Its 3am on the first day of school. A thunderstorm outside has been painting the sky with brilliant patterns of lightening for the better part of the night. As I sit here in the soft computer glow of a new Chromebook (Samsung 550 - oh the pretty), I am trying to compare this school opening to previous ones and figure out if this week has been more intense than previous openings as we prepare for the first day of school. Non-educators have almost as many misconceptions about the week before school ("oh, you must be enjoying the calm before the storm - heh heh") as they do about the ever-shorter weeks between graduation and the new year ("it must be so nice to have #summersoff).
If You Build It...
So many projects were put in place in preparation for BYOT. The most significant and time-consuming was a backbone and wireless network overhaul. Last year we upgraded the network to wireless-N to increase speed and prepare for new devices. This year we moved each wireless access point to a full Gigabit switch (faster data from one part of the building to the central switches -- fewer bottle necks of data), increased the number of Access Points by 30%, and cleaned out, organized and labeled every wire closet so that we could quickly diagnose and troubleshoot in those precious first days of school.
Out tech philosophy has always been a corollary of "if you build it, they will come" -- something along the lines of "If it is consistently reliable, they will use it." For this reason, we always start with the infrastructure and work our way outward. This year has been no exception, although it is a little nerve-racking fine-tuning and adjusting levels 24 hours before students hit the network.
Exercises in Extroversion
Our assistant principal is constantly trying to understand how the @40ishoracle and I can be introverts when we clearly enjoy speaking to people and even in front of people. We do it, but WOW is it draining. We have been talking BYOT from coast-to-coast (literally) all summer. But there is a different flavor when talking about it in your own backyard. At the opening back-to-school meeting, we reiterated some of the high points of the BYOT infrastructure and support. Questions and comments ranged from the hyper-practical "How do we tell kids to connect to the wireless?" (Answer: Lots of signs posted throughout the building) to the philosophical "But I won't know how to do [insert any technical function] on all of these different devices!" (Response: True. You focus on teaching -- kids will figure out the how and tech will back them up. Paradigms are shifting). -- All-in-all, our teachers are amazing. They took the foundations laid in the BYOT bootcamps and ran with it.
Note: two of my favorite classroom policies were shared at that meeting -- "Come to class with your device charged up and ready for 40 minutes of learning!" & "Give yourself time to play. If you are not sure how to do something your device, it will take extra time to learn. Don't be late. No Excuses" -- Just brilliant.
The day before school begins is new student orientation and new parent orientation. More extroversion. 10 minute Q&A in front of a packed chapel of parents. I went for the joke at every opportunity. It is exciting listening to our new President tell these parents how BYOT aligns so strongly with our school's mission (long-time readers already know this from the WHY BYOT? series). I heard afterwards that there was one parent who did not know about the 1:1 program. Obviously, not a regular reader of the blog :). I imagine that was a disconcerting moment.
A Last Minute Catch
Heading into the home stretch of the day before, we are walking through every possibility and realize that a procedural change (not having a day where we pass out access codes during the summer) was going to derail us a little with Freshmen. Our logins are not "ACTIVE" until a student logs into a school computer and is forced to change his or her password. At that point, the credentials are passed to the wireless login server. So every student with their own device is not on our network UNTIL they have logged in once. That was a painful e-mail to write to teachers who planned BYOT activities on day one.
Enabling Printing in a Paperless World
Trying to find as many ways to for students to print from as many devices as possible has been a challenge. We finally settled on Google Cloud Print (tied into our AMDG - Google Apps for Education) with HP E-print as a quick backup (we have 5 printers throughout the building that have their own e-mail address labeled right on the printer). Shaping the firewall and network to prioritize printer jobs seems odd, but when your printer server sits outside the building, you want to do everything you can to speed up the process. Cloudprint is still SO much faster. Might configure a printer just of iPrint on the student wireless as well. It is a lot of time and effort to enable something that is in a natural decline (that being paper), but it is a traditional comfort zone for teachers and students, so it cannot be ignored.
Charging Stations are Awesome
American Locker has these wonderful self-locking charging stations. 15 individual slots with a plug. Students place the device. Plug it in. Set a combination and lock the drawer. The units have quick-access keys for the student who forgets the combination. We were even able to get them in a color that matches the decor.
We have placed two of them in the student commons area and one in the library. Now its just a matter of seeing how many students are able to read the three step instructions with pictures taped to every unit. -- Thinking of picking up a few more of these.
Oh Yeah -- The Classroom
In the midst of all this preparation, we also have a new semester of the Digital Citizenship course, complete with a new focus on information-filtering skills and PLN development. You know that the stress is high when you feel guilty taking an hour to do some big-picture lesson planning.
|#Digcit broken down by lesson|
Phone Calls, E-mails, and Drop-ins, Oh My
My heaviest parent-contact day in the last 10 was last friday with 8 phone calls and 7 emails. Phone calls can last from 5-20 minutes and emails usually go back and forth about 3 times. They range from "we are between these two models - please choose" to "Soooo, tell me about this BYOT thing". Parents are generally more anxious than the students. They want the student to be prepared. They don't want to waste money. They are anxious about so much choice and freedom.
I am amazed at the number of parents who do not talk to their children about something like this. We live in a culture that has trained-by-advertising that there must be a single "right" choice and that there is a magic formula to success if only you have the right #shinypretty in your backpack. Many of these conversations end up being part of the counter-cultural message of a Jesuit school.
So that is what is going through my mind in this early morning. All things considered, it has been a long, exciting journey. Students are ready (one student told her nervous did-we-get-you-the-right-device mother "mom, we got this. it's all good"); Teachers are excited and a little nervous; IT is exhausted (we have completed over 100 work orders in 3 days in addition to all the BYOT prep and regular getting-ready-for opening routines), but ready for the opening day onslaught. Not bad for the start of a school year.
Questions? drop me a comment below.