Category Archives: open source

Update on Our BRSU Managed Wireless Pilot – November 2012

This summer we started looking into setting up a managed wireless system in our schools.  As more mobile computing devices are deployed  in schools, it becomes necessary to get a better handle on managing wireless access to the Internet and other network resources.  I think making the investment in managed wireless is inevitable for all school districts, and selecting a platform comes down to: 1) how much functionality you need, and 2) how much functionality can you afford.

This summer I looked at two major vendors of cloud-based managed wireless solutions, Meraki and Aerohive.  Cloud-based managed wireless solutions allow you to monitor your wireless network from the Internet (e.g. a browser, tablet or phone, any time any where).  Each wireless access point pumps out data to a web site where an admin can view, monitor, and control the network.  This approach eliminates the need to buy a controller appliance to sit on your network.  Although cloud-based systems can be more convenient, they can also be more expensive since you must purchase an annual controller license for each access point.

Based on a tip from Amanda Bickford, a tech at Manchester Elementary-Middle School, I also added Open-Mesh to our evaluation.  Open-Mesh hardware is relatively inexpensive and uses open source firmware.  They also provide a free web-based controller platform called Cloudtrax.

For the evaluation phase, I installed each vendor’s access point in the BRSU office and then went through a technical briefing with each company except for Open Mesh.  Open Mesh does not have this kind of support since the firmware is open source.  I also did a basic cost/functionality comparison of the devices:

 

Cost

Meraki Aerohive Open Mesh
AP

$580

$580

$95

PoE Injector

$50

$60

$30 w/kit

Adapter

$29

$99

Included

Controller License

$150 per AP per year

$100 per AP per year

Included

 

Functionality

Meraki

Aerohive

Open Mesh

WPA2-Enterprise
& 802.1X

Directory service integration

Stateful policy firewall

√?

User Fingerprinting

Layer 7 application traffic
shaping

 

Pilot

After completing my evaluation and analysis, I decided to move to a pilot of Open Mesh.  The cost of Open Mesh was more in line with what we could afford, and I thought much of the extra functionality found with the Meraki and Aerohive and not found with Open Mesh (e.g. traffic shaping and content filtering) could be done on other network appliances.

The pilot includes Sunderland Elementary (70 students), Currier Memorial (100 students), and the Dorset School (170 students).  All of the schools have “1:1” computing deployments or something close to that ratio.  Open Mesh seems to be holding up well.  Dorset is having some trouble with their network using Chromebooks, but it is too early to tell if that is do to Open Mesh or other network issues.  Below are some screenshots from the Cloudtrax controller from the Sunderland network.

 

 

 

Because the system is cloud-based, we are able to check on the status of the network using any web enabled device including smart phones and tablets.  Free Android and IOS apps are provided.  The controller allows us to see the status of each access point as well as the status of the mesh.  These devices “mesh up” forming a seamless, self-healing wireless network so when students and staff move through the building, one access point hands off access to another one.  This also improves network stability since wireless devices now have multiple paths on the network.

 

Conclusions

So far so good.  We are using the MR500 devices (includes a 5-port switch).  I would like to try their OM2P in my next deployment because its radios are more powerful.  I think Open Mesh provides a good solution relative to price that would attractive for many of Vermont’s smaller schools or schools that do not need the extra functionality of the higher priced devices.

 

 

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Some Thoughts on Disciplining Educational Innovation

In education, our research and development (“R&D”) systems are curriculum development and professional development.  These are the primary systems we utilize to improve instruction, and these systems are traditionally hierarchical and organized around school or district boundaries.  We rely on top down policies and approaches such as standards and state-level assessments to influence the improvement of these systems even though there is significant lag time, often several years, between the development of standards and the implementation of their related assessments.  There is also the case of fidelity to a curriculum – even when a formal curriculum is adopted, districts struggle with ensuring it is actually being implemented in a coordinated manner.

