A Lack of Critical Thinking

Posted by on Sep 24, 2011

I’m a bit frustrated and discouraged at the general lack of critical thinking taking place in educational technology today.

I’ll give you a couple examples, and I’m sure some people will take the opportunity to disagree with me. Which is good. Because it will provide evidence both for and against why I’m frustrated.

I know I’ve been talking a lot about netbooks lately. Many people have responded to this post I wrote a while back, and I still think it’s an important conversation to have. Because some people are way too caught up in a device that costs way too much to do way too little for our students. Let me break this down.

First of all, people who have responded or written back about this topic saying my focus is too device-centric are wrong and didn’t take the time to read what I said at the outset of the article above. Our goals for our students are to empower them to learn how to learn. We want them immersed in experiences that will afford them the opportunity to develop their skills of critical thinking, problem solving, written and oral communication, collaboration, and creativity. The coined “21st century skills.” And, of course, we want them to continue building a solid foundation of general knowledge. That’s what we want. Now, how do we get there?

When I talk about a netbook running Linux, many people lose their minds. Because it’s not an Apple device. We are getting our HP 1103 for $267. That’s a total cost. We are running ubermix with over 50 applications. The software is rock solid. If something happens to the software on the device, it has a quick restore function that allows us to restore the machine to its original state in less than 20 seconds, while still keeping all the student files. It has full access to the web, and by full access I mean it runs everything like Flash and a completely native and full Google Apps experience that requires no work arounds. It has full access to all cloud services we utilize with students. It has a web cam. It has the LibreOffice suite, along with a wide variety of other applications for a wide variety of uses. It runs Audacity for students to create podcasts. It has a light-weight video editor. You can save and share files from a USB key. It has Scratch to help kids learn problem solving and programming. It has over 6 hours of battery life, and it wakes immediately from sleep. It presents a real, immersive means to address all the 21st century skills we are aiming at.

But, it’s not an Apple. Which some people just can’t stand. I’ve had the same conversations over and over on this, and I just don’t get it. Because people are convinced that spending at least $500 for an iPad, plus the cost of apps, to have a machine that actually does less overall, is the right thing to do. And I know there are many free apps out there, but many of the valuable apps teachers want to use with students come at a cost. Again, let’s review the purpose of why we are selecting a device. Look at that list above. Yes, an iPad can do many of those things, but the netbook can address those skills just as well, and I’d say better, than an iPad can. And, the students are in complete control of the device. They have full admin rights. They aren’t restricted to the experience that we (or Apple) are dictating for them. The netbook is still a better writing experience both for the speed and accuracy of typing and the experience of moving between applications when composing. If the solution to the speed and accuracy issue is to buy the keyboard for the iPad, you can add another $70 to your cost.

So, let’s think critically, and let’s focus on students in grades 3-8 for the exercise. Because as stated above, I do think the iPad is a wonderful device for primary age students, but the netbook is the stronger option for grades 3-8.

You can have a device for $267 that does more to accomplish the goals above, is easier to manage, is easier to maintain, is cheaper to own, and allows students to entirely experiment and learn how to operate. Or, you can have a device for twice the cost that is the opposite. Now before you melt down entirely, yes, I do think the iPad is a compelling device. It’s just not the right tool for the total cost, experience, and goals as set out above.

Let me give another example. MacBooks. I’ve had the same conversation as the one above, only substitute the MacBook for the iPad. At a cost of around $800 for the unit, plus the cost of software licensing, and possibly Apple Care, we’ll assume an average cost of $900. In fact, that is the figure that Jeff Mao states is the price that Maine paid for their MacBooks in a recent refresh of their 1:1. That means for the price of one MacBook, you can get 3.3 netbooks. Let’s discuss.

One quick point of clarification. I think Apple makes incredible hardware. I would rather have my iPhone than any other phone on the market right now. My MacBook Pro is an amazing machine that I love using for video and photo work. I say that to negate the “you’re just an Apple hater” argument. That’s not what this conversation is about. It’s about thinking deeply about what we’re making available to our students and how we are being fiscally responsible in our process.

So, thinking deeply, the netbook allows students to do 90% of what a MacBook can do. At 1/3 the price. That’s important. Because it demonstrates that 90% of the time students would have more machine than they need. So, if we can accomplish the goals stated above 90% of the time with a $267 device, why would we do otherwise? The most immediate response to that question is multimedia work. I agree with that. Video work, in particular, is a much better experience on a MacBook. And, I absolutely want our students to be creating using video. So, we provide two carts of MacBooks at our elementary buildings and six carts of MacBooks at our middle school that teachers can check out when they want to do heavier multimedia projects. We do this understanding that kids aren’t spending the majority of their time on the devices creating videos. If they are, something is wrong with your curriculum.

Let’s break this down a bit further. For our middle school, we have approximately 1,060 students. Equipping each student with a MacBook would be $954,000. Equipping each student with a netbook is $283,020. That’s a difference of $670,980. Is the 10% of what a netbook can’t do worth $670,980? As mentioned, we have six carts of MacBooks at our middle school that are available for projects. These carts were purchased prior to our 1:1 implementation, but even if they hadn’t been, we could have purchased them, with the carts, for $172,000. That would still leave us $498,980. That is a significant figure.

So, people who are telling me that a MacBook is still the right device for this scenario, I really need to see some critical thought in a rationale that justifies that difference. Because we can accomplish all the goals at a fraction of the cost by using a 1:1 netbook and several checkout carts of MacBooks.

And just because this is already a silly-long post. Let’s hit one more example. Device control.

A tech director shared recently that they force all the schools in their district to lock down their student computers to the degree that students can’t change the desktop background or modify the location of any applications. He said they do this because it liberates the teacher. And that’s all backward. Because we want to liberate the students. We give our students full admin control of their netbooks to actually learn how the device works. We encourage them to experiment and get creative and find out what makes the thing work. If they mess it up, we have the quick 20 second restore to get them back up and running. Isn’t that the kind of inquiry we’ve been seeking for our students? Don’t we want them to have ownership over the device? We talk a lot about problem solving and innovation, yet we lock down one of the best conduits to authentically learn these kinds of skills? I don’t get that at all.

So, that’s where I’m at. I know many people are doing great things with iPads and MacBooks and even full laptops running Windows, but I’d argue you could do all those great things at a fraction of the cost with a system that will be more effective and allow students more freedom in their learning.

And, I would imagine, a couple of you might disagree.

53 Comments

  1. Graeme Campbell
    September 24, 2011

    You make a very convincing argument. I’m the first to admit I’m a Mac fan, and firmly believe every student should have an iPad. I don’t have many hard facts to rebut your arguments, but I’ll try and use some facts and a lot of assumptions and suppositions – granted, not great for debating, but perhaps it will get the juices flowing.

    I’m responding to this on an iPad by the way – no keyboard 🙂

    Now – why an iPad or MacBook? They serve different purposes, so I’ll address them separately.

    iPads, I believe and have read, are the ideal mobile devices. I bring mine everywhere and it happily fits in my hand, ready to use. Many apps are designed to require very little typing, so I tend to get what I want with one hand. From reading some great blog posts, the mobility is a big plus – bringing them out to take pictures of slugs and then making a iMovie while still on the playground is pretty cool. Posting those shots to your class blog with some quick sentences is also neat.

    Is that possible with a netbook? Absolutely – I would just suggest not as “nicely”. I’m curious, honestly, and I hope you report back – how mobile are your netbooks? I’m not just talking about outside – how many grade 5s taking their net books and sitting on floor with some friends to read an ebook? Or do research? Is that required – of course not – but I personally love reading edu blogs in bed at night because it’s more comfortable than my chair.

    I think also the “experience” of a touchscreen captures learning so nicely. I let a few of my 8s use my iPad to look at a parts of the cell app and they were seriously fascinated. The students next to them with our netbook cart on a similar website wanted their turn :). This is just my experience, but it’s hard to put a price on “cool factor”

    If you thought my fluffy arguments for iPads were bad, my air argument is worse 🙂

    I like a “it just works” device. If your netbooks don’t cause your techies or teachers grief, I’m thrilled and they are a fine addition. I haven’t met many PCs however that behave correctly for a long length of time.

    So, one device? iPads for me because, as you say, 90% of what I want to do I can, and I believe the mobility and engagement factor make the cost worth it.

    I do wish you the best however with the netbooks – tell us naysayers how its going!

    (total typing time, 8 minutes – not great, but it worked.)

    Reply
  2. Adam Taylor
    September 24, 2011

    Agreed on all accounts! Our district gets most of out stuff from Dell. And Dell isn’t giving us any deals. I don’t blame the computer company though. A friend of mine says the district tells Dell”give us your worst price and add $300.”
    I say this because a while back we received some laptop carts and each laptop was $1400. The same year I bought a computer that was 3x as good for 3/4 the cost by the same company.
    I don’t understand!
    I do fundraisers to get tech for class. And the district will not let me get what I want even though it is better and cheaper.
    What is the problem? Why do so many leaders refuse to get the best for the money? I don’t mean the best money can buy but the most practical.
    Now if they give me the option of ipads or nothing I will take the ipads after a short protest that we are not spending the money the best way possible.
    Great post!
    I need to learn more about linux

    Reply
  3. Jeremy Macdonald
    September 24, 2011

    I really can’t argue all that much with you’ve said.

    I wish I had read this back in April when I was writing the grant that we are now working under. We went 1:1 iPads.

    I knew at the time that they weren’t perfect, but I was riding on some major improvements with iOS 5. But the biggest factor in our decision was our IT department. We are a Windows district. Always have been. Then, about 3 years ago, we were award the same grant we are working under now. Those who wrote the grant went with 2:1 MacBooks. IT flipped. Then again, they weren’t considered in the decision making process.

    This year I included them in the entire grant writing process and had their input the entire time. Had I brought this idea–Linux, yet another OS–to them I am sure they would have given me 50 lashes with a cat-of-nine-tails made of CAT-5 and various broken peripherals.

