Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Implementation & Technical Logistics for 1:1

More from Livingston's 1:1 Learning - Laptop Programs That Work:

Schools tend to have a disproportionate anxiety about the technical aspect of going 1:1. That is to say, they tend to overemphasize the technical side in their planning (in most cases), or completely underemphasize it. It is important to not concentrate all your thoughts on the machines when professional development, community involvement, and changing pedagogy are all equally important. But if you are a district that thinks going 1:1 is not a big deal, Livingston says "think again."

Before looking at some of the logistics mentioned by Pamela Livingston, I'll point out 2 critical steps leaders do in this area.
  1. They involve technology leadership, even hesitant technology leadership, from the very beginning, and network them to technology leadership from other successful 1:1 schools. Their advocacy for the initiative is paramount.
  2. They communicate early and often that there will be technological glitches during roll-out... and that's okay. We will deal with the setbacks and learn from our mistakes and be better for it. The earlier this is communicated, the less pressure there is on everyone involved. This is, after all, new learning for everyone involved, and new learning doesn't always thrive in a high-stakes environment.
As we mentioned in past posts, the platform (i.e. whether Mac or PC) is only a small piece of the technological considerations. The best way to make an informed decision about the platform without consuming all your time is to talk to some current 1:1 districts, ask them how they chose their platform, how it is working, and whether they would choose it again.

In addition to the platform, here are the other critical technological considerations:
  • Bandwidth - the demand for access to the internet will jump with ubiquitous computing and different pedagogy. It is very important to get this right. With e-rate being a large factor, you will need to consider this first, since the e-rate calendar starts in December.
  • Network Storage - Ubiquitous computing will need more storage space on the server. One question is whether computers will have a home directory, which is when a person's files (and maybe even applications) reside on the server. If so, the setup of the authentication and home directories is a major undertaking for the technical staff. Best to develop that system before the laptops arrive.
  • Backup - Even if you choose not to use a home directory, you will still need server space in the form of a backup. But given the recent disasters and flooding, backup off site is essential as well. Consider that with ubiquitous computing, most of your learning is digitized, and therefore, protect your learning accordingly. If you do not have a backup & disaster recovery plan in place, do so before the purchasing of equipment.
  • Protection - Laptops bring about more computer usage, so a consideration is the right firewall and virus protection. Firewalls have gotten much more sophisticated in recent years, which can setup an "allow but monitor" policy with categories that are more grey. Some 1:1 districts have used that, and given parents access to see what sites their students are browsing to. Another item to consider is a remote monitoring feature that allows the technological administrator to see what students are doing on computers at any particular time. I've used Apple's Remote Desktop for years, and it works very well. The knowledge that I have it keeps most students honest, and even better, it allows me to fix student technology problems without driving over to their classroom.
  • Automation - Thinking systemically, having that many computers will dictate needing automatic processes. Imaging your laptops is a must (most 1:1 schools re-image them each summer). Also consider the policy for updating computers throughout the year.
  • Email - Student email was once a necessity in a 1:1 setup for a variety of different reasons. It still is important today, but with many districts looking to setup Google Docs accounts for every student, they use gmail domains for the email setup.
  • Charging - Laptops "should" make it the day without needing to be re-charged. That is dependent on 1) students remembering to charge the computers before they arrived, and 2) the battery capacity maintaining itself. Don't count on either of these. Think about how to handle charging in a classroom, be it charging stations, extra outlets, or a table on the side.
With all of these considerations, don't hesitate to ask for help. You should ask both your computer provider and your AEA on these to compare answers (many providers are very honest, but there have been schools buying too many wireless access points because they didn't get a 2nd opinion). And, surveying other 1:1 schools is well worth the effort.

At Livingston's school, they followed this general timeline:
  • April/May - Order new computers, take care of warranty issues, hire any part-time summer staff for imaging/updating work
  • June - Collect computers, order replacement computers, order new cases
  • July/Aug - Re-image the computers (& image new computers), take care of updates, create network accounts for new students and staff, assign machines, prepare for fall pickup and orientation.
  • Year-round - Remind students of appropriate care, including the acceptable use policy. This was done through many walk-throughs and classroom visits by technology staff, as well as other proactive measures. Some schools have had "laptop patrol", where the technician hands out rewards for spotted appropriate use between classes or in common areas. This can be part of the school's Positive Behavior Supports initiative.

One tip that Livingston said repeatedly, have loaners and spare parts available. In 1:1 more so than in a regular school, down-time is not tolerated. Laptops literally are students' access to the curriculum.

There are many more features of technology leadership that are important, of course. Fitting a wide-spread initiative like 1:1 into an existing framework is not an easy task. Plus there will be specific application support that a district will want. But, technology leadership is only part of the equation. District leadership is just as important in terms of technical logistics, even if the principal is not a computer expert. We'll examine how this is so tomorrow.

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