Archive for the 'schools' Category

Copier leases: A few experiences and thoughts

I just finished a renewal of our school’s copier lease, and it was an illuminating process, given that I didn’t know much about copiers and the leasing of before this.

Our school has two copiers – one big “spaceship” style copier that can handle color, multiple paper sizes, three-hole punch, and “saddle-stitch” – i.e. creating bound booklets.  Our second copier is a regular black-and-white copier.

We had two major beefs with our current copier lease company: 

  1. Response time was supposed to be 4-6 hours, but we had increasing delays, up to 8 hours in some cases.  And often what would happen is an agent would arrive, and 15 minutes later declare “Parts are on order, I’ll be back in X days.”
  2. We had an per-machine copy quota system.  On the simple b/w copier, our lease included 18k copies a year, on the large multi-use one, 380k.  However, because of location, the b/w copier was used far more than the other copier, and we got hit with massive overage charges – even though we were twice as much under quota for copies on the large machine.

In reviewing copier lease offerings from small to large shops (including Canon, IKON and Konica-Minolta), I discovered several things:

  • The differentiation among machines is nominal.  Really, unless you’re waaay copy-geek, every company offers machines that will pretty much do the same thing.  Of course, you have to figure out whether faxing from the copier or add’l security system is worth it for you, but you can find equivalent machines across the board.
  • Many leases will be offered for 60 months (5 years).  Our experience – making 400k copies a year on two machines – is that 36 months (3 years) is as far as we could take the machines without having a service person living on-site.
  • Leases are divided into equipment cost, and service.  Equipment costs will be spread over the lease period (in our case, 36 months) with an additional percentage thrown in (since essentially what you are doing is borrowing money from the lease-holding company to pay for the machines).  Yes, this adds to the cost, but is ultimately the only way most smaller companies (and restricted income organizations like non-profits and schools) can afford them.
  • Several leases I saw had great monthly equipment rates, but had a purchase requirement at the end of the lease – essentially, you would be required to pony up about $2k-$3k for the “fair market value” of the copier, at the exact time when it is most useless to you.  We asked for a “$1 buyout” lease – that means they readjust the monthly pricing so that at the end of the lease, we pay $1 and the machine is ours.  Monthly price goes up, but not by a huge amount.  Of course, we’re left with the same problem – now we have a machine we don’t want.  Typically, you can donate or sell these machines for a few hundred dollars for another organization that is even harder up.  (But it’s like donated computer equipment – I would advise any recipient against purchasing something like that).
  • One interesting lease option I saw from IKON was the equivalent to a “rental” – there was no buyout, dollar or fair market value.  The monthly price was a rental price, and at the end of the lease, IKON picked up the machine and took it back.  That’s convenient.
  • Then there’s service and maintenance.  Mostly, service and maintenance was comprehensive – maintenance, troubleshooting labor, parts and toner all included.  Typically the only thing not included was paper and staples. 
  • Most of the maintenance quotes I saw were based on our proposed copying quota.  (Most companies were willing to institute a “organizational” quota, as opposed to a per-machine quota).  So if our proposed copy quota went up or down, so did the proposed maintenance costs – makes sense.  Typically, there was a “per-copy” charge for copies made beyond that quota; and there were opportunities to readjust the quota (and thus the monthly service fee) once a year, or even once a quarter if you discovered you were making far more or far less than you expected.
  • One quote I received, however, had no quota.  They charged per copy out of the gate.  If you sat down and did the math, based on our proposed quota, the average monthly fee came out about the same, but this was never an option we would want.  First, there was no way to predict how much our monthly fee would be (it could change by hundreds of dollars form one month to the next).  Also, towards the end of the year, when we are cash poor, we put on several events as well as send out renewal forms and acceptance letters – all heavy copy work, and not an expense bump we’d want to see at that time of year.

I leave you to sift through your own proposals and eager salespeople.  I am glad to say we chose a local company that’s been in business for over 100 years, that used to be called Typewritorium…..


Drupal’s Feed API

I’m at DrupalCon Boston.  Well, actually, no, I’m at a friend’s house with tea because I came down sick today and couldn’t make it back to the convention center.  And while there are a ton of things I want to report back on (Dries “State of Drupal” speech, Boris Mann’s scoping web projects for Drupal talk, etc etc) I thought I’d point to something smaller and simpler first.

Yesterday my friend in the education world, Bill Fitzgerald of DrupalEd and OpenAcademic, showed me his implementation of Feed API.  If you don’t want the discussion of where it came from, just skip ahead to the next paragraph for the functionality discussion.  I had talked to Bill before about the challenges at schools of using a local server for student portfolio work (with DrupalEd, for example), and having a public-facing school site hosted on an ISP – a setup most schools have right now.  What was the best practice for getting approved student portfolio work published on the main, public-facing schools website?  Using an RSS feed seemed to be a good idea, but I was worried about a) the feed not pulling in the data permanently, just as temporary RSS data, so old posts would fade out as it were on the feed, b)
the elegance of feeding multi-field and multi-media feeds.  (I tried out Leech last year, but the second issue above was a problem for me).

Bill’s implementation of FeedAPI is superb, thanks in part (as he acknowledges) to the Feed API team.  The OpenAcademic feed site pulls in the full text (and images and video – and authors, and tags) of several eduction-related blogs.  Not only that, but it also creates a tag cloud of imported tags too, including author names.  There are several more things going on here – read about how it was implemented here.

