Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Free College Courses for Prison Inmates Should Include Online Offerings

Efforts to provide Connecticut's prison inmates with college course enrollment opportunities through federally funded sources is commendable. Our state should seek the most efficient and financially responsible process for delivering courses to our prisons. Hopefully, this will include offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). This would involve instruction delivered to individual inmates on computers via the internet. The least expensive devices are laptops with keyboards using the Chrome Operating System (Chromebooks). They should be restricted to instructional use.
Course content may be developed by the various State community colleges and universities. All course offerings are reusable and open to revisions as needed. However, MOOCs should involve more than watching a professor lecturing on a screen; these should be interactive, include short videos, simulations, and even educational games. The idea is to make these offerings interesting and motivating. These MOOC courses may be offered to prisoners in other states. Exams may be provided online and/or in proctored classrooms.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

An Evaluation of the Acer Aspire One Cloudbook
May 14, 2016

Acer has developed a low cost laptop running Windows 10; a computer where most programs and files are stored in the cloud. An internet connection is required. Prices vary according to the reseller, but most are under $250. This can be an attractive offering for K-12 schools and for others on a budget who prefer the Windows 10 Operating System.

The Cloudbook has a generous 14” screen, Intel Celeron Processor N3050, Intel HD graphics, 2GB of memory, 1TB of cloud storage, and a full qwerty keyboard. Also included, is a one year subscription of Office 365, six months of McAfee virus checker, and Cortana (Microsoft's voice input feature.)

Set-up seemed long. Processing speed appears to be a tad slower than the Chromebook. Screen resolution was excellent. The Cloudbook is lightweight for a laptop and slightly thinner than the Toshiba Chromebook.

The Cloudbook is comparable to the Chromebook. It has access to many free and low cost apps. This is an exceptional buy for those who prefer working under Windows 10. However, after one year, one would have to pay a yearly fee of at least $69 for Office 365. If only occasional word processing is required, it would make sense to install one of the free programs available on the Acer.

Installing the one-year free trial of Office 395 has problems. So far, I have been unsuccessful. There appears to be a problem or conflict with the password required to install Office and the one needed to open the laptop. The password used to unlock the computer is not recognized. The option of changing your password should be avoided, because the new password voids your entry into the computer. Hopefully, a call to support will solve this problem.

Generally, I tend to avoid software programs that charge a yearly fee as is the case with Office 365 and McAfee. Chromebooks come with all the software most people will ever need (Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc.) at no extra cost. Also, virus checkers are not needed as this function is performed in the cloud. The Chromebook apps are well suited for the average computer user. Too often, users purchase more powerful machines and too complex software than what they really need - all at an elevated price.

In conclusion, the Acer Cloudbook is recommended for those looking for a low cost, Windows 10 based laptop. Note that this computer was recently released; some problems are to be expected. Hopefully, the kinks will be worked out soon.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Economies Offered by Cloud Technology, K-12

Ronald L. Abate*
April 9, 2016

The following recommendations hold the promise of delivering a quality K-12 technology program at a significantly reduced cost. Savings can be realized by reductions in the cost of: (1) laptops, (2) textbooks and school supplies (paper, pencils, pens, etc.), (3) computer labs, (4) local area networks (LANS), (5) computer maintenance, (6) software (apps), (7) personnel used to oversee hardware/software usage, and (7) telephone land lines.

Three issues must be addressed to make these savings a reality: (1) one laptop per student, (2) a robust internet connection in each classroom, (3) ongoing staff professional development in the integration of technology into education.

1. Cloud-based Laptops.
An approximately sixty-six percent (66%) reduction in the unit cost of laptops can be realized when Google Chromebooks are purchased. These units cost between $200 and $300. Software and operating system upgrades are included in the price. Prices this low increase the desirable goal of moving to a 1:1 distribution of computers.

2. Textbooks and school supplies.
According to the Scholastic Administrator, “Typical elementary-school textbooks cost more than $100 each, and, as a result, the four largest textbook publishers rake in more than $4 billion each year.” (David Rapp | November/December 2008.) In Oct. 2015, the US Dept. of Education announced their #GoOpen initiative, “a campaign to encourage states, school districts and educators to use openly licensed educational materials.” The need for physical textbooks can be reduced by using online, resources. These include commercially authored e-books, and especially free reading materials prepared nationally and locally by district and other personnel. Note that online materials do not wear out, may be multimedia, and can be updated online as needed.
The cost of paper supplies can be reduced when assignments and homework are completed and submitted online and are corrected and returned online. Similarly, testing can be administered and scored online.

3. Computer Labs.
Cloud-based laptops can communicate with one another online, assuming a building internet connection is available, thus negating the need for many school labs. For example, students will no longer need to use the library network of computers as they will carry their laptops wherever they may be.

4. Local Area Networks.
Wired networks (LANs) will be unnecessary since all communication between students and teacher, and teachers and staff occur via the cloud. The cost of adding and maintaining these LANs will be minimized.

