Wasted Time Has Consequences

I’ve been writing a document for US Faculty about managing the increasing numbers of family-owned laptops brought to school. It’s funny that my recommendations always become remarkably basic:

1. The same classroom management techniques we’ve always used in the classroom work equally well with laptops in the classroom.
2. It is typically very easy to tell from a student’s expression and eyes if something more interesting than note taking is happening on screen.
3. Other students craning their necks to see a screen is another subtle giveaway.
4. In the end, nearly all students will realize that computers can be “time sinks” that have to be used carefully at school.
5. Even MS students have asked for more limits or to have software removed, because they know they are wasting time.
6. Nearly all students use computers at home for recreation, as do their parents, but it isn’t difficult to emphasize that the school day is “working time” and needs to be academically focused.

Now, not every student learns to “self-limit,” but at academically rigorous schools the majority of students are ready to work hard, and not let distractions get in the way. We can always present stand-out examples of terrible technology use, but in the main it doesn’t happen if the culture of the school is truly focused on engaging academic work.

No Longer Master of the Domain

It’s been a fun two days. Early yesterday morning, I found that I could access the Outlook Web Access page, but not log in. At school, I discovered that no one could log in to anything.

Reason: our Windows 2000 Server Primary Domain Controller had gone south. Corrupted files. Six services down. The auto-fallback to the second domain controller had not occurred. Yep, it was Monday.

It didn’t take long to take down the failed DC, and have the secondary take over. People could log in, get email, etc. We worked on the primary DC, and made the mistake of booting it back onto the network where it promptly knocked out all authentication again. Back to the secondary.

Then we noticed strange problems, such as the proxy server not relaying internal server names. No logging into SharePoints. Solution: the primary DNS number for the shut down DC was still dominant and not handing off to the secondary for DNS resolution. Changing the secondary to primary on the network settings solved that.

Late Afternoon: things seemed stable on our secondary Domain Controller. Action plan: build a new DC tomorrow on a new machine, and bring it into the domain and make it primary. Problem: 200 OS X machines with fixed IPs pointing at old primary DC.

Early this morning: no authentication. Backup DNS on secondary DC had shut down. We brought it back up. Consultant arrives to help with new DC. Good news: he can “swing” the primary roles from the disconnected DC to the secondary to make the secondary the new primary DC. Meanwhile, we have a machine ready to go as a new DC, to which the primary roles will be swung to soon after. Even better news: he can name the new DC the same as the old DC, and give it it same IP so we don’t have to recode network settings in mucho machines.

In the end, we’ll likely do a format and rebuild on the old, failed DC, and bring it back as a third DC and a secondary DNS, so we have another layer of protection for next time. Fun, fun, fun. :)

The Best Uses of Student Laptops

Here’s a quote from a document I’m working on for US Faculty:

The Best Uses of Student Laptops We’ve Seen

Student Laptop UseIn both the MS and US, the best routine use of laptops involves organization. Research, writing and revision are the core productivity benefits, but the overall benefit of “having your work in one place” is a major benefit for laptop users (and why backing up the work is so critical). Four years ago, a US student with an early tablet computer showed me a brilliant use of OneNote software—he had carefully used the software to take and organize notes, illustrations and text from all of his classes, and he could easily search and page through his notes at will.

In the MS, we see similar gains. Before the laptop program, maybe 30% of students had decent skills in managing their work on a computer. As we scan the 7th and 8th laptops this year, we find that over 80% of students are doing a great job of organizing their work, as well as using the laptops to manage their time and make productive use of online communications. Having the files, the calendars and notes, and communications tools all on one device had made a major difference, and this is one of the main advantages to student laptops that travel from home to school.

In the US, we would like to ensure that this type of benefit continues for all students, and the Edline System helps in this goal with files, dates and other resources in online space that the students can access at any time. This summer, the Edline system should be upgraded to include discussion boards and homework hand-in features.