    Like I said at first, I can’t argue with you. So when purchases are already made, can we still argue about what is already in the students’ hands or do we just make better decisions later? In my mind, the “damage” is done and I know there are some great things that our students still can do, despite the limitations that an iPad may have.

    Thanks for the insight Ben. This is definitely something I will carry with me in my back pocket next time I write a grant.

    Reply
  4. Brady
    September 24, 2011

    From one Apple-lover to another, thank you for standing up for your position so articulately.

    Frankly, I’m a bit suspicious of your detractors who insist on skipping over your clearly stated first principles and then attack you on your pragmatic, non-Apple, solution. One could easily conclude that they are the ones whom have lost sight of the real goals; they now fixated on the tools rather than the skill development that they facilitate.

    Sure, we would love every student to have an iPad and a Macbook Air. Back in the real-world, people have budgets. Maybe some of you would have allocated resources differently than Ben. Fine, but make a constructive contribution to the discussion by suggesting exactly what you would do if all your school could possibly afford was $300/student for hardware. If you’d opt for 1:2 iPads instead of 1:1 netbooks, please explain why.

    Reply
  5. Carmen
    September 24, 2011

    I’m so happy to have found this post, I’ve been making that argument with my students and out IT and my friends forever. A Netbook also has way more than 64GB of hard drive and it can run everything on the web, flash, java, whatever…

    And for those of you who love the touch screen there are now those touch netbooks like the Dell Duo which I own and find amazing. I did all my work on it this summer with on software problems!

    Reply
  6. Sheri Edwards
    September 24, 2011

    Karl, while I prefer macs, if I had the option to go with Linux netbooks for each kid, I would. But the only option we have is Windows netbooks locked down with one IT whenever, and when is often, they don’t work. Your rationale is right on when budgetary and ease of use are considered.

    Reply
  7. Sheri Edwards
    September 24, 2011

    Oops, that should have said “Ben”. sorry.

    Reply
    • Margery
      April 18, 2016

      You got to push it-this esnaetisl info that is!

      Reply
  8. Ben Grey
    September 24, 2011

    Graeme-
    Thanks for the comment and thoughts.

    The issue with the apps on an iPad is that most of them are just that. Quick hitting activities rather than deep learning experiences. Any of the apps that are more creation-based have a counter part or an equivalent on the netbook. The portability is virtually the same. Our netbooks are extremely mobile and work fine on the floor, in a chair, on a couch, outside, etc. I do agree that the touchscreen experience is nice, but not necessary to accomplish the goals we have. And, I can put a price on cool factor. For us, that price is $246,980 for our middle school alone. Plus the cost of apps, which is significant. iMovie alone would cost us $5,300.

    Your point about a PC is exactly what is wrong with many netbook deployments. They run Windows. That’s extremely unfortunate. Read the link above about ubermix and my explanation of what it can do. The ability to refresh the netbook in 20 seconds, restoring it back to its original state, while still keeping all the user files intact is better than any Mac or PC convention I’ve ever seen. Simply put, these devices are easier than any other for the “it just works” scenario. I say that having run Windows, Apple, and iPad environments.

    I’m still very curious how you would stand before a board and your community and tell them that you want to spend $246,980 more than netbooks because of the cool factor.

    Adam-
    I’d highly recommend you check out ubermix. Jim Klein built the image, and he is always happy to help people understand and implement it. Your description about many tech scenarios is far too true. And sad. It’s time we do something about that.

    Jeremy-
    In your scenario, I absolutely think you move forward with what you have and do awesome stuff with them and actualize all of your program goals. As I said, I think the iPad is a compelling device, so if you’ve already invested in them, go do the awesome stuff.

    Regarding the IT staff, I’d recommend empowering them and educating them, and they will find this is simply the easiest, most stable OS they have ever supported. Give them the professional development they need to understand it, and in the end, they will simply love it.

    Brady-
    Thanks, as always, for your candor. The thing I’ve found most challenging in holding this conversation, which is what prompted me to write the post, is the lack of a detailed rebuttal to my challenge. Because in the end, it’s very difficult to defend the position as it means either spending significantly more public money, or giving kids access to less. I’m curious to see how people defend that.

    Carmen-
    Thanks for the comment. The full web experience is so critical for our students, and I think many people overlook that, or ignore it, when talking about the iPad.

    Sheri-
    It’s ok. I’ve always wanted to know what it’s like to be Karl Fisch. Your point is exactly in line with my final point, and I really don’t get that mentality at all. Sorry for your frustration. Keep advocating. If you can get to the more open scenario, you’ll find it’s more than worth the effort of fighting for it.

    Reply
  9. Graeme Campbell
    September 25, 2011

    You’re right – I have little in the way of arguments against the cost. There are similar apps for the important things, and similar ideas.

    So no, I couldn’t create a meaningful argument about iPads over netbooks other than to suggest that this massive sales of a device that is completely replaced by a netbook counts for something :).

    If it’s good enough for over 20 million people it has to have something going for it.

    I’m glad you found something that works – I’ll continue trying to get 1:1 iPads in my classes and we’ll have to compare notes if I’m successful 🙂

    Reply
  10. jason Graham
    September 25, 2011

    Agree. Certainly cost effectiveness alone is one reason for netbooks over Apple. I wonder how much learner input we need to consider? Do we say we are a 1:1 school but sorry we cannot support Mac products. And that’s what we do at my school simply because we just cannot support those who want to use Macs. Are we disadvantaging those kids in some way?
    Jay

    Reply
  11. Barry Munro
    September 25, 2011

    I have taught hundreds / thousands of students using computers in schools since 1980. Using many formats Commodores – Apples – Apple work-a-likes – Microsoft based – Linus based and I know nothing about computers!
    Why do I know so little after so long? Because computers bore me!
    Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching using them and I’ve picked up enough to keep most ticking over. I love using them as an educational tool and essentially I ignore ‘what’ they are.
    What I love is what my students can do with them and how connected they have permitted me to become.
    Therefore I have to agree with you, Ben. The platform has to be affordable for each school / institution.
    In my view it is not ‘what’ which we should be discussing but, what we are doing with what we have with our students. More likely these days I want my students to be educating me with what we have by using the knowledge of the world.
    Therefore, I guess I do think critically about computers in education. I critically evaluate hardware / software through student use. I act as the leader, guide, follower as necessary.
    Need more evidence? I gave my 15 – 17 year olds the opportunity to educate me about my ‘smart phone’ over the last month. The phone isn’t smart but the students educating me are!
    Cheers – Barry.

    Reply
  12. Heather Durnin
    September 25, 2011

    Ben,
    Like you, I am a MacBook Pro and iPad user. I am also entering my 3rd year of using Acer netbooks with my gr. 7/8 students. They use them daily at their desks, sitting in the hall, and carry them to another classroom for French. Yes, on occasion, they do have issues, but we still have all the original machines working daily.

    My students use very few programs on the hardrive. 99.9% of the programs are cloud based so that students can access their work from home. Google Apps continues to offer more programs that mirror those programs that previously were only available on a hardrive (e.g. Aviary for podcasts vs. Audacity). Google Apps however doesn’t work so well yet on the iPad. Wevideo is another new cloud based free program that students can use to create videos. The ability of these programs to foster 21st century skills is one of the reasons why I love them.

    So while the conversation continues regarding Mac vs. netbooks and operating systems, a sidebar conversation should also include the benefits of maximizing the use of cloud based programs, giving even more control/choice/access to our students. And many of them are free!

    Reply
  13. Christine
    September 25, 2011

    First, I’d like to commend you for being fiscally responsible for your district. Beyond that, you have shown great thinking on your part in deciding what was best and why. One of the benefits that I see from the choices that have been made is that your students will have experience on multiple platforms. I think that this gives them an advantage because they will be comfortable using any piece of technology…not because they have used it before, but because they have not learned only one system. Sometimes we choose one platform for a district because that is what makes it easier to service with our tiny tech department (at least ours is tiny) if everyone is the same. I think that it limits us to thinking in only one way and not globally as to how technology works and how it can be used with our students.

    Reply
  14. Gretchen
    September 25, 2011

    Hi Ben —

    Bringing this over from twitter, but I would look at the expense at the end of three years. I don’t think that it’s a fair comparison to compare MLTI (what Jeff was speaking about) and a local solution. MLTI isn’t about providing students with a device, but about providing out state with an ecosystem. The $900 price is 3 years of using a Macbook, but also includes the network, servers, tech support, and dedicated professional development. It’s put out to bid every few years, and Apple has consistently won the bid. Certainly, Apple has a lot to gain by having their logo on this ecosystem, but so would any other vendor. (Maybe Apple has more because of their market on Devices Kids Like, like the ipod, ipad, etc.) For middle school, it’s all apple. For the expansion into 9-12, districts have the option of using Apple or using their own devices, and there are many schools that have gone to netbooks in 9-12, and a huge culture of open source and linux use in the schools. (David Trask might be a good resource for you, and he runs this conference: http://www.fossed.com/) There are also some iPad pilots going in on our state, you’ve surely heard of the 1:1 iPad pilot for K kids in Auburn, but also Foxcroft Academy is piloting them in 9-12, too. The MLTI project has been in place for almost 10 years, and it’s made our state a place to try other new technologies, which is fabulous for a state that has huge variances in SES and such — the one middle schooler at an island community school has the same resources as the 200 in the richest town in the state, and that is fantastic — and not just because of the device, but because of all the stuff that comes with it.

