Thursday, May 29, 2008

Could the EEE 900 be the School Computer of the Future?

My eee 900 test unit arrived on May 19th, exactly one week after the official release day. I literally ran down the stairs to the office when I saw that it had been "delivered" and the reaction from all the office ladies and parents was exactly what I had come to expect after reading about the little machine all over the net: intrigue, excitement, and enthusiasm. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited too, but I sobered up pretty quick. But let's start at the beginning.

The Plan
I've got several thousand dollars in a grant to provide the Middle School with a mobile lab. The idea of a $250 little laptop to get on Google Docs was pretty attractive and I almost pulled the trigger on an old eee 700 last month before reading about the 900's impending release and deciding that 9" is a lot bigger than 7", 1gb of RAM is a lot more than 512mb, and a 20 gig hard drive is a lot bigger than a 4 gig. (the verdict: $550 isn't $250 and 9" is still pretty stinking small).

A secondary experiment was to let some teachers try the machine out for a bit and evaluate its potential as a teacher machine. Obviously I knew the eee would be insufficient for 100% use and figured on an ideal situation of pairing up the eee with a 22" wide screen LCD, a full keyboard, mouse and printer all connected to a usb hub at work. Thus, with two simple plugs (1 from the USB hub and one VGA out) a teacher has a nice desktop setup.

The Machine
I've seen hundreds of pics of the thing online but I still wasn't prepared for exactly how small this thing is. I tried to convey its size with the picture to the right, but I think the best way to imagine it is to think of a DVD case, it really isn't much bigger than that. Tiny.

The responsiveness of the machine is pretty snappy. My student tester commented almost immediately about how fast it was. Of course she's used to P3's running Windows 2000 but I noticed it too. I did have to wait a few seconds for OpenOffice to get running (what else is new?) and there was a noticeable delay in getting the camera going, but otherwise it was faster than I expected. We're all (students and staff) on Google Apps over here so I was particularly pleased to see the impressive performance of Firefox 2. When Firefox 3 comes out it should be even better.

The user interface is pretty interesting, and while much has been made of the tabs at the top of the screen in lieu of a traditional desktop, what I found most interesting was the fact that Asus blatantly mimicked the Windows XP theme as far as buttons and menu bars (see pictures below). It's an interesting way to go, trying to lessen the Linux shock for newcomers by making things at least appear to be the same, but I suppose that's a topic for another time. In any case, I had a few people who needed help noticing the tabs at the top of the screen, but once they saw them nobody had any trouble finding what they needed. Seemed to be effective, if not exactly expected.

The multi-touch track pad is a nice feature when it works. Where it doesn't work is Firefox. I couldn't even get the track pad to scroll in Firefox, and even though my mom's HP laptop does the same thing it's a pretty egregious oversight given that Firefox is the default browser. In fact, the only program I got multi-touch to work in (not that I tried all the programs by any means) was OpenOffice. Multi-touch zoom makes a lot of sense given the small screen but it needs to work everywhere.

One annoyance was the eee's sleep function which seemed to take an abnormally long amount of time to wake up. More than once I closed the screen to move the thing and would bump into someone, go to show them the eee, press the power button to wake it up, and then wait for 10 or 15 seconds before anything even appeared on the screen. I figured for a SSD based machine that's centered around being ultra portable it would be a little faster waking up. Not sure what the problem is there but it's a pain.

Connectivity for me wasn't an issue as far as the Internet was concerned. I took the eee home for a night and it flawlessly connected not only to my wireless network (simple WPA protected Linksys Wireless G) but to my buddy's wireless as well. Connecting to a networked printer was a different story though. The process was a little more complicated than it probably should have been (and way more complicated than with Ubuntu) and then, after supposedly installing the drivers, would not print to a simple HP LaserJet 4050.

Peripheral support and drivers is always the Achilles heel of Linux distros and Xandros appears to be no different. This was a big strike for my plan because many teachers print not only to their locally connected printer, but to various networked laser printers and even directly to the Canon ImageRunner copiers we've got in the workroom. If the eee can't handle an HP 4050 there's little chance it's going to be able to manage all the other printers we've got around campus.

