Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hardware and Networking Lab and the Technology Refurb Program

"If we followed the same logic with

textbooks, we’d have one classroom

set and everyone would share. Here's

one textbook; you have five kids who

have to share it, [and each] gets to

take it one day a week. Obviously, you

limit the options that you have."

Dr Seymour Papert, MIT


Building off a student internship and computer refurbishing program that I ran with comrades where I used to work, we took off in a new direction with a Hardware and Networking course at at BBA in 2005. I took in donations from a University and a handful of businesses and created a workbench style lab for the course: Good old hands on hardware configuration and testing. I brought in some hubs, switches, a wireless router and some cable and we started creating closed testing loops and wired up workstations.

The needs of the Hardware and Networking course quickly moved discussions on the schools Acceptable Use Policy to create more student opportunities. We needed to access the Internet for practical projects beyond what the restrictions at the school could provide. Experiments with Open Source software, virus and spyware/malware work and browser tests to name a few. After some lobbying with the IT Department, the Hardware and Networking Lab was shifted over to it's own cable modem for internet access where routing, workstation and network security, and advanced networking tests took off. Shortly thereafter the IT Staff at BBA was brought into class first as guest speakers and then as regulars to mentor diverse interests and projects. This was the precursor to more advanced Student Internships / Independent Studies at BBA with the IT Department and a shift toward students being included in professional development initiatives on campus.

With continued donations in the first year we established a larger bank of hardware than we could use for testing. We began to refurbish these computers and sent 15 of them on home with students in the first year. Having a computer to learn with rather than one just to access information brings on all sorts of opportunities. Word quickly spread and demands for machines grew.

After the first year the RLab course (Tech Research) was taking flight. I moved into teaching three full section of the RLab and passed the Hardware and Networking course notes and brainstorming from the first innovative group of students (J Lapointe, L Annunziata, M Naples, Z Greene, L Spencer, R Vandelinder, R Lane, P Buckley, C Fries, C Walker and A Tinker) on to Mr. Morrison and the IT Department. Mr Morrison, the IT Department, the Hardware and Networking courses and many IT Internship students continue to expand the refurbishing program.

We still seek donations for this refurbishing program. PCs and Macs are cleaned, loaded with an OS (operating system), updated, software packages are installed and then it's shipped out for use and experiments.

Phase II of this program?

Phase II will look to take in iPods, refurbish them and reallocate them to students for academic projects and experiments.

No doubt this will lead on to other interesting opportunities on campus.

If you would like to donate hardware to this program, contact Kevin Morrison (kmorrison@burrburton.org) or us in the Lab.

Thanks for tuning in, AP

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Web Publishing on Campus: Blogs and Wikis

We've had many successful training dates and personal appointments since our pilot project in October 2006 (see below). The opening training session for adults has evolved further since the school took a bold step to offer a 'Faculty Block' every Wednesday morning of the school calendar from 720-810am. Personal Learning Communities and departments now have time to have regularly scheduled meeting times. In this Wednesday am slot and on some Faculty in-service days we've offered many classes and individualized support sessions on technology related topics.

Students as Mentors:
Folks attending training sessions see a high percentage of students who are there to help answer individual questions. The model has proven to be highly successful as it steers away from general classes and leans toward individualized support and collaboration between students and adults. Students becoming technical support advisors to faculty is not a new concept. Students not only help people in the room with individualized questions but are encouraged to pursue followup appointments. The success of the program keeps growing and a pilot project, unofficially called the 'Student Help Desk' is underway.

Founding Initiative: October 2006
Many Faculty members were interested in publishing web pages for student use but conventional web page methods were cumbersome. Home access required special software and opened up security issues in providing remote access in the exisitng school infrastructure. The success of the BBA announcements blog, Music Department wiki and research into other publishing around the country pointed toward using blogs and wikis for Faculty to post web pages for coursework and sports at BBA.

Two students signed on to investigate blog and wiki publishing opportunities further. The students worked with Mr Provost and Mr Morrison to create a wiki that would provide adults at BBA with training information and answers to frequently asked questions.

In a nutshell: Moving websites off campus to the cloud increased reliability, made them easily editable, ease of use and offered far more integrated services... at no cost.

On October 18, 2006 students led an introduction at a Faculty in-service, followed by a training session in the Lab. 36 adults attended the session and each adult had a student mentor. A large number of blogs and wikis were created and are now in use across the BBA campus.

BBA Research Lab Summary: Faculty Presentation available in the Project Archive.
Presentation and blog post prepared by: Samantha Wilson ('07) and Troy Johnson ('07), Marcin Magnezewski (International Student, 2006).

