The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: June 28, 2010

Notes from ISTE 2010 Session – Pitfalls of Open Source

Presentation by Revolution Linux.  The presenter’s name was Benoit des Ligneris (who is @bligneri on Twitter).  Below are some notes on what he talked about during the presentation.

#10 – Technical interests superceding user interests

Value of the technical set-up can be limited to the end users, the students, teachers and administrators.  Need to make sure that the focus is on the end capabilities to the users, especially if there is an associated cost.

#9 – Lack of User Input

Some great open source projects where the user can easily contribute to the projects.  These projects are more successful because it is easy for the user to contribute.  Some open source projects don’t seek input or feedback or provide help to the users, which ends up limiting their success.  Get your users involved in the implementation, don’t wait fo the project to be complete before getting feedback from the users.

#8 – Training issues

Open souce software isn’t free like free beer it is free like freedom.  People think free like beer, they forget they will need to pay for training, or for support.  The software allows freedom to use it and modify it, but one shouldn’t forget that it will still have associated costs and that training should be ongoing.

#7 – Individual needs vs organization needs

An individual might make a choice on what they want to use, and then try and move these choices to the organization.  There may be a disconnect between what the individuals want to use and what the organization needs.  Sometimes a user may have an idea of what they want to use, but forget that other users may want to use their computers differently.

#6 – Changing software and versions too often

Most open source projects ship new versions very quickly, but they may update faster than the users can handle.  Users need an opportunity to digest and get used to the software, and not have it change while they are using it.  As well, new versions may have bugs that the older versions do not, so you have to be careful during upgrades and ensure that each upgrade is tested carefully.  It can also be really hard to keep up witht he changes as an IT coordinator and you may end up with users on different versions of the software because of the time it can take to update a large number of computers.  Perhaps version updates should happen at most once or twice a year?

#5 – Interoperability between systems

It is important to use software which allows for interoperability between all of the systems which are deployed in your organization.  This way users can potentially move between different systems more easily, and allows for greater communication between users in your organization who are on different devices.  Each different platform should have the same user name and password for each system so that the users don’t have to remember many different logins.

#4 – Lack of local support

Users need a base to work on, and have a chance to ask questions from an expert in the software.  Need to train some power users at every building, especially in large school districts.  Make sure there is someone around who can answer questions about how to use the open source software.  Think about how you can transfer the expertise from the "super hero" user to the users in the other areas.  Having someone around locally will also make the general user feel a lot more comfortable about using the open software.

#3 – Buying a product, without giving the same kind of support as you usually do

Ensure that you provide as much support for your open source software as you would have done for your propietary software.  "Just because the software is free doesn’t mean that it isn’t critical for your organization."  The more critical the use of the software, the more important the support that is provided.

Putting too much focus on the hardware in the wrong moments.

Sometimes the problem is the user, not the hardware.

#2 – Neglecting user interface

Make sure you spend the effort to improve the user interface so that users can use it properly.  For example, the default interface for Drupal, which is a widely used and successful content management system, is not very user friendly.  Make sure that the software is convenient for the majority of users, rather than just the administrators.

#1 – Going for Open Source because it is free (costs no money)

The only part of using open source which is free is the licensing.  There are a lot of associated costs with using open source.  For example one university chose to Moodle as their learning management software, but then had to spend $500, 000 in costs to upgrade and change the software to suit their needs.

 

Being an Exhibitor is Frustrating

 I wandered into the Exhibition hall at ISTE 2010 briefly today.  I could only really stand about 30 minutes in that room, it was rather overwhelming.  As I wandered around, I realized that the vast majority of the stalls with vendors in them seemed empty.  In fact, most people were gathered around a few larger vendors and many of the smaller vendors looked pretty bored.

The problem is that we have SO much choice of what to look at that many of us couldn’t decide.  There were hundreds (if not thousands) of people wandering around the hall window shopping at different vendors, and hardly anyone stopping to find out more, except like I said at a few of the larger vendors.  Adobe, Promethean, etc… could draw customers to their booth through the power of the reputation they have developed but the smaller vendors did not have this option.

My thought about this is that they all looked the same from the outside.  "Hey look, we have some limited solution to a tiny problem your schools have and we want some of your money."  This was the refrain of 90% of the vendors in the exhibition hall.

Here’s a recommendation for next year: bring in some students from your partner schools and have THEM demonstrate the technology in practice. If your product doesn’t lend itself well to student demonstrations, then there is a problem with your product, and maybe an exhibition hall isn’t the right place to share it.

If you are going to rely on a poor practice for sharing work, I think you should expect poor results. 

