Who failed?

Friday, April 29th, 2011 | Computer Usage, Maintenance | 8 Comments

Imagine you’re a builder and are contracted to build a house.  The client approves the building plans and agrees to a budget and a completion date.  You start the building project and in the process you encounter numerous unanticipated problems.  The types of building materials you planned to use change, the client’s requirements change a few times, and you encounter serious problems on the site owing to land formation.

In spite of all the problems, you manage to deliver the house to the client on time, within the budget and exactly according to specification.  You even provide the client with a manual giving detailed maintenance instructions.

However, after you hand over the house, the client is not interested to live in the house, can’t maintain it and eventually the house falls into disrepair .  Neighbours are disgusted and conclude that the addition of the house to the neighbourhood was a failure.

Who is responsible for the neglect of the house?

Who failed?  The builder … or the client?

Can you perhaps see a parallel: when implementing technology successfully in a school (or group of schools) and after a year or two you find the facilities are not used, even dysfunctional, who failed?  The implementer … or the recipient?

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What are the ghosts of technology?

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 | technology | 1 Comment

We have all heard about ghosts – and may even be scared of them – but few of us have seen them.  Often the things people see as ghosts later turn out to be something else, such as a pale donkey grazing in the moonlight, or a newspaper swept by the wind against a bush.  Just in case ghosts exist some folks refuse to venture near a graveyard around midnight – they are scared stiff at the mere possibility of ghosts. 

Technology has its share of ghosts as well – those horror stories we’ve heard, never experienced ourselves, but which all the same scare us and cause us to steer clear of technology.  Many of these ghosts are not real – they are something that could be explained.  In most cases it is the ignorance of people using technology that results in trouble. 

You must put these ghosts to rest if you want to progress in the use of technology.  Among the scary things you have to understand are the following:

Amidst all the good stuff on the internet is a lot of filth.  Pornography, cyber bullying and sexting are just a few of them.  The presence of these things scares many educators into not using technology at all.

Technology has made people redundant in the past – won’t it make teachers redundant too?

Computer viruses are dangerous things – what do I do when they destroy my technology?

Won’t someone take control of my computer over the internet and draw all my money from the bank?

Technology will change the way I teach – why should I do this when I am comfortable in what I’m doing?

What happens if I suddenly lose all the data on my computer?

How will I cope if technology lets me down while I’m using it to present a lesson?

Some claim technology has no positive impact on learning – won’t my technology become a white elephant

These ghosts will continue to haunt you until you confront them.  Look for the answers to these issues and you will rid yourself of unnecessary fears.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Should I insure the technology in my classroom?

Sunday, December 12th, 2010 | Sustainability, technology | 1 Comment

In high crime areas, insurance can be a life-saver of the technology in your classroom.  You lock up all your devices or you bolt them down, and just when you think you’re safe, your classroom becomes a target of criminals.  For many schools this could be the end of technology.  No funds may be available to replace the stolen items – unless your insurance company replaces them.

Some schools decide to take the risk and don’t insure their technology.  What should you do?  Should you insure your equipment?  It is a personal decision, which must be based on various factors:

How great is the risk?  The risk of theft is higher in some areas than others.  Some classrooms are more vulnerable than others.  You must consider all environmental factors to inform your decision.

Will you be able to afford a replacement if you lose the equipment?  Once you start working with technology in your classroom you may become dependent on it and you may find it difficult to operate without it.  If you can’t afford to replace it with available funds, an insurance policy makes sense.

What is the school’s view on insurance?  Some schools follow a strategy of self-insurance, which means that they’re willing to take the risk and are saving money for a contingency.

If you do decide to insure your classroom technology, there are more questions to consider:

Have you read the small print?  Insurance policies contain specific conditions.  Make sure that the policy covers you for the most likely risks that you are facing.

