Thursday, August 27, 2009

What does "good enough" mean for a one-to-one program?

Pat Woessner, a middle-school instructional technologist at MICDS, which seems like a school with which we at D-E have some similarities, echoed an interesting idea from an article in Wired Magazine. (By the way, MICDS also has a one-to-one tablet computer program.)  In Pat's latest blog post, which you can read here, he said that the "crapification of everything IS an improvement" and schools should embrace that.  Before you get crazy by reading this idea out of context, note that he was talking about hardware and software technology tools and the point is that while many of the cheap or free online tools currently available might not be the "best of breed" they can still be powerfull with regard to educating students. In fact, simplicity may make them more valuable. (The post is short so you can read it yourself and not take my word on it.)

This is definite food for thought for schools with one-to-one programs, especially tablet PC programs since tablets are generally more expensive that standard laptops.  While we definitely have some classes where not having ink would be a loss, those courses might be in the minority at the moment.  Netbooks are worth some thought as the draw of an almost disposable computer is strong. It would be  easier to keep computing ubiquitous and reliable for every student in every classroom if the majority of hardware repairs required only a hard drive swap into a new replacement and we could quickly send students back out the door without dealing with insurance, parts ordering, and loaner pool management.

Many people who have used Netbooks say they don't run high-powered applications well. For example, is video editing and production viable on a Netbook? I don't yet have the Netbook experience to answer this question but my gut feeling is no (as the technology stands today).  Of course, hardware performance will increase faster than cost as it always does with computer technology so maybe this problem will be elminated sooner than we think.

The flip side of trading tablets for netbooks is that even if you think our current use of tablet ink by students is expendable, should we radically change a program only based on current use.  As with any program, it evolves over time.

Does pen input by students provide potential for improving student learning that still needs to be further developed?
Should efforts that might go toward making this hardware platform change instead go toward professional development and possibly obtaining better tools to make ink use more powerful?
If we shut the door on ink by eliminating pen input or causing it not to be umbiqutious, will we miss valuable opportunites?

I honestly don't know at this point but am interested in hearing from others on the topic so if you are reading this, please post a comment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to keep those old electronic grade books

As we are about to start the new school year with a new student information system, the old teacher grade book software, InteGrade, which we previously used will no longer be available. This caused a good question to be raised by member of the faculty:
A thought just occurred to me as both a teacher and former department chair.

Seeing as though there is no longer going to be use of Integrade, it may seem that we no longer need the program application around. However I have my own Integrade files over the years as a teacher, and as a former department chair who kept department faculty's files each marking period. If I delete the program application, ALL THOSE FILES Become unreadable (data rot). Is there something in place as a school, so that if the need arises, we can access the information in those file in future years?

There seems to be no conversion option for Integrade files. In other words -- are we going to keep at least one turntable around in order to play the record albums in the future?

I posted my response here for others with the same question:

We no longer have the rights to use InteGrade and there is no plan to keep it around somewhere for the purpose you mention. This is a common problem with all electronic data and the best practice for dealing with this problem in general is to save the data for later viewing in a common format. In this case, I recommend that you print the appropriate InteGrade reports for record keeping purposes to a PDF file. Primo PDF, which we have supplied on your tablet, will work well for this purpose.

In some cases, PDF files are better than the original proprietary application data because most hard drive search tools or uploading files to services such as Evernote will allow you to search them all en mass. (While Google Docs lets you upload PDFs, it doesn't currently appear to let you search them all at once. Bummer.) The version of PrimoPDF I just tested (4.0) does create searchable PDFs. If your tablet has an older version that does not create searchable PDFs, you can download the latest version for free at (I don't remember when Primo added this feature but I believe it was a few years ago.)

All that said, InteGrade does not need to be "installed" in order to use it. If you copy the InteGrade program folder currently on your tablet to a CD and stick it on a shelf, you could copy it back onto your computer at a later date if necessary and it should run. (It might even run directly off of the CD.) Of course, this assumes in the future that you are using a computer and operating system that InteGrade would still work under, which is not a certainty as technology evolves. This is another reason why common file formats like PDF are good for archiving.