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Best IT Solution For a Brand-New School?

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the one-eniac-per-child dept.

Education 411

Iain writes "I'm a teacher at a British 'City Academy' (ages 11-19) that is going to move into a new building next year. Management is deciding now on the IT that the students will use in the new building, as everything will be built from scratch. Currently, the school has one ICT suite per department, each containing about 25-30 PCs. My issue with this model is that it means these suites are only rarely used for a bit of googling or typing up assignments, not as interactive teaching tools. The head likes the idea of moving to a thin client solution, with the same one room per department plan, as he see the cost benefits. However, I have seen tablet PCs used to great effect, with every single classroom having 20-30 units which the students use as 'electronic workbooks,' for want of a better phrase. This allows every lesson to fully utilize IT (multimedia resources, Internet access, instant handout and retrieval of learning resources, etc.) and all work to be stored centrally. My question is: In your opinion, what is the best way for a school to use IT (traditional computer lab, OLPCs, etc.) and what hardware is out there to best serve that purpose? Fat clients for IT/Media lessons and thin client for the rest? Thin client tablets? Giving each student a laptop to take home? Although, obviously, cost is an issue, we have a significant budget, so it should not be the only consideration."

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Create a portable lab (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26598963)

The old lab model is dead. Take your 20-30 computers, make them laptops, and available for any classroom use the teachers need. If demands becomes such that you can't meet demand, then you buy more. Add wireless throughout the place, and you should be set.

Portable == stolen (2, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599069)

Schools are particularly vulnerable to pilfering and burglary, so if you do have laptops make sure you have some physical means of securing them. Same deal for other equipment.

If you are putting in a new school-wide network then wifi is probably a good idea. Just remember that every kid/teacher with a wifi-capable cell phone will try to use it too.

If the school is being wired from scratch then put a couple of Cat6s into every classroom. These can always be reticulated withion a classroom with switches or wifi.

Re:Portable == stolen (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599419)

Computers are wonderful tools, but for most subjects students learn at that point in their lives (middle/high school in the US), computers aren't necessary. [zoy.org] Think about the primary subjects - Math, Science, and Literature/Writing - where do you see the benefits in using computers? Obviously for English classes, having access to computers to type papers is handy, but it's hardly necessary. Computers can be used in math to help illustrate concepts, but you don't want the students using computers to do their work, otherwise they won't know how to do it without them. And much of science is math - again, not something you want students using computers for.

Re:Create a portable lab (1, Insightful)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599233)

The old lab model is dead. Take your 20-30 computers, make them laptops, and available for any classroom use the teachers need.

Nooooooooooo!

This is a *horrible* idea. The laptops are never used, because the battery ends up lasting about 1 hour - far less than is possibly useful for the class to get anything done. You have a few possibilities that will work:

1) Labs - pain because teachers spend 10-15 minutes of class just getting the kids there and back.

2) few computers in class - pain because not everyone can use them at once, but if you break the class up into groups with stations, they can be effective for such situations.

3) Long-lasting laptops like the OLPC things - limited functionality but for basic online research and typing up a report, probably the best option.

Re:Create a portable lab (3, Insightful)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599481)


Use blackboards or interactive white boards. Teach basic subjects. IT as a subject in British schools is deeply flawed. Teach English, not Microsoft Word. Teach maths, not Excel spreadsheets. IT is a nightmare to teach to unwilling kids in a school and relatively pointless. So children really need lessons on Word?

Re:Create a portable lab (4, Insightful)

berend botje (1401731) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599521)

And get the kids to learn the curriculum, not how to fake it by Wikipedi-ing the answers and surfing for porn the rest of the class.

Computers in the classroom add nothing.

If anything, use the old lab model. That way the kids aren't distracted when learning normal stuff.

This is a waste of time and money. (5, Insightful)

onion2k (203094) | more than 5 years ago | (#26598965)

I'm UK taxpayer. This question highlights what I think is an endemic problem with the UK teaching system, and frankly the whole of the civil service:

This sort of thing shouldn't even be up for debate.

Developing this sort of infrastructure on a school-by-school basis is incredibly stupid. There should have been a central government review of the options prior to the latest run of school building, and a proper IT spending policy should have been worked out then. Having the decision made by the headteacher and a couple of staff (only one or two of whom are likely to be remotely qualified to understand all the options) means one school ends up with a much better or worse IT system than another. That is plain wrong. It's not fair on the kids.

To answer the question, for the love of God find out how the other schools near you have faired with their systems and copy the best one. Do not do go it alone (or alone with lots of Slashdotters).

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599027)

Well said, slashdot is not the place to ask this as we are not educators we are geeks. So the suggestions here are most likely going to be what would be the geeks ideal of what a school should be like.

As onion2k says, consult other schools to find out how they utilize IT and what has proven to help with the children's education primarily in improving their learning and also secondly what has encouraged children to take an interest in technology.

Follow the lead of others not listen to what a bunch of geeks think is their ultimate wet dream for a high tech school.

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (4, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599081)

While I generally agree, I fear that the result would be a "one size fits all" solution, which would rigidly be implemented no matter whether you're going to use 10 or 10,000 PCs. At the very least the school board (or whatever solution the UK has for nation wide school decisions) cough up a few "suggestions", get into negotiations with nationwide supplyers of hard- and software (which should also result in some neat conditions and prices) and also some providers of maintainance. We're talking about computers for teenagers, you WILL need maintainance!

No, they should NOT negotiate (2, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599643)

with hardware and software suppliers! If they do, you will end up with expensive Windows systems, and inferior commercial software with "good" prices.

Major hardware and software vendors already have established deals for educational institutions. Linux distributions like Ubuntu are (by most accounts) superior to Windows, and cost nothing.

My recommendation would be to use Linux and other open-source software. Open Office does most of what Microsoft Office does. There is graphics software, video-editing software, and software of every variety you could want, all open-source and little to no cost.

But if they start to "negotiate" with commercial vendors, they will end up with commercial products at substantial cost, and questionable worth (comparatively speaking).

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (5, Insightful)

stranger_to_himself (1132241) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599097)

Developing this sort of infrastructure on a school-by-school basis is incredibly stupid. There should have been a central government review of the options prior to the latest run of school building, and a proper IT spending policy should have been worked out then. Having the decision made by the headteacher and a couple of staff (only one or two of whom are likely to be remotely qualified to understand all the options) means one school ends up with a much better or worse IT system than another. That is plain wrong. It's not fair on the kids.

I diagree. At the moment it is not possible for the government to decide and enforce a policy, because the evidence is simply not there (regarding which way would be best) to do it.

We need newish schools to develop and evolve their own systems so we can see what works, and ONLY THEN roll it out nationwide.

This government is usually too quick not too slow to implement policies in healthcare and education at a national level without letting them work themselves out first. This is the real waste of money.

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (5, Interesting)

amclay (1356377) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599131)

This should be decided school by school, because each school may have a different demographic, and that could quite possibly change the type and quantity of technology used.

That being said, your suggestion at looking at other school districts and finding out what has worked for them is a great idea. Our school recently put in "Elmos," which are mounted digital cameras for projectors which were put into each room.

Most of my teachers started using them, and they saved a lot of time, because they could show the class the pice of paper, and not have to look/get a transparency of the paper. It also gives them more options as far as showing short clips, or powerpoints, or stuff like that.
So review:
1) Teacher workstation in each room, with projector and an "Elmo."

2) Computer labs, with thin or fat clients, depending on your needs.

