Tony and Patrick are back! We talk about snow and other important topics and there is the first ever Story Time with Uncle Tony and it is a good one! Check out the talking points below and as always please subscribe to us on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app.
Virtual Reality – I am hopeful for its future by Patrick Cauley
Imagine you have had to evacuate your high school. Could you facilitate your classes and business processes without physically being in your building?
If most of your infrastructure is in a cloud based environment, odds are you can maintain business continuity without your building. You might need an office or some type of staging area, but your organization can still meet it’s core requirements.
But what if you are self-hosted? What if most of your systems rely on infrastructure and data that is on premises?
This is an important conversation senior management and all the creative thinkers in your organization need to have. Here are some ideas to help guide you through the process and make (or test) your plan.
Choose a Secondary Location
Before anything technical happens, choose a secondary location to run your operations. Assume that the current location, and immediate area around the current location, are off-limits. Where can you affordably establish and maintain an operational space?
The space would need to include:
Enough space for the core team to work
Basic communication resources
Hardcopies of data that is required to contact parents, students, and teachers
Hardcopies of schedules and other data that are needed for basic school operations
Basic supplies and consumables (even food and water) for the team to work for at least 14 days
Remember, this requires some minimalism. People could rotate in and out, but the core team should be as small as possible. Anyone who can work from home, should work from home.
If you can maintain business continuity without technology, then by all means try to achieve this. Every new requirement will only add complexity to the situation.
If you need technology, keep reading.
Create a Portable Network
For any data to flow inside or outside of the secondary location, a computer network is required. Here are some core items that would be required in a normal metropolitan/urban/suburban area where the mobile service has not been disrupted:
5-10 individual LAN cables; 1-3 Meters each; longer cables look messy but add flexibility
5-10 power extensions with sockets; avoid cheap ones
Cable ties, double sided-tape, duct tape, and a few box knives
This setup will connect to the internet, and allow the small group of users to get online.
The environment will most likely be small, so maintaining basic safety when rigging equipment is essential. Damaged equipment will be difficult to manage during any type of emergency. Preventing trip wires prevents damage.
Create Portable Data
Many organizations have offsite servers that mirror their data. These organizations can keep operating without their normal infrastructure.
Most schools do not do this. Most schools cannot afford to do this. If the school is using an online classroom environment, then maintaining classes will be fairly simply as long as there is a protocol to follow. For all academics functions, creating a protocol. This should include:
Attendance for teachers and students (time stamped, and strictly followed)
Mimic the course schedule; when a teacher should be in math class, they should be online answering questions about math; they need to follow their schedule
Establish office hours and lunch to provide some break time and organization
Assign administrators to contact teachers for daily feedback and summaries
Assign administrators to randomly contact students for daily feedback and summaries
Send parents status updates on the situation at the same time everyday, unless a critical time sensitive issue presents itself
Using an online classroom system for your day-to-day teaching is not a requirement to have an online classroom system. A school can setup a Google Classroom or Microsoft Classroom environment for emergencies. These are usually free with educational licensing. These classroom environments need to be kept up-to-date with enrollment and scheduling.
There are a few other ways to run online classes without these cloud services, the cost is higher, but it is totally feasible. If you need this type of information, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Data files, such as spreadsheets and text documents, will be required for business functions. You may have an emergency where going into the campus is not prohibited. Retrieving hardware will be difficult and the outcome uncertain. Relying on external drives is not a great idea unless a set of those drives is stored off campus on a regular schedule.
Offsite storage is easy to manage using systems like Resilio Sync. The assumption is that the school does not want to use any cloud services. Using a peer-to-peer system would send copies daily from one location directly to the next.
There are other ways to sync files from one private location to another. Feel free to email and inquire.
Not Complete But Enough to Get Started
There are many options when designing these plans. Even if you feel the ideas here are not feasible, the questions raised are worth answering. The thought exercise should help develop policies and procedures for all stakeholders.
Administrators should be engaging their IT teams to find out how data is saved, where it is saved, and how it can be accessed. IT teams should be engaging administrators to determine the minimum core requirements for maintaining business continuity, and the total amount of downtime the organization can withstand.
