Colin's Sandbox

Fast times at Petersburg High!

by on Jun.18, 2013, under #oltak, ramblings

One of the parts of the job that I like the best is my ability is that I often get to wear many hats in the span of a day, such as “Network Guy”, “Systems Administrator”, “Ad-Hoc Trainer”, “Computer Maintenance Guy”, “Updates Updates Updates!”, and “Talk Technology with Teachers Man”.  This past trip I took with a coworker down to Petersburg I was all of those things.  The school district is in a good spot in many ways because it has access to great people on the ground who understand the purpose of technology in education (Education!) and are dedicated to providing great support to their teachers.  Where people like myself fit in best is as part of a team with the technology staff, finding ways to roll out computers quicker, finding ways to speed things up and make things easier for the staff.

With my own current schooling in the forefront, working directly face to face with the technology director / teacher and his staff provided me with a lot of opportunities to ask questions about how technology is used in their school, problem areas in the usage of technology in education.  We floated ideas of how to get student input and hopefully buy-in to technology related aspects of their education.

I also engaged in a lot of just-in-time, face-to-face teaching of the staff there in how to use tools in order to best manage various aspects of their network.  From finding and fixing cabling issues, to tracing the network cable routing itself (not as trivial as you might think!), to showing them new methods of maintaining their computers, there’s a lot of diverse topics to hit upon.  After a trip like this is over I usually continue with asynchronous and synchronous support in the form of Google Docs, IM sessions, emails, etc.

Spicoli learns something new about managed switches that he never knew was possible

What’s also really exciting is that the education goes both ways.  I learn things every time I go on a trip to do an installation, because no matter how much you are committed to a set of implementation steps, there’s always something that comes up to work around.  During the past two trips I have worked a couple of stints pretty closely with a network engineer working for GCI who’s been very helpful in working with me to design out the customer’s network, and I’ve got the chance to learn new things about various parts of computer networks, which I’m finding more and more recently that there’s a lot of gaps in my knowledge.  It holds true: the more I learn, the less I know.

I also thought of ways we could use tools that we normally associate with systems administration to help make teaching some technology courses easier.  How about incorporating something simple such as Dropbox or Google Docs to propagate reference projects out to students for example?  At one point Jon (the technology coordinator / teacher) and I were batting around different ways we could facilitate what I like to call “geeking out” classes when I saw he had a radio time signal receiver setup in the tech room.  How neat would it be to interface with something like that to make a network time server?  It’s not necessary really, there are much easier options out there for an accurate source of time that are good enough for what a school district would need, but it would be a fun project   Now that they have some great hardware in their server room with plenty of head room, what about the idea of rolling out a virtual machine as an option in a technology class, giving a highly advanced and motivated student the option of having their own sandbox to play with to do systems administration, web programming, etc.?

Fun times, and a pleasure to work with a staff that really wants to see their students engaged in learning.

While working down in Petersburg I attended a couple of webinars, the first concerning digital communication in online classes given by Matthew Turner from the Alaska Humanities Forum’s Rose Urban Rural Exchange, and the second involving synchronous learning environments for teaching.  The first one covered some bases for me that I had already a good grasp on, having took the “Multimedia in the Classroom” class taught by Dr. Ohler, as well as being somewhat conversant in various course management systems.  The big take-away here for me was a strong reminder on some basic tips when doing video with groups of students in particular using mobile devices, such as:

  • Keep each video shot as short as possible (10s).  Not only are they easier to combine later on into your video, they keep the movie interesting.
  • Establish your scenes so people feel connected to the environment they’re being shown
  • Landscape, landscape, landscape!
  • Improvise a tripod from your body or any other objects around to keep the video quality as still as possible.  Allow yourself one (1) pan or tilt per shot, and make it last for the entire shot.
  • Hash out a quick storyboard or shot list beforehand so you can hand out shots individually or to groups (camera team A and camera team B).

Matthew’s presentation was based around the asynchronous mode of learning facilitated through a Joomla-based content management system (although this is in transition), and a lot of the units he uses to work with students involve video.  Some examples that he’d use would be ato have students develop a video introduction to aspects of their town (a day in the life) as well as create a destination log of their travels to their syster school district.

The other webinar in the week was devoted more to synchronous learning environment such as Elluminate and its progeny.  My feelings are a little mixed using something like Elluminate; it seems like a good way to manage large groups of students in a very traditional class-like synchronous environment but at the same time provides some neat features for breaking students into groups, assigning them each tasks, recording and archiving the class environment for later viewing, utilizing a whiteboard component.  What I personally got out of it the most though was a couple different ideas: first, build the community early on as best you can, know your audience and when and when not to use humor, and how little things like moving stuff around on the whiteboard to better demonstrate math concepts can be a really effective tool (thanks Virgil Fredenberg).

My planned tutoring hasn’t started yet 😐 – I think the warm summertime is taking its motivational toll out on people.  This is unfortunate because I’m going to need something fast to explore in terms of this class, and therefore I’m falling behind by default.

2 Comments for this entry

  • Barbra

    What a great opportunity you have to get insight into so many different schools and their technology desires and frustrations. I think a really interesting job would be to travel and consult with schools all over Alaska. You are collecting the exact experience one would need to do this really cool job!

  • Ronna Williams

    I agree, the more I learn the more I realize I do not know. When did that start happening? I remember when I knew everything, I think I was about 15.

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