Projectors, Anyone?

Digital projectors. A few years ago, I thought they were cool, but a bit teacher-centric. I really didn’t like Smartboards, since I felt they were the ultimate “sage on the stage” tool.

Meanwhile, times change. I still don’t like Smartboards (perferring tablet PCs for such action). As for projectors, however, it seems that they are becoming essential classroom tools. Just about all of our teachers want their own ceiling-mounted projector, right down to Pre-K. Primary uses are showing stuff from off the Internet, sharing student work, video clips, and other “in action” sort of presentation. I’m surprized by how few use the projectors for S-Video feeds from DVD players (as I do in Film and Video).

Canon ProjectorSo, we started a few years ago with some VGA projectors, but they were a joke. We soon started buying only XGA projectors. We began with Canon LV-X1 projectors, most of which developed signal input problems about only 1-2 years of use, and some have been repaired and some haven’t. They were around $1500 a piece. Before we knew of the problems, we had a set of LV-X2s, which haven’t had the input problems, but still aren’t our favorites.

MitsubishiAfter that, we starting buying Mitsubishi XL5U projectors for around $1245 each, and they have been solid work-horses. Problem with them– noisy fans. Some faculty have a problem hearing students in the back of the room with the fan blasting in the projector. Another problem– tiny remotes that are relatively expensive to replace.

MitsubishiThis year, we’ve ordered Mitsubishi XD205U projectors for $919 each. They are smaller and have ugly plasics, but they are almost silent and have larger remotes. They are also significantly less expensive. We ordered one, and it seemed to work fine. Now we have five more, and we’ll likely order five more later on.

Basically, we’re slowing covering all the main classrooms on campus. Our general procedure is to order a basic Peerless mount from Cousins Video, and a 50 foot combo VGA/S-Video cable and mount the projectors ourselves in classrooms with open ceilings (phys plant has an electrician in to set up a plug-in). If the classroom has a drop ceiling, we get a plate that replaces a ceiling tile and have the mounts professionally installed, with a metal outlet box on the teaching wall.

Ugh, that’s enough projector talk for today…

(Small tip: hook a video camera’s outputs into the inputs of a digital projector, and then do live action video of the projected image. Have students move through the distortion fields. Fun.)

Corporate Self-Plagiarism

CrimeJason J just posted an interesting email on the ISED-L discussion list about plagiarism and corporations. We teach students that all orginal materials are sacredly owned by individuals, and plagiarism is a crime against another individvual. However, when our students enter the working world, most original work is owned by the companies, and the companies expect or require that material is “plagiarized” from other employees to speed the creation of reports, proposals, letters and other information.

Hmm– a shared content environment, instead of a “single combat warrior” world. Could it be that the individual is simply over-emphasized in our educational systems? Or are we simply more concerned about assessing individuals than appreciating their ability to understand and synthesize content? This could help explain the radical discomfort some faculty have with the very idea of Wikipedia, for example. “The center can’t hold!”

As for corporate self-plagiarism, a vist to this site is worthwhile. Follow it’s link to the Cyrilic site– the images are fascinating. I hope to use this site next year in the Film and Video course I teach.

Print Management Revisited

We have some good news on the print management front for Windows and OS X, and for computers brought from home.

We looked into one commercial solution, but we didn’t like the $21,000 price tag too much. We had heard of other schools successfully using PCounter, which is much more affordable, but we were having some real issues with the demo version. For computers brought from home, for example, there were a lot of steps for adding a LPT port for printers, including the addition of a Windows component. After all that, the web page that would have to be logged into for every print job appeared to have problems in different browsers. As a general rule, we try to avoid torturing users.

PaperCut NGThings looked glum for a moment, but then a web search revealed PaperCut NG, a new version that is cross platform and also uses a web page for authorizing print jobs, or can also use clients that are available for both PCs and Macs. This is a big deal for us, because we hope to have a fairly simple pop-up client for everyone that shows remaining balance, price for the print job, etc., for every print job. Everyone on campus needs these “reminders” about the resources they are using.

