Tag Archive for google

Why aren’t systems more compatible?

A Mac can barely print to a Windows print server. Google Docs hardly works on an iPad. eBook readers  do not open the others’ formats. Outlook for Mac cannot save a PST. Why aren’t these popular systems more compatible? Eric Castro reminds us that these companies are competitors that work to maintain a strategic advantage and increase profit.

Users express the misconception that computers are designed to work as well as possible for the customer. If only this were always true! Great design can drive sales, but usability takes a back seat when competitive advantage is involved. Users would love a touch screen Mac, but Apple has little incentive to compromise its iPad strategy. Microsoft would prefer that Office for Windows always be stronger than Office for Mac.

Tech departments can help users avoiding incompatibilities by communicating issues clearly, suggesting workarounds, and helping people understand how companies develop features and consider compatibility.

Here is a helpful graphic from Gizmodo.

source: Gizmodo

Google Apps: Is the Time Right?

I do not like to be the first to adopt a new technology. Better for the sake of the school’s resources and sanity to wait until the technology has matured. I also prefer to proceed most conservatively with core network services, which hold critical and confidential school information.

If we adopt Apps, what strategy should we pursue? Here are some preliminary thoughts. I would appreciate your comments, especially if you have felt skeptical or cautious about adopting Google Apps.

Collaboration

The ability to easily share or co-author a document or calendar with others is quickly becoming a standard, expected feature. Our Windows file server and Moodle course websites do not provide this service. Exchange shared calendars work great, unless you want to view them from a Mac. Some students use personal Google accounts to work together on projects. It is time for our school to provide such a service, and the self-hosted options currently available appear to be much less robust.

Data Collection

I provide Drupal’s Webform for staff members to build data-collection forms on our public-facing website, and a custom survey tool for teachers and students to survey our community. In three years, students and teachers have created over 300 surveys using this tool. However, I still build custom Perl scripts, using CGI.pm, for custom needs such as signup forms. Google Apps would extend people’s ability to build their own online forms and require us to build custom web forms less often.

Community

Why launch Apps at all, if students already use Google services with personal accounts? Providing Google Apps for our domain would raise the profile of the services across the school, encourage people to use them together, make more predictable the identification of Google usernames, and introduce the possibility of sharing items to our entire community.

Off-campus Access

Currently, students can only access our file server from on-campus, since it is on the LAN, and we are not about to open the school’s LAN to external traffic! Providing Google Apps would allow students to keep files in one place and access them from school and from home.

Variety

Google recently made all of the rest of its services available to the Apps platform. We can avoid the awkward dichotomy of school/personal accounts on the same email address that people have used as a workaround up until now. Will we automatically be able to share bookmarks, video playlists, and feeds within our organization?

Moodle Integration

Moodle 2.0 treats Google Docs as a content repository. Users can access their documents directly from the Moodle file picker, making it really easy to author a document in Apps and share it with a class or teacher through Moodle.

Stability

A few years ago, reports of long periods of Google Apps downtime were common among our peer schools. IT staff were frustrated that Google support was so unresponsive. I rarely hear such complaints anymore. Is the platform acceptably stable and reliable? Will our user base tolerate four hours of downtime?

Privacy

I remain concerned that the likelihood of someone gaining unauthorized access to a Google Doc is greater than the chances of someone hacking into our file server. I would recommend that faculty and staff not publish sensitive or confidential content to Google Docs.

No Mail

One can launch an Apps domain with Mail turned off. The cost of running Exchange is very low, and we would compromise on some important qualities of our mail system if we moved to GMail. Under Exchange, if we lose Internet access, we do not lose access to email on campus. To the extent that sensitive conversations are conducted via email, that content is safely stored on campus servers. We can easily package the mailbox of a departed employee and give it to his/her supervisor for future reference. In cases of harassment, the school counselor or division head can work with us to examine the contents of a student mailbox. We can assign permission for some employees to open generic mailboxes (alumni, webmaster, etc.).

Keep Office, Too

Even after some years of Google Docs, Microsoft Office is still the best word processing and spreadsheet tool. You just can’t do everything in Google Apps that we do in Office, nor as easily. Apps may be great as a collaboration platform but not a primary authoring platform, especially for media-rich content.

Image source: bradleypjohnson on Flickr

Has Technology Changed How We Read?