The next best use of laptops we’ve seen is advanced project work. Unlike a computer lab, where students might spend 45 minutes on a given day working on a project, a laptop enables students to invest more time in advanced and in-depth work with research, writing, data collection, mathematics, images and video, music creation and a host of other productive opportunities. This type of individualized work is normally unique to a student or a group of students, but that most students report that they have an interest in at least one area where laptops can enable in-depth, academic work.

Finally, we’d like to create a set of examples of the best in-class uses of student-owned laptops. These examples might be simple—like the use of ProQuest for science research. Or more sophisticated—such as video or music production on a laptop owned by a student but brought to school. We’ve found that when US faculty want kids to use computers during class time, they often forget that many of the students own their own laptops and can easily bring them to school for basic in-class work. For students with advanced interests (in Mathematica or Maya, for example), we’d like to become involved and help them secure their own legal copies of advanced software for personal use on their laptops.

Technology Coordinator Positions at OES Next Year

As noted, I’ve accepted the Director of Technology position at the American School in London. My family and I will move to London this July, and Brad Baugher (our current Middle School Technology Coordinator) will become the Director of Technology at Oregon Episcopal School. In addition, our current Upper School Technology Coordinator is taking on new challenges in academics and residential life next year.

As a result, Oregon Episcopal School, a K-12 private independent school in Portland, Oregon, has two technology coordination positions open for the 2007-2008 school year:

Middle School Technology Coordinator: a full-time, ten month position which typically has two extra weeks of work and salary added in the summer. Twenty to forty percent of this position involved teaching Middle School computer classes, and sixty to eighty percent of this position involves leading the MS laptop and technology program. The administrative part of this position involves working with grade teams and parents, hands-on work with the operations and management of the MS student laptop program (iBooks and MacBooks), and planning for future changes and opportunities. The ideal candidate would be interested in how students learn, have a critical view of technology and its benefits and weaknesses, and be successful with collaborating with the strong MS faculty as the laptop program evolves. Background experience should include both teaching and work with educational technology. Through regular tech team meetings, this individual will also be involved with school-wide technology issues and the transition of MS students to the US program. This position reports to both the MS Division Head and the Director of Technology.

Upper School Technology Coordinator:
a full-time, ten month position which typically has two extra weeks of work and salary added in the summer. Forty percent of this position is focused on US technology operations (ensuring reliable technology for US faculty and classrooms, and individual students), and sixty percent of this position focuses on technology integration support and research in the US. Recent initiatives have included the US faculty laptop program, a centralized comment writing system, and the Edline online course information system. Upcoming initiatives include the support of increasing numbers of student-owned laptops on campus, recognizing and supporting individualized technology work by students, and working directly with both departments and individual faculty to improve technology use in the US. Background experience should include both teaching and work with educational technology. Through regular tech team meetings, this individual will also be involved with school-wide technology issues and the transition of MS students to the US program. This position reports to both the US Division Head and the Director of Technology.

If you are interested, please email a cover letter and resume to tech1@oes.edu or fax to 503-293-1105 (Subject: Technology Coordinator Positions). Applications should by received by April 24th, 5 p.m.

Offers of employment are contingent upon drug and alcohol screening and criminal background check. Oregon Episcopal School is a private, independent school in SW Portland (www.oes.edu). Oregon Episcopal School considers applicants for all positions without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, veteran status, age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, family relationship, or other status protected under State, Federal, or Local law.

Thanks, and I hope everyone is ready for spring!

Google Apps for Education

Perhaps someone can clarify this for me, but I’m a bit confused by the “free” Google Apps for Education offer.

My understanding is that the profit model behind Gmail accounts is that the content can be scanned by Google for market analysis reports (while still ensuring privacy of users, we are assured). Additionally, the content scanning means that targeted advertising can be integrated into the interface.

For example, my Net Admin and I set up two standard Google Apps accounts and started playing with them. He sent me an email saying “Let’s Chat” and we tried out the chat app. Then I noticed that the email was surrounded by advertisements in gmail to “Chat with Girls” and “Meet other teens online!” Good grief– is the contextual advertising still turned on in the Google Education set, or is it turned off? I’d find it hard to believe this type of content review would be acceptable in an official school email system.

