I haven’t blogged for several weeks and haven’t video confessed for even longer – we have been extremely busy with the “plumbing” – radically changing our wireless network and network core to support the radical changes happening in IT.
In the video we talk about two very easy DIY ways of sharing and accessing documents on-line – we talk about Google Docs and Microsoft’s Skydrive and by implication cloud computing.
Google docs provide the applications and integrate storage with the application. Skydrive provides the storage space but not the application – Skydrive extends the client-server model into the cloud. If you have the applications and want to store and share files then Skydrive is useful, if you don’t have the applications and want to use and share documents then Google Docs is useful.
Google docs provide on-line word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation. If you are on the Internet and have a browser you can do all the normal things you can do with documents, spreadsheets and presentations like create, save, edit and print but you can also do a lot more.
Tour of Google Docs – by Google
Google docs in plain English – how to avoid email ping-pong
- It’s free
- No need to install any software (or worry about security patches and updates) just use a browser
- Access from any machine on that is on the net including smartphones, PC, Apple, Linux etc
- Collaboration and sharing are easy and natural
- Integrate Internet lookup functions and resources – e.g. NASA databases.
- It is mainly for on-line use BUT there is off-line capability to edit documents and to view spreadsheets which then automatically synchronise when you go on-line.
- It’s only for documents, spreadsheets and presentations – you can’t upload database files for example.
- Print formatting is very limited – its focus is on-line
Here are a few links for more information about Google Docs
This provides a free storage folder that you can use to save files to – If you are on the Internet and have a browser you can use Skydrive to do all the normal things you can do with a storage folder plus more.
- It’s free
- It allows you to store any file
- File sharing and publication is easy and natural
- Files can be access any machine on that is on the net using a browser
- You need client software to create and work with the files (e.g. a traditional wordprocessor)
- It can be slow to upload, download and work with files across the Internet
In the video
Abdul talks about using Skydrive to share all manner of program files with colleagues at different colleges and just before we made the video he shared a SQL data file with me.
Mark Talks about using Google Docs to access and collaborate on the IT projects documentation held as a Google spreadsheet workbook. Together Mark, Richard and I refer to and update this document on-line from anywhere and at anytime. Mark also talks about how he accesses Google Docs from his iPhone.
Peter suggests that the iPhone’ bright and large screen is perfect for the older person – a new massive market opportunity for Apple.
Bringing IT to the lesson
We carried the “IT suite” of 20 Asus Eee’s to the lesson in two cardboard boxes – this alone seemed quite remarkable.
The class was BTEC Introductory Diploma IT At Work and the lesson was in a series about financial management. The students were organised into groups of 3 or 4 around clustered tables and each student was given an Asus Eee to use. Joanne introduced the topic on bank accounts then asked the students to use their computers to access the Internet to find out what forms of identification were needed to open a bank account. The students were then asked to work in their groups to evaluate the Asus Eee from their experience in using it to research the lesson question.
For this first experimental lesson there was plenty of technical support but I was amazed at how easy the students took to the small computers and unfamiliar software environment – given how familiar most students are with mobile phones, games consoles and other gadgets I shouldn’t have been surprised. Students are of course the “digital natives” and they seem to find this easier than staff – we really ought to involve students more when considering educational technology and planning.
The traditional way to deliver a lesson like this with a section requiring about 20 minutes of internet research is to book the lesson into a dedicated IT suite, however, standard IT suites aren’t conducive to group and collaborative activities. Another traditional approach is to set the research as homework/LRC work and have the feedback take place in the next lesson – with the disadvantage of splitting the lesson up. This lesson showed that it is feasible to use these small computers to bring IT to a lesson rather than bring the lesson to IT. This is going to be increasingly relevant in lessons as the Internet is a vital research tool let alone the other features it provides.
Standard IT access models involve traditional desktop IT suites; laptop classrooms or the use of LRC’s with open access IT. The cheap Umpc introduces two new possibilities – The Ultra Mobile IT Suite (bringing the IT suite to wherever the class is) OR the Personalised IT Suite (allocating these units to the students to bring to class with them). I talked about this with the students – how in the near future students could conceivably use their own equipment in classes for research and they understood this.
