Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Robots Threaten Job Security

President-elect Donald Trump sees globalization as the main threat to job loss in the U.S. Much of our manufacturing has moved offshore. The attraction of low cost labor and lower taxes has encouraged American companies to move their manufacturing to places like China and Mexico.

Trump wants to reverse this trend principally by lowering corporate taxes and restricting imports. This may work for the short term, but there is a greater threat to job security that has already begun: the rise of automation spearheaded by robots.

The use of robotics to automate many industrial processes, services and transportation will reduce the need for human labor. Productivity rises as employment remains flat and ultimately declines. Companies are well motivated to see this trend grow; robots work tirelessly 24/7, are more efficient than humans, are not compensated and do not need fringe benefits.

Ronald L. Abate, Colchester
Note: This post appeared in the Hartford Courant on 11/25/16.
Otto, The New Driverless Truck

Here is another instance where technology replaces the need for human workers. Recently, a driverless truck, called Otto successively drove on the highways of Nevada. Robots and automation replacing human workers is a growing trend that will affect the entire employment spectrum. The impact will exceed that of the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. Our government must prepare for this transition soon if it is to avoid a national, social upheaval. Employers will welcome this trend as robots are not compensated, can work 24/7, and receive no fringe benefits. The result: a huge gain in productivity and a likely decline in the cost of goods and services.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Portland’s Chromebook Initiative a Smart Move

Congratulations to the Portland School District for making the wise decision to purchase Chromebooks for their middle and high school students. Even more impressive is providing each student with a laptop for use during the school day. Hopefully, in time, students will be allowed to take them home where they can continue with school assignments. To some, this may seem extravagant and expensive. However, the program has the potential to do away with expensive textbooks, which can cost up to $100 each. Textbooks wear out, can get lost, and become outdated. Instructional resources provided via the internet to all Chromebooks are free to low cost and easily updated when needed. Chromebooks are long lasting, virus resistant, include all the apps (software) a student will ever need, have long battery life, and unlike more expensive tablets, have a keyboard. They are inexpensive with prices falling in the $150-$350 range.

Any technology program will require a well planned, professional development program where teachers are trained in the proper integration of technology into the school curriculum. Training should be ongoing and not a one day experience. Ideally, training should precede the distribution of laptops to students.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Technology Integration into K-12 Education, Now and in the Future


Ronald L. Abate
August 14, 2016

Computer usage in K-12 education has morphed into four areas: (1) as a tool for facilitating student work assignments; (2) internet research; (3) instruction; and (4) coding.

Problems and Solutions to Integration
Integration of computers into K-12 schools has moved slowly, at least when compared to business and industry. Desktop computers first appeared in schools, but more recently, mobile, lightweight laptops and tablets are becoming the norm. Ideally, all schools should aim to provide one device for every child to be used at school and at home.
A major obstacle has been the high cost of hardware. School districts were faced with expenditures of around $700 to over $1,000 per device. An added expense was networking a group of computers in labs, libraries, and even entire buildings. The need for personnel to maintain these networks added to the cost. The advent of cloud computing in the early 2000’s, (where programs, file storage, and communication are processed on remote servers via the internet), has resulted in a significant drop in the price of laptops and a lessening of the need for networks. Students will now have access to their district's resources in the cloud from any location at any time.
Chromebook laptops, a cloud computer, are an ideal choice for grades 3-12 with prices ranging from $150-$350 per unit, software included. Tablets, which do not have a qwerty keyboard should be reserved for K-2 students. Schools would require a robust connection to the internet to assure fast access.
The need for teacher preparation is another deterrent to integrating technology. Simply placing a large allotment of computers into a school without prior planning and teacher training is a recipe for failure. Training in technology should be ongoing and not a one day, district-wide offering.
Teacher preparation colleges can help by requiring future teachers to become technology proficient.
The role of school librarians will likely transition into computer and internet support specialists as the internet becomes the major source of information for education.

Recommended Practices
Keyboarding. Good typing skills will help facilitate written expression. Efficient keyboarding will serve students well while in school and for the remainder of their lives. Training should be provided early. My personal experience indicates that third graders can become proficient when instruction is provided at the rate of one-half hour per school day for the first half of the school year.
Computer Based Instruction. The demise of expensive, physical textbooks has already begun, being replaced by instructional, online resources, some of which are free. Schools may opt for a blended approach where teacher led activities are supplemented by online instruction done at home. The trend to online instruction will lower costs associated with textbook wear, lost books, and replacing out-dated books. Online resources provide a more direct, economical, and efficient route to making revisions as needed. Ideally, online offerings should be interactive where learning is measured continuously and students are always aware of their progress. Report cards may be eliminated as progress is measured continuously and parents have the option of checking their child’s achievement online at any time.
Online instruction should be personalized according to the needs of each student. This includes the use of online videos, simulations, digital game-based learning, the pacing of instruction, and any other venue that facilitates learning. The best programs will have the capability of assessing the most effective learning style of each student and make adjustments accordingly.
In October 2015 the U.S. Department of Education undertook a campaign to encourage school districts to replace traditional textbooks with free, quality resources (#GoOpen with Educational Resources.) This incentive has the potential for providing access to quality, instructional resources to all students regardless of location.
Strengthen School-Home Connection. Students can submit homework online. Teachers can grade assignments and return them to students via the internet. The need for paper will be reduced.
Virtual Reality. Students get the opportunity see distant places immersively without leaving the classroom. Also, personalized instruction, utilizing the power of artificial intelligence (AI), can be provided individually by a virtual teacher.
Standardized Testing. Testing can be administered online where scoring and analytics can be performed rapidly.
Monitoring and Program Evaluation. The large amount of data a district accumulates can be used to analyze the learning characteristics of a group of students (classroom, school building, or district) with the goal of evaluating and improving instruction.
Virtual Schooling. Students can opt to take a course online at anytime from any location. This can be useful where students wish to take a class not available in their school. One option is to take a massive open online course (MOOC) offered by providers like Khan Academy, Coursera, Edx, and Udacity. Motivated students may even complete course requirements and graduate earlier

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.