The Screen
9" does not seem too small at first. That seemed to be the general thought of almost everyone who saw the eee. I did notice, however, that after just a few minutes of use the 9" screen gets pretty tedious to use. Maybe I just got used to my new 22" wide screen but I think 9" is actually just really small. My student tester definitely commented on the size after playing around for just a few minutes. Definitely not the way to go if a lot of work needs to be done over a long period of time. Reading Internet articles may be fine for a while, I haven't tried it out yet.

The eee does have a VGA out on the side, but it does not auto detect an external monitor and requires the user to press "function+F4" to send the video signal. Pressing the combination again will enable video to both the eee and the external monitor as is generally customary with laptops. I was kind of hoping for auto detect, but it isn't a big deal.

1024 by 600 is the standard resolution of the 9" screen, but that can be changed on an external monitor to the more standard 1024 by 768. Unfortunately this must be done manually not only when the external monitor is connected, but also undone when it is disconnected. This is no small matter since, as you can see from the pictures above, in 1024 by 768 resolution the eee cuts off the bottom of the screen which not only eliminates significant parts of displayed content but also eliminates the lower panel with the clock and status bar and everything. It's too bad auto detect of external monitors wasn't figured out because that could have solved this issue as well.

That 1024 by 768 is the highest output resolution for the eee was a major strike against it in my book. To really take advantage of a 22" wide screen monitor, teachers would need a significantly higher resolution than that, and they certainly aren't going to want to be manually changing the settings every time the pick the thing up to take it across the room or something.

The Keyboard
Much has been made of the minute eee keyboard on the Internet, but in my experience this was the least concerning aspect of the machine. Nearly everyone who tried out the eee made a few errors off the bat, but within just a few minutes was typing almost as regularly as they would be on a normal keyboard. My experience was no different. It seems like Asus has basically just eliminated any part of the key that you don't normally touch, like the corners and the very top and bottom. It does make the margin for error much smaller, but in direct opposition to the 9" screen, the keyboard gets less irritating with time.

I certainly understand how it could be unusable for someone with huge hands, but you can see below how well it fits a sixth grade student's fingers versus an adults. Despite this, even my student tester had a little difficulty making the adjustment at first. This would indicate that keyboard size is an acquired preference rather than an innate one for most people. I don't think the keyboard could get any smaller, but in contrast to the 9" screen, I don't see a pressing need for Asus to go much bigger at this time.

Despite my own reservations about the eee 900, since I started loaning it out to teachers last week it's gotten nothing but positive results. Women especially seem to like it (maybe because they can see carrying it in a purse?) which is good since 80% of our staff is female. I think the reason for this is twofold: first, they really do like the small form factor offered by the eee. The EEE makes a lot of sense if a teacher is going to be carrying a computer around to IEP meetings in the morning, staff meetings after school, and home at night. Second, I think the teachers fail to understand the limitations they would have in trying to use the eee as their sole machine. Nobody is really using it as a replacement for their desktop yet (maybe that is the next step) which means that every dead end the come to whether it's printing or eye fatigue from working on a tiny screen can be solved by simply hopping on their trusty old Windows 2000 box.

As far as students are concerned I've all but ruled the eee out as a viable option for the mobile lab. The advantages that the eee presents to users (mainly those related to increased mobility) simply aren't applicable to students working in a classroom. When my student tester confessed that she'd rather be working on a full size laptop I didn't really need to hear anymore. At $250 it might be tempting enough to try, but with Lenovo and Dell regularly offering sub-$500 notebooks now, there just aren't enough reasons to go with the eee. Maybe the new Dell UMPC will fit the bill a little better. Cheers! -joe

Friday, May 16, 2008

Economist Article Response

I have been an Economist subscriber since shortly after I stumbled across an issue while waiting for a sandwich at the Shoreline Park Lakeside Cafe in 2001. I vividly remember standing next to the trash receptacle, reading over the "World This Week" section of the magazine that appears at the front of every issue, and just being stunned by the realization that I knew so little about what was happening in the world.

My favorite part was how the section gave equal footing to the United States and what I regarded at the time as "countries of little consequence" like Sri Lanka or Finland. Here are a couple of snippets from this week to illustrate the point:

A computer hacker published on the internet confidential records belonging to 6m Chileans, including their ID-card numbers, academic records and telephone numbers. He said his aim was to demonstrate Chile's poor level of data protection.