3) Laptop carts, so individual classes can use a set of laptops if needed.

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (1)

fishthegeek (943099) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599159)

Yes because we all know how well bureaucracy makes IT decisions [slashdot.org] in the UK.

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (1)

the_womble (580291) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599303)

Yes and central planning has such as good track record we should all adopt it!

The British government's standardisation of curricula and the greater control it has taken of schools in recent years has been such a success we want to extend it to IT!

Personally I think it would be much more useful to spend the money of a decent library.

The teaching method is the key (2, Interesting)

xzvf (924443) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599185)

The problem with technology in school isn't the tech, but how it is shoehorned into the existing teaching atmosphere. Cramming technology in the traditional monolithic classroom doesn't gain very much. Since every child learns differently, the most effective method is one teacher/mentor per child. That doesn't fit into any public school budget, but effective use of technology can mimic that effect. Online courses, built on an open system like Moodle, can leverage your teachers time. The example of student centric teaching from "Disrupting Class" by Christensen,Johnson and Horn is a good read. While a large number of desktop/laptops is desirable, the real key to success is turning your teachers into coach/mentors that give one on one help while capturing their repetitive activities like lecturing, quiz giving, and administration and automating them. The infrastructure and the way you teach is far more important that what they use as a desktop interface.

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599209)

I have two problems with your ideas.

1) One size fits all approaches rarely work. Demographics are different in different regions, needs can be different, infrastructure, etc.
2) Anything and everything that is paid for with taxpayers money should be up for debate

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (1)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599425)

Since you are asking here on Slashdot, I'll tell you the best thing to do.

Forget the computer lab. Give each student their own Linux based wearable PC with heads-up display projected onto eye-glasses. Cluster all of the students together using Beowulf over a wireless mesh network. Each student will be responsible for tuning the kernel on their own unit.

You might get a different response if you ask educators though...

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (4, Insightful)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599497)

Developing this sort of infrastructure on a school-by-school basis is incredibly stupid. There should have been a central government review of the options prior to the latest run of school building, and a proper IT spending policy should have been worked out then. Having the decision made by the headteacher and a couple of staff (only one or two of whom are likely to be remotely qualified to understand all the options) means one school ends up with a much better or worse IT system than another. That is plain wrong. It's not fair on the kids.

Not fair on the kids? Forcing everybody to use exactly the same stuff is what's not fair on the kids. The school in question is a City Academy, (strictly they're just called Academies now). They are usually schools which have failed in the standard Local Education Authority framework for whatever reason. Sometimes that's down to bad management, but usually because they're in a deprived area. The one-size-fits-all approach has already failed for that school, or they wouldn't be an academy. Academies are intended to have more freedom than normal schools over things like this, so they have the freedom to apply the approaches which actually work for their kids. They will frequently not be the same approaches which work for successful Secondary schools in middle-class areas. Some schools need a better X, even if it's at the expense of an inferior Y, because that's what's best for the kids they have to teach. Not doing what's best for the kids by forcing their schools to conform to some centrally mandated policy is what would be unfair.

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599499)

Your response highlights what I think is an endemic problem with most European governments: you want to do everything on a central government level, which is the biggest load of bull I've ever heard. There is something called the principle of subsidiarity, wherein you deal with the problem closest to where it occurs. Different schools have different needs and as such, the schools should decide what they use to fill those needs, not some stupid "one-size-fits-all" federal government piece of mediocrity.

People in the UK are always criticizing the United States government, and rightly so - the Bush administration has made some retarded decisions. Isn't it funny, then, that there are still so many things that work PROPERLY in the United States! Let me tell you why: it's because the Bush Administration has only been dealing with things on a federal level. Almost everything that affects the common man is dealt with by state or local governments.

The only reason your "federal everything" system works so well is because you can drive across your whole damn country in four hours.

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599679)

The only reason your "federal everything" system works so well is because you can drive across your whole damn country in four hours.

Actually at its narrowest point you can drive across the UK in about an hour and a half. Northernmost to southernmost point though is about two days. Not sure what that has to do with our system of government though.

YOU NEED GEORGE W. BUSH TO SET IT UP FOR YOU (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599615)

See my subject line

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (1)

mikewelter (526625) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599647)

Ahhh, big government solves everything. Like IT in NHS.

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599839)

As a Yank myself. I would disagree. The biggest mistake anyone can do is a Uniformed School System, especially with details such as IT. IT infrastructure alone doesn't teach kids anything, having a government saying you need X and Y doesn't make them useful, or a good use of money.
It is part of your own school to find what you need and what you want to achieve, once you find that then you see where technology can achieve those goals.

Re:This is a waste of time and money. (2, Insightful)

WarwickRyan (780794) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599863)

Agreed, it's a complete and total waste of money.

I'm 28, and when I was at school we often had trouble due to lack of money for text books. Yet now there's talk of giving all the kids laptops?

Back then I'd spend my IT lessons playing games (or doing homework), as the teachers were basically clueless about everything.

Spend the money on more teachers, or as some other posters have mentioned invest it in the science lab. Don't buy a load of PCs which'll just be used to waste time on.

Tablet Cart, plz (5, Interesting)

shbazjinkens (776313) | more than 5 years ago | (#26598999)

I don't have as much faith in a computer for every student, in every class.

If it's anything like my college courses in the states, a lot of time might need to be devoted to keeping students on task, instead of checking social networking sites during class. Maybe things are different in Britain, though.

In my High School we had a rolling cart with 30 laptops inside it, a central charging supply, a printer and a wireless network. This was maybe the best idea our IT department ever had because when the computers were necessary they could come to the classroom where they were needed without the logistics of moving a couple of dozen teenagers. When they're not needed, they can be put in buffer or sent to where they are. The downtime you'd normally see of computers in class is not wasted and the budget is more effectively applied to all of the classrooms. It sounds like my school was a lot smaller than the one you're serving at, so maybe a lot more carts are needed than just the one, of course.

Re:Tablet Cart, plz (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599053)

i agree - most people 'taking notes' on laptops in lectures don't pay much attention to the lecture and instead are playing with their computer.

Computers should only be introduced when they are necessary.

Re:Tablet Cart, plz (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599755)

i agree - most people 'taking notes' on laptops in lectures don't pay much attention to the lecture and instead are playing with their computer.

And why exactly is that a bad thing? During the 14 years of my education I had exactly two teachers who told me anything that wasn't in the book.

Of course, being the curious geeky type, I already read the book the day they made me buy it. Why should I pay attention if I pass the test with the highest score in the class?

Re:Tablet Cart, plz (1)

Ma8thew (861741) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599063)

Second for this idea. My secondary school did this. The most important thing is to make sure that the WiFi works for every computer every time its used. Otherwise ten minutes of every lesson will be spent getting the computers connected. It might even be helpful to get a couple of spare laptops, that can immediately replace any broken ones.

Re:Tablet Cart, plz (1)

Aranykai (1053846) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599089)

My school began a similar setup my senior year and I must say it worked quite well. Teachers would submit a request in advance, and the various carts would be distributed as needed. It freed up our existing lab rooms to be converted into additional class space, and swapping a non-functional laptop out of the cart was much faster than dealing with a desktop.

Competent Administration (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599255)

Well if you get competent admins to secure your network, instead of letting teaching staff do it, then you can safely leave the laptops at students' desks, and they'll be unable to access anything but their authorised work.

Re:Tablet Cart, plz (5, Insightful)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599279)

I don't have as much faith in a computer for every student, in every class.

