An Interview with Donna Fry


Doug:  Thanks for agreeing for the interview, Donna.  There are so many things that I’ve always been curious about and your bio is so long.  For many of us in the province, you’ve become a powerful voice at so many levels.  I hope to touch them all in this interview.

Donna:  Hi Doug.  It is a honour to be asked to do this.  Thank you for the opportunity.  “Powerful voice” is Donnasomething that carries with it a lot of responsibility.  Perhaps a good place to start is right there.  I am just a passionate educator who is determined to make sure every single child entering the public school system gets the opportunity to achieve what he or she can and wants to.  There are too many kids disengaged, too many classrooms that are not environments that encourage curiosity, creativity, exploration and student ownership of learning, and that’s not okay.  I should also say that in the bigger picture, ensuring there IS a vibrant accessible public school system that encourages our young people to think critically and become great citizens is what I stand for.

Doug:  Let’s start with an easy question – where did we first meet?

Donna: Ah, easy.  After “knowing you” online and in the computer education circles for many years, we finally met face to face at the Davinci Centre in Thunder Bay where you were speaking at SeLNO (Symposium for eLearning in Northwestern Ontario).  What a treat it was to finally speak to you in person, and right on my home turf!

Doug:  I think that my first contact with you was when we both were involved with eLearning in the province.  While mine was pretty standard, working for a school district, you had a different role.  Can you tell us a bit about that?

Donna: Sure.  eLearning has been a real passion for a long time.  I grew up in northern Ontario and I was keenly aware of the need for access to a wider range of choice for students in small high schools.  In the mid-90’s, I was fortunate to be working with some people in TLDSB who had a vision for what eLearning could be, and in 1997 I started teaching online as part of the alternative education program in that board.  We (a group of very determined online teachers) built that program up to be a very successful model with recorded synchronous online classes long before online meetings were common and before eLearning Ontario was established. The Virtual Learning Centre is still an innovative provider of public online courses.  It’s a great example of what can be accomplished when innovative and determined educators work together to create learning opportunities for Ontario students.

Doug:  You’ve had experience with education in both southern and northern Ontario.  Is it all the same?  Are kids, kids?  Or are there different challenges?

Donna: Certainly there are differences, but I don’t think the division is a necessarily a north/south one, except for the challenges of distance when it comes to learning opportunities for teachers.  The cost of travel, in real dollars and in time away from classrooms, has a huge impact on access to f2f professional learning.

Travel time also impacts student attendance.  Some students have 4-hour drives (one-way) to the orthodontist, and many families have to take all the children with them when one has an appointment because they can’t get home on time to care for the other children after school.  

It also impacts opportunities for our athletes.  I remember being in Peterborough when the OFSAA Cross Country running championships were being held in Thunder Bay (2006).  CBC Radio was interviewing the southeastern Ontario athletes and talking about the hardships of having to travel so far and then perform at their peak, and how unfair that was.  The idea that northwestern Ontario athletes have to make that trip for every other “provincial” competition didn’t seem to enter their thinking!

In our urban schools, we have very successful sports programs, but in our rural schools, it takes hours just to get to the next school and it can cost $1300 just for a bus to play a league basketball game.  The challenges of remoteness and distance are very real.  They are not unique to the north, but they are more pervasive here and it’s a struggle to find ways to fund opportunities for kids that are just taken for granted in other parts of Ontario.

Every community is different. Every community and school has unique challenges and we need to work to make sure we need to meet the needs of all students no matter where we are.  I think there are a few challenges we deal with more often up here.  

We need to do a better job of supporting our First Nations students, particularly in the transition from band schools to publicly funded schools.  

We need to figure out how to best share resources among coterminous boards so that we are not competing for students, but collaborating to best educate all youth in our communities together.  

With so many of our parents working in remote locations, often for 2-3 weeks at a time, we need to better leverage technology to keep parents engaged in the school environment. And, we need to advocate much more strongly for adequate access to what others take for granted, like internet access at all schools for all students and access to learning opportunities that meet the needs of all learners.  It’s not okay for that to be restricted because there are only a small number of students or because the school is far away.  Technology-enabled learning has the potential to bring boundless education opportunities to remote students, but we need to figure out bandwidth issues first.

Doug:  When you were principal at Nipigon-Red Rock, you were also the DeLC of Superior Greenstone District School Board.  How did you manage to find time to do both?

