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Laptops or iPads in the classroom


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Yep, I’ve read a lot of stuff regarding the benefit of iPads in the classroom in the past year. I’ve also read a lot of articles praising the value of laptops in the hands of students. Though studies have yet to prove that any of these mobile technologies is beneficial to the learning process I would bet my non-existent retirement fund that they do help the learner in various ways. First off, knowledge delivered via these mobile resources engages the learner, it is in the same “language” they are accustomed to interacting with. Anything that engages the learned with the content one is trying to get through has a plus from me.

Now to the dilemma of either or…do we put an iPad or a laptops in the hands of students?

Over the years I’ve come to see the value of laptops in the hands of students and teachers. One can do almost everything we were accustomed to doing on a desktop PC on a laptop now-a-days. School administrators love the price-tag of the iPad, but it is not as useful as a laptops when it comes to importing video, editing audio, and putting pictures in it for use within presentations or documents. Like or not, you are still tethered to a desktop PC whenever you need to do some tasks with video/audio/graphic files. Students often need to play around with different media within the same lesson plan, and I still have a problem seeing how students can manage this while using an iPad.

The way I’ve come to do this this year is to implement iPads in the early grades (3rd grade and below) and to use laptops in grades 4 and above. It seems to be working well thus far. Teachers love the art-music-listening-video-photo capabilities the iPad offers, and children take to the keyboard-mouse-less environment as if it the way they interact with nature. Wait, it is the way they interact with nature. Hmmmm, lots to think about in the coming years.

For Middle/High Schoolers who often must author long research papers, presentations or video projects in teams, a laptop is ideal as it offers the capabilities necessary for this type of work. I feel the practicality of an iPad still need some work, thus I am sticking to laptops for higher grades for the time being.

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Amazon Cloud Computing


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For years now we have used Amazon Cloud Storage (S3) to store all of our website’s media files in order to lessen the load on the web servers. Though we have a great hosting solution that is not the massive 3,000 websites in one box approach that is used by major hosting companies such as GoDaddy, it is still better to have all media served within the region you’re showing your website the most. In our case our website collocation facility is in the US while our audience is in Europe. So, we rely on our host’s servers for website hosting and serving up the static content while Amazon’s S3 is configured to host all of our media files, be it video or images….mainly images. Video is now served via Vimeo.

Check out our site: http://www.bfischool.org so see what I mean.

Working with Amazon’s services is easy and cheap!

Next up, I’d like to create a script that will host our network share files for each user in our system. Yes, Dropbox is a great alternative, but the problem is that all that knowledge is not under the instituion’s control but rather the control of the owner of the Dropbox account. What happens if one our teachers leave and takes everything with them. Though we are using Rubicon Atlas for documentation of our curriculum, there is still a lot in that person’s work folder which we would no longer be able to access should they decide to leave.

It has happened in the past that someone leaves and we can easily take their left-behind work folders and give access the new teacher coming in to cover that subject. This is the reason a network space is created for teachers. The problem is that the teachers do not have access to their network space whenever they are out of school. By creating a Dropbox-like service linked to Amazon’s S3 service we can easily overcome that. Still much to be worked out, but slowly we are getting there.

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Ideas for keeping teachers longer by offering tech-incentive


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One of our major challenges, very similar to so many other international schools, is how to keep teachers for longer than the standard two-year initial contract period. The city of Barcelona, and the quality of life here, helps a great deal. The School also puts in some financial incentives into a three-to-five year commitment on behalf of the faculty. And now I’m trying to get in there by offering all newcomers a laptop that they are free to keep once they complete their third year at the school, free of charge. Additionally I’d like to offer a mobile phone free of charge to all incoming faculty next year.

So, there are two things on my end I’m looking to offer. One is a free laptop that after three years of working here they will call their own. On the fourth year we would actually hand over another new laptop to replace the aging one, which then becomes property of the teacher. If the financials work out, I’m sure we can do this for the incoming teachers for the 12-13 academic year. The laptop we’ll hand out would be a MacBook Air.

As for the phone, there are a couple of things at play here. This year we got into a three-year contract with Vodafone for their mobile office product. In essence all school phones are mobile phones, the type of handset that looks like an office phone but which has a SIM inside it. With this system we no longer have to wire all classrooms for regular phones, and moreover when teachers move to a new classroom, they simply pick up the set and take it with them. I manage the whole thing via a web portal Vodafone has made available. Sometimes we suffer from normal cell interfierence on calls, but overall the system is working out well. We get preferential fees on mobile-to-mobile calls whenever these two mobiles calling each other are School owned lines. This works well for extension calling from one office to another, for instance. Soooo, this is what I am thinking. Either way the school already provides a phone for all classrooms. Why not provide this phone to a teacher instead? The teacher will always be within the School’s reach for any emergency, and the teacher can use the reduced calling fees to make local calls as an added bonus provided by the school.

In all, if these two things move forward for the upcoming school year I think new faculty will be happier for it.

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Making the switch to Vodafone phone system on the cloud


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Yet another addition to our cloud-holdings…

Our campus was a normal wired campus. We had all ES classrooms wired to have a phone, as well as all administrative offices. MS and HS classrooms did not have a phone, and this presented a safety issue should one of the students need assistance. After some time investigating whether it made sense to take advantage of the already existing networking cabling in all classroom and add a Cisco IP telephone system on top of it, it became clear this would be a very pricey solution. I love Cisco’s IP telephone system, but frankly it is a bit much for a school our size and with our basic communications needs.

I had seen a system in Mexico some years ago that allowed many flexible options to be configured online via the Telmex configuration application online. It looked great, but at the time it was not mature enough to contract where I was working. Vodafone came to us last spring showing us a system very similar where all phones are regular office-type telephone sets with one major difference; the have a SIM instead of cabling. In essence the whole system is a set of mobile phones which look like regular office phones. All they really need is an electrical outlet to ensure the battery is charged, while the connection is via 2/3G.

Since this past summer we’ve been using Vodafone’s system, and it has proven to be the best solution given our across-the-street expansion project and our mobile administrative staff. A virtual network is set up where all our phones are interconnected. Calls from one of our school-owned lines to another school-owned phone cost fractions of pennies, and local land-line calls are also very low cost. Calls from our phones to other mobile phones get a preferential fee, thus making our system much cheaper than running our old traditional wired phone system with about half the phone lines available. Now we are paying a much less for about 3-times the amount of phones on campus, since all our MS and HS classrooms and all additional administrative offices are now connected by this system. Our administrative team have smartphones. The great thing about this is that office staff need only dial a three-digit extension to reach them as all phones either have a short three-digit extension along with their normal “long” mobile phone number. So parents do not call phones inside classrooms, whenever an outgoing call is placed using a classroom telephone out school phone number is shown in the caller ID information. Roaming, outgoing, incoming, SMS, internet, extension number and a number of other configuration options can be manipulated online. Billing is also handled online. When summer comes, we’ll go online to disable all phones in classrooms that will not be in use, just to be sure we’re not leaving the system open.

One of the major drawbacks, as with any cell phone, is that some times we get hit with bad reception and calls may be dropped. It is not a major issue, but it does get frustrating. Vodafone is carrying out a site-study to ensure we are enough capacity in our area for the number of phones we are using day-to-day.

In all, I am very pleased with the system.