Chrome to be ICCSD Default Browser

google_chrome_icon_2011-svgIn response to numerous requests, we will be implementing a network policy on Monday, November 14th that will set Google Chrome as the default browser on all Windows computers in the district.  While this policy will go into effect on Monday, it won’t apply on a particular computer until it has been either started up or restarted. 

The effect of this change will be that HTML shortcuts and links in emails and PDF documents will open in Chrome, rather than in another browser.  You will still be able to use other browsers – such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Edge – by opening the browser directly.  Most users are unlikely to notice any effect of this change, as Chrome is – by far – the most heavily used web browser in the district.  For clarification, this policy change will have no impact on homepage settings or bookmarks. 

1:1, BYOD, and CYOD

Those of us who work in the field of educational technology are no strangers to acronyms1, and reading about BYOD, CYOD, 1:1, AUPs, LMS, CMS, GAFE, ITEC, STEM, STEAM, MOOC, QR, etc. can be overwhelming.  In this post, I’m going to unpack the first three on this list, in the context of our upcoming technology initiatives within the Iowa City Schools. 

1:1

district-profile-gilrs-at-compuersAs I wrote about here, the ICCSD is launching a secondary-level 1:1 initiative in 2017 (at the high school level) and 2018 (at the junior high level).  The concept of a 1:1 initiative, broadly speaking, refers to an educational technology initiative where the ratio of students to devices is reduced to 1:1 (or lower).  You can read about our deployment in greater detail in the article linked at the start of this paragraph, but in short, we will be assigning Chromebooks to each student in grades 7-12; ultimately, we will be supporting over 7,000 devices as part of this initiative.  For the most part, students will be able to take those devices home for use outside of the classroom.   Continue reading 1:1, BYOD, and CYOD

Fall 2016 Technology Plans Overview

I’m off to West High School this afternoon to talk with our social studies and world languages teachers about upcoming technology plans, and realized that I haven’t yet posted the PowerPoint that I’ve frequently used in order to provide a synopsis of our upcoming changes.  

The PDF below includes the slides from that presentation, and offers a quick update on some of the bigger changes we’re implementing here in the Iowa City Schools.  

tech-update-11-03-2016

Resolved: ICCSD Experiencing Network/Internet Disruption

*UPDATE: 1:21 PM, 10/28/16*
Normal internet and network operation has now been restored district-wide.  We identified a network policy that was creating an inordinate amount of traffic.  That traffic flow has now been stopped, and other network indicators are now within normal ranges.  We appreciate your patience as we worked through this problem.   

8:00 AM: The ICCSD network is currently experiencing a networking / internet service disruption as of 8 AM on October 28th.  

speedtest_102816This can be seen in the image at the right; typically an early-morning speed test should show between 500Mb and 1000Mb down; currently I’m seeing 5Mb down from my test machine.  While the internet is still accessible, performance – especially for streaming applications – will be slow and/or unreliable until the problem is resolved.  

We believe that we have isolated the issue and are working to fix the problem.  I will provide an update here as soon as the problem is resolved.  We appreciate your patience in the meantime.  

What are Chromebooks?

Chromebooks have become ubiquitous in the education sector, but I’m often met with confusion when I mention a Chromebook to somebody outside of the school setting.  Here at the Iowa City Schools, we’ve deployed roughly 2,500 Chromebooks over the past year, with most of those deployments in the form of mobile carts that are now available in each of our schools.  Further, an upcoming 1:1 initiative and an increase in the number of devices available at the elementary level will result in upwards of 11,000 Chromebooks district-wide within the next few years.  Here’s a quick Chromebook overview:

What is a Chromebook?

Chromebook 02-16-16 (2)Simply put, a Chromebook is a laptop.  The form factor (in picture at right) is that of a traditional laptop, with a keyboard, screen, USB ports, and so forth.  Unlike other laptops that run Windows or OS X as operating systems, Chromebooks run Google’s Chrome OS.

What is Chrome OS?

Chrome OS is a cloud-based operating system that integrates with Google’s online services (Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, etc.).  ICCSD students and staff can sign on to district-issued Chromebooks using their respective Iowa City Schools Google accounts, while one can sign in to non-district owned Chromebooks using any Google account, including ICCSD accounts.  Since storage and settings are in the cloud, anything that a user does on one Chromebook is available when they log in to a different Chromebook.

How is Chrome OS different?

Unlike a Windows or Mac computer, where the traditional paradigm is to have software installed directly on the device itself (think Microsoft Word, GarageBand, or Photoshop), Chromebooks are geared towards web-based applications and content.  Just about anything that you can do online can be done on a Chromebook.  Recent research shows that over 90% of current high school students’ computer use takes place within a web browser, which makes Chromebooks a potentially perfect fit for modern computer usage patterns.

