Innovative Learning Spaces: The Role of Technology

Hi, All

Here’s a shortened version of the slides I presented today:

ISTE 2012 New Learning Spaces The Role of Technology

Here’s the handout for my ISTE 2012 Session: Innovative Learning Spaces: The Role of Technology

ISTE 2012 Innovative Learning Spaces Handout

And here’s the gist of it:

ISTE 2012

Innovative Learning Spaces: The Role of Technology
Jim Heynderickx, The American School in London
27 June 2012



Learning  Spaces, a free Educause book:  http://www.educause.edu/research-and-publications/books/learning-spaces

Horizon Report 2012 K12:  http://k12.wiki.nmc.org/


  • Evolution of computer lab designs
  • Technology in Classrooms
  • STEM and STEAM Design Labs
  • Technology in Libraries
  • Technology in Community Spaces
  • 1:1 vs. Desktop Environments
  • Synergies of Virtual Learning and Physical Learning Spaces

Ten Takeaway Points

  1. New construction isn’t necessary
  2. Peripheral computer lab design is the new norm
  3. STEM and STEAM labs are exciting
  4. Easily changeable learning spaces suit changing pedagogy
  5. Flexible, moving furniture is great, with caveats.
  6. Portable technology is optimal for “horizontal” learning
  7. Fixed technology is preferable for “vertical” learning
  8. Every school should have flyspaces
  9. Mistakes can be affordable
  10. VLS systems can complement traditional learning spaces, but our core value is person-to-person relationships

 Last Point

  • Teaching space in influenced by the very city and country and surrounding culture and language of the broader community.
  • My own children are growing up in London, and they are increasingly developing global perspectives and viewpoints.
  • It is possible that the school, campus and geographical location or city is becoming flexible and changeable.
  • The future of learning spaces may be that they are not on campuses at all, but they are a hybrid of experiential learning and group field work.
  • Technology is going to play a central role to make this work.



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).


New Generation Phone Systems– Digium Switchvox?

We’re looking at new VOIP phone systems, and we’ve had presentations and quotes for Cisco, Mitel, Shoretel and Digium Switchvox so far. We need a system with around 215 handsets and 350 extensions, and our configuration needs are very simple.

The last time I bought a PBX, it took a solid week of computer-aided instruction in a corporate phone center to be trained how to add an extension, create a menu tree, and understand the 8 foot wide stack of documentation.  Everything was done via the command line in the PBX’s proprietary operating system.  It was very much a black box system.

This time around, it appears that most systems have evolved to have easy (or easier) to use web interfaces and less complicated setups.  The system we’re looking most closely at is the Digium Switchvox system:  http://www1.digium.com/

We’re interested because of its simplicity, redundancy, lower cost of ownership in terms of licenses (since it is based on the Asterisk open source phone platform), direct voicemail to email, support of soft phones like Bria (http://www.counterpath.com/bria-iphone-edition.html), and SIP trunk compatibility.

Digium is now offering handsets that were built to work with the system, and we’re seeing these for the first today.  We also have the opportunity to talk with the founder of company today at a trade show this afternoon.

So, has anyone deployed one of these systems lately?  Feedback?  Success or regrets?


Making time for a new blog

One of the best comments I ever got about K12converge was “I can’t tell if it’s about educational technology or sailing.”  Thanks, Richard!

In order to remedy this situation, I created a sailing-specific blog a couple of years ago, but normally I didn’t have time to post to it much.  This year, however, now that Veracross is rolling along, the wireless works, the printing/copying has improved, and we’re making progress in many other areas, I decided it would be acceptable to “make time” to write for the sailing blog.

Our Rival 34 on the Newtown River

The site’s at http://sailingvoyage.com/, and you can see a listing of recent posts at the site in the left column here.  You are also welcome to visit.  Just yesterday, I spent the day at the boat doing winter maintenance and scheduling upgrades from specialists in Gosport, and I’ll confess it was the most fun I’ve had in a month.  The wonder of sailing to me is that it is an outrageously nonsensical thing to do (very expensive, very humbling, a learning cure that lasts decades, and a little dangerous), but it’s rewarding on simply core levels.  Even changing the oil on a little green 30 hp Volvo diesel feels like a real part of the long story of knowing the boat, making it safe, and keeping up skills.

