While I’ve seen some innovative educational apps for the iPad, because the tablet can’t play Flash video, they have been few and far between. Discovery Education now has made more than 30,000 movies available for the iPad. It’s just the start as Discovery continues to add new videos, audio files, reading examples and other curriculum items.
Keeping an eye on the school at night and weekends can be an expensive hassle with security guards, or you can spend a fortune to put in security cameras that are monitored from a central location. Planex can cover the school with inexpensive video cameras that provide an eye on your school when nobody’s there. The CS-WMV02G costs $70, about the price of a Web cam, but has a built-in microphone and can be remotely tilted and panned to get the right shot. The camera connects via the school’s WiFi network, captures high-quality MPEG-4 video and can be set up to send emails if the image under surveillance changes, indicating an intruder or that the gerbil in Mrs. Johnson’s second grade class is loose again.
As Windows 7 reaches its first birthday, it’s time to take a look at what software school computers are now using and what they’ll be running on in the near future. At a 20,000 foot perspective, the answer is that the 10-year-old Windows XP still rules the school, but that’s about to change as many schools start to upgrade their computers with an eye towards Win 7.
Three years ago the Lakota School District completed a transformation to a Microsoft based operation, standardizing on a single operating system to increase the automation of desktop management, reduce support costs and improve the simplicity of product integration. We came from a mixed OS environment where very few support tasks could easily be automated and too many products were being supported by too few people. Getting through the change was a challenge, but coming out the other end we have been successful at reducing overall costs and delivering a much higher level of service.
Our current environment is 100 percent Windows XP (with SP3 updates) with over 5,000 desktop and laptop units. In addition, we run 1,200 thin clients (XP SP3) from a server farm running Server 2003. We are able to remotely monitor, diagnose and repair every unit across a 64-square mile district using just six technicians. If you do the math that’s approximately 1,000 end stations per technician.
Our server environment is 70 percent Windows Server 2003 and Server 2008. At last count we were operating over 100 servers in the Data Center we use virtualization as much as possible. We run Active Directory to manage accounts, our SIS (eSchoolPlus) and FIS (eFinancePlus) are running Microsoft’s SQL Server, Office 2007 Professional is our productivity suite and SharePoint is our district wide collaboration environment. It should also be mentioned that we strongly encourage the use of Web-based applications in the Curriculum and Special Services departments to further reduce support costs.
In technology, a long term vision can become very blurry even two years out. Given what we know today the plan is to move ahead in our current direction by migrating to the next version of our current operating systems and software applications. I would not rule out a change to part of our operation as no one can accurately predict what might be available several years from now, but the foundation of our systems will likely remain tied to what we currently run for continuity and cost containment.
I foresee a migration path to Windows 7 on our PCs and a new generation of wireless slates running a version of Windows or possibly Android. The key for us is to select a single OS that meshes with everything we have – and stick with it. As funding continues to decline we must drive down the support costs while maintaining the best integration environment. Understanding where we were, and how bad it was before moving to a single OS, has provided strong motivation to stay our course.
In our school district, 99.9 percent of the computers are running a Windows-based OS. The most widely used OS is Windows XP. We also have a small number of Windows 2000, Vista and Windows 7 systems in use.
Our plan is to begin migrating to Windows 7 during the second semester of this school year. We’ve been running Windows 7 in our Technology Department for several months without any problems.
Windows 7 appears to be a solid, stable performer and will work nicely in the virtual desktop environment that we will be deploying later this year. Our standalone and virtual file servers, likewise, are running Windows Server 2003 or 2008. There is a single Apple server and we also have a handful of Linux servers running various Web applications.
We are currently in the process of migrating our remaining Windows Server 2003 servers to Server 2008. We purchased a district-wide Microsoft license agreement for $135,000 that includes unlimited numbers of Windows 7, Office 2010 Pro, servers and the like. It includes future upgrades, and worked out to around $36 per device.
I have seen an evolution of operating systems in school districts during the years I have been in education. When technology first was widely introduced in schools, Apple/Macintosh had the upper hand mainly because of the software available for schools. I have witnessed a big change in that the PC now dominates.
Having been a Superintendent in a comprehensive K-12 district and a Career-Technical District, I found career technical districts to be a bit more in tune with what business and industry are expecting in our graduates from a technology perspective. At Eastland-Fairfield, the breakdown was approximately 95 percent PC and 5 percent Mac. The 5 percent Mac figure stems from one career-technical program where business and industry indicated to us that our graduates would be working on Mac hardware when they enter the profession. We successfully integrated the Mac equipment in that program into the technology system in the district with little or no problems.
I do not think the mix of PC and Mac equipment will change unless business and industry suggest such a change. Today, the idea of one operating system dominating the software for the learning process in schools is history. Being able to train students to use hardware and operating systems they will find in life after high school is vital if we are going to produce graduates who can compete.
On the user workstation side we are 95 percent PC/Windows and the other 5 percent is a mix of Mac and Ubuntu Linux. For our servers we do use a bit more open source software with about 20 percent of our Server infrastructure on Ubuntu Linux and the rest running on Windows Server.
