Vista vs. XP vs. Ubuntu on my M1330

24 02 2008

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My M1330 came pre-installed with Vista, but as someone who is never happy with the OS they have running on their computer, I wanted to try out a few different OSs before settling on just one (or two!). After a few days of using Vista, I had had enough. It was slow, buggy, and simply did not feel as snappy as I would have expected from a machine that had 2GB of RAM and a dedicated video card. Following instructions from Notebookforum, I quickly removed Vista and had Windows XP installed on the laptop. Now that was better! The interface looked old, especially compared to Vista or Leopard. But reliability trumps looks, so it was an easy decision to pack away the Vista recovery CD.

All was well for a few weeks, but then I decided to give Ubuntu a try. I had used Ubuntu on many different machines in the past, but always ended up moving back to XP on my primary machine, usually because of problems with hibernation or poor peripheral support. I installed Ubuntu in a dual-boot configuration, and with a few exceptions, everything worked right away. Hibernation was a bit tricky, but eventually I had it working.

Over the next few days I found I was spending more time working in Ubuntu, but I still had the need to occasionally use Windows XP for a few reasons, namely Office applications when working with students and teachers, as well Internet Explorer when configuring or posting to Sharepoint. Rebooting into Windows was a pain, so I settled on VMware as the best solution, as it would allow me to run a Windows virtual machine from within Ubuntu. Not leaving well enough alone, I didn’t want to have to create a new Windows image, so I used these instructions to run my existing Windows partition in VMware Player. After some issues (I had made a mistake in the cylinders calculation), I was able to run my Windows partition in VMware Player from within Ubuntu. It wasn’t easy, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t like tinkering, but now I have a setup that allows me to boot into Windows or Ubuntu, or alternatively access all of my needed Windows applications when running Ubuntu if I need to do something quickly and don’t want to reboot.

I think I have found the best configuration for my needs… at least for now!

Jason





LDAP authentication and Moodle

20 02 2008

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I now have the Moodle server authenticating users against our Windows 2003 domain controller, and things are working great. The bind settings were a bit tricky because we have teachers, students and staff in different OUs, but thankfully Moodle allows users to define more than one OU, as well as search through subcontexts.

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Other LAMP/WAMP systems rarely offer this sort of flexibility in their configuration options and require some tweaking of the PHP code to get it to work properly. Moodle has a decent tutorial on their site discussing the configuration necessary to configure LDAP authentication in Moodle if you want more information.

Now, when users log in for the first time, profile information is automatically populated by the user data in Active Directory. Users only need to fill in a few missing pieces of data and are ready to use Moodle. Using LDAP helps in 2 ways:

  1. It helps to reduce the number of different login credentials that users must keep track of.
  2. It helps to reduce the likelihood of garbage data and spelling errors ending up in Moodle user profiles.

All in all, it was relatively easy. If you need help working through the steps, let me know.

Jason





The current state of affairs, and what the future holds…

19 02 2008

Having been in my present position for a little more than 6 months, it is now time for me to reflect on my experiences so far.

My position had remained vacant for a considerable time before I took over last summer, so I knew I would have my work cut out for me. But I don’t think I realized just how much work it would entail.

My previous school was infused with technology. A well established 1-to-1 laptop programme had been implemented throughout the high school. Teachers used email and intranet postings throughout the day to communicate with one another. Moodle was used by a considerable number of the teachers and students, and a Technology Committee was well established. Teachers always seemed interested to try something new. Contrast this to my current school where I arrived to find great technology resources and equipment, but very few teachers utilizing the technology available to them. All teachers are provided with laptops which they use at school and are free to take home. And yet, most teachers check their email only once or twice per day. Most save all of their school-related documents on their laptops, even when provided with network storage space. Lab sessions involve little more than “doing old things in new ways”, such as creating a PowerPoint presentation or a one or two page poster.

Clearly, I have made some headway. I have started up a Technology Committee that meets once per month to help drive technology adoption and integration. A document repository has been created that allows teachers to file important curriculum related documents in an area accessible to all teaching staff. Moodle has been setup and is being piloted by a number of teachers. We are reviewing the list of educational software, and I am collating a list of internet resources that can be used in different year levels and subjects. Weekly PD sessions with teachers from each section is helping to improve technology use. Technology standards based on the NETS framework are being implemented and should be in place by the end of the year. An Intranet has been created to help foster ad-hoc discussions and bring the school community together. Policies and procedures are being fleshed out. Positive changes are being made. But there is a long way to go. In many ways I wish I had been at the school from the beginning to ensure that things started off on the right foot… unraveling bad habits is never easy. But I am happy with the progress I have made, and the staff have been very welcoming to the changes I am trying to implement.

Do I want teachers to utilize blogging, social bookmarking, podcasting, wikis, and other Web 2.0 technologies in their classes? Sure. But at this point, I need to start with the basics and ensure everyone has a minimum level of knowledge of the technology we currently have available. That will be my focus for now.

Jason





Gmail, Hotmail, and school email, oh my!

18 02 2008

I use school email to communicate with staff and students.
I use GMAIL to communicate with everyone else.
Why?

  • Gmail has 6GB or storage space. This is more than 20 times the maximum allowed by our email system. I have more than 15000 emails, many with attachments, in my Gmail account, and I am only using 20 percent of my quota. I NEVER have to delete email from my Gmail account.
  • If I leave my current school, I lose my email account. That means all of the contacts and emails I had are potentially lost. That’s fine for school related emails, but I don’t want to lose important contacts and emails from friends and family.
  • I receive some very important emails of a personal nature. I don’t want to have to remember to contact all of these companies to update my email address when I leave my employer. I only use my Gmail email address so there is no worry about losing an important email in the future.
  • Gmail has a great spam filtering system. I receive more than 300 spam messages a day to my gmail account, but the spam filter catches all of it.
  • Finally, I can send and receive attachments of up to 20MB in size. Our server configuration limits the size of attachments.

Before you rush out to sign up for a Gmail account, there are lots of other free web-based email providers out there. Hotmail and Yahoo email addresses are fine too and have many of the same benefits as using Gmail.

Jason