Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Making a Difference with Telepresence

Imagine being a student who can't attend school with their peers due to a chronic illness or disability.  Children who aren't attending school in the traditional manner may be able to keep up with schoolwork through online education but they miss out on the social aspect of going to school.  How can we help children who can't attend school?  With the VGo Robot, children can attend class, move between classes on their own and talk with teachers and peers using the new telepresence technology.  VGo goes to school while the student stays home.  It provides a richer form of engagement made possible by the Internet, a two-way camera, microphone and speaker, all of which are house in a robot-like motorized device.

VGo has helped many students already.  Derek Hall is a high school senrio being treated for cancer at the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children's Medical Cente rin Texas.  Using a laptop computer to control VGo from his hospital bed, he is able to take advanced placement courses and dual credit courses earning college credit.

Max LaDue, a seventh grader in North Carolina, also uses VGo.  Mas misses up to 100 days of school due to stomach migraines, which cause intense abdominal cramping.  While Max has a dedicated homebound teacher, the 12-year old misses the social interaction of going to school.  Using the VGo, he is able to make friends with other students. 

The Simon Technology Center currently has two VGo Robots available for loan through the Lending Library.  If you or someone you know is interested in borrowing a VGo Robot, please contact us at 952-838-9000 or at stc@pacer.org.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Did you Know: Make the Internet Family Safe with a Single Free Service

The Internet is a great tool for students.  They can do research for their school assignments, connect with family and friends, access great educational content like Khan Academy, and more.  But we also want to keep our family safe from some of the more unsavory parts of the Internet like adult content, undesirable websites, and more.  In the past, you might have used software on your computer to filter content but things get complicated when you have to manage multiple computers or tablets!

To solve this problem, many schools set up their networks to filter content so they don't have to manage each and every device that a student might use.  But did you know that you can do the same thing at home for free?  OpenDNS offers a free service called OpenDNS FamilyShield.  With a quick initial set up, you can block adult websites and even monitor your household Internet use.

In order to set up OpenDNS FamilyShield, you need to make a small adjustment on your Internet router.  This will make sure your entire home is protected.  OpenDNS provides detailed step-by-step instructions for just about every modem/router out there so don't worry if you're not tech savvy.

What OpenDNS FamilyShield has you do is change your router's DNS (Domain Name System), which is kind of like a phone book for the Internet.  It matched the easy to remember web addresses like www.pacer.org with the sites actual IP address, which for PACER is  Go ahead and type that number into your web browser if you want to test it out.  When you change your router DNS to the OpenDNS's number, OpenDNS FamilyShield will receive any requests to visit websites on your home network and will first check to see if that site is on the blocked list.

About 1 in 3 schools in the U.S. currently use OpenDNS to filter Internet access.  The nice thing about this system is you don't have to make any changes when a new computer or mobile device is added to your home Internet connection.  There is one thing to keep in mind though: this does not filter content when a computer or device is put on a different network.  For example, if a child has an iPad and takes it to a friend's house who's family network doesn't use web filtering, then that iPad will be able to visit any website.  This system only works for connections in your home.