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Windows XP: The End is Here
By Brian Nadel

April 8, 2014, was a bad day for schools—it marked the end of Microsoft’s official support for Windows XP. After all, at 13 years old, the software was older than many of the students it was being used to teach and had been superseded by the release of three major operating systems in the intervening years.

Despite its age, XP served education well, and based on an Avast survey of 1,800 schools last year, 96 percent of them still use the venerable OS. Most continue to put off upgrading to newer software because XP is simple, effective, and able to use a slew of software titles.

It’s time to put XP in the IT rearview mirror and not look back, but schools still using Windows XP face a crisis. Although they can continue to use the software, there’s no safety net—Microsoft will no longer provide support, bug fixes, new hardware drivers, or, most important, security updates. Schools are coping with the demise of XP in a variety of ways, from replacing computers wholesale to putting the software onto servers.

Here are three ways that schools are dealing with the situation.

Plan A deals with XP’s end by replacing it with new software. However, since most of the computers that currently use XP are too old to be converted to use Windows 7 or 8.1, upgrading them is a nonstarter. After including the setup and labor required for installation, the bill for a large district could hit seven or eight figures.

Plan B involves swapping XP-based PCs for inexpensive Android tablets, Chromebooks, or Linux-based computers. Their price tags can be half that of the typical PC notebook or desktop system, but on the downside, the assortment of available classroom titles is tiny compared with Windows.

Plan C lets schools continue to use their seemingly obsolete PCs by virtualizing the software on a server. The way that virtualization works requires rethinking how school computers interact. Forget about running software directly on the computer’s hard drive; think instead about using a server that sends the necessary graphic elements, commands, and data directly to each computer via a network connection.

Virtualization offers the best of both worlds: new software while continuing to use the old hardware. It allows schools to get several more years out of outdated computers because there is less computing stress placed on them. “Schools are using virtualization to move up to Windows 7. It’s a logical step away from XP,” says Dave Burton, vice president of marketing at NComputing.

With NComputing’s vSpace virtualization platform, every PC at school is turned into a thin client system, or the school can buy new thin client hardware. Regardless of whether a math teacher is showing how to add exponents, a student is researching an English paper at a library kiosk, or the assistant principal is collating the quarter’s grades, the systems look and act the same as always, right down to the ubiquitous Windows logo.

“It looks like Windows and acts like Windows,” explains Burton. “It runs all the software and is just as fast, but all the software is running on a server. They would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between native Windows and vSpace virtualizing it.”

Network-Centric Scheme

Virtualization software does put extra stress on the school’s network because more data is flowing back and forth between system and server. The software avoids bottlenecks by automatically compressing data, caching the most frequently used items, and balancing the load among clients. That way, if a class opens up the same worksheet or watches the same video via vSpace, the system doesn’t come to a grinding halt.

This streamlining of the client–server relationship is done in the background. “Unlike VMware’s VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] system,” Burton says, “vSpace doesn’t require an army of IT staff.” In other words, VDI is more appropriate for a large corporation that has a dedicated IT staff to keep it running smoothly.

To make virtualization work, there’s a client app as well as a midrange server to house and distribute the software. Figure on setting up one vSpace server for every 100 clients versus less than half that for a VDI installation. It costs about $50 per seat when purchasing for hundreds of users, but NComputing counts concurrent users, and a school will likely never have every computer being used at the same time. According to Burton, a typical school with roughly 1,000 students and staff might need between 400 and 500 licenses.

Pana Community School District No. 8 in central Illinois replaced 400 XP-based computers for its 100 teachers and 1,400 students with vSpace running Windows 7 on a dozen servers. Rather than recycle its antediluvian PCs, the district went a step further and bought NComputing’s L300 thin clients and mated them with existing displays, keyboards, and mice. All told, the district had upfront costs that were between half and one-third what new PCs would have cost.

But, as most administrators know, purchase costs are only the start. Gartner analysts have estimated the total cost of ownership, which takes into account everything from initial outlays and maintenance to repairs and power costs. To nobody’s surprise, the typical PC setup is the most expensive at $2,290 in annual costs, with traditional VDI a close second at $1,982. The cost of setting up and running vSpace comes out on the low side at about $576 a year.

Schools can even save money by using vSpace to centrally manage their computers, which can lower support and maintenance costs dramatically. “Running a school network is never easy,” Burton says. “The software ensures that every computer has the most up-to-date drivers and software.”

Shopping Smart.edu

Shmoop buying-softwareWorried about how to evaluate software before you buy? Consider these seven tips before finalizing that PO.

By David Siminoff

If you surf www.SnakeOilSalesmen.com you will find the pantheon of educational technology products that didn’t work. Lots of promises. Lots of noise. No tangibly good results for our kids. Waste.

 It’s a story replayed too many times in our districts, and the world of technology is getting more complex, more ripe for abuse.