So a Chromebook can’t run regular software? 

Yes and no.  You cannot install Windows or Mac versions of software directly on a Chromebook, but you can run online versions of the software.  Office 365, Google Drive, YouTube, Photoshop Online, and WeVideo, for instance, offer online equivalents to traditional desktop software.  Chrome OS does support a number of apps, such as Evernote, Gmail offline, calculator, Any.do, and PDF Viewer that are installed to the device and will work whether the Chromebook is connected to the internet or not.

AutoDesk Inventor on a Chromebook

AutoDesk Inventor on a Chromebook

Beyond those options, ICCSD is also piloting Citrix XenApp and VMWare Fusion, both of which allow  full Windows versions of software – including resource-intensive software such as Autodesk Innovator (pictured at right, from a Chromebook) – to be made available to Chromebooks.  The software itself is delivered virtually to the Chromebook while running on a server.  This provides the benefit of running full version, specialty software on Chromebooks, while also delivering substantially better performance for resource-intensive applications than could be achieved on most regular laptops.  The latter benefit is the result of running the application on a server that is far more powerful than any affordable laptop.

Does a Chromebook need to have an internet connection to work? 

No, although an internet connection is important for maximizing the benefit of the Chromebook.  You can still create and edit files, view pictures, take notes, and other functions without an internet connection, but you wouldn’t have access to virtualized applications, your full Google Drive directory, or to other internet resources.

Here at ICCSD, all buildings in the districts have wireless coverage, and we’re working to eliminate dead zones and to develop our infrastructure to improve network performance.

What does a Chromebook cost? 

As a general rule, schools don’t have the financial resources to pay for extravagant technology offerings.  The price of Chromebooks – about $200 – $300 per device – is one of the primary factors driving their adoption in schools.  By comparison, an iPad typically costs around $400, and a Windows or Mac laptop/desktop around $1,000.

Are Chromebooks easy to support? 

Sometimes, the initial cost of a product can be misleading, due to substantial costs related to supporting the product in an enterprise environment.  Chromebooks, however, offer savings on both fronts.  Schools can purchase management licenses for about $25 per device, which allow the district to manage printers, access rules, and other device and user settings.  Since the devices use our Google accounts for logins – and these accounts are linked to our on-campus Active Directory servers – technology staff do not need to manage accounts for specific users.  Further, the fact that the devices do not require software to be installed means that we can configure a new Chromebook for deployment in the amount of time it takes to join the device to the district’s wireless network, or about 3 minutes.  If a device has a problem – a corrupted operating system, for instance – we can restore the device to its original configuration in under 15 minutes.

Are the devices durable? 

School districts have had mixed experiences with regard to durability.  In general, we’ve found – as have other districts – that the Chromebooks are no more or less durable than our other laptops.  Especially with a 1:1 program under development, durability is a key factor that we consider in evaluation of potential models for purchase.  

Is a Chromebook a good choice for home, or for a college student? 

I get questions about computers for home and for students headed off to college all the time.  In short, a Chromebook is going to be somewhat limited for home and student use, especially if there is any need for specialty software (engineering, music composition, GIS, advanced video/photo editing, etc.)  That said, the majority of users just need a computer in order to browse the internet, check email, and compose an occasional document, spreadsheet, or presentation.  If you have wireless internet at home/school and you’re comfortable working with Google Drive, Google Docs, and Gmail, a Chromebook can be a perfect computer for home use.  Not only is it tremendously cost-effective, but it is also easier to use and to maintain than Windows or OS X computers.

If I were to buy a Chromebook, where can I get one?  

Almost all computer resellers – with the exception of the Apple and Microsoft stores – now sell Chromebooks.  You can often find good deals on Chromebooks at Best Buy and office stores, or online through Amazon.com or Newegg.com.  When you choose a Chromebook, you’ll have some of the same choices that you have when purchasing any laptop: screen size, storage capacity, RAM, processor, and wireless.  Technical specifications are not as important for Chromebooks as for other computers, but I generally recommend:

  • at least an 11.5″ display, at least 1366×768 resolution
  • storage capacity isn’t generally important; most Chromebooks have SD card slots for photos from a camera
  • I recommend 4GB of RAM, but 2GB is sufficient.  4GB will result in a smoother experience for most users
  • Processor is generally unimportant; you’ll get better performance from a Chromebook with an Intel Core i3/i5 than you will from some other options (Celeron, Atom, Rockchip, Tegra, Exynos, etc.)
  • Support for wireless 802.11ac has the potential to improve streaming and web application performance.

