Category Archives: adventure

I’m sure I had some budget left?

Let’s face it … we have all had this thought in our heads at some point in the school year. We may have even said it out loud in front of the Bursar / Business Manager as we try to sneak an order in for something. We may be at the point of having to work out what we can’t do until the next financial year and hoping that we can at least do a little bit of what is needed, or buy essentials.

Well, I hate to break it to you but it is not going to get any easier. Whilst the CSR might have been reasonable to schools, you will find that the extra money will not come the way of any form of technology (I am not going to get into the political debate about whether there is actually an extra money. There will be for some and not for others … presume the worst, hope for the best!) This means that all those posts you might have read from Ray Fleming and Miles Berry are more relevant than ever.

If you haven’t read them then go and do so … don’t stop to read this drivel … read and read!!!

Oh … you are back … good show!

Where was I. Oh yes, budgets. All those out there who have a long term school development plan which take care of development of technology in the curriculum, how to fund it and when to change it please pass go and collect £200 … oh yes … there goes Paul Haigh and Mike Herrity … and a few more. Good to see you again chaps. And not forgetting Elaine Brent … actually … quite a steady stream of people going past now …

Ok, and let us see who is left. Ah … as I thought … still too many of you.

Let us see what we can do to deal with some of the problems. Have you looked at the LGfL/Becta Budget Planner? I know that it is a bit old, but still perfectly serviceable. You may have to use a bit of lateral thinking for virtualised servers and it doesn’t quite cover cloud services (not all of which are free) but it is a good starting point, and it will be a huge improvement on having nothing to help in planning your costs. There may even be someone who fancies putting this into a series of Google forms to help people in their planning, or it could be incorporated into your Sharepoint setup …

This is presuming that you know what kit you have got. I’m not going to start a rant again about inventories, configuration management databases, definitive software library … most people will have read my earlier posts about how important this is, how they are important to supporting FITS and how IT Support can struggle without them. There are plenty of good discussions on software to gather most of this for you, whether it is open sources (GPLi / OCS NG, etc) or built in with other tools (SSCM, NetSupport DNA, etc) and there are others out there with far more hands-on experience to review the software … so I will let you make up your own mind. Just remember that you cannot plan what you are going to use technology for, or look at what technology you need unsless you know where you are starting from.

And then we hit the big snag … not a small one … or even a middle sized one … but a dirty great big one that means you could have to delve into your god-like powers again. Surely you have heard the motto of the IT Manager who has stuff dropped on them days (or hours … or even minutes) before it is needed.

Miracles I can do today … for the impossible please give 24 hours notice … and some pizza … and coke … and chocolate … and a bit of time off afterwards … and did I mention the chocolate?

Yes, the White Paper means the goal posts are shifting once more. Some of you will be in schools who are not that bothered. You may have SLT who are strong enough to recognise that the goal posts always shift and so you adapt or just create your own … sticking two fingers up to the world of politicians and they know what they do is good for the kids. For others … you might find that the targets of the last few years (or perhaps the last few months) are now out the window.

The first thing I would recommend you do is to take stock of what you have (darn it … I’m talking about the inventory again) but not just the physical aspect … but the functionality too. What software have you got? Office suite? Stuff for graphics and art? CAD/CAM? Programming? Numeracy? Go on .. delve down into that long forgotten cupboard of old software and check the licences on them?

Now, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to try and find out what the educational need is for the school. Are the school going to change any of the courses they run? Perhaps drop Media or Music Technology (well … you didn’t need those Macs you were planning to buy, did you?) and concentrate on English and traditional music courses (let’s all get classical).

Well … some English courses are now very media laden, so check out about cross-over of kit. Did you know that those Macs you did buy for the fancy sampling also have tutorials for playing the piano? Why not look at things like GigaJam to make the use of them for teaching the local community to teach themselves keyboards, etc …

You get the idea … if you have a tool to do 1 thing then try to find 3 other things to do with it.

Projectors and IWBs … now I know IWBs have been round for ages but by teaching staff how to use it to save annotations from what they have been doing during that lesson (save as PDF, upload onto your VLE) then you can get revision materials created without having to get a heap of handouts printed out before the exam at the end of the unit / course … another cost saving there …

I think you get the picture now.

Find out what you have got.

