Goodbye User Accounts

A couple things have happened over the last couple weeks that have me thinking.  It all started with the all-too-common news that more cuts were coming our way in the district.  Long story, short: if May’s levy doesn’t pass, our district’s technology department, consisting of a technology administrator and a recently-added technology assistant, will lose the latter of the two positions.  As our technology administrator cautioned the Board of Education at the March meeting, the loss of this position will force him to make drastic cuts within the technology hardware, support, and programs that are currently offered.  One such “program” is the fact that each student in our district (2,000ish K-12) has her/his own student account/login on our MacOS district server.  This allows students to login, configure settings (desktop pictures seems to be the favorite pastime of the month), store photos and documents, and personalize Dashboard widgets.

About the same time, the stars aligned and district’s technology assistant delivered six IBM Ubuntu-running ThinkPads to my classroom.  This was in addition to the two that I already had in my classroom.  I also have two iPod Touches (one school-owned, one personal), my MacBook Pro, and two OS X eMacs, an OS X Intel iMac, and six Ubuntu-running thin-clients (old, gutted iMacs).  In short, quite the hodgepodge! I’m proud to say that students leave my classroom experienced in multiple platforms!

On the iPods and “new” ThinkPads, the students aren’t able to access their user accounts (sure, they can FTP to them from their student dashboard page, but who really does that?).  Despite that flaw, I was able to setup an entire two-day lesson.  Here’s how it went:

Students were in groups of three with each group assigned to a machine/device.  They were given a guiding WebQuest packet (note: to all of you die-hard WebQuesters, I’m sorry, but I often break the traditional mold of what a true “WebQuest” is supposed to be!).  They accessed the appropriate

Ancient Rome WebQuest Answer Form

links on my classroom website and completed the assignment.  They then transfered their responses a Google form I has setup using GoogleDocs.  Each group submitted their responses and it made for easy grading.  The lesson turned out to produce some great exposure, educational dialoge (often arguing over and defending answers) between students, and great formative assessment for me before our final unit test.  Oh, and the kids enjoyed it.

Okay, the meat  of the post (for real).  I made a HUGE observation during each of my six classes.  The students who were on iPods, my laptop, or the ThinkPads were hard at work a good four or five minutes before the students logging on to the MacOS machines!  Seriously.  As each group went to their respective macine/device, some students only had to open the lid of the laptop and the browser was ready to go with the first website!  The other groups faced a variety of hurdles before their screen displayed anything educational.  These included forgotten passwords, misspelled usernames, students “locked out” because they forgot to logout somewhere else on the network or the last machine they were on had crashed, startup applications (at some point, many of the students have set iCal to open upon startup), etc.  Okay, now they’re logged in.  Next came group discussion over which browser to use, Safari or Firefox.  When Firefox won, there was the wait while the app checked for plugin updates, gave errors about past sessions, and restored tabs from said sessions.  MEANWHILE, their classmates who didn’t face user accounts were already adding Roman numerals and watching embedded presentations about gladiators.

The moral of the story:  Let’s dump the user accounts!  I certainly realize that from a managerial point-of-view, their are some essential components to user accounts that make them ideal for a school setting.  These include tracking/monitoring activity, storing usernames and passwords in the browser, setting bookmarks, and probably many others that tech administrators require.  That being said, my job is to teach.  Watching half my class become engaged in the content a full five minutes faster than the other half is enough of a selling point for me! With my students completing more and more word processing and presentation design using [online-stored] GoogleDocs, a personalized Documents folder on a student-account is quickly becoming obsolete!  With the elimination of our computer class next year (again, cuts), students no longer have a class dedicated to photo, video, or audio management and won’t be needing dedicated server space to house that content.

I love the idea of user accounts.  I love each child having a unique username.  I love the idea of students personalizing their computing experience with themes, desktop pictures, widgets, etc.  I love the idea of students securely storing their personal content.  But unfortunately, I also love the idea of time-on-task. Let’s maximize it.

eTech Session Notes: Cellphones and Mobile Technologies


Rick Abbott, KHS Principal is introducing Ryan.

Ryan is giving his background information.  Ran out of handouts so directing people to his site.  Explaining the backchanneling methods (cell phones, Twitter hashtag (#rc).

Giving the background of KCS: 750 student machines, etc.

Introducing  Showing people how to subscribe to his polleverywhere account and testing it by asking about the teaching positions of the audience.


Talking about the history of computing.  AH, THE MEMORIES OF A MAC CLASSIC AND AN APPLE 2+.

Showing a quote from Western Union stating that there was no future need for a landline telephone.

Transitioning now to modern mobile devices (netbooks, iPod Touch, iPhone, Nokia N900, and game systems (PSP/DSi).  Now Apple’s iPad, HP Slate, and Archos 5 Internet tablet with Android enter the market.

Showing data to show number of iPod Touches found on network registry per buildings in Kenton City Schools.  I’M NOT SURPRISED TO SEE THAT SEVERAL STUDENTS HAVE IPODS.  WE SEE THEM BEFORE AND AFTER SCHOOL EACH DAY.

Ryan shared that a huge percentage of students in even elementary have cell phones and texting plans.  BUT WHAT ABOUT THE 5% WHO DON’T HAVE THE CELLS?  WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO HAVE CELLS AND THEY’RE PREPAY AND NO TEXTING PLANS?  HOW DO THESE PLAY INTO MOBILE COMPUTING IN THE CLASSROOM?

Ryan’s famous quote: “Every time you open the lid to a laptop, it creates a wall, or a barrier, between the teacher and the student.”

Discussing that he sees many high school kids texting in front of the school before school starts and wants to harness this “downtime” for OGT review.

Discussing that the number of cell phones are on the rise and we, as educators, need to take advantage of this growth rate.

Watching a Simpsons episode citing the need to manage cell phones.

More statistics on cell phones/voice/texting.

Explaining  This is a free service that gives you a number out of Washington state (206).  Gives you a voicemail that you can give to others.  SOUNDS A LOT LIKE GOOGLE VOICE TO ME, ALTHOUGH LESS FEATURES.

Showing which allows for visual voicemail, customized greetings, and voicemail retrieval from phone, email, and web.

Showing GoogleVoice and calling it “the Cadillac of voicemails”.

Showing which will save audio/video recordings.  Allows for conference calls.

Discussing now the question, “Why text?”

Showing which allows for one to many, one to one, and many to many communications.

Discussing Twitter and using it for KCS for delays, announcements, and football scores.  Many clients available for it.

Discussing Google’s SMS searching (466453)

Discussing using MMS to send media messages to users.

Discussing that a huge number of novels in Japan were written on a cell phone.  Ryan uses his iPod Touch.  Uses Evernote. YES, I’M A BIG FAN!

Quick overview of the use of Podcasts. Notes that you don’t need an iPod.

Many sites now have mobile versions of their sites (

Now discusses the challenges/concerns about mobile device computing in education.  Costs, off-task students, filtering, inappropriate communications, teacher and student training, etc.

Finishes with another Simpsons clip.