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General Chat Thread, BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your view in General; Originally Posted by dhicks A pretty big part of the whole plan behind the XO seems to be getting away ...
  1. #31

    localzuk's Avatar
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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your

    Quote Originally Posted by dhicks
    A pretty big part of the whole plan behind the XO seems to be getting away from the idea that computers are something that you need training on how to use. Teach children to read and leave them to figure out the interface by themselves.
    Agree 100%

    The XO is designed to not need stuff like managed wireless networks. Just because something is web-based doesn't mean it actually has to be at the other end of an ADSL connection - Internet connectivity could all go through one cheap caching server. VLE with resources could be run locally and synchronised with a central hub. Our 8-core, 4GB RAM, 1TB mirrored storage, seperate OS disk server cost us £2,000. For a primary school such a server would have to run DHCP, Internet gateway and web filtering, VLE. Such a server should be sufficient.
    I doubt a single server could provide a VLE, DHCP, gateway and web filtering for a primary school with everyone using computers. 2 servers would be minimum.

    I doubt thin client over a wireless network is a good idea - a whole class at once is going to be too much over a wireless network. Our thin client server (the one mentioned above) has a 50-ish client capacity. Install Edubuntu, works out of the box, no licenses to pay for.
    Hence needing a managed server. Without the ability to connect to a terminal server, you severely limit the capabilities of the machine.

    One option might be to think of the ASUS "laptops" as "handily sized desktop PCs" that would fit nicly in a tray under desks or in a rack on the wall. Run network cable and power to each table and each child has a PC that's ready to use on demand. They could be locked to the desks if needed.
    Now that is not going to be cheap! How would you run cables to a room where the desks are randomly placed, not touching anything? Dug up the floor and use floor boxes? What if the water table is too high to do that? That is the very point of them being wireless and laptop based - no cables needed.

    Another option might be to replace the ASUS/RM supplied OS with something that can do mesh networking. I think (not sure - might have understood this wrong) that the XO uses standard 802.11g hardware optimised for range / meshing, no custom electronics. It might be possible to adapt some of the ideas used in the XO to work on the ASUS or similar devices.
    You still need some way of connecting to your network... Ok, you need less access points overall, but you still need them. And meshing is all well and good - if the only thing you are accessing is the internet, but as soon as you start adding anything traffic intensive or anything which needs low latency, it becomes more of a problem.

  2. #32

    dhicks's Avatar
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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your view

    [localzuk]
    > I doubt a single server could provide a VLE, DHCP, gateway and web
    > filtering for a primary school with everyone using computers. 2 servers
    > would be minimum.

    A lowest-end server will do for DHCP/gateway/filtering, and most any server will do for running something like Moodle (although something nice and new and multi-core gives room for expansion). The two together should still come in at around £2,000.

    [localzuk]
    > Hence needing a managed server. Without the ability to connect to
    > a terminal server, you severely limit the capabilities of the machine.

    All a computer really needs these days is a web browser with a full set of plugins and VoIP/IM/etc clients - a web browser is a thin client. Everything else can be done inside a web browser window. I figure around £1000 per 25 simultanious users for thin client access (based on something like Edubuntu providing LTSP services, so no license fees involved), but I don't think this would be appropriate for wireless laptops.

    [localzuk - Laptops under desks]
    > Now that is not going to be cheap! How would you run cables to a room
    > where the desks are randomly placed, not touching anything?

    Yes, that situation would be expensive. However, I doubt it's the most common situation in most modern classrooms. A large number of the classrooms I've seen have standard-issue rectangular desks (of varying height, depending upon age group) arranged in rows coming out from the wall, with a central isle down the middle of the classroom. Place conduit around the edges of the classroom, lead cables from that conduit along every row of desks. This does mean it would be difficult to move the desks around, so probably not suitible for rooms used for drama and so on.

    > You still need some way of connecting to your network... Ok, you need
    > less access points overall, but you still need them. And meshing is all
    > well and good - if the only thing you are accessing is the internet, but
    > as soon as you start adding anything traffic intensive or anything which
    > needs low latency, it becomes more of a problem

    Meshing should work fine (better, even) for access to local resources - other pupil's machines for collaberation, or local servers for VLE. Web access should be speedy enough, if a tad slow to get started. I agree, you won't be able to run fun stuff like Skype or real-time shooting games with other people out on the Internet, but I don't see that being a massive issue. It'd probably be an idea to ditch the idea of having an "access point" at all, and simply have your gateway machine be the node in the mesh network that happens to have Internet access (this assumes that all of the computers in a school are operating the same way - in reality there's probably going to be a bunch of staff laptops wanting wireless access).

    --
    David Hicks

  3. #33

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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your

    [localzuk - Laptops under desks]> Now that is not going to be cheap! How would you run cables to a room
    > where the desks are randomly placed, not touching anything?

