Updates from May, 2014 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Andrew T Schwab 10:52 am on May 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    The Chromebook’s Achilles’ Heel 

    Chromebook Achilles Heal (1)

    Chromebooks are all the rage in education circles these days. I suspect it’s because of their low cost and minimal support requirements. Even traditional Windows and Apple shops are finding it hard to say no to them when faced with rapid demand for student mobile devices and a test friendly platform. Now that Asus and HP have announced Chromeboxes, I foresee a lot of obsolete labs being converted over to ChromeOS.

    Minecraft is also taking the education world by storm. MinecraftEDU offers a simple, teacher friendly entry into the realm of online collaborative gaming. With Minecraft camps popping up all over, K12 IT folks had best be taking note because, guess what, Chromebooks won’t run Minecraft. That’s right, the low cost solution to K12 student devices and online testing that’s in favor at the moment won’t run one of the most interactive and engaging collaborative environments to come along for education, ever. Don’t believe that Minecraft is for learning? Watch this interview with John Miller and find out why you’re missing the boat. Minecraft ties into the bigger maker movement and education’s renewed focus on STEM and STEAM. And kids like playing it.

    From all accounts, it doesn’t seem like MinecraftEDU, with it’s Java based, 3D Graphics environment will be coming to chromebooks anytime soon, so that leaves few options. We can go back to running Windows clients, with all the overhead associated with that choice. We can pay the Apple hardware premium to run OS X, and run Minecraft in a few select locations (those old labs). Or we can choose the middle path and run Ubermix to get the best of all worlds. Ease of deployment and support, fast boot times, no virus worries, Java and Flash included, the Chrome Browser and thousands of free education apps baked right in. Guess which one I’m leaning towards? Assuming I can convince people #ubermix is awesome that is.


    Arrow PNG file source: http://www.clker.com/cliparts/s/r/c/B/m/h/arrow-hi.png

    • Kristen Walker 4:22 pm on June 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Great read and very timely for me. I helped host the CUERockStar Express in Santa Barbara this weekend and sat in Chris Scott’s Minecraft presentation. I also held a little Ubermix install fest using a Dell Laptop during the lunch. I am going to try installing Ubermix on all the old hardware I can get my hands on (Mac and PC) and see how it goes. I think this is a great option, especially now that SBAC is going to be making a lot of demands for more hardware on school sites and most schools have old hardware coming out of their ears that could be re-purposed with the help of an Ubermix install.

    • Lindsay 7:43 am on July 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Very interesting article. I am looking at using Minecraft in my classroom for learning and engagement. These are great resources for justification of use and implementation. The school district I work in is very big on chrome books. They bought chrome book labs for whole school use when the computer labs are not available. It is interesting to see what advantages and disadvantages these computers have. My computer labs have PC’s so it is possible to implement Minecraft in my teaching. However, the problem will be the red tape and IT resistance to installing and using something new such as Ubermix. You did peak my interest and give me some great resources to look into.

    • Microsoft Hosted Exchange Dubai 12:09 am on July 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for the post and I really was looking for an article on this. Thanks again.

  • Andrew T Schwab 9:30 am on May 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    School WiFi Is Hard 

    Eleven years ago, school networking was all about putting hardwired data drops into classrooms. That was then, this is now. Hardwired cabling is still important, but today, a school without wireless (or WiFi) is seriously living in the dark ages. The rapid explosion of mobile internet devices has pushed wifi to center stage of the education conversation. Not having WiFi is like not having power, it’s a necessity not a luxury.

    But wifi is more complicated than running cables to a spot on the wall. There are a billion (ok, maybe a few less) variables that come into play when trying to send high speed data over the air. The wifi in schools uses unlicensed radio waves (spectrum) to send data and that means there can be interference from all kinds of sources. Ever walked onto an elementary school campus and tried to connect to a wifi network? Chances are you’ll see a few dozen networks to choose from, most of which are coming from the houses surrounding the school. All those networks are in competition for the same limited radio space.

    The walls in the buildings matter too. Depending on when a school was built, the walls could be cinder block, concrete or stick framed. Each presents potential signal loss for wifi. Wifi vendors will say their Access Points (APs) perform better than others when faced with these different materials, but if you plan for an AP per classroom, that doesn’t matter so much. Schools trying to cover multiple classrooms with a single AP may want to pay closer attention to those features.

    Additionally, school network folks tend to over think wireless network security making connecting to the network a multi-step process with many points of failure. With the move to cloud based and hosted services, the vast majority of users on a school campus should only need Internet access. Most of the educational programs available today come as hosted services and any district that still hosts it’s own exchange server is just plain silly.

    Wifi as easy as Starbucks.

    People have crazy expectations when it comes to wifi. These expectations are built on their experience connecting to networks outside of school. Starbucks makes wifi access easy, but how? Well, Starbucks supports maybe three dozen people connected simultaneously per store at any given time. They have a confined space with known wireless properties. They have no network security because all they are doing is putting people directly onto the Internet. They have enough bandwidth for their users (and probably throttle to protect everyone’s experience). They let anyone who comes into their stores onto the network.

