Annual MoreNet Conference

The Missouri Research Network (MOREnet) hosts a technology conference every fall.  This year, the conference is Oct 9-12, with the first 2 days dedicated to teachers, librarians, tech coordinators and the last 2 days focusing on technology and infrastructure.  I have attended this conference for many years and I always come away with great ideas and new contacts.  The conference is held at Tan-Tar-A and costs $295 for the first 2 days (early registration price until Sept 19).

There are 3 different keynotes, including Tom Krause from the “Chicken Soup” series.  To get more information or to register for the event, use this link.  The breakout sessions include all things google, stem, robotics, coding, and much more.  Here is a link to the daily sessions.   If you are looking for a good conference within a couple of hours driving distance with a variety of topics, this conference is for you.

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Windows 10 is Here!

After several months of hype, Windows 10 arrives tomorrow.  It is a free download for anyone currently using windows 7 or 8.  All of the reviews look positive, although early adoption does come with a risk, since there are such limited track records.  I have seen it in beta and it does look promising.  They have restored some things from previous versions and have moved away from the tiled look.  It is supposed to be more “Siri” like with its intuitive interface (Cortana).  Internet Explorer is gone, replaced by a new browser called Edge.  While windows 10 does seem geared more for a touch-screen laptop.  I am planning on downloading and installing it on my desktop at the office.  Unfortunately, it is a busy time with the start of school looming, and I will probably have to wait a few days / weeks.  Here is a link to an article from “MakeUseOf” detailing steps in the process.  Here is another good review from David Pierce at Wired magazine, saying YES! to the question of “should you download windows 10?”

Quick disclaimer – don’t look for windows 10 happening anytime soon around the school district.  We are generally not early adopters.  We want the program to have a strong track record, run smoothly, have all the needed drivers and clients available for all of our products, etc.  Time will tell, but many think this is a strong showing from Microsoft and has been a long time coming.

Sneak Preview: Big Changes Coming to District Google Accounts

Over the last few months, we have been moving forward with a plan for unified naming of our district communication. We renamed the district page as well as all the building pages, using our twitter and Facebook names that we registered a few years ago. The final piece is to change the email domain to match. I have registered the @willardschools.net domain and this will be our new school email domain next year.

I believe the best course of action is to keep our current google apps accounts, but change the domain name and begin to streamline our email into one single address. I have entered the “willardschools.net” domain as a secondary domain under our current “media.willardr2.net” account. By adding it as a second domain, I can now go in and change anyone’s name, choosing between the domains for their email address. The password stays the same and the documents, calendars, etc – all stay with the user. That is a critical feature as we are completely vested with our documents and apps. It appears to be pretty seamless with nothing really for you to change. Google automatically sets up an alias with the old media address now pointing to the new willardschools.net address.

I am experimenting with my gmail “media” account and a few others, trying to exhaust every possible scenario of forwarding and emailing. ( okay, maybe not every scenario.)

Within a month or so we will go public with the idea and begin the process of physically going into each user email account – one at a time – and making the domain / name changes.  Then we will encourage everyone to begin using gmail, forwarding their webmail / surgemail into gmail. Probably 1/3 to 1/2 of our staff members already use the gmail interface to check all of their mail, so they are already set. We will work on setting up some tutorials about configuring and using gmail for those still needing to make the move.

At the end of school, we will mandate the change to gmail as the “official” district email. That gives staff members the summer to work on it, rather than adding something new to learn at the beginning of the year. (good-bye Eudora!)

Everyone will need to begin to notify their contacts and subscription services about their new address. The license for surgemail is due in May. I do not think that we will be ready to abandon it just yet, but maybe a year from this May we will go away completely from the current Willard.k12.mo.us domain.

Big changes, so watch for more details.

I-tunes accounts w/o Credit Card

If you have tried to setup an itunes account for yourself or one of your kids recently, you probably just accepted that you needed to put in your credit card information or you had to purchase a prepaid i-tunes card.  What else can you think when you setup an account and don’t appear to have any other options.  I don’t like the thought of putting my credit card information on my children’s itunes accounts.  Well, there is a work around.  Give this a try…

 
  • Make sure you are not logged into any itunes account on the apple device.  
  • Go into the i-tunes store and select a free app that you would like to install. 
  • I-tunes will prompt you to login to an i-tunes account.
  • Choose to create a new itunes account.
  • Fill out the information and “agree” to the default screens.
  • When you get to the “provide payment information” page, select none.
If you are helping your middle school student or high school student setup their itunes account, this gives you a little peace of mind about not having to put your personal information / credit card information out there. 