Monday, April 3, 2006

More Robust and Cost Effective Collaboration: Google Apps


We switched in the Fall of 2008! The result is a lower cost (free) collaboration platform that offers far superior service and reliability than we could ever provide internally. Restructuring the school licensing proposals and reducing hardware expenses and power consumption costs saved $27,400 in the first year alone. Being web based, there are no time consuming client upgrades, compatibility issues and the training materials online are well documented for every learning level. Collaboration has exploded on campus as has efficiency. Shared calendars, work documents and creative use has skyrocketed. The IT department saves valuable resources as server costs related to email were eliminated as was configuration and maintenance time. Users are more easily trained via online resources and more IT Dept time is available for support. We also have more money to reallocate toward bandwidth. We have participated in discussions around the State on this shift and if you'd like information on how we did it give us a call or stop by.

Here is a summary of our original proposal:

In April, 2006 we introduced a proposal for an innovative program called 'GMail for Domains.' Back then, GMail for Domains offered free web based email, spam filtering, web access and a variety of sync services, and 2GB (gigabytes) of storage for each user. The service also sported a web based console for local IT administrators to configure options for users and groups. Essentially, Google hosts your email and all related mail services under your domain name (ie burrburton.org) for... free.

Arizona State University and many other educational institutions, businesses and non-profit corporations(partial listing hosted by Google) jumped on to the GMail for Domains program and have since released documents on how the program increased collaborative services, streamlined communication redundancies and produced substantial cost savings (it's free). Shortly thereafter Google included many other services and recast the program as 'Google for Domains' and then later retitled the program again under the name 'Google Apps.'

"Google Apps Education Edition is helping Arizona State University become a highly flexible university that can provide extraordinary technology experiences for its students. Google's integration of webmail, instant messaging and calendaring is second to none."

- Kari Barlow, Assistant Vice President, University Technology Office, Arizona State University
Read the ASU case study to learn more.

" Our students approached us about a year ago, saying that we needed to improve our email and collaboration services. We actually had our student government tell us, 'we want you to implement Google Apps.' Higher education institutions have the opportunity right now to focus on their core competencies of education and of supporting true education. If other peripheral services -- communication services -- are being done by someone else in a best-of-breed fashion, why not take advantage?

- Wendy Woodward, Director of Technology Support Services, Northwestern University

Read the Northwestern University case study to learn more.
Read the NorthWestern Case Study to learn more.

Since 2006 Google has integrated many improvements like chat services, calendaring, blog integration, Documents (Word Processing, Spreadsheets and Presentation applications - all with built in sharing and publishing features), personal home pages (Sites), Admin Console additions and expanded each users account storage to over 6GB.
On March 31st, 2008 it was announced that Google Documents will now have 'offline' options for use when you are not connected to the internet.

Back in April, 2006 Gmail for Domains offered superior email features, services and storage capacity at no cost. Google Apps now offers a collection of integrated services and applications that rivals if not exceeds all other packages on the market at no cost. We are proposing that implementation of the program could lead to great educational and collaborative opportunities here at BBA. While the focus of our proposal is on the benefits to the educational community here, the cost savings enjoyed year to year could potentially be pooled into bandwidth upgrades, expansion of wireless access services and free up valuable IT Deprtment time currently used to maintain in-house services.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Laptop for Every Student

Original post January, 2006
Updated October 15, 2012

In October of 2005 we started our investigation as to whether a One-to-One Laptop Initiative, one laptop per student, would be a good fit for education at BBA. After a bit of research, we discovered this debate has been brewing at our school for 14 years (1998-2012).

There have been a number of meetings and committees that have extensively reviewed potential financial models, purchasing options, contacts, site visits, exemplary and failed programs, experts, and most importantly of all... educational goals and student potential in a program like this. We've conducted two pilot projects, one with iPads and the other with Netbooks and reviewed the potential and shortcomings of each device.

Developments in feeding schools now present opportunities and challenges:
  • The majority of feeding schools to Burr and Burton Academy have a Student Laptop Program (as of August 2012)
  • The local supervisory union (BRSU) has adopted student laptop programs, and a unified LMS (Learning Management System). The LMS encapsulates a wealth of student data (examples of student work and class assignments, assessment data, rubrics, grades, comments, etc)
  • Students now come to our school with broader academic and creative technology skills that we can build upon

In recent developments (2012), our school has shifted to discussing and researching BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs. Here are some lingering questions with BYOD programs:

