Thursday, December 14, 2006
For about a month now, things have been quite smooth and I have had a chance to really observe what is going on. One of the most simple yet widely used tools is iFolder. This open source project (which is available in Windows, Mac and Linux clients) allows users to back up local folders automatically and then also collaborate with other users as well. It has saved students butts when they have laptop damage but, as important, allows them to really work together in a very powerful way.
Here's how it works. You have to download the server software and install it on a server, preferrably a dedicated server. Right now the server needs to be a Novell Open Enterprise Server but soon it can be any Linux server. Then you install the small client on your computer. Once the client has been installed, you can right click on any folder on your computer and "convert it to an iFolder." Once you "convert" a folder, the files and subfolders in that folder are automatically backed up to the server. Even if you stop right there it becomes an elegant back-up utility.
But wait! There's more!! If you want to share the data in that folder with other people, you right click on the folder and "share the iFolder." You are prompted to select the people you want to invite to your folder from the list taken directly from your existing MS Active Directory or Novell eDirectory. Those users you added will then be prompted to "join" the specific iFolder. A copy of your folder, which now resides and is syncronized on the server, is created on the computers of each of the people you selected. Now all people involved in the iFolder can work on the files whether they are online or offline because the files are stored on the local hard drive. When you are connected to the Internet (on the network or off) the files are securely syncronized. Conflicts are dedected and brought to the users attention.
Hold on! We're not finished yet!! What if you want to share your data with someone that doesn't have their own computer? The data stored on the server can be accessed through a website. Right now we have students at our school sharing documents on their laptops with students in Germany via the web accessible server! The German school couldn't ensure access to computers in their school as their lab is often full. However, this way, the students can work together whether they are in the lab, at the library or using their computers at home!
You can find information on the iFolder project at http://ifolder.com but the latest information can be found on a Novell Open Audio podcast.
Monday, September 04, 2006
OK. Enough delay. What did the study find? Linux laptops cost us less in acquisition, and year long support. They cost about the same to deploy. Faculty were resistant but became less so with time. Students found the Linux problems easier to troubleshoot (which was a surprise to me). Also, given the choice between Linux and Windows via Citrix, students spent a slight majority of their time operating in the Linux environment.
A Linux laptop program is no different than any other laptop program in that it brings about a change in the classroom that requires preparation and training. You can never do too much. User satisfaction was generally the same as those found in the Rockman Report, which is a hallmark of laptop program research.
Our conclusion: Linux offers a viable computing ecosystem for a school laptop program for significantly less money. The complete abolishment of Windows and/or Macintosh is probably not in the best interest of the school. Also a phased approach is most valuable because it provides a growing base of linux and open source experts for your community and allows you to more wisely and gradually reduce Microsoft expenses as your community becomes more comfortable with open source alternatives.
The white paper summarizing our findings can be found here or at the link on the left side of the page. We also promised not to hide behind papers. The question by question summary of Phase I data can be found here or at the link on the left side of the page. The question by question summary of Phase II data can be found here or at the link on the left side of the page.
This has been a pleasant challenge and we have decided to continue to use Linux in our laptop program. In fact, based off data gathered in this study, we have designed our image to accommodate more time in the Linux ecosystem versus the Windows ecosystem, as this is what our students have called for in their actions.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
The study was commissioned in part by Intel, Lenovo and IBM. I have been very particular about making sure we are telling the full story. However, the same data set can be interpreted many ways. I fully accept that some of you will come to different conclusions than the study, or I have given the data. This is why I am publishing the raw data. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
The baseline data is available via a link on the right of this page. Soon we will post the final data.
