My last post, "What did we ever do before laptops?," got me thinking about a variety of tools upon which I've come to rely. More importantly, these are tools upon which my users have come to rely on me having. These are the items I have in my office, my pockets (my students find my pockets overflowing with electronic gadgets endearing; I'm afraid it drives my wife nuts), my backpack, and the classrooms in which I teach. I lose half these items all too frequently, but they're always worth buying again.
The biggest mistake I ever made was giving my cell phone number to my users. There's no hiding, I'm afraid. However, I am available anytime and anywhere and when there is only one of me, that means a lot to my users. Better yet, the students in my computer club are thrilled that they get to text me when they discover problems (SMS is banned in my school, but teachers are so happy to have quick response to issues, they turn a blind eye). Of course, my students have much nicer phones than I do, but you can only afford so much on a teacher's salary.
I did just get a PDA, however. Before I started teaching I had a Palm Pilot and promptly lost it. Now, however, particularly with the advent of recent incarnations of Windows Mobile, I wonder how I lived without one of those, too. Email access anytime, anywhere (bit of a theme here); terminal services at my fingertips, sans laptop or desktop (the window is mighty small, but there is nothing I can't do to administer our servers whether I'm in class or in the bathroom); and a little something to remind me of all the meetings I would otherwise blow off. My PDA can also synchronize with our new student management system, giving me full access to all of our student data.
Gmail doesn't fit into my pocket (well, technically I can access it on my PDA), but I do consider it indispensible. This isn't a Gmail plug specifically, although it's certainly my Web 2.0 app of choice. However, anytime anywhere access (there's those words again) to email from all of my accounts, easy searching of a variety of documents and thousands of emails means I'm hooked. While a lot of people are remarkably fond of POP clients, most of my users have switched to some sort of webmail, especially as Internet access has become so ubiquitous, both in and out of school.
I mentioned terminal services already. Remote Desktop Protocol really is up there with sliced bread. I'm sitting in bed right now watching reruns of the Fresh Prince of Belair, blogging away, with a terminal session open so that I can finish migrating shares to a new server.
Of course, my laptop still goes without saying. Mine is huge and well-supplemented by my more portable PDA, but it's rarely far from me. All 17" of the display go to very good use for presentations to staff and administrators or said simultaneous blogging and terminal sessions. If I had to do it over, I'd probably go for a much more mobile model; I'd miss my keypad and full keyboard, but wouldn't miss the 9lbs I carry all over the district...next time, I'm thinking tablet, but I couldn't live without a portable computer.
Last but not least, I have to say a few words about rack-mounted servers. We're a pretty small outfit, but we recently rolled out 5 new servers to replace three aging towers. We had a small donated rack and were able to save a whole lot of space. Modern rack mount servers also make for easy maintenance and power management. I added a firewire card yesterday by simply sliding one of the servers out on it's built-in rails, popping the top, and sliding it right back in (OK, there were a few more steps, but it was really easy).
What's in your toolbox? Talk back below and let us know what technology you and your users don't want to live without.