Starting Over

Starting Over

Matt Federoff

If you got to start from scratch one day, what would you do? I know every IT professional has asked himself this question at one time or another. “If I had to build a whole new network,” or “If I could throw out all our workstations and buy new ones,” the thoughts start. Typically, it’s just a pipe dream.

If you got to start from scratch one day, what would you do? I know every IT professional has asked himself this question at one time or another. “If I had to build a whole new network,” or “If I could throw out all our workstations and buy new ones,” the thoughts start. Typically, it’s just a pipe dream.

But a few years back, I had just such an opportunity. Vail is a rapidly growing community on the southern edge of Tucson, Ariz. As such, it builds schools at a furious rate. It’s a logistical challenge, but also a chance to explore new possibilities.

Back in 2004, we had a new high school on the drawing board. We had the usual mix of architects, community members and administrators all trying to figure out how to make it “special.” Quite honestly, we weren’t having much success. At the same time, I had been following the various one-to-one initiatives across the country. With a year to plan and prepare, we decided to build a notebook high school, and we got to start from scratch.

Something for Everyone

Now, you may be tempted to dismiss this as an esoteric “boutique” project. Perhaps you work at an existing facility and thus think there is nothing you can learn from my experience. But in the three years our school has been open, we’ve learned lessons applicable to all schools.

Empire High School is a public school, grades 9–12. We built it with tax dollars. There are no special requirements to get in. What’s different is that there are no textbooks. That single detail has a profound effect on the school. It is also utterly dependent on pervasive and reliable wireless technology to make it possible.

We have secure wireless coverage over every inch of the campus, including all the common areas and athletic fields. We added extra electrical outlets to every classroom and out in common areas so students can plug in whenever possible.

Lessons Learned

After three years, here’s what we’ve learned: Keeping notebooks running all day is possible, without providing extra batteries. We teach the students best practices for conserving power and put the responsibility on them to make sure their computers remain powered all day. Onsite support and repair is essential, as we’ve experienced failure and breakage at a rate of nearly 10 percent. Having a supply of loaner notebooks is necessary; keeping students running when their computers aren’t is critical when notebooks are the primary delivery medium for content.

Teachers choose content based upon state standards, using both free and paid content from multiple providers. This laserlike focus on standards is a tipping point to real transformation in education. And it’s only possible with technology that can deliver rich content, aligned to those standards, to any student at any given moment. This is probably the most important discovery we’ve made, and it’s a lesson that is applicable regardless of school or situation.

Standards-aligned content delivered to every student at any moment wherever they happen to be is a place that any district can go, and that’s never been possible before. So let’s all start from scratch and reimagine what’s possible.

Inside a High School Warranty Shop

You don’t have to run a notebook program for long before facing the issue of computer repairs. Most schools leave this responsibility with the vendor, but one school in Baton Rouge, La., St. Joseph’s Academy, takes a do- it-yourself approach.

This school operates its own onsite warranty shop, completing all computer hardware maintenance internally. The school ensures that each of the 25 to 30 students working there obtain necessary certifications.

After the school day, students report for work, receiving compensation for ordering parts and repairing systems. The school, in turn, gets warranty funds from manufacturers. But the biggest benefits are intangible, not financial, says infrastructure architect John Richardson. Warranty staffers are confident, poised problem-solvers, able to secure well-paying part-time work at college and beyond. —Lisa Fratt

One-to-One Considerations

There’s a lot of work to be done before filling out a purchase order. Project Inkwell, a coalition of technology companies and schools, has issued a list of 64 items it thinks should be the functional requirements of all student devices in one-to-one programs. ● The device, carrying case and peripherals should weigh less than three pounds. ● The device should be able to withstand a drop onto a tile floor from 29 inches. ● The device should have broadband access to network resources. ● The screen should be 7 inches or larger. ● The device should be able to run full-screen video streams. Source: Project Inkwell (www.projectinkwell.com)

Jan 15 2008

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