Category Archives: Technology

Which LMS? Choosing between Canvas, Haiku, Edmodo, et al.

Canvas has really nice feedback features. Haiku offers the most powerful way to lay out and organize your online content.

Learning Management Solutions (LMSes –  or Virtual Learning Environments,  VLEs,  if you’re in the commonwealth) are a category of software that serve a variety of functions at schools,  from simplifying content distribution and assignment collection to flipping classroom workflows to delivering instruction completely online. The International schools I’ve been at have broadly agreed that teachers should use some kind of LMS.  They diverge in two key areas,  though:

1. Whether the LMS should be centrally mandated managed by the school or whether teachers should feel free to pick and choose the platform they use
2. If the LMS is centrally managed,  which system it should be

Centrally managed LMSes offer enough advantages over individually-managed ones that schools should provide them if financially able (pricing is in the range of 8-10USD per student annually for most commercial products). This runs counter to what some ed tech leaders recommend; they see such implementations as “walled gardens” having “limited control and customizability.1Continue reading Which LMS? Choosing between Canvas, Haiku, Edmodo, et al.

AISB 2.0: Service Learning in the Service of Technology Integration

I’ve heard lots of schools talk about the value of service learning, and just as many lament how difficult it can be do well. In 2015, AISB combined its planning for 1:1 with its service learning initiative to have students create a formal proposal for 1:1 to the board which – spoiler alert – was approved! Here’s how we did it.

Since October, a student working group called AISB had been researching 1:1 models from published best practices and by interviewing other schools. In the last week of semester one, they presented their finding to the senior class. The seniors spent a week processing that data, doing their own research, examining the school budget and learning the skills necessary to write formally, culminating with them creating a written proposal for 1:1 and presenting it to the school board the following week.

The curricular link was both math and English. Students received instruction in principles of accounting and budgeting, using a spreadsheet, making effective presentations using Presentation Zen principles, and writing formal grant proposals.

However, we didn’t give students a roadmap at the beginning. After all, AERO defines “problem solving” as “engaging in a task for which the solution process is not known in advance.” So the first thing we did was give the students the goal (to make present a proposal to the board for a 1:1 technology model at AISB) and have them work backwards in terms of what they needed to know and do to get there. We wanted them to get close to something like the following:

  1. Choose ownership model (To do this: read the information presented/shared to make decision)
  2. Calculate TCO
  3. After the devices arrive on campus, what are we going to do to ensure the technology is used effectively? (Surveys, trainings, rules, policies, etc)
  4. Use the information gathered to write formal proposal
  5. Make presentation
  6. Share proposal with the board

We also forecasted how much time they needed for each step:

Period Mon Tue Wed Thurs Fri
C Teach Excel, budgeting, TCOPresent AISB budgetAISB 2.0 as needed Articulate policies & support structuresTeach formal writing Write proposalCreate presentation
F Problem & Task ReviewMinimal intro to backgroundDiscuss HOW to proceed Research and note taking Work time
Advisory Work time Present to Director

We had the equivalent of about seven class periods to work on it.

Our estimates were quite accurate. Calculating the costs took a bit longer than we anticipated, but teaching formal grant writing and learning how to make a budget spreadsheet took less. We generated some original content: one useful comparison we came up with for other schools considering BYOD looked at the differences in performing various computer tasks across five platforms. The seniors probably needed 2-3 hours more of work than listed in the schedule above to make more polished presentations to our director – they spent some time the next week creating the final presentation for the board. They also underemphasized the support costs of a 1:1 and got a bit caught up in “ooh, this gadget is cool!” But overall, they did a really thorough job. From here we’ll parlay the proposal in a formal strategic technology plan and BYOD handbook, which will also be created with student support going back to the AISB 2.0 model.

If you’re at a school interested in having students involved in the 1:1 planning process, consider the following:

  • There will be talented students interested in contributing
  • The research phase will take weeks, but one week’s worth of intense synthesis can put it together; find a way to dedicate time to it
  • Have a roadmap in mind, but start with the goal and make them create the process to get there
  • Teach adult-level skills as part of the process to make it authentic and professional; anticipate what they’ll need (or just ask them what they want to know) and prepare lessons ahead of time
  • Work with the students as equals. Don’t be afraid to contribute, but listen to their voices first. You will have more context, but they will think of things you didn’t
  • Be willing to let them fail, but give them everything they need to succeed


AISB 2.0: Completing the Research and Vision Phase

This year’s focus for the school has been student empowerment and service learning, and we continue to find ways to integrate these into our planning for 1:1.

