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A New Beginning at SAS

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It’s been a stressful couple of weeks (thanks to those on twitter for your words of encouragement). Ending another school year, trying to move all your belongings to Bangkok, having to plan a 5 week summer that includes a trip to Japan with friends and a trip to Texas for NECC is stressful enough. Then with two weeks left in the school year move some 6GB worth of Data and 6 sites from servers in Texas to servers in Shanghai. Get them all set up, update all the sites with the latest software, and do it all with as little interruption to the education environment as possible.

Sure….we can do that…I think

It is exciting though, everything that I’ve been working on here at Shanghai American School all coming together in one system as I prepare to leave.

Three years ago when I arrived here I went to the admin an asked for $65 to buy a hosting account so I could set up Moodle. The school had no web servers on campus at the time and not one online learning program was being utilized. I also needed a domain name and paid for one out of my own pocket: saschinaonline.org. A nice extension to the schools domain of saschina.org….and that was the beginning.

You can read the rest of this blog for the details of the journey as I started blogging about the same time as I installed Moodle on that little shared hosting account out of Hong Kong.

Three years later we have over a thousand forums in Moodle, over 600 student blogs, and fast approaching over 200 teacher blogs. Needless to say we’ve moved servers a couple of times in that process as our online learning programs expanded and demanded more space.

As a tech team, we have been talking about the needs to host all these programs on campus do to connectivity issues (we are in China…do I need to say more?) for the past two years. However, that meant an increase in costs. We needed servers and we needed people to support those servers.

All of that was budgeted as part of our tech plan last year and this April the school purchased two new servers to host our educational portal. The school then hired two local Linux experts to help run and oversee the servers. Throughout May my counterpart (Don Miron) on the other campus, where the servers are located, has been setting up the backend of the servers and creating subdomains for all our sites so that they would all be under the saschina.org domain.

So instead of being http://blogs.saschinaonline.org the student blogs would be http://blogs.saschina.org

Everything was ready to go last Friday as Don and I got together, took the server in Texas off the web and started to transfer (via FTP) all the files and databases that stored all that learning from all our students in all those programs. As the data arrived, we started to rebuild the sites on the new servers located on campus.

So a new beginning at SAS has started. Not only did we transfer the sites but we created an educational portal around the sites to bring them together for students, teachers and the community.

It will officially be launched next school year, but it is already taking shape. Because it’s fresh in my mind I thought I’d share with you what we have used and created here at SAS.


Start with RSS: We wanted to use the power of RSS to be able to display information in a number of places and in a number of ways. So we started with a program called AJAX DeskTop StartPage Enterprise. If you use Netvibes as a RSS reader you’ll notice similarities. Students and teachers can sign up for an account and start creating their own RSS reader. At the same time we can control the tabs of content that appear on everyone’s page. So students, teachers, and parents are all getting the same information. ($399)

Search Tab: This is a simple list of resources for our school. Up until this new system this single page was our educational portal of such.

Pudong and Puxi Tabs: The Pudong and Puxi tabs are pages of RSS Feeds coming from each campus. Right now you will notice the RSS feed for what will be the daily announcements next year out of each division. We have set up a simple WordPress blog that each division secretary will be able to post to. As secretaries e-mail out the morning announcements they will simply include a special e-mail account that is attached to the blog. When they press send, the announcement is sent to all the teachers and to the blog via e-mail. As soon as it’s posted the RSS feed will be updated on the portal for all to view and see.(Free)

Calendars: An online calendaring system for students and teachers to utilize. Again completely RSS ready! (Free)

Moodle: As you can see AJAX DeskTop StartPage Enterprise opens Moodle basically as a web page frame. From here, users can login and do their course work, or they can go to http://sasoc.saschina.org and do it directly on the site.(Free)

Student Blogs: Our WordPress MU install for students. This year every Middle Schooler on the Pudong campus used their blog for at least one class, and teachers are already gearing up for next year. Especially with them now being hosted on campus where connectivity to the Internet is no longer an issue. They will open up some real possibilities for learning. Our 5th grade teachers are including links to the student’s blogs as part of their permanent files for next year teachers to review….sweet! (Free)

Staff Blogs: Our WordPress MU install for teacher to use as a blog or class website. Of course each teacher blog has an RSS feed allowing for endless possibilities of where we push and pull data from and to. (Free)

Files: Right now we have installed Elgg here but not sure what we’ll use in the end. Moodle 2.0 is rumored to have drag and drop file storage built in, but Elgg is a great system for sharing files on the web. You can create groups, make them public or private, etc. Elgg does way more than this, which is why I think it’s over kill but we want a way for teachers and students to have a personal online storage place. What I would love is a drop.io type site. (Free)

We are still missing the wiki component, but don’t worry it’s on its way. We’re looking at open-source and paid options that we can host locally here for teachers and students to use. It will be ready the fist part of next school year.

