IT management


Schools are a proving ground for students. Children develop habits of all sorts while they expand their understanding of the world. Schools need to provide tools for students which give them flexibility and increasing self direction.

That makes school a perfect place to install tools that students can use both within the classroom and at home.

Migrating from proprietary office suites to LibreOffice has some issues, of course. So it is great to read information which makes it easier.

http://www.infoworld.com/d/open-source-software/libreoffice-every-desk-10-step-plan-215370

LibreOffice is a community-developed tool, steadily driving forward in capabilities. It costs only the effort to install on every computer in your school district. Make it a part of the hard drive image for your school.

What keeps FOSS from being well-accepted in schools?

I think John Spencer may have the big reason pegged.

Read his whole blog post at ComputerWorld.

…teachers generally do not love their IT.

Their attitude (speaking from long experience) is split into two. The first thread is that they see computers and associated equipment merely as tools to get a task done. In this context familiarity and reliability trump all other requirements.

The second thread is best described as ‘careerist’ or approval-status related.

A display of ICT skills is rated according to its approval index. Thus a slick MS PowerPoint presentation projected from an svelte i-Pad in front of Ofsted or parents accrues credit whereas a quick RAM upgrade or mastery of Blender would not.

His conclusion: “Start selling to women.”

Are “It’s cool.” and “You can hack the code.” the wrong recommendations?

What do you think?

I am no fan of software patents. It seems to me, as it has to many people vastly smarter than I am, program algorythms are not suited to patent protection.
Such patents are common these days, and a judge has just handed down an injunction against Microsoft which will prevent MS from selling Word, that well-known word processor in MSOffice.

Versions 2003 and 2007 contain the ability to import custom XML files, and that violates a U.S. patent held by a Canadian company i4i.

http://blog.seattlepi.com/microsoft/archives/176223.asp

For years, the Linux community has been watching the progress of court battles surrounding the Unix company SCO. SCO may be in its last stages of bankruptcy proceedings. Now we’ll be able to switch our attention to this new litigation.

Word definitely isn’t open source software, but if sales of Word cannot be made (presumably also the Office suite with Word in it) maybe more people will take a shot and try OpenOffice.org when they cannot upgrade to the latest Word.

If you have been looking for a “talking point” with the school administrators, why not bring this issue up?

I think the issue of Digital Rights Management will eventually resolve itself. For now, though, DRM is the main reason I am waiting, and not buying a new dedicated ebook reader, Kindle or otherwise.

The Corante “Copyfight” blog post added good perspective for me.

http://copyfight.corante.com/archives/2009/07/21/amazons_gaffe_isnt_what_you_think_it_is.php

A traditional book is “mine” from the moment I leave the store from which I purchased it. I think that the sense of property ownership is comfortable. It is more satisfying to have “ownership” than a “non-exclusive license to use” the contents of the book. If the pages of my book could suddenly go blank, I wouldn’t think I owned much since the traditional book, as property, isn’t really its paper and cover.

I actually think that the contents of a book can lead to profit for me. The concepts of a book, even if fiction, improve my scope of thought. It isn’t my ability to resell the content as-is. It is my ability to merge the new ideas into my Vast Fund of General Information (VFOGI). Thanks to my high school teacher, Hugh Semple for the term. Being able to review or completely re-read a book is sometimes important to the process. Yes, I can go to a library or pay for a second copy, but for the most significant of my resources, I don’t want to need to do either. The information needs to be within arm’s reach.

I don’t think that content held in the “cloud” space of the Internet is truly mine, as events in the Kindle fiasco show. Even if I must keep more than one backup copy of a document to avoid technological data failures, I do want to “hold” my electronic copies of resources: ebooks, digital photos, etc.

The blog’s author, Alan Wexelblat, even addresses the issue from an educational perspective. All of us who have taught know it is wise to have a “plan B” for the times a computer presentation doesn’t go well. If we were to depend on textbooks that could disappear like the books in the Kindle fiasco, whole school departments would suddenly need to do a plan B shift. That’s not a pretty thought.

The move to digital textbooks is under way.

Two of the biggest textbook buying states have initiated funding plans that encourage schools to use digital editions of textbooks instead of paper.

Texas:
http://openeducationnews.org/2009/06/26/texas-encourages-electronic-textbooks/

California:

http://money.cnn.com/2009/06/26/technology/california_elearning_textbooks.fortune/index.htm?section=money_latest

I personally wish Massachusetts had been in the forefront of this move, but Massachusetts doesn’t buy enough textbooks to dent the market.

What technology will work best with this trend?

      How open will this move be?

      Microsoft sells a lot of software. Some of it is dominant in its area of impact. Microsoft Office is a perfect example. Open Document Format (ODF) is a challenge to that supremacy. If a person can successfully use an MSOffice alternative and move the produced data around effectively, Microsoft Office will lose its market dominance.