End-of-School Procedures

I wanted to point out a couple of housekeeping items as we approach the end of the year.  If your room will be used during summer school, make sure you leave everything connected.  If you are not having summer school in your room, then please unhook your computer after your last day.  Safely store the monitor, keyboard, mouse and cables in your room.  You should not need to do anything to the smartboard or projector.  Label and bring the computer (CPU only) to the lab for processing, maintenance, cataloging, etc.  We would also like all netbooks taken to the labs as well.  If you have access to an ipad or tablet, and you are planning to take it home for the summer, please email me and let me know when I could have it for a few minutes for some inventory tagging.  If you have ipads, ipods, or other tablets that will not be going home, please check with your administrator on the best place for safe storage.  We will be moving through the buildings doing updates on our inventory software, and we will need access to everything.

 
If you are a core teacher, then you have received a laptop or will be receiving a laptop soon.  Unless you are told differently by your building administrator, they are to be taken home for the summer.  Getting laptops into the hands of teachers before summer was a priority for our 1:1 committee as well as the district administrators.  This will be a great tool for you to use throughout the summer and next school year for creation, collaboration, and communication.  I have been asked if we will be phasing out desktop stations now that we are purchasing laptops for teachers.  No, not at this time.  It is still more cost effective to maintain the desktop stations and the laptop.  We may experiment with docking stations but at this point it is not cost effective.  There are other issues to consider such as not always having your laptop at school, what does a sub do for attendance, redundancy, etc.  Therefore when you are working on things on your new laptops, I would challenge you to work on saving on your network drive for file storage.  Then anything you create is immediately available on your classroom station as well.  Now that you can access the novell servers from any internet connection, that will be a good solution.  What we would like to avoid is constantly connecting / disconnecting your classroom computer.  Flash drives and network drive letters can be tricky as well.  You would just be better off if you can avoid that all together.
 
It has been a great year for technology with even more changes looming on the horizon.  We live in an exciting age!  Thanks for all you do and have a great summer!

Bandwidth Monitoring

We live in an amazing age with all of the tools and the information access that we have at hand.  Many of you carry smart phones with you and the Internet is never far away.  You probably have high speed Internet at home for your computer that allows you to stream video, watch television and movies, or the latest viral video on youtube.  We have come to expect so much more from the internet and we always expect it to work almost instantly.

I always feel the need to caution staff members not to get lulled into thinking that you can stream or do all of the same things here at school that you are able to do on your high-speed network at home.  While your connection here at school is very fast (50 mbps), you are potentially sharing it with over 4000 people here in the district.  We do not have a high speed connection for each computer or classroom, but rather a single highspeed connection shared among many devices.  The concept is based on the way everyone surfed the internet a few years ago.  You clicked on a link to a web page or checked your email and after it loaded, there was down time while you read the page or your email.  You were really only using the Internet for that short time that you were actually sending your request or loading your page.

However, these days it is very common to load a webpage and click on a video so your connection is constantly sending information to you for several minutes or even up to an hour.  That is called streaming and it is simply the act of connecting to a link on the internet and watching a video directly online.  But here is the math.  Say you have a highspeed Interenet connection of 40 meg – not far off of what we have for the district.  One lab of just 20 computers all try to stream videos from a website.  The first computer connects and they are flying.  Now another connects but that is okay because they still have 20 mbps each.  By the time all 20 try to stream online, the connection has slowed to 2 mbps each.  That is barely enough bandwidth to stream and there is almost nothing left for anyone else in the district.

Now, this is an over simplification, but the concept is correct.  We have to all be respectful of the total bandwidth that we use.  Make sure it is for educational purposes, not streaming a television video that you missed last night or watching sports highlights from your favorite team.  I do not mean to sound like the network police, but we are constantly monitoring the health of the network and we work to have network access available at all times for those that need it.

We actually get a report from our filtering software in the form of an email whenever our bandwidth reaches 80% capacity.  We reach that point frequently – 3 or 4 times today alone.  Then Scott has the ability to check to see what is causing the drain on the network, right down to the machine and what they are doing.  If it is educational in nature and we are pushing the 80% mark, I say that is great!  Everyone is utilizing this great resource to help them do their job.  Unfortunately, it is often sports sites or broadcast television sites or non-educational streaming sites that are stealing bandwidth from users with legitimate educational needs.   Just let this be a reminder that we share the network with all the students and employees in the district.  It is a valuable, important resource and we need to use it wisely for its intended purpose.

Welcome Back!

The start of school is here. We are excited about some of the technology changes occurring in Willard. We are adding computing devices and rapidly moving toward a 1:1 ratio of computers to students.
We have added many netbooks for high school students and we will be around 2:1 this year with about 700 of these small notebooks in use.
We are exploring ways to get even more technology into the schools. Much of our work this summer has been behind-the-scenes work to help be ready for the additional student stations.