Visualizing our research has helped to process all the moving parts that go into a 1:1.

At this point in the planning process we’re conducting research and building relationships with stakeholders. Students have been interviewing their peers at other schools (TAISM, AIS Kuwait, IS Dakar, UWC-SEA, SIS, UTB Helsingborg, and ICS Addis; with some help from me for Episocopal Academy and AIS Lusaka). This has required them to apply their skills in collaboration, communication and research in an authentic context.

They’re also going to present their research to a forum for parents and faculty this week and get their feedback. In addition to the obvious cross-curricular applications of skills involved here, this empowers the students to express their own opinions and have a say in the future direction of the school.

It has been a challenging sustaining student interest. I’ve now got a core of six committed students who are coming on Mondays after school to work. Developing a comprehensive plan is a challenge, and developing several competing proposals as I’d like to do would require more time than any of us have. More labor is needed. Somewhat coincidentally, the school has decided to run a service learning project the last week of this semester (in January), and we’ve found a way to take advantage of this.

We’ve designed a service learning project for the entire senior class where their task will be to synthesize the research and feedback so far into either a plan for the secondary school or elementary school. We hope to have two competing proposals in each area. The students will need to evaluate the data collected so far; learn about professional grant-writing, budgeting, and the concept of total cost of ownership; and then write a proposal encompassing all of the components of a 1:1 program. Done right, it will bundle very authentic skills into a project that will have a very visible impact on student learning in the school – a senior gift with lasting meaning.

Recipe for Innovation at AISB

At last week’s #learning2 conference in Addis, @mscofino emphasized how five factors contribute to a “recipe for innovation” that schools can use to reshape their learning environments:

These five factors were:

  1. Look outside – study how other schools have changed, which you can accomplish through correspondence, inviting them to your school, or going to theirs.
  2. Listen inside – involved faculty, parents, and students in the process to develop a set of shared expectations
  3. Empower students – get them especially to buy into the process and leverage their expertise and enthusiasm
  4. Customize for your environment – what works for others won’t for you, and vice versa. That’s okay. Take what you need and change it to fit your specific circumstances.
  5. Evolve – the only constant is change, and you will need to adapt your plan to the vicissitudes of the modern era.

While I was away for the conference, there was a heated “traffic jam” over teachers trying to reserve labs and laptops for their classes. When I came back, I noticed again just how many of our students were bringing their laptops to school and using them in class, despite us not having a formal BYOD policy. There were other things that nagged at me. Our student numbers were climbing back up to pre-coup levels, Malitel was digging trenches for fiber optic cables all around town, and our school community was organically working and learning in ways that pushed the limits of our resources. I realized that it was time for us to innovate – it was time for us to go 1:1.

Our staff’s response to Learning2 principles. Three initials for every faculty member – we have a small staff.

So our first day back, having looked outside at Learning2, I made my pitch to the faculty. I presented a list of Learning2 principles that my extended session attendees had brainstormed and listened inside by inviting our teachers to add to and modify it. We then voted for what we felt was most important by initialling three principles. I plan to take these and articulate them into a list of specific learning activities and then use that list to draw up the devices and software that can help us achieve them.

The next day, I sat down with the PTO and gave them the same pitch, inviting them to join me in developing and articulating these values and goals as well. I hope that a few of them will step up or find someone from the community who will. Since I play so many roles at the school I need to outsource some of the work.

Finally, this week I’ll ask our advisory teachers to see if any students are interested in being involved in the process. We recently moved to a new student leadership model based on AES-New Delhi’s approach, and it is perfect for getting interested students to help provoke meaningful change.

Clearly these steps won’t be sequential. I’ll continue to look at models of other schools, and the community engagement process with extend for weeks, if not months (not that it ever really stops).

Stay tuned for how things develop.