 When you buy tech, you wear two hats—you play both offense and defense. You are trying to let your students take advantage of truly new things (e.g., iPads), not rehashes of the past (“new” paper textbooks). You take risks: Will the technology work? Will it actually teach…better? Will it deliver the value it promises in helping our children find dots of light in the darkness of educational space?

You mitigate risk as well: If you play it safe, you…don’t get fired. (See the guy who managed the LAUSD iPad debacle for details.) You order paper texts—they don’t need batteries. You…do the same thing your predecessors have done for 300 years. The kids get their education, more or less. And they move on. Defense.

The “right” answer probably circles a balance of both offense and defense. I present to you a series of what I believe should be key questions you ask of your vendors in defining that space:

1. Can you spot “lazy” tech?

Is the “brand new” technology just an old paper textbook whose pages have been scanned, copied. and pasted onto a vanilla web page? Brilliant. Cutting-edge technology. Bazinga.

Is the “new” product essentially the same thing the company offered three years ago, but the cover/title page has been changed to include the words And now with Common Core!? It always had the Common Core. Somebody took a day or two to numerically tag the Common Core grids. Is this a reason to shell out money for a “new” product?

When companies offer “new” products that leave you scratching your head, then it’s likely you are buying an empty basket.

2. Can you believe it's not butter? (Or, is the data real or not?)

Can you trust that the product actually works? Is there quality data, which backs up the supposed findings? (“Quality” means a smart 15-year-old can understand the data.) The sample size was big. There are testimonials from people who actually implemented the product. The product actually worked—i.e., it wasn’t just a “paid study.” And the post-tech-application result was demonstrably better than the control group’s. If the product is really good, it’ll let you track to the individual student, the classroom, the area of study, and time spent on the platform.

3. Is this a transaction or a relationship?

Ever feel like you’re being pushed out of the room the minute you shake hands with your vendor? Big companies are publicly traded entities run for shareholder profits. They have sales quotas to hit and pressure to sell, sell, sell. Small companies have pressure as well—but their “greed” is often more of the long-term flavor (healthy) than the short-term flavor (think: your last stockbroker).

Don’t be misled by large companies who claim to have 10,000 service center employees, but when you reach out, nobody returns your calls. In many small companies, you get the founder or top officer who cares about a long-term relationship actually working. Their company’s survival usually depends on it. They’ll do right by you (i.e., do what they say they will do)—or they will die fast.

4. Should you test the system?

Yes. Here’s an easy one: Send an email to the company’s Contact Us button with a clear, reasonably simple question and see what happens. Just because it has a big PR firm/marketing agency that claims to have great customer service doesn’t mean that it actually does. And to be very clever, if you work for a gorilla like LAUSD, don't send the email from that vaunted account. Send it from your personal account and see if you get a quality reply any time soon.

5. Is there fair value in the product? 

One of the reasons that I started Shmoop was that I found myself responding angrily to the textbooks my children were bringing home. To wit, the history book was basically the same one I had in high school 30-plus years earlier—little if anything had been added to give context and relevance to the vast changes in society today versus the 1980s. Yet the textbook cost $220. It was still unfathomable on many levels, not Internet-friendly, and used the same $5 words that made the teacher feel smart and the student feel stupid. If the new technology doesn’t feel like a leap forward over whatever was in the past (think: iPad relative to a laptop), it’s usually a pass.

6. Does the vendor truly love its own product?

Love matters. It’ll keep us together, it hurts, and it’s a battlefield. Founders know all of this about their products—they love them. Sometimes the product loves them back, and other people fall in love with the same simple clarity or voice or vision that the product imbues to its category.

 Small things matter—is the product actually updated regularly, or does it just say it is? Digital is designed for regular updates; paper not so much. Is the product easy to implement without requiring that the teacher have a Ph.D. in computer science?

Does it serve pages well on an iPad, an old Dell laptop with an Explorer browser, on a Samsung Mega, on a new Mac?

7. The acid test: Do students actually use the product? Do they, perhaps, love it?

If they do, it “will love them back” in nonobvious ways. Take an ungodly boring task like studying for the SATs, or reading Kants, or diagramming orbitals. If the new tech makes that process painless, maybe even fun-ish, then the student, who fights to spend the least amount of time possible on a given task, will spend much more time. And learn more. Perhaps the student will “feel” instead of just “know” the topic.

David Siminoff is the founder and chief creative officer of Shmoop University, www.shmoop.com.

Image: Olaru Radian-alexandru/Hemera/Thinkstock

Match Point

Cici-bellisHow top high school athletes balance studies with tennis.

By Wayne D'Orio

In the week before Labor Day, most 15-year-old girls
spent at least part of their free time buying the
perfect backpack, checking class schedules with friends, and planning what to wear on the first day of school.