I think the big problem is that people don't necessarily ask and answer this question before they begin implementation: what are we trying to accomplish with these computers?

I remember when they first started the "computer in every classroom" initiative in my state. It was during the tech bubble of the '90s, and there was a great sense that computers were the new thing, they were a big deal, and the kids should be exposed to them in education. Put them in the classroom, and students will be magically enriched by the experience.

So they put a single computer into every classroom, and they sat there. There were occasional instances where students were allowed to use them to look something up online, but a few kids went looking for porn, and so next thing you know, students weren't allowed on the computers. Most of the teachers didn't really know how to use them, either, and the computers didn't have anything useful for the teachers anyhow (e.g. computerized grade books to test-creation software). So the computers just sat there and did nothing.

I don't want to suggest that computer *can't* be useful. Obviously they're good for writing papers. I'm still keeping an eye out for stories about using textbooks with open licensing and digital distribution, which seems like a great direction for us to take over the long term. The potential is tremendous.

I just believe that projects will generally be much more successful and efficient if you start by formulating a set of goals (and also perhaps things you'd like to avoid), and then figuring out what's necessary to meet those goals. Starting with a set of tools (which is what the computers would be) and then trying to figure out what you might be able to do with those tools tends to end less well.

Re:Tablet Cart, plz (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599553)

I mostly agree with you, but having one computer every room is useful for the teachers to be able to do presentations, quickly look stuff up, and keep in e-mail contact / generally handle administrative tasks with less overhead (my high school and middle school used computers for recording grades and attendance). Students were usually not allowed on the teacher's computer. We had computer labs and my last year there, they got laptop carts (classroom set to be rolled around to where it was needed), which served the purpose of getting computers for students.

Re:Tablet Cart, plz (1)

EEBaum (520514) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599701)

Heh... the computer in every classroom. My high school had them. They were used for:

1) Teachers (or TA) entering grades (98%)
2) Students who had finished work early playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego or listening to synthesized cats singing Christmas music (2%)

Re:Tablet Cart, plz (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599429)

I also second this suggestion; I work at a school using a similar system and, when we can keep the cut-rate Dells in one piece (we go through a lot of keyboards), it works beautifully. As long as everyone realizes that there's no magic system to keep students on task when they have Facebook machines in front of them.

Re:Tablet Cart, plz (1)

Alterion (925335) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599543)

I agree a rolling cart for every department (along with interactive whiteboards) was the solution used at a top private school i used to attend. It was by far the best solution because it meant IT resources were always controlled by the school and rapidly available when needed and tucked away. the cart was also a charging station when not in use which ensured all the laptops were always ready for use. It was pretty cost effective and worked really well. As an aside they used mac's which worked surprisingly well as most of the "geek" kids were not familiar enough with them to bypass the security and install trojans or games)

What not to do (4, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599003)

We used to use our textbooks as makeshift sleds... I'd recommend NOT giving every student a laptop to take home!

Re:What not to do (1)

c_forq (924234) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599123)

I concur. When I was in primary school we used textbooks, backpacks, car hoods, plywood, and any other flat object we could get our hands on to make sleds.

TuxRacer is finally useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599265)

You can sled on a linux laptop without needing to even going outside

Re:What not to do (1)

elashish14 (1302231) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599401)

For sure you can SLED [novell.com] with your new machines, but you might face heat from those purist advocates of Linux.

Sunray... (2, Interesting)

ender_wiggins (81600) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599033)

Lowest on going cost over all. And one admin to rule them all.

Re:Sunray... (3, Informative)

FLoWCTRL (20442) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599157)

I second that. Thin clients offer the best RIO due to their low ongoing operational costs. Basically you'll be paying for a good sysadmin, plus commercial software for the server, if you need that.

Sunrays in particular are good because Solaris is free - you don't have per seat licensing fees (unless you're using them with Windows Server). If you need Windows, however, they can do that too.

Another issue to consider is security and insurance costs. Sunrays are not an attractive target for thieves because they are useless without the server. You don't even need to lock them down. If you go with real computers instead of thin clients, you will have theft, and your insurance costs will be higher.

Thin Client experience (4, Insightful)

happyslayer (750738) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599287)

I do IT for a medical practice. What we ended up with was a central server running Fedora and LTS, with thin clients in each of the exam rooms and in the doctor's office.

This had all the benefits of getting the records available in each room without having to go through individual updates. There are still fat clients/full workstations in the office, but those are primarily for the other work--office manager, accounting, etc.

since each grade level is different (different lessons, different requirements), I would suggest having a server either for each classroom, grade level, or department. For example, your math classes would need different software (and access) than your English class. You could even set up your foreign-language classes to have the locale set to the language they teach--the kids would have to learn French, Spanish, Russian, etc to use the computers...and the casual contact with that language would reinforce the lessons.

True, you would lose some of the benefits of "one admin to rule them all," but the software and changes would be compartmentalized--and the Computer instructors could even have more free reign to fix (or damage) their systems as they see fit.

Re:Thin Client experience (1)

Jorophose (1062218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599827)

I wonder if it's possible to combine thin clients and something like the TechCrunch Tablet.

A mix like that would probably be the best solution. They're light, they're interactive, you could have a cart with them, an AP or three, and USB keyboards for the students. Have a "permanent" thin client or two in every classroom for the teachers and the occasional small stuff (quick look ups I guess?).

One thing though, is a thin client based on ARM able to run x86 binaries? (that are running off of the server) And can things like Flash be run on a thin client system like that? If they can, well, you could embed something like the beagleboard into every monitor or keyboard even (or something like that) and build your system like that. But then your risks might be higher, unless you can lock down these types of devices?

I really like the thought of having carts, though. Instead of going to the lab you just call for a cart, so it can be more easily offered (sometimes you just can't get lab time for your class).

Re:Sunray... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599797)

Can it hold up to a classroom full of 20 art students running Photoshop and Indesign simultaneously? How about CAD software?

Seriously, every time a vendor recommends a thin client solution, I bring up the heavy media-centric applications we teach, and they shut up. If all we were doing was word processing, spreadsheets and slide shows, I would have no hesitations. But when I get 20 kids each working on 100 to 500 MB sized photoshop projects, that would bring any conventional server to it's knees. The cost of a server that could handle that load would be astronomical.

I'm much more interested in some of the developing virtual machine solutions. It allows for centralized management and uses the desktop's hardware for data processing. Network bandwidth becomes a big issue, but it's feasible to have the system images load up before school starts.

Why? (5, Insightful)

willoughby (1367773) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599045)

Tell me why throwing computers at the students will educate them "better" than having a professor standing at the front of the room moving a magnet along a glowing glass tube filled with argon showing them how the magnetic field "collapses" the light into a ribbon, with the students first entranced and then eagerly scribbling notes. And then in the next class having the students find the flaw in a mathematical proof covering two blackboards which "proves" that 2+2=5.

Stop thinking about computers & start thinking of the students.

Re:Why? (4, Insightful)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599295)

Can you put a high-enough-powered microscope in every classroom so that they can see what's going on at a molecular level, rather than just having it explained in the abstract that more energy makes molecules move faster? If not, a computer simulation might add something to their experience. Are there labs in your town where the students can help scientists collect and analyze real data? If not, an online collaboration with such scientists might make the pursuit of science a little more real to them.

