Laptop Program Survey Results

The following are some of the results from surveys of students, faculty and parents about our first year Middle School laptop program. The latest CyberNotes Newsletter is at

iBook G4We had 51 parents, 47 students and 7 faculty members complete the surveys.

On the first question concerning “most/favorite use,” parents (76%) and faculty (84%) saw “creating” as the most popular, but students (76%) felt that “communicating” was their favorite use.

As for more textbooks on the iBooks, there is also general approval from all three groups: parents (67%), students (67%) and faculty (80%), but the text comments were specific in noting that some textbooks would be better than others for use “on screen.”

All three groups believe the iBooks are going home almost every evening (Parents: 94%, Students: 96%, Faculty: 83%) and weekend (Parents: 96%, Students: 98%, Faculty: 83%). Most report that the iBooks are used 1-2 hours an evening (Parents: 72%, Students: 71%). On campus, 77% of students reported using the iBooks 1-3 hours a day. Several parents reported that they felt iBooks were being used too much at home, and we encourage them to set limits that they feel are appropriate.

In terms of usefulness, parents believed that writing assignments (74%) and online research (65%) were most beneficial. These two uses were also the highest rated by students, but they also had high ratings for increasing comfort level with computers (75%) and communicating with other students (70%).

In terms of usefulness, the highest faculty ratings were for writing and online research (both had 100%), communicating with teachers (85%) and comfort level (84%), as well as enabling new ways of doing things (86%).

As for the final question about continuing the program in seventh and eighth grade next year, 88% of parents approved, 91% of students approved, and 100% of faculty approved.

Some text responses from parents on the surveys:

[Best Uses] “1) Homework projects. 2) The exposure to a wide range of software tools – Communications to PowerPoint, Sharepoint and Excel has been excellent. 3) Exposure to the Mac Environment in general has been a plus.”

“The fact that there is no waiting or scheduling to use the home computer for homework. It also makes it easier for them to do homework in the car, or at some other stop before they get home in the evening.”

[Less Use of] “To the extent that it happens, I’d like to see less iBook usage during school breaks, such as lunch. A child working on a laptop is not available to socialize. Those that aren’t great at socializing can simply escape to their laptop. After school would be okay.”

“Teach more about the hardware. A computer is not a magic box that performs on command.”

“Have the faculty discuss and IMPLEMENT restrictions on how often the iBooks would be used in class.”

“I think it is a great program giving our kids a great advantage over other kids in schools that do not issue a laptop.”

Some text responses from students on the surveys:

“iChat has been very useful. Not only have I been able to talk to my buddies, but I have been able to easily send files for class. Audio chat also helps me chat and work at the same time.”

“It is SO wonderful to be able to take my work back and forth from school and home. I couldn’t imagine seventh grade without this laptop.”

“The laptops just make school more fun. The problems are generally minor and not bad.”

“Definitely!!!!! I love having a laptop. It makes a lot of my school work much easier. I really hope that we will keep up the laptop program next year.”

Some text responses from faculty on the surveys:

“Constant email with kids and parents and instant feedback–even while a student is home ill and then can have input to a class activity.”

“Using notebook layout in Microsoft Word to do sound recordings for Oral Proficiency tests in Spanish.”

“A couple of kids have accidentally dropped them, but so have teachers. As to abuse of iBooks, they quickly learned to stay off iChat at inappropriate times.”

“The laptops have created in spark in my teaching repertoire and it’s challenging and fun to think of new ways to utilize them in class.”

So far, so good…

Attack of the Updates III

Okay, this one isn’t as bad as the first two, but…

Yesterday, Sophos decided to do a “do over” on just about everything in terms of virus scanning on OS X. Suddenly, we had about 200 OS X machines, mostly wireless, simultaneously trying to pull down 29.5 megs in updates from the Sophos servers (344 files). And if they timed out, the whole download process started over again.

At the start of the year we had the machines pointed at a local server for updates, but there were problems with the machines that went home a lot, so we switched to downloading from the Sophos server themselves. Our proxy should have sped things up, but the load was just a tad excessive…

In San Diego Next Week

We continue to seriously discuss both Moodle and Blackboard for an online collaborative environment for our students. We’re also investigating the new SharePoint Portal 3.0 software in development, and an additional hosted service called Edline. Meanwhile, we’re also toying with adding an LDAP-enabled Lasso web interface to our SIS FileMaker Server developed by Aaron Beck. (That’s it for my geek talk limit for the week.)

