New Director of Technology

At the end of June, I’ll be stepping away from my role as Director of Technology and Communications for the ADM Schools.  That said, I’m excited to welcome Jason Deal as my replacement.  Jason has worked in the educational technology and information technology fields for two decades, including ten years of experience as Director of Technology for the Carlisle Community School District.

Jason and I have worked together for years, and he will be able to seamlessly step into this role and continue to build our momentum in terms of our upcoming 1:1 initiative, technology integration efforts, infrastructure and classroom technology improvements, and expansion of communications offerings.  Jason will bring fresh ideas and new strengths to these initiatives, and will continue to push ADM to be an educational technology leader in the state.

My family and I are moving to Iowa City, where I’ve accepted the position of Director of Technology and Innovation for the Iowa City Community School District.  This position brings new challenges, and I’m tremendously excited for the opportunity, but I also look forward to continuing to do whatever I can to support the ADM Schools community.

Adam

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Next Generation Technology Plan

The ADM School District’s Next Generation Technology committee has released its recommendations for district technology during the final six years of the current voter-approved Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL).  This 13-member committee includes district teachers, administrators, parents, a board member, and a student.  If these recommendations are adopted, most of the implementation described below would be in place for the 2017-18 school year.

Identified needs include:

  • Additional student-accessible devices, due to a high rate of usage
  • Technology integration support
  • Home access
  • Appropriate software
  • Classroom technology enhancements

Some of the highlights of the recommendations include:

  • a 1:1 student-to-device ratio in at least grades 3-12, with ongoing consideration for the ideal ratio (certainly an increase of devices, though) in preschool through second grade
  • creation of (a) technology integration specialist position(s)
  • Chromebooks in grades 3-12, iPad mini devices in grades preschool – 2
  • Citrix application and/or desktop virtualization to support delivery of full applications to Chromebooks
  • additional classroom technologies, including – potentially – voice lift technology, recording equipment and software, multiple displays, and maker space technology
  • wireless upgrades at DeSoto Intermediate and Adel Elementary

For full details, check out the documents below:

NGT Recommendations Presentation

NGT Recommendations

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Redundant Internet Connection

It has been a long time since I’ve added a post to the ADM Technology blog. It’s not that there has been nothing for me to write about, but rather that it has been busy behind the scenes and there has not been time to write about what has been going on. Much of what goes on in the background in a technology department tends to be low visibility but high impact. This post is about something which should (hopefully!) be almost completely invisible but also provide significant benefit to the staff and students of the ADM district.

With the increasing use of classroom technology the ability to connect to the internet has become an important part of the school experience. ADM has a reasonably fast connection, at 160Mbps. This is more than five times faster than the reported average for Iowa of ~30Mbps. Bigger is better here, and an increase in that number always correlates to a faster connection.

What isn’t always considered when discussing an internet connection is that it must be available when we need it. The fastest internet connection in the world is of little benefit if something goes wrong with it. With many classroom devices and learning software applications offering extensive online functionality the loss of the ability to go online can adversely affect the classroom experience, even if it’s just for a short while. For this reason ADM has implemented a secondary internet connection. Most of the time this does next to nothing, but it provides an important safety net should something happen to our main internet link. It’s like a spare set of house keys. The best scenario is that you don’t need to use them, but should you ever find them necessary you’re very glad you’ve got access to them.

The good news is that our primary internet connection is very reliable. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect though. Late last year we suffered a loss of internet access as a consequence of an attempt to knock out the internet connection of another school district in Central Iowa. In circumstances such as that, or others (eg, if physical cables between our building and the rest of the world got damaged) where we have no direct ability to resolve the problem, then this secondary link comes to the rescue. I touched on the possibility of damaged cables being a potential risk to our internet connection. Because of this possibility our secondary connection comes into the district at our admin building on N. 11th Street (our primary link goes to the middle school/high school campus on Nile Kinnick Drive) so that a hypothetical careless backhoe operator could only break one of the two links.

Our secondary link is very slow in comparison to our primary connection. It is 20Mbps, which is only 1/8 of the speed that our main link offers. It’s not intended to be a full replacement, just a means of ensuring a good level of continuity while the main connection isn’t working properly.

