really make a difference in the administrative lives of our teachers. See the above list. On this point, schools should make sure technology is ubiquitous and works as expected.
Teaching with technology
If a teacher WANTS to use technology in the classroom, they should - we should really support them! But I think a grant/application process is a good idea. Teachers should clearly explain what they want to use technology for. How will they measure success, and how the technology will extend and enhance their learning. It is important everyone is clear what they want to do.
A trouble ticket success story: part 2
Here are some scans of the system…
Entering a ticket:
After a user enters a ticket:
Here’s the second part of the admin section (it’s a big page) :
Here’s an admin view of editing a ticket
As mentioned in the first post, the trouble ticket system was rolled out in about 4 hours - it’s an incredible value when you look at our work:output ratio. Using custom queries, and solspace’s form helper (for editing our forms) we created an incredibly valuable system in our organization. Although there are many other help-ticket systems, having an integrated system worked very well for us.
Games in education wiki
I’d like to extend a special welcome to the fine readers of School Library Journal.
I’m also pleased to introduce a games in education wiki.
Please register if you haven’t, and contribute to the wiki! If you are new to wiki’s, I invite you to check out this small help guide. The best way to understand how a wiki works is to is to login, and click edit on a wiki page!
Last day of school
It goes so quickly.
This is the last day of school for me. I’ll be moving to New York City tomorrow, and I can’t wait to start at Hunter College!
As it stands, I’ll be without internet access at home for a while so it may take some time before I post again.
Blacklists and you: some information
Here’s the thing. This blog has been getting an increasing amount of trackback and comment spam. Everytime I get some I simply add their IP to my blacklist.
However, these spammers are wiley folks, and I’m a bit nervous I may block some friends and interested guests.
If you find you cannot leave a comment or a trackback, please use the handy contact form. I will be more than happy to un-block you. You might want to put unblock me in the subject line.
The problem has not reached crisis proportions. I suppose if it continues I’ll add the blocked IP’s to my .htaccess list.
Thanks and warmly,
A new COTS games in education wiki is coming soon. I’m just putting this up to create a page where I’ll add wiki help files. If you are very curious to see what an empty wiki looks like, go ahead and take a peek.
I’m using textile formatting for the wiki. Basically, instead of using HTML (which isn’t very friendly), we are using a way of formatting text.
The best way to learn how to wiki, is to simply register, and then edit a page. You can see the editing I’ve used to make the wiki. Very straight-forward stuff. If you have many more questions, please let me know.
Here’s a list, taken from textile’s site:
Quick block modifiers:
Numeric list: #
Bulleted list: *
Quick phrase modifiers:
To apply attributes:
To align blocks:
To insert a table:
To insert a link:
To insert an image:
To define an acronym:
ABC(Always Be Closing)
To reference a footnote:
So, if you wanted something to be strong, you would type it like this: *I want this to be strong*
Pretty easy, huh?
Welcome to the new site!
Welcome to the new site. It’s a pleasure to have you here on my new site layout. Please keep in mind this is just the framework for the new site…there’s a bunch of other stuff to do.
I am happy to present my new site layout. The template is courtesy of Andreas Viklund, who was nice enough to post this template on open source web design. The backend is still run by Expression Engine. Far from a mere redesign, the organization of the information on this blog has changed as well. Entries are split into summary and extended versions (more in line with classic blog organization), the forum has been re-themed, comments have a new look, I have a new image gallery up, I’ve retooled the Star Trek freighter section, and changed the categories.
The RSS has been upgraded to ATOM, and the podcast feed is working now. The site checks out as valid CSS, and I believe the new design is much cleaner. I am, of course, very interested in what you think. Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts.