Category: School

Keep Digging

My notes from tonight’s school board meeting.

About two months ago when I last spoke to the school board, I predicted that implementing this iPad project would probably result in headaches and trouble for not only your IT staff, but the school corporation as a whole.  This is not meant to be an “Ha Ha, the IT guy says ‘I told you so'” moment, because I feel the failings of this project show something far more troubling.  
This weekend, an email was sent out to the school corporation about the various technology projects.  As an IT professional, the points brought up are clearly self inflicted wounds from this iPad rollout.  And the suggestions made will not improve the overall problem.  
iPad usage
shutting down the schools internet access during lunch time
Proposed solution is to turn off internet access during this time to the middle schools
This will interfere and add unnecessary steps to students and will not improve the bandwidth situation.
Most of the bandwidth usage is to youtube and from the common area
My point is, instead of putting the blame/fix on your teachers, does anyone have a ladder and know how to unplug an access point?
Teachers unprepared to use the iPads in the classrooms
Student being told that notes he took on the iPad could not be used on open-note test.
no curriculum
Impossible demands placed on teachers and staff to implement something which they have simply been given tweets and links to somehow develop an education plan
Paid App Approval Process
4-6 weeks to approve an app to be used in the classroom, which means that if a teach finds an app they need to have things sorted out at least one quarter ahead of time in order to ensure delivery to their students.
The problem is not your digital citizens acting “uncitizen-like” or teachers not fulfilling mandates, the problem is poor leadership and poor planning on the part of this school corporation.  The problem is the school corporation came into the project unprepared both on the technology and education fronts, with a mandate that fails the basic points of education, network security, and “what to expect from a group of teenagers”.
You are not going to fix this by simply adding bandwidth and trying to reason with your students.  You either now have to take the steps of either becoming a cybercop on every user in your network (of which you do not have the time or funds to support) or you have to start unplugging things.  

We are now three weeks into iPad deployment into the #HCCSC2012 school year and now the big question is…well, what about all that stuff I said could happen with my 64 Days post.  

Thankfully, the worst case scenario has not happened.  The network has thankfully held up and so far (well, from my extremely limited vantage point) the network has not been hacked into oblivion.  However, that’s not too much of a surprise either since https is still unblocked and if you are into some pretty awful can download it at 500Mbit/s speeds on the 10G network they run between schools (yes, 10G ring…don’t ask).

So my thoughts on this so far?  I still think this is an abject failure.  Why?  

The kids are using iPads either as glorified notebooks or digital cameras and constantly uploading to Facebook.  I’m guessing that a significant majority of traffic on the network is probably social media related….which is actually fine in my book.  It’s how that it’s being used is the problem.

But what does this mean for the schools?  Well, we still have ~$2million in iPads that have to be used over the next four years.  We still don’t have lesson plans other than “take notes on them” and I’m guessing the most abused access point in the entire network is the one in the commons area…and not in the classrooms.

See, there’s lots of postings in the #HCCSC2012 hashtag which mostly revolve around buzzwords.  In almost everything inside of the hashtag, you see someone posting about great ideas which involve ways create dialogue to synthesize interest in the paradigm of learning in the digital classroom.  Or in other words…a bunch of clever words covering up a bunch of BS.

We have this in the business world…they are called buzz words and if you get enough of your friends to play along, you can play buzz word bingo.  Every time your teacher facilitator demonstrates a way paradigm shifting method to teach enhance the educational experience….yeah, you have been there.  And yes, there is an app for that….

Now I have been pretty snarky about this process…and I think I have been pretty right on about the use of this (I still get questions on “how do I use this”?) so I am willing to make this offer.  I am willing to take time away over the next few weeks and help any teacher in the corporation to put together some ideas on how to really introduce the iPad into their classroom.  Beyond posting on a random blog or updating your Facebook status.  I’m not planning on making a buck on this or wanting to prove a point.  But I see the resources out there and I am also seeing teachers struggle in trying to incorporate this new mandate from above while trying to teach classes…and it appears to be quite a big hurdle.

64 Days

These are my notes from tonight’s school board meeting.  I hopefully will be given five minutes to talk, hence the brevity.  But I hope this will make sense to everyone.

Thank you for time tonight.  My name is Brian Wohlgemuth.  I am an engineer for CenturyLink, a 20 year IT consultant, and most of all, a dad with several children in the Huntington County School Corporation.  Tonight, I want to talk about projects that succeed and those that fail.  In most cases, projects fail due to a misunderstanding between ambition and reality.  In IT as in many disciplines, a good foundation means you can build almost anything.  In the case of IT Project Management, a clear understanding of the costs/risks/and roadblocks is your good foundation.  I’ll try to cover all of this in four minutes.

The current plan as proposed to the board is to deploy iPads to every student in the High School and Middle Schools this year.  This device will be replacing most if not all textbooks in the school environment.  While I find this exciting, I have to ask what will replace the textbooks when it comes to problems, examples, help, etc.  I am not an advocate for the textbook system, but they can and do serve a purpose.  How will that purpose be addressed in the iPad world?

This also means the existing data/management infrastructure will have almost 2,000 new clients added to the network, and this is just at three facilities.  The logistics of Procuring, Assigning, Accounting, Installing, Distributing, and Training 2,000 new devices to a network is quite a challenge.  In fact, most companies would take a year or two phase in this scope of project.  You have 64 days.  I am not saying this is impossible to do, but the accounting and distribution will be daunting especially in a school environment.

You tech support will be your greatest asset.  When things break (and they will), it will be your first line of defense.  As I said before, you are adding over 2,000 clients to your network.  Weird problems can and will show up, especially in what is an unmanaged client environment such as this.

Your new clients will demand a lot from you this first year.  The equivalent of a multi-million dollar supercomputer from just a decade ago is sitting in each students hands.  Current Department of Education specifications are a 100kbps connection per user.  You will have at the end of this project, almost 4,000 users.  That means you will need at minimum a 400Mbit protected connection to the Internet.  These are Department of Education standards, not numbers I came up with.

Your new clients will actively challenge your network on a daily basis.  In a corporate environment, doing anything outside of policy can get you fired.  In high school, it will probably make you popular.  Most High School IT Administrators treat the public infrastructure as hostile one.  Is this what you are planning on doing?  Why do I ask this?

Because of one recurring theme I hear from school administrators.  That “Apple=Safe”.  In this case, I simply point out the latest threat analysis from Kaspersky which expects the first iOS based malware to hit the world in 2013.  Right as you are ramping up for phase two of this project.

2,000+ clients.  Hitting your existing network in 64 days.  Which by next year will be subjected to malware by a group of (in the IT world) hostile users.

Which brings me back to my point tonight.  Earlier I said “In most cases, projects fail due to a misunderstanding between ambition and reality”.  64 Days.

Most of you know I am a computer geek to the core.  If I don’t have an iPhone, iPad, or my much abused MacBook Air with me…I’m probably having convulsions.  Living on the dawn of the “digital citizenship” (something that was said tonight) has been a wonderful thing for me personally and professionally.

Tonight, I took a little trip to our school board meeting after band practice (more on that later….the whole band thing is really turning out well).  Tonight’s discussion revolved around the mundane (the interviewing process for a coach) to the discussion around moving to a “digital curriculum” with the iPad as the central device in this process.

HCCSC is currently in the process of deciding to move to a digital textbook/learning environment.  This will (as currently proposed) give an iPad to every student grades 6-12 this year, and then every student (including Kindergarten) next year.  Instead of textbook fees, parents would be charged $100 per year for access to the iPad.  The schools are purchasing these devices and will then maintain and monitor them closely.

And this is where things get weird….bad…..awful…..etc.

The idea being proposed is students will use the iPad as their primary learning device, as opposed to textbooks.  This is a good thing overall (no more dead trees, incredibly large books carrying dead knowledge, etc).  However, the plan is to let teachers determine curriculum choices based on their own choices and guidelines.  This isn’t a bad thing either…but this is being implemented….now.  As in ordering/setting up/testing/deploying by August 15th.  Mind you, nothing has been ordered or even approved yet.  So now, instead of having a textbook/lesson plan figured out….teachers will need to wing it.  Not an impossible hurdle…unless of course you are terrified of the iPad which many of the teachers are.

So what about deploying the iPad to every student?  Each student will get their own iPad which they will be responsible to keep safe, charge every night, and ensure they take to school each morning.  For this year, it will be limited to middle and high school students….but next year each Kindergartener will have their very own shiny new iPad to cart around.  Every day.  This seems safe.