What needs to be insured?  Decide whether some or all of your technology devices must be insured.  Your insurance premium can be reduced if you insure against only certain disasters – flooding and fire may be excluded if you believe that theft is your greatest risk.

Can you include your classroom technology in your school’s insurance, or must you negotiate a separate policy?  Find out which option will be the best deal for you.

Whatever you decide regarding insurance, remember: the best form of insurance is to take sensible steps to safeguard your equipment.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Of what value is the warranty on a technology device to me?

Saturday, December 11th, 2010 | technology | 3 Comments

Many people are surprised when they knock a laptop off a table, or drop a data projector, and the vendor tells them that the warranty does not cover the repair of the item.  This refusal raises questions about the value of warranties.

What is a warranty?  It is a guarantee given by a vendor to you, the buyer of the device, stating that the product is reliable and free from defects and that the vendor will – without charge – repair or replace defective parts within a given time limit and under certain conditions.

Three things should be noted in this definition of a warranty:

Free from defects:  The equipment comes to you as a new product and you can expect it to be in perfect working order.

Within a given time limit:  The warranty period is always stipulated.  In most cases it is one year, but special deals for extended warranties can often be negotiated.  It is in your own interest to start using the item as soon as possible – from the moment you take ownership of it the warranty period is ticking away.

Under certain conditions:  You must understand the warranty conditions – these are often found in the “small print” of the warranty certificate.  To protect themselves, vendors state clearly under which conditions the warranty will not be honoured.  It is your responsibility to make sure that you understand these exclusions.  Take note of where the repairs will be done: at your site, at the vendor’s premises, or must the equipment be sent away to the manufacturer?

A warranty is of great value to you.  It gives you peace of mind – if the equipment breaks down owing to a manufacturer’s fault, it will be fixed at no cost to you.  The warranty does not free you of the responsibility to look after it.  When you read the warranty conditions, you will note that all of them imply that you undertake to take good care of the item.  You can’t expect the vendor to fix your machine if, for instance, you: 

  • bump or drop it
  • scratch or damage the surface through rough handling
  • fiddle with the delicate parts
  • allow an unauthorized person to fix or upgrade it.

In general, technology vendors honour warranty agreements – you are likewise expected to honour your commitment to take care of your equipment.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What are the hidden costs of technology?

Friday, December 10th, 2010 | technology | 1 Comment

When you decide to bring technology into your classroom some of the potential costs are concealed – nobody told you about them and you couldn’t have imagined them in your wildest dreams.  These nasty surprises are called hidden costs and when they pop up unexpectedly they hurt your budget.

Forewarned is forearmed.  Try to uncover the hidden costs right from the start so that you can plan to meet them.  Talk to other teachers who have already brought the technology you’re contemplating into their classrooms and enquire about costs that may not be apparent to you.

Be aware of the following potential hidden costs:

Perhaps you are told: “This technology is very simple to use.”  It may be true that it is easy to perform various functions – learning where to press the buttons may be painless.  But you also need to learn how to integrate the use of the technology with your normal lesson activities and how to persuade your students to interact with your lesson.  Is such advanced training included in the purchase price of the device or devices?  If it’s not, and you’re not aware of the extent of the training you may need, training courses become a hidden cost.

Time is money.  One of the greatest hidden costs of technology is the amount of time you are bound to spend on learning how to use the tools properly.  You must decide up front that you’ll leave enough time in your schedule to learn how to use the technology and then to practise your skills.

You may buy your technology tools with a bundle of software and a promise that it will serve all your classroom needs.  However, when you start unpacking the bundle it will be disastrous if you discover that the programs are limited – they may not meet the particular needs of your class.  The purchase of additional appropriate software is an unanticipated expense.  You can avoid this hidden cost by being clear in your own mind how you will use the technology you are bringing into your classroom and what software you require to meet your needs.

Look out for the hidden costs! Costs are only hidden if you’re ignorant about their existence.  Do your homework before you bring technology into your classroom.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What are the recurring costs that I can expect when I bring technology into my classroom?