Fun stuff.  I think I’ll put a couple more decades into it.  I’ll link a cross-post here once in a while, after voyages or significant disasters, and to confuse Richard.


Macbook Airs for Education

Always-on Speck case

The following was an interesting story to come up yesterday:

Apple offers budget, EDU-only 13″ MacBook Air as white MacBook replacement

We’ve heard some debate that the Airs weren’t up to the rigors of full-time student use, but this would suggest that Apple believes they are.  So how fast before the case manufactures figure out how to protect an Air from damaged when it is dropped from tables on a regular basis?

I believe that Mobilis, our custom-manufacturer of Macbook cases in France, claim they have a Macbook Air case now.  We will need to review it, or just take a closer look at Macbook Pros…

I’m pretty certain we couldn’t use a low-spec Macbook Air for four years if it only has 2 gigs of system memory and 64 gigs of storage ram.  I believe some of our current software images alone are in the 30 gig range!


iPads vs. Kindles

My systems administrator really likes Mac products and software, and when the iPad was announced he was exceptionally excited to try one out.  It seemed like something that could replace his school-provided Macbook, so we struck a deal that he could be an early adopter.

He took the iPad home and immediately started using it for most Macbook things, such as remote access to our servers, email, online research and reading ebooks.   For about a year, he made progress in these area, but after a year he admitted that he needed a Macbook again to be more efficient.  Some basic things just seemed to take four times longer on an iPad compared to a Macbook.

At the same time, I took on an iPad and then an iPad2, and I used it for many of the same things.  However, I also picked up two of the version two Kindles for use at home.  Personally, it wasn’t long before I had read 40 books on the Kindle, but I had never completed reading a single book on the iPad or iPad2.  Whenever I tried to read a book on the iPad, there was something about the weight of the device and the screen that was somewhat uncomfortable, and I also felt nervous putting an iPad in a pack full of sailing gear as I travelled down to the boat on weekends.  I also didn’t like showing off an iPad2 on the London Underground or on a public bus.

In contrast, the epaper of the Kindle screen seemed more like a paperback to me, and I could read it for hours.  It was much lighter than the iPad, and easy to hold with the leather case on.  The battery lasted as long as a month instead of 1-2 days.   I could download books via Whispernet for free with no monthly contract, even when travelling in the US.  We had a single Amazon account for our family, so our Amazon library can be downloaded to either my Kindle or my wife’s, or onto my iPhone or my kid’s iPod Touches.  I also took and used the Kindle everywhere, because it cost only £90 and everything is backed up, so losing it or breaking it wasn’t a deterrent.  So, we’re buying two more Kindles this month for our kids.

Meanwhile, my system administrator bought two of the third generation Kindles for last Christmas, and now he reports that his iPad use has dropped by about 90 percent.  He and his wife are having the same positive experiences as I have had, and he finds the screen much more comfortable to read for hours.  He’s also done some test work with Calibre and similar software for making content delivery easy directly to Kindles or any device with Kindle software (or iPads as well).

So, we like Kindles, even if they are more single-purpose and they likely are not the best tools if you need to annotate the text a great deal.  In some ways, I wonder if the optimal “2:1” program might be a school-provided 10-month laptop for academic use (but only partial personal use), with the additional expectation that students will own and maintain their own Kindle or iPad.  We could move most faculty-created reading packets to the delivery system for Kindles and iPads, and quite a few books could be read on the devices.  We’re also hoping that our OverDrive Media account will soon enable the direct-to-Kindle option like they have in the US.

iPads are cool and can do a lot of things (maybe the most exciting would be math software like xThink once it is out of beta for iPads and Android tablets), but it’s funny that a more single-use device might be more effective, especially if a thin, light laptop is readily available for the other needs.  (And none of us seem to like reading books on laptops.)


A glassy future



“Bring Your Own” Vs. “School Provided” 1:1 Laptops

There’s been some great discussions about “bring your own” vs. “school provided” 1:1 laptops on the ISED-L discussion list.  The following are some thoughts.

In my experience, either program could work at a school, but the determining factors are school culture and the targeted objectives of the program.