    On a device-only, district-scale, of course netbooks make sense. I think it’s easy for MLTI to get mistaken as a laptop program, and not a learning program (and for those of us who have had it, it’s easy to forget that there are a lot of background benefits provided with that cost) and I just wanted to clarify the total benefit that comes with that $900 cost. (You can see past RFPs, info, everything you ever wanted to know about MLTI here: http://maine.gov/mlti/about/index.shtml)

    Reply
  15. Kevin Reppen
    September 25, 2011

    As a former D-123 student, I have to stay of what I read about with the netbooks, I almost want to say I wish we had those over Macs. Yes, the macs were nice, but they always had issues, were always freezing, and a lot of it was blocked or in-accessible. From what I read that the Netbooks can do, I think it will really be better for the students, and provide an opportunity for more hands on experiences, which I’m sure is the point of the 1:1. The reason I say “more opportunities” is because when I was a student there (Class of 2011), sometimes we couldn’t do a hands on activity with technology because the computer lab would be booked, or the MacBook cart would be in use, or the smartBOARD wouldn’t be working.

    Good luck with the 1:1s!

    Reply
  16. Andrew Carle
    September 25, 2011

    I work at a K-12 school that’s in the 2nd year of a 1-1 Macbook program for grades 7-12, and the first year of a 1-1 iPad program for JK-4. There’s a laundry list of reasons why we’ve ended up with this solution, many of which you address in your post. However, I think you miss out on some of the nuance that the phrase “liberates the teachers” covers. For a school making a giant transition like this, having a homogenous device population has been critical for teachers on the fence. While I completely agree that students should be the primary focus of our decision making, having a device that meets student needs but doesn’t engage teachers would stop this transition in its tracks.
    But even at this early stage, it’s heartening to see faculty and administrators recognize that the choice of device (for the laptop ages, g7-12) is pretty arbitrary, as a majority of student work is being produced with web or cross-platform tools. My gut feeling is that before we hit 5 years of this program, we’ll move away from the homogenous device model and into an agnostic (but partially school funded) BYO model.

    The other major factor was a small netbook initiative that launched before I arrived at the school, using first-gen MSI Wind systems. The hardware quality on those machines, combined with the frustration and flakiness of Windows, made netbook synonymous with crap across the school.

    Is this the HP model you’re running: http://bit.ly/hp_netbook ?
    I’m inspired by your post to grab one, install ubermix, and see how it stacks up to our aging macbooks for our students’ everyday tasks.

    Reply
  17. Crystal Priest
    September 25, 2011

    While I don’t really feel like joining a platform war, I do want to mention the idea of total cost of ownership of a device – any device and what you want to have for a program in your schools. It isn’t just the cost of the machine itself, it also includes a wide variety of other costs to make it useful as a learning tool and to keep it running for the expected life of the device.

    I also want to clarify what the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) program gives you for the per seat price of $242 per year for 4 years or a total cost of ownership of $968. It isn’t just a MacBook, if you actually total up everything you get as part of the program, the street value is closer to $2500 a machine.

    Yes MLTI is about providing access to equipment in a 1:1 environment, but it is not about the device, it is about having a 1:1 environment for learning as well as equity of access – all grade 7-8 students in the state have access to the same equipment.

    Also, while the per seat cost this round is $242 per year, schools don’t actually pay that out of pocket for any grade 7-8 students or grade 7-12 qualified teachers or administrators. That cost is paid for out of the state DOE budget, it figures out to less than 1/2 of 1 percent of their annual budget. Schools can choose to buy in at $242/yr for additional machines. My district chose to do this for all K-12 teaching staff and all 9-12 students.

    So, for $968 here is some of what you get:

    An enterprise class wireless network installed and maintained in your school- network wiring, access points, controllers, programing and setup, annual maint. and upgrades.

    A device (currently a MacBook) with a 4 year extended warranty, annual software package upgrades, a new battery each year, an in-state repair center with free overnight shipping each way.

    A software package that not only includes system software but also a variety of commercial packages, integrated into a software image that is developed so that all the included software titles and the system play well together – delivered with a USB drive based re-imaging system that is simply plug and play. Schools can choose to add on whatever they need to the MLTI image as well.

    All qualifying 7-12 teacher and administrator machines are part of the annual student seat price. You don’t pay for those, just the student machines for 9-12.

    A 3% spare pool located on site – again, you don’t pay extra for those.

    A buffer pool for totally trashed/stolen/lost machines (about 1% annually) and a catastrophic insurance policy to handle damages over 25 machines (like if the school roof caves in or a fire in a school.)

    A statewide enrollment pool – you have more kids, you get more machines, you have few kids, your machines go back into the pool and you don’t pay.

    An online learning system for all students and staff in the program.

    A dedicated help desk number to call for problems.

    A dedicated Apple group, in state to support the entire program and to make sure all the pieces work. Also known in this state as “the one throat to choke” when there are issues.

    Top notch staff development people who roam the state providing professional development for teachers and administrators. They will come to your school for FREE if you are part of the MLTI program. They also offer workshops and PD meetings held around the state on a regular basis, technical trainings, spring student conference, summer MLTI institute, weekly online webinars, etc.

    So, can you get all of that out of your netbook? Are you planning for all of these items or are you just hoping that if you get enough machines into enough hands that something good will happen? Can you sustain your program after you have bought your equipment? The MLTI program has been going for 10 years now and has expanded and improved each time the contract has gone out for bid.

    If you’d like more info about MLTI check out:
    http://www.maine.gov/mlti/index.shtml or http://maine121.org/

    I’d also be more than happy to answer any questions about how this project works in Maine.

    Just as a disclaimer:

    I am currently the district technology coordinator for Maine School Administrative District #4. I’ve been in charge of our 1:1 laptop programs since we started in 1999 (before MLTI) and have managed both MLTI and non-MLTI programs. Our school district is currently 1:1 in grades 4-12.

    I have been involved in the MLTI program since the beginning.

    I am also currently President of the Association of Computer Educators of Maine (ACTEM) http://www.actem.org

    I am also an Apple Distinguished Educator, class of 2011. And yes I am a Mac fan. But I also know that each time we have gone out for RFP for our local district, Apple has come up with a better educational solution than their competitors. It isn’t all about the device – it is all about the total solution for learning!

    Good luck!

    Crystal

    Reply
    • Belle
      April 18, 2016

      This artclie keeps it real, no doubt.

      Reply
  18. Scott S. Floyd
    September 25, 2011

    Hmmm. Because I do not follow blindly another’s idea of the perfect 1:1 implementation, I lack critical thinking? Isn’t that the opposite of what we teach our kids? If our students put even half the thought and research into the work we did to find the right tools for our situation, I would be ecstatic. I feel like we modeled for them what we expect of them: Do your research and make the best choice in the given circumstances.

    And for the record, Flash is not a deal breaker in learning. Besides, HTML5 has been on the way long enough that Flash is a byproduct on sites who want to do cute animations.

    Again, for the record, I have repeatedly said this is an excellent implementation for you because you find it fits your students’ needs. It may not be for ours. Why judge me in a negative light because of that? And, my ISD has WAY more PCs than Apples. The Apples are in places where they are the right tool for the right job. It’s not an Apple versus PC debate. It is a discovery of the right tool for the job. Nothing more and nothing less.

    I respect you for the diligent work you put into your work in implementing this program for your school(s). I only ask for the same respect in return for doing an equal amount and quality of work for my schools.

    Reply
  19. Upbeatjunk
    September 25, 2011

    Crystal and Gretchen touched on everything I wanted to touch on but I will add one more thing. When it comes to system administration and support what we get with Apple is well worth the cost. I am the ONLY systems administrator for our entire school district. When the decision came along to choose between netbooks and Macs it was a fairly simple decision for us. What we get in the way of support and professional development with the MLTI program is awesome and we don’t pay a penny more for it than we would for the computer itself. On top of that, the ability to administrate from Apple Remote Desktop is priceless. If i need to make a system change to every client on my network, I can simply create my package/scripts and send them to the task server for installation the next time the client logs on. Apple Remote Desktop and the task server were included at no extra charge in the lease. Add the Cisco Enterprise wireless network in the mix with that and everything else and we are getting way more than we pay for. Speaking as an individual who has a massive workload and no one to share the burden, MLTI has been a life saver. Open source just wasn’t a good option for me, when I need support I need it fast..I don’t have time to go searching for an answer.

    Reply
  20. Ben Grey
    September 25, 2011

    Graeme-
    Consensus is irrelevant to the objectivity of truth. Just look at pop music for a real example of that.

    Jason-
    I think we disadvantage students when we don’t give them control over the device they are using. They will have no problem moving between platforms if they gain an understanding of how a device actually works. And, the OS argument has grown nearly moot as the majority of applications and experiences can be had on any platform. And, people who argue we need to teach students a specific OS lose site of the fact that OS will be entirely different by the time the students are done with school and enter the workforce.

    Barry-
    This is something we are working on as well. Creating a culture of learning not just for our students, but for our staff as well. We’re advocating that they allow students to help teach the class about the actual operation of devices. We want the teachers to have the pedagogy regarding the why they would use technology, but to empower the students to help them with the implementation of the technology itself.

    Heather-
    I agree entirely. A huge part of what we’re doing with our netbooks is cloud-based. I don’t think we need to make that a sidebar, I think it’s an integral part of the overall conversation as it allows us to continue doing so much more with less expensive devices.

    Christine-
    Thanks for the kind words. I’m very excited about the way Linux sets students up to be curious and innovative with the learning and personalizing of their device. It’s a great way to let them learn and explore.

    Gretchen, Crystal, and Upbeat-
    Thank you all for adding to the conversation and providing additional details about the MLTI program. I absolutely want to do more research into the program as it is obviously doing great things. I do want to respond to a couple points you’ve made.

    I never said that MLTI was a laptop program. Our program isn’t one either. I look at both as a learning program as stated in the goals we have for our program.

    Crystal, this is not a platform war. It’s a critical discussion about how we are creating an environment of learning for our students. And, how we are doing so being fiscally responsible with the public funds we’ve been entrusted with.

    The total cost of the Maine device is $968. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to parse that out to determine what you are actually paying for and what you are getting. And the DOE involvement has nothing to do with the price. Those are still public dollars. Whether that is 1 percent or 20 percent of the budget is irrelevant. It’s still $968 per device.