 

ICCSD Seeking Network Administrator

If you or someone you know has experience with network administration and support and is interested in joining our team, check out the following link to view our open network administrator position: http://bit.ly/2erQrcb 

This is a full-time, year-round position within our technology & innovation department.  The application period closes on November 1st.  If you have any questions, please contact Adam Kurth.

Gmail Service Disruption Resolved

The issue reported previously relating to a Gmail service disruption has now been resolved.

We’ll continue to keep you up-to-date on the status of critical applications used within the Iowa City Schools.

Thoughts from ITEC

ITECOne of the annual events that I look forward to in the world of educational technology each year is the ITEC – the Iowa Technology & Education Connection – conference in Des Moines.  This two day conference touches on all aspects of  educational technology, including IT support and management, curricular technology resources, the intersection of technology and instruction, and so forth.  Perhaps even more valuable than the sessions are the opportunities to talk and debate with others from Iowa’s ed tech community; being able to learn from the perspectives of teachers, students, administrators, and technology professionals from districts large and small is exhilarating.

Here are some of my thoughts and takeaways from this year’s conference:

Technology is ubiquitous: one of the recurring discussions in sessions with other technology directors was that of service continuity, or making sure that the network and our data stay accessible no matter what.  The fact that this is such a hot topic drives home the fact that we are increasingly dependent upon technology – wireless networks, cloud services, student information systems, file synchronization, etc. – such that outages can substantially impact learning.  In this vein, service continuity is a big focus for us right now in the Iowa City schools, with discussions ranging from cross-training support personnel to the addition of a second data center for failover and load balancing purposes.

We have outstanding staff members in the district: prior to the beginning of the keynote presentation on the first day of ITEC, I was reminded about how innovative and forward-thinking our staff can be.  Along with several other items to kick off the conference, I got to see Garner principal Nick Proud honored with ITEC’s Outstanding Administrator award.  Throughout the conference, I saw ICCSD staff presenting at sessions, ICCSD students coordinating and creating podcasts, and was never at a loss for pride in the district I serve.

We have to reach students where they live: in technology terms, it’s easy for me to default to technology solutions and communication methods that I use.  As an administrator, I have to push myself to innovate and learn such that my limitations don’t result in barriers to students’ effective use of technology.

There are tremendous benefits to a growth mindset in educational technology.  Rather than fighting changes in communication technologies, we as educators need to work to stay ahead of those changes.  Our kids live in today’s world; let’s teach them there.

Failure is fine, but it isn’t a goal: Among the other valuable messages from George Couros’ keynote was this one, which resonated with me: failure is part of learning, but isn’t the end of learning.  While we need to encourage risk-taking and acknowledge the messy ups and downs of progress, we ultimately must work to build a mindset where failure isn’t the end, it’s just a part of the process from which we grow towards success.

I need to get in the classroom more: While I’m not usually a big fan of self-focused statements, I want to own up to this one.  Since I started in the district in July, I’ve spent relatively little time in the classroom.  This has to change, and I’m excited about making it happen.  While administrative responsibilities are time-consuming and can seem to monopolize availability, it’s impossible to serve our students and teachers if I am not closely connected with their experiences in our classrooms.

Sometimes, the nuts and bolts can be innovative too: the Nevada School District, near Ames, has been implementing virtual applications to support their Chromebook 1:1 initiative for the past year.  Attending a session presented by their Director of Technology Joe Wakeman affirmed our approach to offer specialized software through a virtual platform, such that students can access the software they need at any time, from anywhere.  While, on one hand, this solves a very mundane problem of needing to run Windows software on a Chromebook, it has the potential to dramatically change how and when students work, and how teachers are able to deliver instruction.  The next step is ensuring that all of our students have access to internet no matter whether they’re on or off-campus.

 

ICCSD Implementing Directory Synchronization

With over 14,000 students and over 2,000 staff members, user account management is a challenging task in any event.  Most people would likely be surprised to learn, then, that creation of new accounts for new staff members and students who enroll mid-year has been handled manually.  As you might imagine, this can result in substantial delays for newcomers to our district to receive accounts that they can use to log in to district computers, and to use the communication tools that we provide.

aaeaaqaaaaaaaalhaaaajdy1zgzlmwjjltizogytnddjns05nzywlthlzgyzzdmwndfjywIn order to address this inefficiency, and ultimately improve access for our students and staff, the district is implementing the User Management Resource Administrator (UMRA), which will allow for automatic synchronization of student and staff information between our student/staff databases and network services, such as Active Directory, which handles logins to computers on our network, our Google Apps domain, Office 365, Follett Destiny (library catalog software), and Microsoft Exchange.   Continue reading ICCSD Implementing Directory Synchronization