Friday, December 10th, 2010 | technology | 1 Comment

Recurring costs are predictable – they refer to those expenses that come back on a regular basis – monthly or annually.  Don’t overlook these costs when you plan to bring technology into your classroom – in many instances they exceeds the initial cost of the technology you bring into your classroom. 

Here are a few of the recurring costs you can expect:

Consumables may turn out to be the biggest recurring cost for which you have to budget.  The amount of consumables you use – such as paper and toner – will vary according to your particular classroom practice.  Light bulbs of data projectors can be viewed as consumables; even though they last quite long, they are very expensive to replace.  Don’t forget to budget for cleaning materials to clean your equipment, as well as the environment.

When you purchase software, consider the matter of licence fees.  It may work out better to purchase software where no such fees are required.  When software does require an annual fee, make sure you will have funds to cover it otherwise you will find yourself without the use of the product. 

Even though most classroom technologies do not consume too much electricity – and so won’t result in too high a cost – don’t leave this out of your calculation of recurring costs.

Insurance is advisable in the case of expensive items that are likely to be lost, such as computers and data projectors.

The cost of internet connectivity will vary according to the way you use the internet in the classroom, as well as the current contract the school has with an internet service provider.

Upgrades and maintenance are not required often, but you must plan for costs related to keeping your equipment current.

It is important to have estimates of all the recurring costs to give you an idea of the amount you have to budget for monthly, annually, and over a longer period.

Sometimes a more expensive set of equipment is offset by lower recurring costs – bear this in mind when you purchase technology for your classroom.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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What additional costs can be expected when I bring technology into my classroom?

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 | technology | 1 Comment

In most cases a single piece of technology is not adequate for classroom use – you’ll need a combination of different pieces of hardware and software.

For example, a laptop on its own has little value – you’ll need software products to satisfy the requirements of your class, and you will likely need other devices to make the information visible to the entire class, such as a data projector.

Similarly, you may be impressed by what an interactive whiteboard can do for you – but don’t forget that you’ll need a data projector and a computer to make it work.  The combined cost of the data projector and the computer may exceed the cost of the interactive whiteboard, and if you’ve only budgeted for the latter, you will end up with a piece of equipment that you can’t use.

When you think about using technology to enhance the classroom experience, you must consider what other pieces of technology will be needed.  The basis for most classroom technologies is a computer – either a personal computer or a laptop.  The first thing you must consider is whether a computer is available for use in your classroom – if it is not, you must budget for this additional cost.

Peripherals – such as printers and scanners – are often overlooked.  In many cases the real value of technology is experienced only if you have these peripherals.

If your classroom was built more than ten years ago it is unlikely that it was designed with technology in mind.  Additional costs may be incurred to provide a suitable infrastructure for your new devices.  You need an expert to advise you about the modifications you have to make to your classroom to ensure the successful functioning of technology.

Some technologies can simply be plugged into a computer, but others need special installation.  For example, a data projector operates best if it is installed in a fixed position, suspended from the ceiling.  Make sure that you consider this additional cost when you contemplate technology for your classroom.

When you choose the purchase of technology as a teaching tool, don’t forget to add the likely additional costs to the initial cost of the item.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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How can I keep the initial cost of technology down?

Monday, December 6th, 2010 | Sustainability, technology | 6 Comments

The initial cost of technology is the up-front cost of the item you’re purchasing.  This could be a computer, an interactive whiteboard, a data projector or any other device you’re contemplating for your classroom.

A sizable portion of the total cost of classroom technology is taken up by its initial cost.  For this reason you must think carefully how, when and where you buy it.

A few factors influence the price tag of a technology device: 

  • the brand name
  • the model
  • the vendor.

You must look at these factors before you make a decision.

Some brands of technology have a good reputation of reliability.  It is also true that some popular brands are more expensive than others.  You can keep the initial cost of classroom technology down by not insisting too strongly on a particular brand, unless you have a good reason for doing so.