Sure, computers are not the answer to every educational problem. Traditional methods that work should not be thrown away. But to ignore all of the possible lessons that would not be possible without computers is very short-sighted, and unfairly limits the experiences the students might be able to have.

Re:Why? (1)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599631)

The questioner doesn't suggest that it would educate them "better" than a teacher. Good IT and good teaching aren't mutually exclusive, as you seem to be suggesting.

* Professors teach at universities and specialise in being incredibly knowledgeable in their field and getting grant money, being good at teaching is pretty much optional. Teachers on the other hand teach in schools and specialise in being good at teaching.

Stay away from laptops and tablets! (2, Insightful)

tdwMighty (1453161) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599115)

Stay away from laptops and tablets! The students will only get distracted. Pencil and paper work much better for most subjects. Also, probably an even bigger issue is the teachers are going to have to focus a lot of their time on working out bugs and learning IT stuff, when they should be focusing on TEACHING. Until Apple makes an idiot proof Epod, stay away from this please. My first year of college, half of the students played Diablo 2 every class. These students didn't make it to their second year.

I think there is a future for this type of class, but not yet. The benefits would be automatic marking of multiple choice tests and math tests where you don't have to show your work. But there's just too many problems right now. Broken laptops, students looking at porn during classes, and instant messaging. Who's going to have the time to deal with all these distractions?

Re:Stay away from laptops and tablets! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599179)

Stay away from pencil and paper! The students only get lazy because they don't have to remember anything. Slates are much better for most subjects.

icwudt (1)

soupforare (542403) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599829)

However you can't play Quakelive or twitter on a slateboard or piece of paper.
Electronic workbooks or tablets for everyone is a great idea as long as they're not also general purpose computers. I wish Alphasmart Danas were marketed better or sold cheaper when they were released. Until handwriting recognition becomes truely viable (and cheap), they're the next best thing to a paper notebook.

Re:Stay away from laptops and tablets! (1)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599881)

I'm at an engineering college where everyone is required to purchase a high-end laptop. When I was taking Calc3 and Differential Equations it was handy for running Maple to solve and graph, and in labs I fire up Excel, but other than that I rarely use it in classes that don't directly need computers (CAD, MatLab, Java classes). Unless the professor asks everyone to bring their laptop that day, they know the few students that do have them open are just using facebook or playing games. The only reasons many students don't open their laptops and surf the net are that we're paying a lot of money to be here and that unlike high school the classes aren't ridiculously easy. If your school is like what I had for high school (replace easy with boring for the less-inclined students), I support the idea of laptop carts. The students should only have the laptops in their hands when engaged in a lesson. Otherwise they will be distractions, and there is no point in giving them laptops just to tell the students to turn them off.

Thin Clients Are Overrated. (1)

nitsnipe (1332543) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599133)

My advice is, do not go with thin clients. If budget is an issue go with Asus Eee boxes or a Shuttle SSF PC. They can come down in price to a level comparable with a thin client. Yet they are poweful enough for school purposes.IF necessary they can act as thin clients anyways.

Some departments yes, will need more powerful computers. The students who will do any work on autocad, photoshop, video editing will need more juice. If you are going with Windows, I doubt you can still license XP. But you can look into Windows FLP (for legacy PCs). If you go this way, one interesting thing you can do is put a Linux box in every class (or every compsci class) with several different distros that students can play around with ( ubuntu desktop, slackware, CentOS server). I am not sure about handing out tablets. Do the students really need mobility. Having a few laptops and tablets(only 10 or 20) that can be borrowed when needed is good,i.e. students working on programming a small robot; but expecting everyone, students, staff and school-board, to take advantage of the opportunity if every student has a tablet is unrealistic.

Computer lab (3, Insightful)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599137)

I'm all for computers, having started programming back in '77 when a highcool math teacher took the private initiative to take some of us to an after school adult education class to learn programming, then building my own NASCOM-1 Z-80 kit in '78, and so on... I've been a professional programmer for over 25 years, and practically live on the computer at home doing hobbyist programming... So, I couldn't be a stronger advocate for the use and fun of using computers...

That all said, I'd have to go with the traditional computer lab model, preferably not just as a resource for homework research etc, but as a place for schedules hands-on computer lessons as part of the curriculum whether it be programming or even general computer use. I don't really see a useful place for computers in the classroom as part of other lessons, as it seems it would only be a distraction. The "enriched interactive multimedia experience" story-line may sound good at some level, but all it's really going to mean is that time that could have been spent covering and explaining core lesson material is instead spent faffing around with computers, watching videos, dealign with computer probolems etc.

If you want to have some cross-over between computer/programming classes and other lessons, then why not just encourage use of the internet as a research tool for homework assignments, maybe accept (or occasionally require) printed assignments as well as hand writen ones. This sort of approach would give the kids a useful introduction to preactical use of computers, an exposure to programming, but not do so at the expense of turning the core curruculum into am extended multimedia click-fest, and taking attention away from the teacher.

If you do take the opposite approach and bring computers into the classroom, then consider the scale of effort requires to develop computer based courses that are the equal of the textbook based material you currently teach. This sounds more like a mult-year national level effort, rather than something that a few teachers are going to be able to hack together in your own school.

I'd also echo what another poster wrote - don't go it alone! Reseach how other schools are using computers and what actually WORKS. Which schools have seen grades increase rather than decrease as a result of use of computers, and how does that correlate to the way they are using them?

Re:Computer lab (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599467)

The "enriched interactive multimedia experience" story-line may sound good at some level, but all it's really going to mean is that time that could have been spent covering and explaining core lesson material is instead spent faffing around with computers, watching videos, dealign with computer probolems etc.

I posted elsewhere that my concern would be whether there was a clear idea as to why they were bringing the computers into the classroom in the first place, but what I think I failed to emphasize in that post is the idea that computers aren't magical devices that automatically educate children, and I wish people would stop thinking they were.

I have no problem with interactive/multimedia being used in education, but it's not really a good end in itself. The computer is just the tool and/or medium. It doesn't replace the teacher. The whole thing reminds me a little of a job that I had where the engineers didn't want to do their jobs and didn't want to work on proper project management. There were certain procedures for documenting things and filing paperwork, and the engineers regularly neglected to document things properly. Rather than managing the engineers, the management got the brilliant idea to buy a CMS/workflow system to deal with all the documentation. They figured it would make things easier for the engineers, because instead of writing things down and taking the paperwork to the appropriate person, they could just type a few things in and it would automatically be sent to the appropriate person, and each person would be given a task list of all the documentation they had to deal with.

If you can't already guess, it didn't work out very well. Under the old system, engineers neglected to fill out their paperwork and walk it down the hall. Under the new system, the engineers neglected to fill out the online paperwork and submit it to the system, and nobody paid attention to their task list.

There's just no substitute for competent people doing a good job. Tools can help those people be more efficient, but tools won't do the job on their own.

In that sense, if there's an abundance of high-quality lessons available on computer your teachers would like to use, then find out what the system requirements are and meet them. If you want to teach about computers, then develop some kind of computer science curriculum and figure out what the system requirements for that curriculum would be, and meet those requirements. If you don't have any clear idea of how the computers will be used, then don't buy them.

Of course, I'm saying that as an IT guy, and not an education expert.

Re:Computer lab (1)

the_B0fh (208483) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599819)

I have to say, I don't think highly of your workflow solution, if projects can be submitted without appropriate paperwork.