Technically the equipment was set up to explore the more extreme and “purer” form – the computers were running the pre-installed Linux and open source applications and operated on our guest wireless network – the computers could easily have been the students own.
The students showed great interest in the web cams built into the Asus screen although when it came to actually making a video most of the class became suddenly very shy but agreed that video would be a useful method to use and practice in classes. I’m looking forward to exploring new communications methods with classes – the use of collaborative documents, blogs, wikis, audio and video. I’m also looking forward to seeing what happens if we allocate Umpcs to students for a period of time – the full personalisation of IT.
However, using these computers throughout the college will require some significant adjustments. We will need to think about how we provide power in classrooms and we will need to consider accessibility and equality issues – availability of larger screens, keyboards and perhaps mice for some.
I found this experiment extremely revealing – the IT was non intrusive, seemed natural and supported the lesson – compare this with a lesson in a traditional desktop IT suite where the lesson adapts to the presentation of the IT.
Bringing IT to the lesson rather than bringing the lesson to IT
In the video’s - see Joanne just before the lesson outline what the lesson is about and see two students at the end of the lesson give their opinions about the Asus Eee
We are looking again at the use of cheap and small mobile computers – UMPcs and in particular the Asus Eee PC. In the video I describe some of the history of mobile computing at the college, the current position and the paradigm being explored with the Asus Eee. Joanne gives her assessment of the Asus Eee and her ideas on how it could be used in teaching within her area.
Over the last 6 years the college has invested, developed and supported mobile IT for academic staff for resource preparation, presentation and MIS access such as e-registration in the classroom. We have built out a wireless network to cover most areas of the college and provided staff on 0.5 contracts and above with their own tablet computer linked into the staff IT systems and college resources.
There has been much discussion recently about new educational methods and we have been experimenting with the ways in which new technologies such as web 2 and mobile computers can be applied in education.
We provided the Foundation team at Hammersmith with three Asus Eee PCs for evaluation and ideas about how they could be applied in teaching in the foundation area. Joanne came back with a very positive response to the Asus Eee and talks in the video about using the Asus in lessons for information research in a more flexible way than possible in a traditional IT suite with rows of desktop computers.
We are experimenting with a new student IT paradigm here – the student computers are not running any Microsoft software and are not linked to the college student domain (or printers for that matter) – they are pure web access devices ideal for use with independent Internet cloud computing applications.
Experiments with these computers will provide some information on what future student IT use in the college may be like and I’m looking forward to seeing them used with students – watch this space.
Liz Boyden is an ESOL teacher and was the first experimenter working with the PET project. During January, February and March of 2008 she experimented with the application of Web 2 systems in ESOL teaching – among the systems she used was (Microblogging using Twitter, standard blogging using Blogger, Audio podcasting using Podomatic, and unstructured blogging using Tumblr).
Liz had helped support David Brightwell with an Audio podcasting project and I took a trip up to see Liz and the class which took part in the project. In the video Liz briefly outlines the project and comments on how she found audio to be more practical for students as most of the students were less comfortable with publishing video. Indeed, this is what I found as when I made this video most of the students were hiding behind their books and papers.
The audio project asked the students two work in pairs and to interview each other about their home country. The project covered a great many elements – research, preparation, collaboration, communication and work with current technical systems to record and publish their work on the Internet.
In the video Mohammed describes his audio project to compare the countries and cultures of Iran and Somali and Abdi briefly talks about his role in helping out with the technical elements.
Multimedia projects have tremendous potential in all subjects – Multi-media and the Internet are the current publishing medium. Project work has always involved research, analysis, preparation and presentation. In the past this might have involved going to the library to read books, magazines and journals and then writing or word-processing something to paper. Today project work should involve the skills required for Internet research and publication and the use of multi-media for both research and presentation is increasingly useful.
Our core IT systems run from an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) backed up by a diesel generator that can provide power for up to 24 hours. The UPS provides a nice stable clean supply of electricity for our core systems from its large set of batteries. On the morning that the video was taken our UPS system was undergoing maintenance and our core systems were running from the raw mains for three hours – I was a little nervous.