Donna: I didn’t.  I was the worst DeLC in the province! My eLC will confirm that! :)  

In my first two years as DeLC, it was fine because I was supporting eLearning and with only a few courses running, I was able to handle the DeLC role.  We promoted online courses, organized teacher training in the LMS, made sure students had a great orientation to eLearning, and supported teachers in their roles.  

But when blended learning opened up, and we were able to hire a fabulous eLC to support blended learning in schools, I could no longer keep up with the demand of being a secondary principal by day and a DeLC at night.  I was holding up the eLC in her work, so we worked together to ensure she learned all she needed to know to copy her own courses and to make sure she could meet the needs of the teachers and students without having to wait for me to catch up.  I still helped in a supportive role, but the eLC took on all the day-to-day maintenance of the org.  I think that balancing the eLC and DeLC roles is still challenging for boards, especially as blended learning continues to grow exponentially.  Blended learning is transforming education in Ontario and we need to keep thinking about how to further support boards in their practice.

Doug:  How important is eLearning to northern Ontario schools?

Donna: I think it’s critical to ensuring access to learning opportunities, but it’s more than that too.

We need to make sure that the online learning opportunities are not “just a solution” to the problems of access, but opportunities to collaborate with other students and expand learning.  Online learning needs to be integrated seamlessly into the lives of students everywhere, not just in the north, and we have some ground to cover before this is a reality.   The bricks and mortar school structures are not always conducive to students learning online, and we don’t have a clear shared understanding of what this can look like.

We do have many leaders, though, who are really working on this and we are making progress.  Our parents need to know that eLearning is not a second rate solution for their children because they are up north.  They need to know that all students in Ontario benefit from learning online from the best possible teachers using the best technology.

Doug:  From your experience, is there an eLearning course that you would identify as the toughest to teach?

Donna: GLS1O/2O Learning Strategies  I think that pairing learning strategies in a f2f classroom (either at the intermediate or senior level) in combination with another online course can work brilliantly.  The f2f teacher uses the learning strategies course to teach the student how to be successful in the online course, and then supports the student in succeeding in the online course.  But teaching learning strategies online without that support at the student desk, was very challenging.  The very strategies I was teaching were the ones needed to be successful as an independent learner.

Doug:  How about from a student perspective. Is there one that’s toughest to take?

Donna: I think that it really depends on the student.  In all courses, that constant connection with the teacher is critical.  As a principal, I was fortunate to have a Program Leader in Student Services (Jenni Scott-Marciski – she presented at ECOO13) who advocated for online learners and supported them tirelessly.  All online students should have access to a f2f educator who checks in with them.  As an online teacher, I could only reach students if they logged in.  Yes, I called home often, but realistically, they need to log in for the teacher to reach them.  A supportive adult at the home school is such an important factor in their success.

Doug:  At yet, you still also found time to blog.  How passionate are you about your own personal blogging?

Donna: I don’t blog as often as I would like to.  However, modelling connected learning, and sharing what I am learning, is important to me.  I am so fortunate right now to be able to attend so many conferences and learning opportunities, and I need to share that learning with those who can’t go.  I hope others feel the same.  We need to nurture those who work to share learning.

Blogging also helps me to take all the information that comes at me, and work on ways to connect it, reflect on it, and learn from it.  I learn through writing and organizing ideas, so blogging is part of the learning process for me, and it helps me to keep my thinking all in one place.

Doug:  Recently, you’ve taken that passion provincially with the OSSEMOOC project.  Can you tell us a bit about that?

Donna: OSAPAC, the committee you know well, is changing its focus slightly so that we are also working to support learners in using digital resources.  When we think about student learning, we know that teachers can’t know everything anymore, and that the new model of student-centered learning has teachers as co-learners with students.

Similarly, school and system leaders can no longer have all the answers.  They need to be co-learners with teachers.  The difference, though, is that school and system leaders make the big decisions around student learning, so they must have a solid understanding of technology-enabled learning and how their decisions can impact student achievement. For that to happen, we need to help school and system leaders build capacity, and connections.  They need to have a good understanding of educational technology, but they also need to know who to consult with before making decisions.

So with #OSSEMOOC, we are trying to build that capacity and those connections.  