Several bombs were set off in the Indian city of Jaipur, killing at least 61 people and injuring more than 200. A little-known group, Indian Mujahideen, claimed responsibility. See article

As expected, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in West Virginia by a whopping margin, 67% to 26%, underlining Barack Obama's lack of support among blue-collar voters. But the party began to unite behind Mr Obama and he secured the endorsement of John Edwards, who pulled out of the presidential race in January. See article

Here is the link to all the snippets if you are so inclined.

For the most part the articles covered in the economist address issues I have little to no knowledge of or expertise in. This leads me to oftentimes accept their view on a given issue as law, as it frequently represents the only point of reference I really have on the issue. The only subject with which this does not regularly occur is education.

Education is the one subject in which I feel I have enough knowledge and experience to really effectively engage with what the Economist writes about on the topic. Sometimes I agree completely with what the magazine has to say, but most of the time I find myself in a position of slight to severe disagreement that has caused me many times to question the magazine's expertise in the other areas it writes about and that I am less knowledgeable in.

One example of the latter situation begins with the recent article, "From Literacy to Digiracy" wherein the magazine derides the rise of personal computers, and links their proliferation to falling literacy scores in the United States. It may be true that literacy scores in the United States have fallen over the same time as computer use has risen, but correlation is not causality as the Economist well knows. This association is an egregious example of journalistic failure the likes of which is uncommon for the magazine. Could the falling literacy scores not be associated with rising immigration patterns, decreases in traditional family units, or reductions in per pupil spending over the same period? I'm not a journalist so I don't know the answer to these questions, but it seems a shame that article leaves the reader wondering.

Likewise, a section quoting statistics purporting to show a decline in leisure reading among teenagers does not even bother to define what "leisure reading" is. Is the definition reduced to printed material only, like novels and magazines? If so then I would say that I fall into the same category as my reading of magazines and novels has declined significantly in recent years while my computer use has increased significantly. This does not mean that I am reading any less though. Quite the opposite in fact. Earlier this year I had such trouble managing the deluge of articles sent to me through Google Reader each day that it was a strain on my marriage. Even after reducing my number of RSS feeds considerably I still receive several dozen articles each day and read close to twenty of them on average. It's too bad the article did not give enough background to tell me whether I was in the majority or minority because of this.

Neither of these points is not the most aggrevating part of the article unfortunately. That is saved for the end where it is written:

In Mr Federman’s view, the quest for truth has given way to the quest for making sense of the world as experienced. For anyone under the age of 20, the world being experienced is one where the internet has always existed, and where everyone who matters is only a click, speed dial or text message away. “Tomorrow’s adults,” says Mr Federman, “live in a world of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity.” Their direct experience of the world is wholly different from yours or mine.

So, no surprise that when we incarcerate teenagers of today in traditional classroom settings, they react with predictable disinterest and flunk their literacy tests. They are skilled in making sense not of a body of known content, but of contexts that are continually changing.

Teachers must recognise that our pedagogical tools are inconsistent with the skills needed to survive in a world where people are always connected to everyone and everything. In such a world, learning to think for oneself could well be more important than simply learning to read and write.

It is appalling how often such bland and generic illustrations as these appear in modern educational writing. What exactly is being said over these three paragraphs? That times are changing? That advancements in technology are having an effect on new generations of human beings? That individuality and independence are important things for a person to possess? At what point in the history of mankind could these things not have been said? At what point in the future of mankind will these things not be said?

To it's credit the article does relate the Internet and the rise of computers to the telegraph of the last millenium. It is an apt comparison because in the classroom (where students are "incarcerated") all three simply become tools with which to grow citizens. In education the Internet, the book, and the pencil are all only as valuable as the owner is capable in wielding them.

So this is the teacher's job, to prepare the children of today to be citizens in the world of tomorrow. It is a job description that has not changed ever, and just because Johannes Gutenberg invents a printing press or Al Gore invents the Internet (yes I know he never actually said he did this but it illustrates my point better to say it this way) does not mean that students are going to fundamentally learn any differently than you or I or our parents and ancestors did. Nor does it mean that students needent learn the same lessons that you and I and our parents and ancestors learned. It simply means that we have newer and possibly better tools with which to teach them.

