Update 2014

Update 2015

I completed my doctorate last year and I am now busy catching up on many things that I fell behind on. I have a number of articles I am working on and plan to start posting this fall.

Dr. Dirk D. Dykstra

Update 2012


For the past three years, I have been working on my doctorate. This has consumed almost all of my spare time. I am at the research stage and hope to be finished around Christmas time. I do have a number of articles that I am working on and will hopefully post then. Sorry for the hiatus.

Dirk D Dykstra

Multiple Minds

Multiple Minds

Teachers today are faced with complex issues and demanding expectations from local, state, and federal agencies. This places stress on them that can be overwhelming to some. The psychological and educational communities have examined the intelligence of students in ways that can help these teachers satisfy the expectations for students today as they work on improvements for the future. This article looks at how researchers such as Howard Gardner, K. Nunley, and others help educators develop better practices for the students of today.

For the complete article – click the link below:

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Permian Technology Conference – November 10, 2007

November 10, 2007 – Permian Technology Conference

The Permian Technology Conference will be held at the Big Spring High School in Big Spring, TX. The conference will start at 8:00 am and there will be a meeting of the SOS-SIG after in concludes.

The conference will concentrate on one-to-one computing and Open Source applications. There will also be sessions on building technology plans and evaluating teacher technology integration. For more information, please visit http://www.permiantechnologyconference.com

Has Open Source finally arrived?

The Issue:

Has Open Source finally arrived?

My Comments:

Is Open Source ready to go fulltime? Many would have a us believe that this is so. How can we find out if it is time for Open Source in our environment?

Typically the Open Source advocates point to a strong return on investment (ROI) as the main justification for going Open. Of course all the vendors can produce an ROI showing their product as delivering the best bang for the buck. A lot of times this is just window dressing so that the decision makers can justify what they want. What we need are some simpler and easier to present criteria.

I prefer to examine four areas of a proposed deployment. First, we need to look at the initial cost. Second, we need to look at the initial training costs. Third, we need to examine long-term support costs. Fourth, we need to determine its value to the organization’s main business. For example, in a school we need to evaluate how much it improves learning.

This brings us to one of the truths of Open Source. Open Source is many, many products. How can we evaluate whether Open Source is ready for prime time when it includes so many products? We can’t. The truth is that not all commercial software is ready and neither is all Open Source.

This changes our question. Are there some Open Source applications that are ready to go fulltime?

Well most of us can see that Open Source starts out ahead of the game with an extremely low initial cost. Although you need to be careful and watch for hidden costs, such as the need for a Linux server in an environment that does not have one. For example, a Sun, Novell, or Windows shop. Another example would be the need for a specific browser such as Firefox. This would then need to be installed on all the computers using the application. It is important to include all installation costs in the “initial” cost of the software. Many leave out the cost of labor because they are already paying those salaries – but what will you be moving back in the schedule and how do those changes affect student learning.

If the cost of a Windows package is $1000, takes 15 minutes to install on an existing server, and uses all the existing setups on workstations we have an initial cost of around $1020. If the same Open Source package is $0, takes 2 hours to install on a newly set up Linux server (using an old pc) that took two hours to set up, and requires the installation of Firefox on all the organization’s 200 computers at 10 minutes each we have an initial cost of around $320 for the network admin and a technician cost of around $667. This would bring the total “initial” cost to $987.

As you can see, the hidden costs can bring the “initial” costs inline with commercial applications. You do need to note that the next Linux application would have the server already in place and that will reduce the cost. Plus, many Windows applications require an installation of some kind on the workstations also. In addition, organizations with deployment software, such as Zenworks, would have almost no costs related to installation. But this example should show that care must be taken to avoid the mistake of placing the initial cost at zero.

The second criterion is initial training costs. When examined from a user point of view these costs appear to be the same and may be. However, they usually teach Office products local junior colleges, online, and at many conferences. When examining an Open Source product we need to make sure that the same is true. If not, our training costs just moved why up.

The same applies on the technical side. How will we find training for our technical staff? Is there even any training available? If there is no training available to our technical support personnel we need to ask what the costs is for them to learn on their own. Can we afford for them to take the time out of their workday for this? When you calculate the amount of time needed to learn how to set up and maintain the product, along with the costs of incorrectly setting the product up, you may find a higher cost for the Open Source than commercial.

It is interesting that many organizations already apply these items when comparing commercial applications, but leave them out for Open Source.

Third, is long-term support for the product. When you are committing your organization to integrating a product, you need to be sure that you will continue to have that product available for a significant amount of time. This is critical in order to calculate a return on the investment.

