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ToonDoo July 31, 2007

Posted by davidit in collaborative, Education, Education 2.0, ICT Integration, Toon Do, ToonDo, Web 2.0.

Edublogs is two years old today.  I was searching through their tag cloud and found the following post on this  blog.  This is yet another example of a cool web2.0 tool that has lots of potential for the classroom.  It is embeddable as you can see in a blog or into a webpage.  My humour is based on those amongst us on the supertanker who are the proverbial ostriches!

The site that my humour is created on is ToonDoo. This tool has lots of options for students to create short cartoon strips of ideas that they wish to express, or even collate their ideas into a book that can then be embedded into their blogs, wikis or websites.  Check it out.

\Stuck in the middle\


Weaning Ourselves off of Redmond July 31, 2007

Posted by davidit in Education, Linux, Microsoft Schools Agreement, Novell, School Tech 07, Software Assurance, Web 2.0.

I was at the second day of the TUANZ SchoolTech 07 conference last week.  I missed day one becuase I had to be in meetings to put the final touches to our ICT PD Cluster proposal.  They were good  and productive meetings and the proposal is now in the hands of the Ministry, we wait….

Anyway back to my conference geek fix.  My primary objective for day two was to learn about virtualisation.  This has been something that I have come accross over the last few months in my conversations with fellow corporate network administrators.  They rave about it, but they also have the budgets that most schools can only dream of.  It turned out that even at the educational level virtualisation is an expensive option.  I learnt that, for the moment, virtualisation is not for us, although I am still interested in the whole concept.

 As with most conferences it is the conversations that you have with exhibitors and fellow delegates that can often prove to be the most interesting and School Tech 07 was no different.  The topic of the latest round of the Microsoft Schools’ Agreement came up in several places.  This latest round of negotiations that will take us to 2010 is rumoured to be the last in its current guise.  In the next iteration of the agreement, the Ministry will negotiate a price on our behalf with Microsoft, but it will be up to schools to pay.  My understanding is that the Ministry will then distribute pro rata funds to schools to pay for the licences.  With limited funds all round, this payment could fall short in future years and then it would fall to schools to make up the difference to stay on the legal side of licencing.

My big beef with the whole Microsoft deal has been that it is nothing more than software assurance.  Whilst software is expensive to purchase, it does not exactly have a shelf life like a computer does.  One of my corporate network administrator friends still insists on distributing Office 97 to all the clients on his network.  Now this is not as daft or arcane as it sounds.  For all of its recent iterations, how fundamentally different is Office 97 from the current model? Well it looks different and that is about it.  Let’s face it most users, me included, only really scratch the surface of the capabilities of this suite of programmes.  So why continually update?  A software assurance deal makes us dependent upon Microsoft, its updates and has the potential for an annual financial impact don’t really need or want.  If we choose not to update via the software assurance model there is a sting in the tail.  MS stops supporting or updating its older software, users who are using old versions can and do find that their software is prone to attack and is not supported.

So what is the alternative?  I think that schools should take the time over the next few years to investigate some fall back plans, just in case the Ministry deal does go the way that I have highlighted above.  It is interesting to note that the Ministry of Justice and the Inland Revenue departments have all just switched over to using Novell Linux.  If it is considered good enough for such data intense Ministries as these, then might it not provide a potential solution for for schools too?

A deal has been signed with the Ministry and all schools can now use this operating system in the same manner as the Microsoft deal.  The current Linux package comes with a raft of open source solutions including Open Office, which has the ability not only to read MS Office files but save to them in to MS Office file extensions too.  This trick would enable users to transition from one platform to another and still access their old Office files while using Open Office.  The great thing is that because it is open source, it is free and therefore there are no software assurance ongoing costs.  It also does not limit you to one source of software provider. It is not the whole answer as I am sure that there will be legacy programmes that have to run on a Windows platform, SMSs for example. But I do envisage a dual platform environment and for every machine that is running Linux, Open Office and a raft of other open source software, that is one less annual licence bill from Bill that a school will have to pay.  To quote a British TV advert.  “Every little helps.”

This solution is not without its pitfalls, my dead computer at home is currently testament to this!  I rather too enthusiastically installed Linux on my main machine at home and am currently paying the price for that enthusiasm!  However, I do think that we need to consider what potential impact (financial) the end of the Microsoft Schools Agreement would have on us if we, individually as schools, had to pick up the tab.  It is time for us to plan a way to reduce our dependency upon the software giants.  Web 2.0, Google and open source software are pointing a way into the future.  It is a path, that I for one, will be exploring.

ICT PD Cluster Proposal July 25, 2007

Posted by davidit in Education, Education 2.0, ICT Integration, Inquiry Model.