Qualifying SAMR

We live in an age that loves to upgrade. Our smartphones get thinner bodies, bigger screens, and more features. Our meals get new packaging, more taste, bigger portions. And our schools get new buzzwords, new standards, and new technology. As tech coordinator, part of my job is to facilitate the learning process by ensuring that teachers and students have access to computing resources and the knowledge to use them. Many of us coordinators evaluate tech integration according to the SAMR model:

Courtesy of Digital Learning Team

When we’re inspecting how technology changes teaching, it’s more useful to discuss the way the learning process and product change, not how much they change. Photo Credit: paurian via Compfight cc
It’s not useful to evaluate technology solely by SAMR, though. Treating it as a hierarchy, with “Redefinition” being the goal, is the same as saying that “change is good.” But few would argue that New Coke’s taste “change” was good, or that a “change” in US election districts to make it easier for an incumbent party to stay in power is productive, or that the “change” in a virus so that it mutates into a more easily transmissible strain is a good thing. So why should we treat “redefinition” as the top level of a hierarchy of tech integration? If it isn’t broke, should we be trying to fix it?

We need a qualifier that helps us to evaluate the substitution, augementation, modification, or redefinition that is happening – something that tells us what is broken and how to fix it. We’re making a conscious choice to integrate technology, and schools hire people specifically to help teachers do this, because… why? Because of broad ideas like “21st century learning” and because students are “digital natives” and because “we need to prepare them for an [unspecified, but different] future?”

The necessary qualifier, for me, is authenticity – one of the cornerstones of Understanding by Design. Does technology help you make students’ learning more authentic – are they practicing skills and habits, and creating products, that approximate things they’d do in the real world as productive citizens and employees? It’s easier to go into a teacher’s classroom and introduce them to new and, for many teachers, difficult technology concepts when explained like this. Your students should make videos not because it’s “fun” and “different” but because visual literacy is an important way that we communicate in the modern world. They should make an ebook because self-publishing is how lots of authors, like Hugh Howey, are finding success these days. They should make use of tools like Glogster and Prezi and Xmind because presenting ideas to a group should look as professional as possible and because professionalism is effective – if you expect it in the workplace, why shouldn’t you expect it at school? Our director rejects resumes because they look shoddy and cast doubt upon potential teachers’ competency as a whole.

Sometimes I feel that my position as “IT Coordinator” actually undermines my ability to help teachers. The title carries along with it an implication that I’m getting teachers to use technology for it’s own sake, which is hardly the case. My counterpart at the International School of Ouagadougou is the Curriculum Coordinator/Tech Integrator, and was formerly a Learning Community Director in Belgrade. Someone responsible not for technology but for learning. We say that technology is not something that should be taught separately – so why should those of us who support classroom teachers be referred to as people doing something distinct from learning support? And when the next generation of teachers enters the workforce already fluent in technology, why will “technology integrators” even be necessary?

Maybe redefinition is what is needed in my career.

Cut MAP Testing Setup by 66%

Update on this post: NWEA contacted me to let me know that they offer expanded support times for international schools – 3am GMT Monday to 1am GMT Saturday. There’s also a web form at if you prefer not to call. Finally, they’ve got support forums at – it looks like a mixture between pedagogical and technical questions. Props to NWEA for being proactive and responsive.

I’ve had a steep learning curve this year: in addition to my responsibility over all things IT, I have three preps as a tech teacher, work with three elementary classes, and am the MAP testing coordinator. When you wear a lot of hats you look for efficiencies, and one of the most frustrating things about MAP testing was how obtuse and labor-intensive it was.

Cutting Per-Test Setup Time by 66% Through Scripting

The previous MAP testing coordinator told me to leave 15 minutes between sessions to set up tests. I quickly discerned that this was to do with the labor-intensive nature of MAP testing. Each station needed to be logged in and have the correct test selected. Between waiting for the login to occur and selecting the right MAP test for our Mac Minis, it would take about a minute per workstation. Luckily, our school had shelled out for an Apple Remote Desktop license. This enabled me to do a batch login for all of our testing stations simultaneously by executing the following Unix command, which just tells the workstation to simulate the keystrokes of an actual physical login:
osascript <<EndOfMyScript
tell application "System Events"
keystroke return
delay 1.5
keystroke "username"
delay 1.5
keystroke return
delay 1.5
keystroke "password"
delay 1.5
keystroke return
end tell

Make sure you replace the credentials with those from your environment, run the commands as root, and save the above as a Template in ARD so you don’t need to type/copy-paste the commands each time:

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 11.23.39 PM
Click to zoom.

I also set up a user account that executed an Automator action at login to connect to the NTE share, launch TestTaker and send the login keystrokes to TestTaker:

Click to zoom.

