Updates from December, 2011 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Andrew T Schwab 12:45 pm on December 12, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    iPads And The Never Ending Update Cycle 

    iPads are fun. I’ve spent the last two days updating two dozen of them to replace the student’s broken ones. Of course, after accidentally (ok, it was on purpose) updating iTunes and the apps on my sync station MacBooks, I discovered that most of our key apps now won’t install on a 4.3.5 iOS device, complaining instead about needing iOS 5. So rather than a quick app sync, I’m actually updating the iOS, restoring from backup, syncing apps and renaming each iPad individually. Again.

    I should just move my office into the iPad room. Oh, wait. I’m leaving. Maybe I’ll recommend that to my replacement but then he might like walking back and forth across campus a dozen times a day.

  • Andrew T Schwab 9:54 pm on December 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Money Saving Brainstorm Session 

    Tonight I responded to a question on the CETPA listerv about crazy outside the box ideas for saving money in school IT departments. Here is what I wrote:

    We’ved used many strategies to save money, or more precisely, do more with no money (prior to going 1:1 iPads)

    1. Virtualized Servers – Used ESXi (free) to consolidate hardware while expanding # of servers

    2. Leveraged free cloud services – migrated email from Exchange to Google Apps (includes Spam filter)

    3. Used Open Source Software – Moodle LMS running on Ubuntu, District web site wordpress server running on Ubuntu, Untangle web filter, replaced Symantec Ghost with FOG imaging server, LTSP Server for thin clients, 2X Thinclient server for Windows TS pxe boot thin clients, Ubermix for netbooks and lab PCs, open office and google docs for students

    4. Purchased Refurbished PCs instead of new PCs for staff

    5. Started a MOUSE Squad class for student tech support

    6. Not replacing classroom printers when they die (remember – there is no printing from the iPads!)

    7. Switched copier vendors

    8. Utilize free web based tools for classroom instruction – CK12 flexbooks, web 2.0 tools like collaborize classroom, quizlet, easybib

    9. Pushing student file storage to the cloud with youtube, dropbox and google docs

    10. Using open source FreeNas white boxes for staff file storage with cheap commodity hardware and DFS for redundancy

    11. Using AppleTV and iTunes for cheap digital signage (Danny Silva‘s brain storm)

    That’s the list just off the top of my head.

    That generally sums up my last eight years at Le Grand, sans the Mac migration and 1:1 iPad move. How we made that pivot is a topic for another day (And if you can’t wait, just listen to my podcast).

    • brian 10:01 am on December 12, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Here are some things I’ve done in the past to eliminate costs and really reduce technical support
      Host Ubuntu Desktop servers in a cloud (I used AWS).
      Use x2go on the server and config the server with the x2go browser plugin for firefox
      USB boot a very slimmed down Ubuntu on any client PC/thin-client/old pc etc
      and have it auto start Firefox with the installed plugin
      Home page is set by default to point to the Cloud Desktop server
      User logs in via the browser and gets the remote cloud server’s Ubuntu desktop
      A second server in the cloud is running Windows server 2008r2 with rdesktop enabled.
      Use the newly released freerdp v1.0 which now supports Microsofts RemoteAPP from the Ubuntu cloud server desktop to bring single Windows Apps onto the user’s Ubuntu server’s Desktop as a just another X window application. You can resize/move/minimize the windows RemoteAPP Xwindow just like any of the linux apps.
      With x2go compression it all works very well at the remote users school PC/thin-client/etc that they originally booted from the USB.
      Best of all…. when schools over they can pull their USB, take it home, boot a home PC and get their same School remote Cloud Ubuntu desktop.

      Since all data storage stays in the cloud and nothing on the local machine… their work is still available to them. They can do their homework at home and when they go back to school the again take their USB with them, plug it in and boot from it at school and can go right back to work.
      All open source and free except the Cloud server charges and the Microsoft licensing for TS CALS.

    • jim miller 4:56 am on January 18, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Has to be said: Open Books are truly creating and Open World of equal opportunities of Quality education! http://goo.gl/0tyCJ

  • Andrew T Schwab 9:21 pm on December 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    I just looked at my calendar and realized… 

    I just looked at my calendar and realized I’ve only got three weeks left at Le Grand and next week is finals week. So much to do and so little time. I feel like transitioning a Lone Ranger IT shop over to a new person is so much more involved than if I had some continuity in personel to bridge the change. Yikes. Maybe I should just do a video tour documentary for my replacement so he gets my eight year perspective on this place. Diagrams and Inventory lists can only tell so much of the story.

