Share the Tech…

TechShare 2006I’ve been helping with the development of a new annual technology conference through the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools (PNAIS). The date and schedule is complete, and the brochure is now available for download.

It’s been a fun process to meet with other technology directors and coordinators at independent schools in the Pacific Northwest, and the setting at Bainbridge Island for the retreat should be great. I’m definately bringing my travel bike and my cue sheet for the Chilly Hilly, which is an annual “ride around the island” ride at Bainbridge.

I’m helping with three of the sessions:

Session 3B – K-12 Computer Science Curriculums: Is Symbolic Reasoning Essential for All Students?
This session will review the argument for all students to experience symbolic reasoning and logic throughout the K-12 curriculum. This discussion will include why these “ways of thinking” are important to all careers, and perhaps essential for understanding and debating new “breakthroughs” in technology that challenge our ethics, environment and selfunderstanding.
With premises in hand, we’ll discuss different models for implementing a progressive computer science sequence from beginning school to senior year.

Session 5A – Student Laptop Programs: Essential,
Inevitable, or Unnecessary?

One-to-one student laptop programs have been around for years, and even some public school systems have deployed thousands of laptops to students. The “Tipping Point,” however, hasn’t been reached, and such programs are still unique instead of mainstream. Additionally, research hasn’t shown conclusive benefits from such programs. Does this mean that laptop programs are unnecessary, or are there other
forces at work that may make student laptops essential or unneeded in the near future? Come prepared to share your own views and examples!

Megasession C: Why We Do It!
Best Practices and Best Examples of Technology
Integration in the Pacific Northwest

The “return on investment” of technology in schools can take many forms, and we’ll discuss the best reasons for tech integration and share specific “success stories” from Pacific Northwest schools. We’ll look beyond the Internet and word processing, and see how pedagogy itself is evolving in K-12.
Our goal is not just to help teachers teach, but to help students learn.

Check out the brochure, and be sure to let me know if you plan to attend. (I need someone to show up at my sessions…)

Sputnik, Part II

More news on the secured Wi-Fi front…

We were excited about Elektron, but once we started looking at the certificate requirements for Windows it seemed like a lot of work… (We’re lazy, of course, when it comes to hundreds of laptops.) Worse still, for WPA to work with any system (with or without certificates), we would need Airport Extreme cards in the iBooks, and later-model wireless cards in the Windows laptops. Many of the laptops brought to school are the 2-4 year old variety, so too many cards would be out of date.

Thus, we need a non-certificate, non-WPA solution for full backward compatibility, perferably with no client-side tinkering needed. We called Sputnik today, and learned that they are planning to release a product in about a month that might be a strong solution for us along these lines, and possibly side-step the need for replacing access points. It would work in tandem with a MAC address list, and talk to Active Directory for authentication.

Sounds perfect, but it’s not available yet, but it’s worth waiting a month for.

Sputnik Vs. Elektron

Sputnk Logo We have a fairly large wireless network at the moment, and we’d like to improve its security. We’ve been researching two possible solutions, Elektron and Sputnik, and here’s what we’ve got so far…

We have Elektron running on one access point, but its software had to be installed on one of our Domain Controlers to work. It’s a software solution (basically a Radius server combined with WPA). We had a third DC server still in the loop, so we put it on. Worked flawlesses with a 10.4 iBook, worked with my Dell laptop after I installed the certificate, but then stopped working with the Dell. Our network administrator had it running again with a Thinkpad, but we have to see if it is stable.

It did a good job of using the Windows login credentials for the auto connect. For non-domain PCs, they need to be Service Pack II and students need to log into the system just once for it to work using their Active Directory usernames and passwords. Macs 10.3.9 and above should be automatic, but older ones… It has some nice reporting features about who’s on where.

If this is stable, we’ll likely go with it, but we will need to replace 10-15 older access points that don’t do WPA. Don’t know if we’d do more Airport Extremes or a Linksys solution (or others).

As for Sputnik, it could provide more functionality. We found that it can use Windows IAS as the Radius server, so we’d already be set. If the machines have a known MAC address, the whole log-in sequence is bypassed. Non-school machines will log in via Active Directory usernames and passwords (via IAS, Radius). It also has load graphs, etc., per access point.

