Misunderstandings

There’s a recommendation running around that seems to say that a 1:1 school environment should have 100kbps of Internet bandwidth. As of today I’ve seen this statistic repeated by some high-up members of the education structure in my state.

It’s wrong.

The original study that looked at bandwidth requirements for 1:1 schools didn’t recommend 100kbps. What they said was for every one thousand students, you would need a minimum of 100mbps. Minimum. They are clear that this is not an optimal level. This is a much larger number than I’ve seen quoted.

Here’s what I know: having been 1:1 for nearly two years, with a student population just under 1100, we spent the first year at 50mbps. It required that we throttle (cripple, really) downloads from several domains. Apple consumes massive amounts of bandwidth- between app downloads, iOS updates and the like, it alone could easily saturate out entire connection. We had to kill Pandora entirely, and limit several other services.

This year, we moved to a 400mbps connection. It’s lots better- we aren’t throttling anymore, and its much more useable. That said, we are still capable of saturating our connection for extended periods. We’ve also brought another 850 devices online. Also, and to be clear, we allow outside devices to hop on our network. At the high school, that means an average day sees 4200 devices on the wifi. It turns out we aren’t 1:1, we are 4:1. Who knew?

We’d like to source a 1gbps connection- we’ve even looked into pricing and whatnot. It’d cost us a bit over $100,000 a year, assuming anyone would actually sell us such a service. But the reality is that there’s o such hung as enough bandwidth. It can’t be overdone because the presence of more effectively creates the demand that consumes it. It’s a lot like traffic. Adding another lane to a congested road doesn’t actually ease the traffic; rather, the traffic increases to use the available road space.

My advice is this: buy as much as your budget will possibly allow. Make it a priority and not an afterthought. Understand it will, sooner or later, become a restriction. Understand that your users will be immediately unforgiving and upset about this restriction. Have a plan for that. Make that plan public.

Thank you, Instapaper

Instapaper has added the excellent Open-Dyslexia font to the options for readers.

That means you can read anything you’ve saved to there in a lovely bottom-weighted font that helps with letter confusion and swapping.

Get to it, people!

Chrome is a default.

If you’ve (wisely, I feel…) made the move to Google Apps for Education, Chrome should be the default browser install in your district.

It’s wickedly fast. It’s updated often. It has excellent plug-ins.

And it works better (shocking!) than anything else with Google.

 

So why mess with anything else?

A new font…

This might qualify as a small thing, but I thought it was a pretty big deal.

Some time ago there was a bit of press about a dyslexia-specific font. There was some promising research, and I was all excited- but it was expensive.

Some good folks got together to make an open-source version, and have posted it here.

I hooked up a few on the Sped folks here, and they’re going to do some testing. I’m excited, and so are they.

Enjoy!

 

Just a couple of days to go.

We start school Monday. It’s Friday, right now, and that means that this weekend is all that really stands between me and the school year.

I’m lucky, though, that my district runs a three-day professional development conference. It’ll have on the order of 97 sessions presented over the three days, and to whatever degree we can we’ll allow staff to choose what sessions they attend. It’s a lovely three days of getting revved up and ready for the school year. For connecting with coworkers you haven’t seen in months. For getting the motor on and warmed up before the kiddies pour through the door.

I should mention that when I say “my district runs” what I mean is “the Ed-Tech Team runs.” That’s not a complaint- heck, it’s why I’ve added “event organizer” to my resume- but it does bring me to my point:

I’d never been involved in the organization of an event like this before last year. I had no practical idea or experience regarding what would need to be done, how to do it, or any other aspect of this thing. So. What’s that mean?

It means it’s a great analogue to this year. I tried something totally new. I thought about the problem, tried to address as many potential problems as I could, planned (and planned and planned), and then did the thing.

And nothing caught on fire. We, as educators, like to joke that we can “go down in flames” when a lesson fails. Or that our rooms might “catch on fire” if something goes wrong. But the reality is that classrooms don’t burst into flame. Mostly (Chemistry teachers, I’m looking at you…). There were things at that first conference that didn’t go as smoothly as you’d hope. There were things that had to be changed/addressed/corrected. There are things we’re doing differently this year.

But I’m not sure there’s a better example for how we (and our students) should approach this year. Try something new. Give it the best shot you can. Know that despite your best efforts it might not go as well as you hope. Be ok with that. Do it better next time.

Good luck.

Zork part 2

So my latest video post is here.

But in the meantime, I’ve done some research, as I’m prone to. And I’ve found some interesting stuff.