I recently wrote a post titled I Played with Virtual Reality. In that post I review the Mirage Solo – A standalone (no wires) Google Day Dream device. I did not find it super impressive and it got me thinking. Is the virtual reality done for right now? Is it over? I mean the hype is pretty non-existent right now concerning anything that is coming out in this area (I am also lumping in mixed and augmented reality into this topic).
I can relate
I wondered to myself about what happened? I was super pumped about this! I thought this would be revolutionary to education. Something along the lines of giving students laptops, but I was wrong. Then I ran across this CNET article by Mark Serrels titled Virtual reality feels like a dream gathering dust.
In the article, he points out that in 2019 at CES (one of the largest technology shows in the world) that VR is nothing more than a talking point in a presentation. It’s not a key feature to any device that adds value to it.
He later goes on to explain that he attended a panel at CES called AR-VR-MR Think Tank. Here the panel of professionals talk shop about these different technologies. If you are unfamiliar with those acronyms here is what they stand for:
* AR – Augmented Reality
* VR – Virtual Reality
* MR – Mixed Reality
The panel basically says that the public was sold the idea of virtual reality as a consumer product too early. It still hadn’t been developed enough by corporations or people long enough. I remember reading feverishly all that I could about VR and the different headsets (Oculus, HTC Vive) and when they were going to be sold to
There is a new version of the HTC Vive and Occulus is coming out with the Quest both are stand-alone and far more powerful than the Lenovo Mirage I got to play with, but still, it’s not that great. There are games out there for VR, but not a ton of good ones or so I thought.
So the outlook doesn’t sound too promising but then I listened to a podcast.
I was listening to the Kinda Funny Gamecast and the hosts were going over their top 10 games of 2018. A number of Playstation VR games had made the list. Here were the three that I can remember off the top of my head.
* Beat Saber
* Astro Bot
Kinda Funny is well respected and pretty prominent in the gaming industry and for any VR games to make their top 10 makes me feel hopeful for VR. It makes me feel that there are still companies out there who are dedicated to making it work and making it better and developing it.
Video games seem like the industry that will carry the torch. I am sure that the corporate world and maybe the medical industry may use it for training, but to make it a truly interactive experience and a seamless one I feel that the video game industry is probably the best industry for its development. They can create products that give users a chance to test it out and then give feedback on a larger scale than any other industry. Not every VR game has to be Grand Theft Auto or Super Smash Brothers to make a lasting impact too. Meaning that smaller independent companies have a chance to push the boundaries here.
I still don’t recommend schools investing in VR unless they have a very specific program with a VR need, but I do recommend that schools keep an eye on the space and an open mind a few years down the road.
Tony and Patrick are back to wish you a Happy New Year and to spread a little ed tech love your way. This show is a good one to close out 2018 so check out the talking points below and as always, be sure to subscribe to us on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app!
Many schools are still self-hosting the majority of their information systems instead of using cloud-based solutions, co-location solutions, or data centers offering more traditional hosting.
The question has to be asked, are these schools taking the proper steps to protect their data, their systems, and the integrity of their entire architecture?
Recently, my ITBabble co-host Patrick went to a fairly popular tech conference and stumbled upon two schools that are regularly affected by power outages in their self-hosted data centers. These schools reported to Patrick that they did not only have power failures, but lacked business continuity plans.
Without a business continuity plan (BCP), business operations come to a halt when power outages happen. For example, if accounting and payroll systems are offline, employees would not be paid on time. In some states, this BCP failure would result in the school receiving a fine for missing payroll.
After hearing this story, I decided to write a couple of blogs posts focused on risk management.
Systems Need Electricity
If your school is going to host any core system internally, then the school needs to plan for power outages. There are very few places in the United States immune to power outages. I compiled and condensed a spreadsheet to demonstrate how common outages are based-on 2017 data. The spreadsheet below represents this data.
Since the data is available for previous years, those who are self-hosting should download the historical data and confirm the median number of minutes per year their region is impacted by power outages. They should also find the median amount of time per outage they are impacted.
From that analysis, a school can determine what their requirements are to be reasonably prepared for a power outage.
Risk management does not require a school to prepare for a threat that is historically unlikely to occur. For example, and school in Utah would not draft a plan for a hurricane.