We installed the demo version of PaperCut NG on our Windows Print Server, and we were pretty amazed. The whole program is controlled through a web page, and it automatically created accounts for everyone in Active Directory, automatically recognized every print queue on the print server, and in a few minutes was logging every print job coming in by user, file name, size, printer, etc. Pretty attractive.

Our next step is to learn how to control only some printers but not all, so we don’t have to worry about controlling accounts for everyone on campus, but we could if we wanted. For testing, though, we want only one printer triggering account queries. After we have that, we’ll test the client pop-up software, and the user web page for authorizing print jobs. From what we’ve seen so far, however, we won’t be surprised if Papercut NG will do the job for us– but I’ll report more after testing. The cost is a bit more than PCounter, but the functionality seems much more advanced.

Tech Advice for Upper School Families

US Technology RecommendationsWe just finished our technology recommendations for Upper School families for next year. This is a document that is mailed to all US parents.

An interesting change in this year’s document is the inclusion of information about current laptop use in the Upper School, and our acknowledgement of the benefits of this use. We do not require laptops in the Upper School, but we do provide loaners to students who need them for projects or class work.

We also include recommended example systems for families to consider if they are purchasing computers. Another change this year is that we advise that the mobility of laptops warrant their incrementally higher cost, as long as they are cared for responsibly.

Here’s a link to download the document:

Upper School Technology Recommendations for Students and Parents

Ultimate Space II

galaxyWe’ve spent a year evaluating our current use of SharePoint sites, and considering a move to SharePoint Portal, Moodle, Blackboard, Blackbaud NetSolutions, VBulletin, and other online space tools and services.

Our current SharePoint sites are good for individual courses and teachers, and they are powerful when fully utilized. When I taught a film and video course, the SharePoint handled writing assignments, proposals, and calendar, as well as web-versions of the student’s video drafts and finished projects. Parents in particular reported that they liked seeing the student’s work through the site, as well as the content we were working on.

However, our SharePoints are all individual sites. There’s no portal for a student to see all his courses at once, or to have a unified calendar. We’ve created SharePoints on demand, instead of for all courses, for we knew that participation may fluctuate.

We’re strongly considering EdLine as our next step. Edline is not a full replacement for SharePoints, and it doesn’t have online teaching tools yet (like discussion areas or chat or…), but it does provide an interesting hosted solution. If we can sync our SIS data with it on a regular basis, it can create and manage individual course sites for us and calibrate teacher, student and parent access. This type of automation is a big deal for a 100% participation, since the changes in classes is pretty severe at the start of the semeters.

Anyway, other systems have this as well, but Edline is a supported, affordable, off-site solution. We like that the online sessions are fully encrypted, and that we have the options for online grades, student store billing reports, unified personal calendars (all classes for a student, possibly sports), and the possibility of comments throughout the semester for students and parents.

So, we may still need a different system for picture galleries and online discussions, perhaps temporarily or long-term, but for communication Edline seems like a system worth considering. Some teachers might continue using SharePoints for those features, or Moodle, or VBulletin, but the central and uniform system could be Edline, which leads us forward on other goals of information management, contribution and protected access.

Interesting and intricate issues, all.

Not Ready for K12?

For the record, we faxed in all the documents for our order of 127 G4 iBooks yesterday. The paperwork was for the 90 days same as cash, and we’re looking forward to working with the 12.1 inch model again.

Hal 9000Main “decision maker” factors: price (increase in list, siginficant reduction in discounts), form factor (not certain we could get always-on cases), and unnecessary features (127 remotes? cameras we’d have to disable or time limit). Next year, at least the first two factors should be somewhat mitigated.

I’ve already read an article that notes that the Apple laptop line will soon have no sub-$1000 offerings, and it’s worth noting that the dual-core Latitude 520 I just bought for personal use had a base price of $699 (and ended up being $956 with 3 year warranty, 80 gig drive, cd-burner/dvd player).

So, a modest suggestion. After Rev D is out (hardware bugs resolved), why doesn’t Apple make a MacBook for education that:

Doesn’t have a built-in camera.
Doesn’t come with a remote.
Has a single-core chip.
Doesn’t automatically come with a video adapter.