The models of devices differ with regards to capacity and special features.  You can easily be dazzled by these things when you shop around only to discover later that they are never used at all.  A specific model may sport a big capacity or a special feature – but the question is whether you really need it.

Vendors often offer the same item at different prices.  It pays to shop around before you buy.  Some vendors may give a special discount on their products for educational use – be sure to ask for it.

Never buy a piece of technology on impulse – this rule applies to computers, other classroom technologies and educational software.  When you attend a demonstration or a trade fair, resist the temptation to sign an order on the spot.  First consider your needs: capacity requirements; the need for compatibility; your dependence for support on existing vendor partners.

The cheapest price of an item does not always translate to the lowest cost.  You can keep the initial cost of classroom technology down by matching your purchases to your needs.  And remember: the initial cost is only part of the total cost of ownership.  Other factors may dictate that a higher initial cost may result in a lower overall cost.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Towards keeping the planet green …

Sunday, September 26th, 2010 | Sustainability | 4 Comments

We are all into keeping the planet green.  One way of doing this is by being conscious of paper consumption.

One tree can yield about 8 000 sheets of paper (of course, it depends on the size of the tree and the type of paper, but I’m using averages and round figures for illustration purposes here).  Imagine an average school in South Africa with 800 learners, and suppose 100 pages are used by each learner for class tests and examinations throughout the year: in such a school 80 000 pages are used during the course of the year.  This equates to 10 trees.  With 22 000 schools in South Africa, it means that 220 000 are falling victim annually to satisfy the demands of assessment.

Some people go to great lengths to find other ways to produce paper.  An alternative to trees is elephant dung.  Yes, elephant dung!  Each elephant can produce 50 kg of dung per day, which could be processed to create 115 pages of paper.   Such efforts must be applauded!

Potential paper source

If my maths is correct, it would take 700 elephant days (roughly two elephant years) to produce enough paper for one school; or 44 000 elephant years to produce paper for the entire country for every school year.

The problem is: where do we find so many elephants?  And what is more, each elephant consumes about 200-250 kg of vegetation per day to produce 50 kg of dung.

Isn’t there an alternative?  How about harnessing electronic means to assess students?    Tools such as assessment software and clickers are used by many teachers to cut down on the volume of paper used in the classroom.  This must be an easier and cleaner way for a teacher to make a contribution towards keeping the planet green.

Click here for an Afrikaans version of this posting.

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Dust covers for computers

Thursday, November 19th, 2009 | Sustainability, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Does a dust cover for a piece of computer equipment serve a useful purpose?

You don’t notice how dusty computer rooms are until you look into a shaft of sunlight coming through the window.  The dust particles are so small that you won’t see them in normal light, but there are thousands – hundreds of thousands – of specks floating around.

Some schools are dustier than others.  In schools with old ceiling boards, dust particles are falling down all the time – just climb through the trap door and you will see how much dust is up there!  Schools near the sea battle against fine sea sand and some areas are prone to dust storms.

Dust is damaging to computers, data projectors and interactive whiteboards.  It makes sense to protect electronic tools against a buildup of dust when they are not in use, particularly at night, over weekends and during vacation periods.

Dust covers don’t have to be expensive – in fact a school may acquire them at no cost.  They are easy to manufacture and can be made of cheap plastic, vinyl or cloth.  Manufacturing dust covers is a worthwhile project for mothers and other community members – not only will they render the school a service, but the undertaking gives the community an opportunity to be involved in the computer facility of the school.  Covers can be obtained commercially if the skills or equipment to make them are not available locally – but first see if they can be produced by the community.

An added advantage of having dust covers in the computer facility – perhaps the greatest one – is that appreciation for the equipment is enhanced.  Learners are made aware of the value of technology and a feeling of I-am-responsible-to-care-for-precious-apparatus is engendered among them.


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