    Yes, that situation would be expensive. However, I doubt it's the most common situation in most modern classrooms. A large number of the classrooms I've seen have standard-issue rectangular desks (of varying height, depending upon age group) arranged in rows coming out from the wall, with a central isle down the middle of the classroom. Place conduit around the edges of the classroom, lead cables from that conduit along every row of desks. This does mean it would be difficult to move the desks around, so probably not suitible for rooms used for drama and so on.
    I have to say, in the school I work in, no classroom is set up like that. In the high school I went to, no classroom was set up like that. Nor in the primary school I went to. Nor do the 3 feeder first schools which we are federated with.

    In addition to that, the health and safety aspect of kids plugging in and unplugging cables (both network and power) would send my boss mad. I would seriously doubt this would be allowed.

    > You still need some way of connecting to your network... Ok, you need
    > less access points overall, but you still need them. And meshing is all
    > well and good - if the only thing you are accessing is the internet, but
    > as soon as you start adding anything traffic intensive or anything which
    > needs low latency, it becomes more of a problem

    Meshing should work fine (better, even) for access to local resources - other pupil's machines for collaberation, or local servers for VLE. Web access should be speedy enough, if a tad slow to get started. I agree, you won't be able to run fun stuff like Skype or real-time shooting games with other people out on the Internet, but I don't see that being a massive issue. It'd probably be an idea to ditch the idea of having an "access point" at all, and simply have your gateway machine be the node in the mesh network that happens to have Internet access (this assumes that all of the computers in a school are operating the same way - in reality there's probably going to be a bunch of staff laptops wanting wireless access).
    So you have a central server, with everyone's work on, or shared resources etc... You have a couple of access points which the mesh connect to - running at 54Mbps. Say a class full of kids want to go and get their work - that'd be 30 people sharing that connection. If the files were anything other than word processed files or the like then, mesh or not, it will be slow. The likelihood though would be that more than 1 class would want to get files at the same time.

    As I said, mesh networks are great for providing internet access so long as you don't need low latency. They will not be good for accessing traditional centralised server equipment as their will be bottlenecks in your infrastructure.

  4. #34

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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your

    Quote Originally Posted by localzuk

    I doubt a single server could provide a VLE, DHCP, gateway and web filtering for a primary school with everyone using computers. 2 servers would be minimum.
    Actually, it can. I only have one server that does all this for a middle school which goes up to year 8

    Apart from that though, I agree that this was an headline-grabbing remark that was not thought through properly

  5. #35

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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your view

    [localzuk - classroom layout]
    > I have to say, in the school I work in, no classroom is set up like that.
    > In the high school I went to, no classroom was set up like that. Nor in
    > the primary school I went to. Nor do the 3 feeder first schools which
    > we are federated with.

    It'd be interesting to figure out how many different classroom layout styles there are and what proportion of classrooms each one is used in. I figure
    maybe a good third of the classrooms I've seen have used the rows-stretching-out-from-walls layout. Most of the others have used a semi-circle of tables around the perimiter of the classroom with rows stretching from the outside into the middle, or squares of tables with one side up against a wall. I've seen a few classrooms that used squares of tables in the middle of the floor with chairs all around them (tend to be big rooms used sometimes for drama, with tables being re-arranged often), and the very occasional classroom with tables around the walls (tends to be ICT rooms). Year 1 & 2 classrooms tend to be open-plan with different areas, and I haven't seen individual desks all seperated and facing the front of the classroom since I left primary school. Most of the classrooms I've seen have been in Cambridgeshire / East Anglia or Kent, I wonder if there's much reginal varitation?

    It can't be that difficult to add a bit of under-floor wiring to a room. Should be able to cut a trench in a ground-floor cement floor with a decent
    hammer drill, stick a conduit with wiring in, pour cement back in over the top.

    I figure it'd be practical to wire up maybe a third to a half of existing classrooms with power (12V DC, not 240V AC!) and RJ45 network. The idea of keeping laptops in a tray under the desk itself is that they wouldn't need to be unplugged. Even if the children fiddle with the power connectors, they're only going to get a 12V DC shock.

    Ideally, someone should hurry up and market wireless power - some kind of induction/transmission technology that provides power to a machine simply placed on a desk. I've seen a couple of stories about experimental ones, but nothing that's actually for sale yet.

    [localzuk]
    > So you have a central server, with everyone's work on, or shared
    > resources etc... You have a couple of access points which the mesh
    > connect to - running at 54Mbps. Say a class full of kids want to go and
    > get their work - that'd be 30 people sharing that connection. If the files
    > were anything other than word processed files or the like then, mesh or
    > not, it will be slow. The likelihood though would be that more than 1
    > class would want to get files at the same time.

    Forget about the server being a file server - have all used interaction go via the VLE. If real-time access to the VLE is slow (or if the pupil becomes
    disconnected from the network, i.e. if they go home) then use a locally-installed version of the VLE to cache content, something like the Moodle-on-a-stick concept (small VLE server) coupled with the Moodle network system (a Moodle "hub" that dishes out content to other Moodle instances).