We need to create a sustainable learning environment in Ontario that promotes self-directed learning for education leaders, and

  • considers all learning preferences
  • allows for all levels of readiness
  • provides numerous entry points
  • is flexible
  • allows choice
  • respects limitations of time
  • supports a variety of learner interests
  • promotes the development of connections and connected learning

It’s quite a challenge, and we haven’t solved everything yet, but we are adamant that we are learners too, and right now we are learning to share and connect in a way that engages those who are making the decisions that impact the learners in this province.

Here is a full explanation: http://ossemooc.wordpress.com/about/

Doug:  OSAPAC certainly was one of my passions having served on that committee for years.  As parting gifts, members from my time received amethyst gifts from Thunder Bay.  Mine sits proudly on an end table.  I know that you and a few other Twitter users are real ambassadors for the Thunder Bay area.

If I asked you to make a list, what are 3-5 things about Thunder Bay that, we in the south, probably don’t know, what would you say?

Donna:  Wow, there are so many things that come to mind.  

I think first, that the Thunder Bay/Superior North Shore region is without a doubt the most beautiful part of Ontario and so many have never seen it.  Lake Superior is addictive, and just sitting at a red light in Thunder Bay, looking out over the Sleeping Giant, is such a wonder.  The cafeteria at my last school was on the second floor, overlooking the lake, and I could never understand how anyone could eat lunch with their back to the window!

Thunder Bay, in spite of the name, is still very much Port Arthur and Fort William.  There are strong communities like Westfort with their own downtown areas within the city limits.  The cross country skiing is world class, we are still fighting to get our ski jumping facilities back open again (closed by Mike Harris). Thunder Bay is a hotbed of athletic talent, home to the National Team Development Centre for nordic skiing, hockey (think Staal brothers), a number of world class cyclists, wrestlers, swimmers and other Olympians. It is the perfect place for those who love to play in the outdoors, with unlimited crown land and some of the best ice and rock climbing in the province.

Food in Thunder Bay is very expensive to buy, but there is a very strong local food movement.  You can buy flour and granola made from locally grown grain, locally made cheese and yogurt, and there is an extensive selection of local meats and vegetables.  I was amazed at how well you can eat by concentrating on local produce.

It takes years to find all the best places for food in Thunder Bay, but the strong Italian, Finnish and Polish cultures mean that the city is full of tiny grocers where you can find locally made smoked meats, perogies, Italian imported foods, Finnish products and baking.  Once you know where to shop, you can find the most amazing and unique food products. It takes us three to four hours to shop on weekends.

Coney dogs, Persians, Old Dutch barbecue chips – all unique to Thunder Bay and common sights at the airport after holidays as locals hoard as much of their favourite Thunder Bay foods to take back home with them.

It is really fantastic place to live.  It is frustrating to me that so many people ignore this big, beautiful part of Ontario.  There are two sides to the Ontario road map! I am always telling people to flip it over!

Doug:  Speaking of Thunder Bay, a couple of years ago, you were a panelist for an ECOO presentation.  I remember you arriving all in a huff with seconds to go before the presentation.  There’s a great story behind that.  Can you share it?

Donna: “All in a huff” is a polite way to say it!  The full story is on my blog: http://fryed.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/my-day-on-cbc-radio-the-journey/

Essentially, being a principal at the time, I didn’t have the luxury of a day away from school for travel.  I left my house at 4:30 a.m. to catch the 6:30 a.m. flight out of Thunder Bay to Toronto.  That left lots of time to get to my 3:30 Panel Discussion at ECOO, right?  Wrong! Toronto was fogged in and we spent hours on the tarmac at Ottawa! I arrived at ECOO at 3:31 p.m. and was walking on stage with suitcases still in hand!

However, it was worth it!  Imagine being on stage with Nora Young, John Seeley Brown, Jaime Casap and Michael Fullan!  It was a rare and powerful opportunity to share with the best!

Doug:  Recently, you’ve taken a position as an Education Officer with the Ontario Ministry of Education.  Which of your many skills and experiences do you feel bring added value to your new position?

Donna: Ah, it is always challenging to talk about strengths outside of a job interview!  I work with a very skilled and passionate team of Education Officers at eLO.  Change is fast in education right now, and we are working hard to support technology-enabled  learning in the province.  I think that having taught online for many years, having worked as a DeLC and a secondary principal as well as having system level responsibilities help me to see the challenges of implementing digital learning through several lenses.

