Archive for Hardware

Cases Cracked!

Apple’s flimsy cases have caused us grief again. Out of our 280 student machines, we are sending 60 to Apple for case repair. Pictured below are half of the boxes and some of the computer being prepared for mailing. You can imagine how long it takes to complete the paperwork and mail 60 boxes. Meanwhile, the students do not have their computers.

Here is an example of case cracking. It’s important to send these for repair now, because Apple covers the repair if the cracking only appears on the edge. If the crack spreads around the corner, then Apple consistently claims it was dropped and charge for the repair. Our students take the blame for normal handling of their computers in a school environment.

Is the MacBook Pro aluminum unibody case better? After one year, we have seen almost no case damage due to cracking, not surprising given that it is made of thick aluminum. However, check out this nasty crack along the flimsy plastic hinge cover!

“Technology to be in every room”

Here’s yet another Smart Board love affair. One-third of district classrooms had a Smart Board, so the district decided to install a Smart Board and projector in all classrooms. I would like to know what decision-making process led to this $2m expense. What if only one-third of the teachers used the technology effectively? How do these devices help students actively learn?

If we could give every student a computer, we would,” said Rick Green, director of information technology for the 24,000-student district. “This is as close as we could get.

Smart Boards enable a teacher to organize and present content visually. Computers allow students to engage with and produce content. Surely small classroom laptop sets would have come closer to the expressed ideal?

Technology to be in every room

“Magic” Trackpad Misses the Point

I don’t imagine that Apple’s new “magic” trackpad will feel at all like the touch experience of the iPhone and iPad. The beauty of a touch surface is that you’re virtually touching the user interface itself. Apple’s new trackpad is a useful alternative to the mouse, but it’s still just an indirect interface to the computing environment. Will Apple produce a touch-screen iMac and external display? It would likely tire the arm to repeatedly reach for the screen.

Apple Brings (Magic) Multitouch to the Computer

Epson 450Wi Installation In Process

The installation of these 12 units is underway. A structural expert attached the proper backing to support the weight for each wall location. Next, a low-voltage electrician will cover the cables and finish them in a wall plate for easy connections.

Integration of rich audiovisual materials in classes continues to increase, particularly at the elementary level. Demand for dedicated, mounted projectors continues apace.

iPhone 4 First Impressions

I finally gave up my BlackBerry for an iPhone 4. I was perfectly happy with the BlackBerry for email, calendar, and taking photos but increasingly found myself in situations away from the office, during which a more capable device would have helped.

I had hoped that Android was equal to the iPhone, but reports of buggy early versions of ActiveSync and Facebook, compared to their mature iPhone counterparts, scared me off. Usability trumped joining an open app ecosystem.

BlackBerry just kept falling behind. For example, the community-contributed WordPress app required some arcane manual configuration on the phone, whereas the iPhone version Just Worked with only the blog URL!

The new device is fast, easy to use, and extremely capable. It’s a lot of fun, but I’m not getting carried away. Ultimately, it’s still a smartphone, and a computer is still far and away the most useful device.

Just two screens of apps so far! One pleasant surprise: the Comcast app provides fast access to voicemail messages and even DVR scheduling. Otherwise, my list of apps will look pretty familiar to iPhone veterans.

Phone reception has been flawless so far. I think we have it better here in Portland. Also, no “death grip” issues so far. That seems more like a juicy story for the press and a poorly handles PR moment for Apple than an actual issue for most users.

I ordered the phone through an AT&T store on Friday and received it on Wednesday.

Oh, and the iPhone costs me $40/month less than the BlackBerry, because it works without an enterprise server plan.

Post written entirely using WordPress for iPhone.

The Best Classroom Computers

What is the best arrangement of computers to support classroom activities? In our school, it varies considerably by grade level and subject. Once upon a time, laptops seemed destined to replace all computers, but lately we have found desktop computers to be lower cost, more reliable, and quicker to activate, hence the mixed environment in some spaces. Sometimes, fixing a computer to one location is actually a benefit, such as when teaching 22 elementary students in 40-minute blocks, rendering a digital video for hours, or keeping a reliable connection to an inkjet printer.

Upper School

  • 1:1 student laptop program
  • arts desktop computers for video rendering and inkjet printing
  • computer science desktop computers for Linux applications

Middle School

  • three laptop carts
  • desktop computers in arts, English, and World Cultures classrooms and main office

Lower School

  • computer lab for grades 4-5
  • two desktop computers per classroom in grades 1-5 + most specialist classrooms
  • four laptop computers per classrooms in grades 3-5

Beginning School

  • no student computers

Student and parents attend an Upper School laptop orientation.