I’m going to the Blackboard Conference next week, and I’m looking forward to it. This weekend is also our annual tech retreat for my staff, and we’re all heading to a beach house in Rockaway Beach, Oregon on the coast. Personally, I’m taking a kayak. Big topics: K-12 Computer Science, Ultimate Online Space,, MS Laptop Program and other fun things. (Along with some movies, hiking, boating, beach walking, group dinners, and general relaxing and fun.) I’d recommend this for any technology program.

I noticed that one of the commenters below is presenting next week in San Diego about their Blackboard experience, and I plan to attend that session. Now the only question is whether or not to pack my Bike Friday travel bike to ride while I’m there…

Rockaway Beach

Attack of the Updates II

Yesterday, our updates fun continued. It started with one iBook and Sophos reporting that it had caught the OSX/Inqtana-B worm but had an error deleting the file. We altered the setting so that it could delete infected files, and started a manual scan. Before long, it had found and deleted 157 infected files, many of these Microsoft services files. We stopped the scan at that point, because the available information about OSX/Inqtana-B indicated that it should not have infected 157 files…

About that time, an hour later, we had about 40 OS X machines around campus reporting the OSX/Inqtana-B, and Sophos couldn’t delete the files, but it could stop Word and other office programs from working becuase it had blocked access to the “infected” files. We sent out the request to shut down all OS X machines on campus, becuase it was possible the worm was broadcasting over the network. The B variant of this worm could be something entirely new.

We were in dialogue with Sophos, sent them some supposedly “infected” files, and discovered that disabling Sophos would restore the OS X machines to normal operating conditions. As you might guess, Sophos had released a bad definitions set that was going crazy with false positives, and if one allowed it to delete all the system files it wanted to the computer was in bad shape indeed.

About 11 a.m. our time, Sophos let us know that they had repaired the definitions set and were broadcasting it via their update servers. We updated Sophos on our machines, and things were back to normal, except for the first iBook with all the deleted files. We were somewhat glad that wasn’t the default setting on all our OS X machines…


Attack of the Updates!

It’s been a bad week for updates…

In our OS X lab last Thursday, we applied three updates via the update control panel: Quicktime, iTunes, and Safari updates. After that, all network log-ins were broken. We could log in as a local account, and the Active Directory login recognized passwords, but then the login window would just hang. All the students authenticate via Active Directory in that lab, so they were all blocked from their local files.

Luckily, there was no school for Thursday and Friday (conferences), and we had time to fight the problem. Apple was no help, because we were pointing to a Windows server for authentication. One of the updates had changed core system files, just like the wonderful IE used to do in Windows. And, of course, the apps and updates were not removeable once done.

Our only solution was to update the entire lab from Panther to Tiger. Luckily, this went smoothly and all students had access to their local files again. Hmmm. I wonder if this was planned…

The Whole Picture

I’ve been surprised lately by how many ed-tech blogs seem fixated on Web 2.0 tools and their rabbit-like reproduction of variants. It seems like it’s a full-time job to document and discuss new tweaks in Google maps, Flickr, podcasting, social bookmarking, and all sorts of other tidbits.

If we step back and look at a teacher’s, student’s or parent’s entire use of technology, at home, work or school, could it be that we’re moving toward a saturation point of communication tools? I mean, at what point does learning or creating new online presence depots (profile pages, blogs, caches of photos, documents) reach a point of diminishing returns. How much time is really warranted in learning about more and more tweaks?

If students even semi-actively pursue these tools at home or during hours after school, does that argue for more direct use of the tools during the school day or less? I disagree with the “let’s ban ’em all” approach, but I’m also not thrilled by the “us too! us too!” arm waving. It’s possible that the non-tech enhanced intercommunications during the school day may become a welcome relief to the mediated ones outside of the school day. Since it’s very difficult to offer and supervise such tech options all day long, maybe it’s time to capitalize on the face-to-face interactions as a counter-balance, defining a pragmatic and balanced approach forward. In some cases, this may mean less but better-used technology in schools, and an embrace of the best out-of-school interconnection opportunities.

I agree that simply letting the kids use the tools at home doesn’t necessarily lead to learning, but what types of influence, productive goals and supervision and support could we provide? It’s an intriguing question as we move foreward.

Westworld or Snow Crash?