A Better Update on Quad Core Xubuntu Performance

Looking over my recent posts I realized that I never really followed up that well with a report on Xubuntu on the Quad Core Dell. In short, it's working great! The thin clients load faster than ever and flash is responsive enough that kids are able to play their games after school, even if they still complain about the performance. Watching the system monitor for a while revealed what I judged to be adequate load balancing between the cores. All four of them were doing something all the time, and while one or another would max out occasionally, they seemed to trade off the job at pretty regular intervals. From everything I know, that was the expected results so I was happy.

Like I mentioned before, XFCE gives a little more control over the desktop and by logging on as each user I was able to unclick the "enable XFCE to manage the desktop" option which got rid of students' ability to change the desktop to some scantily clad Brittany Spears picture or something. Of course many of the students are smart enough to figure out how to undo this which is why I also installed Sabayon from the repositories and hid the "settings" option from the menu. This is a sophisticated enough solution that I think most students won't figure out how to undo it, but even if they did I could always use Sabayon to completely delete the taskbars and just have firefox start up when the user logs on.

All in all I'm very happy with Xubuntu. It does sacrifice a bit in usability when compared to GNOME. Some annoyances include some sacrifices in Firefox integration (pdf's don't open as smoothly when downloaded), and the mouse can't be clicked and dragged on the desktop to select multiple icons at one time. For the most part though, the experience is very similar to what I had with GNOME and regular Ubuntu. Now I just have to wait to get my Eee 900 (shipped today!) and experiment with eeeXubuntu a bit and see what I think. Cheers! -joe

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Comment Responses and The Many Differences Between Private Sector and Public Sector Employment

Earlier today I got an email from the Middle School Spanish Teacher explaining that her student computers (Edubuntu Feisty LTSP setup) weren't working and wondering if I could take a look at the problem. The first thing I noticed in turning on the server was the fact a horrible rattling noise assuredly coming from a fan or some other spinning device. Opening the box up I noticed a couple of wires had fallen beneath the fan shield and were the cause of the noise. A couple of seconds later the box was up and running perfect....except that there was no picture on the monitor.

I pulled the VGA cord out of the server, plugged in a different monitor and it lit right up. What could be the problem? I restarted the computer, verified that it was fine and switched back to the original monitor. No luck. I power cycled the monitor to no avail before the solution hit me.

Can you think of what it could be? The monitor is not broken btw. Pretty puzzling right?

Apparently some kid had flipped open the front flap on the monitor and changed the "contrast" and "brightness" settings so that the screen was completely black. I tried resetting the monitor but for some reason that didn't work and it was only after I manually upped both the contrast and brightness that the screen came back to life.

Just one little story illustrating the many little differences between tech support in a public school and tech support in the private sector (I'm assuming most adults don't intentionally screw with the brightness and contrast levels of their monitors until no picture at all is showing). Good Times.

So I also thought I'd take the time to post a little response I wrote up to some of the comments on last week's post about Xubuntu (still loving it btw, just got Win2k running on Virtualbox on a P4 2GHz test machine).

Apparently someone linked to the post because the 7 comments I got exceeded my previous comment total by about.....6. Here's my response to the various things people had to say:

"Thanks for all the replies fellas. I've got a quick couple of minutes before my 7th graders show up to learn Google Sites (super sweet new addition to Apps BTW) but so far Xubuntu is doing great on the quad core Dell. (Now we'll see how it does with 8 cores!)

Flash is very reliable BTW, not a problem so far except that it's slow on the clients which I've posted about. This does get a little better if "hardware acceleration" is turned off in the settings though.

I like Ubuntu for lots of reasons, but most of them are described in slide 7 of my presentation on

I haven't tried PCLinuxOS, but from everything I've read Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSUSE are the big three in terms of hardware compatibility and ease of use. I owe it to myself to try it out in any case.

I did try puppy and deli and a couple of others while I was debating the merits of Ubuntu and actually wrote about it in the previous post here:

I guess I should elaborate a bit on what I did and didn't like about each of the other distributions. Better yet, I'll post on EXACTLY what I need out of a distro and maybe someone can prescribe me the perfect one.