    I’m really curious how all the ancillary items, like the network, battery, software, etc. is rolled into the price of the device. If I were to include all of our network gear, repairs, professional development, etc., we’d still be at less than 1/2 the price of what you are paying over the 4 year term.

    And if you are using a Cisco wireless solution, you’re once again paying more than double for something that actually performs less effectively than a system like Ruckus or others.

    Yes, we’ve planned for all the items you’ve listed. And again, our total cost of ownership is still less than 1/2 that of what you are paying.

    I think the MLTI is an excellent program doing excellent things. I just think those excellent things could still be happening at a much lower burden to the public.

    And Upbeat, you can do all of what you mentioned in your comment with Linux using something like Fog. You could easily and effectively manage our deployment with you being the only systems administrator.

    I would really like to talk with you all more about this as again, I know you are doing great things for the students in your state, and I know I could learn more from how you’ve implemented the program for your students.

    Kevin-
    Thanks for the comment. I really wish we could have put this in place before you moved on to high school. I know you would have loved it. We are also working on not only making things more available, but more stable. We installed a new wireless system at the middle school to make everything quicker, and our new network manager has made significant improvements to our network overall. Hope you keep checking in, and I hope high school is going well for you.

    Andrew-
    I still disagree with you about the teacher component. If you provide quality professional development and support, as well as an integrated vision and curriculum plan, the teachers will be more than happy to contribute and embrace the initiative. Unfortunately, the presence of Windows doomed your netbook pilot. Yes, that link is the unit we are using, and I would highly recommend you get one and give ubermix a try. Let me know if you need any help.

    Scott-
    First of all, you know how much I respect you and what you are doing. And, you know how much I appreciate your thoughts and work in the field (even the field of golfing and Texas BBQ), so I’m hoping we can still be friends after this is all over.

    I never said not following my implementation of a 1:1 meant you lacked critical thinking. I said it’s the rationale behind why people are going the route they are going that demonstrates its absence.

    I own an iPad, and we use them with students in our district. Too often the web browsing experience is an issue. And, we are making Google Apps an integral part of our learning ecology. Google Apps on the iPad is still a mess. I trust Apple will someday fix that, but I can’t build our program around wishes and hopes of what Apple might or might not do. I’ve seen too often what they decide not to do.

    I appreciate your compliments for our program, but I’m beginning to wonder about the “every program is different” statements. Because I think we’re actually all trying to do just about the same thing. I’m not judging you in a negative light because of your Apple vs. PC ratio or discovery of what tool you’ve selected to do the right job. I’m simply saying show me how $900 (or even $750 if you’re getting a great deal on MacBooks) is worth it over $267. You’ve not yet answered that question.

    I don’t doubt you guys are doing awesome things. You are known for that. Just elaborate and tell me specifically how a MacBook, or even iPad, deployment of a 1:1 would meet your goals and be more fiscally responsible than deploying a $267 netbook program. That’s all I’m asking.

    I’ve never disrespected your work. Only asked that you show me more of it and the rationale behind it. That’s all.

    Reply
  21. Gretchen
    September 25, 2011

    I think it’s really hard to grasp what it means to have a program with the breadth and depth of MLTI — I would say that the DOE funding IS important, as we have some of the poorest places in the country (I grew up in a county where ~30 percent of children live below the poverty line) and having any 1:1 program would be an impossibility without the MLTI, let alone to have the access to the supports that MLTI provides. It’s not a platform war, really, but comparing MLTI & its expenses and benefits to a district-level implementation is comparing apples (lower case A 🙂 ) to oranges.

    Reply
  22. Tim Holt
    September 25, 2011

    I have been around long enough to have heard the following arguments:

    1. Don’t get Apple because it is too expensive. (1980-1990 and beyond)
    2. Don’t get Apple because it is a niche product. ( 1990 to 2007)
    3. Don’t get Apple because it is going out of business.(Mid 1990’s- 2002)
    4. Don’t get Apple because no one knows how to fix them.
    5. Don’t get Apple because there are no programs.
    6. Don’t get Apples because no one uses them in the “real world” (whatever that meant)
    7. Don’t get Apple because iPads are toys that don’t run Flash!
    8. Don’t get Apple because we cannot control them in out network.
    9. Netbooks are the wave of the future, and Apple doesn’t make netbooks.
    10. Linux/UNix is free. You can’t beat free!

    So this essay , while well written, is just another of a long and storied line of why one should not get Apple. It falls under the “It costs too much” excuse and Linux is free.

    It is easy to look at the initial cost of something and say “Look how damn cheap this is compared to Brand X.” Unfortunately many schools make decisions based on the initial cost and HOW EASY THE DEVICE IS TO ADMINISTRATE. Not on the end user experience, the amount of training needed or the total cost of ownership.

    Do you really think that the training on a linux machine would be less than on an iPad? Really? You can give a 90 years old that has never touched a computer an iPad and they are running with it in 10 minutes. Same with a 4 year old. There is no desktop or laptop equivalent in the world like that. Sorry. If you think that there is, you are not operating in the real world.

    Macs and iOS devices require much less training than Open Source whatever. Apple has been in the education biz since the beginning. They really know a thing or two about how people interact with machines and how students work with computers. Linux does not because it is a fragmented bunch of hobbyists that are bound only by their love of Linux and hate for Microsoft.

    I have seen and worked in MANY Linux implementations, and without exception they end up costing much more than they promised. Linux is not mainstream, it is even more niche then Macs ever were. Teachers are unfamiliar with it. Students are as well. And don’t even get me going on Thin Clients using Linux! A cost nightmare at every turn! Why give them something that won’t be used at home? (A very 1990’s Anti-apple argument used by OS folks back then).

    There are a few dirty little secrets that the Open Source people don’t you to ever know:

    1: 99% of their work is derivative and imitative. They wait for some company to come out with a product, oh lets say, Photoshop. They then have an imitation PS program in about 6 months, and the argument is “it’s just like Photoshop!” So, if you want to be a generation behind the curve, then by all means, go Linux. But you gotta ask yourself, what is better? What is the better experience for my kids? Is there ANYTHING as good as Garageband, iMovie, iPhoto on linux? Even after all these years, there is nothing in the OS world that comes close.

    2 Linux support is chancy at best. If the OS guru dies, or leaves to another district, good luck finding a replacement. They simply are not out there, or if they are, they are in Russia or Finland. That is not the case with Apple or Windows. There are tons of trained people ready to be employed. I don’t have to get online and wait for a list serve response from some guy in Mumbai to help you.

    3. Linux is not intuitive or easy for the end user. Have you ever tried to install a OS program on a computer? Chances are you have to PREINSTALL some other programs to get the one you want running.

    4. Linux proponents rarely cite TOTAL cost of ownership. How often do those netbooks breaks down vs an iPad? How long does the battery last vs. a Macbook or an iPad? If a teacher has to stop and recharge the dang things in the middle of the day, you lose them.

    I am sorry, but OS has been killed by Web 2.0. All of those cool imitative programs that were the selling point of LInux are either a) free websites now, or 2) 99 cent apps.

    Netbooks have been killed by the iPad. No one is buying Netbooks anymore, They are orphaned technology.

    I will stop ranting now.

    Nice article, but I read it before, in 1990, 95, 2000, 2002, 2005, and on and on.

    Reply
  23. William Chamberlain
    September 25, 2011

    Ben, it looks to me like you have your ducks in a row. I am not sure why you feel you need to justify it to all us rubberneckers though. If you are looking for push back to see if someone has a point of view you haven’t thought of you would surely have encountered that by now.

    Do you allow students and teachers to bring their own devices as well? If you do get some inside pressure, that could be a release valve.

    Reply
  24. Charlie Reisinger
    September 25, 2011

    @Tim
    I’m not certain if you are purposely attempting to be inflammatory or have simply not spent any meaningful time with current Linux desktop software. To suggest that non-mainstreamed technology (Linux) is inherently suspect is disingenuous. As for the “dirty secrets”, I must have missed a memo or been sleeping under a rock for the past decade as our district has increasing relied on FLOSS to power core technology infrastructure, classroom desktop systems and mission critical applications. Funny too that finding highly qualified candidates with Linux experience hasn’t been an issue for me during our last few hiring phases. BTW- Our kids have no problems working with Ubuntu on the desktop. BTWW- I love how the funds we save via FLOSS help preserve faculty and staff jobs as we enter a vicious downturn in our district budget.

    @Ben
    Outstanding analysis. This fall we are implementing a similar program based on our custom Ubuntu image: http://www.pennmanor.net/techblog/?cat=63. To date, the program has been a resounding success with students and teachers. Even as a lifelong Apple fan, it is frustrating for me to watch districts blindly continue down the most expensive path of technology acquisition. I applaud your efforts to balance outstanding classroom tools with fiscal maturity and responsibility. ‘Would love to compare notes sometime.

    Reply
  25. Tim Holt
    September 25, 2011

    I stand by my statements.
    The TOC is nowhere near what is claimed by the FOSS advocates. Time and again our district has tried to use FOSS in thin client situations only to find that the final cost is usually equal to or sometimes even greater than if we just bought new PCs. And trying to get FOSS to sync Flash video and audio takes digital voodoo that simply does not justify the effort.

    You implied that people that don’t use cheap laptops with cheap OSs don’t think critically. In other words, if we disagree with you, we are not critical thinkers. Thanks.

    I didn’t say Linux was suspect, I said it was derivative and imitative. Because it is, it is by nature always at least a generation behind real companies that do the actual R&E the that FOSS community gleefully imitates and then packages as it’s own.

    (I actually have a moral problem with this. For instance, if Adobe creates a program, or Apple, or Microsoft, or any real company, and the FOSS community turns around and creates a “free” version of it, they are sucking off the R&E teat of the company that actually created the original, without compensation. GIMP would not exist without PhotoShop. Open Office would not exist without MS Office. Moodle without Blackboard. Yes, it is cool that a million folks all got up and write code, and it is cool that they have their own language (distro! oooh!) but the fact is, they continue to steal ideas from companies that spend millions on R&E to create products.)