    So what can schools learn from Starbucks?

    • Treat each classroom like a Starbucks store. Have one AP per classroom. At least.
    • Provide Internet Access to everyone.
    • Lose the complex logins and certificates. Authenticate users to your private network if you must, or better yet, make your private network unnecessary for instructional needs.
    • Set limits on bandwidth to protect everyone’s experience.

    Wireless Vendors

    Which one should I buy? This is a question I hear often. The answer for me comes down to three main criteria. First, the wifi system must be easy to manage. I put this first because wireless network demands continue to grow in schools. Most schools don’t have the luxury of employing dedicated wireless network engineering staff. If I can’t figure out how to add an SSID, set it as a guest network with splash screen authentication, set a bandwidth limit and push it out to a school campus in less than 10 minutes, the system is just too complicated.

    Second, the system has to do what I need it to do. It just has to work. This may seem like a “no duh” statement, but I’ve been in situations where, for whatever reason, the wireless system just couldn’t meet the needs, at least not without complex configuration or added licenses and that’s a recipe for disaster. If the system requires constant tweaking or firmware updates to get things right, or it’s so complex and bogged down with features you’ll never use, then it’s a support time suck and it’s a problem. Wireless systems fall along a spectrum. Beware the overly complex wireless systems that require outside vendors to install, configure and make work day to day as well as the too simple, Small Business type solutions that can’t scale.

    Finally, the system must be affordable. Affordability is important because chances are you’ll be replacing (or upgrading) your wireless system every three to five years. Crazy, I know but the technology changes fast, and keeping up with faster and denser device environments is a must. So affordable Access Points, licenses and preferably no on premise controllers to replace is critical to being able to keep up.

    What Wireless Solution Should I Buy?

    Let me answer that one with some lessons learned. When going 1:1 iPads at Le Grand Union High School District back in 2011, I knew Wifi was going to be important (right?). Having recently upgraded to a controller based, managed HP wifi solution from a stand alone Cisco solution (we had campus wide Wifi back in 2004!) I new I was not going to be able to do what we needed to do with our then two year old HP system. Luckily I visited a school that had Ruckus, was supporting 1:1 on a daily basis and was super happy with it. So, I ripped out our nearly new HP APs and controller and replaced them with Ruckus gear. Easy to manage, easy to setup isolated guest SSIDs, easy to configure APs and APs that rocked when it came to supporting high numbers of active clients. It was the best decision I ever made and the Ruckus APs served us well, despite the fact that we didn’t have enough of them.

    Fast forward to my last district where I once again knew Wifi was going to be important and our controller based Cisco solution with 1 AP per 3-4 classrooms just wasn’t going to cut it, so I went looking for wireless. I wasn’t looking hard though, because I knew Ruckus would do what we needed and more. However, I heard rumblings of another solution, Meraki, which promised even easier to manage APs (how could that be?) and integrated Mobile Device Management (MDM). I resisted because I knew we’d only be able to get to an AP density of one AP for every 2-3 classrooms (it was a budget thing) and I was leery of AP performance with Meraki. Well, after seeing the Meraki UI, network visibility tools and integrated MDM, I really wanted to like it but I was still concerned about AP performance.  A fellow district did extensive head to head real world classroom testing and found in classroom performance between Meraki and Ruckus to be similar. So I jumped in with Meraki. The cloud based controller made it one of the easiest district wide deployments ever. The classroom testing results were replicated in daily use with excellent active client density support and ease of management. The one place Meraki fell down a bit was in their AP coverage. One AP per 2-3 classrooms was not enough.

    Now I find myself in an Aerohive district. When I got here, the system didn’t work. We brought in Aerohive engineers to try and make it work. But still, it had problems. Ready to ditch it completely, I talked to a district that had it and was happy and had to scratch my head at that one. So I took a chance, upgraded several of our 3 year old APs to the current gen (same model in use at the other district) and most of our issues disappeared. Where Merkaki is on the borderline of being too simple and Ruckus, while simple to manage, still requires a controller, Aerohive is an interesting hybrid. Not bound by a controller but with more enterprise options than either Ruckus or Meraki, it’s almost too complicated. It requires admin classes to really manage well, which means it’s more like Cisco than I would like. But I’m told a GUI for dummies is coming (just what I need) and the new APs seem to be on par with my experience with Meraki. Prices will vary, but in my experience, Aerohive is more expensive than either Meraki or Ruckus making it not as affordable as I would like.

    What Would I Buy Now?

    The honest answer is, I don’t know. I don’t think it would be Aerohive. The complexity and cost don’t make it a great option for small school IT departments. I really miss the UI, ease of use, and visibility of Meraki, as well as the integrated (and free!) MDM features. But in limited AP deployments, I find myself wishing for Ruckus APs. And what I want most of all is tight integration with Google Apps accounts and seamless passthrough of user credentials to my Web Filter. Maintaining different SSIDs, subnets and VLANs is a pain. I’d rather just capture a user’s Google Apps login one time and be done with it.

    If only Google would buy Aerohive or Ruckus and Securly and integrate them all into GAFE, I’d be a happy camper.

