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Moving an enitre school to dropbox?
I love online storage. I love the syncing, the backup, the cost, the ease of use, all that stuff here’s a suspicious looking review site with some online storage tools.
I especially think dropbox is a great tool. We are piloting it in our 8th grade now, and it’s coming up pretty nice. students are saving everything, and already when a kid comes in and complains about a dead hard disk, lost data isn’t an issue.
Again, as with everything, insane monitoring and optimization of our network is in order. As long as the network connect in robust, reliable, redundant, and secure we don’t have anything to really worry about. We monitor bandwidth, monitor switches, monitor the top 25 users (thank you iftop). We monitor incoming and outgoing traffic, internally and externally. we have a 30mbps line, which only occasionally becomes saturated.
But come on, 5 gigs of free storage, synced here at school, and on the kids computer? What’s not to love?
Why Gaikai is important
Streaming games to the desktop - any browser, all you need is a browser and a connection. This model works well for email and simple apps, but surely not for streaming video games?
The way the high-end computer game model works now is for game players to download a client and then connect to a shared server to play. The graphics and animations are stored locally on a users machine, and are rendered by the users computer. Gaikai (and onlive) are changing this - now the game servers are sending rendered frames to the user - there is no longer any need for the users to have souped up computers. All the processing is done on remote computers - the network is king.
This is important because as we transition to web 2.0 applications and move to a cloud-based idea of computing we can see where it is going. Gaming is a multi-billion dollar business, with global video game sales surpassing movie industry income. I think our paradigm of technology use is changing - or rather, returning to an idea of thin client solution we had in the 70’s and 80’s.
Now, I’m not saying there is no need for local processing power. I cut my teeth on an IBM PCjr, TRS-80’s, and TI-99a. I learned how to hack on these machines, and I still believe it’s important for students to learn how to program. However, as a trend, the action will be on the cloud.
Now, for education: how can we teach our kids to create cloud applications (real applications)?
Middle School Laptops: a heavy burden?
We are deep in the process of procuring new laptops, docking stations, and service for our middle school (275 users including teachers and students).
As may be expected, there are many different factors we are considering when we look at which machine to buy. Here’s my current list of considerations in rough-priority consideration:
1. Service. We need on-site, accidental damage, rock-solid, no hassle, no fine-print stupidity, service that serves. I don’t want a maximum number of issues, I don’t want some bean counter telling me I can only fix X number of machines per day - nonsense. I don’t mind paying for good service, but if service fails, the whole boat sinks (what good is technology that doesn’t work)
2. Processing Power. Funny thing about Middle School teachers, they do really cool stuff with their laptops - stuff like rendering movies, rending sound files, and doing media-intensive work. That sort of thing requires actual processing power and real ram. Also as we look towards a three year lifespan, we would want these computers to be capable. I know 802.11n isn’t technically processing power, but it’s important that these computers are capable of the fastest possible connection to the network.
3. Existing-system compatibility - mainly, do these computers have standard I/O, is there anything silly about their network cards, wireless cards, USB ports, etc… Do they work from a hardware point-of-view with our existing infrastructure? This is normally not a problem, but it’s important. This usually isn’t an issue, but I’ve seen weirdness with wireless cards, touch screens, and audio inputs.
4. Durability. These computers will be used by 12, 13 and 14 year-old kids, who on their best days don’t always manage to walk in a straight line. Laptops are banged, bashed, squished, and dropped.
5. Great sound - I want great sound and an integrated microphone. We had some tablets that had horrible sound playback - not so good for multimedia programs.
6. Weight. Every teacher has seen a student carrying a bag that weighs more than they do. Imagine a young tween, carrying a 5 pound computer plus charger, plus bag, plus books - you get the idea. If all the above conditions are satisfied, and I have 2 choices, I’ll choose the lighter of the two.
So, I’m looking for a light-weight workhorse with exceptional service and standardized i/o that can’t be killed by a 13 year old with great features.
Weight is part of our consideration, but not the only thing we think about. I balance all the above considerations as I think about what a good machine should be.