Difficult to type foreign language
Built into new image - custom
Intuitive file structure
Beagle and improved mapdrives and Nautilus
Faster load times
SLED 10 plus RAM increase
Open Office Improvements
Open Office 2.0 - Novell Edition
IE 5.5 will run in wine
Better Sound recording
Working to avoid Audacity conflicts with RealPlayer and cd/DVD
Will install GimpShop instead of Gimp
Improve reliability of Evolution
SLED 10 improvements on this
Easier transition between Linux and Windows on Faculty machines
VMPlayer for Windows machine
Improve media compatibility
Kaffeine and default file settings in image
better back-up/sync scenario
easier access to Citrix
Yast Software Installer
better media format compatibility - AV
SLED 10 plus Xine formats
Too many logins
ICA client and Firefox plus AD integration
improve ease of network connections
Friday, May 19, 2006
All custom packages built for this image will be available on this site.
We have also begun gathering year-end data for our study. Baseline data can be seen through the link on the right. Final data and reports will be posted here in July.
Come back and see us soon!
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Upon initial roll-out, the biggest challenge we faced was managing change. Change presented itself in two primary ways, one foreseen and one unforeseen. The negative impacts of both could have been minimized with proper planning. I will discuss the two biggest negative impacts associated with change as well as the growth we can derive from each.
The negative impact of change presented itself before laptops were even handed out to the students. We asked too much of our teachers. Eager to solve perceived problems with roll-out, we pushed too much on our teachers at once. The first had nothing to do with a laptop program. The student information system we use required an update in order to synchronize with our business and finance software. This upgrade forced a grade book change. Because the grade book offered improvements, we thought it would be well received and included it in the August training days. Though teachers have been generally pleased with the grade book, it didn't work as well as promised by the manufacturer on day one (big surprise!). Even though we got through the bumps, teachers felt the stress of learning something new and with an application that is critically important to the day to day lives of teachers. Lesson #1: Every little stress adds up.
We added insult to injury, of course by rolling out laptops. However, not only did we roll out laptops, we rolled out laptops with Linux. A few of our new teachers had never even heard of Linux and the returning teachers had only heard of it at the end of the school year before they left. We thought we had managed that by offering dual boot computers (boot to Windows or Linux) and giving them an orientation on the Linux environment. The problem here, Lesson #1. Because every little stress adds up, few teachers were interested in the Linux aspects of the orientation. They were already mentally preparing themselves for the school year and seeking to minimize the information overload they were experiencing. They quickly satisfied their needs by accepting that they could boot into Windows and the kids can use Windows through Citrix. Most teachers opted to review earlier sections about Citrix or prepare their classrooms for the beginning of the year, rather than spend time with the exercises regarding Linux programs. Anyone who has ever taught will see this as a very reasonable response. Lesson #2: Avoid information overload. Lesson # 3: Help teachers understand the threshold of information they will need and help them to understand the consequences if they don't.
Lesson #2 could have been dealt with, Lesson #3 is harder because we didn't really expect the threshold of information they would need. This leads me to the unforeseen negative impact presented by our program. Kids and teachers can't communicate well when they are not speaking a common language. Now, that platitude is a no-brainer. However, we didn't anticipate the kids and teachers would be in different environments. I mentioned in an earlier post (or at least one of the presentations/links listed at the side) that we didn't anticipate that our kids would spend 60% of their time in the Linux environment. We assumed kids, familiar with Windows, would use Linux to boot up and would almost immediately connect to Linux. We planned on Linux providing us the benefit of reduced spyware and viruses. We were wrong. Students found that Linux met more of their needs and either did not feel the need to connect to Windows through Citrix or preferred to have everything on their computer rather than have to worry about being connected to the Internet for their needs. Lesson #4: Students will always surprise you.
Now, Lesson #4 caused some problems. Teachers were choosing to boot into Windows and students were choosing to stay in Linux. Teachers were teaching in MS Word and students were working in Open Office. Students presenting question regarding Open Office were met with frustration from teachers who had never experienced it before. Now, with time and conversation, this ironed itself out. Teachers became more comfortable with requesting students work in Windows if they wanted the support and/or explaining to students that the level of support available would be lower with Open Office due to the simple reality that teachers had less experience with the program. This also became less and less an issue because students preferring Open Office became more familiar with the program and had fewer questions. However, remember Lesson #1: Every little stress adds up. This was not a pleasant experience for teachers. Lesson #5: Get people comfortable in the same environment.
