Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Why use Moodle, when you can use something shiny?

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

A fellow Moodler (Laurie Korte) asked for some talking points to convince her district to use Moodle as its primary collaboration tool.

In my district (and around the web) I often get folks saying “We should use X instead of Moodle” (Ning, Blogger, Edmodo, Facebook, Quia, etc.) and my general feeling is that while there are lots of strengths to each of those tools, they lack the ability to be the one-stop shop.

With Moodle we get one web address and one login that gives students and teachers ALL of the tools that would require dozens of other systems. Is Moodle the best blog tool, the best forum tool, the best wiki tool, the best quiz tool, the best survey tool, the best social networking tool? No. But it is the only web app I have found that has all of these in one spot.

Why is having all these tools in one place so important and why is Moodle so good at meeting lots of need?

  • Prevents login/password overload. Every new site is another web address, username, and password that must be created, managed and remembered. If the school has to create and manage those accounts, it becomes a lot of work. If the teachers and students have to manage/create the accounts, then most won’t bother. Moodle is good at getting login info from other databases and at sending login info to other systems. We have Moodle, Google Docs, and Mahara all tied to a single sign on with Moodle. Soon we will have the Moodle logins tied to our Active Directory accounts. (Edmodo and Ning won’t allow that kind of account management)
  • Prevents fragmentation of progress. One teacher uses Ning because it is really slick for social networking, another uses Quia for online quizzes. Can they share their success with each other? Only by learning an entirely new system and interface. In Moodle if one teacher uses Forums and another uses Quizzes they can share their strategies (or even copy the activity between their courses) and add new tools to their teaching with less “activation energy”. There will always be a few cutting edge teachers who can pick up new tools and experiment from year to year, but you shouldn’t try to make those tools “district standards”. As a district you want one system that you can be assured will meet all your teachers needs so you can move everybody forward.
  • Lack of consistency for students/parents. With one site, kids learn how to interact online and build on those skills year to year. This means the tech is more transparent. If every class/year kids have to learn a new system, there is more time wasted. (Yes I admit that learning new tech can be a waste of time if you do too much of it and don’t use it enough.)
  • Easy for teachers to grow into it. Moodle can start as just a static webpage. This gets a lot of teachers on board (even ones who aren’t on the Web 2.0 bandwagon). Then after a year or two they can add a forum here, a wiki there. After awhile they have slowly integrate Web 2.0 into the classroom. Throw them into something like Ning and most teachers just won’t engage, because it is too much change.
  • Moodle is robust and expandable. Want to upload an Examview test bank? Want to allow 2 quiz attempts with a half hour delay? Want to monitor all student messages? Want to restrict a few students from messaging, but still allow them to take quizzes? Want to give one student the ability to moderate a forum? Want to give students an entire course to use for their project? No other tool I have found has so much power to customize. Also the plugin database full of 3rd party mods is awesome: I have added a nicer file upload system, a cool photo gallery, Google Apps integration, integration, site-wide message reporting. All for free and easy to set up.
  • Moodle can be used for professional development. Set up an anti bullying course and have teachers go through it. Do Blood Borne Pathogen certification quickly and easily on Moodle. Create a staff discussion forum. No need to have a separate log in for teachers to work with students and teachers to work together.
  • Finally, Moodle can be customized to look very nice

So is Moodle right for your district/school? It may not be, but if you think about long term, system-wide growth and Moodle looks very attractive.

Why Ubermix?

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011
  • We recently started exploring the use of Ubermix on school computers. Before I get into what Ubermix is I wanted to do a little thought experiment.
    • What if I told you Ubermix sped up boot times from 7 minutes to 1 minute?
    • What if I told you Ubermix freed up 500 MB of RAM on each computer?
    • What if I told you Ubermix freed up IT staff from having to manage classroom computers?
    • What if I told you Ubermix came with a wide variety of apps chosen by educators for classroom use (from multimedia to math)?
    • What if I told you it was free?