Find out how it can be used.

Find out what changes the school plans to make.

Talk with people about making the most use of the kit.

Talk with SLT about buying stuff that will have the most impact for least money.

Be prepared for change … change is inevitable.

Isn’t EduBlogs brilliant?!

Yes … the EduBlog Awards are here again and once again it is wonderful to see Ray Fleming’s Microsoft UK Schools Blog has been nominated in the Best eLearning / Corporate Education Blog and I would heartily recommend a well deserved vote for him … but I would also say that all of the other blogs on there are well worth a look too, and go and explore the other categories too …

In fact … when you stumble across the Educational Tech Support Blog category you will spot the absolutely fantastic The Angry Technician’s blog (which I am honoured to syndicate) which truly deserves your votes too.

Go on … you know you want to go and have a look at the other blogs there too. There is something for everyone.

Best of luck to all nominees.

Do *You* Know A Technical Champion?

Last year, in Northamptonshire, we tried something slightly different. With all the work that goes on nationally through TeachMeets, Unconferences, and other alternative CPD events it was clear that there is so much educational expertise that doesn’t seem to stick its head above water too much. Now, we all know about the success which is EdGeek.net. It is fantastic to see them at BETT each year and I am the proud to be the only member who has been to every conference (it helps that I used to organise them, I suppose), but when I moved to the county council team it was hard to pinpoint exactly what benefit it gave the county.

There were a number of regular members who were absolutely fantastic and who went out of their way to help others … but the same was true of folk in the county who weren’t members. Since I was running the half-termly meetings for IT Managers and IT Support Providers I was able to see that the unconference style would not be the best thing in the world to bring everyone together … but what would? What really drives the technical community together? Other than ranting about users, the chance for free food and a some of use doing the stereotypical thing of speaking geek about the latest gadgets … what would help?

Well, continuing the group meetings was a start. In spite of it sometimes being the Tony Sheppard show there were frequent speakers from the schools, talking about implementing disaster recovery options, deploying windows 2008, tailoring the EMBC filtering for local control based on user-groups, layer 3 networks, purchasing and procurement, data protection, BCS, security …

But were there people out there who could make more of a difference? I definitely thought so … and still do … and so I looked at what funds I had available for projects and I put together a plan … a cunning plan … a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and … hmm … we are going into stereotypes again, aren’t we.

Let’s see what we can do to find the Über Network Managers … the people who are technically inspiring; who have a fantastic grasp of managing the impossible (remember folks, miracles we can do today, the impossible requires at least 24 hours notice!); who can communicate with children, staff, middle and senior leaders; who can check over a budget spreadsheet and find the erroneous double entry for an ink cartridge; who can provide a healthy discourse on Bloom’s Taxonomy and why it had to be converted for the digital world …

Where can we find this wondrous being?

Well, you can’t … or rather you can, if they are given a chance … and sometimes there is not a chance because the top people can still have to spend their time fire-fighting, bailing people out of stupid ideas and trying to do the impossible in *less* than 24 hours.

So what could I do to help them? Give them the knowledge and tools to help themselves, or even give them the time and recognition needed to fine-tune their existing skills. And so the idea of the Technical Champion was born. Someone who has been fast-tracked into a management scheme aimed at middle leaders, but from a technical angle. And where do I find a course for this? Can there be something out there that takes a healthy dose of service management, project management, change management and shoves it all together with some processes to get the ball rolling?

Yes … FITS does this and since I had been banging on about how it would be the bedrock for good practice across the county it was about time we had some folk with real experience of the training. So, we funded four Network Managers, joined by a member of staff from ULT and myself and a fellow NCC Harnessing Technologies Manager … we did both the practitioners’ and managers’ courses.

I now had a core of 5 people representing schools, who could either share their experience and expertise directly with other schools, or who would feed it to schools through me.There are case studies to be written up over the coming 3 months and still more work to do with them.

And so, a year later … I am now expanding the group. I am now funding 8 more Network Managers, IT Technicians and ICT Coordinators through the FITS Practitioner course, being mentored by some of the existing Technical Champions too. The themes this year will be Communication and Change Management. They will have their own Moodle-based community to discuss and plan things together.