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Students: Writing, and portfolios

I wanted to catch up (in this space) with some of the work I’ve been doing for my school:

  • Students 2.0:  A new (and excellent) student-written blog focused on education:  “Administered, designed, edited, and written by a global mix of students of varying ages, interests, voices, and points of view, Students 2.0 will feature content written by both staff writers and guest contributors. From Hawaii and Washington, from St. Louis and Chicago, from Vermont, New York, Scotland, Korea, and other points on the globe, these writings will be united in one central aspect: quality student writing, full-voiced and engaging, about education.”   Tip o’ the hat to Bill at FunnyMonkey for the heads-up.
  • FolioLive (TM): I don’t know how new this is, or even if it’s becoming a major player in the arena – but it’s got a lot of the functionality we’re looking for.  This is a hosted eportfolio application (yearly license fees, it looks like) published by McGraw-Hill.  What’s frustrating is that I’m sure we – as a school – could convince funders to support us paying money to license this application, yet it’s so much harder to find funders willing to support the open-source development of an identical application – that we would own, could share freely and allow other schools to customize.  The fact that it would be ridiculously minimal to customize the existing DrupalEd application to do this (if the new version doesn’t already incoporate this functionality) is all the more frustrating.
  • (And for what it’s worth, that’s one of the poorest video-demos I’ve seen.  A pointless and long intro (at least they include a skip button), and then a series of mostly static slides, with someone reading the text printed on the slides.  Ngghhhhhh.  Sorry, is that sense of frustration palpable?)

The challenge we face (as a school) that links these two sites is  most of these conversations – whether it’s Students 2.0 talking, or conversations about eportfolios – are aimed at high-school students and above.  And if you’ve any experience in the middle-school world, you know that this level of sophistication for students is coming if not already here, and we’d like ot get on top of it before someone applies a thick-thumbed approach to it like McGraw-Hill….

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More Drupal / ePortfolio movement

Yesterday, some colleagues and I got a tour of the new version of DrupalEd, FunnyMonkey‘s build-out of a education-specific portfolio and social networking platform built on Drupal.

Needless to say, it’s slick and lean (as can be with all of the functionality installed). It’s going to be very exciting to see how schools implement this platform. Presidio Hill School is interested in a limited funcitonal use for eportfolio / self assessment – partly in order to not overwhelm our teachers with all the other tools it has (as one of my colleagues urged). Nonetheless, other schools – from elementary to higher ed – are jumping on the opportunity.

In my last post about this, I didn’t point to where the action is really happening – the DrupalEd Distribution discussion group.

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Filemaker Unconference

UPDATE: This has been postponed until September 21st-23rd.

I’m helping organize another Unconference, this time a little closer to home: an open session unconference for Filemaker developers focusing on the nonprofit and educational sectors. I know there’s a big market out there (and a lot of social-sector facing developers, including the entire eBase communty), but the Filemaker community still seems to live primarily on listservs.As one of the organizers described it, it’s the opposite of Filemaker Inc’s DevCon: smaller, cheaper, and you get more out of it. 😉 And while not as warm as Florida, Massachussets is beautiful in the Spring.

Filemaker Unconference – Education and Nonprofit Solutions

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Open Source ePortflios

Open Academic, er, FunnyMonkey just released their open-source eportfolio “package” (built on, what else? Drupal) called DrupalEd. I’ve been working with Bill at FunnyMonkey for several months now, because my school is investigating eportfolios as a tool for students to take ownership of their own learning.

Our school already has a paper-based portfolio process in place for grades 3-5: students do their work as usual, then twice a year, they get out all their (reviewed and graded) homework, and have to select a “portfolio” – not just their best work, but work that shows improvement, work that needs improvement, and yes, best work too. And hte students describe what they did, and why they chose this piece. Since this is a progressive school (“progressive” here used in the educational context), the students also write a brief commentary on emotional and social growth over that time period as well.

The school’s new head, Brian Thomas, has been working on the idea of ongoing student self-evaluation for a few years now, and came to me as the new Tech Director to see if we could find a tool to support this process. I figured there had to be an open-source tool out there, but many of the existing ones are focused at higher-ed (and / or are proprietary)- and I guessed that the Moodle/ Drupal folks migh have something going that was more flexible and could meet our more modest needs. Lo, I found Bill and OpenAcademic (and FunnyMonkey).

Currently we (the school) are trying to get donors to support the development of this tool. Not only is the tool built on open-srouce technlogy (so any functionality we have built then gets shard out to the rest of the world), but PHS is committed to sharing and freely publishing what may be the more important part of this – the process and pedagogy. Because it’s actually about improving education and learning, not about how cool the tool is – even the FunnyMonkeys agree.

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Tech education recommendations – by Jakob

An intersting write-up (that I happen to agree with) by – yes, I’ll say it – usability guru Jakob Nielsen.  The basic premise is that we shouldn’t be focusing on teaching how to use computers, but how to think.  Duh, you say – well, read the article for some more specifics.  I particulalry agre with the information credibility (especially for youth) and the debugging – for adults even.  The difference between people I work with who have debugging skills, and those who don’t, essentially makes them “techie.”  Not much else – just the ability to problem-solve and troubleshoot (somewhat) methodically, as opposed to giving up, or resorting to a generalized complaint of the problem.

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