Netbooks - it's the money... (1)

rbrander (73222) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599147)

I agree this should be a matter of national or regional standards and not a school-to-school decision; but as you're stuck with the situation, I have to recommend a netbook. The interface issue is significant and tablets would be really cool, but with cunning programming that can be overcome for many lesson needs.

The thing about netbooks is that they're cheap, dirt cheap - in bulk, $250 US buys a reasonable screen and 1GB of RAM these days. Schools are constantly shying away from spending on *people*, so they spend on expensive hardware and software instead in the belief that these will minimize maintenance and support costs, which, generally, they don't.

Instead, save tens of thousands on netbooks, and spend it on programming, support, and server-side lesson setup that make them a snap to use for reading E-books, accessing lessons, doing quizzes, the "Top 5" uses.

At $250 each, most of your distribution problems (everybody just gets one), repair and loss problems (toss out and replace) simply go away and let you get to work.

Teacher training (1)

actionbastard (1206160) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599171)

Without it, you are wasting your money. Unless you can train your staff to integrate technology into their curriculum on a daily basis it simply won't be used. You will have the hardest time convincing the more 'experienced' members of your staff to use technology effectively -instead of just as an 'electronic babysitter'- and to get them to breakaway from their old methods of lesson delivery. Using technology to teach requires a lot more preparation then just running off a few dozen problems on the copy machine for the day's lessons. There will be those that will resist; how will you deal with them?

As an instructor, (4, Insightful)

Hoplite3 (671379) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599191)

I think a lot of this is snakeoil. If it isn't immediately clear what advantage the computer will bring to the lesson, don't use the computer. There are cases when it is clear that the computer brings a lot of positives, but it isn't all cases by a longshot.

Computers can eat up class time with distractions and technical problems. And digital work lacks tangibility. Students respond better to paper homework with actual scores than to digital assignments with scores appearing on some webpage.

I know that these problems may be solvable in the future, but they aren't solved now.

Re:As an instructor, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599361)

I absolutely agree. I think the lab model for intermittent use is probably the best balance.

Computers in the class rooms are almost always a distraction and teachers should not spend any time being desktop support or social network hall monitors..

Re:As an instructor, (1)

PsychoSlashDot (207849) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599409)

I think a lot of this is snakeoil. If it isn't immediately clear what advantage the computer will bring to the lesson, don't use the computer. There are cases when it is clear that the computer brings a lot of positives, but it isn't all cases by a longshot.

Bingo. In primary and secondary grades, I'd daresay that computers wouldn't bring nearly enough to the learning process to justify their price. Just as for instance having a computer for each student in a Physical Education class is very obviously near pointless, the same can be said for History, Geography, and the various maths and sciences.

Bottom line: use computers in the classroom as a tool, not a process.

Giving TEACHERS access to presentation system with a nice projector in each classroom... now THAT would be worthwhile. The teacher could present slides, video clips (hey kids, this is what Auschwitz looked like) and so on. But most education at this level involves a teach bantering with students back and forth, discussing the topic, and the students collectively learning because they're involved.

Google doesn't do that. That's like handing the kids a textbook and firing the teacher. Pointless.

That being said, language classes could benefit from computers as word processing could be taugh. Music classes should have a PC or two to teach sequencing/sampling concepts.

Re:As an instructor, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599469)

I think a lot of this is snakeoil. If it isn't immediately clear what advantage the computer will bring to the lesson, don't use the computer. There are cases when it is clear that the computer brings a lot of positives, but it isn't all cases by a longshot.

Computers can eat up class time with distractions and technical problems. And digital work lacks tangibility. Students respond better to paper homework with actual scores than to digital assignments with scores appearing on some webpage.

I know that these problems may be solvable in the future, but they aren't solved now.

I modded you up, but still wanted to comment. Computers should be used in a class about computers, or perhaps about math. Apart from those, there are very few opportunities for computers to provide any sort of benefit in the classroom. When I was going to school, we got constant donations from Apple of various Apple II models, then Macs. The school administration like to hype this to the parents. The good teachers left the computers to rot in a corner, and the less good teachers let us play Oregon Trail (great game, but also a waste of class time). The first and last class I took before college where a computer was used well was a class on typing in 6th grade.

Of course in college, computers need to be banned during lectures unless students are expected to be using them for some class activity.

Re:As an instructor, (1)

awshidahak (1282256) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599651)

I do agree. When I was in the 6th grade, my school decided to put a computer in every desk (yes, I said in not on. There some serious ventilation issues, but that is beside the point.) We used to never pay attention in class because we were too busy playing minesweeper/FreeCell. The computers didn't really help our education much.

The one thing you really, really need (4, Insightful)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599207)

No matter what setup you choose, don't forget the most important ingredient: Training. Lots of it. Ongoing. Study after study has shown that technology only gets truly integrated into the classroom if both teachers and administrators get ongoing, regular professional development around both using it and working it into the curriculum. Not just one session before the start of the school year - at least a couple of years' worth of regular sessions to help them figure out how to use it in the lessons they're teaching. Without that, whatever you get will just go to waste.

USB drives as an option (2, Interesting)

mysticgoat (582871) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599241)

A relatively new option that should be looked at is providing each student with their own USB drive, at a cost of 10USD to 100USD each, depending on whether flash or spinning, and size. Load these with a standard image of portable FOSS software (assuming you are using Windows, look at the Portable Apps web site [portableapps.com] . There will be room enough for a full suite of portable applications plus storage for all text a student might author in the course of year. Plus, with the larger drives, enough room for libraries of whatever. Be worth the while to check what's now available through the Open CourseWare initiatives of MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and a host of other institutions. Some of it may be appropriate to the students in question, and you can't beat the price or accessibility.

A key to this approach is loading a portable image of Firefox that is preconfigured with the bookmarks and other features the school wants the students to have access to.

This showed a great deal of promise in an adult ed "Preparation For The WorkPlace" environment I was associated with until last July. The software was well received by students, especially Firefox with its bookmarks. They got very comfortable using it. These were on 1 GB thumb drives, which was more than adequate in size.

The portable OpenOffice.org component was not well received by those teachers who were already very defensive about their minimalist skill level with Microsoft Office, but that kind of resistance (of teachers being required to learn new software) is a separate issue that has to be faced no matter how software in the schools is updated.

Re:USB drives as an option (1)

lukas84 (912874) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599447)

Yes, letting untrusted and potentially malicious users run arbitrary software from an USB stick sounds a great idea for a secure computing environment.

That sounds like a support nightmare in the making.

Re:USB drives as an option (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599541)

That's why schools use things like anti-virus and non-administrator users. But, there was some kid at the high school that thought it would be funny to install some prank application on the computers that opened the CD drive and flipped mouse buttons.

That was a pretty easy fix though.

Re:USB drives as an option (1)

berend botje (1401731) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599619)

The harddisk could be read-only in this case. Not much to infect if the hardware doesn't allow writing. Even if something manages to go haywire in memory, just reboot and all is well again.

Seems pretty secure to me.

As a school tech.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599269)

Make sure you have a reason for the teachers to want computers in the classroom. If all they will do in the classroom is google up information or type up reports, you're wasting money. Your teachers need to know how to effectively integrate computers into the classroom for it to be truly worth-while.

Less is better... (2, Insightful)

Talsan (515546) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599271)

Computers are wonderful tools, but for most subjects students learn at that point in their lives (middle/high school in the US), computers aren't necessary.