Here there is little difference between Open Source and Commercial products. We see companies shut their doors everyday in the world. In this case Open Source may have an advantage because you have the right to modify the program yourself – if your staff is capable.

Fourth, is the value to the business. In this category both are equal. Here is where we are only looking at how it help our business or, in the case of schools, how it improves learning.

So has Open Source arrived? Yes it has, to a degree! Open Source has enough products, history, and depth that it deserves consideration with the commercial products. Lay out your process for determining the total cost of implementation and include Open Source. You may end up being pleasantly surprised. And all you Open Source advocates – don’t be afraid to use a commercial product if it comes out on top.

Laptop Initiatives – Why do they fail? Part 1

Question: Why do laptop initiatives succeed for about two to three years, and then the gains fall away?

Comments: There are a number of factors that cause this. In this article I will examine the issue of sustainability.

First let me start by pointing out that the literature and media tend to focus on schools who are showing success with laptops. The schools who encounter problems typically do not broadcast this. All schools have troubles the first year and mostly this is with logistical issues or unforeseen problems. For example, no one considered the existing desks when designing the programs. The current desks slant down and are too close to the user. The laptops keep sliding off of the desk into the students lap, but there is not enough room to type that way. A quality pilot program should have detected this.

Another common mistake is to over estimate the teachers’ skills and therefore not provided enough training. Additionally, the administration may not have considered how teaching will change with laptops and therefore did not provide curriculum and pedagogical training. An example of proper training is a local district that has 28 days of staff development included in the first year alone.

However, the first year there is a lot of money on the table and many people put their necks on the line for success and schools typically do what is needed to make things work. This means that with most of the implementations I see a lot of success in the first year or two. It is in the third and four year that problems start to develop.

One of the reasons laptop initiatives fail is that districts overlook the cost and effort of sustaining the system. Everyone gets all excited about deploying the system and having a laptop. However, this is an everyday situation for teachers and students. After a year or two the novelty is worn off and the laptop is just another tool they need to use. Teachers start slipping back into old patterns of instruction and the lessons become more lecture again. As the learning slips into its old mold, students find that the laptop does not help as much and it is still just as heavy.

The successful schools maintain a steady and ongoing stream of staff development activities for technology integration. They support the instructional technology position as a curriculum support position that happens to be in the technology department. Other districts decide they spent enough on training and the staff development for technology drops and the instructional support goes away. This leaves the weaker technology teachers struggling and they start to fall back. This also leaves the new teacher to the district at a disadvantage due to fewer resources being available.

The biggest factor is the purchasing model. Most districts with failed programs purchased all of the laptops for a specific campus all at once. There was a huge board debate and the money came forth as a one-time budget item. The warranties, training, installation, and other costs were all added together. The project is presented as including all costs. Usually there are limited support positions created.

When the laptops are new this is not a big problem, other than the huge deployment. As the laptops age this budget item is gone and the regular technology budget must now support the equipment and staff. Laptops are typically more expensive to repair and take more time then desktops. In addition, most models are custom designs and parts go obsolete. All of these factors and more add up to a maintenance cost exceeding that of desktops and usually exceeded the previous amount budgeted for repairs.

There is also the used factor. Students are now being issued older, dented, scratched, and possibly broken laptops at their entrance to that school. If you are in high school and you receive a new computer, you can keep that machine for the duration and you will live with what you damage. If you receive an older machine, you have a tendency to handle with less care and you expect a new one at some point.

All of these factors contribute to a lower performance. So how can this be avoided? Some districts deployed their laptops on entrance to a specific school, such as high school. The students are issued laptops their freshman year and keep them all through high school. The budget in this case is set up as a recurring item, rather that a one-time. The initial cost is significantly less and since only one grade level of teachers each year is trained, the initial staff development is scheduled over four years, making the cost easier to justify and sustain after that.

In this case students are receiving new equipment and are expected to care for it for four years. Teacher training is available each year and the budget is set at a maintenance level that will need to continue for the foreseeable future, thus avoiding pitched budget battles in the board room every four or more years.

This does not guarantee success, but eliminates another large set of problems.

President of SOS-SIG


At the first official meeting of the Strategic Open Source Special Interest Group (SOS-SIG – http://sos.tcea.org/) I was elected president. The group is a part of the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA – http://www.tcea.org/), one of the largest state computer groups.

One year ago at the TCEA annual convention a group of us got together and founded a group to promote alternate solutions. It was our idea that sometimes the best solution to an educational problem was missed because organizations only looked at software that ran on their main type of network operating system. The SOS-SIG is all about finding solutions to educational problems using Open Source technologies.

The SOS-SIG is also about enlisting knowledgable people to help support these solutions. We are hoping to help a large number of schools find cost effective solutions to common and uncommon technology related problems.