Doug:  OK, moving on then…  Recently, I’ve read that you’re thinking about being involved in an edcamp in Thunder Bay.  I’ve been there to do presentations a few time and educators there are so enthusiastic.  When is yours scheduled?  When can people start registering?  What do you hope to accomplish?

Donna: The edCamp still exists in our heads, but we are progressing.  One of our very active parents, Sheila Stewart, recently went to edCampLdn to get some experience in what this is all about.  We have lots of enthusiastic educators who will help.  I am one month away from my daughter’s wedding, and after that we will start talking dates.

Doug:  You’re also a big time runner.  How many km a week are you running?  Is there a favourite path in Thunder Bay that you enjoy?

Donna:  Running has been my space to get away and think for many years.  I use it to listen to podcasts and music or just to enjoy the scenery up here.  A year ago, I was heading off to work in the dark, as usual, but I was taking my son’s car instead of mine, and I misjudged the top of the car door and slammed the door on my left eye.  It has left me with some issues that took me right out of the running scene for almost 9 months, and it has been a challenge getting back into it safely and symptom-free, but I have my sights set on Miles with the Giant in September.  My favourite place to run in Thunder Bay is the 5 K loop around Boulevard Lake, but I run on the Sibley peninsula a lot and in the summer I train as much as possible in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.  There is a 27 km trail over the feet of the giant and out to the tip of the peninsula that is perfect. I also love to run the camp roads along the shore of Lake Superior, especially with those cooling winds in the summertime!

Doug:  Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Donna.  I know that many of us enjoy your interactions on Twitter and on your blog.  Your efforts continue to motivate Ontario leaders in an ever-changing world.

Stay in touch with Donna.

Leading the Charge


I had an interesting conversation with a friend online recently.  She asked “Why do teachers use or continue to use ABC when their district purchased XYZ“? 

It’s a really good question.

I think it’s a sign of the times and it’s not simply a question of resisting change.

There was a time when people would just blindly follow the lead of those in authority who make those type of decisions.  There was also a time where you would talk with the teacher across the hall or perhaps in the staffroom and use that as a place for conversations, collaborations or professional learning.

Times have changed.

There was a time when inspiration might come in the form of an email.  That’s hardly the case now.  In fact, for many people, email is the last digital place checked.

Now, your next best collaboration or conversation may come from half a world away.  It may be ongoing or it might be just for the moment.  Either works successfully.  With the proper network, there’s always someone ready to learn with you.

On the open web, we have the best digital smorgasbord in the world.  We have choice.

To quote another friend of mine, “I go where my friends are”.

Those who would be leaders need to be aware of this and use it to inform their decisions. 

Heck, they need to lead the charge to this wonderful world of learning.

What a Web We Weave


Doug Belshaw shared an interesting link the other day.  I’ve been playing with it and it only serves to reinforce just how learning Web Literacy really isn’t a linear process.

This project is based on the Web Literacy Map, essentially a list of skills that one should work at to be web literate.  It’s a traditional presentation with categories and specific learnings within the categories.  It’s a very good listing and, by itself, should be printed and stuck into any planning documentation for teaching web literacy.

Then, move on to Doug’s work.  I’m guessing that you’ll need more than a quick look to completely understand what’s going on.

Each of the categories has two active buttons…

  • what should I know?
  • what can I learn next?

Before you dig deeply, click on each of them and see what happens.  You’ll immediately see what I mean when I indicate that the learning is not linear.  I imagined myself working in a web of connections with plenty of overlap and interactions.

Instead of a roadmap, it’s a realistic interactive overview of potential learnings and next steps.

I like the approach – it’s not the sort of thing that lends itself easy for developing lessons, but I really like the concept of empowering the learner with independent research.  “I know this”, therefore “I need to learn that”.

If you can’t use that approach with students right away, try it on yourself.

When the author is in the house…


I thought that this moment at edcampSWO was worthy of note and that it might be also worthy of tucking away in your memory if you’re wondering whether to attend in the future.

At the beginning of the day, I was sitting with my friend @margsang.  We were catching up at light speed and out of the blue, she asked – do you know Brian Aspinall?  Well, of course I do.  She asked “Which one is he?”  I looked around the cafeteria where we were sitting and noted that I couldn’t see him.

“Why?”

”I want to ask him something about Scrawlar.”