In the official data, power outages are reported by state and by provider. If a school determines their median value and frequency is 60 minutes 3 times a year, then they need to ensure all their critical systems can run for 60-120 minutes when the power is out. This is enough time to shut everything down and protect system integrity. However, it is not enough time to execute a complex process like payroll.
If a school is internally running services like payroll, I would suggest the power backup standard be set to the task execution time, of the most critical task. For example, if payroll takes 4-5 hours to complete every Friday, then the systems needed for payroll need to be powered for 4-5 hours in the event of an outage. This often means the majority of the core infrastructure needs to also be up and running for 4-5 hours.
Supporting the Business Continuity Plan
Aside from setting-up backup power systems and standards, here are some tasks that the IT department should be completing (or overseeing) to support the overall BCP in the event of a long term power outage:
Creating hard copies of core demographic data for all students, parents, and employees
Creating hard copies of all schedules, including after school programs and transportation
Creating hard copies of phone lists (phone trees)
Organizing all hard copy backups into folders that are available in multiple locations; shredding outdated documents
Creating portable backups of data needed for core school operations; this includes a full backup of all databases in at least two formats
Testing all electronic backup systems responsible for power and data backups
Connecting with a similar school, and forming a good relationship, for additional tech support when emergencies happen; this should be symbiotic
Contracting and maintaining a portable 4G-5G router for ad-hoc network deployment
Building an offsite data backup system that is immune to any local threats; this data can be compressed
Annually reviewing all risk management policies and procedures with a team from every major department
If a school is self-hosting, they should be mostly immune to power outage threats with proper planning.
If the equipment needed to provide backup power is not available, or simply too expensive, then reconsidering cloud services would be the next step in mitigating future problems.
Only a few more days until the winter break and the end of 2018 so I thought that some teachers might like some holiday movies that they could show some of their students. Here you go!
How the Grinch that Stole Christmas
Yep – it’s a classic and no I am not talking about the latest animated version or the terrible Jim Carey version. I’m talking the 1966 original with Boris Karloff. You can find it on YouTube and it is less than 30 minutes and a lot of fun.
The first Toy Story changed everything and it was released pretty close to Thanksgiving (making it a holiday movie) in 1995. The movie holds up and it is pretty remarkable to see just how far Pixar has come with its animation. It’s also pretty interesting to see just how mean Woody was in the first movie.
Song of the Sea
I’m cheating here. This movie released in the US around the holidays but the movie itself takes place during Halloween. Hey – it’s my blog I can cheat a little if I want 🙂 At any rate, this movie is great! It has a wonderful story, beautiful animation and the voice acting is top notch. It is far better than Big Hero 6 which I believe won best-animated movie that year.
Another Christmas movie but like How the Grinch Stole Christmas this is also not very religious and addresses more of the logistical practicality that surrounds Santa Claus. It’s fun, enjoyable, has a nice message and is through and through a good movie.
DON’T WATCH THIS MOVIE!
Adam Sandler made an animated holiday film titled 8 Crazy Nights. It is terrible. Everything from the voice acting to the animation to the writing. It is PG-13 for adult language but it is just bad.
There you have it – what videos would you think to be a good idea for the holidays?
In the not too distant past there was a promise that virtual reality and/or augmented reality was going to be the “next big thing.” Well both are here and there is less buzz around them than ever before? I have played around with a virtual reality headset and was less than impressed. Let me tell you what went wrong.
Lenovo Mirage Solo
I attended the HECC Tech Conference in Indianapolis this year. Every participant was given a Lenovo Mirage Solo virtual reality headset. What makes this a little intriguing is that it is completely wireless. There is no smartphone that needs to be slipped into a piece of cardboard or power/data cables that are tethered to the headset. There is also a wireless handheld controller that will let you navigate through the menus and also allow you to interact with the different apps.
At the conference, a Lenovo sales representative predicted that every school in America would have a cart of VR headsets for teachers to check out and use with their class. He did say that Lenovo recommends that the headset is used with children at least 13 years or older.
