Category Archives: PCs, Apple Macs and anything else techhy

It’s not so far away

Our on line digital footprint is something that will be increasingly important – OK, it already is. Both potentially detrimental and positive, depending on how we manage it. It’s already there, if you know it or don’t. So you might just as well be in charge.

To give ourselves the most reasonable and supportive chance to keep it positive we should maintain our own domain name. This way we have the most control over the nature of our virtual persona. This isn’t an expensive exercise and the world is still on the up-ramp.

Given that the pool of domain names which match regular names is limited, they will increasingly become a keenly sought after commodity. Even now the more desirable names are changing hands for multi millions of dollars. The trend will soon enough filter down to personal named domains. The auction for “jennifersmith.com” is sure to be a keenly fought and expensive proposition.

How soon then will we be naming our children based on the domain names we own rather than to remember past relatives and family traditions?

How soon before inheriting the family domain names becomes something to fight over at the reading of the will?

Fantasy proposition? Maybe not so much as you might think?

Things don’t always go to plan

We have tried to shoehorn Windows 7 onto the Mac Book Air laptops. This hasn’t been successful.  On an individual basis, it works successfully enough, both parallels or Boot-Camp do an excellent job. In fact initially it all loaded smoothly enough. Our biggest problem was the lack of a PXE boot to connect to our software controlling system.  However; in an environment where regular updates are pushed out, it is less stable.  Screen drivers in particular have been a problem. The boot-camp drivers work well, but the automatically pushed drivers and updates caused screen size issues, leaving the screens stretched and in a non-native resolution and hence a little fuzzy.

What’s come out of the exercise is the willingness of the students to deal with this. It was explained to them that it was a little bit experimental, and things might not always be trouble-free and flawless. They took to this notion like ducks to water, they were patient in waiting for upgrades, tolerant of screen sizes that were not perfect, found work arounds for printing when they couldn’t connect directly.And much more.

It is this willingness to tolerate technology’s shortcomings that will set them apart as a generation.  In a sweeping generalisation, teaching staff are flustered and frustrated if things are not 100% completely smooth, error free and if computers are not tolerant of keyboard thumping in place of rational alternative finding. But the students are.

Classes have continued smoothly with students finding their own work arounds, or partnering up with a working system, all without having to be told anything beyond the initial “this will be experimental”.

We sometime forget to give them the credit they are due in unusual circumstances.

It also suggests that teachers willing to ‘have a go’ even if they are on unfamiliar ground might find unexpected allies in their students when things are not so perfect, and ICT support thin on the ground.

Digital Literacy course for Yr 6

I have begun to write a course for my Year 6 class.
This is proving to be difficult and I might end up producing a lot of it on the fly.

It must dovetail with the regular curriculum, hopefully be a little in front so that when they need computing skills to produce something a little beyond the regular essay-type assignments, they think in terms of digital storytelling or take a multimedia approach.

I also want to avoid handing them worksheets and paper based material (I’m an advocate of gracefully grandfathering all text books).
This must be partly self exploration and mostly practical.

It should make them competent in the 9 elements of digital literacy at least those pertinent to 11 year olds. And in context of, making the technology they have part of their creative world, not just a tool to Google and word process with. Their own online protection is primarily important and as such they may end up using social networks such as Facebook or something similar. At least they’ll have a chance to learn how to use it sensibly and to their advantage, rather than stumble and post inappropriate pictures and comments. It must cover many of the common Web 2.0 tools we take for granted (Twitter, Bogs, Wikis, Delicious, Etherpad Etc.)

Here’s the extent of the thought process so far.

Digital literacy course

Comments and constructive input welcome

Viruses = lots : us = not so many…

One of the advantages of working in a computing environment where someone else is managing the infrastructure is that computing becomes relatively clean and simple. This can lead you to thinking all the world is that way. It’s not so. While virus and malware is a little considered thing around the College, in your own home environment, these things are real and ever present threats to your computers. In fact, the threat is growing exponentially.

For example, Symantec’s security response group say “We’re identifying 20,000 or more signatures every day”.  (“Signatures”, are identifying footprints of a newly discovered malware.) This is an increasingly large pool of malware and infected web sites.

This means you must likewise keep up and be constant in your protection of your computer and online information.

Spending money on a good security suite is generally a good investment, but if you’re on a budget, or simply don’t like the idea of forking over yet more money on another piece of software, there are free security programs that do a good job detecting and isolating computer viruses and malware.

Companies such as Avast, AVG, McAfee, and Microsoft offer very good, free software protection against viruses, spyware, Trojan horses and the other kinds of malicious programs that are just waiting to infect your computer as soon as you connect to the internet.

Computer magazines regularly compare and evaluate these applications and while the top contender position changes hands occasionally, most of the free products perform well. They are each capable of detecting most malware and viruses and dealing with them appropriately. Providing, of course, you keep them up to date.