Fair enough.  We waited a few moments more and Brian did enter the room and I asked him to join us.

What happened next was some great conversation, back and forth.

  • “I have this problem when I use Scrawlar with Internet Explorer.” Response – Yes, it’s a known issue.  Use any other browser and there’s no problem.
  • “What’s the best way to transfer Scrawlar documents from one year to the next if a student has a different teacher?” – Response was a number of different solutions.
  • “ You know, I find Scrawlar especially appropriate for my students.  With other online word processors, there’s too much of a cluttered interface with ribbons and huge menus. They have difficulty with them.  With Scrawlar, we just do the writing that we need to do.”

Now, I suppose I should have felt badly that I invited Brian to the inquisition.  But, he seemed to genuinely enjoy doing off-the-cuff support.

At the end of the five minute discussion, everyone seemed happy and we moved on to other things.

On my drive home, I kept thinking about how you’d get support for any other product like that.  Here, we had access to the designer, coder, and chief promoter of the product.  Who could ask for more?  His product is obviously a personal passion and he’s not shy about promoting or supporting it.

image

The product is free; teachers set up classes and students use the product without the need for email.  In so many ways, it’s a solution that would fit nicely into classrooms.

Read my review of it here.

If you haven’t taken a look at Scrawlar, I would encourage you to take a look and see if it’s a fit for your multi-device classroom.

Bleeding


Staying aware of things is always the best advice for anyone who connects her/his computer to the internet.  We were really made aware of this over the past week with the announcement of the Heartbleed bug.  It’s scary stuff, especially when you think of how long it has been in existence and how we’ve come so accustomed to relying on the supposedly secure connection between your computer and the website that you’re visiting.

At the bottom of the wikipedia article linked to above, you’ll find a list of websites that have been affected.  The common sense approach would be to change your password on those sites – once they are patched.

Other articles offering advice include:

A really good resource for all things Heartbleed:

Today’s Naked Security Podcast offers an audio insight into what’s going on:

Users of LastPass have a built-in bit of confidence.  Just head to the Tools menu and run a Security Check.  All of the sites that you have saved in this utility are checked.  You’ll determine if the site has been patched or not, along with a recommendation to get over there and change your password if the site is ready to go.

Or, if you’re not using LastPass, they offer

And, for the truly concerned browser, the Chromebleed extension keeps an eye on the sites that you browse to and warns you before you visit.

This issue is going to take a while to resolve.  I read one report that indicated that 66% of the web could be at risk.  That’s a scary thing.  In the meantime, it’s a good idea to do some research and stay on top of what’s happening.

For the really technical minded, read some code.

And, if that’s too deep, take it in as only XKCD can describe it.


It was another great reading from Ontario Edublogs.  Here’s some of what I enjoyed this past week.


Wow what a great day of learning at the Ontario GAFE Summit

The Ontario Google Apps in Education Summit was held last weekend.

It’s always pleasurable to read blogs and Twitter stories from people who attended professional learning events.  This blog post will bring you up to speed with at least a part of the summit.  And, the content is extended further with a Storify of Twitter messages to tell more of the story.

Jonathon’s comments certainly echoed what I caught from the summit with the hashtage #gafesummit


Ronin

Tim King had a different take on the Google Summit.  He was tweeting some non-summit things clearly at the time the summit was happening and they had nothing to do with it.  Oh, I finally clued in, he’s stayed home to watch the Bahrain Grand Prix.  Sometime during the weekend, he penned his thoughts about getting excited about a sole provider in education.

It’s an interesting reality check for all to have.  As I commented on his blog, technology does tend towards a single solution at times.  i.e “We’re a Macintosh board” or “We’re a Windows board”.  There’s certainly more curriculum to cover than time, do we have the time to spend on a broad sampling of software or hardware?

Also check out his later post “Hack the Future“.


Want Great PD? Enter Another Teacher’s Classroom!

This is something that we all know could be of value but the time has to be right, arrangements made, and a plan put into action.  My computer science classroom door was never closed and a certain Science teacher would always wander in while I was working with students and see what they were doing and asking questions.

I remember the first time that it happened – it was my first year of teaching and a million thoughts entered my mind “Were we to noisy?” “Did one of my students get caught wandering the halls?” “Was there a science experiment gone bad and there was an evacuation?”

