The antifragility of ubermix

Posted by Unknown On Saturday, September 19, 2015 0 comments
"Antifragility" was coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile. To best explain the idea, we need to discuss fragility and robustness. 
Think of an egg. You drop it on the ground, and it looks like this: 

That’s fragility. Introduce a little force or instability, and destruction soon follows. Fragility should be avoided at all costs: fragile governments, fragile investments, fragile jobs… the list goes on.

What does fragility look like in education? Intervention just for the sake of intervention. Unsustainable 1:1 deployments. Rigid adherence to curriculum. Lack of training. Implementation of (big) ‘Systems’. Teachers isolated in classrooms. Spending money on programs, training, and technology that isn’t helpful. Unneeded hierarchy and bureaucracy. A narrow understanding of how to increase student learning.

Think of a bowling ball. You drop it on a tile kitchen floor, and it looks like this:

That’s robustness. Introduce a little force or instability, and the object, person, organization, isn’t affected. Obviously, this is more ideal than fragility; it’s where the bumper sticker "Tough times go away; tough people don’t" comes into play.
What does robustness look like in education? A program that can keep functioning with a lack of funds. Lesson plans that are effective year to year. A 1:1 deployment the district can maintain. A well-rounded understanding of how students learn. A district that is financially stable. Quick reaction to unforeseen events.


Do you remember Hydra? When you cut off one of its heads, two more sprout back in its place, like this:

That’s antifragility. Introduce a little force or instability, and the object, person, organization, etc. becomes stronger
What does antifragility look like in education? It’s a 1:1 deployment where the devices are used in new and interesting ways when the WiFi isn't working. It involves teachers who think quickly on their feet and provide engaging lesson plans, even in the midst of all the challenges schools face on a daily basis. It’s principals who implement amazing programs, activities, and training sessions on shoestring budgets. It’s districts who thrive in times of financial hardship. It’s students who enjoy fixing technology in their classrooms and view broken devices as exciting learning challenges. It’s a district or school who, like Hydra, becomes stronger, smarter, and more experienced during times when other districts and schools crumble.

Enter ubermix, which provides over 60 free applications pre-installed. This means students can continue working even if WiFi connectivity is lost. Ubermix allows for greater customization than Windows computers, Chromebooks, and iPads. There's no spyware or malware. Students and parents can download ubermix and use it on devices at home. It provides the ability to quickly recover from problems and restore the system to a default state. Updates are easy and not intrusive; in other words, students won't be forced to restart computers in the middle of a project because of an update. Oh yes--and ubermix is free. So there's no fee for licenses or management. All you need to pay for is the device. 

All school and district leaders want their organizations to be antifragile or robust. Choosing a fragile device and operating system for students is a surefire way to create frustration and negatively affect student learning. With the antifragile paradigm in mind, ubermix is a wise choice for every school and district. Even in the midst of instability--be it WiFi issues, lack of funds, or teachers who are inexperienced with technology--ubermix thrives. 

UBERMIX: It’s Time To Upgrade!

Posted by Unknown On Tuesday, August 11, 2015 0 comments
Hi. My name is Thomas Hartley, a tech director for a K-8 district in Southeastern Wisconsin. Jim Klein asked me to be a guest blogger and I couldn’t be more excited to share my experiences and resources with the Ubermix Community. I hope you enjoy reading. If nothing else please check out the resources at the bottom of the page - in the spirit of open-source - what's mine is yours :)

My Ubermix Story:

Shortly after graduating from Beloit College five years ago, I entered my teaching career as a hybrid K-8 computer instructor and technology integration coach in a rural lake community school in southeastern Wisconsin. Last year, I was promoted to the position of district technology director, along with teaching.

The first change I made as technology director was to halt our district’s switch to Chromebooks. We had always imaged our student laptops with Windows 7 and were switching to Chromebooks to make laptop management easier. I agree with many of Jim’s reasons for sticking with a full desktop OS, as opposed to the web-based restrictive Google Chromebook model that has become popular in educational circles over the past few years. I saw Windows as a difficult OS for students to manage without administrator rights and malware was a common problem. Instead, I asked the school board to approve Ubermix 2.0 as the 1:1 operating system. Their only concern is a common one, “Can the laptops still do everything they can on Windows?”. To paraphrase my answer: “Windows cannot do everything Ubermix can!”