For example, the “bring your own model” has the strengths of being the most efficient in some ways (such maximum student choice and learning experience when selecting and caring for their own laptops), and good programs can be achieved with a fairly low economic hurdle (such a min-spec laptop such as the Lenovo S205 for £290 being the lowest possible investment).  For the students, the personal machine is also the academic machine, which is also closest to what their college experience will be.  Finally, since 80-90 per cent of students already report that they have laptops they could bring to school, there isn’t a major increase in pressure to “use laptops all day long” to warrant the investment.  (This shouldn’t occur in either program, by the way.)

However, the drawback is that there will be an objective ceiling in a mixed platform, bring-your-own laptop environment.  In our research of intended uses, it’s an achievable objective to have student-selected and maintained laptops (with support and loaners from the school) that have Microsoft Office, MathType, Geometer’s Sketchpad and browsers that will be fine with Google Docs, Moodle or Haiku, Voicethread, world language software, Noodletools and a broad range of web-based apps.  What likely won’t occur is standardized video editing software (such as iMovie).  Also, the idea of having families buy Adobe CS 5.5 isn’t likely to happen, and the complexity of us setting up software servers with expiring license keys would be complex and would knock out the idea of Atom-based netbooks as the entry-level machine.  So might a plan to use Mathematica software, and don’t even think about Logic or FinalCut Pro or InDesign.

Other schools have resolved these problems by simply raising the specs of the minimal laptop to something more supportable, uniform and powerful.  It’s also easier if only a single platform is allowed (such as either Macs or Windows), and then there are the negotiations to work out the software licenses for family-owned machines (which some schools have also resolved).

Once you get to that level of cost and complexity (£900 laptops, £400 of software, insurance, recommended cases), I wonder if it’s not better to switch back to the school-provided model simply because of efficiencies.  If a school buys a single laptop (such as a 13 inch Macbook Pro, white or Air), it can usually negotiate a 10 per cent cost reduction and three-year warranty (so around £100 to £150 is saved per unit).  If the school holds title to the machines but leases them to the families, then site licences or concurrent licenses for expensive software can be more easily used (Adobe, Mathematica, Maya, Geometer’s Sketchpad, Microsoft Office).  If the machines are re-imaged each year, then there is a much stronger chance of reliability as operating systems and software versions march forever forward (and it is a real challenge in that most HS classes are mixes of grade levels and four different years of hardware may be in play).  As for support, we can re-image machines for students, and have identical loaners ready.

So, overall, it’s likely the total cost of the school-provided laptop will be lower, with higher reliability and better software sets.  We have experience supporting these machines with the students as local administrators, which would be essential for HS students, but it is likely we would need to recall them in the summer for repairs and re-imaging, and to avoid the period of greatest likelihood of loss and damage and software corruption (the summer months).  I wouldn’t want to face 468 laptops being brought in the first day of school after a full summer of personal use and travel…

It’s worth noting that “summer use” would also affect the “bring your own” model, and may result in at least two machines being purchased by families to cover four years of HS use.  I’ve developed or worked on four different 1:1 programs now, and the challenge of trying to effectively cover four years of high school laptop use is an exceptionally serious one.  In most cases, laptops used for twelve months for both personal and academic use by students will die after about three years of use, which  leads to increasingly decrepit and hard to support machines in the junior year (if they were new on the first day of ninth grade).  This leads to a quandary for parents– do they buy a brand new laptop for one or 1.5 years of high school, or try to put off the purchase to coincide with the start of college.  It also means that two £900 laptops may be needed for HS, which isn’t an insignificant investment.

This “four year” challenge is interesting.  I’m interested in the idea of the school-provided and maintained “10 month a year laptops” possibly making it for four years, as our current school-maintained laptops do in our middle school program.  If all the laptops are returned at the end of the school year, that means that the school would have the choice of where the new laptops go.  Maybe the new ones go to seniors, with the ninth graders using three year old machines, or maybe the opposite, with senior year students having older machines but a much lower lease cost.  I guess it would depend on intended academic uses, which is what should always drive the type of tools anyway!

The downside of school-provided laptops is that students lose the challenge and freedom of choice, and they also lose the full personal and academic machine experience (since there would always be some limits as to what could be done with a school-managed machine even if they are local admins), and of course the loss of access over the summer.