*note that the script to log into the TestTaker problem – the last link in the chain of events in the Automator scrip – is a bit different, as per the code below. The 60-second delay at the beginning gives TestTaker time to launch before inputting proctor credentials:
osascript <<EndOfMyScript
tell application "System Events"
delay 60
keystroke "mapproctorusername"
delay 1.5
keystroke tab
delay 1.5
keystroke "mapproctorpassword"
delay 1.5
keystroke return
end tell

When all was said and done, I simply needed to select the class, student and test after sending the login commands from ARD. It cut our setup time from 15 minutes to 5 minutes.

On the Magic of Resumable Downloads

NWEA is so considerate to offer the MAP for Primary Grades audio files as a 1GB download that is non-resumable because it’s behind a secure login. Under absolutely ideal conditions, that download would complete on our school’s 2Mbit line in just over an hour. Except that our connection doesn’t get 2MBits/sec to NWEA’s servers, so the effective download rate is about 30KB/s. And guess what happens if the download gets interrupted, like it does EVERY TIME you try to download it?

You get to start all over again, from the beginning. That’s what.

Solution to downloading huge MAP for Primary Grades audio files if you’re on a slow, unreliable internet connection in West Africa? Get your parents to download it for you, then have them post it to your personal web hosting service. Then, download it using your favorite resumable HTTP downloader like wget or uget.

Or, if you have access to a diplomatic pouch, order the DVD. Ours arrived three days into our testing season, and the hand-written title etched in Sharpie ink made it clear that not many people go with that option.

Beating Obtuse Software Design

Here’s the funny thing about the NWEA TestTaker client (the software that students use to take MAP tests) for Mac: it’s not actually a native Mac program. If you open Activity Monitor while TestTaker is running, you’ll see a process for wine. No, not the delicious stress reliever we all know and love – quite the opposite. Wine is an open-source compatibility layer that allows you to run Windows programs on Linux systems without actually installing Windows. Apparently, NWEA decided it would be better (easier?) to take the Windows TestTaker and hack it to work with Macs by running it in Wine.

Now, I love open-source – my primary machine at home is a custom-built PC running Linux Mint Olivia. But a lot of open-source is not exactly end-user friendly, and it’s only free if your time is worthless (ie you’ll spend a lot of time setting it up). I’m actually shocked that TestTaker runs as well as it does, but it’s still prone to obtuse errors. If a test session closes down unexpectedly and you get a student set up on another station, there’s a good chance that TestTaker will give you a “resource busy” error until you manually log into the server and terminate the old client’s connection from there. Sometimes you’ll just get helpful errors like the one below that inexplicably disappear when you repeat the exact same action (usually trying to start a student’s test):

Errors like this make it easy to troubleshoot MAP Test problems.


And most delightfully, sometimes you’ll launch the Mac client, only to be left with a black screen that you can only get out of by force-quitting the application

Getting Support

You know what’s really convenient? Calling the States at 8pm because you’re on GMT time and the support line is on the US Pacific Coast. That’s how you change admin passwords – there’s no web interface. I didn’t even bother to try, so confirmation emails still go to the old email of the guy I replaced (luckily he’s a stand-up guy and isn’t going to sell our students’ results on for money). I wish NWEA had support forums so they could crowdsource solutions, rather than relying on a less-than-helpful knowledge base. NWEA does have an international support line with expanded hours, as well as a web form to get in touch with people. There are also forums at I’ve asked them if they’ve considered doing a web chat support option – I met plenty of people at AISA for whom calling/Skyping is not an attractive option because of the poor telecom infrastructure in Africa.

A Note About Doing MAP Tests on a WiFi Connection

Don’t do it. Ever. It won’t work.

Summer Reflections

A dilemma of being an international school teacher is that when you return to your home country in the summer you’re more often than not homeless and relegated to crashing on couches or begging rooms from family. And you’ve got to meet the obligation of seeing family and friends, even when that takes you across the continent in the few short weeks you have.