And the really exciting thing? For me … there is very little work. Gone are the days when the LA adviser was the High Priest … we are not the fountain of all knowledge. Instead the expertise in each school is key. As much as I have a fairly big ego, I happily hold my hands up and say that my hands on knowledge on technology is not as up to date as those working on it each and every day.  Then again, there is no Network Manager who is an expert on every bit of technology out there … or an expert in how it can be used most effectively either.

It also helps if you remember that each school is slightly different and will respond to the same problems or requirements in different ways. Helping the group to understand how to be flexible is important too. The best way of doing that is to get them to share … but accept that there is no single ‘best way’ of doing something …

So, the deadline for applications for the next group is Friday 29th October. We already have more applicants than places and so each applicant (who already has the support from their school) will have to write a short pen portrait of themselves and say what they will bring to the group. The existing Technical Champions will make the final decision and the FITS Training will be in December.

What does this have to do with areas outside of Northamptonshire though? Well, I am pretty sure that we all know someone who could be a Technical Champion. They might be a regular on EduGeek, they might be someone who is a key figure in your local LA IT forum / meetings, they might be someone who always gets calls and emails from others for advice and pointers, it could be they are a regular blogger, it could be that they are a community figure who develops things for free …

I know that I can’t fund people to go on FITS training, but I would still like to hear from you if you think you are, or could be, a technical champion. This is not replace any other forum, group, website, etc … this is just to try and link together a core group of like minded people who would be interested in generating some case studies, sharing some experiences and helping each other with a little constructive criticism.

And The Story Begins

1st September 2010

And so, the interpid geek sets foot in the hidden undergrowth of looking at how using Windows 7 affects productivity. The startup disk on my MacBookPro is set to my Boot Camp partition, I have made heavy use of my Technet subscription to get pretty much all the MS apps I might want for general business use, and then delved into the blogs from the Microsoft Summer Camp to get all the add-ins and extra apps suggested their (though I think the other folk in the office might soon learn to question my choice of SongSmith!)

I have now also started a page to log the apps I use and try to collate any notes or link to any blog posts. http://grumbledook.com/working-with-windows/

I will not be sticking soleyl with MS based apps, but if I am working in an MS environment then MS apps will be my primary choice until I need to try something different.

Windows 7 month

You know how it is … you get a reputation for being a fanboi! (ok … I own a few few Apple gadgets) or there are folk who are convinced you are an open source hippy … and then you get those who think you are a Microsoft drone (all descriptions of me from the last 3 months from various online groups / networks).

I’ve always been pretty up front about how I will work with pretty much anything I have access to and through personal choice over the years I have tended to find Apple kit / OS just makes me that bit more productive. I do continue to use a fair bit of open source software and MS software though so feel I have a good balance, but after reading how people are constantly pushing themselves to try different ways of working I have opted to dedicate more time to different systems.

From 1st September I will be working purely on Windows 7 for a month. This will be on a MacBookPro as that is the hardware I have available (I do like running MS OSes on Mac hardware though … I had an install of Vista on one machine that ran like a dream … made me wonder if we were all so wrong about Vista!) but unless I have a very real need to access something on the Mac side then BootCamp will be my friend. Over the coming week I will be looking at a variety of pieces of software to make sure I am as tooled up as I can be, that my files are somewhere secure and my access through various networks is enabled.

From 1st October I will be going down the open source route. I’ll probably set up a VM of Redhat or Ubuntu and using that unless I can dig out another laptop (not enough space to triple boot this machine but can easily run a VM off an external drive). So I will spend that last week in September looking for all the suitable OSS I need.

And then from 1st November I will run solely MacOS and associated software.

Most of my requirements will be for office, web 2 and social network access. I may have to dig into some video / audio editing and perhaps some graphics work, but most of the stuff planned is based around boring work I’m afraid, but I hope to take a bit of time out to try to look at a range of different tools that I may not have touched before and even try my hand at some of the activities I see the software being used for (screen recording them for the general amusement of others).

I haven’t really been bothered enough to this before … when I did my month without Google I ended up discovering that I can do it, it is a bit of a nuisance and that the non-Google stuff I was already doing was what worked well. I am trying to be open-minded about doing the same with this … so if people think I am slipping them please let me know.

I am also happy to read and digest anything that people have from others who have done similar (or if you have done it yourself already) so that I can compare experiences.