The ESOL department at Hammersmith has benefitted from the input of Liz Boyden working on the PET project to experiment with new technologies in teaching – particularly the application of Web 2 systems. Web 2 is all about interaction and communication and it has been taken up remarkably well in ESOL – a subject full of interaction and communication.
In the video ESOL teacher Helen mentions the Web 2 systems they have used in their teaching (Microblogging using Twitter, standard blogging using Blogger, Audio podcasting using Podomatic, and unstructured blogging using Tumblr).
Helen describes the use of Tumblr with 16 to 19 year old students on their two week work experience.
The traditional way to document work experience is for students to be issued with paper work experience diaries which they would fill in each day and then return to the teacher at the end of the work experience period. During this period the opportunity for interaction with college teachers and fellow students is limited, the students feel relatively isolated and are not motivated to fill in the traditional paper diaries – a task which is often seen as a chore.
Instead of paper diaries the ESOL team helped the students to set up their own Tumblr accounts and taught them how to use them with a few introductory exercises before they went out and had to use them on their own while on work experience. Using an on-line system like this has many advantages:
- The students could interact with fellow students and their tutors while on work experience – they were less isolated and could read about the experiences of their fellow students.
- The students were motivated to complete the log each day – many included photos
- The students were learning and using IT (the latest IT at that) in a real word setting and in a meaningful way.
- Tutors had day to day feedback from students
- Documentation was on-line and easily accessible by all, instead of in a pile of paper forms.
The project found that all the work experience locations had computers which the students could use to access the Internet to type up their logs – this is the 21st century and we are in London so I shouldn’t have been so concerned. Whilst Internet access is increasingly pervasive, we would have to have a contingency for students who were not able to access the Internet daily.
In this video confession you get a quick look at the small “Innovation Zone” at the Hammersmith site of EHWLC. The teacher Jay briefly describes the project which the students are working on.
Education has a challenge in attempting to meet the calls for more active and collaborative teaching learning methods. The “innovation Zone” was set up almost two years ago to offer a space to experiment with new teaching and learning methods.
The room provides 20 individual round tables with attached seats which can be moved around the room and combined in various ways to offer arrangements for collaborative work. The room also provides mobile IT resources – 24 wireless student laptops, webcams and audio visual equipment plus the obligatory e-board.
The objective of the room is to provide the resources and opportunity to develop new teaching methods from role play and simulation using prompts and video recorders through to group project work.
One of the more innovative developments that have taken place in the “innovation Zone” is the Apprentice project for new HND business students. Instead of formally teaching the students for the first two weeks of the course the students form into groups of four and work through developing a product which they present to teachers and other students at the end of the two week project period. Last September the college created and set up Google groups for the students but we quickly found out that this is something they can do themselves – indeed many suggested using their existing on-line presence in Facebook and email. Next September we will ask the students to set up their own on-line collaborative method – saving the college time and making the exercise more active and interesting for the students .
In the video the teacher Jay describes how the class of HND business students have been working on collaborative projects to survey the business potential of locations for setting up a small business – the outcome is to create a multimedia evidence pack about the locations to present to the class. The students work in groups and use audio and video equipment on location; they use the laptops in the room and make use of Web 2 systems like Google groups to collate their material.
The work carried out in the room is extremely interesting and inspirational but I would like to do more.
- I would like to see how these techniques apply to other groups and subject areas.
- I would like to develop other similar areas linked in with staff development. For example a pair of adjacent rooms – one room for staff teacher training and development and one room for actual teaching – both rooms with teacher support.
Opportunity, organisational culture and innovation
IT is renowned for pace of change and as life is increasingly mediated by IT we find that the pace change in our lives is increasing.
There are two coping mechanisms for dealing with change.
Be defensive, inward looking, backward looking and entrenched in what you are and have been doing. Use organisational systems to delay and stifle change. Build barriers and obstacles to fortify your position. Bury your head in the sand and dig a hole.
