Cycles of Renewal and Change

I left work and went straight to Waterloo Station on Friday, the last day before a two-week break for students and faculty.  I’ll be working next week, but the second week we intend to do some Channel sailing.

From Waterloo I trained to Portsmouth and took the ferry to Gosport to dine at the Haslar Lightship and then sleep on our boat.  All day Saturday I did the annual cleaning and filter renewals on the fuel system, the cooling systems, the air intake, etc. on our Volvo MD2030 marine diesel engine.

(I don’t mention to many that boys in my family were expected to rebuild cars from a young age, and close to my 15th birthday I started with two 1960 Morris Minors that I bought at a farm estate sale of a man who had passed away.  I used one for parts, rebuilt the other’s engine, and that was my first car in college.  After that, I had a ’68 MG Midget, a ’68 MGB, etc.)

So, on the boat, I have renewed the oil, fuel, air filters and fluids.  I upgraded the seawater pump to have a speedseal cover for fast access to the seawater impeller, that pushes sea water through the heat exchanger to help cool the engine (no air going through a radiator like on a car).  As I do these things, I feel reconnected to working on machines of an honest type, and I like to make them slightly better as I work.

In addition, we replaced our out-of-date flares with an off-shore pack, and we recently bought an EPIRB in case we need satellites to get us out of a bind. With all this, our four-man life raft is out of date and needs a £250 service, and our fire extinguishers are out of date, and our first aid kit expired in 2007, and the filter packs on our drinking water tanks expired two months ago.  So, I have more to do this week.

Doing all this made me think of cycles of renewal versus cycles of change.  On the boat, we try to make incremental improvements as we renew.  Back in December, we were advised the original 1973 winches had broken internal parts, and the drums were wearing though, so we replaced and upgraded to self tailing winches that look like this:

These winches are easier to use by one person, and safer for a smaller crew, and to idiots like us they are attractive pieces of gear.

To relate all this back to educational technology, we’ve been doing major cycles of change in the last three years that were more than incremental upgrades.  We’ve replaced the school web page (to Finalsite), the school wireless system (to Meru), the school email system (to Zimbra), we’ve created a large VLE (Moodle), we replaced the network core and firewalls (all Cisco), we are replacing the school Internet connection (100 mbit fiber), we are half-way through the replacement of the student information system (to Veracross), we replaced the backup systems (to HP SANs, drives that go off campus, and Mozy Pro),and we have modified the MS 1:1 laptop program.

That’s a lot of change, and it’s time to slow down for a few years.  I’m really looking forward now to more incremental cycles of renewal now, like our projector systems.  We have 6-7 year old NEC projectors in most classrooms with Avervision document cameras.  Most classrooms don’t have screens.  We’re thinking of either going to higer rez (1200 x 800) 3000 lumen projectors (NEC NP510W EDU units) and upgraded document cameras (Lumens DC265s), or going ultra short throw (Epson or Hitachi) with an eye toward more interactive boards in the future.

Either way, balancing costs, it’s relaxing to be moving into more of that type of phase right now (both at work, and on the boat).  As of right now, I get to type this in the cockpit of SR (on a little Samsung netbook with a Vodaphone 3G stick), on a sunny English morning in March, having my first coffee of the day while the family sleeps in below.  This is not a bad place to relax and think awhile, and my boat work is done for this weekend.

Time for a second coffee from the galley.

The Air is Alive with Wireless

We rolled out about forty more Meru wireless access points this week, giving us a total of just over 90 in the building.  We have pulled in the 50 remaining Apple Extreme airports that were in the building, so we could be on a unified system.

Our first morning with the unified Meru points was a bit rough– we had over 400 users come on in about 30 minutes, as well as 240 Middle School students trying to do a secure login for a writing test trial.  We have over half of these students fail because of rejected logins or massively slow network performance (or none at all).

After the smoke clearned, we noted that wireless was slow throughout the building, and many people were getting dropped connections– when we turned off the Single Cell technology on the G radios, these problems went away, so we did that on all G radios.  (The Single Cell has worked fine for us for months on the N radios). 

So, today, we’re trying the 240 at once test again.  The G radios should work better, but we may still major slow-downs and login problems.  It crossed our minds that the 240 laptops may be going to 8 access points, but thos 8 access points may be running into a single POE switch, that runs back to the network core on a single copper gigabit line (on wiring that wasn’t gigabit certified).  Thus, we are patching in a second gigabit uplink for both POE switches in that area of the building right now.  We may also have a fiber option for the runs back to the core if needed.