Think about the primary subjects - Math, Science, and Literature/Writing - where do you see the benefits in using computers? Obviously for English classes, having access to computers to type papers is handy, but it's hardly necessary. Computers can be used in math to help illustrate concepts, but you don't want the students using computers to do their work, otherwise they won't know how to do it without them. And much of science is math - again, not something you want students using computers for.

Re:Less is better... (1)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599373)

They may not be necessary, but that doesn't mean they can't be an improvement. Do you want your kids to get a "good enough" education or a great one?

I'm not saying that they're a godsend that revolutionizes every aspect of every subject taught. But they can make a lot of things more concrete that are difficult for students to learn in the abstract - and studies show that starting out in the concrete, with many different concrete examples, then moving to abstractions, makes it easier for people to apply the knowledge elsewhere.

And I do not agree that "much of science is math," at least not at the elementary/middle school level. At that level, right now in most classrooms, science is memorization of facts. IMO, what it needs to be is less memorization and more learning to "think like a scientist" and make use of the processes that scientists use to explore the world. Which does involve some math, but it's much more important that students learn to look at the world in a systematic way than that they understand exactly how to fill in a particular style of data chart. But now I'm straying from the topic of computers. Computers *can* help with this by helping to give students a view of things that real scientists do - whether by remotely communicating with the scientists, or simulations that allow students to do studies that wouldn't be possible otherwise, or by using the actual tools that scientists might use to analyze their data.

Basically, I think that if you really think the only thing a computer can add to a classroom is typing papers and using it as a calculator, you are not being very creative. Nor do you have much awareness of what is out there already.

Whatever you do. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599277)

Get the cheapest equipment possible. After all, you've got to ensure a good profit for the sponsor.

I suggest each child gets a piece of slate about 10 in by 8 in and a piece of chalk. That would a nice portable laptop display with a simple user interface.

Can't you just feel the Victorian Values creeping in!

Have you seen... (2, Funny)

RotateLeftByte (797477) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599629)

The price of slate these days?

Oh for smileys on /.

Many years ago... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599291)

Many years ago I did this at two schools. I set up a FreeBSD cluster with GEOM. I then had all the PC's boot a tiny FreeBSD image using PXE that had them all kickstart BlackBox in X (XFree86 at the time). You can't beat that in price, and I used a remote desktop utility in the ports tree to let them run specific applications of a Windows 2000 in VMware Workstation 2.
Today I would set up the same but have Windows run in Xen on the FreeBSD box, as VMware is horribly out of date.

Avoid tablet PCs (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599293)

I'm a senior in a private high school where every student has a tablet PC. Save for a few particularly tech-savvy teachers, it's quite lackluster compared to how the plan looks on paper.

First of all, you're looking at high upfront costs. A Lenovo X60 tablet, the model we use, runs between $1,500 and $2,000, and if you include the $300 yearly "technology fee" my school tacks on (presumably to pay the tech department's salaries), that's a pretty steep cost no matter who's paying it.

Which brings us to the maintenance side of things. Teenagers break cars, cell phones, and other crap all the time - why should they not be expected to drop (or in some cases, throw - yes I've witnessed it) their tablets to the floor? Maintenance costs are very likely to go through the roof, and I promise you that over the course of the first two years, you're going to see maintenance costs eclipse the upfront cost.

Moreover, you'll probably need a porn filter to keep them from looking up boobs, MySpace or YouTube. That requires servers, and you're probably looking at close to 50-100 requests per second at peak times. Meaning your transparent proxy will require some serious big iron to handle everything. Make sure your bandwidth is at least 20Mbit/sec, and be ready to block LimeWire, Bittorrent, and other bandwidth-sucking and potentially illegal traffic that your transparent HTTP proxy won't catch.

Lastly, if students have their own tablets and a virus goes rampant throughout your LAN (again, I have witnessed this) reformatting every laptop will be not only a pain in the ass, but also traumatic for students that don't know how to/don't feel like making backups. XP Tablet is also very unstable in my experience, so also think about whether you want to go the Linux route which of course will require manual configuration and extra training.

As for staff, my school has about 170 students in grades 7-12, and our tech department includes a director of technology (ana management), a repair technician, and a network admin. So you're looking at maybe 1 technician per 150 students plus one network admin per ~300 to help with auditing, server maintenance, and security.

All this, and how often does my school use these tablets? Maybe once a week they're a mandatory part of my classes. Most students (myself included) still do most notes on pen and paper and all of my teachers except for one give out all assignments on paper. To be honest, our tablets are probably used more for gaming (think, 2D Flash games) and who-can-find the-first-working-proxy-to-browse-Facebook contests.

Oh yeah. If any of your students know how to use SSH, and you allow unfiltered connections on ANY TCP port, your filtering will be down the tubes in seconds. Yes, I bypassed the porn filter 5 minutes before school started the first day two years in a row, and a few other students did too.

Just a few things to keep in mind if you do a tablet program. Sorry for any typos or inconsistency, I'm on an iPod touch and my thumbs cannot keep up with my brain.

I work with Asus EEEs in UK school (3, Interesting)

fantomas (94850) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599317)

I am working with Asus EEE PCs in a Milton Keynes school -I am at the Open University and we are part of the Personal Inquiry project [pi-project.ac.uk] . Happy to chat offline if you'd like to hear about our experiences.

Main issues: variable levels of student computer literacy, support and management of laptops, making sure the devices transparently connect to the school network, other school computers on shared drives and home networks, ethical issues (schools and homes having different policies on what students can access), students using laptops as tool to play with instead of working (i.e. using the games/distraction software and functionalities).

Re:I work with Asus EEEs in UK school (1)

xenocide2 (231786) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599565)

How does teacher training fit into your plans? Do teachers generally know what to do with what you've given them, or is there an ongoing training plan?

Every student... (1)

ChinggisK (1133009) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599343)

I went to a high school where they gave a take-home laptop to every student. Other than some decent tech training we got from finding ways to get around all the blocks the IT department had set up to keep us from installing games and such, I'm still not sure what educational value they had. Honestly they were more of a distraction than anything; we once had so many people online playing Counterstrike (in class) that we slowed the network to the point that the principal actually got on the PA and politely asked everyone to stop killing the network.

And don't think that you would be able to stop the students from installing games/watching movies/getting to Facebook. It was like a constant battle at my school between the students and the IT department; they would constantly be trying to find ways to lock us out and we'd constantly be finding ways to counter. Granted, this was a magnet school focused solely on IT so we had a school full of nerds who knew what they were doing, but I'm sure that even at a normal school the nerds would pass their secrets along.

Old Skool Works! (2, Informative)

MBHkewl (807459) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599347)

I live in Kuwait and during my time in college, instructors have tried various "electronic" solutions like a smart board or a basic power point presentation, avoiding being interactive with students on a blackboard.

In all cases, it was always a bad idea. The smart board had problems (virus infcetions, IP conflicts, windows crashes, ...etc.) and power point presentations were dull -- myself and many others were almost asleep and drooling (and I was sitting in the first row!).

The instructor's solution to the power point presentation pandemic? Back to the blackboard and everyone woke up.

I'm in for well-maintained labs, and would stir away from giving each student a laptop/tablet. The students would abuse those machines much more than they'd benefit from them.

Teachers are there to interact with students, but by giving each student a machine, the attention would be diverted to these boxes and teachers would start pushing content into students' boxes...

Here's an idea (1)

fat_mike (71855) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599355)

Take that large IT budget and use it to raise the pay level of the teachers. Take a smaller chunk of it to buy a clue hammer to beat into the heads of the parents that teachers are not there to raise their children but to educate them.