For Catherine Bellis, CiCi Bells to her fans, the to-do list was slightly different. Bellis, a top amateur tennis player, earned her first invite to the U.S. Open this year. On the tourney’s second day, the 15-year-old from San Francisco was thrust into the national spotlight by becoming the youngest player in 18 years to win a match at the major when she knocked off Dominika Cibulkova, the 12th seed.

Despite picking up more than 2,000 Twitter followers and having her second-round match shown live in prime time, Bellis is still just a 15-year-old about to start her sophomore year in high school. (Bellis lost her second-round match, but played into the second week in the junior doubles and singles tournaments.)

So how do Bellis and the 127 other teenagers in the junior tournament in New York City keep up with their studies while devoting so much time to tennis and training? The short answer is online classes, but the way these student-athletes put together their schedules varies greatly.

Bellis says she is home-schooled, but she takes most of her courses from K12’s offerings. Other athletes interviewed at the tournament used various online courses, while sometimes mixing in classes at their local schools.

“Our students get to pursue their dreams without jeopardizing their education,” says Miriam Rube, K12’s head of school. “She doesn’t have to worry about class when she’s on the court, but when she plugs in, we are there for her.”

Flexibility is the biggest reason most students take classes at Florida Virtual School, says spokeswoman Tania Clow. They can work at their own pace and can access the classes from anywhere. More than 190,000 students take classes through this virtual school, including a number of prominent teen athletes, actors, and musicians.

Reilly Opelka, a 6’ 9” 17-year-old starting 12th grade, lives year-round at the USTA training center in Boca Raton, Florida. He spends five hours a day playing tennis and doing fitness training. He takes all of his courses through Florida Virtual School. While admitting he’d “love to be in school with my friends,” about four hours north in Palm Coast, Florida, he says the school’s flexibility works well with his frequent traveling.

Opelka likes “stacking” classes, where he takes a few subjects and completes a year’s work in mere months. Earlier this year, he took English, math, and marine science, completing each course in four months. He plans to start this year’s classes “right after this,” he adds, moments after winning a first-round match. (He lost in the second round of singles on Wednesday.)

Opelka has been taking online classes since ninth grade and says he’s now better about keeping up with his work rather than cramming it all in at the end. He thinks all students should experience taking a class online, but he adds, “It’s not ideal to teach yourself math.”

Clow says Florida, among other states, mandates that all students take an online class before they graduate from high school. She says while there is a recommended pace for each class, instructors check in with students regularly and communicate with parents each month to relay students’ progress.

Caroline Dolehide, a 15-year-old player from Hinsdale, Illinois, who also spends five hours a day on tennis and training, actually finds it easier to take biology online than in person. (Making up lab time in person can be difficult, she says.) She split her schedule for her freshman year, going to school until 11:30 and supplementing with two online classes from Illinois Virtual School. She had planned to do the same this year, though because she’s already missed two weeks of school (she won her first three singles matches, making it into the quarterfinals), she may take all of her courses online through Laurel Springs School, an online private school that caters to athletes and performers.

Like many high school athletes who juggle sports and school, both Dolehide and Opelka are keeping open the option of going to college—and staying current with their schoolwork, even amid the glamour of a major tennis tournament, is important.

“You can have more than one focus in life, but it takes planning and commitment,” says Rube. “That’s a life skill.”

Image: Matthew Stockman/gettyimages

Creating On Demand PD

One of the biggest trends in education the last few years has been the push to differentiate learning for the various students in each classroom. With technology’s help, teachers are now able to more easily assign tasks that challenge each student to do his or her best, no matter the student’s level of proficiency. School Improvement Network thought so much of this trend that it is trying to bring it to teachers’ professional learning.

SIN’s new service, Edivation, includes videos, courses, and lesson plans that teachers or administrators can review on their own, creating personal learning plans that cater to specific skills. Educators can access content from any computer or mobile device.

“Since launching on-demand video resources in 2007, our offerings have expanded to include management tools, online groups and communities, lesson plans and comprehensive implementation support,” says Chet D. Linton, CEO and president of School Improvement Network. “Edivation was created as a new technology platform to support these resources and to help educators become as effective as possible.”

The service is available for $4,995 for one year, or for $3,995 per year with a five-year contract.

 

-Kim Greene

Education: The Most Tech-Savvy Industry in America?

In recent years, technology use in the classroom has advanced leaps and bounds.  But how does education stack up compared with other—better-funded—industries such as finance or retail? 

Better than you might have guessed. According to a new study from Fiberlink, an IBM company, when it comes to app adoption, the education sector is way ahead of the game.

The study, which looked at mobile devices managed by Fiberlink, found that education accounts for 33 percent of all public apps and 28 percent of all custom apps adopted in the last 14 months. That’s more than any other industry listed.

