My Computer Ate My Homework
Up until the beginning of the program, the only machines on our network were school-owned, networked machines. Student accounts had roaming profiles (in a Windows 2003 domain) and files were stored on a network drive that we backed up regularly. We recently implemented some features of Windows 2003 server that even allows the user to recover previous versions of a file without our involvement.
Now, however, we not only have files stored on the local machine, but these machines are carried out unprotected in all kinds of weather, left on the floor in public areas (we lost one already to having a chair set on it), and thrown in backpacks that are then thrown on the ground or on the floor of a bus or at a peer, or ... I'm sure you understand the risks to these computers and those risks apply to every bit of work done by the student as well.
There are tools that would allow us to automate the backup of all the files, or selected files, on the computer and safeguard the students' work just as we have always done. In fact, I use just this mechanism on my Tablet. We run Backup Exec and the laptop agent does a stellar job of keeping my files backed up to the network. About my only quibbles with it are that it doesn't always handle open files well, and my day planner software keeps its files open constantly, and I take a hit when I work at home--it will backup over the VPN which really impacts overall performance of the machine.
After discussions with a number of faculty members, this is the route we will probably be going with all of our faculty machines. Although we don't have all the possibilities and options figured out yet, it looks like this will give us the combination of data protection and centralized control that we need to have for faculty. (Why do we need centralized control? Well, we have one faculty member who put over 6 gigabytes of music in his network storage. When he gets a Tablet, more likely than not this would end up backing up wirelessly, causing problems not only for him, but for everyone else on the same access point, and for everyone on the network to some extent. We want to block backups of certain file types.)
So why not just put this on the students' Tablets and give them the same level of protection that we always have? Well, one factor is cost, though this could be built into the program or managed in any of several different ways. A bigger issue, I think, is what we are teaching the students. Or, more precisely, what we are not teaching them.
I am trying to look at every aspect of this program as an educational opportunity or to see the real educational need inherent in it. There are a number of things that our students will encounter in college and later in life that we can use this program to help prepare them for. One of the things they are most likely to encounter is the need to take responsibility for their own data. No one backs up my computers at home unless I do it. I don't know of any college that automatically backs up its students' computers, either. Even if there is one, it is far from the norm. In a few short years, not only will no one be backing up their data, probably no one will even be telling them that they need to. We want our students to leave Vermont Academy with this understanding and this habit.
What we have done at this point is to create a simple command script (a DOS batch file, for you old hands) that backs up selected file types to a secure network location, which we then put on tape. (OK, technically, our script excludes specific file types.) The script backs up everything under My Documents so as long as a student saves his files there he can back them up. During the introductory training, I explain how this works and show students how to do the backups and (this is important) confirm that the process works for each of them. Thereafter, it is up to them to simply click on an icon on their desktop to backup their systems. We suggest that they do it every day both to keep everything backed up and to keep the backup times to a minimum. Then, if a machine fails so drastically that the hard drive is inaccessible, we can quickly restore the most recent set of files to a loaner and the student is back in business.
We have tried to make it as easy as possible, but still leave the responsibility in the hands of the students. This doesn't guarantee that no student will lose files, but then that is not the goal. Our goal for us is to make sure that no student need lose files when a crash occurs and to give students the means to prevent data loss. Our goal for them is to learn enough responsibility to prevent it for themselves.