85% of the teachers at the High School I went to are on food stamps yet they still teach. They teach because they have a passion for it and I feel I received an excellent education. My parents taught me how to behave in a civilized world which made me more open to learning.

Computers are not going to change education. That starts in the home when parents actually give a shit about their children and discipline them properly.

I ran into my third grade teacher the other day while working on a phone system at a church. He remembered me and laughed about some of the stuff I pulled back then. He's 87. When he retired from teaching he started driving the school bus. When he couldn't drive the bus anymore he worked in the kitchen. When his arthritis wouldn't let him do that he became the receptionist for the church and school.

We don't need computers, we need parents who teach their children to respect their teachers.

Thin Client is great (3, Interesting)

dotwaffle (610149) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599403)

Here's a scenario for you, that will cater to your needs:

Buy the most power machine money can buy - up to about £3000 in terms of CPU power, lots of RAM, and every storage slot filled with high capacity storage - stick with SATA if available, otherwise SAS disks will do.

Then, go to Viglen, and buy their crappy little £79 PCs that go on the back of the monitor with a VESA mount. They're shockingly underpowered - 400MHz, but they make fantastic thin clients.

You can run about 100 think clients on such a system, and it'll work really nicely.

However, it being a school - there's no chance it'll take off, and you'll be stuck with the same rubbish everyone else is.

As an IT professional, I actually am against computers in schools. Typing is all well and good, but kids these days already know Google and Word, anything they actually need for modern business is pretty much self-taught or taught at their first place of employment.

Computers are the bane of the modern UK school system.

Re:Thin Client is great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599563)

Would it be so wrong for a school to teach things not needed by "modern business"? As a student in high school in the United States (Wisconsin), in 1995, we had classes in BASIC, two in Pascal, and one in C. Since then, they have added many more, remember this was before our school was hooked up to the internet. The teachers were fairly hands-off, we got assigned very general assignments, like "do something with graphics". I can confidently say that without these classes, I would have never gone into computing. Families like mine could not afford nice PCs in 1995, and I did not even know what programming was before these classes.

So I think there is definitely a use for computers to teach computer programming to high school students who would not be exposed to it otherwise.

Re:Thin Client is great (1)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599703)

As an IT professional, I actually am against computers in schools. Typing is all well and good, but kids these days already know Google and Word, anything they actually need for modern business is pretty much self-taught or taught at their first place of employment.

Not having computers in schools would be a great way to exclude the kids from families who don't have a home computer from society and fail to prepare them for the world of work. Yes, kids without computers at home really do exist in the UK; some are poor, some just have weird parents.

Laptop Carts, maybe one room with a few desktops (2, Informative)

rAiNsT0rm (877553) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599423)

Laptop Carts are the way to go. They are small, efficient, mobile, and more than enough for any task needed in school.

I'd say 1-2 carts with a classroom's worth of laptops, a wireless router/AP, and wireless printer (or regular printer plugged into a wireless router/ap that can act as a print server). Brand would be whoever can offer the best support contract, Dell, HP, etc. Stay away from OLPC or EEE's while I love Open Source they are too crippled and you can always install Linux (or live CDs) on a regular laptop if the desire is there.

Then if there would be the room/money available have one lab with desktops for any/all other needs. The other item would be USB thumbdrives for each student (they can be reasonably small like 1GB) and lock out the ability to save to anything but the thumbdrives. A projector may be useful for the cart too.

Heterogeneous environment (1)

kimvette (919543) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599439)

If the school is teaching IT at all the best solution is a heterogeneous environment. Any servers for production should be free/open source to save on licensing costs, and servers in the IT classes should be a mix of Linux, Windows, Solaris, and OS X to give the students maximum hands-on experience.

Clients for production should be F/OSS whenever possible, again, to save on both up-front and recurring costs, and clients for instruction that MSDN and similar licensing doesn't apply (kiosks, biology classes, etc.) should be F/OSS if at all possible. Test wine and Crossover for compatibility with any academic applications you need to run, and try to get Codeweavers to assist in the event that the applications won't run. It's possible they can make Crossover run any Windows academic apps you need to run.

Don't blindly choose F/OSS either. It's not a religion. Pick the best and most cost-effective solution (taking TCO into account, not just up-front costs) and disregard "But Linux comes without a warranty" because Microsoft expressly disclaims all warranties in their EULA. If you need support, there is a vast support base for Linux, which is possibly larger than Windows' support base taking a multitude of messageboards and Linux vendors who will step up to the plate to support nearly any Linux distribution.

Whatever you do, don't pick a single OS, or even just a single distribution especially in your computer science classes. It's good to expose your students to all of the major distros, to Macs, and to Windows, but I would really push OpenOffice (and its variants) for normal use, such as homework assignments and so forth.

Laptop Carts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599443)

Use laptop carts that teachers can reserve on days when they need them. These can be moved around the school quickly, plugged into a wall outlet for charging, and students can use them to access their own school account. Moreover, it reduces the waste of having computers when they might be a distraction in class and avoids the problems of home-issue laptops.

No thin clients (1)

TheMiddleRoad (1153113) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599457)

They can't handle flash or video well. You'll need massive bandwidth. Besides, netbooks are cheaper. $350 US or so. So get a netbook per child, load them with open office, install remote viewing software so the teacher can check what each child is doing, and then provide lots and lots of teacher training. The real trick is to make laptop classes optional, and only for teachers who have shown a willingness to use them. Giving them to everyone is a waste. Sharing them with a laptop cart stops teachers from dedicating the time and effort to making laptops work.

Or you can have a computer lab with a dedicated computer teacher. A talented teacher can teach the kids to use computers and interact with the other teachers to extend lessons into the lab.

Computers in schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599471)

Using computers in schools seems to me a waste of money unless these are in an special room for documentation and research, this I believe is called library.

Speaking from experience in the UK... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599513)

I've worked in several educational environments in the UK, and for the last 2 years or so have always gone the thin client route. There are now a number of such devices available, each using just 2W of power, no moving parts, with standard interfaces to keyboard, mouse, and display, and excellent support for local USB and so on. But rather than buy-in to a proprietory solution for application management (e.g. Presentation Server and its like) I'd recommend "full fat" windows (and/or Linux) OS installs, running on a virtualized server. VMWare and Xen are your choices on the back-end. Xen representing the better value for money/price-performance.

Although we worked on the design ourselves, implementation was done by a professional services firm, 360is [360is.com] based locally.

AG

Making the electronic classroom (1, Troll)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599523)

    First, hire me. It'll be the best thing you'd ever do. I'm a little pricey, but worth it.

    Then we'll make a proper evaluation of your proposed facility. Well take input from the staff. We'll find out what vendors are available and what requirements there will be to maintain it.

    Once that is complete, we'll draw up several proposals for how what the staff and administration want could be accomplished.

    We won't make an "Ask Slashdot" for a shot in the dark of how it should work. That's all any of us can provide right now.

Style over substance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599539)

I only hope that content is given equal attention to gadgets and tech but somehow I think it won't be.

Every new workforce generation (say every 10-15 years) seems to be getting less creative and less able to solve real problems. Style over substance and logistics over content - I just see it getting worse.

A workforce of mindless automitons who regard their ability to follow a process as a skillset are only one step away.

Old School? (5, Insightful)

peterofoz (1038508) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599587)

I vote for paper, pencil, and flowchart templates. That way beginning users don't get confused by all the tech stuff and learn how to think. Nothing makes you think and plan ahead like drawing flowcharts by hand.

