It’s Education Week on CultofMac.com. How’s Apple doing in schools these days? What are the best education apps? Is iTunes U worthwhile? Join us as we learn more about Apple in Education.
When Newton North High School in Newton, MA was rebuilt recently as a new, state of the art facility, a primary goal was to teach students information literacy using current technology. With a generous budget and the opportunity to start fresh, the result is a school with five Mac-based computing labs, over 130 new iMacs, and a library that rivals one found at many colleges.
It’s enough to make any Apple user envious, and much of the potential is still untapped. “With a lot of this being so new,” says Phil Golando, IT Manager, “we don’t even know all the ways we can use this stuff.”
Apple has always had a strong presence in education, one that’s experienced a resurgence during the past few years after initially losing significant market share over the past decade. Golando says one reason is that Macs are intuitive, easy to setup and maintain, and tend to last longer than their PC counterparts.
The new additions are primarily 21″ iMacs, 3GHz Core2Duo models with Snow Leopard installed. They join a mixture of older iMacs, MacBooks, and a few stalwart eMacs and PCs – about 500 computers total, 80% of which are Macs – networked together on a GigE backbone. Users can login to their accounts from any system on the network, with authentication handled by an Active Directory server. The whole building is covered by WiFi.
Moving to a new building while installing and configuring 132 new machines can be a challenge. Assisting in the task was Senior Ross Swerling, who spent his summer moving palletes around and installing software. Eight systems at a time were imaged using Casper, which allows for standard package configurations to be delivered to multiple machines over a network. A combination of Casper and Apple Remote Desktop are used by Golando and his team to update and manage the installed systems.
The largest clusters of Macs are located in five labs: a Music Lab, Science Lab, History & English Lab, Library Learning Commons, and a Dual-Boot Language Lab. The latter contains iMacs setup using Boot Camp with Mac OS X and Windows, allowing the room to supplement some of the PC labs when required. In addition there are also four mobile carts available to deploy around the school. Each contains 15-20 MacBooks that run Snow Leopard and access the network via WiFi. Microsoft Office and the Adobe Creative Suite are commonly used throughout the building.
The Library Learning Commons is also known as the Information Literacy Lab. According to Kevin McGrath, Library Technology Specialist, one priority at the school is to teach students about collaborating and creating content, rather than merely accessing content. Using the NNHS Library Commons, students receive and complete their lessons online using environments such as Google Docs, Wikis, and Flip video cameras loaned out for class projects. “Our classroom is our website” says McGrath, “and our goal is to expose people to different technologies.”
Students seem to agree, and the school has reported an increased use of the library. Speaking to several students after class, Mwambanga Mkaya mentioned it was nice to have so many Macs around, there was almost always a computer free. Zach Wolyniec agreed and said his only real problem (as an experienced Windows user) was getting right-click to work properly on the Apple Mighty Mouse.
We hear you Zach. We feel your pain.
The rollout not been without a few bumps. The GigE network is beefy and served by a 1GB fiber link to the internet, but Pandora is blocked to conserve bandwidth and Facebook is only allowed after hours. The school is planning to add 20 iPads to their inventory soon, as well as leverage the potential of many student iPhones and iPods, but they don’t yet know the best way to manage mobile devices and roll out new apps and content.
Printer installations have also been a challenge – both technical and environmental – but also a teaching opportunity. In addition to installing drivers and network problems, Golando needs to deal with the occasional student who prints out an entire ream of paper for one report. “We are trying to use technology to encourage students to think green,” he says. “View online, and print less.”
Does your high school use Macs, iPads and iPods, and if so, how? Let us know in the comments.