No, he was just curious…

This post by Diane Maliszewski should serve as a reminder that we don’t need to have a big, involved professional development event to learn.  Sometimes, a great idea may be just down the hallway.


Feeling off-balance is okay

Julie Balen offers a wonderful post that should remind us all that the learning should never stop.

Taking technology purchased for one of her courses and then using it in all her courses was considerably more involved than passing them out, turning them on, and watching the magic happen.

I think that everyone could or maybe even should write this blogpost from their own experiences.

It’s a nice reality check.


What a wonderful collection of posts from this past while.  Thanks so much to the authors.  I hope that you take the time to visit these blogs and enjoy the full postings.  While you’re reading, check out the complete listing of Ontario Edublogs here.

A Thimble Full of HTML


In the beginning, there was Notepad…

Everyone just had to have a personal webpage – it was the upcoming thing to have.  So, I bought a book about HTML, roughed out what my first webpage would look like and then began the process of creating a webpage.  It took a long time and when I was done, I had a crappy looking webpage.  It was OK because most everyone else had a crappy looking webpage.

So, it was off to find other alternatives.  At the time, Netscape Composer did a nice enough job and my personal webpage started to look better!  In fact, we used Netscape Composer for the Women in Technology program and the grade 7/8 students did a pretty decent job composing their own.  Later on, the Ministry of Education licensed the Macromedia Suite of web tools and moved along to the Adobe Suite.  With a lot of practise, it was relatively easy to create a decent enough webpage and website.  The nice part was that the graphical user interface took learning most of the HTML out of the process.

Now, most people use a wiki program like PBWorks, WordPress or Google Sites to develop their online presence.  They do an exceptional job of writing the HTML in the background as you compose/edit in the foreground.  If you wish, there is always a tab or link to let you lift the hood and look at the code underneath.  Most people probably don’t.  After all, it requires a knowledge of HTML and most people don’t know the code.

It’s a contentious issue for those who teach web design in a computer science classroom.  Some camps are OK with graphic developers, other camps insist that students learn to write using HTML.  It’s much like the discussion about whether or not students should memorize the multiplication tables.

I would suggest that, no matter where you stand, there is a middle ground.  There is a need to at least having a passing interest in HTML code and how it drives your content.  This blog, I would offer as Exhibit A, is one of them.

On Friday, I show off some of the best that Ontario Edubloggers have to offer.  The post will have three or four blogs and a long time ago, I used to use 6 = signs to separate one from the other.  It looked like this ======.

One day, I stepped back and thought … that looks really ugly especially when HTML supports a divider that would go from the left side of the screen to the right.  You don’t need to count the number of characters – it just works.  All that you have to do is insert the horizontal rule into the page at the right spot.  Problem is that the WordPress editor and the Scribefire editor which I use almost exclusively don’t have a little button to click and insert the code.

Instead, you have to switch from editing visually to editing the code.  It’s just a click away.  When you do it the first time, you’re immersed in at least a bit of HTML.  You then need toidentify the exact spot in the page where to insert the code and then key


to make it happen.


When it works, it works well.  Or, you might want to insert a code generated by an external program.  For example, a Twitter message.  When you ask Twitter for the raw code, you get something like this.

Tweet

Kind of cryptic if you don’t understand HTML.

So, back to that middle ground.  What’s the best way to teach this?

“Best” is in the eye of the teacher and her professional judgement.  But, I would suggest taking a look at Mozilla’s Thimble.

Unlike traditional web development environments where you have to throw out the visual to get to the code or throw out the code to get to the visual, Thimble gives you the best of both worlds.

I know it’s a little small in the blog post but open the image and you’ll see it regular size.

On the left, you have an editing environment.  Computer Science teachers should be immediately drawn to the colours used to show various components of the code.  Using Thimble is easy.  Just type your code in the left panel and the results appear instantly on the right.  Talk about your immediate feedback.

This old coder had a whale of a time playing with Thimble, wishing that I had an excellent tool like this when I was writing my first webpages.  It would definitely have helped flatten the learning curve.

If you’re looking for a tool to teach HTML, I’d recommend having a good look at this and kicking the tires on it.  It think you’ll like what you see.

My Memories of Windows XP


Microsoft has stopped support for Windows XP.  It’s an event that we have seen coming for some time.  Folks connecting their computers to the internet really need to do something just to ensure that they remain safe while browsing.  No more security updates will be coming your way.