Our district has 3 Windows labs, a Mac lab, and iPads for classroom stations. Often times schools go with one OS and forego the great things offered by each! Obviously Linux is the best :) but applications like Kodu are a must when teaching young children programming. After a year, I can honestly say Ubermix met every student need of our district with the exception of specialized Wisconsin State testing software. Our teachers preferred testing in the labs rather than the 1:1 devices, so this was not an issue. (We did not do Smarter Balance- in which case ubermix is compatible)

After one year of using ubermix, I have no complaints. I have plenty of ideas which I send Jim’s way and often find implemented in the next ubermix changelog. This year, my tech department only had to repair hardware failure and laptop breakage rather than dealing with virus-ridden laptops needing a lengthy Windows re-imaging process. Middle school students like to sit on laptops, leave pencils when closing lids, and expertly drop them in ways to break their laptops in the most peculiar ways :) Ubermix allowed us to focus on repairing laptops swiftly without being kept busy with OS-related issues.

In my next post, I will discuss how we made the switch from a Windows only school to a 1:1 program using ubermix. After a couple years of creating custom images, I will include some tips on customizing your image. Below are a few resources that would be useful to anyone in a K-8 setting. I've also included my changelog for my 2015-16 ubermix image.

DESKTOP & WEB RESOURCES (This is money! Credit to Rachel Ryan Hartley & Our entire Staff for using these resources & helping compile them into one place.)
WCSCOMPUTERS (My “Learning How To Learn Website”, tons of resources & a technology skills scope and sequence for a K-8 district)

Any opinions in this blog post are solely my own and not that of my employing district or administration.

Follow Me on Twitter: @hartleytek

ubermix 2.2 Released with New Kernel/Hardware Enablement

Posted by ubermix On Friday, March 27, 2015 0 comments
ubermix 2.2 has been released with a new kernel, new graphics server, and support for new hardware. Additional changes include (from the changelog):
  • Added onboard on-screen keyboard (for touch devices)
  • Updated synaptics touchpad to latest upstream and patched for proper palm detection
  • Updated Inkscape to latest upstream
  • Updated Pinta to latest upstream
  • Added thermald for better battery life and thermal control on fanless devices
  • Improved disk setup on initial install on Win8 devices
ubermix 2.2 is based on Ubuntu 14.04.2 LTS, which is a Long Term Support release, expected to receive updates and security fixes through 2019.

The newly included 3.16 kernel and graphics server include a raft of features including new Kepler GPU support, improved Intel, NVidia, and Radeon graphics support, improved touchscreen and detachable keyboard support, and enhanced support for gaming controllers.

Since many new devices offer touch support, ubermix 2.2 now includes the onboard on-screen keyboard by default, as well as other enhancements to improve the experience on touch-enabled devices.

Inkscape was also updated to version 0.91, which includes an entirely new renderer and over 700 bug fixes. Expect significantly faster rendering of complex images, and new and improved measurement, text, and color tools.

Pinta gains new add-in options, redesigned shape tools, and more flexible layout tools.


Photo Credit: shioshvili via Compfight cc

CAASPP Secure Browser for Test Administration Available

Posted by ubermix On Friday, January 23, 2015 6 comments
The CAASPP Secure Browser version 6.5 for State testing in California is now available for installation from the ubermix repository.

The secure browser is used to administer the Smarter Balanced formative and summative assessments to all students in grades 3-8 and 11 throughout the State of California, and is quite a pain to install according to the "official" instructions, so having it as part of the ubermix ecosystem should make it significantly easier for schools and districts in CA to deploy.

Important note: at present, the installer in the ubermix repository only works with ubermix 2.x, not the "Lite" version. We'll add a special version for ubermix lite shortly. Now works with ubermix lite! And ubermix 1.x.

Installation Instructions

The CAASPP Secure Browser and its dependencies are well over 50 megabytes, so if your school is starved for bandwidth, you may want to plan accordingly.

GUI Method:
  1. Click on Activities, then select Synaptic Package Manager under Administration.
  2. When the Synaptic Package Manager window appears, click on the Reload button to update the package list for all of the online software repositories.
  3. Once the reload is complete, use the Quick filter box to search for "secure-browser-ca". Once it appears on the list, click on the checkbox next to it and choose Mark for Installation.
  4. Click on the Apply button, and Synaptic will download and install everything you need.
  5. The CASecureBrowser6.5 icon should appear under Internet in the Activities menu. If it doesn't appear immediately, don't panic - it will after a restart.
Terminal Method:
  1. Press ctrl-alt-t to open a terminal
  2. Type  sudo apt-get update to update the package list for all of the online software repositories.
  3. Type sudo apt-get install secure-browser-ca to install the browser.
  4. The CASecureBrowser6.5 icon should appear under Internet in the Activities menu. If it doesn't appear immediately, don't panic - it will after a restart.
For those who are working with large deployments using an Auto-update Script, instructions will be posted here shortly.