Bad part with Sputnik: all Access Points on campus would have to be replaced (around 45), at a cost of at least $100 per station for hardware, and around $160 each for the “seats” for Sputnik, unless they give us an Educational or volume discount. The Sputnik appliance can support up to 100 access points, so we should be okay there.

As for WPA, if Elektron isn’t stable, then I guess we’d assume that all other WPA solutions would also be flaky. That would leave a Sputnik-like solution with specialized access points that can have Sputnik firmware upgrades installed. This is like a “half-step” to the much more expensive AireSpace solution (S10k appliances, $400 access points– last time we checked).

Jason Johnson once noted that we wanted an airport-like system to handle all the systems brought from home. I think either system could do this, but it has to be stable, and Elektron would be less expensive to deploy.

Building Community

We’ve made further progress with our VBulletin/PhotoPost bulletin boards. The first alumni and faculty are logging into our alumni board, and we’ve quickly assembled a prototype of a board for all current community members. Each site is hosted at A Small Orange on $20 a month hosting plans.

OES Community PictureI have a OES Community PDF example ready for download. What I like about this software is that it will at least give us a chance to have a multi-divisional place for photo galleries and discussions. We tweaked the code to combine the discussion forums and photo galleries on the same page, along with a block of random photos from the galleries.

For registration, there’s not an easy LDAP solution, but we were able to create an email domain “whitelist,” so that only people with OES email addresses can subscribe, and then confirm who they are by the email sent to their OES account. This should prevent outside people from registering, and keep us from having to approve every registration request. Since we provide parents with OES email addresses as well, it should work for them also.

The next step is to gather photo collections from the differing US Winterim trips, post the galleries, and then invite US students to register. The photos will be the first content worth logging in for, and we may or may not allow posting from students right off the bat.

Print Management on OS X

Okay, what’s the best print management system for OS X? We’d like an audit system that would keep a count-down of around 1000 pages a semester per student, and remove pages from the account as they print. Color prints should cost 10 pages.

We can do this with PCounter on PCs pretty easily, with a small client that pops up a window per user per print. For PCs from home, the print jobs have to be authorized via a web page, which shows the individual account.

TypewriterThe only problem is that OS X machines in PCounter don’t have a client option, and every single print job would have to be authorized via a web page. If we have to consider this, we will, but we’d rather have a solution that was as easy on PCs as on Macs, even if we had PCounter for the PCs and something else, even Xserve based, for macs.

Any suggestions?

Washed Out of Boot Camp

Is it just me, or is the Boot Camp announcement from Apple more of a snore than a paradigm shift. I mean, how many of us have the time to maintain two OS systems on the same box, enjoying all the fun of trouble-shooting networking issues, authentication, peripherals, etc. on both systems? Not to mention the overlooked fact that one still needs to pay for the full Windows license before installing it…

Equally fun is the idea of running OS X on my Dell… I already have enough fun with updates and stability running Final Cut Pro on dedicated Mac towers– is trying the same on a PC platform really a great idea?

I could see the situation where a computer lab (in the future) could be dual-boot, but I don’t think I want to be the one installing and configuring software, peripherals and the rest. I know this is a daydream come true for some Mac users, but the reality might be a little bit of a challenge.

Making Progress

VbulletinWe solved some final configuration problems yesterday between VBulletin and PhotoPost Pro, and now they are playing nicely with each other. Users have one registration, and then they have accounts on both systems, and the images can be integrated on both sides, etc. What we like about this is the “dual action” of photo galleries by each user, along with the discussion boards, along with file attachments… We’re creating the system for alumni.

We wonder what the steps would be to creating a full-community system. If we had LDAP authentication working, we could have all faculty, staff, students and parents on one Vbulletin system, with categories for each division and/or grade level. There are user groups, so parents would have access to some things, students to others, faculty to others, and shared spaces for all.

This is intriguing to us, because a shared system could replace a lot of email chatter, put files in one place for everyone, and perhaps even absorb the weekly divisional newsletters. Additionally, the posts and documents can be changed, unlike sent emails, and if 2-3 parents have questions about an annoucement, the answers can be seen by all. At the same time, we could have a photo-rich environment, with image contributions from all parts of our population.

Utopia, until we have the unavoidable problems (flames, inappropriate posts, too many posts from certain users). However, isn’t that part of the process of moving forward?

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