For the last several months I have been involved in preparing a proposal for what we believe will be the last round of ICT PD funding in its present guise. The reasons that we have not taken the Government’s money earlier are due to circumstances that were beyond our control. And for what ever reasons, now seems like the right time to do it. However if this is the last round of funding, then the desire to get this proposal right has been an intense process. Finally last night I put the finishing touches to the proposal and hope that, couched in Ministry speak, the enthusiasm and latent determination and excitement of the cluster for our project shines through.

As a cluster of Principals (of which I am not!) we have already developed some interesting avenues of inquiry and potential collaborative projects. Should our application be unsuccessful we are determined to at least see these initial ideas come to fruition. We had a meeting yesterday to put the final touches to the document and have sent it off for final scrutiny to Pam Hook, who we hope, with her partner Julie Mills will be our facilitators should we get the funding.

The cluster have elected us to be the lead school and as the only ICT specialist teacher within the cluster I am looking forward to empowering the other teachers in the cluster as I have done with my target teachers here at school. Within the cluster there is only one Mac school and it is their stated mission to convert us all to their platform.  Why Mac users are so passionate about ‘their’ platform I have no idea.   They are after all only machines!  I can’t imagine the same debate happening in garages about ethanol or Diesel powered machines, who cares so long as it gets the job done?  Joking aside and I have have owned Mac’s in the past, Mac’s use of the Intel chip is providing and intersting opportunity to create dual platform schools.  I digress, I am looking forward to empowering a wider range of teachers and introducing them to the panopoly of web 2.0 tools out there.  It has been a real pleasure to see two of my charges, here at school, power ahead in the last few weeks. They are both currently exploring the potential of blogs and podcasting in class to empower their students.

We are about to plan for the second phase of our roll out of digital classrooms, for want of a better phrase for 2008. This next wave of teachers will be my next focus group for tooling up with the skills needed to experiment with integration of ICT into their class environments.

School is back, shame the network is still on holiday! July 17, 2007

Posted by davidit in Education, Education 2.0, ICT Integration.
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There is an axiom here, but I am having trouble identifying it.  The start of the term has not been the best.   We all came back raring to go, well that is the myth, privately I think that we all needed at least another week each!  Evidently the network was of the same opinion and on Monday half of the school was down and refused to be cajoled into life.  After a long day running around in the rain trying to identify the fault, (we thought for a long time that the fibre connection between the two sites had been damaged in some way) we discovered the fault was a loop.  It was a classic ID10T fault. 

It turns out that a teacher who had decided to come in the holidays and have a bit of a re-arrange of her room, plugged both ends of a stray LAN cable into two outlets, in an attempt to make the cables nice and tidy!   That will be one for the weekly spectacle awards on Friday! Easy fix once found, but for the duration of the fault I had to endure no end of hassles from staff wanting to get on with their work, access their files, get their mail and access the Internet.  I am assuming that their students would have been part of that demand too, but you never know with teachers sometimes.

This fault illustrates our growing dependence upon all things related to computers, even our most reluctant users of ICT want access to their e-mail  and Internet banking and they want it now!  It is not until something is taken away that you realise just how much you either need it or depend on it.  So the question arises how do we ensure that as teacher/student demands and expectations grow, the quality of always on service is just that, always on?

The axiom it seems is that as the integration of ICT increases then the expectation, even demand of reliablity increases too.  I am continually balancing the need to put resources in front of students with the need to ensure that the invisible and dull network infrastucture is meeting needs and is reliable.  Fortunately we do have a reliable network, but have been bumped a couple of times recently by some big electrical storms that even our UPSs could not cope with.

Now the ID10T fault was followed up today by an incredibly slow Internet connection.  I was running a lesson in the lab with some Year 4 students showing them how to comment on the following blog.  The lesson was fruitless as the children spent a huge amount of time waiting for a text page to load.  I called our techs and got them to locate the source of the problem.  Their diagnosis was that it was likely that there were too many users on our network trying to access the Internet!  At this point I was ready to explode, but then I thought that if that was genuinely the case it means that we are really hammering our network. It means that the students are on the machines doing work, the fact that our network was running slow was infact the indicator of a good thing.  Now I need to ensure that we have a bigger pipe coming to our front door, the demand is there and it will only increase!

So far from being a negative, this week the staff have eloquently demonstrated that even though many of them profess to hate ICT, all of them missed it when it was not there.  When it was there my power users are using it so much in their classrooms that the systems can not cope!  Now I have to ensure that the systems are improved and expanded to cater for the growing demands of our demanding users.

All I need is money!  I also need tech companies to start to recognise that schools do not fit a business model.  Schools push the envelope of network architecture, our range of resources that we use, the quantity of logged on users is larger than many medium sized companies and quantity of data that we wish to pull over the network is not limited to spread sheets and documents.  It is time for our suppliers to get creative with our needs or at least listen to our needs and stop foisting ‘business solutions’ on us.  I think that far too many tech companies regard education as the Cinderella account.  I believe that they can learn a lot from our needs and pass those learned solutions onto their more lucrative and conservative business clients and not the other way round.