Summary of AATE Feb. 2014

The AATE February meeting began with a panel of heads-of-school and principals from AIS, Galloway, Westminster, Howard, Mt. Vernon, and Marist. A number of questions were presented to the panel for discussion. Examples include describing the biggest coming challenges in education and the role of social media in education. A particularly lively discussion developed around the question of whether and how schools measure teacher competencies for technology. The general theme seemed to be that all the schools were continually working on this issue. Direct, standards-based assessment seems to have been abandoned in favor of direct assistance to teachers on an as-needed basis. One school has recently implemented a faculty focus group to study the issue. Another depended largely on peer pressure.

Another question which elicited lengthy responses was what things the leaders would like to see their tech departments do better. All the leaders expressed their appreciation for their tech departments (unsurprisingly, in a room full of tech people). More than one emphasized the importance of developing strong relationships between the technology department and the faculty. Marist has recently gone so far as to retrain two teachers as full-time technical support, to make sure that the tech department has a strong understanding of faculty needs. As Marist’s head stated: “some us have been through times when tech folks were more Merlinesque.”

 

Following the panel, the meeting broke into smaller groups. I chose to hear about Marist’s recent technology changes. Marist has recently reorganized its entire technology structure to support a new 1-1 program. On the technical side, there is a new emphasis on replacing on-site with cloud services. Most student and teacher storage is now on a combination of Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive. The combination is necessary to support the strong use of both Microsoft OneNote and Google Docs. Productivity software has mostly transitioned from Microsoft Office to Google Docs. Email is handled by Office 365. Community-based sharing is largely handled by Google Sites (the Microsoft solution, SharePoint, was apparently a disaster from the end-user standpoint). Marist also has massive network-based storage on-site, but this is mostly for large files (e.g. video) and legacy storage. This is not even backed up.

The laptop program itself is based on a common platform of Windows 8 laptop/tablets. A single logon to both Microsoft- and Google-based services is made possible through Active Directory. A loaner pool of about 80 machines supports a population of around 1000 machines. Because of the extensive use of cloud storage, minimal interruption is caused by switching to a loaner machine. Also, since all machines have solid-state drives, the most common machine service is cracked screens. A dedicated technology department of 8 supports all machines and educational functions.

Other changes in conjunction with technology reorganization include refitting the technology space to replace individual offices with cubicles, to enable the building of a classroom-sized training area. Also, Smart Boards are being phased out in favor of  wifi-enabled projectors (Epson 1410wi) which can utilize the Smart software. This enables teachers to project directly from their laptops or ipads as they move through the room. Marist has also implemented separate secured wifi networks to prevent access for non-approved student devices and to control access to network-enabled projectors.

I found many aspects of the meeting interesting and useful. First, it was very refreshing to hear a very progressive vision of educational technology from the panel of leaders. These were administrators who clearly understood the power and limitations of technology in education, and who were willing to support new paradigms in the classroom. It was very instructive to see how Marist had changed their technology infrastructure to accommodate a more modern approach to education as well. Marist embraced a number of changes all at once that I believe will soon be the trend everywhere: 1-1 computing, reliance on the cloud for most services, increased integration of instructors and tech departments, and the beginnings of blended learning (particularly useful during the recent snow storms!). And of course, the chance to network and learn what technologies are working in other schools is always invaluable!

Troubleshooting Your Computer

BEFORE there is a problem:

The most important steps in troubleshooting happen before a problem even occurs. These are the steps that allow you to quickly solve a problem, or recover from a problem that you can’t solve. These tend to be easy actions, IF they are carried out before they are needed. First and most important is the back up. Make sure that everything that is important to you is backed up. In fact, it is preferable to back up everything to at least two different places! This can be done in the cloud, through services such as Dropbox or Google Drive, or through an external hard drive, or through a USB thumb drive. The cost in time and money to back up is minimal, so there is no excuse.

It is also possible to back up your system configuration, through Time Machine on a Mac or through Backup and Recovery on a Windows machine.These tools are built into the system software, and very easy to use. They can save a great deal of time recovering from many computer issues.

Finally, know your passwords. This can be difficult to do if you use a large number of unique passwords (as you should) for the various secure sites you use. It may be worthwhile keeping a list of passwords locked away somewhere. This will also help should you need someone else to access your data.  An ideal solution is to keep an encrypted list of passwords on a USB drive, with a friend who has the password to the file, but not the drive itself unless it is necessary. A password list should NOT be kept unencrypted on a computer, and certainly not in the cloud.  

When there is a problem:

Focus

First, take a deep breath, and make sure you are calm before attempting to fix a problem. Computer problems can be very frustrating, and it is possible to miss even very obvious solutions if you are not focused. Sometimes taking a step back will save a lot of time.

Verify

Make sure you understand what the problem is. Does it happen every time? Are you sure? It is often surprising how many problems disappear when closely examined. For example, a “forgotten” password that turns out to have been just a typo. This type of problem can happen to anyone, particularly if they have lost focus due to frustration! Make sure you have a clear grasp of the problem, in case you need to describe it to someone later.

Quick-fixes

At this point, you can try some “quick-fixes.” These do not necessarily require diagnosing the problem, but may get you going in a hurry. First, try rebooting the machine. This works surprisingly often, and will often fix whatever caused the problem in the first place. Also, check your cables. Many times, cables will feel like they are attached even if they are not entirely set in their sockets. I recommend unplugging cables completely and re-attaching them.

Finally, try a work-around. This is a solution that does not fix the problem, but allows you to get things done until you have time to address the problem. For example, if your machine does not have a network connection, maybe there is another machine nearby that is connected. Sometimes fixing the problem is less important than finishing a critical piece of work.