Ubermix is an operating system that your computers can use instead of Windows. Because Ubermix is based on Ubuntu, free and open source software, it is an inherently more lightweight and secure operating system than Windows. That is why computers using Ubermix boot up faster and use less RAM.  Computers can run Ubermix and feel responsive instead of sluggish. Also, since Ubermix is secure and virus free, they aren’t bogged down by anti-virus software scanning in the background. In my tests, I have improved boot time of netbooks running Windows from 7 minutes to 1 minute. That time saved allows you to use computers more fluidly in class and can end up saving several days of instruction a year that would have been wasted. All this means that schools using Ubermix can keep older computers in use longer, buy cheaper new hardware, and potentially have more efficient instructors.

But we know that you can’t just look at purchase price, you have to look at Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Some might say, “I am sure these cheaper computers running this free software are going to be full of glitches and always need tons of tech support. So we will probably have to hire staff and also pay the cost of computer downtime effecting instruction.” Surprisingly, Ubermix has the ability to decrease tech support costs. One of the key innovations of ubermix is the ability for non technical staff (or even students) to restore the computer back to original settings in less than a minute. It is the strange reality of technology that you can place it in the classroom and it works fine, until randomly problems creep up: one computer can’t print anymore, another becomes very slow, a third has lost network connection. In a Windows classroom, these computers need a technician to troubleshoot and sometimes remove the computers to be restored (or reimaged). In an Ubermix classroom, the teacher or student needs to restart the computer and hold the ESC key. They are then presented with a choice: restore the computer to factory settings and keep the user files OR completely restore the computer and erase the user files. By choosing the first option the computer restores itself, but any documents, images, videos, etc. are maintained! So you get a computer that acts exactly like it did when it was first brought to the classroom without any tech support and with barely any computer downtime (just the time it takes to restart the computer).

When you buy Windows, all you are getting is the license to the operating system, but you still need to pay for many things people would consider essential–including basic apps like word processing and presentation–anti-virus software, and specialty applications like Photoshop. Ubermix takes the default Ubuntu installation and removes some apps and adds a few education specific ones. You get a full office suite, firefox, chrome, mind mapping software, audio editing, slideshow creation, web cam recording, video editing, and more. Since Ubermix is open source you can customize your computers with a wide variety of other free apps available in the Ubuntu Software Center.

The last advantage ends up being a “disadvantage.” Ubermix is a version of Ubuntu which is free and open source. That means that no sales rep is going to come to your school and pitch to your IT staff. Microsoft has done a good job convincing tech departments that the only way to deal with technology is by creating locked user accounts and central control. Just giving a student (or a teacher) admin access to a computer and saying, “Here you go, if you mess it up, here is how to restore it back to working,” is a very foreign concept. Many people also believe that free means cheap in a pejorative sense. Nothing could be further from the truth with Linux-based Ubermix. Linux is developed by a world wide community and backed by some of the largest tech businesses. In fact, over 70% of all web pages are hosted on servers running Linux.

However, regardless of the robustness of Linux, and even though Ubermix is a high quality system, there is the problem of how to get support when troubleshooting. As it is, however, most techs will tell you that they don’t receive tech support in a useful sense from Microsoft, and instead use Google search to sift through blogs and forums to find answers to tech problems.  Since open source software has a spirit of sharing and community, the online communities centered around Linux, Ubuntu (and by proxy Ubermix) are very active and full of information. For example, I was working to set up a printer that wasn’t working with Ubermix out of the box. Searching Google pointed me to the answer, and now I have a default image of Ubermix that works in our setting. For better or worse, this troubleshooting process is a very similar  process that would take place if I had a problem with a Windows or Mac OS computer.

Another concern is that people don’t have any experience with Linux and so they can’t handle a change from Windows. However, the rise of smartphones has taught us that people can deal with non-windows user interfaces and Ubermix takes its cue from a very apps-based screen. Large buttons similar to an Android or iPhone greet the user instead of a start menu, and the increased responsiveness and wealth of apps actually means Ubermix computers are more intuitive.