  • Andrew T Schwab 12:00 pm on December 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Transitions. New Job. New Opportunities 

    Eight years ago I fell into the education world almost by accident. I went to work for a great little district that dared to dream big. They trusted me to see them into the 21st Century and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that over the years. The district is half way through transitioning to a fully 1:1 learning environment. In just one and a half short years, the transformation will be complete. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished together. Teachers, Administrators, Students, Parents, Custodians, everyone. Working at Le Grand has been a rewarding and fun place to work and I will certainly miss it.

    Transitioning for a one person IT shop can be a challenge and Le Grand’s diverse environment of Linux, Windows, iOS and Mac made finding a replacement even tougher. More importantly, bringing in someone that shares the vision and beliefs of what we have built and the direction we are going was critical to moving forward in the right direction. I’m happy to say we found the right person and I know he’ll carry the vision forward. Le Grand’s edtech future is in good hands.

    So on January 3rd  my adventure begins with the East Side Union High School District. It’s a big district with a rich history and proud tradition. I look forward to leading the IT department in the support and service of the district’s 24,000 students, the community and all of the staff. Many challenges face education today but I believe now is one of the most exciting times to be involved with education technology.

    On some level I am sad to be leaving Le Grand but just as coming to work here was an unplanned career move, so was this newest adventure. The opportunity presented itself and a new chapter in my life is opening. I’m excited to be moving back into actual management and to have the opportunity to positively influence the learning of so many students and staff.

    The family and I will be trading small town Merced for the big city life of San Jose. It’s actually a return to big city living for us. We lived in downtown San Jose right out of college. This time we’ve got two kids a dog and two cats tagging along and I’m really looking forward to paying pet rent every month.

    • Colin Matheson 1:27 pm on December 12, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Congrats. Sad for Le Grand to be hit with the loss of Danny and you in one semester. However I hope you can Ubermix all of San Jose.
      Maybe you can start a Big School, Small Tech podcast (small in a good sense).

      • Andrew Schwab 1:34 pm on December 12, 2011 Permalink | Reply


        We’ve hired a great replacement and I’m confident he’ll see Le Grand through to the 1:1 finish line. Danny and I are in a bit of a quandary with what to do with the podcast title. Maybe we need to bring in a third guest host on a regular basis that actually is working at a small school.

  • Andrew T Schwab 7:18 pm on December 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    5 School IT Lessons Learned The Hard Way 

    Back when I started in IT with Exodus Communications twelve years ago, it seemed like there was a priest like aura surrounding the tech departments in private industry.  They were the gate keepers and the first words out of their mouths when asked to do anything new was always NO.  Back then, in what I like to think of as the Dark Ages, IT departments were isolated from the business much as they are depicted in the excellent show The IT Crowed.  They lived in the basement and only came into the light of day to fix a problem.  That old school philosophy underwent a major change after the tech bubble burst in 2001/2 and outsourcing become the buzz word.  Suddenly IT was a commodity, a fixed cost to be cut.  IT shops in the private sector started to talk about adding value to the business and integrating themselves into core functions.  I believe this was mostly a self preservation tactic but it was a good one, because the IT shops that took on the customer centric approach became more responsive and valuable to their companies and in so doing they became more than just a commodity service or a cost center.

    Having started my IT career right out of college working for a group called System Administration Services in the Customer Service and Support division I came out of the gate with a customer focus and never looked back.  It was really a great learning environment to be in as I worked with a wide range of experts covering diverse skill sets.  There were Windows admins and Solaris admins and CCIEs all working together with a common purpose. From them I learned that the platform (ideology) is not as important as the solution (results).  It was during this time I also learned that the customer is more important than the technology.

    Lesson number one: Focus on the needs of the customer and on finding the right solution to meet those needs.

    But a funny thing happened when I came over to the education sector.  I felt like I had stepped back in time.  Literally, from the equipment to the organization.  As far as IT went, 2003 might as well have been 1998.  I guess the threat of outsourcing had never materialized in local government agencies and so the shift from old school isolated command and control IT to customer centric, integrated into core business IT never happened.  My first thought was to seek guidance from our County Office of Education. Unfortunately they were not much help, being well entrenched in the old school IT thinking I was trying to avoid. The challenge for me then became how to transition my district into the 21st Century based on the principles I had learned at Exodus while working under this cloud of old school IT.  I set to work stabilizing the infrastructure for my district and ignored the cloud around me as much as possible.