Fluxbuntu sounds good BTW. I'm definitely going to check that out for my stand alone machines. News coming soon...

Cheers! -joe"

Cheers! -joe

New Purchases: EEE 900 and My Dell Dual Xeon Servers

At long last and after much deliberation I finally bit the bullet today and had my Dual Xeon Dell Servers ordered. The justification for such a decision will become clearer on this blog in the coming days, but the most influential motive was the simple fact that the money had to be spent by the end of May and Dell had a special on the SC1430 model with 2 E5310 Quad Core Xeon processors. In fact, the whole package for both servers cost me less than $2000. Now I just have to hope that Xubuntu knows how to take advanatge of 8 cores of processing prowress!

In addition I ordered my 20G EEE 900 from (the only place around that seems to have the things in stock for the advertised price of $550). I'm really excited for this purchase as well since this particular machine will be serving as the EEE Ambassador to the entire faculty/staff/student population of the school. Positive responses from all the parties will hopefully lead us to purchase a few dozen more for our Middle School Mobile Lab. If not, then Dell seems to have some decent Vostro laptops on sale for pretty reasonable prices.

In any case, I'm stoked about the new possibilities these purchases represent for our school. I'll post soon about my first impressions and what other people around have to say about them. Cheers! -joe

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Xubuntu: Better than Ubuntu (at least for me)

So my situation here at AEA has been pretty well stated in this blog, but to briefly reiterate where we are:

There are approximately 200 workstations around campus for student use of which approximately 35 are Pentium 4 powered. The rest are either P3 or P2 machines with around 256MB RAM.

The simple fact of the matter is that with machines like these there are few options when it comes to Operating Systems. I'm sad to say that the best option as far as performance is Windows 2000 (as long as I don't install any updates on it ever and just run Firefox).

Of course Win2k is the worst option as far as stability, viruses, and ease of upkeep, especially when compared to a Linux LTSP setup. Ubuntu doesn't run that smoothly on these machines though, I've heard that 512MB is the minimum realistic requirement as far as RAM and that's just more than we have available for these workstations.

Xubuntu though seems to work pretty well, and even better, it comes with an LTSP option right out of the box (something that is not offered with Kubuntu Hardy Beta, although that may have changed with the official release).

Even better, XFCE allows the user to disable control of the desktop which GNOME stupidly does not (at least without manually editing some ridiculous .conf file by hand) which means that I don't have to worry about students putting inappropriate or obsene images as their desktop backgrounds anymore! Xubuntu also works with Sabayon (it's in the repositories although it's a little buggy still) so I can pretty much control every aspect of each users desktop.

Best of all I did a little accidental user testing with some 6th graders today and the results were great! Basically I had 3 classes today and in each one a kid jumped on the Xubuntu machine I set up yesterday. None of the three kids even mentioned the fact that their machine looked different from everyone elses, they all just hopped on firefox and got to work!

Now all I'm hoping for is a little performance boost across the LTSP network since XFCE is supposedly less resource intensive than GNOME or KDE. I'm installing Xubunutu on our new Quad Core Dell box right now so I'll post any interesting results soon. Cheers! -joe

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Hardy Hardy Hardy: A Happy Return to Blogging, My Thoughts on Hardy, and What I've Been Up To Since We Last Spoke

Well faithful (and unfaithful) readers, it's been far too long since I last posted, and though my goal in doing so has for years to minimize the long posts and maximize the short ones, thus far I've proven singularly ineffective at heeding that advice. Nevertheless I will attempt once again to do so.

When we last spoke I was in a state of dismay over the atrocious performance of Adobe Flash on an LTSP Thin Client running off of a P4 3.0 GHz server even with a new gigabit switch and Hardy (if you understood that, god bless you).

Since that time I've made some great strides towards figuring out exactly what I need to do in order to have a functioning computer setup at this school that serves both the purposes of the users (the students) and the administrator (me). These strides have not all been in the same direction unfortunately, which was one of the main reasons for my prolonged absence in posting (that and my trip up to the Bay Area over Spring Break when I kind of lost some momentum).