On a technical level the work is handled by our internet facing firewall. This device protects our devices from the nasty things that lurk on the internet. It is set up so that it monitors our primary internet link and if it can’t communicate with the outside world for more than a couple of seconds then it moves to the secondary link. The primary link is monitored and once communication is restored then it is used again. The secondary link is also monitored to make sure we don’t just try to use another broken connection. On our firewall this is known as Policy Based Forwarding, but it goes by other names.

pan-os-683

(Source: https://www.paloaltonetworks.com/documentation/61/pan-os/pan-os/policy/use-case-pbf-for-outbound-access-with-dual-isps)

The changeover process is almost entirely transparent to the end user. What they might notice is a short period of time where it seems like a website isn’t working. This is for approximately two seconds. It seems like nothing, until you actually experience it. On a fixed link data connection, websites will usually respond within 1/500 of a second and the delay beyond that time is surprisingly noticeable. Anyone who has used a satellite internet connection will understand this, but for people who’ve only experienced fast internet you won’t know until it happens. Most people will notice nothing at all. The switch back once things are working again is entirely invisible to the end user.

One of our design considerations when implementing this is that sometimes an internet connection can be working just well enough for you to tell that it’s not working. A situation like this presents a problem as automatic monitoring tends to rely on tests which might not be able to detect that sort of scenario, and thus we could still have no usable internet. For this reason we implemented the ability to manually break our primary internet connection. This can be accomplished in one of two ways.

  1. Technology department staff can remotely do this by making a change to one of network switches. For the geek minded, we use HP switches and the command to do this is: int x disable (where x is the port number our connection runs through.) The corresponding command to fix it is: int x enable
  2. A responsible staff member can disconnect a distinctively coloured, and clearly labelled, cable.

Both of these require manual interaction. The firewall cannot determine whether the primary connection is working again with the connection being physically disabled. It’s a nuisance but these options offer us an extra level of protection which is the goal of this functionality.

While there are absolutely no downsides to having this enabled (when things are fine, they’re as fine as they ever were) there are trade offs when this functionality is active. First, and most obviously, is that things will be slower. During the periods of time that the primary connection is out of service people from the outside world cannot access our public facing websites. Lastly, our public wifi network loses its internet access. All these were design considerations, but the cost to benefit ratio for changing these wasn’t sufficient to justify the expense of making it work. The expected need for the secondary internet link is very low, so for the short durations of it being in use those trade offs were determined to be appropriate. All those down sides vanish the moment the main internet link is working again.

At the end of the day this is something that the vast majority of users won’t even notice. But that is entirely the point. One of the goals of the ADM Technology Department is to continually improve on what we do, and this is a very good example of that methodology at work.

 

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Upcoming Moodle Training Opportunity

In order to support teachers’ use of Moodle – an online learning management system being implemented in the high school and middle school – Robin West and I will be offering an eClassroom for Teachers course this summer!  You can register for the course or get a full course description here: Register for eClassroom for Teachers

Can I get credit?

This course will be available for two license renewal or graduate credits, or can be taken at no charge for no credit.

When will the class be offered? 

We’ll have four class meetings during the summer: June 9th and 10th, and August 8th and 9th.  The class is scheduled to meet starting at 8:30 AM each of those days, and will meet for the full day.  If you can’t make it to all of these meetings but are still interested in the course, get in touch with me and we can discuss potential alternatives.

What topics will be covered? 

As mentioned, the course is focused on Moodle, and is appropriate for Moodle novices as well as those of you who have extensive experience.  Topics covered include, but are not limited, to:

  • Course Creation
  • Enrollments
  • Layout/Topic Administration
  • File/Media Management
  • Activities & Resources
  • File Repositories
  • Page Creation
  • Grouping / Group Activities
  • Interactive Activities
  • Database Activities
  • Multi-Page Lessons
  • Wikis
  • Assignments / Assignment Types
  • Gradebook Overview / Setup
  • Online Assessments
  • Assessment Security
  • Using eClassroom Inside & Outside the Classroom

The course is activity-based, so everything that you do should be work that you can directly apply to your own courses next year.  The course will culminate in development and presentation of a full course site for one (or more) of your courses for the coming school year.