Podcast: Moving the school’s podcast site from its own domain into this new portal will allow more student and community members to find and listen to recordings. We’ll have to reconnect it to iTunes but should have that up and running by next week. (Free)

Photos: An Open-Source Flickr type install called Gallery. Students and teacher alike can upload photos, share them, put them in albums, comment on them, and, well, you get the point. Again completely RSS ready to push and pull data where we want it. How easy will it be now to update pictures throughout the schools web presence when you can RSS an album or a tag to a specific location. (Free)

Media: YouTube blocked at your school? No problem! Just install your own. A sweet little program that basically puts a YouTube type site on your school’s server. Students and teachers can upload videos and then embed them in their blogs, or Moodle, or wikis, or ……. Again….completely RSS ready. Our schools YouTube site will still be used. This will just allow other users in the community to upload videos and we can use the YouTube site to show off the best of SAS. (on sale $199)

What else is there? Well, we’ve signed up for a Google Apps Education Edition and next year every students K-12 will have a school e-mail account that is Gmail ran. Free and powerful…would you expect anything else from Google?

So there you have it…..my three years of work coming together to create an educational portal of learning for the 21st Century. This blog over that same time has been my vision, my reflections, and my thoughts as all of this has come together. This blog and this community is a part of all of this. As I have reviewed, talked about, or learned about these programs above here in my own learning space. As I was working on the new podcast site today I found myself sitting back and just looking at all this content and how amazing of a journey these three years have been. I’m walking away with a smile on my face and passion in my heart that SAS is off and running and will continue to do amazing things. As I leave, I encourage you to follow other bloggers from SAS so that you can keep tabs on this school that is marching into the 21st Century, and is showing the world that in fact a new type of learning landscape can be created.

Amanda DeCardy is an up and coming technology specialist who will be in the Pudong Middle School next year. Use her to connect to student projects in the middle school and keep tabs on how things are progressing there.

Mike Romard and Simon Power will be the duo at Pudong Elementary next year. Both have started blogs this year and it will be interesting to watch them both grow into these new positions in the elementary.

David Gran is moving from elementary tech to Puxi High School as an art teacher. Responsible for the first ever Shanghai Student Film Festival this year this guy is a digital artist who continues to do great things with kids (What videos here).

Andy Torris Deputy Superintendent and the man who deserves the credit at the admin level for “Go do what needs to be done!” and allowing me to start programs, create communities and worry about how to ‘sell’ them later.

These are the people to contact if you want to connect with classrooms in Shanghai and do online collaborative projects.

As for me I’m just going to sit here for awhile and take it all in…what a journey!

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Amazing Jeff, kudos to you and your team. As a former SAS teacher who arrived in Shanghai in 1997 I can tell you that this is absolutely mind-blowing.

    When I arrived and asked where the computer lab was I was directed to a small room behind the auditorium (on the OLD Puxi campus building) it was three IBM machines connected to the web…run by a guy named Terry Stevens. We did the best we could in China at that time. We could never have imagined the world you currently described. When I left SAS in 2002 it was a big deal that I had brought the first wireless mobile laptop labs to the middle school science teachers. And conversations were just beginning to emerge about SAS teachers having websites…a hotly debated topic at the time.

    Looking back there simply is no comparison…the world has fundamentally changed!!

    Soak it up and enjoy the rest of your time at SAS. Safe travels on the next leg of the journey…look forward to stories from Thailand.


    • Hi Jeff,

      Yes things have come a long way here at SAS but they have come a long way globally. Just three years ago I was still on a 56k dial-up connection. Now I stream movies and broadcast presentation via the web. Times are changing and as society changes we have to do what we can to keep education changing as well.

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  3. Jef, you rae amazing and it has been an amazing journey for you. Congratulations on being able to motivate and move SAS in a positive direction. I look forward to seeing what you do at ISB.
    See you at NECC soon!!

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