OK…so we get past the “teachers scared/kindergarteners using as kleenex” phases.  While these are not impossible hurdles…we now get to distribution and management.  2,000 brand new wireless clients on a school IT infrastructure that can’t/won’t stop https.  Where they can get on personal ads for Craigslist.  Or Facebook.  Or anything else on the planet.  But lets say this goes well and the handoff goes smashingly.  What about the back-half of the network piece. You know, where students will get their learning experience…otherwise known as “The Internet”.  Now that your primary work is taking place offsite… you have the network to back it up?  Wait…we’re still debating?  Again, August 15th looms….

But lets say you get the budget, the staff, the distribution, the network up to snuff by August 15th…..

What happens when all of that doesn’t work?

If the Internet goes down, your students are offline.  If they unleash an iOS virus, your students are offline.  If a nasty head cold works its way through the Kindergarten, your students are offline.  If….if….if.

There’s a way to get kids to be “digital citizens”.  This isn’t the way to do it.

We consistently hear about the woeful state of the US educational system. Inattentive parents, overworked teachers, and crowded schools constantly put the United States in the bottom of test scores. However, as a parent and a former college flunky I have to ask, what is the point of all of this?
I failed miserably in college. But my failures in college were not the work of any of the aforementioned complaints. I went to a decent school, was raised in a loving home, and was a consistent B student. At Northern Illinois, I slacked off and slept through $15,000 worth of tuition. This isn’t rare, since over half of the freshman who start college never get “The Piece of Paper”®.
I decided to write this little diatribe after an impromptu conference with Nathan’s teacher. Nathan is reading, counting to fifty, and is knows an astounding amount of facts and figures that as I parent I am proud to have. Except, according to the latest academic standards, he should have known that in utero. We’re now finding out that my wonderful child is behind, and now in trouble of revisiting kindergarten. I’ve already had experience in holding a kid back, and have no problems doing it when it makes sense. Tonight, I’m still grasping for sense out of this matter. Apparently, as a parent, I’m supposed to push Nathan every waking moment to read, add, subtract, divide, conquer Poland, etc. But I have to ask where the fun is supposed to be squeezed in. The last thing I want to do is to turn a motivated Kindergardener into a unmotivated first grader.
Public Schools do a great job of churning out kids. Unfortunately, they do a poor job of customizing curriculum for each child’s talents and needs. Over the past several years I have been a strong proponent for privatizing the education system and moving into a voucher-based economy. Our own brief experience with Emily and Hannah in a private school only seems to validate these beliefs.
In the end, we want a talented and motivated workforce to drive the American Economy. But, as a parent, a flunky, and MBA; why are we driving our kids into overachievement?


Pic of my friend/advisor Larry and myself post-graduation. Sorry it’s a bit fuzzy, but genius boy me forgot to put new batteries in the camera.
What’s next? I’m still trying to figure that out, but it’s nice that I don’t have any homework due in the foreseeable future.

Grades In

Three A’s…It’s really done now….

17 Months Later

It’s done. The last paper is done, uploaded, and (pending a decent grade) it will be Brian Wohlgemuth, MBA on December 15th.
What are the plans after this (besides a few weeks off from everything?). Probably another Cisco Certification (the CCNA re-up that I am overdue for). I probably won’t do anything else at this point in time (unless someone wants to pay for the PhD…..), but the world is changing and I’ll get whatever I need to.

When Your High School Gains Nationwide Notoriety…
Not because of high academics.
Or fantastic athletic achievement.
Or because of a school shooting….which has not happened yet, thankfully…
No, it is highlighted on the front page of the Fox News website because….well…I’ll let you read it.
And yes, that’s H.L. Richards High School in the background of a stupid stop sign which has garnered national news.
I am so proud… /sarcasm

Homework Sucks

Three major group projects for school, all due within the next three weeks.
Plus accounting homework.
Plus various questions from professors.
Oh, and I’m supposed to be on holiday in 14 days.
I started my accounting homework around 11:30 tonight…and now it’s 1:30 and I only realized it when I started to get so damn tired. And the accounting homework is about 40% done. Will probably spend at least another two hours on it tomorrow finishing it up to turn in Monday.
This is why this is (for the near future) my last degree I am pursuing. I am relishing the time away from academia to put towards…well….the kids and nothing else. 😉