1:1 programs, facebook, and how we teach
This article comes from a parent at my school.
http://www.berlingske.dk/danmark/facebook-forstyrrer-undervisningen - I translated the article using google translate - not perfect, but I get the general idea. Facebook is distracting students from learning.
Here's my response:
I do think the problem has very little to do with Facebook. I think this is really about how teachers are managing technology in their classrooms.
I assure you, if it's not Facebook, it's XYZ; just fill in the blank. Solitaire, twitter, myspace, game, some random webpage, there's always something.
I recently heard something very interesting at a conference; that technology magnifies teaching - both good and bad. If a teacher is sitting in front of a class, without moving around the classroom, giving nebulous and general assignments, then we can be assured students will respond in kind - drifting, lazy, and most likely distracted by facebook (or whatever they are looking at - perhaps a game or something). If a teacher says "go on the internet and research Rome" - I can assure you the students will be doing anything BUT researching Rome.
However, if a teacher is giving a very specific task (using laptops) and is moving around the classroom, monitoring student work, and has very clear outcomes for the assignment, then this is another matter entirely. Part of a 1:1 school is changing the way we teach; this is a major focus of my work here at our school. In this case, if a teacher asks their students to visit a specific site, and collaboratively builds a mini-website about Rome using a template (or referring to a rubric), AND the teacher moves about the classroom helping students, and supporting their activity then that is a very different sort of assignment than the previous example, isn't it? At the end of the class, the teacher will ask the students to produce their work - again, good management.
You simply cannot implement a 1:1 program in a school, and not change the way you teach and learn; it will not be successful. Part of my vision is to change the way we teach. It's a different sort of classroom, a different sort of learning, and we need to understand the old ways of teaching don't work as well in a classroom full of laptops.
I really appreciate your concern about facebook, and how it impacts learning. I agree, by the way, that multi-tasking is doing 2 things at 50% instead of 1 thing at 100%. But having laptops in a classroom does not equal multitasking. Teachers teach, and then usually assign some sort of activity to help students understand the content. Technology makes a huge difference in our ability understand the world - we can see things we simply couldn't see before, we can communicate in ways we couldn't communicate before, and we can collaborate in ways we couldn't imagine prior to the implementation of technology in the classroom.
Really? Microsoft? Do you really write such bad code?
This Tuesday, October 12th, I'm going to have over 600 machines downloading a patch so big that Microsoft needed to warn system administrators about it.
Massive Link here and here's the PDF in case Microsoft wants us to forget this ever happened.
So now I need to buy a Windows update server so I can serve my updates internally. I'm going to have to pay for an update server and manage it; can someone please explain this whole "macs are more expensive" things to me again?
What goes in the image?
I’m pushing the elementary school image out today to about 120 OS X laptops. I used to do this with a firewire drive on each freaking laptop. We bought a mac mini and installed OS X server on it. Now I can use OS X system imaging tools, and push the image out to all the laptops over a local network. I should finish all 120 laptops today.
So, in the interest of helping me remember for next year, and sharing my default image settings:
1. Latest version of OS X - patched up
2. Norton Anti Virus - setup for mount scans and latest virus definitions
4. Flash and shockwave installed and tested for safari and firefox
7. Sharing preferences setup for Remote Desktop
8. All printers installed and tested
9. All shared resources (fileservers) loaded and bookmarked
10. Disable damned dashboard
11. Office (don’t install messenger) - patched up
13. Google earth
14. All browsers should have homepage changed and favorites added
16. Mavis Beacon Teaches Touch Typing
17. Smartboard drivers and Notebook - updated and patched
18. Configure student account - open all applications to make sure they work
19. Put common application in the dock
20. Disable bluetooth and adjust power-savings features in laptops
...I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, but that is about what my image looks like this year!
Tablets, netbooks, and refrigerator’s
I’ve always thought a device that works like an appliance would be ideal for education. I like tablets and I’ve played with netbooks - there is something about the simplicity I like. Word processing and internet services? Great. When there is a problem, I just reset the device and poof, it’s working. Kids can use wikis, blogs, videos, all that yummy web-based stuff.