    I have no problems with FOSS stuff running in the background. But it is misleading to everyone involved to suggest that Linux programs, for the most part, not always, are cutting edge and always cheaper.

    It is also wrong to use the argument of “good enough” technology and Apple is the most expensive technology out there. You know darn well that it is not, you know that Apple tablets are the best price out there for the best technology out there, unless you want a $99 HP Web OS orphan.

    A bike is a lot less expensive than a car, both will get you to your destination, but which is the better experience for the user? I can buy 150 bikes for a cost of a car..does that make the bike a better choice if I want to drive 1000 miles? Maybe if you are Lance Armstrong, but for real people, it is not. If Linux was really all that, it would have taken over years ago. As it is, it is a niche within a niche. I bet that there is not even consensus on which Linux derivative is best for which computer. Debian, Fedora,Slackware, Umbutu or Slax or Mint…and on and on…

    With Mac, there is one OS. That is it. You upgrade to the latest and you are done.

    I congratulate you that you have been successful. Good for you! I am just saying the experience is not the same everywhere and just because we don’t use a niche product with our kids does not mean we don’t think critically.

    Reply
    • Rosalinda
      April 18, 2016

      Slam dunkin like Shaquille O’Neal, if he wrote iniarmotfve articles.

      Reply
  26. Gretchen
    September 26, 2011

    Repeating from Twitter — I am a huge and unabashed Mac fan, and will only buy Apple products with my own money, but I don’t teach Mac specific apps to my students (I teach Technology in Education in a teacher ed program) because unless they end up in 7/8, there is no guarantee that they will have a Mac to work with. It is my belief that if they leave with the courage to take risks and learn new things, they will be able to figure out the apps they didn’t use specifically. From PK-12, there is a mix of iPads, Macbooks, netbooks, and many schools still running the windows lab model.

    I would likely not have commented if Jeff Mao, and Maine (and by association, MLTI) hadn’t been used as a comparable program.

    Reply
  27. Dave Saltmarsh
    September 26, 2011

    The title caught my attention but it seems to be more of a pro-netbook verses a laptop argument just based on cost. I’m in the camp of Tim Holt and Crystal (nice break down )– devil is in the details.
    I took a hard look at going the Netbook way three years ago, this commentary doesn’t add anything new or go beyond a recycled opinion. 3-years later, how many adults are using Netbooks these days? Let’s get past this and get to some really useful exchange of ideas.

    Rather than just break down the cost, I expected a conversation on the ways to improve critical thinking through the use of technology.
    Perhaps an investigation/discussion into TPACK, LoTI, or the MLTI focused — SAMR — would be more productive.

    Reply
  28. Karl Fisch
    September 26, 2011

    Let me just contribute a little info about our experience with netbooks running ubermix.

    First, they clearly are inferior to the MacBooks when it comes to video editing and photo manipulation. Now, you can still do some basic video editing on low-res video, and also some basic image manipulation (cropping, brightness, etc.), but you certainly wouldn’t want to do a ton of that on the netbook unless you absolutely had to. I also agree that iLife is something that’s not matched elsewhere, which is why having some iMacs or MacBooks around for those purposes is probably ideal (which is what it looks like Ben’s district has done).

    Second, a Mac is going to be a little faster than the netbook at lots of things, and that’s nice to have, and typically the screen is going to be larger (both physically and in terms of pixels), which is also nice.

    Third, certainly the touch interface of an iPad (and perhaps a MacBook soon?) is a great addition in many instances (and a drawback in terms of text entry, fingerprints, and scratches).

    But I don’t want to get into that part of the argument, I feel like Ben looked at many devices and tried to make the best decision possible for his students, so let me talk a bit about what our netbooks running Jim Klein’s ubermix can do, as that might be helpful to folks reading this thread. Our current district approved model is the Asus Eee #1001-PXD-MU17-BU at $259.40. I can’t tell you for sure how long the battery lasts because it lasts an entire school day, but my best guess is around 8-10 hours. Our two-year old ASUS netbooks last between 4 and 6 hours, meaning they do occasionally run out before the end of the school day. In comparison our (Dell, running Windows XP) laptop batteries last 2-3 hours and also seem to degrade and need to be replaced more quickly.

    The machines boot in less than a minute (and shut down in about 20 seconds) and you have a fairly extensive list of standard software to choose from, as well as you can add just about anything open source you like. Since, like lots of folks, we are moving to more web-based software, it can quickly and easily access Google Docs (and the rest of the Google suite) using either Firefox or Chrome. It does run Flash, and Java, although occasionally we’ll run across a site that requires a specific OS (typically Windows, sometimes Windows or Mac). In general, accessing the web is quick, easy and functional.

    If you don’t want to use Google Docs or something else online, it does come standard with the current version of LibreOffice, which is full-featured enough for almost any student. It also has Audacity, Skype, Gimp, Google Earth, GeoGebra, Scratch, Webcam software, and a variety of other software. The only software we’ve added to it is Logger Pro to run our science probes and some Dell printer drivers (although we have customized the look and feel quite a bit). You can, of course, download and install just about any open source Linux software.

    It is easily customizable and has a very nice imaging process. Once you create the image you can copy that to a 4 GB or larger flash drive and then the imaging process takes about 6 minutes per machine using that flash drive. What I do is copy the image to 16 or so flash drives, then set out 16 netbooks on a table and start imaging. By the time I get to #16 the first one is usually done imaging. If your image is complete, then you’re done. What I do because we have netbooks in lots of different rooms is I create one image that has all of the possible printers that our netbooks print to setup on them, then after I image I simply delete all but the one that needs to be there (faster for me than copying a new image to all 16 flash drives). That probably adds about 2 minutes to each machine to do that. So, by the time I image all 16 and then work my way around and delete those printers, it’s probably about 15-20 minutes per set of 16.

    These machines are not locked down (although they can be), so students can – if you or they choose – customize them. While that’s scary to some folks (again, you could lock them down), the beauty is that the built-in restore function works in about 30 seconds. On boot up you can restore to your image and it adds about 30 seconds to the boot process and keeps any user documents. Or, you can choose to completely restore – wiping out the user docs as well – and it’s about 3 minutes. You can even set them to auto-restore back to the image on each boot if you’d like. (And while I typically do it, the process is easy enough that any teacher could be given a 3-step list of instructions to restore on their own if necessary.) Other than a little bit of knowledge to first create the image (and, trust me, I only have a little bit of Linux knowledge), these don’t require much support. (In fact, that’s partially why our tech department approved them, because they don’t have to support them.)

    While I don’t use this feature, you can push out updates to them from a server. A script is installed as part of your image that checks for updates, and then if you put a new update out on the server it will grab it (either at startup or shutdown I believe). I’ve chosen not to mess with that, at least partially because so far each year the updated version of ubermix has been enough better that I’ve simply chosen to reimage all of my netbooks (again, at about 15-20 minutes per set of 16, working by myself, that’s not bad, but your mileage may vary).

    While our netbooks don’t go home with students, they are used pretty heavily and we’ve had very few hardware issues. In four years we’ve had 2 or 3 cracked screens, a couple of failed hard drive/ssd drives, and a fair number of keys that get picked off and then we’ve had to replace the keyboard. They connect easily to our open wireless network and seem to match our Dell laptops running Win XP in terms of download speed via wireless.

    While we did do some training with our Language Arts teachers, it really wasn’t around Linux or the netbooks, it was around what to do with them. Teachers and students both just pick them up and use them – if they are comfortable using any computer, they are comfortable using these – not really much of a learning curve. We have them available for check out in our media center, and also in our Study Center, and students – even ones that don’t have a class that uses them – don’t seem to have any issues using them.

    So, I’m not necessarily trying to support one side of the argument or the other, but I think many folks reading this discussion don’t have any experience with the specifics of what Ben is talking about with his netbooks running ubermix, so I’m hoping this helps a bit. For us, the cost factor (as well as the ease of setup/support) is huge. Yes, I would prefer to give our students MacBooks over netbooks, but at a greater than 3 to 1 price ratio that’s a tough call to make. I think we’ll continue to see devices evolve. In the meantime, I would encourage everyone to at least explore a netbook running ubermix if you think it might meet the needs of your students and teachers.

    Reply
  29. Jim Klein
    September 28, 2011

    First of all, @Karl & @Ben, thank you so much for your kind words. I hope your descriptions and the success of your efforts will inspire others to truly “think different”, not because it’s cool, or popular, or what everyone else is doing, but because it’s what’s best for kids and for learning.

    I’ve been trying to stay out of the discussion here and let it breathe a bit, and for the most part have been pleased that the discourse has been of the sort that needs to take place in more venues, among more leaders, more often. However, when fabrications and suppositions are inflicted with a level of inexperienced absolution and unearned authority so spectacular, I simply can not abide.

    @Tim, your assertions reflect the very outdated arguments you claim to despise, betray just how long it’s been since you actually tried a real Linux desktop, and expose a bias so stark as to be obscene. Let’s break them down:

    Preface: “Linux… is a fragmented bunch of hobbyists that are bound only by their love of Linux and hate for Microsoft.” I think Red Hat, Novell, Ubuntu, IBM, HP, Dell, NYSE, Dreamworks, Amazon, Google, Pixar, Disney, countless universities, EVERY nation in Europe, EVERY major financial institution, EVERY web hosting provider, and countless others who base their businesses and enterprises on Linux (and contribute code and expertise on a continuous basis) would disagree. Red Hat alone has a market capitalization of $8.63 billion, and all they do is enterprise grade Linux. Governments across Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and Australia base their entire operations on Linux and open source. Hardly a fragmented bunch of hobbyists.