In addition, what happens when a school is fully committed, and the system is upgraded to new feature sets that break investments in links and tweaks previously made? Worse still, what if the concept doesn’t play out and support dwindles. Like early Blackboard and WebCT users discovered, what is inexpensive one year may not be in a few years. Also, are there any content ownership issues if the service is used– does Google retain any ownership or use rights long term? For example, even if I delete 100 documents out of my account, are they stilled cached by Google for “research purposes?”

Despite all these concerns, there’s still something about the unified email, chat, calendar, web docs, word process, spreadsheet and other features all in one place, with a sophisticated system for sharing with other teachers for review or collaborative work. I like this concept in many ways– online digital portfolios would be the norm, and work could be done from any computer on the Internet. I know this had been done with Citrix web desktops, but that’s more of “sending an image” of a Windows desktop instead of making the applications fully net native.

As I think more of this, the more I find it interesting. In the meantime, I don’t really want all of my content scanned by third parties on “free” systems. Or is the Google Ed system advertisement and content scanning free?

Classmate PC Vs. OLPC XO

Luis Ramirez has a well-written comparison of the OLPC XO versus the Classmate PC. He’s writing from Chile, and describing how both models could play a role there. He also has some surprising price comparisons, and relative strong first-hand account of the robustness of the Classmate PC.

In related news, the Financial Times recently published an interview with Michael Wang, the president of Quanta (the manufacturer of the OLPC OX), and he said that they will produce and market a version of the OLPC for developed countries and sell it for around $200 per unit. This might occur as early as this year, and I assume we wouldn’t have to buy one million units at a time.

Perhaps neither of these units would be appropriate for use in our school, but I think the competition element is healthy and interested. Some say the student-centered software of the OLPC is its most revolutionary feature, and I need to investigate that further.

UPDATE: According to Engadget, the OLPC operating system is now available for download and trial testing.

SECOND UPDATE: CNet has a photo gallery of Nigerian students receiving their OLPCs for the first time.

Planning for MacBooks

As noted before, we opted for another set of iBooks last year instead of going for MacBooks. This was less expensive (than the just-released MacBooks), and we side-stepped the Rev A. glitches of the MacBooks. It was also easier to do maintainable with another set of iBooks we were experienced with.

MacBookNext year, of course, we’re going with Macbooks for the Eight Graders (students and faculty), with some caveats. First, we want them to have Leopard from the start, which means we may not be able to order them until later in June. Second, we plan to NOT have MacBooks for loaners, but iBooks instead. Basically, we want the “loaner experience” to be less than perfect, so that there are disadvantages to having to take a loaner machine. Finally, we want the hard drives to be large enough to actually have a chance of using the “Time Machine” rollback recovery function. Personally, I hope to order one of the Leopard MacBooks for my family just before we leave for London.

Additionally, we plan to move all of the LS OS X machines (approximately 200) onto our Workgroup Manager server. That would mean around 500 machines total for it to manage, which we hope isn’t too many.

A Most Excellent Sail

All through spring break, we worked on the house. It was as if someone had spent six years stuffing it with unnecessary stuff. The guilty party should pay!

April 1st SailAnyway, I also managed to visit our sailboat one afternoon and did a full tune-up on the engine (new condenser, points, rotor, cap, wires and plugs), and on Sunday we took the kids and my brother and sister-in-law out for a three hour sail on the Columbia. The winds were light but became stronger. The sun was out, but it became colder. We had a great time. More pictures are available here.

We already have a buyer lined up for our boat, which is a pretty difficult thing to let go of (especially as I learned to rebuild and maintain more of its systems). My wife and I cheered ourselves up last night by reviewing the information about a sailing school in Gibraltar where we might take week-long sailing courses as soon as August. Sounds fun to sail to Morocco and back.

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