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Flemington Reading and Writing Program

Research Project Stage 1:


OUR PROJECT RESEARCH QUESTION:



Will our advanced students who have many family commitments continue attending classes if we support them with online education?



First steps: Meetings meetings meetings...


Chiemi and Manrico had many discussions to check that we both understood the project and that we had the time, hardware and software to do it.
We looked at our project classes Office Skills 1 and Multimedia 1 and looked at attendance and progress.
We decided the list of priorities for the support we want to provide our students in our project classes.
  1. Tutorials - Our model Office skills and Multimedia lessons on our website
  2. ESL - A login just for English as Second Language students, with their own network, printer and dedicated space on our server for their work.
  3. Linux for sale - Very cheap computers for students who have no computer and little money, reconditioned and rebuilt by our Workshop class.
  4. Open source - Advice and links for multimedia students who can't afford Photoshop and other expensive software.
  5. Logins - Advanced students will be given their own individual logins to store and access their own work on our server.
  6. VPN (Virtual Private Network) - Advanced students will be able to access their work on the server from home.

Actions: Research, reporting and evaluation.


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We had decided to involve our students in the project.
Multimedia 3 students, our highest level class, were asked to develop a website incorporating a PhotoStory to provide reports to AccessAce. Students decided we needed a logo for the project, which was designed using Illustrator.
In line with Multimedia 3 practice, we set up the class as a development team and began every lesson with a project meeting.
Students discussed our project and were very supportive.
We started building the website. We missed two lessons because of Manrico traveling overseas for one week and because of our Special Annual General Meeting. We decided to complete the website on time, and upload it even if editing had to continue later.
The development team meeting decided to upload the report on the Projects section of our website.

Manrico and Chiemi organised all the tutorials into hard copy and into one location on our server, ready for upload to our website in term 4.

We completed the ESL logins and ESL folder on the server, and repaired the link to the network printer that is dedicated to ESL students.

Workshop class developed a very efficient system for rebuilding the old donated computers into very cheap Linux computers and decided on Puppy Linux as the best Operating System due to its extremely small size and capacity for easy internet use.

While all this was happening, Chiemi continued teaching Office Skills 1 and Multimedia 1, and keeping students informed of our progress.

Unfortunately two weeks before the end of term 3 our Linux support programmer was offered an excellent position with a large computer company and left us... This happens, but our VPN section of the project will get delayed as now we have no advice to maintain security. We have contacted another programmer, but discussions are only starting.

Achievements.


Tutorials. Some are ready to upload. The tutorials entry page will need quite a bit of design work to make it simple for students to use. We actually developed many more tutorials than we had planned, because of student demand in Office Skills 1 and in the Multimedia classes. Chiemi has developed a good method to standardise the tutorials. We are using them as hard copy at the moment. Now we have to make sure they are small enough to upload and for students to work on at home.

ESL. This part is completed. ESL classroom configuration, dedicated printer, logins and server space all work well. Giving ESL students their own network has avoided unintentional damage to the work saved by more advanced students. This has meant being able to give freer access to ESL students and peace of mind for advanced students. Overall this has improved confidence with computers across all ESL and computer classes.

Linux for Sale. This part of the project is going well, three computers have been rebuilt and sold to students, two more are ready, and we are getting many inquiries. Some inquiries come from library users, but we don't have enough computers to sell to the public...

Open Source. It looked easy, but many of our students are finding installation very difficult. We may need a tutorial about each installation package perhaps. If students can't install the software they can't do their work. We may even have to redesign some of the multimedia classes to help get students used to the Open Source software. There is no way around this process: Students can't afford the commercial Adobe software; we need to develop a good way to help them use Open Source.

Logins. This really works well. All ESL students, general level students, advanced students are now using group logins. This keeps the different levels separate, and they won't damage each others' work. Staff have their own group login and their own folders on both servers. Manrico and Chiemi have admin logins that give them access to all students' work as well as to all network and administrative tasks. Everyone is happy with this system, but we have not established individual logins for advanced students. This takes up a reasonable amount of work, and we had not planned for this. We can't give this task to students because of the high security level required for the task. We could try to set up a student as sub-administrator on the server, but that is very difficult. We will have to introduce individual logins next term.

VPN. We are basically ready to do this, but it is delayed because all access across the Virtual Private Network will have to be through individual logins, and this is not set up. And having lost our programmer means that Manrico is afraid of making a security mistake that will endanger the whole network. We will establish support with another programmer. In the meantime there is no alternative but to study: Study network security, VPN security and Linux security during term break, and then implement VPN next term. Oh well, we needed a hobby...

Reflections.


We are halfway through our allocated time for this project, so how are we doing?

Our managers are happy. They are busy with the amalgamation between our two learning centres (Flemington Neighbourhood House & Flemington Reading and Writing Program). Computer classes are full, and student feedback is positive.

Our students are very happy. We have a very brief evaluation session at the end of each class and comments are consistently positive. Students at all levels are making great progress. Many students have a consistent A or A+ average. Some students are beginning to use the Thursday homework class to develop their own computer projects rather than waiting for teacher suggestions. This is very encouraging.

The computer teachers are also happy with the project, but also very busy. More access to the server by many more students has caused many unexpected maintenance and repair jobs to be created. Our infrastructure is also being tested. Our very fast internet connection is not so exciting once 15 students are on line. And our server started creaking under the weight of video production by our Multimedia 3 students. And of course study time is never enough...

The big advantage that we see is that once a stage is completed it is stable and it builds a great deal of capacity. So providing ESL students with a secure network encourages them to enroll in computer classes, and providing tutorials to Office Skills and Multimedia students makes them more confident to progress to more advanced work. This project is ambitious because we want to retain students who are really stretched by work and home commitments. We can say with confidence that thanks to the project our students are doing better work and they look forward to coming to class.

Are we retaining students who we would otherwise have lost? That is the question we will try to answer next term.

Evidence / Data Collection.


The website report from our Multimedia 3 class is here


These are some pictures for you...

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Student folders on the server

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Homework class
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THE LAST THOUGHT: Resolutions (If I were to do this again, at this stage I'd...)


What can we say? We knew it would be hard work.
In the middle of the project we can say that it is hard work. But there are many rewards.

If we were to start again, I would beg more consistently for resources to give the teachers more study time. Better still would be time and resources for us to attend a couple of very advanced sessions in DreamWeaver CSS Web Design, Linux Server Administration, Flash Action Scripting or even Network Administration at university level. We can solve the problems that come along, but learning computer languages and new system administration from the ground up is slow. Maybe we could have an exchange program with other groups.

Overall we are happy we started this project, and we would not change our objectives.
The support from AccessACE is very strong, with many clever ideas, and our students and teachers are learning lots.