Now, despite all of these, the biggest impact of change regarding this program has nothing to do with neither Linux nor Citrix; it is the impact 1:1 computing has on classroom dynamics. This will be discussed in a separate post. However, 1:1 computing in a classroom has a transformative impact on the classroom, shifting power from a single locus of control, the teacher, to one of many loci, the students and the teacher. Information goes from being primarily unidirectional, from teacher to student, to multidirectional, among students and teachers in rapidly changing groups. The Internet adds the interaction of resources from outside the classroom as well. This has a dramatic influence on classroom dynamics and is singularly large enough of a change to be the only thing a school takes on in a given year.
If I could do this year over again, what would I change? I would have provided single boot Linux laptops to teachers a year before students would receive their laptops. I would have provided pilot teachers with a classroom set of laptops with the single boot Linux image and planned for at least 4 professional development opportunities for those pilot teachers to present to the whole faculty on their experience. Lastly, I would have found a way to put off every possible advancement requiring user change in order to allow teachers the time to wrap their minds around as much of this as possible.
Live and learn!
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
You can see screenshots of SLED10 at SLED 10 Preview. You can also download the beta from their site but you need to create a novell account on their website.
This new OS addresses our biggest issues regarding the use of Linux at Whitfield this year, specifically:
-Locating and managing files
-Limited functionality of Open Office 1.14
-Weak success with Evolution (mail)
-Less intuitive wireless connectivity
SLED 10 offers significant upgrades in Open Office, Firefox (web browsing), wireless management, power management and Evolution (e-mail). Search functionality has been completely redesigned and is incredible! You need to see it to believe it! It also offers cool new features such as photo and music management and slick 3D graphic integration. Check it out!
Monday, March 20, 2006
At Whitfield, desktops were never an option for a few reasons. Logistically, we don't have the space. Our rooms could not easily accomodate the larger desks necessary for a full desktop and monitor. However, pedagogically, this didn't fit our need. We want the technology to fit seemslessly into our curriculum. Computers empower kids to be content producers, rather than infomation recievers. Seemless collabortion requires work in small groups and may take place in the classroom, a student commons, or a corner of the room. Desktops could not meet our needs.
Whitfield looked deeply at thin terminals before choosing a linux OS for the laptop. We rejected the notion of thin terminals for several reasons as well. Logistically, mobile thin devices were not rugged enough to meet the demands of students. Also, the price savings simply doesn't exist. Stationary thin devices are cheap but mobile thin devices are not any cheaper than laptops! Logistically, we also had the concern that students would not have access to any resources unless connected to the network. If this saved a TON of money, perhaps we could live with it but the reduction in service is not compensated with a significant reduction in cost. Pedagogically, the reason we rejected pure thin devices is that it eliminated students ability to have any real control over the computer. A tremendous amount of technological literacy comes from kids using the compters to meet their personal interests. This will include downloading files and programs, installing stuff, managing files and folders, etc. This is authentic learning that we, as educators, can never match in a controlled and centralized way.
Is there a happy medium? I think so. We give kids cheap laptops with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, give them sudo rights (administrative rights without being the administrator) and provide a stable, fast and secure Windows world for Windows apps via Citrix. It's not perfect, but the incremental cost of laptops vs dektops (about $1000 for laptop, warranty, insurance, and bag) justifies the added benefits of mobility, personal exploration and technological literacy.
Please comment. Be respectful, but ruthless! We grow by understanding the other side.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Salt Lake City, UT
March 19 - 24
Seton Hall University
South Orange, NJ
July 16 - 19
Questions were designed to encourage teachers and students to reflect on their beliefs at the beginning of the year but it is difficult to segment your prior beliefs from current experiences. However, this should only serve to weaken the strength of results adding further credibility to the validity of them, should they be positive.