Kids and Family Videography

My son is doing a video editing activity at school, and we bought him a Canon FS 200 flash-based camcorder for the class, with the stipulation he would be the ship’s videographer when we went sailing.

Whether that was a good decision or not is still to be determined… :)

Here’s his first Jacques Cousteau style entry from a very cold trip we may a few weeks ago to the Isle of Wight.

Not as many sailing shots as I would like, but it was raining and about 2 degrees Celsius, so I guess I’ll give him a pass this time.

We are watching old Cousteau programs on Youtube with the kids, with the classic Rod Sterling narration.  Who knows– maybe we have a young Steve Zissou in the family…

Work, Work, Work

Not much time to post lately– too many simultaneous projects underway:

  1. Migration work to Veracross
  2. Recent completion of Open Air lab
  3. Soon-to-launch Chronos Blog System built on Drupal
  4. 48 more wireless access points to be installed
  5. Projector and Document Camera Research
  6. Sudden loss of School Internet Connection for nine hours
  7. New 100 mbit Internet connection coming in June
  8. Purchase planning for May/June, next year’s computers
  9. Moodle development plans and integration
  10. Hosting visiting teams (fun!) looking at tech

There’s more, of course.  A few notes on the above:

  • We’re leaning toward NEC NP510W EDU projectors for high resolution and 3000 lumens.  We have two, but one had reliability issues, so we have ordered a third for testing.  Excellent image quality at HD.
  • We should have a redundant ADSL connection on the new 100 mbit Fiber that will even carry over the public IP range to the ADSL if the fiber is down.
  • I’ll report soon on our hopefully unified G/N single cell, load balancing wireless network.
  • Drupal is fun, but it’s like creating a statue out of big block of marble, which sometimes cracks.  I’ll post some screen shots of our blog/portfolio system once it has student users starting this week.
  • I want others of you to buy a bunch of iPads and give clear and informative reports about them, so I don’t have to worry about them for awhile…  :)
  • Spent all day at work yesterday trying to get our Internet service provider to restore service.
  • I really  like the sleek Lenovo X200S laptop I just bought for my own use, but I’m still not certain that Lenovo could provide custom builds in adequate time for us, as Dell does.
  • The three Eno boards we installed last summer (with ultra short throw Hitachi projectors) are being used, loved by one, mixed reviews from others.
  • I ordered a Lumens DC265 Document Camera to compare/contrast with our aging Avervisions.  I like the idea of two real lamps for light, higher rez, HDMI to the new projectors.  I don’t like the poor lighting of the Avervisions.

Okay, that’s enough for now.  I promise images of the Open Air lab and the Chronos system later this week.

Right now, I must do my Yachtmaster homework (mostly chart navigation) if I’m going to pass the test in 10 days…

1:1 Laptop Programs as Part of “Embedded Design”

Pat Basset forwarded a link to ISED-L about the research article about 1:1 programs:

The End of Techno-Critique: The Naked Truth about 1:1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change
by Mark E. Weston and Alan Bain

It’s an interesting article on several levels.  It addresses criticism of 1:1 laptop program, but it also defines laptops as cognitive tools that should be part of larger whole school change initiatives in pedagogy and curriculum.  This is something I’ve advocated for many years.

Of particular interest to me is the final third of the report, which makes suggestions as to how “embedded design” is needed when schools change or adopt new objectives.

Here are two paragraphs from page 12.

One, the community comprising the school – students, teachers, school leaders, and parents – must have an explicit set of simple rules (Bain, 2007; Seel, 2000) that defines what the community believes about teaching and learning. The rules and the process of building consensus about them, assign value to what the community believes (e.g. cooperation, curriculum, feedback, time). The rules are not a mission statement; instead, they are the  drivers for the overall design of the school and the schooling that occurs therein (Weston & Bain, 2009).

Two, the school community deliberately and systematically uses its rules to embed its big ideas, values, aspirations, and commitments in the day-to-day actions and processes of the school (e.g., physical space, classroom organization, equipment, job descriptions, career paths, salary scales, curriculum documents, classroom practice, performance evaluation, technology, professional development). Embedded design yields a complete picture, absent of the broad, loosely coupled (Weick, 1976) brush strokes and sweeping references to “best practice” (Daniels et al., 2001) or “excellence” (Peters, 2009) that characterize techno-critique and are common in most approaches to educational change, innovation, and reform.

The following sections discuss building community involvement in this process, so that new embedded tools or objectives are requested as part of the overall change, instead of layered on top with unclear objectives.

It’s a good article– check it out.

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