So – if you have ideas or resources, let me know.

Dirk D Dykstra

Illness prevented posting


It has been a while. Over the past months I have experienced serious illness and was not able to post very often. Sorry about that. I will be posting regularly again soon.

Details of the illness can be found on my family blog and website.

Thanks for coming back to visit.

Dirk D Dykstra

What is our position on laptops, are they unnecessary, inevitable, or essential?

The Issue:


What is our position on laptops, are they unnecessary, inevitable, or essential?


My Comments:

Let me tell a true story. About six years ago I researched 1:1 computing at great length and turned in a 30 page report to the school board. I looked at schools with laptops for every student in an elementary classroom, others with laptops for all the middle school kids, and talked with technology directors at high schools where four grades used laptops. I researched one of the earliest adoptions at a school in Australia and of course visited about five schools here in Texas using laptops, some for years.


Here is the surprise. The schools with comprehensive programs that were properly funded, that adequately prepared the teachers, parents and students, that had on-site repair abilities, and that had administration support showed a lot of success. Those schools that were missing any of these key components had varying degrees of success or failure.


Here are some of the critical questions people miss.

If students can only type 12wpm, is the computer viable for taking notes?

When new staff comes into the district, is there the same level of training as when the program was first put in?

When new students come in, is there the same level of training as when the program was first put in?

When it is budget cutting time, will the administration protect the laptop funding?

Do the administrators understand that the laptops will only last for three to five years?

Is the true cost of maintaining these machines calculated in, or will the existing staff be expected to “handle” it?

If you lease the equipment for three years, what happens if the budget does not support a renewal at that time? (This sure argues for purchasing.)

We just upgraded from 11mb wireless to 54/108mb wireless. Is the cost of upgrading the backbone figured in, or is it expected to stay adequate for the increasing media uses forever?


There are many more questions, in addition to these, that need answered before the project begins for it to be successful. What we need to be careful of is promoting an idea in our schools that will not be funded sufficiently. Many laptop programs were effective. Nevertheless, when I studied them, most of the failures were due to lack of follow through. For example, the schools had the funding stopped or slowed to an ineffective amount, new staff and students did not receive the proper training, the maintenance was allowed to fall off – usually from a cut in the technology staff, there was a change in administration to those who do not see the benefits, or the novelty wore off and the students did not feel like carrying in home every day anymore.


I wonder how many schools look at successful programs and try to do the same thing on the cheap? This is my worry with Open Source. If you switch to Open Source today because your budget was cut, what will you do tomorrow when it is cut again? If the administration learns that they can always cut the technology and you will find a way to make it work, when will they stop? If you use Open Source to save money and then use the saved money to further the integration efforts of technology, then we have moved forward. All the rest is backpedaling.


What is my position?


I believe that a 1:1 laptop initiative is essential to quality technology integration, if you want the integration to be at the student learning level. I do not believe that this means they need to take it to athletics. Nor do they need it all day every day. And when critical thinking training is centered around group work, you do not always need 1:1 on a student level. With group work, it is 1:1 on the group level.


I believe that before you can have 1:1 computing your students must be ready. If they cannot type 40+wpm, how will they keep up taking notes with the computer? If they do not know how to work the productivity software, how will they produce their work? Do you have digitizer tablets for them to input drawings and complex math and science formulas? Do you have portable batteries for those rooms with poor electric? Are your desks ergonomic enough for the laptop or are you promoting repetitive stress injuries?  


Yes, laptops are essential to quality technology integration – but only for all students after you have the school, staff, students and administration ready.


I believe that a 1:1 laptop initiative is inevitable in education. Technology is getting smaller and smaller every year and the laptops are starting to come closer to desktop pricing. At some point, the economics of the situation will allow a laptop to be almost the same price and at that point, the mobility factor will justify all laptop purchases.


However, I do not believe that is what will lead to 1:1 computing in schools. It will help. What will make it succeed is if schools will allow students to bring their laptops from home to school. When the laptop becomes a ruler, although a more expensive one, parents will purchase it. I already have a number of students who are bringing their laptops to school. When students come to register this year, I will have information on what they need to do to bring their own laptop to school. We have students with $400 iPods, $400 cellular phones and more in their pockets and purses. How cheap do laptops have to be before they will buy one for at home and school? When their parents will buy them a new car, do you think a $1000 laptop is devastating? For now, this is only the upper level students. Yet in time prices will allow a majority of our students to afford these. How many will the district then have to have available for checkout to reach all students?


Yes, laptops are inevitable in education – barring some new and better technology.