Beyond IT uses for the computers, I recommend the following rather than their computer simulations:

  • Real wood and clay for art classes - get dirty
  • Real books to curl up with by the fireplace for literature
  • Real test tubes, worms & fish, and magnets for sciences
  • Real slide rule, pencils and rulers for math.
  • Real track, field, balls, and gym for physical education

Re:Old School? (2, Insightful)

EEBaum (520514) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599759)

Hear hear! (though the slide rule is a bit outmoded, I think... in any case, very little in math class requires a calculator).

If the budget is significant, I'd add to the list real musical instruments.

Interactive whiteboards (1)

JamesRose (1062530) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599593)

For the average student a PC is generally a distraction. English, Maths, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, French are all subjects where 99% of the time a student should not be using a PC. However, the teacher will very often make great use of it. Plus for the price of one computer lab you can fit out 10 classrooms with an interactive white board. At my school currently I'd say it's the only piece of hardware that really makes a diffference day to day.
NOTE!
Do not make teachers log in, a teacher logging in is a teacher and their class full of bored teenagers waiting five minutes for your non-existant personal settings to load. Give the teachers a memory stick that gets backed up every night. Ban students from using these computers.

One laptop per student. (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599597)

One laptop per student is the single best approach. There is little point in 'computer rooms' since about 1994. Considering how laptops are coming down in price. When you look at bulk deals of basic laptops the cost per child is now acceptable. But even if it is the most expensive solution it is absolutely worth every penny.

These kids will be shoved out into the workforce at some point, and even today, let alone ten years from now almost all jobs involve using a computer for at least a significant portion of their role. The way they learn and work should somewhat resemble how they will learn and work for the rest of their life.

But ...erm... I do agree with the statement made above. Paying teachers something close to fairly would be a first priority. If there isn't the money for that, then there are other problems with education in todays western world.

My 2 cents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599635)

N.B. Slashdot has a lot of open source fanatics. So be aware of a certain bias. While you should definitely expose them to open source it is not where the culture is or is going to be in the near future.
Live DVD versions of Ubuntu are great for this. They just boot off a DVD and they can play with it.

You should also expose them to a Mac in limited amounts but again that's not where the culture is.

Windows is unfortunately where the digital world is and will remain for some years so they need Windows skills above all others. Even when windows (hopefully) disappears the majority of people will have to make the same paradigm shift as your students.

As with anything educational you have to provide kids quantifiable short term gains. Have them build a web page from scratch with a web authoring tool. Have them write a small program and understand what a program is. Have them edit a bit map (GIMP is ok for this if you can't get photoshop cheap from Adobe)

If you don't empower them in what they want to express then they will forget everything the day after the exam.

Requirements, requirements, requirements (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599669)

First, get a solid list of requirements for the new infrastructure, from the teaching staff.

You do NOT buy and install infrastructure and then start making it fit - that's just the wrong approach. The most important factor in adding IT to a school is not technical - it depends on the teachers and what they need in order to teach better. I can't tell much about that as i'm not a teacher, but all the school IT projects that have more or less failed to far have failed because nobody ever defined what they needed.

Nevertheless, there is still a lot to be said about the technical side in a school.

The environment in a school is technically difficult:

* Most of the software is crap
Most of the software meant to be used in schools for learning etc. was designed by complete morons that have absolutely no idea what they were doing. They might require local administrator rights, not work well with DPI scaling, not work in a TS environment, not work in a multiuser environment, write settings to win.ini or other archaic places.

Vendors often do not support "fixing" their software, for example by adjusting permissions on their folder in program files, making support a nightmare.

* Even less morale than normal employees / less administrative procedures available
Usually in a company, employees have to sign a usage policy and get fired when they don't adhere to it. Of course, there are exceptions. The smaller a company is, the more you can trust employees to try doing the right thing (they might still fuck up, but at least they're not doing it maliciously).

In a school, this is usually not the case. You have extremely malicious users that will try EVERYTHING to get by by the restrictions, and there is usually NO administrative recourse available - no matter how much they break, they won't be kicked from school. So they only option you have is

* Everything must be enforced at the technology level
Fully untrusted user environments are hard to maintain - you mostly have a flexdesk in policy at school, so kids won't just break their own machine, someone else might need to use that machine too.

Thus it is necessary to enforce everything:
- No direct internet access, proxy only
- Use user authentication with proxies
- Use 802.1x for all untrusted network ports (i.E. all in a room where kids might have access to)
- Restrict users ability to execute arbitrary programs - USB sticks, internet downloads. On Windows, use software restriction policies to achieve this
- Use advanced management technologies like Intel's vPro together with case tamper detection to ensure that local manipulations won't be very successfull
- Use full disk encryption in order to prevent tampering with computers when they're offline or opened
- Ensure appropriate audit logging
- Ensure that noone has administrative access to their computer
- Ensure that it is impossible for even savy students to gain access to your network - 802.1x and FDE can help you with that
- Ensure full accountability by using multi-component authentication, for example fingerprint + password or smartcard + password
- Ensure that account switching or sharing is impossible

Please note that these things are notoriously difficult to achieve, mostly because of problem #1, that most school software sucks.

Linux + LDAP + Xen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599673)

Linux would work excellently, because all you'd need to do is use GNOME, make icons for OpenOffice and name it something like WORD so students don't get confused. And, once you get the drivers and configuration right, you can use something like AutoYaST to make setup easy. Oh, and if you choose to uninstall the "Games" pattern, students are basically left to do work.

Use LDAP and an Authentication system e.g. Kerberos to have a roaming home directory, that way a student can move from computer to computer retaining settings and documents.

For classes that would require the use of software like AutoCAD, the use of an independent machine or XEN on a linux machine. The only problem might be making it easy for teachers and students to use.

As far as stopping people from seeking out porn, the most cost effective method would be openDNS. openDNS would allow you to setup custom filters, use pre-built blacklists, but not have to place the load on your system network.

Interactive? (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599721)

We had interactive teaching tools when I was in school. They were called teachers. We also had these things called books, too, which didn't react to anything, and the pictures didn't animate, but they revealed whole new worlds to me nonetheless.

I'm old. :-(

School IT Kiosk Solutions (1)

pcsolut (766118) | more than 5 years ago | (#26599769)

This is really good news to see that many schools now see the value in improved IT solutions for education. I have seen an exciting new product at the 2009 CES show which may be the also simplify and reduce the cost of implementing high technology into academia. Based on the form factor, it doesnâ(TM)t waste precious space. It can be used anywhere there is a need for computers and information, such as labs, hallways, libraries, kitchen's ect. I have already emailed them for more information regarding support for Linux and was told that the product tested well with Ubuntu 8.04. This product is called the Smart-Leaf and can be found at http://www.smart-leaf.com/ [smart-leaf.com]

Train the Teachers! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26599859)

Whatever you do, make sure that your teachers understand HOW to use the computers. I'm an adult returning to college and it astounds me how many instructors don't even know how to click to the next slide of their presentation.

Also, using the computers to improve communication between parents, students, and teachers is important, too. From a central place to check grades, to a quick way to make sure everyone is talking, it can really help during a time when you don't get as much face time with the parents as teachers used to.

I love getting email every day from my 10 year old. He has fine motor skill problems, so he types emails instead of writing in his agenda, and we communicate a lot during our emails. It is in addition to parental communication, not a substitute.

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