A simple question, really– what is Is it the Metaverse of Snow Crash? Or the unlimited behavior bacchanal of Westworld?

Second LifeAlternatively, is a positive future? I was talking with someone with extensive experience in multi-player online gaming environments yesterday, and he noted that there is an absolute sort of equality in online games. You aren’t judged by any real world criteria (race, class, country, appearance, gender). You rise or fall in the game by the values of the game and your ability to communicate with others.

Supposedly, Second Life has 134,000 users at the moment, and something like $170,000 of real world commerce each day. If this grows to something like FaceBook, what will be created, displaced and changed in the way we view ourselves?

Maybe more importantly, if there is a significant shift to such an online world, what does it say about our real world? Are there things about our communities and general media (ugly and fear-filled news reports, sub-standard schools, divisive politics, difficult challenges overseas) that make the online worlds so attractive? Once again, the greatest value of technology may not be in what it does or can do, but how it allows us to look at our world in fresh and maybe revealing ways.

A New Horizon

Rather happy today– we finished a two-month process of buying a small, cruising/daysailing/racing sailboat. I’ve posted two picture galleries for those who like sailboats.

My wife, kids and I started sailing seriously again about a year ago. It’s been more than refreshing and fun to do with the kids. Learning the skills and enjoying the calm of the river can be remarkably calming and re-energizing for us. If you can find an opportunity like this for yourselves, go for it!

Photo of Bailiwick, our C&C 27 Sailboat

Low Stress Laptop Programs

NCCE Conference LogoHey, I just remembered that I’m presenting this afternoon at the NCCE conference in Portland, Oregon. My session topic is “Low Stress Laptop Programs: Design and Implementation.”

Here are the presentation and handout documents:

NCCE Low Stress Laptop Program Presentation

NCCE Low Stress Laptop Program Handout

If you have time, send me some feedback with a comment. Thanks!

In Their Own Words…

We just sent the most recent CyberNotes Newsletter to all Upper School Parents. There’s a section with recommendations about how to do home backups. There’s also a section with the results from our US Computer Use Survey of students.

Here are some quotes from students about their best experiences with computers:

The wealth of knowledge and the flexible creativity facilitated on demand is something I am constantly thankful for.
Excel spreadsheets for science
Watching Cirque du Soleil trailers in the library. Amazing.
Communicating with my sister in college, other friend who have left town for college.
Making movies.
Printing out an essay due in the subsequent minute
Logger Pro on the computer has helped me on my last two years’ work on science research.
Assembling my own and having it run first try.
Creating animations and using it to create art.
Everyday, I love my computer.

Here are some quotes from students about their worst experiences with computers:

When I worked on a long essay and the computer froze and I lost the entire essay.
Two things: (1) When everything goes wrong: networks fail, printers jam, files corrupt, etc.; (2) When one forge’s the duty to oneself to use a computer as a tool, and not to be used and consumed oneself.
Losing everything i had on my old Dell.
Being yelled at for gaming.
When my friends got into my computer, and i changed the password, and i forgot what i changed it to and i was the only administrator so i thought i was screwed.
Using Windows.
Using any type of MAC.
When I lost all of my data on TI Interactive while taking a test. I had to rewrite all of the information.
Breaking my laptop on accident
Having my laptop crash during finals last year. Or when my laptop was run over by a car last summer.
There was a virus and all my documents were deleted–everything I’ve written since I was about 7. (It was at home.)

Here are some quotes from students about how we could improve US technology:

I think that OES could do a better job of making sure that students are not playing computer games on their computers during free periods and in class because I have seen some kids doing that. Other than that, the computer support at OES is fabulous.
Allowing gaming during the day.
Allow us to have H DRIVE in our own laptop!!!!
[ed note H drives are their school fileserver folders.]
Tell students to KEEP THEIR HANDS CLEAN, so that when the next person comes to use a computer, it’s not all gross.
I would say to keep the Mac lab open for people after school.
[ed note: The Mac Lab is open until 5 or 6 p.m. every weekday.]
I don’t know the second thing about computers.
I think that OES should let students borrow laptops for classes during the day, then return them in the afternoon! I think a lot of kids don’t bring laptops because of the hassle of bringing it to school everyday. (It is easier to type notes)
We have quite a few computers i don’t think we need any more and software is pretty good.
Get better mice for the library and open access lab. Update library and open access lab comps.
Providing a system geared towards individual ability, those who are really good at computers are treated and restricted in the same way as those who are functionally computer illiterate
Get different language options on all of the computers.
I understand that restrictions are necessary when you’re dealing with a community like OES’s, but myspace, livejournals etc are part of teenage life. I personally think they’re lame, but there’s nothing OES can do to fix the “abuse” of these internet communities. Teenage drama caused on these websites is just that – drama. Having some girl talk about how ugly your clothes are is life – whether it be orally or online. We should be focusing on teaching kids how to deal with this, or how to be appreciative of each other’s differences, not blowing the situation out of proportion by calling it harassment.
You’re doing great Deri! A+!
[ed note: Deri Bash is US Technology Coordinator.]
Not block so many sites. I can’t get to some sites I need to for science fair. So I have to wait until I get home.
[ed note: We can unblock sites for research in about five minutes if students email us or stop by our office—help us let the kids know this.]

