Month: February 2016

McKinney Boyd HS website redesign – part 3

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We are now about halfway complete with the website redesign. Many pages have now been completed, and focus is turning on aesthetics, such as the home page, section “dividers” (if we use yearbook terminology), and improving the heart of it all, the navbar.

We have many excellent contributors, ranging from Bora to Jarod to Justin to Alex, who have contributed the majority of ideas. Andrew has continued to draft us up with great designs and mockups, including envisioning our directory search. He, Marvin, and Scott have been working on compiling all of our staff’s photos in a systematic way so that they are easily accessible using JavaScript.

A consultation with Dr. Ayers today revealed some significant work to be done on the main page, including adding carousel functionality and adding images more appealing to newcomers to Boyd rather than the recurring parents, who are more interested in the resources and news of Boyd rather than “About.”

Recently, I shared the website with the local community, who were very pleased with the newly redesigned website. This is encouraging to the entire redesign team, as our primary audience of this new design is indeed our parents and students.

McKinney ISD’s One to the World program should be more flexible to students

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TL;DR: Either let students bring their own laptops, if they wish, or continue using a school MacBook. This should be done instead of forcing everybody to rent a district-owned MacBook with restrictions.

For decades, teachers have been taught various methods to ensure that all students are able to understand their concept by incorporating different learning styles into their curriculum, in order to cater to every single student, and ensure each and every one understands the concepts being taught. That means teachers give trust and a certain degree of choice to students. This system has worked.

At the onset of the 21st century, technology is the new thing and educators around the world are looking at ways to incorporate technology into their learning. The advantages are numerous; if properly utilized, technology can quickly solidify and even deepen students’ understanding than ever before. Of course, the disadvantages are also numerous; students are easily able to abuse technology so that they are able to avoid the monotony of school work and instead focus on games.

In 2014, McKinney ISD used millions in taxpayer dollars to require each and every single one of their freshmen to lease a laptop from the district so that the school district is able to incorporate technology into their curriculum. Granted, as a student in the initial group of laptop users, the lessons have been more engaging and allow us to spend less effort on the behind-the-scenes aspects of classwork and homework while increasing focus on actual engagement and acquisition of knowledge. My English teacher emphasizes how lucky we are to have access to an online journal database, JSTOR, with millions of journals scanned in and ready to be searched in a fraction of a second, while she would have to spend days to find the right articles in the library, spending thousands of hours and coins at the copier machine. There is no doubting the efficiency that technology brings us.

However, just like how learning styles are unique to each student, technology utilization styles are also very unique to each student, particularly for the more tech-savvy students being given these MacBook Airs. Unfortunately, these MacBook Airs have had filtering software and computer management restrictions added to them, preventing students from accessing games and using software not explicitly approved by McKinney ISD. Just as a kinesthetic learner has been forced to sit down, not move, and audibly listen to a lecture for an hour, some students interesting in using their own, unique technology are not allowed to do so on these MacBooks. These students are not joking when they are looking to install other software that would normally take months in the bureaucratic cycle to get approved for installation on their machines. They are simply different, and shouldn’t be unfairly penalized. Unfortunately, students were unfairly penalized. While this is a hot-button issue, it won’t be discussed here and is another, separate post altogether. The takeaway from that situation was that the school-issued laptops were a completely new concept to teachers, administration, parents, and even students, and that the system wasn’t perfected yet to accommodate students’ special needs.

The obvious solution to many would be to simply use one’s own computer. But here is the issue to this solution: McKinney ISD expressly prohibits students from opting out of this program. While this rule was made with good intentions, it fails in two ways:

  1. It prevents students from using their own laptop. If a student needs to accommodate their own special needs, they should be able to buy another laptop without having to forcefully rent another useless laptop they will keep in their closet the entire time. McKinney ISD already has a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, so bringing one’s own laptop shouldn’t be a big deal. BYOD has already been proven to work, and was the harbinger of the One to the World program, so there shouldn’t be any concerns with allowing BYOD exist alongside One to the World.
  2. McKinney ISD sets a precedent of choicelessness—taxpayers are now required to pay for the laptops, some of which are unused, and the school district has decided that there shall be absolutely no choice on the part of parents or students. I personally do not want to pay $50 for something if I don’t want to use it! We live in a capitalist society, why are we being forced to rent a laptop if we don’t want to use it?

Concerns with the BYOD laptops not being able to handle the district’s requirements are valid but should also be addressed in a different approach than simple concession. Most people are scared that students won’t have the ability to access the software or educational portals of the district. Since all consumer computers have web browsers, and definitely other productivity applications, this shouldn’t be a big deal. Moreover, certain access to school property (like printers) need to be opened to all computers. McKinney ISD does not get to choose what accesses what. They are not in charge here (we the people are) and it disturbs me to know that they force people to use school-issued technology to print and BYOD devices cannot connect. In addition, if software is not available for free to a student by default, McKinney ISD can set up a portal to allow students to download the software at no cost, pursuant to the existing licensing deals of McKinney ISD. If the software isn’t offered by the district and is not required to be used in class, then students will be able to purchase or download their custom software on their own machines and use them the way they see fit without the school administration forcing them through a bureaucratic process, just to simply have an application working on a computer! It distracts students from the learning process more than it does to “protect” them.

Other concerns include students flat out not using any technology, rendering the district’s transition to technology null and void. I definitely believe such an extreme should be avoided. Technology is about as important to the world as pens and pencils are to education. Education prepares students for the world. Technology is here to stay in education. But just as we are allowed to choose between mechanical pencils, yellow wooden pencils, colored pens, etc., McKinney ISD should place its trust into students into at least finding a machine that works. Just as all students must have a pencil to attend school and choose the one they like most, all students must have a computer at McKinney ISD, but it should not be limited to the school MacBooks. The school district should not be opposed to outside technology because it’s too difficult to implement; au contraire, the school district is supposed to support the needs of students, parents, teachers, etc., not what’s best for MISD. Decisions and choices need to be reintroduced to the school district, as we live in a democratic society where the government is supposed to serve us, not where we serve the government.

I thank McKinney ISD for their initial efforts of One to the World, but these outstanding issues pose a significant hurdle to the acceptance and success of this program. The end goal is to improve students’ education, which is currently not being fulfilled for everybody. This must be fixed by allowing students to opt-out of the program and use the BYOD policy of McKinney ISD, so that they may choose what works best for them.

McKinney Boyd HS Website Redesign – part 2

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Website screenshot
Snapshot of the website main page as of February 10, 2016 at 11:48pm CST.

Following the developments of the previous blog post, Justin continued to work with us on finalizing his initial design in HTML. I was able to integrate the previous “JS template transclusion” idea into the website, while Justin pointed out to me that document.write(“) would suffice for multiple lines at once.

Furthermore, the old navbar has now been (unceremoniously) placed into the new website. Currently, we are stuck on moving the search bar and Quick Links to the top bar with everything else. In addition, the logo placement is a little quirky and could be fixed.

Work is now being done by the majority of the Computer Science 3 class at Boyd. Our main goals will be to create designs for the header, a uniform template for each page, and to create some of the code-needy features of our website, like a searchable teacher directory.

Our lead designer, Andrew Oakes, has proposed several new ways to design the website, all of which the dev team will take into consideration, especially concerning the header/navbar and the revamped directory.