This year I spent a week in Belgium visiting a friend and enjoying Kasteel, Delirium Tremens, Leffe, and Hoegaarden before heading off to DC for the week-long JOSTI conference, a series of technology-oriented seminars sponsored by the State Department for international school teachers. Like other conferences I’d been to, this one had a mix of valuable and forgettable sessions. Some were useful hands-on demonstrations of a teaching practice like the flipped classroom, while others were merely presentations of lists of apps, tools, and websites that we might find useful in the classroom. I found that the most useful sessions had four components:

  1. A summary of relevant standards, philosophies, and other pedagogical considerations as background.
  2. A demonstration of the tool or activity
  3. Hands-on activities where teachers relate the presented information to their own classrooms
  4. A summary of best practices related to the tool or activity

It’s hard to fit all that into 90 minutes, but the conference did an excellent job of giving teachers time to process and network, and this is where the real value of the conference was. From the pre-conference happy hour to a baseball game to exploration of DC landmarks, the JOSTI organizers made sure not only that we had fun but that we had plenty of time to compare notes and make connections while doing it. The State Dept also selects a very diverse group of educators, both foreign- and local-hire from every geography from Caracas to Curacao, Bamako to Hyderabad, Kuala Lumpur to Manila. Considering that it’s room, board and tuition paid, I think tech-oriented educators should really consider it, especially those at schools far from big regional tech conferences.

The rest of the summer was spent shuttling between WA, BC, ON, and NY visiting family. We learned that BC wineries make some delicious Gewurtztraminers, Rieslings, and Madeiras among the stunning hills overlooking the Okanagan Lake; that Mt. Rainier boasts the highest snowfall in the continental US; and that France requires you to clear your pet through customs when making any connection through Paris. This created quite a snarl in our travel plans since we learned of the requirement too late to secure the requisite paperwork to clear EU customs, so instead of flying my girlfriend and dog through Paris via JFK as planned, we were rebooking her flight a day before her scheduled departure. In the end I ended up driving her 10 hours to DC to pick up an Ethiopian flight to Bamako via Addis Abbaba, and then driving another five to New York to catch my flight from JFK. We met safe and sound in Bamako, glad to have the world’s worst itinerary behind us.

Repurposing Old Hardware via Chrome OS (aka Chromium OS)

A recent post on Google+ asked:

Has Google ever thought of releasing the Chrome OS as a stand alone product for purchase? I know Google would like us to buy Chromebooks, but for many schools, we have to use existing hardware until it dies, and who knows if and or when we may get $$$ for new.

I would love to be able to convert my existing netbooks to Chromebooks, and then when they die, be able to show my board and principal a proof of concept for purchasing only Chromebooks in the future.

Here’s the answer:

  • Google has kind of released ChromeOS, as the Chromium OS. This is an open-source implementation of ChromeOS that includes core functionality but lacks a) drivers for most types of hardware, b) flash, c) pdf, and d) Google Talk. It’s hasn’t released it in a way you can install on your computer.
  • You can install Chromium OS on your computer via programs created by third-party (read: random, but talented) individuals. These are called “builds” and THE guys is hexxeh, who was at one point a 17-year-old UK programmer who just took it on as a hobby. He has taken the raw code (“source code”) of Chromium and turned it into a package you can install on some – but not all – computers.
  • If you get it installed, functionality may be missing for some components, or it may be reduced in future builds – Google tries to keep ChromeOS as streamlined as possible, which makes it fast but also makes it compatible with only a narrow range of hardware.

If you want to try it out, though, you do the following:

  1. Download a build of Chromium from
  2. Follow the instructions for Win, Mac, or Linux from that page to get the build copied to a USB stick.
  3. Boot your laptop from the drive (F12 at startup – choose the USB stick)

At this point, your laptop will either load Chromium or not – if it doesn’t, you probably have hardware compatibility issues. For example, Chromium loads up just fine on my Toshiba, but the trackpad isn’t recognized, so I have to plug in a USB mouse.

If you’re able to log in, you’ll want to copy it to your hard drive so you don’t need to leave the USB stick plugged in all the time:

  1. Log in to the Chromebook with your Google Account.
  2. Ctrl – Alt- F2 to bring up a command line
  3. Log in with chronos / facepunch
  4. chrosh + enter brings you to the ChromeOS developer shell
  5. type “install” (this will format your hard drive)
  6. Reboot when the process is done and remove the USB stick.

That’s it. Once again, if these instructions don’t work, your hardware is probably incompatible. If you get this far, though, you probably want to add Flash, PDF, and mp3/mp4 support. There are sites out there that purport to get them working, but they don’t seem to work on all builds. This means that you’ll have to go without the ability to use sites like Prezi or WeVideo, read PDFs, and listen to music. Not terribly useful.

