Off to a quick start this summer

Now that the Celtics have completed their incredible journey to title #17, I may find the time to get back on this blog. Seriously, summer has arrived with a vengeance, and we are flying to keep up with the ambitious schedule of summer maintenance and improvements that we have set for ourselves. Like a Rajon Rondo fast break, we hope to weave through the lane, do that Bob-Cousy-throwback-pendulum-move and then take it to the rim.

The upper school ended the year by devoting a day to the 1:1 student laptop program. I was so pleased that we got the faculty together to discuss the program for the first time in many years, even if fear of student distraction and tech overload dominated the discussion. Some teachers are struggling with students distracted by the myriad online opportunities once they open their laptops. Many are concerned about the effect of so much screen time on the social fabric of the school and active class discussions. Other teachers appear to be handling it just fine. On the more positive side, applications of the laptops to support teaching and learning are widespread and powerful. One teacher summed it up with, “We would never want to go back.” We will review the results of these discussions and prepare further conversations for the fall.

In the middle school, I continued my annual practice of teachers sharing successful technology integration strategies with each other. I find that teachers not already working together in teams do not regularly share lesson plans with each other. The tech share provides at least an annual moment for this to happen, allowing me to step completely to the side. It provides all teachers the opportunity that, if their colleagues can experiment with new applications of technology in the classroom, so can they. Teachers shared their work with digital audio recorders in Costa Rica, trip planning using Google Earth, reflections on literature in Moodle forums, and manipulating images of one’s self in Photoshop.

Today, we started our new web site design process. A month ago, I let go of my previous strategy to upgrade only the back-end of the web site and postpone the redesign to later. This will dovetail nicely with a reexamination of our schoolwide communication strategy. I also have the help of Drew of OneNW, who provides online communications consulting to environmental organizations. He has helped us start this process well-focused on our target audiences, their values, and their roles at Catlin Gabel. This will lead to the development of user scenarios and a detailed design document, which we will share with some part of the school community for comment. We hope to launch a new site a year from now, a site that will offer both the intuitive access to information and useful transactional tools that people now expect from an organization’s web site.

At the same time, I continue to pursue the Drupal experiment. In just two hours’ time, I built a prototype for a human resources site using Views and a Custom Content Type. This allows anyone to create an account, submit a job application, and upload attachments. It also solves many of the problems we are experiencing with our current web services provider for job applications, Ceridian. This tool would be part of our main web site platform, get applicants to a list of jobs in one click instead of three, and allow them to upload multiple file attachments instead of just one. By creating an account, the applicant may return and modify the application later on, for example to upload more attachments.

This prototype does not yet offer all of the desired features, and it appears that I will need to learn Actions in order to add automated email features to the system, for example when the HR director wants to notify at once all the applicants who did not get the job. I am also taking a look at Coherent Access (thanks, Bill), which may provide an easy hand-off from the HR office to the supervisor reviewing the first round of applicants. Since we receive 3,000 job applications a year, this will be a more strenuous test of our ability to host large volumes of content in our own system.

Summer workers have arrived, we placed our summer order for Macintosh computers yesterday, and equipment for audiovisual installations is on the way. Soon, we will be up to our eyeballs in computers to upgrade and prepare for the start of school in August. I went with two units of the new Smart 608i2 — save $900 over the 680i, as long as you don’t mind the lack of amplified audio! The Epson 1825 replaces last year’s 1815p but looks almost indistinguishable in features and form. The summer schedule is tightly scripted. On a good note, we are making more use of scripts to automate installation and configuration than ever before. Stay tuned for a report of whether it actually speeds up the configuration process.

New core switch

Yesterday, our new core switch (Cisco 6500 series) arrived, and our consultants and we took the network down briefly to test the new configuration. It passed the test, so we appear to be on track to put it into production the coming Monday evening. We will need to touch all campus switches and access points to complete the upgrade, another step in getting our entire network infrastructure under warranty and on a predictable replacement schedule.

I am pleased to attend design meetings for the proposed Creative Arts Center. The teachers have come up with fabulous ideas for the arrangement and equipping of new classrooms, which are essential to the future success of the Arts program at Catlin Gabel. The construction of the building depends on raising the requisite funds by April 1, so stay tuned as we hope that the dream will become reality. An early idea for our communications plan is to create a mini-site with a completely different graphic design and blog format to keep people up-to-date on progress toward the goal, inform, and generate enthusiasm for the project.

Yesterday, I launched a new home page design for insideCatlin, our intranet community portal. We added so many new content sections and tools to the site this past academic year that the home page no longer made any sense to users trying to find specific items. The new home page design loads the user’s Moodle cookie and displays links appropriate to that person’s LDAP and Moodle group memberships. If you go there, you will see only the base set of items unless you are a Catlin Gabel community member. They see additional items that only apply to their context in the school. In this way, we provide dozens of links to the home page without cluttering it for any individual user.

For security, a script doing the work lives outside the web directory, and the links themselves do not contain protected content. You actually have to log in before you see substantial information, a strategy borrowed from Yahoo! and other internet portals. I am also raising the visibility of media content — photos from Gallery, and audio and video files from Drupal. Naturally, I have yet to build the audio file queries, and I want to convert video upload from Video to a FLV-compatible format before working on that section. The photo thumbnails look really great, though!

This week, I hope to make good progress on several scripting projects, especially upgrading existing Perl scripts such as the curriculum map, bookstore, and admission inquiry scripts. Then, I have taken on some new projects, such as a community service tracking form and major assignments conflicts calendar. The school has so many needs for data forms with logic and calculations. It’s great that systems like Drupal are designed for this very thing, but I am still finding it a lot easier to creates the ones that require a lot of calculation or close tie-ins with our student information system in Perl rather than in Drupal. I did recently create a senior projects archive in Drupal, so I am learning to move some recording and archiving functions into there. Each senior project entry contains a brief description of the student’s project, their proposal, a link to their project blog, and their final report. This year, half the class did a senior project. Next year, the faculty hopes that all will, so the ability to review past projects and then track current ones will become even more important.

If you haven’t already, go get your $250, 500-seat iLife and iWork site licenses. Pages fills the space between InDesign and Word — our lower school teachers love it. Remember what a similar deal did for Macromedia nearly a decade ago? Kudos to Apple for the move.

I really wish I could write a separate blog post for each of the items above. I am glad I could provide you with a little reference. Do drop me a line if you are engaged in something similar and would like to compare more detailed notes.

Good luck with your summer projects. I hope to see you at Building Learning Communities in July.

Comments are closed.