So Zork is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s an entire genre of work called “Interactive Fiction” that builds on the format of Zork, but expands quite a ways beyond that. Creating them isn’t the most straightforward thing ever, but I’ve found this gadget called FrobTADS that seems built for that exact function. Granted, I’ve just downloaded the thing (and I haven’t even installed it yet…), but it looks like a mostly straightforward nomenclature that it’s using. Interesting, at least.

So my current thinking is to combine attributes of Interactive Fiction with those of ARGs (Alternate Reality Games). I’m thinking about starting a unit inside of a bit of Interactive Fiction, and then having tasks that have to take place out in the real world. Puzzles, maybe, or locations that need to be visited to gain a clue or code or whatnot that then gets loaded back into the Interactive Fiction to gain the next level or step.

My next step is to play with¬†FrobTADS a bit and see what it can do and how it is to work with, and decide if it’s the sort of thing that’s going to be useful without simply adding to the pile of things I have to do.

That and figuring out if students are even going to like this sort of thing. Because if they’re not into this, then…

 

t.

 

Classroom Displays

There are very few absolute truths in displays, but this much I know: Larger is always better.

As a result of that simple fact, I am a strong proponent of HD projectors in classrooms- and as I’ve covered here before, I don’t really care for IWB’s. That’s not to say they can’t be used well; I just mean that I, personally, don’t have any use for them. And, given their small size, I don’t like that they don’t allow me to pull my projector back and make the image on the wall bigger.

What I’m starting to see, however, is the difference between the same information presented on the same size display in different ways. I’ll take twitter as an example- here are a couple of truths I’ve discovered:

1. The faster the update cycle on twitter, the better the audience response.

2. The larger and easier to read the text, the better.

3. The more posts shown at a time, the better.

Numbers 2 & 3 are clearly in conflict with each other- the larger and easier you make the text to read, the fewer posts you can show at a time. But here’s the kicker: there’s nothing out there that does this. There are individual tools that address any one of those points, but nothing that completes the package. To whit:

1. The fastest update cycle I’ve seen is via Today’s Meet, in which case it’s very quick. But it’s not twitter, and there are problems surrounding abuse/username/and-so-on that aren’t trivial to fix.

2. The largest and easiest to read twitter client is Trickle for iOS. But it’s not a full client and it only shows one post at a time. Also, I’ve not been able to get the video from that app to output to a projector via a wire. Yet.

3. The highest post density can be created using Monitter, but it’s has lag, occasionally re-loads everything, and isn’t super readable.

This basic notion seems to apply to other places- Google Docs, for example, is a great tool for use in the classroom. But displaying a Google Doc on a projector is a less-than-optimal experience. Given the limited space on screen, the browser bar and menus kill real estate- and to get the Doc readable for the whole classroom, you’ll need to bump the font size way up- say, 24pt. Between those two factors, you’re only seeing a slice of the document, and if it gets larger, they’re not much you can do. What I’d like is a projector setting in the menus. Actually, Today’s Meet has this- it optimizes the display for use with a projector- and it’s a lovely thing.

It’s not enough that we think about presenting information in the classroom- we need to be deliberate in how that information manifests. You’d never hand out a printed packet set in 8pt font- but we have no problem projecting 12pt at a distance of 30 feet. We need to step back and think about the visual clutter, the readability, and the overall layout of the displays we present.

t.

 

SitRep

A very, very busy week- and not for reasons I’d like, for the most part. Regardless:

1. The¬†Mass Digital Publication conference is inching every closer- make sure you sign up to come a share. We’re pushing towards a future where educators can quickly and easily produce their own custom digital textbooks without having to rely on commercial publishers. I’ll be presenting, likely on the topics of containers- which means formats for you to put your content into. I’ll likely be covering PDF’s, ePub’s, and iBooks Author files. And I keep saying “likely” because things aren’t set in stone. Yet.

2. There’s a post coming up on this subject, but I’ll mention it here a bit: I’ve been spending a chunk of time in the last two months or so working on how we display information to students. At first, it was just play. I wanted to mix up my setup a bit in part just to tinker. What I’m finding, however, is that the physical means by which we show data to students can make a profound impact on how that information is received and interpreted. Again, a full post on this soon.

3. We made Google Drive live for our staff (on our Google Apps for Ed deployment). I’m looking forward to the possibilites it opens up for sharing even more, and I’m even more looking forward to being able to open it up to students. Also: Google needs to make an iOS app for Drive. STAT.

4. I know it’s my darling, but If This Then That just keeps getting better- every time I go, I find more ideas about how to use it to make my life richer and simpler. If you’re not using it, I really do suggest trying it out. It’s a way (however small) of moving towards the very interesting future of the Internet of Things.

That’s it, for now.

 

t.