Moodle: A Question of Change

Moodle LogoWe’re continuing to play with and research both Moodle and Blackboard. There’s no question that Moodle is stronger and more useful than in the past, but we admit that the Content Management System options in Blackboard are very interesting as well.

One question we have concerns change. With our other databases on campus (Blackbaud, Senior Systems, and FileMaker), there are always “risk elements” when we apply patches and upgrades. It is actually common for slight glitches to appear with certain subsets of features after upgrades, and if this occurs we contact technical support and sometimes another patch is needed or our data needs alteration. Generally, the more rigid the database (meaning less customization by us), the easier the upgrades are.

With this blog, for example, I’m running WordPress version 1.5.1. There have been updates for this software about every two weeks, and now the 2.0 update version is out but I haven’t applied it. Why? Basically, because I’m worried about things breaking. This is a simple blog, but I’ve used a custom theme, built my own classes, tweaked code in the appearance, and other alterations. The question is– how many will break if I upgrade?

Now, I know there is a path for this– create a duplicate site with the same content as this blog and run the update on it. Back up the theme and modifications, put them back in again, test, test and test. In the end, the process might be fast or slow, depending mostly on luck. Meanwhile, I’m not doing it because of a lack of time and a sense that the blog is fine for now in its software and functionality.

Now, what if we had a full-blown Moodle site for all US teachers and students, and all courses? What if we customized add-in modules for picture galleries and other unique features. Maybe we’d allow teachers to apply and tweak their own themes? We’d brand the site, of course, with our own look and feel. Lots of customization, which is good in many ways, but then the upgrades come. Maybe we don’t need them at first, but then there’s new functionality we want. Also, we can’t run on the same software set forever.

At that point, we need to do the duplicate site, test upgrades, testing and trouble-shooting on our own, and going through dozens and dozens of sites and features to find out what broke could be a massive job. Even if we did it only in the summer, how much would we miss, and how ticked off would teachers and students be when they found the flaws in the fall.

So, I’m not an advocate of commercial packages, but I have to admit that these risks have me concerned. A member of our tech team used a district Moodle for working with other teachers, and he found it cranky, slow and outdated compared to the new Moodle version, but one has to ask why didn’t the district upgrade if the software is “free.”

We also investigated the links provided by Michaelp in his comments in an earlier post, and in particular we looked at Schoolengine is interesting because they appear to provided a hosted, standardized package and they are in charge of updates, but it’s not clear how much customization we could do, or how fast new modules and features would be added in.

So, fascinating issues. No criticism is intended here of Moodle or any open source software– just concerns about long-term growth and use.

Convergence: West Coast Meets East Coast

Compass ImageJason Johnson of the Lowell School and I are teaming up to offer educational technology consulting and audits. This is something that we’ve discussed for a long time, and we’re very happy to be moving forward with the service.

Jason, located in Washington, DC, has become an expert in the area of technology and school administration and policy making. He has a strong, long-term view of how technology can serve schools and advance their missions. He even has experience with the design and effective implementation of 1:1 laptop programs.

I’m located in Portland, Oregon, and over the past 17 years I’ve specialized in the integration of technology integration into the curriculum, 1:1 laptop program design, and the development of collaborative websites for education.

Together, we feel that we can offer a 360 degree view of how technology can help schools move forward, in terms of both academic and administrative goals. The idea of bringing together the best ideas of “both coasts” is also exciting. For more information, we have a summary page link about our services on our page now. It is also referenced in the “Pages” box on the right.

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