Risk, and Authenic Rewards

As I work more with educational technology, it strikes me that progress is normally achieved through risk. It is possible to “tread water” for too long, and have established achievements gradually wither in value.

For example, many schools have standardized deployments in technology throughout the school. There may be sets of desktops in every classroom, and projectors and smartboards, or laptop carts, and all of these deployments had clear objectives when they were made. The tech staff may know these installations well, and have good maintenance plans and spares.

As time passes, however, the set of activities capable of being supported by these deployments may become repetitive or even discontinued. The learning and integration goals may be met, but in doing so a plateau is reached. It may be a great place to be for several years, but permanently?

Good to Great BookSchools need to move forward. Not just in the technology area, but in the ways we think about students and their learning. I agree with Jim Collins (Good to Great) that technology can be an accelerator and enhance the effectiveness and progress of new ideas, but I have also always believed that technology can enable us to look at things from new perspectives. That means that technology pilot programs can inform the decision-making process, instead of just being used as an enhancement of decisions and new directions.

No one likes to hit a wall, but in reality it’s an opportunity (and call to arms) to try new ideas. That’s where the technology pilot programs for innovative ideas are most interesting and perhaps essential. It’s also where there is a risk of failure, a loss of investment, or a tarnishing of reputations. But what’s the point of having capital in these areas if it’s not invested somehow?

That’s the next level.

A Face for Radio

I had a great time last week doing a three-way Skype podcast on the illustrious 21st Century Learning EdTechTalk with hosts Alex Ragone and Arvind Grover.

The hour went past quickly, and we touched on a lot of subjects. The most important involved sailing, of course, and other sneaky ways to actually have a life and a job in educational technology.

How Long Does an iBook Last?

I just got an email asking how long we expect the iBooks to last. The question was about a planned purchase of MacBooks for faculty (and faculty laptops normally last longer), but the following is a summary of our experience with iBooks for many years.

At OES, we plan to use the iBooks for 3.75 years. Yes, that sounds like a funny number, but here’s the reasoning. First, we would never buy any laptop that didn’t have a solid three year warranty. Via Apple GSX, we can order parts directly, get overnight boxes for rapid repairs, etc. The turn-around on a mail-in repair is often only 2-3 days. However, we still have a small loaner fleet of around five iBooks per 100.

After three years of use, iBooks are still perfectly useable (especially if they were used by faculty and not students), but we normally don’t extend the warrant for a fourth year. In the fourth year, we expect some failures, and instead of expecting 100% of fleet to be in service we only expect 80% of the fleet. We cannibalize parts and have a larger loaner fleet as about 20-25% of the iBooks have problems in the fourth year– many can recover with some work, and others are toast. We continue to use the strongest iBooks for a fifth year in certain locations or as loaners, but we don’t rely on them.

The thinking here is that by year five the machines are going to be pretty used, thus we don’t want to pay for repairs in year four for such old machines. As for faculty, we’ve found that some are fine with older machines, while others really need newer machines, so we have a bit of a sliding scale about when someone might get a new machine (most are after four years, and some are after three years).

As for broken screens, we’ve had very good luck buying new screens for $250 and installing them ourselves. For damaged iBooks that aren’t covered by warranty, we’re also becoming adept at buying internal parts (including hinges and case frames) and rebuilding the systems ourselves.

Note that we stuck with G4 iBooks this year, and we haven’t worked with school-owned Macbooks yet, but we’re assuming they won’t be radically harder to work on internally. As you might guess, we don’t purchase any additional insurance for screens, accidental breakage or theft. Theft has not been a problem (maybe one every two years), but this year we’ve had seven broken screens (of over 300 iBooks), but we repaired all ourselves.

Video Storytelling, Part II

Something interesting happened about half-way through my film and video course this semester.

The students had created three creative pieces in the first half of the semester, but before their “independent project” I decided to assign an interview piece. They were to choose a topic and then interview at least three other people about it. At least one voice over was required, and each interviewee was to be identified by a title the first time they talked. We watched parts of the Sundance movie Indenpendents’ Day for an example of an interview movie.

VideomakingI thought this could be a two or three week project. It ran longer and longer, but I felt that the students were doing good work. Most are pretty devoted to the topics they picked, and how to represent the interview materials from others. After doing creative pieces, this was more of a non-fiction piece, and I sensed they wanted to do well. At the same time, it was obviously more difficult for them.

So, as it turns out, the interview project became the final project of the course. One student’s project is “what was your dream,” with interviews of many faculty and staff, for example. Another project is “work during school.”

Next year, it might be fun to consider a whole class collaborative project, with three or four students devoted to the editing and creation of the piece, and the rest of the students filming and conducting the interviews. I’d like to think we could finish it sooner (maybe), but having all students collaborate on the same project could be fun.

Video Storytelling, Part I

We had two snow days, after the three day weekend this week. Fun to play in the snow with the kids– only happens every couple of years.

Young Last weekend, our family worked together to help my son complete his “Life of the Chinook Salmon” project. The assignment was to do a presentation about his research this week, but he could chose to do a stand up talk, a slide show, a poster or a video.

My son had done a video project about a hamster a couple of years ago, and he decided to “step up” to the next stage of video production: informative animation. It took several evenings for him to draw and paint different backgrounds and different versions of his fish to show their development. Then there was a scary seal head, pollution and other natural hazards. His script for the project was about three pages single spaced.

During the video production, I ran the camera, his mother and sister were stage hands for the animation, and he was the narrator and director. Using his fishing rod, and his fish drawings on sticks, we video taped his animated life story from egg to spawn. Since we don’t have a DV camcorder, we simply “crash edited” from the source tape to a new VHS tape later in the day.

It was a fun project– especially his artwork and how he chose to use it in the production. His script was also very detailed and fun. As noted before, fishing is his passion.

Revenge of the Newton

I just followed the live coverage of Steve Jobs’ announcement of the new iPhone. This Time article has a pretty good preview of it.

iPhoneFor some reason, it does have me thinking of the Apple Newton. I never owned one, but I worked with the OS on the Apple eMates. It was ahead of its time, but hampered by bad ergonomics and high cost. Lots of money was invested in R&D, but it couldn’t overcome cost and technology limitations.

After the Newton was discontinued, it appeared that Apple was really burned by the entire PDA, ultralight and tablet movements. It looked like it didn’t want anything to do with them. The iPod was specifically targeted to music, with a few other PIM features. The video iPod seemed more like an experiment.

The iPhone, however, is an OS and a hardward platform with interesting expansion opportunities. A colleague came in yesterday and told us about his new HP inkjet that was $140 and came with Bluetooth, ethernet, 802.11b, and USB. He was amazed by how easy it was to print to wirelessly. I bet the iPhone could print to it.

In fact, I wonder if a descendant of the iPhone might become the basis of the lunch box laptop that we’ve discussed in the past. It can’t be that long before a leather folding case with a decent keyboard and a holder for the iPhone in horizontal position is available. Could a larger screen version become available?

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how it works out. It also makes me wonder if having a major crash and being burned, but then really learning from it, isn’t always a bad thing.

Back to Work!

Okay, time to work again. Over the holidays we worked almost exclusively on the servers. All were updated to the latest service packs and patches, the latest anti-virus and back-up clients, and we detected some problems and headed them off in advance.

The only server with real problems afterwards was one of our OS 10.4.8 Xserves, and it required a trouble ticket with Apple to resolve the issue.

Data Protection ManagerOne new idea: D2D2T. Drive to drive to Tape. Basically, we’re considering upgrading our NAS hard drive servers to around 2 terabytes each, and making a central backup drive array for all the Windows Servers. To that array, we’d hook up one of the new (and less expensive) tape library drive systems for taking archive copies to a different location. Some software we’re trying out for this is Microsoft Data Protection Manager 1.0, which is doing very well with our big file servers, but 2.0 later this quarter should also be able to handle our Exchange and SQL servers in terms of backup. We mostly use Veritas now, but there’s “bennies” to the Microsoft solution (such as individual Exchange mailbox recovery, without brick level backups).

Ah, backups. The issue that evolves but never goes away.

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