Fifth grade classroom computer

Lower School computer lab (22 computers)

Middle School laptop cart

Goodbye, Satellite

We are discontinuing our satellite TV subscriptions, which brought French, Spanish, and Japanese television programming into the classroom for the past seven years. Web video has largely replaced the need for live television. A teacher who wants to present students with authentic vocabulary, regional accents, or international current events need only visit a country news website or search for specific content on YouTube.

While this change may seem relatively inconsequential, I find it notable that we are actually discontinuing a technology service on campus. It can often be difficult to convince users of a service that its end has come. When a new technology arrives, often a certain proportion of users adopt the new technology quickly. Penetration increases rapidly enough that it may seem only a matter of time until everyone is using the new technology. In reality, adoption usually plateaus at a certain level, sometimes just a small fraction of all users, sometimes a majority, and in rare occasions nearly everyone.

Most technologies reach peak penetration and then eventually decline, as users lose interest, or the technology does not live up to its initial promise, or a newer technology comes along and takes its place. Still, a certain proportion of users find comfort in continued use of that technology, and this at which point it can be difficult to discontinue a service. Some number of people still rely on that technology and want the school to continue providing it.

With satellite television, peak penetration was fairly low, because the service was limited to foreign language television, and so only the language teachers used it. In addition, only the upper (high) school was cabled for satellite TV in the first place. When use declined, only one or two teachers continued to use TV in the classroom, and they were very gracious in recognizing that it would not be cost-effective to continue subscription and maintenance for just a couple of classrooms.

Contrast this with teacher voicemail extensions. Our current phone system has been in place for seven years. All employees have a phone extension, but most teachers of eighth grade and below do not have a physical phone. They have a voicemail-only extension. Use of voicemail-only extensions has declined sharply, as teachers and parents now communicate mostly by email. However, it will take more work than for satellite TV to consult with a larger user base and reach an informed decision on changing our telephone practice.

New Computer Much Like the Old

I was pretty excited to replace my work MacBook Pro for the first time in four years. Although the new machine is very nice, my computing experience has not changed much. Contrast that with my last computer replacement, when I got an Intel chip for the first time, or the time before, when I received my first aluminum Powerbook.

Two of my favorite applications have apparently gone through some transitions. Smultron has been discontinued. I suppose a text editor does not require much in the way of updates, but I will eventually need to switch. I had thought that NetNewsWire was also discontinued, since it disappeared from Newsgator’s list of products. I guess it’s just gone under the radar. You can find it here.

Misinformation and Marketing

From NJ.com

… the iPad is basically a full-service computer that looks like a giant iPhone. But with a 9.7 inch screen, it’s just half an inch thick and weighs only 1.5 pounds and does everything a laptop or a netbook does, only instantaneously and with the flick of a finger.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Schools could use accurate reporting and analysis of new products.

iPads Not Matching Our Needs

Someone please help me consider the iPad more favorably. I tested some curricular integration ideas tonight.

  1. Use iPads to plan a virtual trip in Google Maps.
  2. Use iPads to research on the web.
  3. Use iPads for writing exercises.

The theory was promising. iPads would provide a simpler, more portable computing environment for students. They could research, write, and use websites at one-third the cost of websites and fewer potential distractions for kids.

After having used the iPad, I’m back to the drawing board. The trip planning project uses Google Maps. Visiting http://maps.google.com in Safari causes the iPad Maps application to automatically load. Needless to say, it doesn’t support the bookmarking, placemark notation, and flythrough features used in the project.

Google Docs does not supporting editing in Safari.

Pages, Numbers, and Keynote cost $10 each per device. I have heard that one can sync a single purchased copy to multiple devices. How long will Apple let that continue?

Safari views web pages pretty well, unless of course you want to view a Flash-based video. However, how would students bookmark sites or take notes on their research? You can’t view both browser and note taking application simultaneously, and Safari doesn’t integrate with Delicious. Would you need a second iPad for notetaking? ;^)

Add to that the lack of camera, no printing, and no network integration.

Do iPad apps make up the difference? Interactive CD-ROMs of the 90’s offered richer learning environments than the apps I’ve seen. Why hasn’t someone yet created a Shakespeare website or app that combines the text of plays with audio and video of stage productions and movies? We had it in the 90’s.

I’m not seeing it. For $500, give students a Linux netbook instead. Please tell me what I’m missing.