    I doubt a mesh network as used by something like the XO is going to be able to handle masses of streaming video. It might be an idea to try some kind of P2P-esque file-sharing style cache, but I doubt that'll get very much imporvement as each machine has very limited local storage.

    Note that most of what I'm suggesting is cheap-if-in-bulk type stuff. Most everyone here seems to agree that chucking £8 million at the problem isn't going to solve anything, it'll just waste the initial investement. I reckon £75 million (really rough calculation, mind) would provide a sustainable solution for every primary pupil in Wales to have a computer. Would need more to make that England, or to include secondary pupils.

    --
    David Hicks

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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your view

    It can't be that difficult to add a bit of under-floor wiring to a room. Should be able to cut a trench in a ground-floor cement floor with a decent
    hammer drill, stick a conduit with wiring in, pour cement back in over the top.
    I can't see the WAG funding that for all schools that need, and how many primary school budgets can afford it??
    The whole idea is badly, or rather not, thought through!!!

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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your view

    All our computer suites are arranged around the perimeter of the room.

    I would say none of these would pass a workstation audit though.

    One big problem I always have is that for a given space its expected that each station will only need about the width of the keyboard. When I try and explain that you need room to use the mouse and have some papers it nearly always falls on deaf ears and its not until you do a quick demo that the penny drops. And don't ask me how may times I've had to explain that you can only get one station in a corner! Again its a case of set up 2 chairs in the corner and ask the staff to sit down.

    Considering that these are teachers they can be quite dim sometimes.

  8. #38

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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your view

    >> It can't be that difficult to add a bit of under-floor wiring to a room.
    >> Should be able to cut a trench in a ground-floor cement floor with a
    >> decent hammer drill, stick a conduit with wiring in, pour cement back in
    >> over the top.

    > I can't see the WAG funding that for all schools that need, and how
    > many primary school budgets can afford it?? The whole idea is badly,
    > or rather not, thought through!!!

    This is where the cheap-if-in-bulk part of things comes in. The wiring part of things is pretty much DIY-able, but it shouldn't cost (relativly) that much to hire a couple of blokes, give them a van, a drill, some conduit, wire and cement, then get them to drive to each school and wire up the desks for power and ethernet (okay, so make that maybe half a dozen vans worth of blokes for Wales, and of course make them qualified electricians). This only need get expensive if you introduce too much beurocracy - getting each school to hire in contractors, etc. It needs decent investement and, like you say, planning from a central source.

    Has anyone, like, told the guy this? Heck, we're the people who know exactly how well his scheme won't work, nice idea though it is, but there's no point in us all telling each other over and over because we all already know.

    --
    David Hicks

  9. #39

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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your view

    Just send him the URL to this post, anonymously.

  10. #40

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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your view

    > Just send him the URL to this post

    Okay, done. Don't know if it's worth a couple of other people giving it a mention aswell.

    > anonymously

    Eh? Why anonymously? Heck, he sounds like he's trying to figure out the whole ICT-in-schools thing, now might be a good chance for us (who have knowledge and experience of exactly what does and does not work) to have a word with someone who might be influencing policy as regards to ICT equipment in schools.

    --
    David Hicks

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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your view

    Just got this via email:

    [On October 28, 2007, David Hicks wrote:]
    > Hello - a reference to a news item on your magazine column article
    > about laptops in schools was posted on edugeek.net, an online
    > community for ICT staff who work in schools in the UK. These are the
    > people who would be implementing a laptops-in-schools program, and
    > know exactly what the opportunities and pitfalls in such a scheme would
    > be. I think we all agreed that the costing was a bit out. We'd like to
    > know how you got to the figure you did, and would be very interested to
    > hear your opinions.

    Dear Mr Hicks,

    The costings were calculated internally. As you will be aware, costs of the project is changing daily as the technology develops. As cheaper laptops are being developed the cost of the project will be reduced. Lap top schemes for education being run successfully in a number of locations around the world. One Wales Government committed to holding a pilot scheme in the future period of the Assembly term.

    Many thanks

    Owen

    Owen Hathway
    Press/Research Officer
    Adam Price MP
    Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

  12. #42
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    Re: BBC News- Give laptops to pupils, MP Urges- what's your

    Quote Originally Posted by Owen Hathway
    The costings were calculated internally.
    We looked on the RM website

    Quote Originally Posted by Owen Hathway
    As you will be aware, costs of the project is changing daily as the technology develops.
    Have you seen how weak the dollar is?

    Quote Originally Posted by Owen Hathway
    As cheaper laptops are being developed the cost of the project will be reduced.
    All IT projects come in under budget

    Quote Originally Posted by Owen Hathway
    Lap top schemes for education being run successfully in a number of locations around the world.
    And they all have the high expectations that the UK does

    Quote Originally Posted by Owen Hathway
    One Wales Government committed to holding a pilot scheme in the future period of the Assembly term.
    Then when we know it doesn't work, we'll still go ahead with it.

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