Some thoughts from Catlin Gabel Middle School head Paul Andrichuk:

Catlin Gabel students are critical and independent thinkers. It’s an aspect of the school culture that is celebrated, but more importantly, it allows students to be careful consumers of all information. Reading skills are guided, modeled, and practiced, regardless of whether the information is on the screen or in a first-edition novel.

Those who worry that the internet may be rewiring our brains are correct, and the evolution of this vital organ continues, just as it has responded to every other substantial change in human history. What remains at the core of reading—from books and computers—is that we continue to value and teach the thinking skills beyond the symbols.

Read the full article

You can see it in the stats

We recently listed some new job opportunities on our website. Check out the increase in traffic to the employment home page.

Sustaining capacity during hard times

Like many schools, we  cut the school’s IT operating budget by 25% this year. To minimize adverse effects on technology use at school, we employed the following strategies.

Adopt open source

We have benefited tremendously from building expert, internal capacity for open source website development and web server software management. In past years, we launched and then grew a sophisticated intranet website at no cash cost to the school. This year, we built our new, public-facing website on Drupal, with existing personnel, for a total cash cost of $6,000.

I believe that every school should work toward mastery in one type of open source software that meets a current need. Our users and constituents demand increasingly sophisticated applications of technology, yet our budget will not keep pace with these expectations. We have taken care not to rush, building up internal capacity to master these tools over time. Were we to rely on external contractors to implement open source solutions, then it could have become at least as expensive as commercial products.

Other schools specialize in different money-saving applications of open source: desktop software, learning management systems, operating system software, office suites, and more.

Cut back on expensive, specialized solutions

Each Smart Board we purchase improves just one classroom. Each laptop computer we purchase is available to everyone. They cost about the same amount of money.

Also about the same price, an entire class may use a set of 10 Flip video cameras to collect footage for a great variety of different productive learning objectives.

Introduce some limits, while extending a helping hand

The cost of network file backup and tape storage has increased for us each year. We are now implementing 10GB primary file server quota while still storing and backing up all of the important school data we can identify. When a teacher or staff member hits the limit on the primary file server, we work with them to identify any duplicate, personal, or unnecessary files and separate changing, newer files from older, unchanging files. We move the older files to a second, archive file server that we copy to tape less frequently. In this manner, we consume far fewer backup tapes than before while still protecting the school from data loss and saving important files for the long-term.

Preserve or expand core network services

This is no time to cut back on servers, server software, and network infrastructure. We have cut end-user technologies before compromising on the core. Server and network functions affect every user every minute that they are connected to the network. Maintaining quality sustains everyone’s experience. We have kept servers on their regular replacement cycle and are just now considering virtualization for lightly used network services. Our next generation of wireless network and network access system will do more than the previous systems, with less management required, at a lower cost than before.

Strategically manage computer lifespan

This one has been tricky. We pinpointed very specific batches of computers to operate for a year longer than planned. We noticed that some users were pretty light on their machines and provided them with used computers instead of new. We stretched our lower school computer lab for an additional year, because they had had their motherboards replaced under warranty just three years ago. Otherwise, we have stuck to our normal replacement cycle, out of respect for the fragility of laptop computers in their fourth and fifth years.

Consider some new technologies

This is no time to broadly adopt new kinds of devices, but some new devices may replace the old, at a lower cost that before. We will consider wall-mounted projectors in locations where we would normally mount from the ceiling. We will pilot netbooks to replace one of our middle school mobile laptop carts, taking great care that we select a model that performs reasonably well compared to our current MacBooks. Otherwise, we find netbooks to be cramped and difficult to use, not a straight replacement for traditional laptop computers.

Break some old habits

Once-essential resources and services may have lost their value over time. We reduced the size of our upper school PC lab in half, redistributed responsibilities for our annual laptop technology fair, and removed Drupal from our intranet website. We continue to streamline purchase options for the upper school laptop program, now recommending the two laptop computer models that match the program, as opposed to offering every model available from each manufacturer.

Continue to plan well

Each year that we devote more attention to winter planning, spring and summer projects go more smoothly. This year, we started earlier than before and formalized biweekly planning meetings, and already we are purchasing and implementing network devices that will allow workstation deployment to start earlier. We have also lined up our best cadre of summer workers yet. This group of current students and recent graduates is key to our ability to touch all machines and improve our deployment strategies each summer.

Build one’s personal learning network

This year, I have formed new collaborative relationships with tech staff at other schools, without ever leaving campus. This has allowed me to gain feedback on my ideas and profit from the good work of others. As it is a slow year for conferences in Portland, I have so far avoided traveling afar for an expensive conference experience.

