Archive for June, 2016

An example of an IT failure.

June 29, 2016

At one of the blogs I visit regularly ( I read this:

“At the beginning of this school year, I purchased licenses for MinecraftEDU and I love it. Unfortunately, as you can tell if you follow the link above, the old MinecraftEDU is now in transition. Microsoft is re-writing and re-releasing the educational version as Minecraft: Education Edition. I would love to use it, but it’s only going to be available on Windows 10 and my district’s IT department has been very clear that we are not moving to Windows 10 this year. … It is extremely frustrating – I believe in this tool and think our kids will really benefit from using it in classrooms, and our progress as a district has been completely shut down.”

This is where I start to rant and wave my hands.  A school IT department has only one major priority, supporting teachers so they have the tools to teach.  An IT department that makes a decision like not upgrading to Windows 10, and thereby affecting curriculum, needs to be evaluated.  I can understand not upgrading a whole district to Win10 in one summer.  A big district can take a while and they may not have the staff or expertise to do the upgrade in bulk.  But to not do a limited upgrade for a teacher that needs it to teach has no excuse.

I am the IT guy at a small private school.  I operate on a very limited budget.  (Not all private schools are rich.)  I have had a scattering of Win10 computers through my school for a year just to test if there were any issues with group policy or the domain.  I have managed to upgrade to Win10 this summer with no problems.  The upgrade from Win 7 or 8 is idiotically simple.  I just do not understand how an IT department has not been preparing for this upgrade for at least a year.   (More hand waving here.)

One of the major tasks of an IT department, be it a one-man-band or a large district department, is to look down the road to the future.  It has to make plans to implement changes to keep up with the changes.  It looks like this department has failed.

Perhaps I am being harsh.  Perhaps there is some extenuating circumstance in this district I do not understand.  There are a lot of things I do not understand here.  What I do understand is it is the IT department’s job to support the teachers and to find solutions for teachers, not to put limitations on teachers.

I could rant on here for quite a bit more but it is late and I have to go to work in the morning.  I have IT work to do so my teachers will have no limitations caused by IT.

Powerschool and I: Angst issues

June 27, 2016

I am sitting here staring at my Powerschool screen.  I have made a booboo and do not know how to fix it.  I am waiting for PS tech support to give me a call.  Ever have one of those jobs where you do not have a clue what you are doing and have to do it anyway?  That is me and PS.  I have been the PS guy for 10 years and the thing is still a pain in my rear.  I have never been to training in PS, everything is learned by trial and error and then calling tech support.  (Luckily PS tech support is pretty good.  They speak American.  Sometimes with a Southern accent but we manage.)  PS does upgrades a couple of times a year.  They tweak the interface just enough to make something different.  They do not tweak the documentation to keep up.  Bad Powerschool.  Bad.  Bad.

Every year I have to go through the End-Of-Year process.  The EOY process is this semi-convoluted thing that promotes all the kids to the next year.  Sounds simple.  It is not.  There are all sorts of preliminary things that have to be done first and those upgrades seem to change things just enough to screw me up.  One of the prelims is to check student registration dates by running a little built-in process.  The directions then say fix all the errors.  OK, how do I do that?  That is assumed knowledge and therefore cannot be explained in the document that tells you to run the check in the first place.  There is also no way to import information, like the next year’s school dates for semesters and quarters, between schools.  Having to do it three times can lead to typos.  I have made a typo and there is no Delete option so I can go back and fix my typo.  Now if I had an eidetic memory and good documentation I would be in good shape.  My memory and the documentation are both in rough shape so this once a year process is pretty sketchy.  If not done right all sorts of bad things happen.

I am sure PS will call and tell me I can fix that by accessing the Oracle database.  Uhh, yah, sure, right.  Like I go there regularly.

So right now I am suffering a little angst.  I am contemplating my retirement options.

PS called and he fixed the problem remotely.  Goody.  I ran the next error checking report.  Seventy some-odd errors.  I am back to contemplating my retirement options.