Now, to be honest, some of these criteria are met if you buy the five packs of Macbooks– one remote, one video adapter (I think), and around $50 less per unit. However, the camera’s an issue, and simply disabling it falls under the category of “paying for what you don’t want.” If the changes were done above, in six or eight months, maybe the education version of the MacBook could be around $900-950 again.

Meanwhile, we wait for 127 boxes to show up, and ponder where to put them…

The March of Progress

Okay, so the new MacBooks have been announced. This was a bit of a surprise, because we thought there’d be at least a press conference. In fact, we were thinking they’d be announced on this Thursday.

Last week we decided to go with the old models, but our order hasn’t been processed yet. The “rush” was because there was a concern on our part (and our rep’s) that the old 12.1 G4 model would be discontinued at the time of the announcement. So far, it’s still on the web page, so maybe we have more time than expected to decide, which in general is a good thing. The bad part is that we now need to think some more (kinda like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now).

Okay, the new model’s got a 13 inch wide aspect screen, so we may or may not have InfoCases for the model by September. There’s a built-in camera, which could lead to even more bandwidth at home issues with video iChatting (hmmm, wasn’t there a movie with a scene where…). The model comes with more software, including Front Row an Omni Outliner. We like the looks of the mag latch on the lid and the mag power adapter plug. It’s also thinner…

But, it’s also $100 more, and we may or may not get discounts. But hey, we’re a 1:1 laptop school using iBooks. Wouldn’t it look terrible if we didn’t have the new model, Steve? C’mon, give us a break!

New Macbooks

A Second Year of Laptops…

We met with current sixth grade parents the other evening to discuss next year’s seventh grade laptop program. The program is also extending into the eight grade next year, but those parents are already experienced.

A major part of our program is family outreach on home use of computers– how to set limits, how to encourge productive use, how to recognize problems and respond. Travel and storage are also issues, as well as proper ergonomics.

Here’s a copy of what we presented:

7th Grade Laptop Planning for Parents Presentation

7th Grade Laptop Planning for Parents Handout

GURL Watcher The number one problem we heard from parents this year was “too much use at home,” especially iChat. Basically, the best resolution is for kids to learn to set their own limits that we agree are beneficial (two boys this year literally requested to have iChat removed from their machines earlier this year). The next step would be parent-enforced screen time limits. If that doesn’t work, we can use the GURL Watcher software to set time limits on the daily use of any program on the iBook (one hour daily limit for iChat, for example). The final step is to request that the iBooks don’t go home at all– we provide padlocks and the iBooks are locked in lockers at night and on weekends.

The final option didn’t occur this year, but maybe it should have for two or three families, at least for a week or two if not the entire year. It’s not an option we recommend often, but we think it needs to be there so that parents know that they have the final say about the use of the iBooks at home.

Away to the Islands…

Last weekend my wife and I passed our ASA Bareboat certification from San Juan Sailing (www.sanjuansailing.com) in Bellingham, Washington. We had a great time, and the certification means that we can charter sailboats around the world.

It was a two-day course that involved a cruise from Bellingham Bay to the Sucia Islands in the San Juans. We used a 2004 Catalina 350.

The confidence of our excellent instructor was really evident when the weather became rough. We overpowered the boat right off the bat and had to reef as the rain came down. Then things cleared and the rest of the trip to Sucia was perfectly manageable even if overcast and cool.

The next morning, there was a strong blow coming into the day, with 3 foot chop. The boat was bucking at the mooring, and the thought of taking the hour-long written test below decks was not comforting. We motored into a more protected part of the bay and anchored, but still my wife and I were getting green halfway through the test and moved up and down between cabin and cockpit as we completed the pages.

Sailing WifeSailing back to Bellingham, we had some fairly heavy conditions (for us, at least). There were strong gusts, four foot swells, and we used only a reefed foresail. Still, we buried the rail more than once, rolling to 25 degrees or more. It was pretty exciting, and my wife did a great job at the wheel and the winches (which were under major strain and a bit touchy when releasing).

We had enough wind to sail all the way back down Hale Passage, which I understand is somewhat rare, and we used the GPS/chart plotter to get the maximum distance out of our tacks. We used the engine very little during the entire trip– pretty cool.