    A note on cabling. At my last district, in order to double the number of APs per classroom without having the time or budget to pull new cable to every AP location, we opted to back pull existing classroom network drops. This proved to be fast, less expensive and ultimately a better use of existing classroom cable. For those schools that modernized and put 12 drops in each classroom, it might make sense. My current district modernized and put dual channel raceway in, but skimped on the number of drops per classroom (1 per faceplate, 1!) so back pulling is a bit more tricky, but still fast and easy.

    How are you making wifi easy for your schools?

    • Jody 7:20 am on May 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Great article! Exchange server?? What exactly do you mean by this…
      Additionally, school network folks tend to over think wireless network security making connecting to the network a multi-step process with many points of failure. With the move to cloud based and hosted services, the vast majority of users on a school campus should only need Internet access. Most of the educational programs available today come as hosted services and any district that still hosts it’s own exchange server is just plain silly.
      I work at an elementary school.

  • Andrew T Schwab 12:08 pm on May 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    There Are No Ads (And There Is No Spoon) 

    There has been a lot written lately about Google “mining” student data in the free for education Google Apps suite of online tools. I’ve watched the conversation evolve from a desperate attempt by Microsoft to remain relevant to seeing passionate educators accused of bringing the Google “stranger” into their classrooms for money.

    I must admit that as a Google Certified Teacher and user of Google Apps For Education (GAFE) since 2007, I have found this all very disturbing. Having witnessed the power of Google Apps to transform learning with realtime and asynchronous collaboration, in a platform neutral, device agnostic suite of online tools, and all for Free, well, needless to say I’ve been a huge fan and advocate for many years. And for most of those years, my response to the inevitable questions about student data and privacy relied on the Google Apps For Education Agreement (does anyone have a link to it?), which clearly stated our Data was our own and that we could disable Ads in GAFE domains, as well as what Google Apps for Education people said that Google did and didn’t do with our data.

    Google isn’t supposed to be Evil, right? and with California school budgets free falling just as demand for more technology in the classrooms started to accelerate, Free alternatives to Microsoft’s Office and Outlook products were hard to pass up, especially when the possibilities for learning were taken into account. It’s really not surprising to find more and more district going Google. In fact, I would wager that the primary reason a district hasn’t gone Google at this point is an IT department firmly entrenched in the Microsoft way and looking for any reason to keep running big iron in their data centers. But I digress.

    When this article came out, which is admittedly written by a Microsoft funded think tank, it was surprising for the one truth it does include, that Google was (was) running GAFE data through it’s “data mining” Ad scanning algorithms even if a district had Ads turned off in their Domain. Many people jumped on this, saying Google was tracking students and building profiles to use for serving them Ads, perhaps at some future date, when they grow up and get real Gmail accounts.

    Knowing how systems work, more likely Google was doing this because that’s how the backend was setup and because they had originally given schools the option to turn Ads on for their GAFE domains (and presumably share in the revenue). If you remember the early days of GAFE, Google had a hard time breaking out GAFE features from regular gmail features. This was also around the time that California School Districts were talking about selling ad space on the sides of busses and on their web sites to try and offset declining revenue from the state.

    Still, the above article caused me to re-evaluate Google’s stance on student data and my belief in GAFE as the most relevant 21st Century learning platform for education. As a CUE Board member and a district technology leader, I’ve been in discussions about what this revelation means for schools and districts. For several weeks, I wondered why, if Google wasn’t serving Ads to GAFE domains, they simply didn’t stop running GAFE data through Ad scanning. That would seem to be the right thing to do and honestly it would be more in line with what the education community was initially led to believe was happening on the backend anyway.

    Well this week, Google did just that. In a blog post they announced that they have:

    …permanently removed all ads scanning in Gmail for Apps for Education, which means Google cannot collect or use student data in Apps for Education services for advertising purposes.


    Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1a/Noads.png

    All I can say is it’s about time. Forget that these accounts don’t stay with students after they leave the district. Forget that these accounts are for educational uses and that the district owns the data. Forget that parental consent for students to use GAFE accounts is generally required by Law. Forget that scanning for Ads has only one purpose, to serve Ads that you might actually want to see and click on (Why did I get an ad for math homework help? Talk about a teachable moment!). Google, for all it’s miss steps in handling the situation, in the end, did the right thing. Can the same be said for the limitless number of iPad apps out there, currently enjoying a wild west of data collection and in use in schools across the country? But I’ll save that for another post. On to the Spoon!

    Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.

    Neo: What truth?

    Spoon boy: There is no spoon.

    Neo: There is no spoon?

    Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

    From: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/quotes

    Ad scanning in GAFE  is no more, but data mining is all around us. The world is becoming ever more connected and our lives are becoming ever more integrated with online services. We must teach our students how to bend and not to break, to realize the truth about the online world, their data and their responsibility in this new reality. Laws will never keep up with technology, the age of privacy is past, there is no spoon.

    Don’t believe me? Just ask your ISP what they know about you.

    • Anonymous 12:17 pm on May 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Insight into the murky world of data mining and its ubiquity – read Dragnet Nation. GAFE is the least of our worries!

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