Saturday, April 7, 2012

Slow Road Ahead? Take a Detour!

This is the 8th part in a series in which 5th grade musicians are researching composers using Edmodo and creating website based on that research using Google Apps for Education.

A week ago, I was seriously considering dumping the entire project.  Two months of prep work, excited students, great learning taking place - dump all of it.  Why?  Because we were having network issues.  Not the kind of network issues that can easily go away - issues that could have doomed our future work.

We have the most incredible tech staff in our district.  They empower teachers and always have the right answer.  But our elementary schools have a bandwidth issue, and that is what threatened to halt the entire project in its tracks.  Actually, this coming Summer, the bandwidth issue will be fixed, but that was not going to help the students right now.

As you know from earlier posts (here and here), we had no problem on Edmodo.  I could have an entire class viewing YouTube videos about their composers and posting to Edmodo (here).  But the next class, we would try to log into Google Apps for Education, and everything would come to a stop.  We had two classes in a row where kids would log into Google Apps, and then we would all sit and wait for the next 20 minutes of a 30 minute class.  It was like "king of the hill" - whomever could log in first got to the top of the hill, and the rest of the students waited in vain.

I kept our tech staff updated, detailing these issues.  They are already well aware of this project, since it is a GAFE pilot project in our district.  But I knew the answer ahead of time - bandwidth and network traffic.  Another teacher at the middle school piloting GAFE was having not having any network issues.  Just an elementary school bandwidth issue.

Argh!  I couldn't just drop two months of work and tell the kids "Here's some posterboard - let's illustrate your composer.  And let's just open Microsoft Word and type your report."  What kind of example would that be for the kids?  But I also couldn't justify taking kids into the lab for 30 minutes at a time and having nothing educationally to show for it.  I can't justify that as a teacher, and even more as a parent.

But there was hope!  First, one of our tech staff cached all of the 5th grade student profiles on a server in our elementary building - that helped speed up the log in process considerably.  Next, I decided to have the students log into Edmodo first since we never had issues while on Edmodo.  Then, I would stagger the log in to Google Apps so we weren't all trying to do the same thing at once.  Finally, at the end of class, I had the students remain logged into GAFE so that the process would be faster next time.  Since students log off computers when finished, it was not an issue to leave themselves logged into Google Apps.

And it worked.  I had over two hours of successful classes in the lab this past week.  Students have continued their research, and a handful were far enough that we tested creating Sites in Google Apps.  That worked, too, and after Spring Break, everyone will be ready to create Sites.  I just keep crossing my fingers that our workarounds continues to work.  Thanks to our awesome tech staff for positive words and help.  You can't do a project like this alone - even the teacher needs to collaborate and be creative.

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