    1. “99% of their work is derivative and imitative.” You may not be aware of this, but MacOS is based almost entirely on open-source software. It boots off of an open kernel, and nearly every major function is based on open source code. Connecting to a server? Using open source. Logging in? Open source. Using Safari? Open source. ANY of it’s network functions? ALL open source. You might want to check Apple’s very own open source pages (http://www.apple.com/opensource/), and rethink your argument on that front. Then consider many of your favorite features of MacOS were actually ripped off of modern Linux desktops. Like spaces? Been in Gnome for more than a decade. Dashboard? Same. The dock? On Linux long before MacOS X ever sold a single version. Full screen apps? Come on, had those forever. According to Gartner’s estimation, 80% of modern applications contain significant portions of open source code. F-Spot and Shotwell are easily as good as iPhoto. There are at least a couple dozen video editors ranging from the simplistic (a la iMovie) to professional grade. Garageband is everywhere, even on the web, and was hardly an original idea. It’s even easy to make the argument that iOS’s interface is derivative of a number of similar interfaces developed on Linux long before the iPhone first shipped. Let’s stop suggesting that open source is derivative, especially when the software we espouse is often itself derivative of open source.

    2. “Linux support is chancy at best” Spoken like someone who’s never actually tried to get Linux support. HP, Dell, IBM, Asus, and Acer all provide technical support for Linux on their products. Red Hat, Novell, Linux Professionals Institute, and most colleges and universities offer certification programs, Red Hat’s having over 50,000 certified engineers alone. Believe it or not, even Microsoft provides support for Linux. If that’s not enough, there are plenty of support organizations like Revolution Linux that provide the “one throat to choke”. Finding people to help or employ is not the problem you purport it to be.

    3. “Linux is not intuitive or easy for the end user”. May have been true a decade ago, but like Windows and MacOS, Linux too has evolved. In particular, the Linux interface we use is built to be like a cell phone (sound familiar?) – just as easy to use and reliable. Installing apps is just as easy through the Ubuntu Software Center, which is much like the App store, only all the apps are free. You can give it to a 90 year old that has never touched a computer and they will be running with it in 10 minutes. Same with a 4 year old. And they won’t be asking you, “what are those empty squares with a Lego block in them” on every other web page they visit, or why you recommended a device that doesn’t work well with Google apps.

    4. “No one is buying Netbooks anymore” Not true. There were 35 million netbooks sold in 2010. Up from 30 million.

    Oh, and thanks for bringing up the TCO argument – haven’t heard that one since Gartner, IDC, and every major publication debunked it back when Microsoft was pushing phony studies over a decade ago, in a failed attempt to slow Linux growth in the server market. Also loved the bike analogy, especially when you consider it’s just as easy to apply to tablets of all stripes.

    The biggest mistake being made here is to assume Ben’s argument is a “cost” argument. It’s not. It’s a “value” argument, with a healthy dose of practicality, affordability, reliability, and sustainability built in. In short, it’s a real plan with legitimate goals, and a focus on empowering kids with something greater than an activity-centric technology model. Best of all, when you consider that the software is free and the device cost is low, it’s easy to see a natural and realistic progression to a BYOD program that is more than technological utopianism, but instead a plan that actually has a realistic chance of measurable success.

    Reply
  30. Dan Maas
    September 28, 2011

    Right on target and exactly the conclusions here in Littleton. We have deployed 5,000+ Linux netbooks (ASUS EeePC, with Umbuntu). Average purchase price: $278. Priven achievement gains in writing across the district. We did deploy iPad in Special Ed as the tool is superior to certain assistive technologies that cost $3,000. Otherwise, iPad is a personal device. We provide a fully open network so folks can bring theirs and use them at school. I think of them the way a Transportation Director might look at a Jaguar…. Nice to own, but not a fleet vehicle.

    Reply
  31. TIm Holt
    September 28, 2011

    Jim,
    Your response sounds just like a conversation I had about 15,10,and 5 years ago. You have not changed my mind. Derivative and imitative, niche player and TOC does not match the advertisement. (And yes, I am somewhat familiar with the Unix underpinnings of OSX. Something I would suspect you would embrace!) You all STILL rip off the R&E departments of real companies and use their work as the basis for “FOSS” material. Golly, lets use GIMP! It looks NOTHING LIKE Photoshop!

    Let’s look at Rat Hat, which you hold up as an example:
    How does a company that pimps FREE AND OPEN SOURCE software get anywhere close to having a market cap of $8 billion? They do it by repackaging FREE stuff, selling it, then selling the support. So, the argument that all of this stuff is a great deal is immedialty negated by your own example. Let’s look at the other examples: Amazon, Wall Street, etc etc. These are not deploying FOSS in the front end, they are deploying in the back end to run the networks. So it is wrong to imply that all of Amazon runs Linux. Really? The CEO of Amazon has Linux on his or her laptop? Really? I doubt it. The chair of the Dow Jones has Linux on his Smartphone? No. The actual Consumers don’t use Linux. The network uses it. The consumers only use it tangentially. The employees of these companies do not go home and boot up Linux machines. IT is either Mac OS or Windows or some iOS or Android device. (And don’t start with the Android is open source. It isn’t. Google is as open source as Apple. ) Really, you think that Netbook sales are increasing? Er, wrong: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/theyre-both-wrong-nothing-can-revive-netbook-sales/10792

    TCO is based on my own experiences in my own school district.

    So lets look at some facts: There are over 300 distributions of Linux going around. http://www.liberianobserver.com/commentary/2011/sep/27/there-are-over-300-distributions-linux-which-one-should-you-use

    Even Microsoft can’t match that silliness.

    Dan:
    How can you prove that the Linux machines caused writing scores to improve? I can see you being able to show a correlation, but I would be VERY interested if you can show a causation.

    Reply
  32. Mike_Porter
    September 28, 2011

    I think that Karl hit the nail on the head (I hate it when that happens) when he noted that the professional development on what to do with the tool is the key. None of us should be in the business of teaching apps, or OS’s, or platforms. We teach students.

    Having said that, here is one IT director’s notes and reasons why we (Englewood, CO) use netbooks:

    • Flash is a big deal, especially when my data warehouse, assessment systems, and video libraries all are flash-based.

    • iPads and Google Docs. Why are iPads given such a free pass on this? I refuse to give my students a tool that they cannot fully access a core application in our domain. Can’t do a Google spreadsheet on the iPad? Really?

    • I love it when our kids take to the front of the room, plug their netbooks into the VGA cord, and present. iPad? How much is that dongle?

    • No USB? Umm. Ok. Well maybe if Google Docs worked I could overlook the file transfer side of things, but what about probes? Document camera? Microphone?

    • App Management is a joke. And yes, I am in the Apple Volume Purchasing Program. It’s a crazy, multi-step process to get apps (do I really need to pay for a word processing program?), and the cost increments are steep, i.e. $500, next jump is to $1,000) I’m not even sure that Microsoft would attempt that.

    • Printing? Maybe there’s and app for that, but do I need to essentially pay for drivers?

    • I note a lot of chatter about IT “locking things down,” but isn’t that essentially what happens every time a teacher syncs iPads to his/her host machine? All local content is wiped out, isn’t it?

    • On keyboards. Aren’t we trying to get students to write more? More deeply? A QWERTY keyboard is most clearly superior for that. I love this post which contrasts students perceptions on laptops (not netbooks, not sure that it would change the outcome, though) vs iPads:

    “5. Would you prefer using iPads or laptops in class?
    Response: Laptops 74% iPads 26%
    Class range: 66% to 89% laptop preference

    In speaking to students and reading their comments, the main reasons that most still prefer laptops were as follows:
    • Typing on a laptop is easier for most users
    • Activities that require users to keep multiple windows open and switch between them are easier on laptops

    Source: http://ipadeducators.ning.com/profiles/blogs/what-do-students-think-of

    I have an iPad. I like it. But all too often it’s a solution in search of a problem for educational and institutional deployment. Just my, and like Ben’s and Dan’s tax-paying constituents, 2 cents worth.

    @ Tim. I think that Dan’s point, and by extension Ben’s, is that the price point of the Linux netbooks has allowed Littleton to craft a program in depth, to scale, and with fidelity around learning goals. A report is here: http://www.littletonpublicschools.net/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=ZW3L9KRfG2A%3d&tabid=656. I’m pretty sure that Dan is not saying that Linux is a tonic for student achievement, because we would all buy it then, wouldn’t we? Oh wait, Linux is free.

    Reply
  33. Barry Stewart
    September 28, 2011

    I’ve been following Ben and his project on Twitter via Dean Shareski who works in our school division and very well known for his innovative ideas in the education sector. I’ll start off by saying I’m a 27 year veteran of the IT wars and have worked in many types of organizations including private sector consulting, heath sector, government crown corporation and now as an IT professional in the education sector… that gives some background/experience. We run a primarily Windows shop… it works extremely well in our environment. We also now support Macs… integrated into our Active Directory of course so we manage only one authentication system. We are heavily invested in virtualization in our data centre (sorry Canadian spelling eh! LOL) as well as our servers in our schools. We run Windows Server 2008 R2, OS/X Server and various flavours of Linux server so yes, we run just about every mainstream O/S going. We also support iDevices, Blackberry devices, Windows Mobile and Android devices on mobility platforms. We have desktops, towers, notebooks, netbooks so again, pretty software and hardware agnostic. Where am i going with all this? Well, from our pretty extensive experience we run what people need… or at least, think they need 🙂