I’m willing to trade refrigerator-like reliability and simplicity over complexity and features we barely use. The only sticking point I see is creating multimedia. I want my kids to create multimedia (they can already do this online with tools like voicethread and these online video editors). And I see a huge change coming in the way video can be delivered and manipulated online (hi onlive).
I understand the rumor mill about an Apple tablet is churning up and the idea excites me (Chris Dawson has a nice take on this - I agree to a point, but there is already so much fantastic content on the web to offset lack of texbooks). Apple has this secret sauce that makes the user interface so completely pleasant.
I like the cloud - sort of.
As a point of practice in educational technology, I believe web-based (and cloud computing) is the way to go. Why?
1. I don’t have to pay for software on every computer
2. I don’t have to worry about compatibility - only web browsers
3. I don’t have to deal with server maintenance and expensive server licenses (oracle, microsoft, cisco, yadda yadda)
4. I get best-of-class features
5. I get “any time, any where” computing
6. I can focus my limited resources on strengthening my network, such as building in redundancy.
7. Most cloud services can authenticate through my LDAP services (usually AD)
...but this is the stuff most schools need to manage in-house:
2. DNS, DHCP
3. Student Information System (but it needs to be web-accessible)
4. Maybe a fileserver (if it’s also web-accessible)
5. Imaging server (cloning)
6. Library system
7. Print server
8. VOIP server
9. Wireless network stuff
10. Hard-wired network stuff
That leaves for hosted / cloudy solutions:
2. Groupware stuff (shared documents, calendars, etc..)
3. School website / school CMS
4. Guidance / college system (ala naviance)
5. Learning Management System (moodle)
6. Large group email distribution systems (we use net directories)
7. Project management (like 37 signals)
So, basically, hosted solutions / cloudy solutions saves me time and money. For the time I save in dealing with SPAM, google is worth it’s weight in gold. But I’m still up to my neck in IT systems. Heh.
Arne Duncan advocates open source
This report from T.H.E. Journal says The US Secretary of Education has said
“This new report reinforces that effective teachers need to incorporate digital content into everyday classes and consider open-source learning management systems, which have proven cost effective in school districts and colleges nationwide…” (emphasis mine).
To which I say…
I’m sure other people in prominent governmental agencies have encouraged the use of open source technologies in education, but this is the first I’ve heard. I see this as wonderful news. As an advocate for open source technologies, I am delighted to point to this comment. Of course open source makes sense in schools!
Link rot protection here: THE journal article (pdf) and US Department of Education press release (pdf)
The Destiny of OPAL?
Our school is considering 2 new systems for our library. We had used Spectrum for several years, but Spectrum is no longer supported.
We are considering 2 systems: Destiny and OPALS. Opals is open-source, Destiny is commercial. They are functionally equal, each having slight differences. Destiny costs a lot more compared with OPALS. Destiny is a more “polished” product.
Which solution will our school choose?
I am an open source advocate, and when all things are equal, I push for open source solutions. I also really like the idea of hosted solutions - less work for our overworked IT staff, and ubiquitous availability. Our school uses naviance for our guidance / counseling department, and it has worked very well. Both Destiny and Opals offer hosted solutions. Both offer technical support for a yearly fee (destiny is a bit more expensive).
The discussion amongst our technology team eventually settled into the classic FUD I’ve heard for years about open source software.
“Will it be supported?”
“Is it stable?”
“Is it compatible with our data?”
“What if we want to change something in the program? Can we?”
“How will it work with older browsers?”
Fortunately, unlike in the past, I had an excellent rebuttal to their concerns. One word, and the room was silenced.
Net Restore and niceness
Mike Bombich really deserves the Nobel Prize in being an amazingly helpful human being.
Our elementary school received some new laptops, and I was creating an asr-ready image. I was using net restore to create the image and it worked beautifully. Once I was done, I was able to quickly churn out 3 laptops in under 30 minutes. In the future, when we get new laptops, I’ll be able to quickly image them without any hassle. This saves my school time and money, and it saves me precious time. To make it even better, I can serve these images and net boot my client machines.
