Monday, December 31, 2007

Classroom Computing Hardware & Software

2:1 Classroom Computing with leveraged, network computers demands easy-to-maintain, easy-to-manage systems. Furthermore, since many software programs run only under Windows; systems that run Windows should be sought. Note that this may make the systems harder to maintain and more costly. However, if only Internet access is desired with the addition of a Microsoft Office (tm) type program (eg OpenOffice), then Linux operating systems, such as Ubuntu, should be used. Nonetheless, if Windows is selected, then free StarOffice (tm) or OpenOffice (tm) could and should be installed as a cost savings.

Leveraged network computers include thin clients and multi-user systems. If network congestion is a major issue, then classroom multi-user systems may be the wisest choice: X300 from NComputing leads the market. Hardware for computer labs is another issue.

It is best to have 7 workstations per PC, not 4 which would require more PC's, more money, with more chances for failure. Yes, each PC failure would be less disruptive, but there would be more disruptions overall and the reliability of the classroom would be less. For example, with 7 workstations per PC, a classroom with 21 workstations would require 3 Ethernet ports plus 1 for a network printer and maybe one more for a laptop connected to a SmartBoard. No switches would be needed, which are actually the main cause of network failure (students kick them!).

Future teacher computers should be capable of handling two x300 cards. It may be appropriate to place one x300 and appropriate memory in the teacher computer initially. Let teachers adjust their rooms and add workstations when they are comfortable with them and their locations. It is surmised that seven is the maximum number that supports standard classroom supplemental uses, adding additional workstations means that the class has a computerized instructional focus. In short, the x300 supports pedagogical evolution of each teacher at low cost with high ease.

Getting to this doesn't require tossing older computers. Some classrooms will have seven computers, some seven workstations. Moving computers should be expected.

Finally, the x300 forces issues with network speed to move from the classroom to either network hardware (e.g. "da pipes") or network software (i.e. pipe clogging). IT would have a network focus, not a computer failure focus.

Classroom Computing Approach

Each classroom is different both in layout and wiring senses and also in teacher comfort and purpose when it comes to using computers. One size does not fit all. Policy should allow teachers to incorporate computing as they become not only more comfortable with computer-based instruction but also more understanding of the appropriate trade-offs between facilitated online learning and direct instruction. These are different roles. Some teachers are better at one that the other. Also, students vary in their aptitude and maturity in using computers. As a result, it is best for a district or school to provide computers as requested into a classroom, not install the same number in each or blindly pursue some policy like 1:1 or 5:1.

2:1 Classroom Computing with leveraged, network computers provides a framework for school support of classrooms that flexibly and rapidly adapts to teacher and student needs. This design should be modeled for teachers. It permits both small group instruction and computerized instruction: one day half of a class works on the computers individually and the other half work directly with the teacher. The next day the students switch. There are several ways to model this.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Donors Choose

Donors Choose works. Ten special Casio fx-300ES calculators are arriving soon, and I've started a challenge to fund headphones for iPass software and extensions which will allow good district computers to be used by more students.

This effort and the seeding of computers in the other two CRC classrooms has created a demand from teachers for computers! Our students can deliver work, not just dawdle in our classes now. This is big in an environment of individualized instruction.