ISTE 2010 Session – Tablet PCs in the Classroom

This morning I participated in a session by David Berque from Depauw University on "Experience the Possibilities of 1-to-1 Computing with Tablet PCs."  My first observation is that the title is totally accurate, we actually got to experience using an HP tablet PC.  What a difference it makes to have the technology in your hands!

The HP tablets were a slightly older model, but they mostly worked smoothly.  My particular model seemed to have a problem with switching the screen direction, but otherwise I really felt like I was getting the whole experience.  They had DyKnow software installed on them, and I have to say, the developers of the DyKnow software obviously worked with educators as partners, they thought of everything!  I was amazed at the capabilities of the software.

Our session started with David presenting as if he was our teacher in an algebra classroom, and us as the students.  We learned some brief facts about binary numbers and were led through an activity with binary numbers.  David made sure to emphasize the affordances of the Tablet PCs and at least mention some of the features, which were impressive.  Here’s a brief list of the most important items I remember:

  • The teacher can control any of the student’s computers whenever he/she wants.  Obviously this is a classroom management feature.
  • The software allows for imports from other software, which makes the learning curve a bit less for teachers.
  • The instructor can collect student responses quickly and easily from the students, allowing for students (and the teacher) to get feedback about the lesson as it is ongoing.  This turns the Tablet PC into a classroom response system, which lots of research shows is incredibly useful.
  • Lessons are automatically recorded, and each slide of a presentation can be played back by the students (with audio), so that they revisit a lesson if they want.  The students also have their screens updated with the information the teacher is presenting, which makes note-taking much easier.
  • The software allows for collaboration mode, and group work, which means that pretty much any constructivist learning you want to do is possible. 

This software really helped turn the PC into a tool that was much different than what you could do with pencil and paper.  All aspects of what the computer can do were built into the software, including but not limited to network readiness and sharing of digital media.  Students could potentially log onto the program from home, and participate in the same lesson as their peers in class, or the whole class could be held electronically.  There would be a loss of feedback between teacher and student as a result, but with the built in chat room, and the ability to share what is happening on each other’s screens, communication between peers is much more straight forward in this medium than the typical online learning management system would be.

I’m going to collect some information on how much the software costs, because it seems to me that it would run perfectly well on a netbook, or even a Mac (running Parallels).  To me, the DyKnow software was the big show, and the fact it was running on a tablet PC was secondary.  If you have to choose between the two, this session seemed to suggest that the software was a better bargain.

 

 

What would work to improve education?

Here’s an issue which has been cropping up over and over again.  Whenever we discuss issues on Twitter, through #edchat or #iste10, or whatever educational channel we choose, we are by and large, preaching to the converted.  We don’t need to prosthelytize to these people, because quite simply, they agree with us.  It’s not a complete waste of time because we have the opportunity to hash out issues, look at some finer points of the issues, but I don’t think it has an enormous positive effect on the overall quality of education.

Why not?  Well, the people on Twitter represent a tiny fraction of all of the teachers in the world.  A tiny, tiny fraction, who for the most part have some skill set which sets them apart from their peers.  Many of us are techies, which is seen as this impossible skill that only a select few of us can obtain.  So as a result of this tiny size and this separation from our peers, we have very little influence.  So not only are we spending time chatting away only to each other, we can’t even share what we are talking about with our peers because they think that since it is coming in our voice, that it must be the domain of the unmasterable, except by the all-knowing technology expert.

So I have some ideas about how we can actually change education.  Some simple ideas, and ways to actually get them implemented.

1.  We need to advertise what we do widely and to the right audience. I’m thinking national ad campaigns in our individual countries, specifically about effective educational practices and what they look like.  They can be sponsored by educational technology companies, as long as the message comes across, THIS is what works, not this is the tool that works.  If we show that the educational practices work, the educational technology companies will make their money.  These types of ads should be targeted at both parents and politicians.  The really cool thing is that the media we’d like to use already exists all over the place on Twitter.  We share among ourselves daily, but it has yet to see a wide enough audience.

2.  We need to collectively hire a spokesperson whom we trust and who can bridge the gap between us, and our top level education ministers, whomever they may be in our respective countries.  A lobbyist if you will, who lobbies specifically for the use of effective and proven education techniques and against standardized testing.  This lobbyist should stand apart from the educational technology companies so that he or she has her own voice, but so they can also act as a funnel for a wide variety of effective techniques and best practices in education.  We would really like someone who is a known celebrity to step up and join our cause.  For some reason celebrities have more pull than we do, and can effect more change than we can.

3.  We need to continue to work at the grass roots level and improve education in our own schools, one student, one teacher, one parent, and one administrator at a time.  Without effective practices to feed into the ad campaign and to our spokes-person, our effects to demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach will fail.

Any other suggestions for concrete things we can do to improve our various education systems?