Creating an image is a time-intensive process. I was browsing through the forums at Bombich’s site and was so impressed by the communities responsiveness and his long time commitment to these tools. Mike doesn’t charge money (but he has a tip jar) - and as a result of his hard work, I have more time to work with my faculty. Today I’ll be helping a French teacher with iMovie, and then an industrial arts teacher with claymation software. I couldn’t do that if I was sitting around trying to update a bunch of computers.
Security and the absense of reason
I had (am having) an interesting conversation with my supervisor. Several Elementary school teachers have expressed concerns that their computers (Windows XP) are locked down to tightly - that they cannot install trivial peripherals, try new software, etc…
My position in our conversation is that a few trusted users should be granted power-user privileges. It strikes me as asinine that computers are put into a teachers room, and then so locked down that the teacher cannot use them! This is a classic fear-based response to network management, and qualifies as a “think-about-what-is-easiest-for-the-network-administrator-and-not-the-teacher” error. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, there is a connection between how a teacher feels about technology and how the teacher implements technology.
Should a network be wide-open, with full administrator access to everything? no. Should a school be skillfully managed, balancing the needs of the users versus the needs of the organization? Yes. It makes me crazy when this happens in schools…what if we said to our kids…here is a computer, but you can only do 5 things with it…don’t bother exploring, or engendering curiosity… it’s better for everyone if the device just sits there, locked down.
Of course, these are windows machines, so some extra effort must be taken to keep them safe. But when security locks down a machine so much a user can’t explore it or use it, or try anything new, it’s an object-lesson in frustration.
Allow trusted users limited administrative access so they can experience the joy of trying something new in the teachable moment - the moment when they see something and want to try something, curious, motivated, and engaged.
Mac vs PC
One of the common issues in the perennial Mac vs PC debate is cost. However, when comparing like-systems, the difference is negligible.
This is my experience in schools. I know, you could order a cheap machine from New Egg or Tiger Direct, but what I hope to do here is demonstrate similarly spec’d machines are very close in price. And in fact, Apples come out on top. I’m using educational pricing for one machine - in my experience, volume pricing works out to the same percentage with each vendor.
Neither unit has office, however educational pricing for both platforms is similar.
iMac 20-inch 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
OS X - full version
1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM - 1x1GB
ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO with 256MB memory
Apple Mighty Mouse
320GB Serial ATA Drive
SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
AppleCare Protection Plan
OptiPlex 745 Minitower:
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor E6600 (2.40GHz, 4M, 1066MHz FSB)
Genuine Windows® XP Professional, SP2, x32, with Media
1.0GB DDR2 Non-ECC SDRAM, 667MHz, (2DIMM)
256MB ATI Radeon X1300PRO, Dual Monitor VGA (TV-out)
20 inch UltraSharp™ 2007FPW Widescreen, Adjustable Stand, VGA/DVI
Dell USB Enhanced Multimedia Keyboard, English
Dell USB 2-Button Optical Mouse with Scroll
250GB SATA 3.0Gb/s and 8MB DataBurst Cache
1.44MB 3.5 Inch Floppy Drive
Dell™ A225 Speakers
48X32 CDRW/DVD Combo Roxio Creator™ Cyberlink Power DVD™
3 Year NBD Plus (NBD onsite w/ Gold Tech Support)
What iMacs offer (for free) that Dell’s don’t:
integrated video camera and microphone
iLife (iMovie, iTunes, Garage Band, iWeb, iPhoto, and iDVD)
Bigger hard disk
built-in bluetooth support
instant messaging program
no need for anti-virus
free disk imaging utility (asr)
As far as my position on Macs vs PC’s, I am open to both platforms. However, when I ask teachers what they want to do, they usually talk about movies, podcasting, creating websites for their students, etc… All things iMacs do exceedingly well. I prefer OS X and Mac’s (and OS X Server).