So that losing of momentum was probably more drastic than even I initially realized as I really found myself disbelieving in the whole LTSP idea and even Ubuntu in general. I did get to see Shuttleworth speak in SF over Spring Break but was generally underwhelmed by what he had to say. This had little to do with what he actually said and far more to do with the fact that I had pretty much already read what he was speaking on (at least in terms of Ubuntu and its future) so the whole experience was a bit like watching a very predictable movie. And of course I wussed out when the question and answer portion came along.

So after that whole affair I started seriously looking at other Linux options. I checked out Deli Linux, DSL Linux, Puppy Linux, and of course Fedora and OpenSUSE. With all of these options I looked at the possibility of installing stand alone machines versus pushing forward with LTSP as well as the supposed strengths and weaknesses of each distrobution relative to what I knew about Ubuntu.

In the end I decided that Ubuntu had the same weaknesses as the rest, but more strengths (not the least of which were my own familiarity and experience with it and the community support of course). So now you probably understand why I failed to write for a while: I couldn't bear to write that I had given up on Ubuntu without actually being sure that I was going to do so.

I'll wrap up this post by saying I'm not giving up on Ubuntu, although as of today I think I'm moving over to Xubuntu. There's a few reasons for this which I'll discuss in my next post, to be followed shortly by posts about:

1. My job and recent developments related to the now notorious 2008 California State Budget Cuts
2. Next year's plan for the school (including potentially extremely controversial proposed changes in the technology layout courtesy of yours truly)
3. How things are going with my current setup in the labs and the library.

Glad to be back and sharing again, (as down on Ubuntu as I was last time, I'm up on Xubuntu this time!) -joe

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Google Certified Teacher Final Reflection

Joseph Hartman

K-8 Technology Teacher

Albert Einstein Academies

San Diego, Ca.


The majority of training that I did related to Google Apps and the tools offered therein. My first foray into any Google Apps training activities began immediately after converting every Albert Einstein Academies (AEA) teacher's email account over to the new Google Apps gmail service. It was the summer of 2007 and I was working as an IT Consultant at San Diego State University. It was here that I learned to use Adobe Captivate to create flash based video tutorials for SDSU faculty, staff, and students. Captivate seemed like a good tool to use for the purpose of introducing my colleagues at AEA to their new Google Apps tools so I created tutorials on how to use the Google Calendar and how to use Googlepages. I then uploaded these tutorials and sent them out to the teachers a couple of weeks before the school year even began.

Before each school year AEA does an annual retreat with the entire faculty and staff, so this was my first opportunity to show off Google Apps in front of everyone. I made a succinct presentation that showed off all the new tools that would be available to the teachers, although not exactly how to actually use the tools. This was more of an introduction to make them aware of the possibilities afforded by our migration to Google Apps.

Once the school year started I did a lot of one-on-one coaching with various teachers, held a couple of all staff training sessions for the more basic Apps, and also held a few optional after-school trainings on specific aspects of the Google Apps. In total I was able to reach nearly every member of our 55 person staff. Additionally all 34 teachers in both the elementary and middle school are using Googlepages as their classroom website solution.

Midway through this year I began to seriously consider creating another domain with Google Apps for the student population to use. In February 2008 this idea came to fruition and went live, offering over 500 students in grades 2-8 their own Google Apps Calendars, Docs, and Sites (Chat and Email are disabled). Since that day I have devoted countless hours teaching and training these students on the various Google Apps. In the process I've utilized various teaching methods, but the most effective has been to create an example of what I want the students to produce, show them the example, then give them a good start on recreating the example before cutting them loose and allowing them to explore the apps in attempts to complete the assignment. At this time the different grade levels are in different levels of completion, but the furthest along have finished lessons in both Documents and Presentations and will begin the Sites lesson next week.


The impact of Google Apps on our school has been tremendous. On the faculty/staff side the most tangible result has been an increase in productivity due to the streamlined nature of Gmail and the elimination of any need to delete old messages. The most exciting result, however, has been an increase in collaboration due to the Google Docs and Chat (the Middle School Principal is especially fond of this outcome). I myself really appreciate the Calendar and its ability to assign and reserve "resources" because so many of our resources and related to technology (projector carts, etc.) and Google Apps has made turned the logistical nightmare this could be for me into something so simple I rarely even think about it.

