Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reducing the Noise

I just returned from two days of thought provoking conversations with IT Directors from a number of schools in Europe ( I was standing in for my IT Director who was unable to attend).  We discussed the education and technology issues that all international schools are dealing with.  I learned a lot from listening to others that are far more experienced in planning and managing the IT infrastructure of a school.  But the thing that kept going through my head as I left the meeting was how much I think my current school is doing "IT" the right way by keeping things simple, reducing the noise and focusing on learning.

When I first joined the school, I was surprised to find out how many systems or software we just don't have.  Don't get me wrong, we have plenty of hardware and software for students to use, but from a school administration/management/systems standpoint it is minimalist.  And I like it, because rather than spending time managing and teaching people how to use the systems, I get to focus on learning.

Here is a quick list of things that "reduce the noise" at my school and allow me to focus on learning.

Strong Preparatory MS 1-1 Laptop Program that feeds into the US 1-1 Laptop Program - The gradual 1-1 program roll-out started in the MS and built from there.  The MS program checks out school owned machines to students in grades 6, 7, and 8.  The students go through a "license to drive" type program before they earn the right to take the laptops home and back to school each day.  Students enter the Upper School with a large skill set.  The MS program prepares them for the increased responsibility that comes with owning and administering your own laptop.

Macs -  I honestly can't believe how few issues there are.  I don't want to get into the Mac vs. PC argument as I consider myself as someone who can use either OS well, but the truth is that Macs have an incredible up time and don't really have to worry about viruses.  Those two areas alone can suck up a ton of time if they go the wrong way.  Another great thing about Macs is the built in iLife suite that allows students to be content creators.  Additionally, having only one operating system allows for some students to become experts and bring the others along all the while increasing the level of average user ability.

Absence of File Servers -  We don't have them.  We don't manage them.  We don't spend money or man hours on servers or backing up servers. So, where do students and staff store their files?  Great question; I should ask them?  My guess is that most of them store files on their laptop hard drive and the ones that care to keep them backed up use external hard drives or cloud-based file storage.

Gmail and Google Apps - We have a Google Apps Education account for our faculty, but more importantly we don't have the following: email servers and the monetary and human resources costs associated with the purchasing, upgrades, backups and maintenance of those servers.

Integration Specialists at Each Division -   Our current ratio is 1 Integration Specialist for every 275 students.  My hat is off to the leadership team that was forward-thinking enough to see the impact that a dedicated Technology Integration Specialist can have on individual teachers, curriculum, and student learning.  With a IT Director focused on the big picture, the Integrationists are free from the tasks that can bog them down (budgeting, troubleshooting, managing systems) and able to be in classrooms with students and plan units with teachers to meet the NETs standards.

Open Wireless Network -  When a student enters the school and open their laptop they get connected.  We don't spend time configuring or trouble shooting.  It just works.


  1. Wahoo, the first person to comment on pgreensoup's Blog!
    Great post - I love what your school is doing to "reduce the noise". Google Aps is a BIG part of what's being used at our school and soon we will shift over mail & all calendars to google as well. The reduction in issues with this alone, will be HUGE! An open Network, is still a wish away for us, and we will always be a dual platform school weighted more on the Mac side thankfully (which you know I just adore too!). Adding your blog to my reader now, as I'm looking forward to reading more about how you're doing at your new school!!

  2. lovely entry and the key phrase at the end, is it just works :)

    nice one

  3. Having been at the I.T. conference in Zagreb where I learned a little about what you're doing - and doing right! - at ISP - it was fun and interesting to read this summary. Thanks, Patrick, for this information and for a wonderful blog all around.

  4. great blog. totally agree about the Mac. It's critical for kids to know both OS as well. too many great things coming out of Apple to be ignored.

  5. Ah, I'm jealous of the minimalist approach. Some schools (so I've heard) seem to be creating an ever-growing onion - constantly adding layers without making anything taste better.
    Without file servers, where do the IS students store files? Is the whole school 1:1?
    Great post!

  6. Great question, Keith. Our elementary school is not 1:1, but they have access to carts. In most cases our ES students can store their work on their blog (through Edublogs). Whether or not they make the content public, they can still store up to 5 GB of their text, images, and video. In the case of larger and "in-progress" projects, they can just save their work on the laptop and we have them back it up on a flash stick. As all students use the same account on the laptops, this system is obviously not fool proof, but with the backup on a flash stick we are pretty well covered if disaster strikes.

  7. Patrick
    It's great to hear your insights. The limited toolset is such a valuable lesson and something that I think every school needs to work towards.

    The move to GoogleApps can be transformative -- not only does it allow for ubiquitous access, it also has tools to truly change the way that teachers teach. I'm looking forward to reading more about your experiences.