5. Hardware Maintenance.
The use of cloud computers should reduce maintenance issues as these laptops do not have hard disk drives or fans - both mechanical components that eventually break down.

6. Software.
Software (apps) is included in the cost of Chromebooks eliminating the need to purchase software rights, like MS Office 365. Also, upgrades to the Chrome Operating System are free.

7. Technology Personnel.
Cloud-based laptops should reduce the cost of personnel to maintain hardware. The price of replacement is so low that repairing is often negated.

8. Land Telephone Lines.
The use of a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone system could eliminate the expense of land lines. Calls are free in the USA and Canada for many systems. Voice quality is excellent. (Note: Every Chromebook contains a VOIP phone at no extra cost.)

*Mr. Abate, now retired, was the District Computer Coordinator of Fairfield Public Schools, Computer Applications Instructor at Briarwood College and Research Associate at Yale University. He was also the owner of Galaxy Computer Services.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Professional Development Plan for Training K-12 Teachers in The Use of Technology
Ronald L. Abate

Many districts throughout the U.S. have made large purchases of laptops and/or tablets used to support instruction. Some schools have even provided one device per student. A commonly reported problem is the need to train teachers in the use of these computers. Not addressing this issue is a common reason for failure to integrate these devices into instruction. Teachers will need training. A number of approaches have been used:

1. Leaving the training to the vendor.
2. Use of a professional development day.
3. Use of a professional development day to introduce teachers to the devices, followed by ongoing training at the building level by local staff.
4. Ongoing training at the building level by local staff.

My experience as a K-12 trainer has resulted in the most success with #4. I used the following procedure.

1. Computers were distributed to teachers before students.
2. Teacher training took place daily or every other day one-half hour before students arrived.
3. Teachers were encouraged to start introducing computers to their class when they felt competent in their use.
4. Teachers were encouraged to seek help with issues during the before school training class.

This system has two major advantages: support and training is ongoing; and training is in small units and is distributed over time rather than all-at-once. Economic and educational benefits are realized by eliminating a professional development day. One more school day may be added to the calendar.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Two Transformative Developments that Can Alter the Course of K-12 Education

Ronald L. Abate
November 5, 2015

The introduction of microcomputers in the early 1980s was met with excitement and skepticism by K-12 educators. Some complained about their high cost, others saw it as another fad, and some were simply intimidated by their perceived complexity. Others saw the great potential of these tools to facilitate education at all levels. Today, the voices of the skeptics have become silent. But two perplexing dilemmas remain: the high cost of hardware and the need to maximize the pedagogical benefits of technology to ALL students. Cloud computers and online courses can help.

Implications of Cloud Computing

The advent of cloud computing, (the practice of using a contingent of powerful, remote computers [servers] accessed via the Internet to process, manage, and store data), led to a much less expensive option. Google developed a web based operating system (Chrome OS). Various manufacturers have incorporated this system into their machines. These became known as Chromebooks. These laptops cost about two-thirds less than Apple or Windows based computers, mostly because they do not contain hard disk drives and fans. Acer, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba and others market Chromebooks. Apple and Microsoft are reportedly in the process of developing cloud based laptops.
Many Connecticut school districts (including the seventeen technical schools) are converting to Chromebooks; a trend occurring nationwide. Many are aiming to provide one for every student ( 1:1 distribution.) A high-speed internet connection, a content filtering system, and staff training are prerequisites for successful deployment. Ideally, students would be permitted to take Chromebooks home where they can continue to work on assignments. Districts would have to take steps to assure that a home, internet connection is available to all students.

Features of Chromebooks

Light weight (most under 5 pounds)
Virus protection at no extra cost
Cooler operation; fans are not essential.
Fast startup and processing
Many applications (apps) included in the price (word processing, spreadsheets, slides, etc.)
Long battery life (about 9 hours)
A qwerty keyboard; desirable for word processing and test taking
Voice to text capability
Automatic updating of the operating system; expensive, time consuming updates are eliminated.
All student work is saved automatically in the cloud and is retrievable from any location where an internet connection is available.
Sound and a camera are included.
Free phone call capability (dialing and receiving within the U.S. and Canada)
District-wide management capability of all laptops from a central office location.
Lost or stolen Chromebooks can be locked remotely making them unusable.
Low cost (as low as $150 per unit.)