If you’re wanting to repurpose old hardware, then you should go with Xubuntu Linux for your OS and install Chrome as the default browser. It won’t have the streamlined (simple) interface and lightning performance of ChromeOS, but there will be much better hardware and software support.


New Tech Toys

I’ve made several very worthwhile tech purchases this year. While I’m interested in how gadgets and computing help us work more efficiently, I’m not exactly an early adopter (save for the original iPod and iPhone). Spending time weighing features and scouting deals precede any purchase, and that’s led to me getting the following kit:

Room-filling sound in a portable package. Pricey, but worth it.

Jawbone Big Jambox

I work out a lot in the gym, outside, and at the pool, and I appreciate having music to keep my head in the right place. But a lot of places don’t have outlets, and even if there are, it’s cumbersome to lug around a tangle of wires and speakers. Enter the brick-like Big Jambox, which combines surprisingly room-filling sound with a longevous battery and Bluetooth A2DP connectivity. It fills our 1000-square foot weight room with ease and tucks easily into a gym bag. It also works great by the pool and beach. It’s not audiophile sound quality, but it doesn’t need to be because the convenience are portability make it an easy sell. Jawbone also makes a smaller version, but the Big Jambox fills large spaces much better. Try getting a refurbished one; I got mine through NewEgg and shipped it through Aramex.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2

Galaxy Note 2: unreasonably large.

I gave up my original iPhone for a Google Nexus One and quickly grew to favor Android’s extensibility and openness over the iOS’ polish and aesthetic. Gmail integration initially drew me to the platform, but over time Android has simply become better for productivity. Only on Android I could select multiple photos and then attach them all to an email, or begin composing an email and then later select attachment from local storage or Dropbox, or bring up a contextual menu in an app. The other day I downloaded a video from YouTube onto my school computer and copied it to my Android phone, where it played natively – no conversion necessary, no need to have a special computer through which the phone was tethered. I missed the seamless iTunes music syncing and access to quality games like Civilization, but that’s it – as a productivity tool, Android worked better for me.

Regrettably, time was cruel to my Nexus One, scarring the body and claiming the power button due to a well-documented design flaw. I kept it running by rooting it and installing CyanogenMod to work around the power button issue, but poor battery life and limited storage continued to bother me. The former complaint is what initially drew me to Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2 – the huge size of the phone meant that it could hold a high-capacity battery. The S Pen digitizer was also a cool toy, and I anticipated being able to easily annotate PDFs and take quick handwritten notes. It’s 1000x more accurate than using a stylus to draw on an iPhone.

It’s been about three months since I purchased a gently used Note 2 from for 140KD, and I still think it’s a great phone, but it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s so big that one-handed use is difficult, and even my lengthy thumbs can’t reach across the width of the screen. Other phones seem like toys in comparison. The digitizer is a cool feature, but one that yields more utility on its larger cousin, the Galaxy Note 10.1 (my next tablet purchase to replace my iPad 2 will likely be that, or its successor). It’s not a feature I use on a day-to-day basis. The battery life is great, lasting me for two days of light use on an HSPDA network. The large screen – 5.5″ – is nice for browsing web pages, but not as much as you might think since it’s only 720p. When compared to my girlfriend’s 1080p HTC One X, which has a smaller screen but higher resolution, the difference is noticeable. On the other hand, I have a user-replaceable battery and microSD card slot, which the One X lacks. They’re two different phones for two different audiences and I’m quite happy with my Note 2, but the One X has me thinking that my next phone two or three years’ hence will be smaller than my current one.

Custom-built media center PC

Not much to look at, but less than $400 sans hard drives and it can double as a workstation.
Not much to look at, but less than $400 sans hard drives and it can double as a workstation.

