Exploring computing in Indiana classrooms. How can we best use technology dollars to promote achievement?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Welcome back

We want to welcome everyone back to the new school year. During this year, over 80,000 students in Indiana will have access to inACCESS systems! Look for more posts here in the near future as we begin looking at our progreess this year!


Monday, September 26, 2005

Imaging programs

Do you need to image disk drives? Some of you may find this helpful. Thanks to Don Vosburg for this information.

Donald Vosburg wrote:
There are a number of imaging options, and I will explain with some pros
and cons:

1. g4l ( - free imaging software that allows you to use a ftp for network storage of the image. Can handle all Linux files systems, flexible in restoration process as well. This is the IDOE-preferred method.

Negative: slow, unicast-only

2. partimage ( - free one-at-a-time partition backup, handles all Linux file systems, fast

Negative: complicated restoration process, limited to same-size partitions

3. clonezilla - ( - free imaging system that is part of server, scripting wrapper around partimage and other processes to create an imaging environment including PXE boot and multicast; very fast, supports all Linux file systems

Negative: Setup requires a Fedora Core server (recommend FC3), setup is a little complicated

4. ghost ( Ghost is a comprehensive imaging environment that supports a wide variety of setups, full-featured, supported

Negative: Costs money, requires version 7.5 and above to support Linux ext3 filesystem, 8.0 or higher for reiserfs (NLD default)

5. Novell Zen Imaging 7
( - Part of Novell Zenworks Linux Management, fast, supports all file systems, PXE boot, multicast, infrastructure for IDOE application management

Negative: Takes time to set up, subscription based

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The "Ecosystem"

Regional Tech Contact meeting

(This post is a break form the series. The purpose of the first few posts was intended to establish a foundation – a logical path that was followed – in the development of the pilot project goals. The meeting today was informative in many ways. Perhaps sharing this may be out of sequence, but is important.)

I attended the Region IV Tech Contact Meeting today at the East Central Education Service Center. There were three (3) schools there who are involved in the INaccess pilot program. Several other schools were represented as well. In addition to hearing some feedback about how program implementation was going, the Tech Directors in attendance described in detail what they had been involved with over the summer and so far this school year. The Student Test Number (STN) was a major topic of discussion.

There was curiosity about the INaccess pilots from all of the schools. The biggest concern was staffing, and the ability to manage large numbers of computers that may end up in schools. With budgets already strained to the limit, most everyone agreed that it was unlikely to see adequate numbers of new “tech” staff in the near future.

Several school technology directors have raised this issue over the past 24 months. How can schools manage a larger network than they currently manage and continue to provide the expected level of service to teachers and others? Thanks to these questions, the most recent groups of pilot projects are helping to explore three (3) different management tools that we hope can help us to answer these questions.

1) Novell Zenworks Linux Management (ZLM)

Schools using NLD as a desktop OS will also use ZLM as a management tool. A “Master” ZLM server will be accessible to all participants. The Master server will aggregate all patches, new products and product updates, and core OS updates. Once downloaded to the local school, ZLM can be used locally to apply the patches, updates and new programs from a central console. When these patches are applied and How they are applied remains in the hands of the local technology department.

2) Linspire Click ‘n Run/ Admin Tools/ Enterprise edition

Schools using Linspire will be testing the automated update/patch system called Click ‘n Run. When each computer is turned on it checks to make certain it has the latest patches and automatically downloads and installs patches/updates/new programs as a background process while students go on with their work. Linspire will soon be releasing additional tools for administration and management that will be coupled with enterprise level OS functionality.

3) Thin Client

Two (2) schools are testing a thin client system with a company called Ardence. The diskless workstations are similar to the other low cost units in use in schools with the exception that they do not need hard disks. The idea is to be able to manage large numbers of systems from a central point. One update on the server and all clients automatically are using the latest version of the software. This is just now being rolled out. We are interested in cost, functionality, and scalability in this scenario. More information will be available soon.

Tech Contact meetings are a wonderful way to share information. A lot of information was shared today. We’ll get more information to you soon on the progress we see in the management scenarios we are testing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

So what is the plan?

As IDOE staff and others discussed the issue of HOW to go about creating a new paradigm for the use of technology in Indiana schools, we not only talked a lot internally, we spoke to people in schools throughout the state. We floated a lot of ideas and did a lot of study about schools in Indiana and in other states who were using new approaches.

While Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and other states get most of the attention for their laptop 1:1 projects, Indiana has its share of innovation in that area as well. Indianapolis Public Schools and Crawfordsville Community Schools, and Alexandria Community Schools and North Daviees Community Schools have major initiatives using laptop computers. The results from these program point to the fact that 1:1 initiatives work – both for the schools involved and the students.