So, the benefits of fully achieving the more focused/limited goals of the true “bring your own” program are not to be underestimated.  One could say a program that really achieves the more limited goals fully should be considered more successful than the program that partially achieves the higher goals of the school-provided laptops (with full Adobe apps, Mathematica, etc.).  Also, one should not underestimate the higher costs of the school-provided program (for the hardware and licensing and summer work), but overall the necessary tech support day-to-day would be about the same during the school year if you want good support for student machines.

One could say the school provided program is more scalable as time passes than the “bring your own,” but again it comes back to the school culture and what wants to be achieved.  In either case, the laptops should fade out of prominence and become everyday tools and part of the evolving academic goals of a healthy school.  Thinking ahead, the program that most effectively achieves that goal will likely be the best choice.


A visit to BETT, and the Lenovo X121E

We visited BETT this week– it’s a big, London-based technology expo for education.  It is primarily vendor booths and stands with a wide range of updated products.

The best thing we saw there was a new-to-us Lenovo laptop option.  It’s X121E  (terrible name):


Why did we find this exciting?  Well, it has the same light size and weight (3 lbs) of the atom-based Lenovo netbooks (like the S205 we like), but it has an Intel I3 chip, options for configuration, and longer battery life options (up to 9.5 hours).  It also appears to have a slightly better build quality, and the same high quality Lenovo keyboard that we like.  The big deal, however, is that the base model might be had for around £400 each, which is only around £120 more than the Atom-based S205, so we are getting close to a full-powered laptop (and not a netbook) in a great size and weight category, for well under £500.  (Compared to the 11 inch Macbook air, which comes in at around £900 a pop).

Other things at BETT– not much.  There’s a new Epson Brightlink model that can mount even closer to the wall and can support two interactive pens at once (not a bad idea).  We also scoped out imaging and management software for Windows machines from RM (expensive).  We looked at tech-supporting furniture (mostly boring).  We tried to talk to Google personnel, but they were too busy, but they did serve us test tubes filled with fruity smoothies in Google colors (gimmick).  The Dell display was pretty disappointing– I still don’t like the new plastics and designs of the latest Latitude laptops, and they didn’t have an all-in-one to show off.  We checked out follow-me printing, but the add-ons for existing printers/copiers were spendy, and I don’t think the concept would fit in at our school.

So, another week passes…



The Year’s End

Doug and Steph in 60 mph winds on top of Whitby lighthouse

I’m not a big fan of “top ten” articles appearing in the newspapers at this time of year, but maybe the last days before New Year’s isn’t a bad time to take stock of the year.

The year began with us half-way through our first year with Veracross, and we were still working out the transcripts, the progress reports, the report cards, the white slips, the transport system, the admissions needs, and more.  In all, it was a lot happening at once, and working on the problems was a bit like bailing sea water out of a small boat in heavy seas.  We also had a failing wireless network.

Meanwhile, I was also working through learning the different security and maintenance and cleaning programs in my new role of operations manager, as well as finishing up an architect competition for two planning applications.  The 10 year master plan was approaching completion, and I was about to propose a building audit so we could more accurately plan the next fifteen years of planned maintenance projects.

So, a busy start of the year.  As the year progressed, things improved.  Veracross settled in about as best as could be hoped for the first year of use, and in the second year we are still chasing down additional changes and needs.  The wireless network was reconfigured and now works better than ever, which is a massive relief to the entire tech department.

The master plan was approved, the architects selected, and we’ve made good progress with the applications.  Security, maintenance and cleaning staffs are moving forward, and the tech staff is feeling much more confident about our progress.

At home, my son has gotten off to a good start in ninth grade (first year of high school), and my daughter is taking Chinese in seventh grade.  My wife is enjoying her teaching aide position at school, and we’ve had some great youth hostel trips to Penzance and Land’s End, Whitby and now Ambleside and Grasmere in the Lake District (where I am writing this right now at Esquires Coffee).

So, 2011 was pretty challenging.  Goals for next year include completion of the applications, possible improvements to our learning management systems and how laptops are used in the high school, better feedback to users from tech, maintenance, cleaning and media departments, and one or two presentations at conferences (starting with one about designing learning spaces at ISTE in June).