    For the Microsoft/Windows haters… why? If you think the platform is expensive/bloated/”locked-down”, I’m not sure where you’re coming from. Our high-end notebooks cost us ~$550 and run everything we can throw at them… including ADA (AutoDesk Design Academy – AutoCAD, Inventor, etc.)… a very resource intensive set of programs to say the least! These are Gartner Group “Leaders Quadrant” computers which are rock solid and reliable… they just work! We have a 4 year life-cycle on our systems and replace ~25% of them each year. The up-front cost of a computer is ~26% of the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership)… there’s also software costs (~20% although this is MUCH lower for education!!), support Cost (~41%) and communications/networking which is ~13% – Gartner Group 2007. Having said that, I can run down to my local Staples store and pick-up a 10.1″ HP netbook with 1GB of Ram, 250GB hard drive, and Windows 7 starter edition for $199.11 CAD that will run most apps our staff/students require… this post is being made using my 3 year-old 10.1″ Acer netbook running Windows XP Pro at this moment… it runs Flash video, browses great… everything I need on a day-to-day basis 🙂 Did I mention that it also has Office 2010 Ultimate on it at a cost = $0 (get your province or state to negotiate an FTE (academic FTE… NOT student FTE) deal with Microsoft!!! it also includes rights to install on all our Macs… and HUP (Home Use Program) where staff can purchase a license to run it on up 2 systems at home… $11… and it’s free training!!! For ~$50/FTE/year (were talking teaching FTE’s ONLY) we have the right to run the latest Windows O/S, the latest version of Office, all our server, Exchange and SharePoint CALs on every system we own… PC’s or Macs… it’s almost “free” LOL)… so I don’t really buy the software cost argument. Our base image also has many, many free/open-source software programs including Gimp, etc. on it so again, software costs are minimal. Some will say that the software is still a cost whereas a Linux solution is free. I refer you to the TCO of a computer… the highest cost is support… not the initial hardware and software acquisition costs and would challenge some of you out there, that nothing is free… even “free” software… if something doesn’t work there is a very real cost in either lost productivity (in the case of a school administrator) or in lost-learning opportunities as would be the case for a teacher or student. Microsoft software is very mature and has a large support base. In our world which includes a huge geographical area (larger than Prince Edward Island!) and many (35) small schools (by small I’m talking about schools with 50 – 60 students in some… our largest is a high school with ~750 students) we don’t have a lot of Linux guru’s around… but we do have access to Windows technicians… that’s our reality. We do all patch management, software deployment, system health monitoring, and remote troubleshooting… everything (except actual hardware failure) remotely. Now some people will cry that the systems are “locked down”… could someone please give me a definition of what this means… exactly? If by “locked down” you mean an environment that is stable, flexible (we use group policies that we can apply to anything from a single computer or user to the entire organization) and reliable then yes, we definitely “lock” them down 🙂 We look at our environment and our investment in technology systemically… not by individual platforms. The same policies can also be applied to our Mac systems so again, one system… many platforms. Speaking of the Macs, when we were first asked if it was possible to implement them into our environment we said sure, we’ll take a look at them… this was of course after we (IT Department) swore and called the education/curriculum side of the organization many bad names 🙂 it took some time and I have to say, I have a GREAT team here but we were able to make the Macs a full-functioning (integrated into Active Directory – single sign-on/authentication regardless of whether the user was logging onto a Mac or PC, same network printer access as PC’s, same access to network drives/folders/files, same internet access as our PC’s and of course, same ability to manage the Macs as our PC’s). In fact, our Linux/Mac guru worked with Apple engineers in Silicon Valley and has written code that Apple now uses… he’s good… but again, support is a critical factor in the successful implementation of any technology :). So where does that bring us to… oh yeah… netbooks and ubermix. When Dean first approached us on this (via twitter discussions with Ben) we promptly told Dean to go shove it up… never mind… my filter kicked in 🙂 We took some time, discussed this amongst the IT Department and have decided to give this a shot. A bit of background on this… we had a pilot that we ran a few years back when netbooks were first entering the marketplace. We took some netbooks and installed Windows XP Pro with our base image on half of them and on the other half; we installed Linux with a mix of what was state of the art at the time, free/open source software. We then gave these netbooks to teachers/students and told them to use them and let us know which one they preferred. The vast majority came back and told us they preferred the Windows units. Again, we were basically a Windows shop so this kinda made sense as our user base were comfortable with Windows and in fact, most had home computers with a Windows O/S on them. This brings us to an important point/consideration… what training do end-users require to successfully implement a technology solution and the second part of this question is how much is that going to cost the organization? We knew we had a user-base that had at a minimum, a basic knowledge of Windows and some of its associated software, so that meant we did not require basic training on this platform… which means we just reduced our costs… which could be used for oh… say… that sweet Microsoft FTE agreement 🙂 Remember… its systemic people! Was this a fair pilot then? Well, both platforms were given exactly the same support… ZERO! That was then and this is now and the only constant in technology is change. So now, after being brow-beaten by Dean… and I mean that in the nicest way LOL… we will be looking at the ubermix platform. The 20 second restore sounds great… 4 minute re-image would be nice and the support model appears to be awesome! We have some potential issues/concerns that will need to be discussed/addressed… issues such as security… should users (students and/or staff) get root access and if so, what does this mean from a division-wide viewpoint? What potential risks does it expose the organization to – staff and students love technology but teachers aren’t so keen to teach if their paycheque (sorry… Canadian spelling again Eh!) isn’t directly deposited on time and the mortgage doesn’t get paid due to a DDOS attack launched from these oh-so-kewl Linux-based netbooks 🙂 How can we mitigate this risk… VLAN… perhaps… this is one example. We will also have to discuss roles/responsibilities as well as expectations as we move forward. So, after this rant… which system ultimately is best… the answer would have to be all, none and some… depending on a huge number of factors… there is no one perfect platform. We’ll try to let people know how our pilot goes… thanks for the initial post Ben and to all those who contributed (even if some were a little on the negative side… be nice peeps… there just viewpoints of regular, everyday people… open your minds to possibilities… what if???).

    My 2 cents

    Reply
  34. Computers for Everybody | Rob Sbaglia
    September 28, 2011

    […] used, rather than looking objectively at what the kids can/do do with it. I stumbled across this interesting blog post by Ben Grey, who essentially states that spending large amounts of money on technology (in this case, iPads) […]

    Reply
  35. Jim Klein
    September 29, 2011

    OK, @Tim, so let’s break down your *new* arguments. Basically what you are saying is:

    1. It’s only a ripoff if an open source application looks like a commercial one, but not vice versa. Oh, and free GIMP isn’t as good as $200 Photoshop.

    2. Linux isn’t as popular on the desktop with consumers in the United States (forget other countries) so we shouldn’t use it.

    3. Based on a bad experience you had with Linux terminal services a decade ago, the TCO isn’t there.

    4. Based on an *opinion piece* you linked to that contained no numbers, facts, or data the netbook is dead.

    Just so we’re clear.

    Reply
  36. Karl Fisch
    September 29, 2011

    I’m curious as to everyone’s thoughts regarding how much longer Active Directory (or similar) is going to be a big part of what we do. I know my district is at least partially moving away from it (as we move to Google Apps/the cloud, not as much need for AD), but I’m curious where everyone else is at with that.

    Barry – condolences for having to work with Dean.

    Reply
  37. TIm Holt
    September 29, 2011

    Jim,

    1. When Linux developers start paying royalties to the companies they rip off, then yeah, we can talk. Until then, I still see them as a bunch of copycats. What do you all say now about the latest “distros” of Linux? It is “easier to use”. That is code for: It looks more like Windows or Mac.

    2. Linux isn’t popular anywhere but in Geekland and Nerdvill and Finland:
    http://www.google.com/trends?q=linux%2C+windows%2C+mac

    3. The experience was last year, not ten years ago. Actually, it has been a series of bad experiences over a number of years, the last one being last school year. You see, we keep trying.

    4. Netbook sales are tanking. Not opinion: http://www.enterprisemobiletoday.com/news/article.php/3886881/Mobile-Computing-Trend-Tablets-Will-Supplant-Netbooks-by-2012.htm

    Next?

    Reply
  38. Barry Stewart
    September 29, 2011

    Karl,

    Thanks so much for your kind words and understanding of the “Dean” factor… we just try to keep the kids in mind and forge ahead LOL 🙂 As far as AD or any other directory service system (LDAP, etc.) I’m not sure how you would manage users, e-mail addresses, folder/file rights, etc. How would users authenticate to shared services/resources? From your statements are you saying you have moved mission-critical applications/data/etc. to Google Apps? I’m guessing you are residing in the States as we (Saskatchewan/Canada) by law cannot store certain sensitive personal information is US data repositories (Google would be one of these)… Patriot Act. We must also meet many provincial and federal requirements and standards when it comes data security/access/monitoring/logging/etc. that Google and other consumer grade services can’t meet. I’m also curious how you could deliver 99.99% – 99.999% uptime when Google is an external service with no SLA (Service Level Agreement)? Getting back to directory services our province is actually looking at a pilot project that would integrate directory services from many school divisions and potentially all school divisions in the province. Connectivity, collaboration and community is one of the primary drivers for this initiative. Think of grade-alikes or PLC’s that could extend across not just our division but all school divisions in the province. Dean (yes, that guy again LOL) says we should “share everything!”… just like kindergarten 🙂 I’m also curious about your computing model… it almost sounds like every device would autonomous… is this correct? how would teachers access services such as your SIS (Student Information System) and other critical systems? Sorry for all the questions… just an interesting/different model than I’ve seen… thanks.

    Reply
  39. Karl Fisch
    September 29, 2011

    Barry,

    Hopefully my CIO (Dan Maas) will jump back in and address some of your questions better than I can.

    I’m pretty sure that Google has certified that they will store all of our data on U.S.-located servers which, of course, works for us, not so much for you.

    While there are still issues with going to an all-cloud environment, Google Apps is getting better every day at handling them (the fabled G-drive would be a big plus). All of our students have Google Apps accounts and we are moving our staff email to Google Apps in December (from MS Exchange, but not doing away with AD for staff or students just yet, but beginning to de-emphasize for students). As far as “shared services and resources,” for the most part the users will handle that themselves within GApps – I think that’s part of the beauty of it – they decide.

    Our student information system (Infinite Campus) is web-based, so no AD needed for that, as well as our web platform (Dot Net Nuke – another open source choice, although currently tied to AD), and we also have Moodle (although not used extensively yet, not tied to AD, but could be). Certainly there are other enterprise-level software packages that may or may not require AD (that’s where hopefully Dan can chime in).

