Rational Enthusiasm

I just got back from the PNAIS TechShare at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island, WA. It was a good gathering– there were over 40 of us, and the sessions were very honest and rewarding. Many of the participants had examples and solutions to share with others, and I sensed that people were really enjoying the “we’re all experts” type of atmosphere.

I’ll post information later about the computer science and laptops sessions I worked on, but I thought I’d mention how the “Why We Do IT!” mega session went this morning. Unfortunately, I can’t share the PowerPoint here, because it has too many examples of classroom technology use to track down permission for. However, I can share a link to a video we noted:

When I Become a Teacher


This video, called “When I Become a Teacher,” was created by teachers participating in a Lesley University program, supported by the Apple Teacher Institute. It’s a parody of a Monster.com commercial, and I find it disturbing, funny and motivational at the same time.

The rest of the presentation included examples of podcasts, online literary journals, network improvements, “tech-free days,” online radio stations, narrated first grade PowerPoints, fourth grade threaded discussions, middle school iChat homework support groups, upper school SharePoint sites for religion classes, video projects for humanities courses, a bulletin board system for alumni, and other examples of classroom uses of technology.

I’m glad I took my touring bike– yesterday afternoon I was able to cycle to the other side of the island to visit Fay Bainbridge State Park (excellent views of the Sound), and then I had dinner downtown on my way back (after walking the docks of the marina and staring at sailboats). Wonderful weather, and a great event.

TechShare Conference Time

If I can make it through today, and do some prep work, I’ll be driving to Bainbridge Island tomorrow for the PNAIS Techshare Conference. I have three sessions to host, and I suppose I should think about them today.

I did a five hour training session for college counselors yesterday on Naviance. The price is going up for Naviance, but still it’s a very impressive online database. Actually, it’s a model for I believe other hosted, online databases should be for schools. We’ve loaded it with college application, acceptance, and non-acceptances back to 1999, so the Scattergrams and other school-specific analysis is pretty impressive. I wish I had it back when I was applying to colleges.

My brother and I had another excellent sail on our Cal 20 last Sunday afternoon, “burying the rail” more than once with strong gusts. It was a great break– next weekend we hope to do an overnight on our C&C 27, along with his wife and a few others. He’ll be cooking for us on the stern pulpit barbie.

I’ll post any handouts, notes or presentations I create for the TechShare Conference here when I get back. Next week, it’s time for NECC in San Diego and the “Low Stress Laptop Program” presentation.

Minutes Pass Like Hours

The fun continues…

Normally, the school goes into a nice semi-dormant stage in the summer, and we can both work and think as we re-image computers, replace servers, fix up the wired and wireless networks, and recover a little of our souls.

This year, we have larger summer programs than ever, ongoing data-alignment projects, more computers than ever to image, and new initatives like crazy (EdLine, PaperCut, Secure Wireless, New Construction, and more). The funny part is that we work as hard as possible to make things transparent or as fast and easy as possible for others. That’s the normal goal, but doing it can be pretty extreme.

Cal 20 SailboatLast I heard, we had over 150 different groups and comittees on campus that meet and develop their own programs. The list is amazing– it’s a thriving community, but it reminds me somewhat of a city in microcosm.

I had a wonderful sail on our Cal 20 last night, and we weren’t back at the dock until nine p.m. Great wind, beautiful spinnakers on the racers. I felt recharged, for about 14 hours. Next week, I’m looking forward to driving away for the TechShare conference for three days up in Bainbridge Island. I’m definitely taking my bike.

Time to Crash

Ugh, what a week.

coal mineLast week, we had challenges just about every day with odd server problems, odd database problems, end-of-year comment writing challenges, and other things I thankfully have blanked already.

This week, I did a 2 hour FileMaker Pro training for our database users, followed by the presentation of Edline to US faculty, and then a restructuring plan meeting for our digital simulations course. (More on the course later.) Then more database sychronizing, faculty laptops coming in for re-imaging, implementation planning for PaperCut NG, and lots ‘o wonderful stuff.

If nothing else, the feedback on our work is good. We have 12 US faculty who plan to come in for a stipend day this summer to help us develop the implementation plan and guidelines for EdLine, which is a wonderful sign of interest and support. We feel good about that.

For now, though, back to the data mines, and figuring out the best way to simply make mailing labels for next year’s ninth graders in two different databases. Such glory.

Photo Credit: Colorado Historical Society

The Danger Hour

Question: How do you introduce a new tech initiative?
Answer: Very carefully.

We spend a lot of time researching new technology options, anxious to learn the cons as much as the pros. This, and the decision, may be the easy parts. The hard part is the introduction to faculty and staff. Some programs never recover from poor introductions, no matter what their merits.

OES EdlineMy personal record on this score is far from perfect, but at least I try to be as careful as possible, flexible, and receptive to other’s concerns. My preference is to do pilot groups to test out an initiative, but sometimes an initiative can’t be piloted easily. Sometimes, a lot of people need to be involved.

We’re discussing a possible implementation of EdLine in the Upper School next year. To try it, though, we’d like to upload the full US student list, faculty list and schedule. That will create pages for all courses, with calibrated access by faculty, students and parents. This means we would need at least minimal participation by all US faculty.

