Tag Archive for laptopinstitute

Always developing process improvements

If we add a responsibility to our plate, then we must remove a responsibility, right? It rarely works out that way. Not only do people expect us to continue to fulfill our existing responsibilities, but they also expect us to take on new responsibilities. Particularly for technology, current practice is always evolving, and new platforms and techniques appear at a rapid pace. Sometimes, we actually can let go of previous responsibilities that are now less important. More of the time, we must find a way to fit the new responsibilities into our existing, busy lives.

Perhaps a better way to make space for new work is to become more efficient at the old work. Each summer, our IT team performs routine maintenance and upgrades on all of the school and high school student computers. This is extremely time-consuming, but we have found it the best way to ensure that everyone has the correct settings and properly working machines for the start of the school year. We have given some consideration to doing away with summer maintenance completely but have consistently felt that this would cause more work during the school year, when people really need their computers to run smoothly.

Instead, we have worked each year to improve the summer maintenance process. We ask ourselves:

  • What summer maintenance tasks are essential?
  • How may we simplify our network systems to make annual maintenance easier?
  • How may we automate the summer maintenance process, so more happens automatically?
  • How may we get students involved in maintaining their own computers?

This year, the IT Team came up with a superb solution that accomplishes many of the above. We mailed a self-running DVD to each student. Over half of them ran the installer, performing the most easily automated and time-consuming tasks at home before bringing their computers into the office. The application is written in XCode using AppleScript, and the DVD includes the large installer files needed. This dramatically cut down maintenance time, allowed us to return machines to students quickly, and created more time for other IT summer work. As a result, we were more prepared for the start of school than ever before. Kudos to the whole team for inventing this process. Next year, we plan to make it entirely online and eliminate the DVD.

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!

Firmly On the Ground

Do you run a 1:1 student laptop program? Do your teachers and students do all of their work in the cloud, without any local system configuration? I have two questions for you.

What do you do when no cloud equivalent exists for a desktop application?
How do you provision network, antivirus, and security configurations?

Our desktop applications include:

  • Fathom
  • Geometer’s Sketchpad
  • ComicLife
  • Inspiration
  • LoggerPro
  • Flip4Mac
  • iBackup
  • Microsoft Office
  • Adobe Creative Suite

System configuration includes:

  • 802.1x system profile or WEP pre-shared key
  • Custom machine name (for network identification)
  • DHCP reservation (to assist with network identity)
  • Server certificate for Global Address List lookups
  • Sophos antivirus client
  • SafeConnect (network access control) client
  • Altiris (inventory and remote control) client
  • Allow remote administration via Apple Remote Desktop
  • Local administrator account for Apple Remote Desktop access
  • Apple administrator account to facilitate Apple repairs
  • Root user for some remote tasks