    Lesson number two: Don’t worry about that which you have no control over, focus on what you can control.

    As soon as I was done stabilizing the infrastructure, I turned to my customers. I talked to as many people as possible as I started to develop short term goals for the District, a plan for technology and a budget to meet the goals.  I focused on building out the core infrastructure to support services for the next 10 years.  I learned that School Districts have tech plans.  I also learned that not everyone at a school district reads the tech plans.  And most importantly, I learned that technology was not seen as integral to the District’s mission but rather as something to spend large chunks of money on as it became available without planning or direction.

    Lesson number three: IT is invisible to many but it is absolutely critical to any organization, make the district see the critical nature of IT as soon as possible.

    The focus after getting to know my district became putting computers in the classroom (and building out the network to support them).  This is what the state wanted to know on its surveys, it was what E-Rate was designed for (Internet Access in classrooms), it was what Administration wanted and it was what everyone else was doing.  Had I not been overwhelmed by the magnitude of trying to move technology five years into the future in only one year’s time I might have noticed that while everyone said they wanted computers in the classrooms what they were really saying was they wanted what everyone else was getting.  And so when we did get four computers and an overhead projector in every classroom, they were not fully utilized.  In fact it took several years to get a significant number of Teachers using projectors and email and we never did see meaningful utilization of the four classroom computers.  I had made a fundamental mistake and lost track of who my customer was and what their needs really were.  Had I focused on teachers as customers, I would have identified training as a much bigger part of the project and I would have asked how those four computers would be used for instruction. Instead I focused mainly on the infrastructure and technology and we got a state of the art network with hit or miss classroom utilization. (although in my defense, the infrastructure needed the attention)

    Lesson number four: Know who your customers are and what they need. (and nobody’s perfect)

    After the big push to upgrade the District’s core technology, the next challenge was how to maintain it.  We had upgraded most of the infrastructure using one time grant money and E-Rate. While it was desperately needed, moving forward there was no real strategy or budget for maintaining the level of technology in place.  Over several years I was able to develop a budget and refresh cycle to maintain the core infrastructure. We leveraged strategies like thin client and refurbished machines to replace equipment and maintain the four to six computers per classroom and the computer labs. Fast forward to present day and the original plan for computers in the classroom has completely changed. We’re now focused on getting a device for every student.  It turns out that our high school teachers didn’t really know what to do with only four computers at the back of their classroom. What they needed was more labs and what is a lab really but a 1:1 learning environment? So we pivoted seemingly overnight and made the decision to change direction. Our solid infrastructure allowed us to do this relatively easily. But of course, the decision to deploy iPads has made it a bit more challenging.

    Lesson number five: Be flexible.

    In my eight years in education technology I have come to realize that school IT is not like business IT. Some practices are similar and can transfer over, but classrooms are living spaces that have unique needs. Business IT is about standards and control and not generally well suited to dynamic environments. It’s ok if we borrow from the business IT world, but only if it works and makes sense for education. Often times, it does not. So go visit some classrooms and see what your customers really need, chances are it’s not what you think.

    (Note: This post was sitting as a draft for over a year. I finally got around to finishing it)

  • Andrew T Schwab 5:48 pm on December 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    The Collapse of Public Education In America. An Infographic. 

    I like a good info graphic. Care of @robdarrow

    The Collapse of Public Education in America
    Via: Online Universities Blog

  • Andrew T Schwab 10:01 am on December 6, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: adam bellow, change the world, charity, edutecher, , make a difference   

    Changed The World! 

    Recently I pledged to match up to $100 in fellow Google Certified Teacher Adam Bellow‘s Change The World campaign. I love the idea that something as small as a penny can make a difference and wanted to support it as best I could. Maybe next year I’ll be able to go all in and match 100% but for this year here is how the donations broke down:

    $50 to Make a Wish Foundation  https://secure.wish.org/

    $25 to Donors Choose – http://www.donorschoose.org/donors/proposal.html?id=623524

    $15 to Ronald McDonald House    https://donate.rmhc.org/

    $5 to March of Dimes   http://www.marchofdimes.com/giving/giving.html

    $5 to Boys and Girls Clubs     http://www.bgca.org/Pages/index.aspx

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