Oct 12 2006

Readers Share Their Thoughts On...

The advantages of flash drives, the importance of school security and the launch of Ed Tech’s new Web site. In Reader Spotlight, Ohio’s Elyria School District reports on a software program it created to provide teachers with Web access to a comprehensive

Readers share their thoughts on the advantages of flash drives, the importance of school security and the launch of Ed Tech’s new Web site. In Reader Spotlight, Ohio’s Elyria School District reports on a software program it created to provide teachers with Web access to a comprehensive student database.

What do our readers discuss in this issue? Moving from floppies to flash. Technology’s potential to reshape education. A suspicious package and the quick response from an emergency team, and a “great surprise” on our new Web site.

Saying Goodbye to the Stone Age

After reading Jeffrey Dahl’s letter to the editor in the summer 2004 issue of Ed Tech, I requested a copy of Alan Joch’s article, “A New Era in Storage” (Cutting Edge, Spring 2004), to which the letter refers.

Floppy disk use is slowly fading away in Mr. Dahl’s school district. This will happen much more quickly as computer manufacturers start placing USB [Universal Serial Bus] ports up front on their systems just like their cousins, the floppy drive.

I posted the article and Mr. Dahl’s letter so that staff and students could read from other experts regarding the volatility of floppies and the reliability of flash drives. Hopefully, our school district will supply a few flash drives to demonstrate just how great a storage device they are, and we can put Stone Age floppies in the museums where they belong!

—Dave Gay, technology coordinator, Eureka Public School District #13, Eureka, Mont.

Reshaping Education With Technology

The spring 2004 issue is outstanding in terms of perspective as well as information. Educators should be well versed, not only on the issues surrounding emerging technologies, but also concerning the potential these new technologies will have for reshaping the way we educate students.

The article by Alan Joch (“A New Era in Storage,” Cutting Edge, Spring 2004) is a good example of the type of information we need to explore. He points out that the 3.5-inch floppy disk, long a mainstay for the cheap backup of data, now appears to be going the way of its 5.25-inch predecessor, and many people are now buying computers without a floppy drive.

However, I think that some of the data used to compare backup costs is misleading and should be clarified. I’m not sure what he’s using as the basis for the cost of a 1.4-MB floppy drive, but if he’s paying more than $15 for an internal drive, he’s getting ripped off. It’s also unfair to use the whole cost of the drive when figuring the cost per megabyte on one disk. That cost has to be amortized over all the disks used over the life of the drive, which often is more than 300,000 hours of use.

I think that end users need to be aware of the newer technologies, but to get the most accurate cost of ownership, they should carefully evaluate their own needs before selecting the technologies that will best serve them.

—James Gregory, Director of Federal Programs and Technology, Lincoln Consolidated School District, Lincoln, Ark.

Thanks for your comments. The floppy drive price I quoted was representative of external devices when I researched the story. External drives are more expensive than internal drives, but I reasoned that die-hard floppy users would opt for the simplicity of connecting a drive via a ubiquitous USB interface.

Regarding cost-per-megabyte comparisons, I included the expense of drives and media to determine costs for each option. Amortization applies to flash memory, CD-RW, rewritable DVD drives and floppy devices. You’re correct in stating that the vast difference in capacities between floppies and their newer competitors magnifies price-per-megabyte disparities. But I felt this distinction would be helpful in revealing the competitive advantages today’s technologies have over yesterday’s solutions.

—Alan Joch

Being Prepared

We like to think that our schools are safe harbors for children, and, for the most part, they are. Increased school security—along with programs to educate students, staff, parents and community—has raised the awareness level of the potential dangers out there. No matter how well a school system prepares for acts of violence, terrorism or security breaches, it still takes common sense and emergency team preparedness to react quickly and effectively to a potentially dangerous situation.