I used to play my shows off of a WD TV live connected to a 2TB hard drive, but this setup always made me nervous – I experienced a catastrophic HD failure a few years ago and lost all of my music and college pics. Aware that my setup was vulnerable to the same issue, I turned to RAID for a solution. (Yes, I know RAID is not a backup, but I’m looking to protect against hardware failure, not user error or malicious deletions) Since a lot of prebuilt desktop and computers don’t have the internal space for the 3 hard drives required for a RAID5 setup, I decided to get a computer custom-built for me at the Hawalli Computer Souk, which is really collection of independent hole-in-the-wall computer stores on Ibn Khaldun Street displaying an eclectic mix of computer components in haphazardly-organized storefronts. My contact at WorldNet computers really knew what he was doing, and I ended up with:

  • A-Case ATX case – room for 2 x 5.25″ and 5 or 6 3.5″ drives
  • Asus P8H77-Z motherboard
  • 3rd generation 3.3Ghz Core i3
  • 8GB RAM
  • 3 x 2TB Hard drives for my RAID and a 1.5TB HD for the boot disk
  • Nvidia GT218-series graphics card with HDMI, DVI, and VGA out

None of this was top-of-the-line, and in fact was probably overkill for my needs, but I got a good deal – 130KD for the computer and under 30KD for each hard drive (these are prices not far off Stateside ones). Considering that a 2-bay NAS setup would run me $300 just for the enclosure, I think I got a good deal. On the software side, I set it up as follows:

Still on the to do list are getting Shairport set up, which will allow the computer to act like an Airport Express and receive audio streams for iOS devices; NFS server, for more robust file serving; finding some solution to implement a webcam-based security camera; and testing whether Ubuntu has MTP support and will let me sync my Galaxy Note 2 with the Rhythmbox music player – this will let me ditch iTunes completely.

I don’t recommend this kind of setup for everyone; a media player box like the WD TV Live and a USB hard drive will serve most people just fine. My approach also requires hours and hours of setup since Linux is still really rough around the edges:

Building your own home media server is definitely a hobbyist solution, but if you’re willing to put in the time, it’s a much more powerful, flexible, and affordable setup than any commercial offering.

New != Good

I’ll cut to the chase: my integration of technology is fairly middle-of-the-road, but just because my teaching isn’t revolutionary doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

I started by brainstorming a list of all the technology integration examples I could think of from my ancient & modern world history classes:

Most of these are described on my Showcase page.

Not trying to do everything at once

I hit a fairly broad range of the SAMR components, and as Jeff says, not every example of technology use needs to be a reimagination or completely new way of doing things. Edutopia tells us that tech integration needs to foster “active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts,” and most of my activities hit the first three criteria. However, connection to real-world experts is not something I’ve managed to integrate. What would this look like in the real world? It should go beyond just research expert resources – that would fall in the “Substitution” component. My understanding is that kids need to interact with expert in order to move up to the Redifinition component. I don’t imagine too many history professors and think-tank members are going to want to interact with all six of my history classes. But what about armchair experts? Having kids add to Wikipedia entries or comment about current events on a site like the New York Times would expose them to authentic, content-related conversation.

What I could change now

One example of a way I could improve my use of technology now is in my implementation of iClickers (a student response system). I currently use them for multiple choice practice – I project a question and the kids discuss what the correct answer is and why. If I wanted to redefine the way I do lecture, though, I could use iClickers to give the kids some processing time, ala Jeff Utecht, and ask them to answer one or two multiple choice questions every 5 or 10 minutes. This would give them time to reflect, discuss, and practice an essential test-taking skill.

What I could change in a perfect world

My technology integration examples have been cobbled on to my teaching over the past two years as I’ve progressively been given access to a document camera, iClicker system, Starboard, and just this year, reliable internet! As such, the tech skills my kids use aren’t scaffolding very neatly. It would be great to start from scratch, but I’m hesitant to do this since the curriculum at our school isn’t vertically aligned between grades or horizontally aligned between subjects. Like I said – in a more perfect world.

…and something to think about

SAMR and TIM share the unwritten assumption that new = good. This is necessary to get teachers and students to push the envelope, to dare, to dream, to challenge the status quo. I recognize it’s important to battle inertia in education. But we should recognize that these framework do not offer a way to evaluate the efficacy of these new tasks – for that, we’re still going to fall back on traditional criteria for evaluating learning. Making a video, for example, is awesome and can let more creative, less academic types demonstrate their learning. But for others, a video might “take an inordinate amount of time to complete but yield little “bang for the buck.”” (ASCD, Five Hallmarks of Good Homework). When I made my workout video, I spent about two hours planning and thinking about content and five just assembling the nuts and bolts. It was fun, but it spent 70% of the time working on skills and only 30% on the content. This is not absolutely BAD – it’s just something to be aware of when we’re deciding what assessments to use.

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