 Gather Info

Now is the time to do some thinking and some diagnostics. Did the device work properly in the past? Has anything changed since then? Has new hardware or software been added? Has any software been updated? Are there any error messages? This last question is especially important, and any messages should be recorded exactly (I frequently take a screenshot or a picture to make sure it is accurate). Often a quick online search of the message will provide a solution.

Determine the scope of the problem. Does it affect other applications? Other computers? Other users on the same computers? These questions will help to isolate the problem. One technique that is very useful in troubleshooting is using “known-good” devices. This means trying the same procedure with another system that has been working normally with other tasks, or swapping out components that have been tested and are working normally.

Finally, there are some diagnostic tools that may be very useful at this stage. Task Manager on Windows machines may be accessed by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del, and can identify running programs, memory usage, processor usage, and other useful data. Activity Monitor on Apple machines performs a very similar function. It’s a good idea to be familiar with these tools before there is a problem. They are much easier to use than they may appear, and sometimes lead to a very quick diagnosis. For example, a program in Task Manager that is using 90% of the memory usage likely points to a problem with the program (which can be closed from Task Manager), or a shortage of memory in the machine (which is easy to add).

Search

Find out if someone has had this problem before, and how they fixed it. The key here is your search terms. If you have an error message, enter it exactly. Otherwise, try using the specific application name and version number (e.g. Word 2010), and a short description of the problem (e.g. crashes when printing). You will likely have to revise your search once you see the results; sometimes there are “magic words” that will give you just the search result you need, and it can take a couple tries to identify them. Frequently, a few minutes of searching are all that are needed to find others who have identified the issue and a solution.

Escalate

When none of the above techniques have provided a solution in a reasonable amount of time, it is time to escalate the issue. All of the work you put in so far will still save you time, however, as you can now more completely describe the problems you’ve experienced and the steps you’ve taken to a technician. If you can clearly describe the issue, and can demonstrate that you have already taken appropriate steps, you will likely gain the respect of the technician. You may also be able to provide enough information for the technician to diagnose the problem immediately. Otherwise, you will need to be patient. This can be especially difficult, as the technician will often have you repeat steps you have already taken. Be assured that there is a method to this madness! Many technicians actually have a flowchart that they use to systematically identify problems.
If you have reached this stage of the process, it is also time to revisit the possibilities of workarounds and backups. The amount of time you are willing to devote to a particular problem can vary, so make sure you aware of what that limit is. It is seldom worthwhile, for example, to spend hours on the phone with technical support.

After the problem is resolved:

Once the problem is resolved, there may still be work to do. First, you may want to make a note of the problem and steps taken to resolve it. This can be useful if the problem resurfaces or if another problem arises from the fix. Second, you may need to perform another backup of your system with the solution in place. Finally, if you have had help solving the problem, a quick note of thanks is always appreciated. It can be very useful, as well, as technicians often don’t hear back from clients, and have to guess whether their solution worked.

Digital Citizenship in Schools

Digital Citizenship should be an extension of the school’s culture at large, just as any other type of behavior. Education in how to behave in the digital world is the responsibility of the entire community: teachers, administration, support staff, and parents can all contribute. While some classroom time is needed to directly address these issues, much more can be integrated into technology use as a part of the curriculum.

The digital difference

Most interactions in the digital world are analogous to other, more conventional interactions. There are some important differences, however, that can amplify the effects of poor choices. Many students will not have considered the ways in which their digital interactions differ from their other interactions. When these differences are kept in mind, many online choices become much easier.

Persistence – What goes online, stays online. Possibly forever.

Searchability – If it is online somewhere, it can probably be found.

Replicability – If it is online, it can be copied. By anyone.

Scalability – Nothing is too small to become important.

Invisible audiences – There’s no telling who sees something online.

Blurring of public/private – It is often unclear how public or private something is online.

Loss of non-verbal communication – Nuance and subtlety hardly exist online.

Digital footprints

Students leave behind a history that will be visible for years to come. Classmates, college recruiters, and future employers will all have access to much of the students’ digital footprints. This can certainly have very negative consequences. However, it is also important for students to try to build a positive online presence, and to consider that they will have an online reputation that may one day be very useful. An emphasis on building this positive footprint rather than negative actions may be a useful approach.

Bullying

Bullying is not tolerated at school, and bullying online is no different. Many issues can be avoided, however, by helping students realize that the same behavior codes apply online as elsewhere in the community. Understanding the differences between the online and offline worlds will only serve to emphasize that bullying online is a poor choice. Students will also be provided with healthy techniques to avoid trouble, such as a waiting period for posting, or asking a friend.

Safety

The internet can be a scary place. Students should know the best practices for life in the digital world, from choosing strong passwords to choosing what information is appropriate to share. Students should have some understanding of potentially thorny subjects such as copyright law, plagiarism, and libel. Students should also be able to make use of privacy settings and make good choices when choosing to deal with unknown entities online. Finally, students should be aware of the potential for identity theft and scams.

Digital Citizenship

I’ve been looking at a number of resources, to try to find a mix of topics that really fits the school’s culture. Here are some that I’ve found to be exceptional:

 

NYC Schools Social Media Guide

http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/9765B2DF-9BD5-42AA-8D85-005D0FC8AA23/0/Student_Social_Media_Guidelines_final_20131223.pdf

Connect Safely

http://www.connectsafely.org

Common Sense Media – Digital Citizenship Videos

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/videos/the-importance-of-teaching-digital-citizenship

Common Sense Media – Digital Literacy & Citizenship Curriculum

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/curriculum

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/scope-and-sequence

Digital Tattoo

http://digitaltattoo.ubc.ca

21 Things

http://www.21things4students.net

A Platform for Good

http://www.aplatformforgood.org