In Working Laterally, David Hargreaves describes an alternative approach called “lateral networks” where networks are leveraged to connect educators beyond traditional organizational boundaries to greatly improve these R&D processes.  This approach requires educators to build curricula from the ground up by utilizing the collective wisdom of their peers.  Curriculum development and professional development are “open sourced” with best practices being identified, implemented, and evaluated much more quickly across a group of schools since teachers are no longer working in isolation within their own schools or districts.  Standards remain an essential component to ensure quality, but standards become a tagging scheme for educators to organize instructional activities as opposed to a top down framework that narrows the curriculum.

To network educators in this manner and to build curricula from the ground up requires organizational discipline.  Just like in open source software development, certain protocols and systems must be enforced to focus the collective work of the community.   Disciplining educational R&D systems means providing both internal and external assurance that these systems are going to achieve the desired ends for students.  Internal assurance can be understood as responsibility – as educators we must be professionally responsible to each other for the quality of instruction provided across our entire system, not just in our individual classrooms, since it is this broader experience which ultimately affects student learning.  External assurance is commonly expressed as accountability.  We must be able to demonstrate to students, parents and community members that our educational programs are of high quality.

As districts implement lateral networks to support educational innovation, they need to be able to articulate a system of organizational discipline and publish it to both internal and external stakeholders.  In our district we have developed the following list of activities as a plan to discipline our innovation:

  • School board Ends and monitoring policies (see this blog post);
  • System benchmarks (formative and summative) based on a logic model to ensure the personalization of student learning.  This system is being developed in consultation with Dr. David Silvernail from the University of Southern Maine;
  • The rapid development, implementation and evaluation of best practices through lateral networking using a common instructional management system (Haiku);
  • NWEA MAPS just-in-time assessments used three times a year used in formative data teams by teachers and externally by parents, administration and school board members for program monitoring;
  • A standards-based curriculum; and
  • Documenting student learning through eportfolios.

I think a balanced portfolio of disciplining approaches is necessary to guide innovation in a common direction.  Ideally, some disciplining approaches are able to satisfy both internal and external requirements.  I also believe it is essential that governance be addressed so the necessary policy alignment for innovation can be secured.

Considerable attention is being paid to how technology might affect student learning.  More attention needs to be paid to how technology might improve our instructional R&D systems.  I believe the current federal and state education policies which are focused on relatively inefficient and ineffective top down approaches need to shift towards supporting the development of disciplined systems of innovation which are scalable across a large group of schools irrespective of district, state, or national boundaries.  Such an approach is likely to be more effective, less costly, and better able to ensure a high level of quality.

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2010 VT FOSSED Presentation

Here is my presentation from the 2010 Vermont Open Source & Education Conference.

The David Hargreaves papers referenced in the presentation (Education Epidemic and Working Laterally) can be downloaded for free as pdf files from the Demos website.

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Opening Up Education

I think this is an important new book.

From the introduction:

The latest evolution of the Internet, the so-called Web 2.0 has blurred the line between producers and consumers of content and has shifted attention from access to information toward access to other people. New kinds of online resources—such as social networking sites, blogs, wikis,
and virtual communities—have allowed people with common interests to meet, share ideas, and collaborate in innovative ways. Indeed, the Web 2.0 is creating a new kind of participatory medium that is ideal for supporting multiple modes of learning. Two of those include social learning, based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we learn but on how we learn.

The second, perhaps even more significant, aspect of social learning, involves not only “learning about” the subject matter but also “learning to be” a full participant in the field. This involves acquiring the practices and norms of established practitioners in that field or acculturating into a community of practice. By entering into this community, you are required to assimilate the sensibilities and ways of seeing the world embodied within that community. And this is exactly what happens if you want to join an open source community with their key practices and expected contributions.

John Seely Brown

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Ubuntu 7.10

The new version of Ubuntu is scheduled to be released next week. It includes the latest version of Gnome and a variety of other improvements.


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