So what powers this thing? The Mirage runs Android and Google Daydream. Of course, this means you need to have a Google account and access to the Google Play store to download apps. It has a wall charger with a USB C connector to charge the device and the remote control (you need to charge them separately). There is also a 3.5mm headphone jack on the side of the headset and it includes some earbuds, though I suspect you could pair some wireless Bluetooth headphones to it.
OK – that’s the background info now let’s get into the use.
Setting it up
I must say strapping on the headset for the first time and powering it on was pretty neat. After the system actually loads you find yourself looking everywhere just to test it all out. There was a preloaded Wild Immersion app that has various videos (all shot in 360 naturally) of a wildlife nature reserve in Africa. It is pretty neat to look behind you and see animals right behind you. It’s a short experience but got me pretty jazzed up and so I jumped right into the setup.
Man, this was like jumping into a 3 foot mud puddle, slow and clumsy. Using the controller to manually type in your Google account name and password took forever oh, but before that, you needed to select and type in the WiFi password. It sounds simple, put pretend a large keyboard is 1.5–2 meters in front of you. This keyboard has very large keys. Now you have a stick and need to type all that in. It’s certainly doable, just not enjoyable or super easy. I’m not sure a solution here but this process stunk.
It is very slow and tedious. Then once in, I had to run some updates, restart the device and then I was ready to go. This (including the Wild Immersion experience took about 30 minutes.
Once logged in, you can navigate and download apps. You don’t have a normal app store, but a curated one with basically just VR ready apps at the forefront. Select an app, type in your password (like you would on your smartphone) and away you go. The first app I downloaded was a virtual roller coaster. It was free – I’m not going to lie – that’s why I picked it.
The roller coaster app was an unusual experience. It was odd because I was sitting in a kitchen chair, I wasn’t moving, I knew I wasn’t moving, but somehow my brain still experienced moments of vertigo as I crested a tall hill. It is a little surreal. It wasn’t that the rollercoaster was going fast either and I could see and predict what was coming and when. Like I said – surreal.
There are those moments of interest but overall the experience isn’t that great. First, the image was never fully in focus. I had to hold the headset to my head to minimize this effect. Most of the image as but near the top left-hand part it seemed to be always out of focus.
Perhaps I didn’t adjust it just right, I am willing to put that on me, but think for a moment of a class of twenty students and trying to get each student (or even just half of them) adequately adjusted. This sounds like a nightmare.
There is an interesting safety feature built into it. If you move too far from your original position, the screen dims (or fades to black altogether) and there is a message that you need to return to the position for your own safety. I am sure this is to keep people from roaming, tripping, falling or just inadvertently hurting themselves.
The image quality is good but feels lacking. The image is clearly framed within your vision forcing you to move your head around to see something. Try to picture yourself looking through a box. In order to see what is to your left or right, you need to actually move your head instead of just your eyes.
Though the headset is fairly comfortable after a while it gets tiring.
The actual resolution is pretty good and there is the screen door effect (where the image looks like it is being viewed behind a screen) but it seems very minimal.
App selection & afterward
There just isn’t a ton of selection out there and what is out there you feel more like a passenger and not someone who can interact. I did download a BBC app called BBC Earth. It is kind of neat but a bit buggy. You can use the remote to access information about your surroundings and you tether yourself to a seal who leads you around the ocean. It’s neat but I had trouble lassoing the seal and sometimes other trouble selecting items to get information. After a good 10 minutes in here, I found myself frustrated and wanting to leave.
There are some YouTube videos that are 360 but again, you are just along for the ride. There needs to be more. I am not exactly sure I can describe what this “more” should be I just know that what I had on my noggin was not enough.
Many of the apps I tried had minimal interaction and some felt as though it was an after thought. Remember when 3D films were all the rage. James Cameron made Avatar – a movie purpose designed and shot on special 3D cameras. Then there was a deluge of all these other films that had been “turned into” 3D films. The difference between the two were staggering and some audience members had issues with the 3D in Avatar as well.
After using it for about 45 minutes I took the headset off and I noticed an issue of my eyes focusing on objects. It was as if my right and left eyes were trying to focus differently on the same object. I cannot explain it any better than that. This effect lasted for a good 30 minutes after I had set the headset down. I don’t believe it would have impaired me from driving but it certainly bugged me.