Of course having these little issues does help me to understand what a student feels like when they have something in front of them they have very little comfort with knowledge-wise.  Like a new programming assignment when they really did not understand the last programming assignment.  Angst.

Sneakers rule!

June 17, 2016

The sneaker install of Windows 10 is going.  Notice I did not say “going well”.  It is absolutely amazing the number of computers in the school that have issues that no one had bothered to tell me about.  Computers with “trust issues”, dead monitors, no internet, hard drives that sound like a blender full of rocks, ten-minute boot times and so on.  I teach half time so I do not run around the school regularly checking computers and I do not have any nifty software to monitor the status of computers on the network.  If someone does not tell me they have a computer with issues I do not know about it.  So along with the install I am fixing all sorts of weird things.  I am also finding that although Win10 will install on a computer with only 1 gig of RAM, it is not happy about it.  I have a few computers where it just will not go.  The processor is to old.  Time to contact the Montana State recycle warehouse to see what they have.

This sneaker install is the only way to go.  I get to look at every computer in the school.  Slow but needed.  Some of the schools use a server to image their computers.  I do not have enough computers of the same brand to make that worthwhile.  Another reason for the walk-about install method.  Most schools have a computer rotation schedule.  I rotate a computer when it catches on fire or the processor is older than my students.  (Yes, I did have one catch on fire.  Short in the power supply.  Sparks out the back and smoke.  Kind of cool and lots of excitement for a couple of minutes.)

Right now I am really promoting the BYOD (bring your own device) approach to the kids.  The more BYOD laptops, the fewer school computers I have to keep alive.  Since there are Windows laptops out there for $200 I do not consider getting a laptop a difficulty for a kid.

My programming classes are required to have a laptop.  I have loaners if there is a money issue but I do not set up the loaners for a class.  The kids install the software, they deal with saving to the cloud, they deal with video card issues, they deal with wireless issues and so on.  In other words, they learn the hardware aspects of CS.  I figure if I have to know all this random hardware stuff to do my job I might as well teach them what I have learned.

Right now I am learning about SSL certificates.  I had to get one for a third party application in Powerschool.  Yesterday I could spell SSL.  Today I sort of understand what SSL is all about.  The trouble is installing the SSL certificate seems to have killed my Powerschool.  What joy.  This IT job is just chuck full of exciting and educational events.

The Search for the Holy Grail

June 1, 2016

Next fall I am going to teach a course with Unity 5.  The fact I know nothing about Unity 5 does not bother me too much.  I do not know a lot about programming and have been teaching it for 30 years.  Find a good book and stay ahead of the kids.  (Unless there is a really smart kid, then just get out of the way.)  So I have been looking for a good book.  Now comes the bother.  There are many books on Unity 5.  Which one to buy with my limited purchasing funds?  Those funds that are in my back pocket so I am not buying a bunch to try.  Most people are suggesting the video tutorials produced by Unity.  I have done a couple of those and they are pretty good but they are videos.  Just not the same as a book.  A book I can tab.  A book I can thumb through quickly to find what I forgot from yesterday.  A book has a table of contents and an index so I do not have to scan back and forth looking for the right moment in time.  So I am looking for a book.  And a cheap book at that.  When I decided to teach Python a few years ago I had the same problem.  Lots of books.  In my internet search for a Python book I stumbled on to “How to Think Like a Computer Scientist: Learning with Python 3”.  A free downloadable book.  Best kind.  Usually you get what you pay for.  Not in this case.  It is a great book for Python.  Especially since it is available in Word.  I can edit it!  I can put notes in it.  Jackpot.

I continue the great book search of Unity 5.  I have found a few book-ish resources but nothing that avails itself to being printed and stuck in a binder so I can scribble in it.  It has been a while since I have taught myself new software and I am finding that it takes a bit more work to stay on task than it used to.  Sitting in front of a computer in the summer is just not as much fun as mountain biking in the summer.  The book has got to somehow manage to keep me focused and interested.  Good luck with that.