      ODF is a file format. It is significant beyond that simple fact.

      Through the years, every program which could produce a written document has had some file format. Even the venerable ASCII text file has/is a format, even though it lacks many abilities business, school and casual users expect today.

      What ODF is attempting is really significant, though. When there are a bunch of competing file formats, the big deal is found in being able to “import” the file of a competitor’s program. And, if you cannot actually “export” quite so well, then it is easy to put the fault at the feet of the competitor whose format is inferior or otherwise inadequate. ODF seeks to make the file format a non-issue

      Let’s use word processing as a basic example. With ODF, you choose your favorite WP program; you open a file from Joe in written in another program; Joe isn’t from your school; you add your information and then save it again; and finally you ship it to Susan at the Department of Education (whatever its official name) who can immediately open it in her favorite program. None of these “favorites” needs to be from Microsoft.

      Clearly, that doesn’t play well in the world of Microsoft’s dreams. They don’t benefit from interoperability. They do, however, benefit even when they change the file format from time to time as it helps to ensure that people must buy the newest version of Word. That newest version isn’t often inexpensive, even if a business has gradually moved gradually over the years from Word 1.0, step by step, up to today’s shiny version.

      Do you remember WordPerfect, MultiMate, XYWrite, WordStar, AppleWriter, Clarisworks, even Microsoft Works? They were once competitors for Word. Some were very successful  Have you used their most recent version lately? (Corel still sells WordPerfect in 2009 and MSWorks v9 is listed on Microsoft’s online store. I’m not sure about all the others, but some are gone.)

      Today’s “favorite” word processing program is Microsoft Word. It dominates the word processing “industry”. But what if ODF succeeds? Microsoft probably doesn’t gain anything. Word will continue to be “favorite” for many, but increasingly there will be competition from the other guys. Users, some tired of the upgrade cycle, some not needing the new features of Word 20XX, some actually prefering another WP program. Those users will tell and teach others about their satisfaction over time, and Word will possibly become “just another word processing program”.

      If you were in charge of Microsoft, would you encourage ODF?

      If you are just a user, say a school user, maybe a teacher or a student and you need to pay for the program you use at home or the dorm, should you encourage ODF?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDocument

      http://www.odfalliance.org/

      ———-

      I would also recommend the following blog/article from ComputerWorld by Glyn Moody on the same topic.

      http://www.computerworlduk.com/toolbox/open-source/blogs/index.cfm?blogid=14&entryid=2269

      (The reality of today is that the “favorite” program almost everywhere is Word because Microsoft has an amazing dominance in the

      Linux and the x86 CPU are a success, but only for a relatively few brave souls (including you and me, right?).

      Windows and the x86 CPU are a more well-known success, with 90-some% of the computer market.

      Update: There are versions of Microsoft OS software called “Windows CE” and “Microsoft Embedded” that run on other platforms than the x86. Read more at:

      http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/microsoft-wants-gadgets-to-run-windows/

      Apple OSX and the x86 CPU are the rage for some, Apple having abandoned the PowerPC chip.

      What is the situation when you think about other CPU architectures?

      Windows and Apple’s OSX don’t run on anything but x86 (Intel and AMD mainly).

      Linux is reported to run on 19 processors, meaning little to most of us, but perhaps that will turn out to be a big deal for Linux and FOSS. Mini notebooks, Netbooks, Smartbooks, whatever you decide their name should be, are a breed of computer that is gaining attention, and in an effort to make them less power hungry, to make them run longer on their battery charge, to make them run cooler, manufacturers are trying new processors like the ARM processor.

      If you or your school buys a netbook in the next year or so, what processor will it have? If it isn’t an x86, will your only operating system choice be Linux?

      Have you heard about Android and Moblin, Linux flavors specifically designed for light weight and mobile “appliance” use like mobile phones (those tiny computers in disguise)?

      The MIPS processor, known for embedded processors like set-top TV boxes is poised to release an Android implementation for its products, another win for Linux.

      Read this interesting post for more information.

      http://www.workswithu.com/2009/06/03/cpu-diversification-ubuntus-gain-microsofts-loss/

      Does your school use an on line student information/grading package?

      Where is the data? Does the school run the server or is the data on a server in Chicago/elsewhere?
      Does the school regularly archive a copy, of the data onto local storage?
      Is the data stored in a portable format?

      I went through three data conversions as my district changed Student Information Management Systems from different vendors. The only thing I liked about the conversions was being finished.

      There is an interesting article about Cloud Computing (all the rage these days) and “ownership” of the data people are putting there.

      The following quote is from The Economist.

      http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13740181&source=hptextfeature

      Clouding the picture

      But now there is the danger of a new form of lock-in. “Cloud computing”—the delivery of computer services from vast warehouses of shared machines—enables companies and individuals to cut costs by handing over the running of their e-mail, customer databases or accounting software to someone else, and then accessing it over the internet. There are many advantages to this approach for both customers (lower cost, less complexity) and service providers (economies of scale). But customers risk losing control once again, in particular over their data, as they migrate into the cloud. Moving from one service provider to another could be even more difficult than switching between software packages in the old days. For a foretaste of this problem, try moving your MySpace profile to Facebook without manually retyping everything.