 

Who should take this class? 

While Moodle is being implemented directly at the middle school and high school, teachers from all grade levels who are interested in an online platform for communication with students (or, to a more limited extent, parents) are welcome to take the course.  Heck, if you’re just interested in learning a new skill and getting some license or graduate credits, you’re welcome to join us.

You do not need any prior background with Moodle to enroll, but we will be employing a project-based, collaborative approach that should allow more experienced Moodle users to benefit from even the first few introductory sections.

Meeting all day?  During the summer?!? That sounds like a drag …

We’re going to have a lot of fun in this course, and the all-day meeting format will help to facilitate collaboration and relationship building that can be a hallmark of effective PD.  Plus, we’ll have lots of breaks.  And a big lunch break.  And snacks.

Will this directly impact my teaching? 

Yes!  The goal is that everything you create in this class will be geared towards your own courses and instructional context.  When we complete a quiz creation activity, you’ll be creating an online assessment that you can actually use.  The end goal of the course is to create and present a fully-functioning Moodle site for one or more of your classes, complete with collaborative features, online resources, integrated media, assessments, the works.

What are the costs for credit? 

  • License Renewal Credit: $25/credit hour ($50 total)
  • Graduate Credit: $200/credit hour ($400 total)
  • No Credit: FREE!

More questions? 

Please contact Adam Kurth with any additional questions about the course.  I look forward to seeing a lot of you this summer!

 

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Price Lists for ADM Innovates Proposals

As mentioned in a previous post, the ADM Innovates internal grant program application is live and applications will be accepted until March 27th.  Along those lines, I’ve already received a number of questions about pricing for certain items.  While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of all hardware that could be purchased with grant funding, it may be helpful to some of you in crafting your grant applications:

All prices updated 2/25/2016

iPads

  • iPad mini 16GB w/ cover ($279)
  • iPad mini 32GB w/ cover ($319)
  • iPad mini 4 64GB w/ cover ($479)
  • iPad Air 16GB w/ cover ($399)
  • iPad Air 32GB w/ cover ($449)
  • iPad Air 2 16GB w/ cover ($499)
  • iPad Air 2 64GB w/ cover ($599)
  • iPad Pro 32GB ($779)

MacBooks

  • 11-inch MacBook Air ($1,049)
  • 13-inch MacBook Air ($1,149)

iMacs

  • 21.5″ iMac ($1,229)
  • 27″ 5K iMac ($1,879)

Windows Convertible Laptops/Tablets

  • 12.3″ Microsoft Surface Pro 4 w/ Type Cover ($995)
  • 12.5″ Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga w/ Pen Input ($811)

Windows Laptops (non-convertible)

  • 14″ Lenovo ThinkPad E450 ($610)
  • 15.6″ Lenovo ThinkPad E560 ($729)

Chromebooks

  • 11″ Lenovo N21 4GB ($170)
  • 14″ HP Chromebook 14 4GB ($280)
  • 15″ Acer Chromebook 15 4GB ($380)

Chrome Desktops

  • Asus Chromebox 4GB ($200)
  • 21.5″ Acer Chromebase ($300)
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ADM Hosting Regional Technology Directors

ADM will host the Heartland Area Education Agency’s (AEA) district technology directors meeting on Friday, February 26th in our new professional development room within the district’s administrative center.

These meetings provide area technology directors with a chance to learn about other districts’ initiatives, successes, and challenges, and to gain access to training and informational resources regarding technology and funding issues that affect multiple districts.  Hosting these meetings provides a chance to highlight some of the things that we’re doing here at ADM.

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ADM Innovates Internal Grant Applications are Live

The ADM Innovates internal technology grant program is now live for the 2016-17 school year.  All ADM teachers are eligible to apply (as individuals or as groups) for project funding for any amount up to $5,000.  This year, $7,500 will be available to fund grant requests district-wide.

For more information about the program, check out the detailed program description.

Click here to apply for 2016-17 funding; as a reminder, this program is only open to teachers with the ADM Schools.

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