The student side impact of Google Apps is a little more difficult to quantify because there has not been the same amount of time from which to draw conclusions as there has been on the faculty/staff side. The biggest gain thus far has definitely been the Google Docs because it simply eliminates the need for students to "save" work on a disc or flashdrive and allows them to access all their files no matter where they are. We have recently moved our Middle School Newsletter team over to Google Sites for their monthly releases instead of using a graphic layout editor. I'm hoping that the 2008-2009 school year will prove to be a transformative year for our school in terms of student/teacher collaboration and cooperation across Google Apps. I will be spending the summer thinking of ways to encourage teachers to share calendars and sites with their students, and to accept shared assignments digitally from their students as well (hopefully resulting in a significant decrease in our school wide paper consumption).

That said, I think the best measure of success is made by simply looking at the teachers who are using google apps and how they are using it. Every teacher at our school believes that their classroom website is the best one in the school and the all take great pride in what they put online for their students. In simply making it a painless process to put content online Google Apps is making a huge and tangible difference in the way our teachers teach and our students learn.


The biggest challenge by far has been encouraging the teachers and staff to move from using MS Office and their normal set of technology tools towards using the Google Apps suite. Certain Apps like Googlepages were much more easily adopted by the general faculty because few had any experience using web page tools to migrate from. Therefore Googlepages was their first foray into the world of web page creation. Google Docs on the other hand has been much slower on the road to acceptance because so many teachers are familiar with MS Word that they see little reason to set aside the hours of time it would take to become proficient on Google Docs to accomplish what is essentially the same task they already do with MS Word.

Certain facts are changing this belief though. When our principal's hard drive crashed on her PowerBook everyone noticed that she had not lost any work that she had created on Google Docs.
There also seems to be a slow trickling effect within the school in which one user begins using Google Docs more effectively and a close colleague takes notice before venturing into the program a little further than they may have otherwise.

I have also noticed that my work training the students on Google Apps has helped to coax some of the teachers to use Google Docs a little more effectively. This is because the students oftentimes have not significantly used Word Processing Software or Digital Presentation Software before and Google Apps is their first experience really getting to know how to use such programs. Thus when they return to their home classroom from my class and their teacher asks them to write a story about their fieldtrip or something, they naturally ask their teacher if they can use Google Docs to do so. This has been my most proactive approach towards encouraging adoption among the faculty and staff and it seems to be working really well because I have noticed a recent increase in faculty requests for tutoring in Google Docs and its features.

Personal Growth

Implementing Google Apps has affected my teaching greatly. Training teachers was something I had prior experience with, but teaching students how to use an online suite of software was something entirely new for me. It was also a unique experience because I was attempting to teach it to students ranging in age from 7 to 14. My strategies for accomplishing this goal went through quite an evolutionary process, but with the latest iteration (see a description of my latest method in the "Summary" section) I think I have been able to find a solution that succeeds in both teaching the students the capabilities of the programs while simultaneously encouraging their imagination and curiosity about what these programs can really do. By finding that balance between explicit instruction and guided inquiryin my Google Apps lessons I really notice an opportunity to make similar changes in the other areas of my teaching. Ideally I would be able to mimic the teaching method I utilize in teaching Google Apps across all my other lessons, but whether that is feasible or not at this point I will have to wait to find out.

Maintaining Momentum

My biggest hope for the coming school year is to eliminate the option for teachers to use any office productivity suite at all except for Google Apps. There are several good reasons for this change, not the least of which would be to lessen the potential for catastrophic IT emergencies given that we will have virtually no IT support next year due to the budget cuts. I also think such a move would ultimately be a positive one for the students as teachers, now at least introduced to Google Docs, would be forced to utilize it in ways they may not have been this year and would hopefully pass on some of that newfound knowledge to their students.

Aside from such a drastic step as this, I hope to produce some additional Adobe Captivate tutorials about how to use other aspects of Google Apps such as Sites. A few brief training sessions might also be in order, especially in the arena of layout options within Google Docs since this is one area that MS Word easily trumps its competitor. Finally I would like to initiate some incentives for students to further their mastery of the Google Apps, so things like a Google Presentations competition among the students might be an option.

Overall Google Apps has been a transformative force in the way our school community works and interacts. What gains might be seen should we ever begin using Google Apps to its full potential is something I would love to find out.