Even bi- and trilingual teachers often are confronted with a young student who speaks only Kurdish or Urdu. Produced by the EMAS UK cooperative, Talking Tutor can help with instant translations between English and everything from Afghani to Zulu. It works with more than 150 languages, old and new, and has a command of eight different Chinese dialects. Just type what you want to say to the student in English and the text will show up below and the animated avatar will speak it with a reasonable accent.
On top of helping to directly interact with an ESL student, Talking Translator can effectively replace an expensive classroom translator. It can help teachers create worksheets or tests in a variety of languages and write progress reports or letters home for parents to read. It’s currently available in England, but it would cost about $1,000 for a high school with 200 students to use the software. The group is looking for partner schools, districts and organizations to try the software out.
Nothing lasts forever, particularly at schools, which must be one of the toughest environments for computers to operate in. After all, they’re used by many different people, take a daily beating and need to last longer than those used in businesses. What technology items break the most in your district, what are the standard warranties enough to cover the repairs and are extended warranties worth the cost?
In our district, like most I am sure, have our biggest problems where we have the most equipment: our desktops. We typically purchase our PCs with a three-year warranty. Our district technicians are certified by our vendor to complete warranty repairs. Since we are certified in their warranty program not only does the vendor sends us our parts free of charge, but they also pay us for the cost of the repair.
The money we earn from doing warranty repairs is used to supplement the parts budget for our systems that are no longer in warranty. Given that we use our PCs well past their useful lifetime having these extra funds is important to our budget. There is a cost associated with being enrolled in the warranty program, but because we have been able to concentrate our PC purchases with one vendor we typically see that cost waived.
As a rule we purchase extended warranties on parts and labor for PCs, servers or network gear for between five and seven years. This typically pushes our responsibility for repairs into year six on PCs with servers and network gear going a full seven years. The standard plus extended warranties keep the machines humming along for their entire life and we take on the repair ourselves if forced to extend the PCs life into year six (our replacement cycle is set for five years on a PC).
Strangely enough, the most expensive (and painful to deal with) single item in our inventory is network ports. It is amazing how often staff or students pull on the cable, run over the cable with a cart or just forget they have it plugged in. All it takes is one good tug on the end of the cable and the face plate connection snaps off. Since many of the lines were installed in the late 1990s using Ohio SchoolNet funding we usually replace the entire line from the head-end.
The cost of copper cabling skyrocketed: our average drop costs $300. If I had to pick one thing that just “happens” it would be this one item. It costs us over $30,000 annually.
One odd note, we have 1,200 thin clients that each have a 50 cent battery that require replacement annually. Consider spreading 1,200 units across 24 buildings and you begin to realize that while it may be a fifty cent battery it costs significantly more in time just to go to the building, open the case and replace the tiny watch battery. Thin clients are great time and money savers, but I didn’t see this one coming when we decided to add these to our fleet.
If I have to complain about warranties it would be about AV equipment. Projectors come with a one or two year warranty and some even offer an optional third year for a price, but after that you’re on your own. Fortunately the bulk of our projectors are wall mounted 3M units and we’ve not had the problems with these compared to the cart units. Could be the cart units “fall” off once in awhile, but funny how this is never mentioned in the Service Request system by the teacher.
Again, our motto is better to be safe than sorry, so we spend the money upfront to ensure the machines have platinum level support throughout the live cycle. In the long run this allows us to have fewer on-site technicians and delivers consistent processes for everyone to follow across the enterprise.
The technology item that tends to break the most is the laptop. When the one-to-one laptop project was instituted two years ago, that was anticipated due to students carrying the laptop with them everywhere they went. Common occurrences include the laptop being dropped and falling off a desk or table. It was not a surprise to the administration and technology folks that the students had less of these occurrences than staff members.
The research we did prior to implementing the one-to-one laptop project included talking with other districts that had already implemented a similar project. These districts told us that they had more issues with staff taking care of the laptops than the students, and that was our experience as well.
As for warranties, we always tried to get a three-year warranty period if we did not have in-house repair services. When the one-to-one laptop project was initiated, we began in-house repair services. This helped greatly in the down time for broken laptops.
Summer time and it’s time to get rid of old, antiquated PCs and (hopefully) replace them with new ones. Chances are that the hard drive holds more than a few old tests, grades and the remnants of Web research along with personal notes and demographic information on students that are best not shared with the world. In other words, before the PC leaves the building or its parts are reused, the hard drive needs to be wiped clean.
You can format the drive but a digital sleuth can recover a surprising amount of data with software like Disk Doctor or DDR Professional. The best bet is a program that takes everything off of the drive like Hard Drive Eraser. It’s free, simple and quick. Version 2.0 is only 618KB of data so it downloads and installs quickly.
Hard Disk Eraser can shred data to four standards, including replacing the data with zeros, DOD 5220-22.M, US Army and the slow but utterly effective Guttman spec. I prefer the DOD standard, which renders the drive data-free but doesn’t take the whole day to clean the drive.
After taking the drive out and connecting it to an SATA drive cable (a USB connector works just as well but is slower), I plug it into a machine I use for maintenance and repair of other PCs. This is because you can’t erase a drive that the system is running on.
Once you’ve chosen that you want to erase the C drive, you’ll need to type in “ERASE” to confirm you want to get rid of everything on the drive. Then, the program gets to work. It cleaned a 160GB drive that’s two-thirds full of all sorts of data, ranging from photos and videos to presentations an all sorts of Acrobat, Word and presentation files. A horizontal progress bar inches along to show that bit by bit the data is disappearing.
As a precaution, when it’s done, I usually run Disk Doctor or DDR Professional to see if there’s any data to recover from the drive. Every time, I’ve done this the drive has come out of the process clean as the day it was made and ready for the junkyard or recycled in another computer.
+ Can quickly wipe any hard drive
+ Four different standards used
- Can’t format system’s main drive
- Need to confirm action by typing ERASE
When you’re looking for absolutely the best scans of paper documents, negatives or slides, Epson outdoes the competition with its Perfection V750-M Pro scanner. At $850, it’s an expensive device in a world with $65 scanners. But, the V750-M Pro is a digital workhorse that is able to create super-sharp 6,400 dot per inch digital scans. The device’s dual lens means that everything is picture perfect. It works with both PCs and Macs, and can handle originals that are up to 8.5- by11.7-inches.
If handling a flatbed scanner is too much for small kids, Pandigital’s Personal Photo Scanner has a lot of pull. The scanner grabs and pulls in sheets that are up to 8.5- by 11-inches and turns them into vivid 600 dot per inch digital images. It can’t handle slides or negatives but it can not only send the scans via a USB cable, the $150 Pandigital device can put them directly on a flash memory card, like an SD card.