It seemed clear that if the approach was to change, it needed to focus on one-to-one computing, or at least it should encompass a certain degree of ubiquity – meaning that computers should be broadly available for teachers to use as tools and for students to use as resources.

The program had to meet the needs of teachers and students as well as meeting other criteria. Discussions on the topic raised several issues. Most of the non-curricular issues can be summarized as follows:

Most efforts using a 1:1 model are experimental – few examples of sustained use/success beyond single schools

Affordability: programs to equip all students are expensive & difficult to sustain (e.g., Cobb County, GA high school initiative projected to cost more than $100 Million; Michigan)

When deployed at middle school levels, students many times lose their computers when graduating to high school

Replacement costs are high when computers reach end of life

Financial risk of loss of or damage to computers

Privacy / security / access management issues

Out of this came the eight guiding principles of the project:

Affordability – highly economical, low cost/low investment model – (initial per student cost in the $400-600 range (including desk, CPU and monitor); Refresh cost in the $200-300 range)

Sustainability - for participating high schools – minimal need for ongoing investment or reinvestment

Repeatability – 1:1 model is replicable in any typical high school

Flexibility - deployment is adaptable to both wireless or wired; new or older schools; small or large schools

Openness - “Linux” operating system and other open source software (e.g., OpenOffice/StarOffice) minimize software costs

Compatibility – supports and enables future direction of Indiana education initiatives (e.g., on-line testing; end of course assessments; technology skills)

Commonality – solution designed with “common denominator” elements readily accessible to participating schools

Scalability – the 1:1 technical deployment model scales reliably to 300,000+ simultaneous student & teacher users

With these elements as a foundation, there was a starting point for the project.

I’ll examine each of these items in a future post.

Background of INaccess

This is background. These thoughts and others that played a role in developing the INaccess program will be the highlights of the next few posts.

The technology model that is used in most schools - general purpose labs plus several computers in each classroom - has been the "way to proceed" for many years. This model developed naturally from the days when it was considered an advancement to have
one computer in each classroom. Logically, if one is good, two is better, three is even better, four is wonderful, and five computers in each classroom borders on nirvana.

In addition to giving classrooms a "modern" appearance, increasing numbers of computers anywhere in the building helped school throughout Indiana to achieve a lower student/computer ratio. Just like computers in the classrooms, if an overall ratio of 8 students to one computer was good, then a 7:1 ratio was better, 5:1 ranked even better, and 3.2:1, where we stand today, is wonderful. Indiana ranks in the top five states according to those who measure this magical ratio of students to computers.

Somewhere along the line, the people who decided on the stuent/computer ratio measurement as the metric for success in technology apparently turned a blind eye at how the computers were being used. In many cases, teachers report that the computers in the classrooms are used primarily by early finishers and occasionally for special projects. Few report that the smattering of computers in a classroom is used as an integral part of the core curriculum of the class. On the other hand, lab computers stay so busy that it is rare when a class is scheduled more than once a week. If it is true that most students are scheduled into a lab once a week, and that computers in the classrooms are not often used, then if a class period is 45 minutes, and a student makes it to the lab once a week, it is hard to conceive that most students get more than 35-40 minutes a week using the technology in school. Observation validates this assumption. Other states have done more formal assessments on this issue, one finding that its students were receiving only 22 minutes a week with ready access to a computer.

While it is clear we have made tremendous advances in technology use in schools, it seems we could do better. We probably could spend the better part of what is left of 2005 talking about how we got here. Financial constraints, personnel limitations, planning issues tied to insufficient budgets, and other issues out of our immediate control all have played a part.

Instead of praising (and cursing) the winds that have swept us here, our time may be better spent in constructing a new paradigm for using technology in schools. If we can take the many lessons we have learned and put them to use in building a new model – one that more closely approximates the one used by businesses - we can make significant progress.

When is the last time a business bragged about having slightly over three (3) employees per computer?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

What is INaccess?

Indiana's Affordable Classroom Computers for Every Secondary Student program is not about desktops vs. laptops or Windows vs. Linux. It is very much focused on finding workable solutions to problems faced in schools today. It is about solutions that are 1) Affordable; 2) Sustainable; 3) Flexible; and 4) Repeatable.

These discussions will focus on various aspects of what we're doing, and will report on successes and failures that we encounter. We will invite teachers participating in the pilots to comment, and will encourage tech directors and others to make their comments known. As long as comments are made in good taste they are acceptable.

We will report on discussions with companies, organizations, individuals, and others who support the concept and even those who don't. We hope that a healthy discussion of the issues will help uncover solutions that have not yet surfaced and examine issues before they become problems.

Welcome to the INaccess Blog!

Mike Huffman