We don’t take this request lightly. Our faculty work hard, and the last thing I want to do is create more work for anyone. However, this system may have benefits that warrant the implementation, including the saving of time with improved communications and access to information. As with anything, getting started will be the hardest part.

So, we took some care to craft the “Introduction to Edline” email for all US faculty. Here is a PDF copy:

OES Edline Introduction Email

We will discuss options with the US faculty next week, and listen carefully to their concerns, ideas and enthusiasm. Initial feedback and response to the email has been positive.

Sharing the Responsibility

Another set of finals completed today in the Upper School. The big English/Humanities final took place at 9 to 11 a.m. this morning. During that time, 110 school computers were in use, and 101 laptops brought from home. Our informal survey found that approximately 58% of the home laptops were PCs, and 42% were Macs.

Our total number was a bit lower than the December finals– because the seniors are gone on their rafting trip. Technically, we had no significant problems. My main involvement was to show up early and reset our Upper School wireless access points so that they were all running smoothly. Students who weren’t set up to print mostly emailed documents to themselves or the faculty. A handful borrowed jump drives to move the files and print them.

Thinking back on the Internet problem last week, we know how stressful maintaining major deployments can be. We already know what it is like to maintain the 110 student systems used today in the US, and having to own and support a 100 more wouldn’t be easy. With the students today caring for their own systems, the load on us was only incrementally higher in terms of helping them. Having a “dispersed” responsibility structure can make sense.

Thinking of Thoreau

Last week I finished reading Sensible Cruising: The Thoreau Approach by Don Casey and Lew Hackler. This is a book about cruising small sailboats in the 25-35 foot range, and its filled with quotes from Thoreau. Their point is that thousands of these boats sit and rot at the docks, as the owners dream of cruising “as soon as” they have larger boats. Meanwhile, sensible cruisers cruise for years on smaller boats, instead of just dreaming about it.

Inspired by the book, we decided on noon Saturday to toss the kids in the car (and some bagels and sleeping bags) and do our first overnight trip on our C&C 27 sailboat, Bailiwick. The forecast was terrible– no wind, but an inch of rain. But hey, we were sick of waiting for the weather to get better. It’s been raining on and off for the last several weeks.

We went, and we had a fantastic time. We motored the whole 10 nautical miles to Government Island on the Columbia River. There, we hiked on the island and my son caught a nice 10 inch fish and released it. Saturday evening, we joined three other boats for an impromptu evening dinner-on-the-dock and fun cruising talk. On Sunday morning, one of our dock neighbors delivered hot-from-the-oven cinnamon rolls at eight a.m. My son caught another fish, we hiked some more, and then motored home.

We’ve posted a picture gallery of the trip, and basically it was fun to think about Thoreau as we got back to nature on the remote and lightly visited island. I wouldn’t mind doing this same trip every month, year-round.

Overnight Cruise

A Terrible Idea

After skimming the Vista Beta 2 tour at ARS Technica yesterday, we had an inspiration. If the OS is already a 13 gig install, absorbing 700 megs of memory at idle if accessible (possible exaggerations here, I hope), then why not go all the way?

We think there should be 3D animated icons for all office documents. Better still, the little buggers could act like Neopets and make full use of the audio system. “Why haven’t you finished me? I haven’t been opened for 3 months. That Excel file just hit me!”

I mean, if you’ve got that much processing power, why shouldn’t all your Word docs have AI built into their avatar icons?

Cheerleader, Gatekeeper, Lynchpin

I remember a talk, years ago, with Marti. She noted that we used to be “cheerleaders for technology.” And now we’re gatekeepers, I noted, given how much time we were spending on anti-spam devices, filtering, acceptable use policies, and a whole gamut of control-the-flow issues.

Today, I think we’re something different. I still hear some colleagues who say “if only my teachers would check their email” or “is any of this important at all.” The funny thing is, I pretty much envy them. Being at a school with low to moderate tech integration can be frustrating in some ways, but relaxing in others. The tech isn’t mission-critical.

Mushroom CloudLast night, for example, it appeared that the gateway port in our firewall appliance had burned out. Most of the Internet connectivity was down for the school, in and out. Our public page was still up and fine, but surfing, SharePoints, Calendar, and Outlook Web Access were out.

As I studied tech notes last night and prepared for less than a great morning, I could tell that families were probably frustrated as they were unable to hit the collaborative web sites. Students and faculty couldn’t get email. This morning, how many lessons would be affected by no Internet access. How many administrative plans would be messed without email going in or out. Hmmm.

I, of course, didn’t need all the motivation of these thoughts. Why worry about 600 computers unable to hit the web, right? If anything, I wondered how much we’ve become central to so much work on campus, along with accompanying responsibility to not be the “weak link.”

Anyway, we had the problem resolved by 8:10 a.m. All was restored. We have a device down, but we’re secure, and the issue is now transparent to users. We call around, and look for a hot fall-back system for the firewall appliance. $10 to $12k for a solution, but likely worth it. We’re running out of leeway for much downtime.

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