  • Data: There is little to no data abroad on successful BYOD programs
  • Many BYOD programs specify a 'device of choice' aka iPad, tablet, etc
  • Equity (and financial support for families in need. What device is best vs acceptable?)
  • Software applications / access
  • Capacity for the device to run open source software vs paid applications
  • Creative capacity of the device: Student capacity should not be limited to basic communication tools, reading, Internet research, limited function apps, and Google Apps
  • Repair and insurance/warranty issues for school IT departments, users, and teachers
  • Support issues for IT departments, users, and teachers
  • and perhaps most importantly: Discussions often rest on 'acceptable devices' and not educational goals or student potential

Our research shows that laptops offer:
  • Successful formula for success / implementation
  • Connected and unconnected computing power (on and off the internet)
  • Creative capacity and commonality of software: Audio, video, and application editing suites / programs. These offer higher student growth potential
  • Unified purchasing (discounts), repair and support options
  • Expanded machine to computer interface potential: Programming, device control, configuration
  • Unified educational platform (capacity)

Successful Laptop initiatives, now numbering in tens of thousands, follow a formula spearheaded by the Maine MLTI project:

1. Treat technology as a tool not as a curriculum area
2. Think differently about teaching and student work in and out of the classroom
3. Decide to do it, not pilot it. Give people a goal to shoot for and they'll respond
4. Concentrate on current curriculum initiatives
5. Support teachers as much as possible
6. Make technology part of everyday language
7. Make it sustainable. Funding is critical
8. Develop the infrastructure to support the initiative
9. Promote ownership of the technology. Access policies that are too restrictive don't allow students to connect a feeling of ownership
8. Focus on creating. A computer can do much more than send email, browse video and the web
9. Talk about ethics and communication skills using these tools systemically

Of 20 failed, stagnant or floundering student laptop initiatives we've studied at length, they abandon one or more of these elements. There are thousands of successful initiatives throughout the world now. There are tons of peers to collaborate with. Student laptop initiatives are no longer risky.

It's not to say there won't be bumps in the road. Education, of course, with or without technology has it's bumps.

After extensive research, five site visits to other schools, and a good bit of discussion on pros and cons we feel that a student laptop initiative is a perfect fit for our school.

The first goal in a 'school with laptops' initiative is to achieve equity of access to this powerful tool and the resources it brings with it. Much like we provide textbooks for every student, a laptop initiative provides resources for those who have none.

The creative capacity of a computer: Different operating systems, configuration and personalization potential, powerful software: commercial or open source, machine to computer interface potential (hooking devices up to a computer) are all important elements. Learning to use a computer for creative purposes academically and personally, we believe, is a critical part of educating students for their future.

Perhaps the most powerful role though of a school is in it's mission as a socialization engine. Technology is by no means a magic elixir toward these ends. Promoting collaboration, ethics, morals, and communication skills in this digital era can only help. It has potential to open new doors.

It would be difficult to debate that technology has become quite prominent in our society. People have never had access to such a wealth of information. Technology has created new challenges to conventional thoughts on literacy, teaching, school, self-directed learning, and the goal to teach communication skills. We believe that promoting sophisticated use with these tools is a far better practice than pretending we can avoid it.

One concern rests in that 'kids are too plugged in' these days. A one-to-one laptop initiative opens up incredible possibilities for students in and outside school, a wealth of supplemental materials and creative options to explore... when they need or want to do so. How they use these new tools, or better put 'how they choose to use them' is certainly somewhere we aspire to build skills. Engaging students in sophisticated use practices in school, helping achieve the concept of balance, understanding, of managing life with and without digital resources is important as we prepare them for the future. Using these tools to promote learning and creativity will get us all far beyond the ideals of simply using these tools to be entertained.

Of course, price aka overall financial cost is a factor for every institution, school district, or State to consider. There are many variables, options, and considerations to such programs.

Buy the same laptop for every student? What if a student already has a laptop? Some schools, districts, and States (Maine) avoid this discussion and simply dive in.

Fully funded? Partially funded? Financial aide model?

Some schools are beginning BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) programs as an answer to such questions. Again, focusing on a 'laptop class device' to achieve educational and creative goals rather than 'a device' that promotes limited functions and can access online material. They recommend specifications (ram, storage capacity, hard drive / storage space) and compatibility with essential software requirements. They offer financial aide based on family income. They offer support if you buy a recommended model. They provide site licenses to powerful software for students to use and explore.

We've made many proposals on this topic since 2005:

  • We put together this document (PDF) to introduce the discussion on campus back in 2005 to begin educational, philosophical, financial and frequently asked questions on the subject.
  • We've crafted up a follow up presentation (Google Presentation) to speak to these ideals a bit further.
  • We have also published a presentation with results from our Student Technology and Access Survey to help support the rationale of how such an initiative can improve educational opportunities for all folks on our campus and community.
We are hopeful that at some point this enlightening educational initiative will come to fruition at Burr and Burton.

Keep moving forward...