Be open, outward looking, forward looking and find new ways of doing things and find new things to be doing. Use organisational systems to encourage and embrace change. Reduce barriers and include others. Go out and find opportunities.
IT systems technician Raz has recently started an evening table tennis club in the student common room. What grabbed my attention was that if an opportunity is provided then people will collaborate and participate. Raz’s table tennis club has people from all areas of the college – students, admin staff and lecturers from different divisions. Raz gives training but at the same time is not afraid to be beaten the students – it’s a good example of teacher as facilitator and of participation and communication working across boundaries.
Raz’s table tennis club made me realise the significance of opportunity in innovation and organisational culture and the importance social networking across boundaries will play in the future.
In the video we see two IT systems tehnicians Raz and Abdul playing at the end of the sessi0n. It’s interesting to note that the students have so far always beaten the staff.
Social Spaces and Innovation
I’ve been working on our Exchange email system upgrade and pop down to the staff common room to get a cup of coffee from the machine. I notice Rachel and Kathy using their laptops in the staff common room – they are joint tutors on a course and are working together to update the “paperwork” they share on the network pool area.
The shared pool area has been available from the “dawn of networked personal computing” in colleges and schools (around 1985) and it’s mapped for all our staff as the P: drive – it provides a shared file storage area which is familiar and relatively easy to use. The wireless laptops have been available for most of our staff since about 2002.
There is nothing new in the video but what struck me is the ease and familiarity with which people now take for granted what was once extraordinary – access to our IT systems and the Internet from anywhere and without wires.
The objective of our staff laptop provision program was to develop just what we see in the video – the normalisation of IT mobility. Being able to work in the staff common room instead being of “chained” to the wired desktops in our own area offices is an advantage in its own right but provides the opportunity to work and share more easily across boundaries.
We often consider architecture as a way of influencing behaviour but in many cases we could let behaviour influence our architecture – in this instance it could be that we should provide more open social networking spaces.
With developing globalisation there is an increasing motivation to boost our ability to innovate – to compete in the higher levels of the global economic “food” web and the ability to innovate and develop innovation in education is a key to our future.
Innovation is the introduction of something new and useful, for example introducing new methods, techniques, or practices or new or altered products and services. Innovation is the active, implementation of creativity and invention. Creativity and invention often come from crossing boundaries – for example the recent Terahertz security camera is based on work from astronomers studying dying stars.
Boundaries exist in organisations to facilitate management – this is necessary, the problem arises when boundaries are used defensively and used to drive management – we end up with a rigid structure which is more likely to break than to bend in the “winds of change”.
In a sense innovation is like the creation of compounds in chemistry – you have to start with a mixture and then add energy and or catalysts to create a new product. The higher and the more rigid the boundaries are then the more energy that will be needed to cross them – the less likely that innovation will be able to happen – the more likely something will break instead.
Open Social networking spaces provide the conditions for people to mix and come up with creative and inventive ideas from which innovation can happen. We may not all be able to build Google style workspaces but I strongly argue that we consider the significance of the social in work and education.
”The Network is the Computer” – we have always connected everything but are preparing for a paradigm shift to “The Network is our computer” (1) by anticipating and encouraging the use of web 2 systems. Such use will demand more of our network and of our systems.To prepare the college has started some major upgrades and developments – over the next 12 months we are:
* Upgrading inter-site circuits from 100Mbps to 1Gbps (to cope with higher demand)
* Installing physically diverse inter-site and internet backup connections (to improve continuity)
* Re-engineering our routing and Internet access (to offer new features)
* Installing new core switches from Extreme (to cope with higher demand, improve reliability and add features)
* Installing new Wireless access from Aruba (to cope with higher demand, improve speed, reliability and coverage)
* using Virtual systems (to offer a quicker response to new system deployment and improve continuity).
Virtual machines have proved to have real benefits and at the college we have been using virtual servers and desktops in development, to deploy services faster and to improve continuity.
One of the pressures on IT systems these days is the tremendous demand for storage and I anticipate that virtualisation can help with this too. Interestingly, networking plays a key role in recent virtual storage scenarios.
