iPads Revisited

I will confess to being less than an iPad advocate.  I’ve spent 20 plus years working on the development and optimization of 1:1 laptop programs (starting with the deployment of sixty Apple eMates to fourth graders), and we’ve worked very hard to resolve Mac and Windows imaging issues, file compatibility problems, cases, repairs, classroom management, faculty training and buy in, and more.  The thought of tossing all that for large iPod devices seems strange

At the bottom of it, I guess the “typing question” drove me nuts.  Personally, I couldn’t do more than a two sentence email or blog post on an iPad or iPhone, and I couldn’t imagine a primary academic tech tool that would forget about writing and composition.  I go even farther back on that topic– it’s a foundation stone of computers in schools, period.

All that said, I am now writing this blog post at nearly normal speed on an iPad2.  I was impressed by the 1:1 iPad discussions on ISEN-L and the ISEN Ning, and I heard of a new case with keyboard for iPads that actually may have a 60 wpm keyboard.  I ordered two of these Zagg Portfolio Cases for iPad2 and 3.

Zagg Portfolio for iPads

Zagg Portfolio for iPads

After a few days, I’m mostly impressed.  The keyboard is supposed to last 2 weeks on a charge, and I will know that in two weeks.  The keyboard isn’t bad, but some behaviors are still unpredictable.  For example, writing this in WordPress is causing a double letter each time the text editor wraps the end of a line, but that could be a browser issue.

In the end, I guess we are all after tech that is easier to use, or gives us more creative options.  If you look at the iPad only for the things it can’t do, then it’s a loser out of the gate.  (No flash, poor Google Docs, many pages don’t work right, etc.).  However, if you look at it in terms of easier management, more flexibility, less weight, fast boot time, the two strong cameras in the iPad 3, the developing digital textbooks, the developing touch and stylus software, and more, then the idea of a type of program starts to take shape.

More on this later– there are many problems to consider first, but this keyboard that works is a great start.  (Hey, I think I just figured out how to avoid some of the challenges of typing in this editor as well– the learning continues…)



Haiku Update

We now have over three hundred users who have tried or are partially using Haiku in parallel with our Moodle 1.9 system.  We still have some issues to work out (such as allowing the Veracross API sync not affect our Google Docs users names), but otherwise the system is running well.

After Spring Break, we plan to discuss the pros and cons of the two systems further.  One issue of concern is that the transfer of data from Moodle 1.9 to Haiku could be a challenge.  Some of our hundreds of Moodle courses have over a gig of data in them, and early attempts at importing a Moodle 1.9 backup into Moodle 2.1, and then exporting as a Moodle 2.1 backup for import into Haiku were fairly rough.  At first, only small classes seemed to work, but recently a 120 meg class went over fine (but not quizzes and assignments).

It may be that Haiku has improved their import feature, so maybe we will be about to use the backup import process more.  Our fall back solution is to hire an alumni for the summer to manually move data over, which would likely work but be very tedious.

One other Haiku point– we like the integration with Google Docs, but in order for that to work the authentication for Haiku needs to be done via Google Docs.  We started this school year with an SSO from Finalsite being our entry into Google Docs (which created some “stacking issues” in that some other applications like Picasa would work from the Google Docs (SSO) authentication, and others (like Noodletools) would not (unless we had a real, non-SSO authentication in Google Docs).

So, we plan to split off Google Docs from the SSO this summer and make it an independent authentication agent, and have Haiku hang off of it as a service.  This is a little weird, given that our current Moodle system is independent but authenticates off of AD, but we think it’s the right course forward for the most consistency for additional services (like Noodletools) becoming part of an integrated web services platform for teachers and students.

Phone System Update

We’ve placed the order for the Digium Switchvox system, which will include some of each of their three new handsets and a cold swap core.  We submitted extention information last week, and we hope to have the core installed in a week or two.  Our installers are also providing three loaner Polycom handsets for testing, as well as three SIP trunks and DDIs so we can run the system in parallel with our current system for a couple of months of testing and fine tuning before a cut over at the end of June (or sooner, based on testing).

We are curious about the SIP trunks.  I believe we have enough bandwidth on our 100 mbit Internet fibre for the calls, and our Palo Alto box should be able to protect 10 percent or more of the pipe for calls when needed.  I hope that just three handsets and lines will give us enough to test the SIP trunks before we cut over, in case we are so impressed that we don’t want to continue using our current circuit (which is relatively expensive).

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