We have several teachers who can’t stand the long boot times of their windows netbooks and are willing to try something different. I am hopeful that our Ubermix tests will go well and pave the way for a viable 1:1 program at our schools. Head over to Ubermix central and try it out for yourself.

E-mail Enhanced Google Forms for Walkthroughs/Quickvisits

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

This blog post summarizes the info in my Fall CUE presentation. (It is under construction)

Email Enhanced Google Docs for Quick Visits

Colin Matheson Carmel Unified School District @cytochromec

Take this intro survey while you wait

Learn how principals are using free google docs with netbooks/ipads/smartphones to provide feedback on instructional norms. Teachers can use these tools for peer observation or student feedback.

Email Enhanced Google Docs for Quick Visits

See what the form looks like

Intro to Google Apps

Can do everything I will talk about today with individual Gmail accounts

However, it is easy to set up free Google Accounts @ your school/district email address

Don’t have to use the email feature to have admin, teachers, staff, and students use Google Docs

Intro to Google Forms

One of the tools in Google Docs is Forms

Forms are tied to Google Spreadsheets

They are a great way to get feedback from students, parents, and teachers.

Email Enhancement

Using a form is good, BUT all the info is collected on a single google spreadsheet.

So people have to login to see the feedback AND they can see feedback for other folks

Use Google Scripts (Tools->Script Editor) to add email

Summary Graphs

There are built in summary graphs to Google forms.

You can create custom charts in Google docs or by downloading the info to Open Office/Excel

Other Uses

Student feedback during class

Peer observations

Logging meetings

How to get Templates

In Google Docs, the create button has a From Template link at the bottom

If you are on an apps domain you will see your school templates (very useful)

Click on Public Templates and search for Walkthrough to see some examples

The email enhanced can be found by searching Quickvisit

Customize the form

If you add or change questions you will need to change the text in the email script.

You can change the answer options without needing to change the script

Turn on the script

If you copy the form you need to go to Script editor

Click on Triggers->Current Script triggers

Add a trigger-you can choose “On Form Submit” or time based at the end of each day

Edit the form to enter your teacher and admin emails and the form is ready to use!

This presentation was made using the free alternative to Microsoft called Libre Office on the free alternative to Windows called Ubuntu

Scholarly Attributes Print Outs Using OpenClipArt

Monday, September 19th, 2011

I created these graphics for classroom use using the wonderful clipart in the OpenClipArt library and the open source graphics program GIMP. We print them on magnet backed paper to attach to whiteboards (the traditional non-touch screen kind) and then teachers and students can reference them during lessons. Teachers with digital projectors can use the images without needing to print them out. Referencing the scholarly attributes during class is a good strategy for promoting growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset in children (it isn’t about being smart or dumb it is about approaching problems in a scholarly way). The full resolution files can be downloaded by clicking on the picture and then choosing File-Save. Feel free to use, share, and modify. Thanks to Niccole Tiffany (Carmel Unified’s Gifted Coordination and differentiation expert) for promoting these ideas in our schools.


Dell’s $400 computer needs $200 of software

Friday, May 6th, 2011

I just saw this ad for Dell’s low end optiplex desktop. What struck me was that Dell recommends an upgrade of windows (due to the fact that windows is selling a version of their OS without some very fundamental features) and the purchase of ms office. That adds $270 to the purchase price! If the original computer had been Ubuntu it could have been $450 and would have come with all of the software the purchaser needs (as well as being secure against virus attacks without the need for anti virus software, as well as having an app store with access to even more great free software). I just wonder why people think it is worth $100+ for an OS and $200 for an office suite. Especially on a $400 piece of hardware! I use Windows, Mac, and Linux and they are all fine. The only reason I have windows personally is for playing video games (which is probably not a good idea on the optiplex hardware). I have used ms office and open office and they both get the job done. Small businesses, students, schools, and home users could save a fortune in IT costs if only the concept of open source was more widely accepted and marketed.