Personal goals?  Build a technical website about our boat (1973 Rival 34), get in at least four weeks of sailing, if possible, including a week in the San Juan Islands.  Continue to work on the kids college funds.  Increase my cycling miles per week, and maybe fit in a few days of cycling in Vermont or the Berkshires in June.   Cross the English Channel in our boat?

Overall, we’re in a good place right now.



Lenovo Ideapad S205

Okay, I’ve been let down by netbooks before.  I’ve tried a string of Samsungs and Dells and even an Eee PC (daring), and often times it was the little things that sunk them.  Like a right shift key smaller than a candy Chiclet.  Or a screen simply too small.  Or a Linux OS that was fun, but not ready for prime time.

Latest flavor– the Lenovo IdeaPad S205:


So far, we have seven of these.  Some are deployed as long-term student loaners.  Some are second-machines for travelling desktop users. One is in my cycling backpack right now.

Pros: great keyboard, great price (£280), smaller charger, decent size and weight, good reliability so far, plenty of ports (including HDMI and 5 in 1 memory card reader), five hour battery, Windows 7 home, good size HD, slick boot-up optimizer for faster start time (67 seconds), fun face recognition login.

Cons: just big enough screen, somewhat slow when many apps open (0n 2 gig memory model), no DVD drive (not expected, either), etc.

Overall, this is probably the best, inexpensive netbook I’ve used so far.  It doesn’t have the chip speed or ultra-thinness of a small Macbook Air, but I could also buy almost three of them for a single Macbook Air.  That means less heartburn if my son drops it, or its stolen, or if we decide to upgrade after “only” two years.  One of our Samsung netbooks is now over three years old, so it’s hard to say that they wear out any faster than most laptops.

More on this netbook to come…

Full disclosure: What do we have at home at the moment?  Wife has a Macbook Pro, two years old.  Son has a Macbook Pro, less than one year old.  Daughter has a one-year old white Macbook from school.  I have a Lenovo X1 Thinkpad, and the Ideapad S205 on loan for testing.  My main squeeze at work is a Lenovo X200 in a docking station, which I take mobile at least twice a day.


A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

We just heard a 1994 NPR World Cafe replay interview with Joni Mitchell in which the album Hijera was discussed, and a part of the song “Coyote” was played.  Back as a teen, I remember wearng thick black and white headphones plugged into a damaged receiver amp from Goodwill and a BSR turntalbe playing the album, and ths song.  I enjoyed the bass.

The song wasn’t a bad capture of the general feel of growing up on country roads in Willamette Valley in the lat 1970s– especially on warm summer evenings with late sunsets and bonfires on gravel roads and teenagers learning to talk and interact without adults around.  That was fun, but beneath and behind it was the drving– American Graffiti-style car culture infused life , with the quarter mile spray painted on a perfectly straight country road and a rush of  pavement and a the yellow center stripes blurring into one.

Maybe that was the conflict of it– a good life, a good atmosphere on those warm summer nights, but a cranky sense that there must be something more– something better down the road.  The bonfire was beautiful, but it said something was over.  Time to leave.  The moment was sparks fading into stars.  The white lines on the freeway were real.

So we end up far away.  Today we explored some high reaches of the Portsmouth harbor estuary by boat, returning after dark with faulty nav lights on the bow, and had dinner in a gently rocking cabin with wind whistling in the rigging.  1994 Joni Mitchell streamed on the iPhone via NPR, talking about a song from 1976, and I felt both home in Oregon and million years away, in a more interesting and more complicated place.


Help Desk

Just a short note– we’ve pulled the trigger on some licenses for Web Help Desk  and we have it running on a Linux server right now. After a fair bit of testing, we’re planning to start using it in “stealth mode.” Basically, it will automatially pull all of our helpdesk emails and convert them to tickets for our support staff.

If that works, we might extend the same system to Maintenance and Media. If that works, we’ll start the auto-ping backs of emails for submitted tickets (with tracking numbers, log ins, updates, etc.). We will also turn on ping backs for when jobs are completed.

So far, so good. The software has a good rep from other schools.

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