It needs to just work & other problems
I know this is a tall order but if you want teachers and schools to go through all of this and invest their money (and time) it just needs to work. There can’t be all these slowdowns or bugs within apps. It needs to do more than just allow students to be a “passenger.”
I can see other problems with this. Students jumping into other apps, students jumping into the correct app and then go off exploring without waiting for instructions. Also, when you utilize sound (which does improve the immersion effect) forget about giving instructions at all after that point. Instructions need to be crystal clear and understood before this device is even passed out. Once it is on and the outside world is blocked out the students are on their own.
The remote is another issue. As a consumer it is great to have. It is wireless, fairly easy to use and is pretty accurate (though it can be tedious as mentioned earlier). Now you have a class set. These remotes are fairly small and I can see them getting lost. I mean how often have students “misplaced” Chromebooks or iPads and think how large those are compared to these tiny remotes.
Should you buy it
I think my tone is pretty clear here. Skip this and all virtual reality devices … for now. In the past (heck still now) you can find articles touting how VR will change the world! It may but is pretty far away. It is exciting to watch but don’t waste your time or classroom budget on these devices yet.
They are too big, still buggy, still out of focus, still not fully baked.
I was genuinely excited about the Mirage. I wanted to like it, I wanted it to bring something new to the table. It does but it is fleeting. It is very cool for a few minutes and then you realize that you are just along for the ride. This breaks that immersion a bit. It takes some of the thrill away from the experience.
I still have hopes for VR, but the reality is that it is farther from the mainstream than I initially realized and that unless it is done correctly, it’s not worth being done at all.
At my school, we are trying out Chromebooks instead of iPads for our 1:1 program. I’ve written about it here and here. I still feel it is too early to see how Chromebooks fair and so I’ll reserve those observations for another time.
Today, I’d like to point out a nice little nugget of info is that the Chromebooks we purchased are very repairable. How repairable you ask? I have the opportunity to replace everything in our Chromebooks from the keyboard to the WiFi card to the battery to the screen to the USB ports. I “can” repair it all. I put can in quotes because I am no technician by any means, so actually doing all this stuff has yet to be seen.
I do want to make it clear that a Chromebook repairability was not a deciding factor though I imagine a school or district on a tight budget this may have more weight.
Before purchasing Chromebooks I was wondering how we would repair them and could we get parts. Well a quick Interwebs search turned out a number of results. However, the top result was iFixit. iFixit is a website which has guides on how to take apart and repair or modify your devices. They also sell toolkits and parts as well. This site had pretty much any part we needed to repair so I figured we could try to repair these in house as opposed to sending them off. They also had guides on how to tear down our model and I found a number of YouTube videos as well.
Fast forward a number of months and our first damaged Chromebook came into the IT office. It was a busted screen from an accidental drop. We ordered the LCD screen (since that was all we needed) not from iFixit (they were sold out at the time) but from a website called Screen Surgeons. They sell screens specifically for Chromebooks. The screen came and it also came with a tiny little repair kit. The repair took less than 10 minutes and with a minimal cost we had a Chromebook that was working as expected. GREAT! No new device or long wait time to send off a device for repair and wait for it to come back. We just ordered the screen and in three days had a working Chromebook again!
The next damaged Chromebook was an accidental sitting. Someone had sat on the Chromebook and busted the top cover (as you can see below).
This also made the broke the LCD screen as well. So we are looking at a not just a screen repair but a full top cover repair! Luckily we had a faulty Chromebook lying around and its top cover and screen are fine so I figured we would use that one for parts.
I took the back of the Chromebook and unhooked 3 connections (that was all, just 3) and unscrewed the two hinges that holds the top cover securely to the base and that was it!
The top came off with no fuss and I was able to replace with another top from that faulty Chromebook. Long story short – it worked! The whole process took less than 15 minutes and it cost us nothing (since we had a Chromebook to cannibalize). Here is picture of the base and the top cover.
I am not going to lie, I was a little nervous but the simplicity of the device quickly abated those fears as I got the back off and saw what I saw that needed to be done.
Sure, there is a little pride knowing you can repair your equipment but the big draw here is the cost and time savings. With iPads it is almost always the screen that is damaged.