Short of spending considerable money on yet another application, such free protection is so much better than none at all. Remember that the paid for market leaders such as Symantec, Kaspersky McAfee and such, generally offer a larger suite of capabilities including spam filtering and parental internet control.  Occasionally these features make them well worth the cost.

Cutomers don't seem to matter; except for their money.

It’s no secret that the Rudd government is about to issue thousands and thousands of netbook like devices to all Year 9 students.  There is much consternation on who will support them and how they are used in the classroom and so on. All the usual whinging that happens with anything that isn’t routine.

But!

There is a prior level of detail that is at issue – getting that many devices delivered. I have dealt with many a company and bought items from all of them at one point or another. Once the signature is on the purchase order, then the commitment of the company to education (or customers in general) becomes clear.  Given the expectation is that you walk into a shop make a purchase and leave the shop with goods is normal – facing anything longer than a few days delivery time isn’t acceptable.  To be told it is weeks and weeks is simply taking the mickey. Any company that take months to make a delivery has to be questioned as to their capacity to be considered worthy of dealing with.

Computers in education is a now issue – having them on mass is a very soon issue.  I’m astonished by the arrogance of a company that can produce a machine that’s simply average then offer a delivery time of months, yet still consider itself worthy of being on the gov tender list.  Go figure!

Is a laptop school fundamentally different from a school where students have laptops?

I think so because of where the focus is; it’s on who carries responsibility for using the technology. Teaching staff have done a fairly poor job over the last 20 years in adopting technology (remember that this is a broad stroke statement and not a comment on those individuals who do some truly remarkable things in a classroom). Maybe it’s time to stop banging our heads against the wall for teachers who don’t, won’t, or can’t get with it. Stop putting pressure on the overworked, on those too overwhelmed to actually consider upskilling, on those too old for this new fangled stuff, on those who won’t make any sacrifice in the long holidays they have, on those for whom the same old same old has sufficed for the last umpteen years, and leave them alone…       to teach. Let them just teach.

But, how about putting the effort we waste in shepherding unresponsive teaching staff to PD into making self directed, self responsible, self contained learning machines out of the students. Give them the transferable skills to administratively look after their learning, their notes, their portfolios, to research better, to develop maintain and share a personal learning network, to be critical of data sources, to know what to do when things go wrong, to make technology as much a part of their learning process as a pen.
Have them do this independently of the teacher, without making it an interruption to the teacher’s teaching style by having it as just another thing on their desk, like pencils, paper and text books.  We refocus who we concentrate on – all the school ICT integrators who’ve been banging away at teaching staff and admin workers and school leadership for years and years now – forget them, if they don’t want to join in leave them behind. Let’s try leading the revolution from where all revolutions come – bottom up. Governments can throw money our way, they can sound bite the term ‘digital education revolution’ all they like – they can’t make one – they can’t lead one, they don’t get it. Governments don’t start revolutions, they live through them, or in most case they don’t. Hmm let me eat cake.

Julia Gillard (bless her cotton socks) spouts on about a digital education revolution and throws some money at some hardware and a bit of infrastructure. Pointless. Nice, thanks for the laptops, but pointless. The same excuses will be trotted about again and again. The same old PC Vs Mac war will erupt again the same old poor me from primary teachers will flare against senior teachers, and around and around we will go.
Governments should be working at the extremities – training new start teachers better and assessing school leavers in a totally different way – but that’s for another blog post.

So how about a school where kids have laptops. NO not a laptop school a regular traditional good school, but kids happen to have laptops.
If we claim some of the KLE teaching time to show students how to research efficiently, to be critical of information sources, to maintain file structures and documents with proper tags so study becomes more structured and less daunting, to form PLNs to work in collaborative ways with peers to produce material in multimedia options and not just printed paper based ‘essays’, to establish links to current data sources, to do all the cool brilliant things we know should be done with ICT, then we have started the revolution.

Teachers don’t have to give up anything (yet) administrators don’t have to find money to send teachers to PD that they don’t even want to do, ICT coordinators won’t need to get so many grey hairs so soon and yet ICT might just get a chance to strut it’s stuff.

So – what shall we teach these laptop owners?
How to aggregate via RSS useful, current and appropriate information
How to develop a PLN
How to construct a digital footprint (positively)
How to search the net via the right tools the way that gets the best results
How to present their school work in a creative way

How to express their creativity through the applications available
How to connect with their peers to share work and ideasHow to develop a Twitter following
How to construct a self reflecting e-portfolio
How to choose the right software for the job
How to blog your homework
How to think about how you learn
How to…

Go on – add to the list

ITSC'07

The apple end of year technical event is well worth attending. Aimed primarily at beginner to intermediate level, the three days are a useful opportunity to spend some hands on time with some classroom useful applications.