I still have a computer that runs Windows XP.  Well, actually it would run Windows XP if I put the hard drive back in it.  I pulled the hard drive when I got my Windows 7 laptop and transferred files via cable.

2014-04-08 13.02.50

Right now, the box is relegated to being a platform for the power supply for the laptop that replaced it and my DataShield power filtering device.  I suppose if I was inclined, I could open the DVD or the CD-ROM player and use it as a the proverbial coffee holder.  For now though, it does work nicely as an end table.

I know that many people will be so happy to see Windows XP gone.  It has been a bear to support lately and a prime target for malware writers.  I don’t think that I ever ended up with any installed but that machine has been history for at least four years after I purchased the Windows 7 box.  I needed the power to be able to do the rendering and other things that the old Pentium 2 machine would take over night to do.  But years ago, I thought I’d reached utopia just in the fact that I could do what I could do with it.

Windows has had an interesting adventure in development.  I looked at this diagram to refresh my memory as I began to write this post.  I’m amazed at the versions of Windows that I had used over the years either at home or at work.  I must own at least a part Microsoft.  1.0, 3.0, 3.1, 3.11, 95, 98, CE 2.0, ME, NT 3.51, 2000, Pocket PC 2000, XP, Server 2003, Vista, and lastly 7.  Lots of numbers there!  I would think, like most people, I used Windows XP for the longest period of time.

It was a nice crossover  point between the “old” versions of Windows whose claim to fame was the refinement of the Graphic User Interface and the newer versions of Windows which are so functional for high work, coupled with the power processors that we have at relatively affordable prices.

For me, the tinkerer, Windows XP was the first operating system that I really tinkered with.  First thing I did was change the default colours – my mother told me that you should never have blue and green together!  I switched to the silver toolbars and felt quite proud to be able to stand out in a crowd.  Of course, Windows XP allowed for the custom wallpapers and, if you took Microsoft’s advice, you could disable the fancy UI making your computer look like Windows 2000 and supposedly run much faster.  I never really noticed any difference.  We didn’t have tools like the Windows Experience then.

Then, there was the Blue Screen of Death.  People would complain and laugh about it.  I always figured I was lucky.  It seldom happened to me and, when it did, it generally was because of something stupid I had done with extra pieces of hardware improperly configured or inserted.

Programs were more fun to use with this new interface.  The basic install actually came with a number of applications that would get you through most needs.  It had a great game of Blackjack!  Wordpad could get you through many word processing tasks.  Connect an external modem via a serial cable and you could dial up and get internet connected.  It’s interesting to even think that I could even get satisfaction from some of the very early web applications and browsers.  Even though Windows XP is actually only 12, that’s 84 in dog years and probably a good analogy for how far we’ve come in OS sophistication.

It was the box above that I first dual booted Windows XP and Linux.  I learned a great deal from both operating systems.  There were lots of hacks available to get you to make your computer completely yours.  And, you’d always make sure that you had the original install CD to erase the damage that comes from being too bold.  The concept of an installation partition was years to come.

In the schools, the IT Department loved Windows XP.  They could take a good installation and cripple all the good stuff so that students were protected from themselves.  Imagine a computer with no command prompt.  Tools were at their disposal for fast deployment of system images once they got the “perfect locked down computer”.

Windows XP was a programmer and hacker’s dream operating system.  At the time, it seemed like there was nothing that couldn’t be done.

There will still be people that hang on to theirs.  Over 12 years, so many facets of our society have been built on Windows XP and the software that runs on it.  Even yesterday, I was in town doing some business and the person I was working with had stock blue/green Windows XP.  When I asked her if the company was going to upgrade, the response was why?  This does everything that I need.  I suspect that, despite all the warnings from Microsoft, that there will be lots of people that feel the same way.  For them, there’s plenty of advice.

It won’t happen here.  I’d have to find somewhere to put the things that adorn the top of my desktop computer, open it up, insert my hard drive hoping that I get the connectors right, then find a monitor and wait forever for it to boot and then hope like crazy that I remember the password to the limited or the admin account so that I could get in.

Because of that, I probably will never do so.  I’ll just use something else and fondly reflect back on Windows XP and how much I learned from that operating system.  12 years?  It seems like just yesterday.