The iPad screen is pretty resilient, beautiful and very responsive. We don’t repair this as it takes a bit more work and parts are not as easy to come by. We send our damaged iPads off to a local Apple Authorized Repair center here in town. Screens without a fingerprint sensor cost $50-$65 USD. Screens with the fingerprint sensor cost a whopping $195 USD. We do not have any iPad Pros at this tiem. It usually takes about two weeks for the repair to happen and to get back to us. During that time we try to provide a loaner to the student, but there have been times when we had no loaners on hand.
Another fact is that we currently purchase iPads for $300 USD a piece and if it costs two-thirds of the original price to repair the screen. We need to ask ourselves do we just buy a new one?
Like all schools, we want to do good by our budget and even leave a little wiggle-room for unexpected situations, but it makes you question if you want to continue buying a product that costs so much money to repair. Would you buy a car for $20,000 USD knowing that five years later you would need to get it repaired for $13,300? It doesn’t seem to make sense. You would probably look for a new car. I think that is what Apple wants us to do, just buy a new iPad (especially if it has been repaired once already).
Apple is pretty open about what it costs to repair these screens on their website.
It just feels … wrong though and when we repaired those Chromebooks it felt good and right. If we had the parts on hand we could (in theory) repair a Chromebook and have it back to the student the same day!
Every year I take a few minutes to express slight annoyance at “The Hour of Code”. In my professional life, I will support any teacher wishing to participate. However, if anyone does happen to ask my opinion, I would explain to them my reservations about the event.
This year I want to take a new approach. Let’s skip the part about how an hour of coding is not a practical amount of time to plan, draft, built, and evaluate a creative solution or idea. Let’s move beyond the fact that the majority of the programming environments children are using are telling them what to do and how to do it (because they only have an hour). Finally, let’s completely ignore the potential disappointment students will face when they decide to actually try and build something on their own.
The first important fact I would like to address is that I have taught children as young as grade three how to code something meaningful. It was a slow, and often painful process, that seemed to be futile. However, the children always surprised me, and after 6-8 hours of work, there was usually a working program that connected to an idea. I would like to stress that I am aware many students are not able to simple open an IDE and begin creating the next Mario Kart. Coding/Programing is tough. It takes practice. Students need to learn and evolve. Doing an Hour of Code ONCE to get them going is fun, and I would support that.
Why Are We Still At An Hour of Code?
My rant this year is on this simple question: why do we still just have an hour of code?
It seems like since many schools have been doing this for a few years that there would be another, possibly required, track that regular participants would need to follow.
For example, Three Hours of Code. Or maybe Two Hours of Code, the Wrath of Python. Anything beyond on hour for those who understand the mission, and have mastered an hour of code, would be preferable.
Maybe if it is the first time coding with students, schools do one hour, and join the movement.
Since those schools have a full year to prepare for the next challenge, how about level it up a bit? Why wait all year to just do one more hour?
If we are saying the mission of the project is to get students interested in coding, then shouldn’t the continued mission require more levels of participation?
An Hour of Code year-after-year is not a going to make an impact.
Are You Really Serious About Coding and Project Based Learning?
If you are serious about working with young learners, then you need to find programs like AppJamming. These types of contests connect all the aspects of the Systems Life Cycle , to the student experience. Working with a program like AppJamming allows students to experience the various phases of creation from the idea to the end-product.
Makerfaires are another outlet for getting students involved in true project based learning initiatives. These types of events are excellent. Coding is part of a tool kit instead of the sole focus. Students who may “like” coding, but do not “love” coding, would be more likely to participate. Students would learn to integrate coding as a process into a larger product.
Support teachers and students who want to do new things. Do not keep allowing people to easily do the same thing over and over. The learning becomes less and less when the goals are easy to achieve. Encourage people to challenge themselves, and take some risks.
Tony and Patrick are back and right before the US Thanksgiving holiday. It is another great show where we talk about the confusing Apple hardware lineup, a virtual reality headset and Google’s news of getting into the LDAP game. Check out the talking points below and as always be sure to subscribe to us on your favorite podcasting app or on iTunes.
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