    Can you clarify your “every device would be autonomous” question – I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re asking. Currently we still have a majority of Windows systems (Win XP, tied into AD), but our Linux netbooks (not tied into AD) are quickly catching up. We also have a few Macs here and there (not tied into AD, but can access servers via SMB). We have a secure wireless network for Windows devices, and an open wireless network for the netbooks as well as personally-owned-devices (http://arapahoe.littletonpublicschools.net/Default.aspx?tabid=3700)

    Reply
  40. Barry Stewart
    September 29, 2011

    Even if you move most of your “stuff” off to GDocs you mentioned other apps/services such as Moodle (great product by the way… we use it here) that are (at least many/some) tied to a directory service (AD in this case). If you have no central directory service available does that mean you will hve multiple logins… one for each service?

    Reply
  41. Karl Fisch
    September 29, 2011

    Our moodle logins are synched with our Google Apps logins (our Moodle pulls the info directly from Infinite Campus each night), so same login for both of those. The Infinite Campus login itself is different and not synched to anything.

    Reply
  42. Mike Porter
    September 29, 2011

    AD or LDAP won’t be going away for staff anytime soon, as far as I can tell. In fact, we’re working furiously to get all of our staff on one AD environment, as we have two domains and multiple directory services (one per building, historical residue from slow WAN connects and OD (Apple at elems) and AD (at HS’s)).

    It’s a nightmare, but we cracked the code this month with the AD/OD “golden triangle” and can thus consolidate all staff and students to one AD environment, Mac or Pc users. We’re 80% Mac on the staff side. This is huge as we can then tie in our hosted web platform, our teacher eval. system, video library (Learn360), and others. AD will sync with Google Apps, so we can connect those two environments, too.

    I think, Karl, that you were asking about the student side of things mostly. Yes, I see individual AD accounts going away for our students almost entirely. I still see AD accounts for grades K-3 (usually just a grade level account) and for video/STEM labs dealing with large files and the need for huge storage. But other than that, not so much. Currently, we have AD accounts for all of HS kids, for example, and a generic Student2011 account. I watch tons of kids just use the generic account as they just want to get on a machine and get online, and hate waiting for the roaming profile to load.

    So no, I don’t think AD is endangered, but I think that the way we use it (more as an interface for other web-services) is changing. For us, it’s been way more stable than Apple’s OD, by the way.

    Reply
  43. Barry Stewart
    September 29, 2011

    OK… I guess it depends primarily on what systems a division currently has in place and how integrated they are. It would also depend to some degree on federal and provincial regulations. Interesting conversations… thanks all 🙂

    Reply
  44. Tom
    September 29, 2011

    I work in Henrico County. We’ve had a 1:1 for the last 11 years. We started off with Apple (4 yrs HS, 8 yrs MS) and then moved to Dell. This is around 27,000 student laptops just to give some scale if it matters. I don’t know if that helps or hurts my credibility.

    For disclosure, I am an Apple Distinguished Educator (07) and have done work for Dell.

    We’ll be refreshing the high school laptops after next year. The discussion we’re having mostly revolves around meeting the most common usage parameters. It doesn’t take much of a machine to use the Internet, to write, or to do limited media construction (basic audio recording/editing, presentations, light image editing, video recording if not serious editing).

    What we’ve done in the past is to try to supply machines capable of the high end use that is done relatively rarely (even in an environment where we’ve been actively encouraging it for 11 years) – the video editing etc. Those are the machines you try to give every student. It generally doesn’t work out that way. Budgets, of course, come into play. It seems you end up with machines that are overpowered for basic use and underpowered for the more sophisticated use. I’d love to see the surplus drive space, computing cycles, etc. on an average day in your average 1:1.

    What I’m advocating (and this is just me personally) for in this next refresh is to have minimal machines that meet the basic daily needs. Cost, battery life matter far more to me than OS. What I’d like in addition to these basic machines are a limited number of high end machines that can be checked out that will make the serious video editing and other resource intensive processes a pleasant and positive experience. This model would also enable us to radically reduce our software licensing costs. I start to care more about OS and specific pieces of software at this point.

    It seems sort of obvious to me. For day to day use, most students/people are on the Internet. The OS doesn’t really matter. With the proper infrastructure you aren’t really using the OS much at all. I’d rather have all student work saved off machine anyway for any number of reasons. Since that is the case, all the happy and pleasant things associated with your choice of OS are pretty minimal for most users.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love my Apple hardware/software and personally I’d prefer it for the specialized machines but I don’t see anyway to advocate for the price differential in a world that increasingly does not use the OS for anything substantial.

    In the end, I doubt the 1:1 school provided model will last 5 more years at any scale. I’d expect a BYOD subsidized model to take over. Why force kids to accept the Yugo when they have a Porsche they’d prefer to bring? It seems to make a lot more sense to allow students to bring what they want. You cut some deals for price breaks, maybe some subsidies as well and you provide solid machines for those who can’t afford them. You can do this with a standardized online set of tools. That gets the school out of the middle where you are the one taking the beating on everything.

    My two cents as a private individual not representing anyone or anything –

    Tom

    Reply
  45. Barry Stewart
    September 29, 2011

    A VERY good point Tom… perhaps the bigger discussion is how do we prepare (infrastucture) to support student & staff owned devices.

    Reply
  46. Jim Mackey
    September 30, 2011

    20 netbooks – $5000. USB stick – $10. Kids using netbooks in the classroom – PRICELESS!

    For us the question was not one of fiscal responsibility but fiscal necessity. I’m not concerned with TCO. ECO is where I live – the entry cost of ownership. With virtually no budget 1:1 was nothing more than a pipe dream. Thanks to ubermix on netbooks (and a generous grant from the Just For Kids Foundation of Telluride) we’re no longer dreaming, we’re piloting.

    So, uberthanks to Jim Klein and staff. An inspired thanks to Dan and the folks at LPS. And Ben, thanks for articulating so well both stated goals and logical conclusions in your posts.

    Reply
  47. Barry Stewart
    September 30, 2011

    @ Jim,

    One of our core responsibilities is “the effective and efficient use of resources”… we are very cognisant that the more efficient we are (in IT) the more dollars we can spend in the classrooms… for technology, other tools/resources and yes, staffing. Looking at a pure dollar figure is a bit of a shell-game without looking at what those dollars delivered in the way of improved outcomes for students. TCO is actually a very important metric when looking at what dollars were spent over the entire life-cycle of a technology… using just the acquisition cost doesn’t tell the whole story. We have a mix of notebooks, desktop/towers and netbooks all running on the Windows platform that supports the vast majority of our curriculum goals as well as the “business” side (SIS, ePPP, Ministry reporting, etc.). We also have an ever increasing number of Macs in our environment that supports certain curriculum better (more effectively) than the Windows systems. We are now embarking on a linux-based (we’ll start with ubermix… If we can ever get it downloaded… drop box sux!!!) netbook pilot thanks in large part to Dean (one of our Curriculum Consultants and Ben. We hope to determine if this platform works for our students and teaching staff as they are the ones who make these decisions… NOT the IT Department. Dean and I have often talked about the gap between the education side and the IT Departments in many school divisions… it seems that in many cases the “tail is wagging the dog”. By that I mean that in many school divisions the IT Department dictates (sometimes with little to no input/feedback from teachers, students, and other stakeholders) what is used and how it is used… I call it the God complex. Ask Dean about the presentation we gave at a conference a few years back… we had a t least one fairly high profile IT Director storm out when they were openly challenged by a teacher… good times  I’m NOT an educator (although my first year in university was), I’m an IT Professional, however, my spousal-unit is a Student Support Consultant (she is actually on the same support “team” as Dean… poor girl) so my “IT” way of thinking is constantly being challenged by the “look jack-ass, this is the reality of education on the front-lines!”… so yes, I am well versed on the education side… if I have to watch one more RTI or DI video or presentation I’m going to gouge my eyes out  Anyways, back to the discussion at hand… we picked up a 10.1” HP netbook with Windows Starter Edition for $219.02 (taxes included) so the 20 you purchased for $5,000 is right in the ballpark. We will likely run 3 different setups on them; the ubermix, a customized linux system (integrated into our Active Directory so students have access to their files/folders, printers and other resources) as well as Windows 7 (NOT the Starter Edition LOL). These units will be given to teachers specifically chosen by Dean with the expectation that they are used and feedback/data provided at the end of the pilot. We will then install the exact same setups on low-end notebook computers to see if size does indeed make a difference… we feel that form-factor may also be differentiator for students and staff. Anyways, that’s our plan of attack. Hopefully we can get Dean to post the results once the project has wrapped up.

    Reply
  48. Barry Stewart
    October 3, 2011

    First $199 HP netbook is running ubermix! Will be handing it over to Dean so he can take a look at it and then discuss the pilot 🙂 Also, it appears that the ubermix-key0.910.img file is corrupt… we got crc errors when we tried to install it on this notbook… the ubermix-key0.717.img file worked fine. Downloading from the site was NOT a fun experience… no matter where we were (work, home, other places) it took a number of failed attempts… finally used wget 🙁

    Reply
  49. Barry Stewart
    October 3, 2011

    Here’s an update on our installation: It took 15 minutes to load from USB stick… remember we are using an HP netbook with a 5400rpm hard drive so our theory is that it would be much quicker (the 4 minutes quoted in other areas makes sense) on a system with SSD. Things looking good thus far 🙂

    Reply
  50. Karl Fisch
    October 3, 2011

    Barry, not sure what’s going on with that image – I would check with Jim Klein. While the download of the image from his site isn’t speedy, I’ve never had a corrupted file, so maybe something is going on with his host (or that file) that he should take a look at.

    Also, 15 minutes sounds way too long for install. We have netbooks with hard drives that take 6 or 7 minutes from flash drive (not much speed difference with SSD netbooks, SSD maybe slightly faster ~ 6 minutes).

    Reply

Leave a Reply