Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This post is a reflective piece on technology implementation at Schenk Elementary over the past four years. I will save Schenk's iPad implentation for a future post.

The Good

Roughly five years ago the only technology at Schenk was a computer lab with Windows XP computers and CRT monitors. At the time there was one teacher with a cart that included a laptop and projector. At the end of that school year a cart of netbooks (Linux) were purchased for classroom checkout.

The big technology debate was getting some Promethean Boards or to begin the process of a projector cart that included a laptop, projector, document camera, and speakers. We initially directed these projector carts to pairs of classrooms. There was some push back since some teachers shared better than others. By the beginning of the next school year, every classroom had access to a projector cart setup.

Even our most technogical phobic teachers bought into the projector cart. Some teachers used the laptop attached to the projector to demonstrate to a whole class, others used the document camera to demonstrate a lesson full screen, and others utilized the cart for full class audio / visual such as DVD's. The projector cart was clearly the most revolutionary technological change of the last four years.

The Bad  

Around this time we wanted to direct technology towards K-3. At the time a lot of our databases / educational games were flash based so we decided on Linux based netbooks with Chrome. Each K-3 classroom received 3 netbooks primarily for literacy centers.

The biggest issue we ran into was the technology gap between teacher and students and between teachers themselves. Some teachers were really uncomfortable with an alternative operating system eventhough it had the same functions as XP.  One ongoing frustration was students did not have the same fear about exploration which created a need for teacher intervention. The teachers expectation was that students would be self directed while on the netbooks while they taught their reading groups.

The netbooks were an ongoing area of complaint. In the classroom, they replaced the listening center which consisted primarily of a tape and a book with very little opportunity for students exploration. The netbooks consisted of a keyboard with many keys and in turn many opportunities to activate shortcuts. While teachers were extra cautious about the netbooks, students had no such reservation which usually ended with a needed teacher intervention.

The Ugly

From the teacher's perspective it was always this device or computer that stopped working, but far too often it more about the infrastructure in place.

Flash was one such frustration. With our initial set up flash had to be updated regularly. This often entailed updating the image on all of the netbooks. Over time we began using Google Chrome which simplified the process because its used its own implementation of flash that could be updated within the browser itself.

More often than I can count a device issue was often a wifi issue. From a teachers perspective they just knew the netbooks did not work anymore. Typically, our district took the approach of rob Peter to pay Paul for bandwidth management. There was one database I stopped using entirely lat year because there were continual issues with district servers communicating with the vendor. Relatedly, the district's new website is down regularly because of server issues.

The laptops and the desktop computer at Schenk were all Windows based. It became an all too common ocurrance during library checkout, a lesson a teacher was doing, or computers left unattended, that a Windows update would come through forcing a reboot. This even happened during our MAP testing in which I had to run computer to computer telling the computer not to reboot.

The greatest frustration in regards to Schenk's technology implementation was the infrastucture in place. An approach of bringing the toys in first and then trying to patch pot holes of infrastructure gaps. Non working or flaky wifi was an ongoing issue and it usually assumed on the user end that there was something wrong with the technology or service.

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