 I believe that a 1:1 laptop initiative is unnecessary in education if it is only a fad without the long-term funding and administrative commitments.


Lemoyne S. Dunn, Ph. D. of the University of North Texas: {Try leaving your laptop, PDA, AND cell phone at home one day and see how you feel (naked is the word that will probably come to mind) and how productive you are that day. (Count how many times you reach for it.) Now tell me, unnecessary, inevitable, or essential?}


Look around at the current grants. What a great idea – let us have our middle school students use laptops all-day and 1:1. Then we send them to the High School, which is still using TRS-80s in their labs. (Maybe this is a little exaggeration.) Now I am not sure I would wish to use Dr. Dunn’s term of “naked” when discussing high school students, but I sure bet they understand her point. Do we have the cart before the horse? At one school I visited, they were handing out laptops in middle school to students who could not type and it was taking them longer to type their notes than if they wrote them. Is that the way we use technology to improve instruction? I really think this is why the 1:1 studies have such mixed results.


Do we approve of giving cars to people who did not learn to drive? Do you want your next flight to be piloted by a “hunt-n-peck pilot? And how many of us want to drive around in an old car that needs a tow-truck every two days? What about switching and using one of those classic reel lawn mowers? You know that they are very friendly environmentally and promote exercise for the user.


Yes, laptops are unnecessary if they are not supported and implemented properly.


So – what can us under-funded technology departments do. A lot!


Start a pilot program for laptops that requires students to type 40+ wpm and that they have to prove application competency – BCIS graduate with a 80 or better. Allow students to bring their laptops from at home. Require that they have an updated anti-virus on it. Make them agree to allow you to search their computer. I believe that we need to lay out the requirements for a laptop program that will work. Then we start to put students in it where they can succeed.


Quit giving in on budgets. You will lose from time to time, but do not keep going in the wrong direction. Technology needs more money – do not waste it on fads and big names, be careful of consultants who “sell” product (That is not a consultant – it is a salesperson!), use Open Source to free up money for additional products, and find businesses who will collaborate with you.


Most importantly – build a system for your district that rewards the teachers who support the integration of technology. Many people in many districts helped me create just such a system. If your administration cannot support something similar, then they probably do not have what it takes for 1:1 computing. You can find my product @ http://www.dirkdykstra.com/WorkExamples/TechPoints.htm. Feel free to use it and modify it. Just do not sell it and become the next Bill Gates without putting me in for a cut.


We are technology directors/coordinators/leaders and we need to lead. If we look back and no one at our school is following, then perhaps we are at the wrong school – but perhaps we are the only chance some students have. This should be about students and equity. For many kids we are their only hope for success in tomorrow’s world and we need to be there for them. This especially applies for those of you at little schools where your program is one of very few options available for them. Do not give up! Yes, even if it seems no one appreciates it! If you can no longer stand it – then move to where you can make a difference for students.


For those of you who did not fall asleep reading this book, good luck with all you do!


Dirk D Dykstra

Try Open Source – For your students!

The Issue

Should we try Open Source/Linux?
Should we bring them into the school environment?

My Comments


The industry is starting to voice their opinion on changing to Linux on the desktop. “SLED 10 is hands down the most polished desktop Linux distribution I’ve ever used — and that includes Ubuntu. If Novell can sustain the level of effort it put into this release for future versions, SLED will rapidly become a serious contender for enterprise workstation use. ” I would encourage you to read the entire article at http://www.infoworld.com/article/06/06/16/79142_25TCsled_1.html

Whether you try Novell’s version or another, I encourage you to start moving in this direction. We will have Windows through out most of our schools for many years to come, but our students may be walking into a shop that is all Linux in the near future and we should at least expose them to some of the technology. I personally know a number of organizations that have switched over. There are also entire governments in the world that have switched over exclusively to Linux. Even in the US, a bastion of Microsoft, a number of government entities have switched to open source only.


Here in Westbrook we are adding a Linux section to BCIS, BCIS II, 6-8 Technology Applications, and a Gimp section to all the graphics classes. Windows will still be primary, but Open Source will be added as appropriate. This past year I piloted a number of students taking notes with a Wiki and this year all students will try using a Wiki. I also started training teachers to use them to update one of their class pages on the school’s web site. We hope to start a networking certification class this coming school year and Linux will be one of the certification areas.


Many teachers get stuck in a rut and find themselves doing the same thing from year to year. Technology teachers do not have this option. If technology teachers must change, the question centers around how often they change and if their students are on the leading edge or the trailing edge. With technology budgets the way they are, we are stuck with software and equipment longer than we should be. However, with Open Source we can bring in new software all the time and at least that area can be leading edge for our students.


Dirk D Dykstra