      The obvious answer is to establish agreed standards for moving data between clouds. An industry effort to this effect kicked off in March. But cloud computing is still in its infancy, and setting standards too early could hamper innovation. So buyers of cloud-computing services must take account of the dangers of lock-in, and favour service providers who allow them to move data in and out of their systems without too much hassle. This will push providers to compete on openness from the outset—and ensure that the lessons from the success of open-source software are not lost in the clouds.

      Sean,

      The following quote is from an article in The Economist.
      Link: http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13740181&source=hptextfeature

      It made me wonder about on line services like the one KP is now using for student grades, etc.
      Is the data stored in a portable format?
      Is there a copy made of the data regularly and stored on site at KP?

      I know we have discussed the various transitions from one vendor to another. I don’t recall “enjoying” any of the efforts in which I participated (aside from the feeling of accomplishment from getting the job over with).

      All the best,
      –Algot

      Clouding the picture

      But now there is the danger of a new form of lock-in. “Cloud computing”—the delivery of computer services from vast warehouses of shared machines—enables companies and individuals to cut costs by handing over the running of their e-mail, customer databases or accounting software to someone else, and then accessing it over the internet. There are many advantages to this approach for both customers (lower cost, less complexity) and service providers (economies of scale). But customers risk losing control once again, in particular over their data, as they migrate into the cloud. Moving from one service provider to another could be even more difficult than switching between software packages in the old days. For a foretaste of this problem, try moving your MySpace profile to Facebook without manually retyping everything.

      The obvious answer is to establish agreed standards for moving data between clouds. An industry effort to this effect kicked off in March. But cloud computing is still in its infancy, and setting standards too early could hamper innovation. So buyers of cloud-computing services must take account of the dangers of lock-in, and favour service providers who allow them to move data in and out of their systems without too much hassle. This will push providers to compete on openness from the outset—and ensure that the lessons from the success of open-source software are not lost in the clouds.

      --
      -------------------------
      Algot Runeman
      47 Walnut Street, Natick MA 01760
      508-655-8399
      algot.runeman@verizon.net
      Web Site: http://www.runeman.org
      Open Source Blog: http://mosssig.wordpress.com

      Technology Terminology in Education

      In the UK, teaching about computers and using computer technologies in the curriculum is called the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) curriculum. One definition for ICT said it is a, “diverse set of technological tools and resources used to communicate, and to create, disseminate, store, and manage information.”

      Massachusetts has an educational specialty called the “Instructional Technology Specialist” and the term Instructional Technology seems to be similar to the ICT in Education idea. Did you know that both MassCUE and the METAA organization of technology directors are mentioned in the Wikipedia article for the Instructional Technology definition? I was impressed.

      Educational Technology seems to be a bigger scope term which includes Instructional Technology, again according to another Wikpedia article.

      What terminology does your school or district use to describe the use of technology tools to enhance or improve classroom activities. Ask your technology director for a copy of the current technology plan. The tech plan is also supposed to be published annually by your district, and many of them have made the plan available on the district’s Web site. I was able to find several links to the plans by entering “Massachusetts technology plan” into Google with my browser. (I use Firefox, how about you?)

      For that matter, do you care what the terminology is? Would you just prefer to get on with using your computer to do electronic slide shows that replace the older overhead projector?

      How often do you take your students to the school’s computer lab to enhance their understanding of your subject?

      Do you have student computers in your classroom, and are they busy every period; every day; every week; once in a while; NEVER?

      I have begun to think that we need to focus attention on one group of key players in the attempt to get FOSS in Schools. That group is the integration vendors who support schools. Frequently, they are significantly involved in the early stages of a roll-out for new purchases of labs of computers or large upgrades. That involvement includes working with the school tech staff to install software on a single computer. The resulting hard drive is then made into an image from which the rest of the computers in the roll-out get made. The cloning saves a bunch of time and ensures that all the computers of a purchase are ready to go.

      Somewhere during this process, the school/district makes the decision about what software to install. Usually the integrator/vendor helps get the software licenses (including the operating system), ensuring the school is compliant with licensing and the sometimes complicated pricing that applies. School tech staff typically is less burdened during the roll-out because of the vendor’s support.

      I am wondering if there are integration vendors out there who have gathered expertise about free open source software (FOSS) so they can suggest or even recommend its inclusion in the images provided to the schools.

      • In your school/district, who is the vendor you most often use?
      • Is it the same one for hardware and software?
      • Do teachers get polled for their recommendations/needs?
      • Is open source software mentioned during the planning before a new roll-out?

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