Last summer, a package arrived at our school board office. I noticed right away there was no discernible address on it. As I had not ordered anything from a shipper in New York, I took a closer look at the package. A name on the package prompted me to do a quick Web search, which immediately turned up the name of a biochemist, sending up a red flag. A second search led me to a link identifying the name as that of someone who had died in the attack on the World Trade Center.

This led to a call to local law enforcement, which reacted quickly. Within a few minutes, an emergency team arrived, along with the state police, fire department and bomb experts. The building was immediately cleared and cordoned off. Over the next hour, the package was investigated, and an X-ray revealed a thin wire. The mystery was solved when the metal wire was determined to be a wire on a picture frame.

Although this event closed down our building for a couple of hours, local emergency services, law enforcement and state police all maintained that I acted properly. The situation was a learning experience and showed our community that our local emergency team is prepared to react quickly to potentially dangerous situations.

—William Burrall, Technology Coordinator, Marshall County Schools, Moundsville, W.Va.

A Great Surprise

Our district has been receiving Ed Tech’s print version for some time, but I just recently found your Web site when I wanted to share an article with a colleague.

The ability to use a text version of the article (for cut and paste) as well as your magazine view (for reproducing the article as it is in print) was a great surprise. Thanks for making these thought-provoking articles so easily accessible.

—Kevin Jordan, Director of Assessment and Student Information, Whitley County Consolidated Schools, Columbia City, Ind.

Thank you for your comments on our new Web site. Launched in mid-June, the Web site includes content from the current issue of Ed Tech as well as back issues. For those of you interested in taking a peek, go to edtechmag.com.


E-mail your letters, comments and feedback to edtech@cdwg.com. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. Letters chosen for publication may be edited for length and clarity. All submissions become the property of CDW•G.

Reader Spotlight

Keeping an eye on the progress of individual students, classes and even entire grade levels is as simple as clicking a mouse, thanks to a unique software application developed in-house by Ohio’s Elyria School District.

The application, called Indicator Reporting and Information System (IRIS), provides teachers with Web access to a database chock full of student information. The database includes comprehensive grading information on each student, as well as details on their progress in specific areas that the State Board of Education says should be known at each grade level in English, math, social studies and science. These data points help teachers determine whether pupils are successfully grasping key grade-level indicators. Teachers may also enter comments about how they were able to help students master specific concepts.

“Those standards are the foundation of the software program,” says Dr. Michele Stoffan, Ph.D., the district’s director of academic services for the elementary level. “Teachers now have easy access to the type of data that will help them focus on their instructional efforts.”

The school district launched the in-house effort after a two-year search failed to unearth existing software that fit teachers’ needs. Implemented during the 2002-2003 school year, IRIS monitors the progress of the school district’s approximately 8,000 students. Prior to the server-based program’s development, the only way for teachers to get such information was to sift through a seemingly endless stream of file folders, explains Stoffan, who provided curriculum input during the application’s yearlong development.

Brian Allsop, a former district employee, developed the Web and server-based application. By making IRIS accessible over the Internet, the district gives teachers more flexibility on when and where they use the system. IRIS includes other much-appreciated features, such as letting elementary-level teachers prepare and print electronic report cards. But IRIS’s key strength is its ability to consolidate pertinent information in an easy-to-use format.

Before IRIS, Stoffan says, “There was really no way to track mastery in any way beyond the individual student level, and even attempting that was sometimes a very tedious process.”

By letting teachers enter data and examine how students perform in specific areas and categories year by year, the program provides an ongoing individual profile for each child, as well as for class and grade levels as a whole. IRIS’s curriculum maps also offer key assessments of mastery in various grade-level indicators. “The system allows us to track results across time, monitor student progress and share information with parents in a succinct way,” Stoffan explains.

With this information so readily available, she says, teachers can adjust their curriculum and lesson plans based on the progress of a class or grade level. For example, if a class of students falls short at mastering a particular science concept, an instructor can reinforce learning of that concept by altering lesson plans for the following year.

“Teachers now have information that will help drive their lesson plans,” Stoffan says.