Continuing Trends

I was reviewing new sets of surveys of students today about technology, and I was surprised by how trends over the past few years have continued and increased.

By far, the favored use of computers is for communication, with music and games falling behind in the listings. I’m becoming to think of computers a social tools as much as individual tools. It would be interesting to plot a chart showing five years of data comparing computer use for individual creativity and production vs. collaborative creativity and production.

To simply call it networking is too limited. It is a culture and community, with certain rules, but also some boundaries that are unclear. It’s easy to see how individuals portray themselves on discussion boards, for example, trying to build reputation with meaningful input. Sometimes put-downs or flames are used, but typically that doesn’t lead to lasting gains. In the end, building reputation is a continuing goal, and self-awareness grows from that. It can create a feed-back loop of giving to receive.

There are also signs in the surveys of more awareness of computer use as a limited function, instead of endless possibilities. Some colleagues the other day were referring to iMovie as the the new PowerPoint– it has a place, but can also be overused. The wow factor of certain technologies may have a shelf-life, and in the end it appears that the students feel the chats, emails and social and academic exchanges offer the real return on their investment of time.

Inconveinent Truth

This came up during a discussion with colleagues today.

Given computers and nothing else, students won’t create a culture of academic technology use on their own.

Sorry. I had to say it. Adults are needed in the room to shape and focus technology use by kids. I don’t buy the idea that kids are so far ahead that they can figure out computers on their own. For evidence, check out the typical student who spends six hours a night on a computer doing homework…

Moodle Cluster Update

Athena Moodle

We’ve been running Moodle on our new, two server cluster all this week. It’s the first time we’ve had it under load.

So far, so good. The performance is much, much better than before, and the performance stats on the servers indicate that they have plenty of reserve CPU and memory capacity. We are using CentOS as the Linux operating system, running without a GUI on both servers. The front end server has Moodle and the file store, and the back end server has MySQL running. Each server has eight gigs of memory, and dual quad core Xeon CPUs.

You can visit the system at

http://athena.asl.org/

We had some initial problems with the cut over. The most significant was the following– we copied over a full copy of the database and the filestore for testing. During that time, our consultants installed and configured Moddle to use the Eaccelerator, a PHP accellerator. When we did the full and real cutover, the final and most recent copy of the database and file store from our overwhelmed Windows server came over, but it was not configured to use Eaccellerator. This caused a conflict for about half of our users (those with more than ten courses), and kept them from logging in. The knock-on effect was that some were un-enrolled from classes.

Once getting the configuration changed, and the students re-enrolled, we could finally start enjoying some of the performance benefits. For the first time ever, we could actually turn on stats and other features.

We are currently considering a third Linux server, simply to sit as a mirror of both the database and the Moodle installation, to serve as a fall-back system should either servers in the cluster fail.

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