So, a wonderful experience, and we’re looking forward to our week-long charter of an Islander 28 in the San Juans this summer (last week of July) with our kids.

I’ve posted some pictures from our Bareboat course here:

http://photos.sailingvoyage.com/v/ASABareboatCertification

iBook Decision

Well, we have a decision on the iBooks.

It appears that there will not be an announcement of the new MacBooks today, and there may not be for a week or two. In some ways, this makes the decision easier.

iBook G4Basically, there’s a risk that the current G4 12 inch iBooks will become unavailable as soon as the Intel models are announced. There’s also a solid chance the replacement models could be 10% more in cost because of the Intel chip and a possible 13 inch wide aspect screen. Additionally, Apple normally does not discount volume orders of brand new models as much as established models, and this could be another 10% price increase for us. Finally, the Rev A MacBook Pros appear to have had hardware issues, and that makes us nervous about Rev A MacBooks…

So, if we were planning on a price point similar to last year, we wanted about 127 iBooks for all three divisions. If there is a solid chance of a 20% jump in price per unit because of the model change and lost discounts, then the impact on our budget could be substantial. Thus, we’ve worked out a 90 days same as cash arrangement with Apple, and we’re opting for the current iBooks for next year (along with two Xserves, four iMacs, etc, which are also discounted when the large order is made).

Next year, the Intel MacBooks may still be 10% more than the current iBooks, but it’s likely we’d have the additional 10% volume discount back, which will reduce the impact of the increased price. Another benefit is that we don’t have to “upgrade” the current teachers’ iBooks to match the students, and our imaging plans and laptop cases will not have to be changed this summer.

We’re purchasing two Xserves so that one can be the dedicated Workgroup Manager for the program (170 iBooks) and the other can be the dedicated file server (so we can have Portable Home Directories). The trick will be to have Active Directory authentication, Portable Home Directories, and then auto-mounting of these directories when kids occasionally log into Windows machines on campus.

Simple, right?

New or Old?

So, should we buy 127 of the current 12.1 G4 iBooks, or go for the MacBooks. I might be able to hold 127 of the old until the announcement tomorrow of the new, but:

1) They will likely be more expensive.
2) We might get stuck with 127 Rev As of the new.

However, 2 years down the road, will we regret having the G4 chips…

Whoa!

Ugh– too busy to post lately. It’s hard to focus on just one project lately. Shall I ponder online grades (EdLine), integrating databases, online interfaces to databases, print management, the new MacBooks that will likely be announced tomorrow (and whether I should buy 127 of them, or 127 more of the G4 12.1 inch iBooks before they vaporize into history).

Lots to decide about, as well as wireless security improvements, to auto-back up laptop documents (or not), federated searching for the libraries, new US computer science courses (50/50 gender split on forcasted enrollment so far– YEAH!).

That, and I have the main peripheral purchases to decide on (which cameras?), a cool new Thinkpad tablet that just came in for a teacher, and my trusty 14.1 iBook died and home and I’ve ordered a Latitude 520 dual core to replace it…

Forgive my rambling– sometimes I just like to step back and try to understand the larger picture. Expectations of technology are increasing, as well as the idea that everything will work together smoothly. It’s a noble goal, and worth fighting for, but maybe too important to take seriously…

OS X Print Management Part II

Quick upate on print auditing and management of OS X machines…

We were happy to see there was a tool for print management built into the printer server software on Xserves. We were pleased that we even have an Xserve with the software avaialbe. We were displeased when we read the support forums at Apple and found that other tech types at schools had pulled their hair out trying to get it to work, and failed. Makes one wonder why the feature is even there and advertised. Noted one injured party– “There hasn’t been a stable print server for Macs since OS 9.”

We were happy to find a client-based solution from a company called PrintAudit that worked nearly the same on both PCs and Macs. We were displeased to find out that even the non-profit pricing structure per seat was quite a bit beyond our reach financially.

So, we wander back to PCounter. We’ll run a full test this afternoon and see how challenging it is for OS X users– I have heard of mixed platform schools that standardized on it and survived.

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