What, no Google Apps?

I appreciate that Google Apps has helped many schools provide the latest communication and collaboration tools at low cost. We decided to stick with Exchange Server because we had concerns about losing control of the school’s data, the inability to do anything during periods of downtime, and the hidden costs of migration, archiving mail, and supporting users.

Your turn

What are you doing to maintain quality and capacity during lean times? Please comment below.

Experience and Education

We read Dewey’s Experience and Education first in our graduate program. I recently had two experiences that reminded me of the necessity to make authentic student experience central in the design of a educational environments.

We introduced fourth grade students to web research with a simple activity. Ask them to find ten discrete facts on the web using Google Search. We modeled good search techniques in class and provided two paper resources. One listed the ten facts to find, and the other described a cyclical method for refining search terms in order to improve results. We talked about authority of websites and how to scan a web page for content. This introductory lesson went really well. Students learned the protocol, proceeded through the activity, and found the facts.

More recently, students applied this knowledge in a plant research project. Each assigned one plant they had seen in the Oregon woods, the students searched for the taxonomic name for the plant, its ideal growing environment, nutritional value, average height, and other facts. Students took much longer to find this information. Many got stuck partway through and needed help.”I can’t find the scientific name!” “Where can I find ‘food value’?”

Why the difference? The second activity was more authentic and experiential. Students were engaging with real information about plants they had found and held and searching for them on the “real” web. These searches had not been tested in advance to compile a worksheet. Rather, students had to understand what a taxonomic name actually is, rather than look for the term “scientific name.” They had to be flexible and understand that “nutritional value” or comments on why an animal might eat these plants made up the “food value” they were seeking. Charting their own course through an authentic environment produced far more useful learning than completing a structured, finite activity.

The Haiti earthquake and resulting humanitarian disaster are very present in our minds these weeks. We are exposed to frequent reports from news sources and support our students’ efforts to raise money and awareness for Haiti. However, all of this does not compare when one’s colleague relates her stories of past trips to Haiti, nervous attempts to contact friends post-quake, and informs the school community that her doctor husband has just left for Haiti with a medical team.

She writes:

It is with those computers that were donated by CG and the Rotary, [my son's] help, albeit small, in setting them up that has allowed some of the connections and relationships with others around the world. The people of Matenwa are still able to communicate and receive email/news, which is amazing. It is so important to them to know others care and are trying to help.

In the long-term, these experiences are without a doubt more “educational,” but they are messy, difficult to manage, and complicated to assess. We should show the confidence to accommodate the short-term disorder and uncertainty that accompany kids’ struggles with authentic content in order to foment powerful learning.

Google Analytics and page trends

The new Google Analytics “Intelligence” feature looks pretty useful, but Analytics is still missing the feature I want the most. I would like to be able to see at a glance the biggest gains and losses among individual page views or categories of pages. Right now, it’s very difficult to set up a date comparison of item page views and browse looking for the pages that have experienced the greatest increases and greatest losses. I can’t be the only person who would like to see this feature!

News Versus Spin

Yesterday, I stumbled across twelve minutes of video from the Obama-Clinton event in Unity, New Hampshire.

After watching all of it, I concluded that the two campaign teams had designed a tightly scripted event in order for Clinton to provide as much support to Obama as possible. I paid particular attention to the themes evoked by each during their speeches, deciding that their speeches were mostly about supporting each others’ reputations and expressing moderate policy positions to appeal to undecided voters.

Then I watched “Anderson Cooper 360” on CNN last time, something I rarely do. There, I learned the real story. “Do Hillary and Barack really like each other?” “What does their body language tell us about them?” “Where is Bill?” Ironically, they showed only a minute or two of actual footage from the event! The network devoted the bulk of their presentation to “analysis” of the event, when they had a rich source of primary footage that they could have emphasized instead! We would never teach our students to use primary sources in such a manner.

Last week, the New York Times bemoaned the lack of success of Google News, which has apparently captured only 8% of the online news market. The leader is Yahoo!, whom I left last year when they buried actual news in favor of “infotainment” lead stories. I see Google News as the Craigslist of news sources. Their mission is to remove the middleman between consumers and the news, which I appreciate. Less spin, more reporting.

Edtech bloggers are excited about the potential for Wikipedia and Google News to change the way in which students become informed about the world. However, with the powerful marketing forces of major news networks and the capitulation of former innovators like Yahoo!, it is going to take a lot of effort to encourage good habits of news consumption among our students.