Postscript – Apparently, there are options available if you’re not ready to drop XP - Canadian government paying Microsoft $306,625 for XP support

Why I Haven’t Downloaded Office for iPad…


…although at 12 million downloads, I appear to be definitely in the minority.  One of the reasons why this blog is “Off the Record” is that I give myself the right to change my mind.  If you’d like to convince me, go ahead.

I’ve never really been a big user of Office on any platform.  My needs are meagre, I would guess, and so never needed a copy to put me over the top.  I work interchangeably on Windows, Macintosh, and Ubuntu.  It’s important to me that I can exchange among the platforms and, probably the tipping point for me was installing my very first version of Ubuntu.  It came with OpenOffice and I never looked back.  It was all that I ever needed, at the time, and the LibreOffice fork of the product stays on top of everything.

The only time I strayed away was to investigate Kingsoft‘s office suite.  I liked what I saw and will admit to having a copy installed on my computer in addition to LibreOffice.

So, back to the iPad version of Office…

I’ll admit that I was tempted.  In fact, I might even go as high as $1.99 to have that functionality!  When I found out it was free, I thought…wow!

I’ll admit that I had a hard time finding it in the iTunes store.  I was looking in the store for Office but couldn’t find it.  After poking around, I finally realized that Word, Excel, and Powerpoint were separate downloads.  And, at 259MB for Word alone, that’s quite a download.

But the description stopped me in my pursuit.  The download only lets you read for free…you need to have an Office 365 annual subscription to get full functionality.  That’s something that I don’t have and not likely to get in the near future.  According to the website, the subscription for Office home is $99.99 and $79.99.  That’s quite a bit of money to be paying for annually.  Perhaps there are 12 million others that find that valuable.  Not me.

There are alternatives though.

Increasingly, my documents are stored in Google Drive.  As it turns out, Google has a Drive application that does the job nicely.  Edits and saves are done right on the document as it’s stored in Drive.

For the local use, I’ve always had a copy of QuickOffice on my iPad.  It has the functionality to fully edit documents stored locally or in Google Drive.  That’s always been the application that I go to in order to get the job done.  Price – free.

But recently, I was looking for something on the Kingsoft website.  I had missed it completely and so was pleasantly surprised to see that there was an iOS version in addition to all of their other products.  What was really interesting was the cloud support.

And the price was free as well.  Plus, it only is 100MB to get all three pieces of office functionality.  Check out this recent article from Cnet about Kingsoft. “Kingsoft Office 3.2 for iOS: Better than Microsoft Office?

As I work with the sort of documents that I use, I find that both QuickOffice and Kingsoft Office do it all.  The price is certainly right for the classroom as well.  And, if all that you need is word processing, don’t forget Scrawlar.

So, at this point, I will pass on downloading Office for iPad and buying the Office 365 license.  It’s your turn now – convince me that I’m wrong.

68% of Statistics are Worthless


I’ve always wanted to say that.  But, if they make you think, it’s probably all worthwhile.

The title of this article caught my attention, no, grabbed my attention when I read it.

IE easily beats Chrome, Firefox, Safari in malware detection

That’s quite a statement to make.  It certainly goes against what I would have thought so I dove into the article immediately.  It cites research from NSS Labs. I’ll confess – my nerdy inner person loves stuff like this.  In the computer (or actually any classroom), it makes for fascinating discussion.  There’s just so much content available on the internet that we’ve just become used to clicking and running.  And yet, social engineering has become more sophisticated in its tactics to entice you to click that link in the first place.

The overall results are displayed in chart form.

From the results, Internet Explorer clearly stands out.  There undoubtedly are web browsers there that you may not recognize but you might want to poke around and take a look at them.

In fact, Internet Explorer stands so far out, you can’t help but want to read the rest of the report.

The report is definitely not written at a level for all grades. However, for older students, they should be able to understand the concepts and relate it to their own activities on the web and through the use of social media.  How do they know when they’ve been attacked by social malware?  Should they rely on their browser to keep them safe?  Should they install extensions like Web of Trust to beef up their protection?  Should they always click on links from email sent to them?  Does this reinforce the importance of operating system and browsers updates?  Are they comfortable with just taking the first browser that they see and heading off to the web?  In a school with shared devices, can one student affect another?

The final paragraph puts this into perspective and gives the reader the common sense call to action.  The best protection is education and knowing how to recognize the would-be attacker’s actions as they come along.