We have started rolling out Windows 7 in a couple of our buildings on new PCs. At this time we have no plans to upgrade existing PC architecture to Windows 7.
In the future I see one of two things as possible:
1. The operating system on our user workstations will not matter much. I see most applications heading to the cloud (Think Google Docs and Microsoft Office
online). To do this, we would go to a more streamlined operating system like Ubuntu or Chrome OS with just a browser should provide all the features we need, as well as provide a bit more protection from Malware and viruses.
2. Personal workstations will be replaced by a tablet, like the Apple iPad. PowerSchool now provides an iPad grade book, and with Pages/Keynote and a keyboard most teachers no longer need a dedicated machine on their desk.
At the moment, we have about 60 teachers using iPads, and I have to say, now
that PowerSchool released a grade book program for the iPad, there really is not anything most teachers do that the iPad can’t do. Give them a Bluetooth
keyboard and a stand, and they have a highly portable device that gets great battery life and lets them do everything they need. It’s quickly becoming a no-brainer. So I guess what I am trying to say is that I believe that this is the beginning of that choice, and we are choosing iPads.
Adobe’s Digital School Collection is the gold standard for image, video and Web site work for education, and there’s a new version that updates every aspect of the suite. It comes with Photoshop Elements 9 (image editing) and Adobe Premiere Elements 9 (video editing) and Acrobat X (preparing and viewing files) as well as Contribute CS5 (for posting classroom items to a Web site) and Soundbooth CS5 (for making podcasts). There are a slew of lesson plans, online tutorials and ideas on how to make the classroom more interactive. The software now works with Macs and PCs, and it can cost as little as $149.
We all know that because the operating system software for Linux computers costs next to nothing and many programs – from word processing to image editing – are free, outfitting a school with them can undercut Windows and Mac computers by hundreds of dollars a seat. Apparently, that’s just the start. By sharing the hardware, Userful’s Multiplier can turn one computer into as many as 10 Linux workstations in a class or computer lab for as little as $59 a seat. Of course, you will need to purchase the additional keyboards, monitors and mice, but the entire set up can be had for roughly $200 a seat. Based on Edubuntu’s version of Linux software, Multiplier can cut hardware costs by 80 percent while reducing IT support by as much as 70 percent and can cut power use by sharing the hardware.
Adobe’s Acrobat is the established file format for sharing all sorts of digital things, from homework assignments and worksheets to classroom projects and test score results. In fact, I often think that without this reliable way to make sure that every computer can read and work with the file, the digital classroom wouldn’t exist. Get ready for a new and more powerful version of Acrobat with the X Pro and Reader X coming.
The big step forward is a powerful wizard that lets students compile lots of individual items into an e-portfolio that can encompass a single project, a school year or an entire student career. While there are now Acrobat Reader programs for Android phones (and soon tablets) and the tenth generation Pro software can make .pdf files from existing Office documents, it only works with the latest Office 2010 program. Look for Acrobat X Pro in mid-November for $159, a school edition for $119; of course, the reader software is free.
For those frustrated by PCs that don’t come with the right software for early educations, Hatch’s iStartSmart is like a breath of fresh air. The touch screen PC melds with its software to deliver a complete educational computer. With curriculum that emphasizes building skills in 18 key areas, the iStartSmart system makes learning fun with games and stories while teachers can see how each child is doing. The touch-screen PC has a 22-inch display and sells for $2,595 including its unique desk.
If recovering from hack attacks, malware and viruses is taking up too much of your time, a new approach to security is in order. Symantec’s Norton 360 can cover school computers from all angles, including virus protection, online backup, a bootable recovery tool as well as a cool new rating of how risky the computer user has been. Its interface is easier to use and the program now works with all the major Web browsers rather than just Internet Explorer and Firefox. All told, it is a promising way to protect a district’s worth of computers, and the beta of Version 5 is now online for a tryout. It's all now available as a free download of the developmental beta.
Storytelling these days is a little more involved than sitting down with a pencil and blank sheet of paper. A joint venture of Discovery and Hasbro, HubForTeachers.com can help by teaching the rudiments of telling and writing a compelling story. There are lesson plans for K-through-5 classes that can help turn ideas into stories as well as tips for integrating storytelling into the classroom, a slew of resources and examples of how to put together a digital story. The site has a contest for classes to put together stories. The top prize is a digital movie studio with a green screen, Flip camcorder and software.
Ever tried to use a classroom projector to fill a huge screen in an auditorium? It’s a big disappointment because the image just get too washed out for it to be effective. That’s why there are large venue projectors that can create huge displays for school or district presentations or a movie-night fund raiser. Here're two of my current favorites.
Sanyo’s upcoming PLC-HF 10000L can put an astounding 10,000 lumens – five-times that of the typical classroom projector – of light on the screen. Capable of 2,048 by 1,080 resolution, it is perfect for showing high resolution photos as well as a Blur-Ray movie.
By contrast, Epson’s Powerlite Pro G5650WNL has the power to fill screens with up to 4,500 lumens of light. On top of being able to connect with up to four PCs, the G5650 WNL comes with all the features you’d want, including 1,280 by 800 resolution, adjustments for six colors and built in test patterns for getting the image just right. It will be available for $3,599 in about a month.