Benefits Provided by 1:1 Laptop Distribution

A “library” of resources via the Internet becomes available at anytime from any location. All students will have access to information provided by the Internet.
Less expensive, interactive, electronic textbooks can be accessed online. They can be readily updated. Unlike print textbooks, they will not get lost, wear out, or require physical storage space.
Forward thinking districts can enlist the skills of their faculty to create custom, online instructional units that will be made available to all their students.
The librarian’s role will transition to that of a technology support specialist.
Communication via the Internet between home and school can be facilitated.
The need for paper will be reduced as written assignments and testing are done online.
Students can submit assignments to teachers who can oversee, comment, correct and return work to students ALL via the Internet.
Safe, online storage of school records.
The need for local area networks (LANs) and computer labs will be reduced as each student will have their own laptop connected to the internet.
Assessing student achievement can be ongoing as progress is updated continuously through the use of moving averages. The need for report cards will decline.
Standardized testing can be administered on laptops. Results and summary statistics will be available almost immediately. Scoring cost will be reduced.

The Implications of Online Courses
Offering Massive, Open, Online Courses (MOOCs) is a recent trend at many colleges. These courses may be open to anyone, anywhere, often are free, are self-paced, and may offer college credit. Classroom attendance is not required except for proctored final exams if college credit is desired.
Very few K-12 school districts are using online courses due to: (1) cost of 1:1 distribution of laptops for use in school and at home, (2) lack of internet connections in some schools and homes*, (3) dearth of online, interactive instructional units and (4) unfamiliarity with the concept. K-12 school districts should undertake the development of online instruction. These units may be revised and updated as needed. Print textbooks will no longer be needed. Online texts may be offered as primary instruction, review, or for remediation. Students may do their homework before class, while in-class time is devoted to discussion, exercises, or projects, - the so-called “flipped classroom.” Online courses developed at the district level may, in time, become MOOCs open to all K-12 students world-wide.

*The Federal Government has earmarked 9 billion dollars to help schools develop high-speed Internet connections.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Can Online Courses Reduce the Cost of a College Education?

Credit bearing, online courses have the potential of reducing the cost of a college education. They may even be superior to in-class instruction. Courses can be designed and implemented by the best instructors available and be continually tweaked and revised. Courseware would be saved electronically and played repeatedly over time via the internet to successive groups of matriculated students. Unlike, in-class lectures, a student should be able to repeat online instruction repeatedly.
Costs savings occur because colleges will not have to compensate instructors for in-class instruction each semester. State run colleges are more likely to pass on these savings to students. Private, for profit schools may see this as an opportunity in increase their bottom line.
Instructors that design and implement these courses should receive compensation for their efforts plus royalties each time their course is taken. The sum of these royalties should be substantially less than what would be earned if taught in-class. This system would be comparable to the royalties earned by authors of textbooks. Exams should be taken in college classrooms monitored by proctors. Tests can be administered and scored via computers. However, essay type exams would have to be scored by those knowledgeable in the areas being evaluated. Economies of online instruction should be realized over a period of time.
Online instruction would probably be most suited for content heavy subjects like, science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), economics, history, etc. Lab work required in some courses would be done on site. Courses in the fine arts, literature, the theater, physical education and others where participation is emphasized would be less amenable to online instruction.
Implementing online instruction would probably not be welcome by all. Some students might need or prefer the person-to-person interaction with teachers. Preferably, they should have the option of online education or in class instruction or a combination of the two. Many instructors would resist the expected reduction in employment. In the final analysis, we must ask ourselves if a reduction in the cost of education is worth the negatives brought on by this system of education. In the long run, students may decide.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I have recently purchased the Samsung Chromebook, a laptop that runs on the Google Chrome Operating System. I was most impressed with its performance. Finding a computer for use in K-12 schools at a reasonable price has always been my goal. At only $249, the Chromebook realizes this objective. Products from Apple and Windows systems have been way too high if we expect to provide one computer per student. Also, students do not need the power that these systems provide.
The Chromebook has many other cost saving advantages: Word processing, spreadsheet, and slide presentation software is included as is continually upgraded virus checking. Many other applications (apps) are free or available at low cost. Also included is internet access and free online storage.
I was pleased with the fast boot up time and the responsiveness of its qwerty keyboard. I was able to use this computer for about six hours on a charge. Weighing only 2.43 pounds, it is ideal for even elementary school students. Below is a list of specifications for the Samsung Chromebook.
Some school systems have already purchased large quantities of this computer. As a retired educator and computer coordinator, I can recommend this system to any K-12 school system. We finally have a low cost computer that can meet all the needs of K-12 students and even many adults. Thank you Goggle and Samsung!

Hardware specs
Model Number: XE303C12
Display Size: 11.6-inches
Display: 1366x768 resolution; 200nit brightness
Weight: 2.43 lbs (
Less than 0.8 inches thick (17.5 mm)
Battery Life: over 6.5 hours
Processor: Samsung Exynos 5250
Memory: 2GB
Storage: 16GB SSD (Google is including 100GB free online storage)
Ports: 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, combo headphone/mic jack, secure digital memory slot
Bluetooth 3.0™ Compatible
Speaker: 1.5W speaker X 2
Keyboard: Full-size Chrome keyboard
Wireless: 802.11 abg/n 2x2
MSRP: $249 USD / 229 GBP