Industry
Fiberlink believes that education’s chart-topping app-adoption numbers are part of a larger push toward mobile technology in the classroom. The company also cites cost and accessibility as two reasons educators are gravitating toward the app store en masse, stating: “Off-the-shelf laptop solutions can cost a pretty penny, while apps are generally more modestly priced, with a broader variety.”

The types of apps that administrators put on student devices ranged from organizational platforms (Google Drive) to creative tools (iMovie), with the ever-popular iBooks leading the pack.

Here are the Top 10 Public Apps in Education:

  1. iBooks
  2. Google Drive
  3. Pages
  4. Evernote
  5. iMovie
  6. Dropbox
  7. Google Earth
  8. Educreations
  9. Notability
  10. Numbers

Learn more about the data here.

-Catherine Logue

Randi Reacts to Vergara Decision

Statement from AFT President Weingarten on Vergara Decision

WASHINGTON— Statement from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on today’s Vergara v. California decision.

“Today, as the Vergara decision was rendered, thousands of California classrooms were brimming with teachers teaching and students learning. They see themselves as a team, but sadly, this case now stoops to pitting students against their teachers. The other side wanted a headline that reads: “Students win, teachers lose.” This is a sad day for public education.

“While this decision is not unexpected, the rhetoric and lack of a thorough, reasoned opinion is disturbing.  For example, the judge believes that due process is essential, but his objection boils down to his feeling that two years is not long enough for probation.  He argues, as we do, that no one should tolerate bad teachers in the classroom. He is right on that.  But in focusing on these teachers who make up a fraction of the workforce, he strips the hundreds of thousands of teachers who are doing a good job of any right to a voice.  In focusing on who should be laid off in times of budget crises, he omits the larger problem at play: full and fair funding of our schools so all kids have access to the classes—like music, art and physical education—and opportunities they need.

“It's surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children.  We must lift up solutions that speak to these factors—solutions like wraparound services, early childhood education and project-based learning.

“Sadly, there is nothing in this opinion that suggests a thoughtful analysis of how these statutes should work.  There is very little that lays groundwork for a path forward.  Other states have determined better ways—ways that don’t pit teachers against students, but lift up entire communities.  Every child is entitled to a high-quality education regardless of his or her ZIP code. And no parent should have to rely on a lottery system to get his or her child into a good school.

“This will not be the last word. As this case makes it through an appeal, we will continue to do what we’ve done in state after state. We will continue to work with parents and communities to fight for safe and welcoming neighborhood public schools that value both kids and the women and men who work with them. No wealthy benefactor with an extreme agenda will detour us from our path to reclaim the promise of public education.”

###

Top Stories for Thursday 4/17

How Will The New SAT Test Vocab?
The redesigned SAT will focus on ‘high utility’ words. What exactly does that mean?

Choosing Sides At Northwestern
Last month’s vote to allow a union causes friction. The New York Times

Opposing Views on Teacher Tenure
Calif. case outcome could become example for other states. The New York Times

Common Core Aligned With Cognitive Issues
Field tests for students with disabilities administered. Education Week

Indiana Rushes to Make New Deadline
First state to drop Common Core to approve new standards. The Huffington Post

Pay It Forward Tuition
New idea could allow students to go to college for free. NPR

Top Stories for Wednesday 4/9

Obama Announces Grant Winners
Schools will use funds to integrate work experience. NYT

Bill to Streamline Teacher Dismissals
Proposal aims to quicken dismissal process. KPCC

Can K12 Ed Startups Succeed?
How these two companies are navigating the market. Edweek

Do Students Still Have Free Speech in School?
How social media is complicating student rights—and eroding privacy. The Atlantic

When Are Tech Tools Worth It?
Is the technology creating more chaos in the classroom? Hechinger

Top Stories for Wednesday 3/12

Will the Common Core Spell the End of the Letter Grade?
How standards-based grading could revolutionize assessment. The Atlantic

NYC Building Collapses
Middle school shaken by nearby explosion. The New York Times

School Lunches Transformed
How one fed up parent is making big change. Education Week

Charter School Supporters Aren't Giving Up
Thousands protested De Blasio’s decision in Albany. Education Week

Foreign Students Struggle in Universities
American colleges try to keep foreign students enrolled. The New York Times

Are For-Profit Schools Taking Advantage of Students?
States work to correct for-profit school oversights. Hechinger Report

Top Stories for Tuesday 2/25

Is Your Data Protected?
Group works to establish best practices for student data. Hechinger Report

Why One Mother Took the SAT 7 Times
What does it take to get a perfect score—and is it worth it? The Atlantic

Should Elementary School Teachers Specialize?
Departmentalization on the rise in younger grades. Education Week

Minnesota Takes on the Achievement Gap
The surprising ways the state is using their NCLB waiver. Education Week

 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.