One form of storage virtualisation is to treat it as a service and make use of massive external systems like Google (use Google Docs, Youtube video), Flickr for photo’s and Microsoft Livespace for file storage. However, the pressure for ever increasing internal storage continues and I will be looking at two systems.
The easiest place to start with standard file storage where space rather than performance is the issue – things like user home folders (Z: drive), shared file storage like our “Pool” folders (P: drive), technicians storage area and the media storage areas (where marketing and the design team keep lots of photos and videos). For this standard large NAS (Network Attached Storage) should give us what we are looking for and I shall be looking at NAS first.
Another interesting option is to look at virtual storage for virtual servers where performance is not crucial – for this NAS could also be used but I will also have a look at iSCSI systems.
In the video
Our senior management team are away on a budget conference meeting which means that all their offices are empty and available- I managed to bag the principal’s office to hold a meeting with suppliers to talk about network and storage virtualisation.
Kevin from Vanix gets in a good plug for his company as “one of the UK’s premier network integrators – Guildford, Paris, Peckham”. Kevin briefly describes the work of Vanix on our Extreme backbone network and their work on our early installation of Aruba 802.11n equipment.
Jon from Onstor distributor Zycko talks about “off-loading our budget” – storage virtualisation has many advantages but could be a little expensive by the sounds of it – the Onstor NAS systems are certainly big and impressive.
The link here explains virtualisation and provides the explanation below.
“In general terms, virtualisation refers to the abstraction of computer resources so they can be logically assigned. It is a technique for hiding the physical characteristics of computing resources from the way in which other systems, applications or end users interact with those resources.”
(1) Thanks to Mark Gobin for the phrase “The Network Is Our Computer”
The video confessions are recorded on a small smartphone and the sound quality is quite poor –the video demonstrates a technology to improve the sound quality with such devices.
This Video confession comes from a classroom in Hammersmith 6th form centre – the location could be regarded as symbolic. The classroom has 10 desktop computers and 10 laptops – a combination of traditional IT suite and “laptop classroom”/innovation zone.
There is increasing demand for “laptop classrooms” where laptops are used instead of desktop computers but unless we teach and learn differently with them then this turns out to be a more expensive and difficult way of doing what we already do. The idea must be to use the laptops to do something we can’t easily do with desktop computers – to do something different.
When considering “laptop classrooms” we have three options:
1. Install special laptop suites
This recommended as security, power, networking and logistics are easier to manage. We already use this system in some areas but it doesn’t scale well.
2. Use laptop trolley’s where a teacher or support person pushes this to the classroom. This is a common solution to providing flexibility but creates problems with teachers having to push the heavy trolley to and from the classroom and then unpack and pack the laptops.
3. Provide a laptop loan scheme for the students where the students arrive at the classroom with their laptop. Given the predictions of a future where students will have their own IT this option looks like a useful experiment to test out students having their own IT.
Jane Franklin describes a project in the Hammersmith 6th form area to provide a central pool of laptops where students can book out laptops for certain lessons and at other occasions. If the teacher alerts the students that a laptop session is going to take place then the students will take responsibility to book out and pick up a laptop for that session. Jane also talks briefly about some ways to use the laptops in collaborative projects and with webcams to make presentations. There will be a future video confession talking about how the laptops can be used with some of the new more practical based syllabi.
Abdul creates a nice “back of the envelope” design and talks briefly about a system he will write to book the laptops out for students – it will need to scan a student ID cards together with a laptop tag to book out the laptop to the student for a period of time a record the return of the laptop in the same way. We will probably have to write a “timetable” element so that staff know when laptops are booked out for sessions – so that a teacher doesn’t ask students to bring a laptop when they are booked out by another teacher. We will also need to fully develop the wireless capabilities in the areas of use and somehow address the battery charging issue with the laptops – it could be that we will need to provide “power islands” in these classrooms.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this project develops as it offers a controlled and manageable exploration of a very different model where IT is with students – a student centric approach. It looks ahead to the time when students will increasingly have their own equipment, indeed there will be nothing to prevent students using their own laptops in this project if they prefer.