Category Archives: Conferences / shows

There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.”
― John Lydgate

BETT always provides something to talk about and this year has been know different. Whether it is announcing to 500 people at a TeachMeet that you and your wife are having a baby (and using Skitch on the scan!) through to the content of some of the seminars on stands.

One of the final sessions today was on the Google stand by Dan Leighton, Director of Technology at The Grammar School in Leeds, where he was basically covering about change in tech in Education. His slide deck is available here.

And a quick note for reference, the Google stand was directly opposite the EduGeek stand (sponsored by Smoothwall).

And why is that important? Well, as someone with 11 years leading EdTech in schools, Dan covered a number of things but the one picked out by friend at EduGeek was that he put out significant challenge that there are Network Managers who resist and block change, who say things don’t work when they can do and who even do things in a certain way to protect their jobs.

Ouch.

As an advocate for the professional identity of IT Support in schools several members shared the situation with me and I dutifully queried it via Twitter, challenging Google on the stance (as this is linked, to some extant, to the classroom in the cloud).

Google came back and said it was not their stance, apologised and then Twitter conversation sparked up around it.

Context is king here, and after discussing in Twitter it was clear that it was not the challenge about resistance to change but the fact that it appeared a swipe was taken at the whole profession.

The problem is… well… we *all* know the people described above. We have even done it ourselves at times.

Change is a difficult thing and to have someone not in our profession have a go at us for blocking it, well it won’t go down well.

However, there are always two sides. As a friend put it, a different lens. I caught up with Dan on Twitter and then via the phone and it is clear that the intended challenge was not aimed at all and sundry, that he has high regard for technical staff (having work in data centres in product design) and that the large barriers are communication and understanding the other person’s perspective.

An apology on Twitter from Dan, and clarifying that he truly does see a good Network Manager as an amazing resource.

But in conversation with EduGeek friends it has become clear that a wider explanation is needed.

Having not seen the presentation or been in the Q&A I am having to sit on the fence between EduGeek and Dan.

Looking at the points complained about, that all NMs were tarred with the same brush of being blockers, that NMs lie about things not working and that NM resist change to protect their jobs … Dan and I discussed these in refreshing openness.

It was never Dan’s intent to tar everyone with the same brush, to upset or insult. Yes, the issue needed highlighting and if listeners thought it was covering everyone that was not the intent. Apologies have been offered and hopefully accepted.

The challenge that some Network Managers say things don’t work when they do? Yes, that is the case. I’ve done it and have seen plenty others do it. The context though is that this is short hand for, “what you are asking for is Techinical feasible but has significant issues… from the resources (people) taken to set it up, the disruption to all other users, the cost, the reduction in functionality compared to what is already in place, it is not part of the 5 year IT development and maintenance plan…” and so on.

Without people effectively communicating, both sharing information and listening in an open manner, all people will hear is, “computer says no!” Moving to cloud services is not a simple change but that doesn’t mean it should not be looked at by all staff, evaluated and an appropriate decision made. If it is against the recommendations of the IT team and they still resist or refuse then that is a personnel issue, not technology.

Mordac, preventer of IT services was used to demonstrate this (from the Dilbert comic strip) and whilst that may be seen as harsh, most of us would have been viewed as that by others … either because we have not communicated or the others have not listened.

That some NMs resist change to protect their jobs? This is an extremely valid point and this is not something unique to IT in schools. What is sometimes not understood is that the job description any IT staff have is poor. That there is an expectation to know everything about everything with a plug. If you have an established skill set based on what you do in the school, and you are paid accordingly.

Change that skill set, change what you do and your job changes. It is like asking a head of English who also coordinates literacy to become a main scale History teacher because literacy is now part of the Humanities focus. This has become evident through BSF managed services and the push of Single Status. In some places these have reduced experienced and highly skilled Network Managers to the equivalent position of a science technician or HLTA. Their sort of change all depends only the Senior Leadership of the school, and those who value their staff will promote the flexibility of technology change but the security of job and terms. This is not to say schools might not get rid people as tools change. In the same way the ICT curriculum changed and some teachers moved on or subjects no longer get taught, the same will happen for IT teams.

It is not unexpected that some, who have seen others damaged due to school choices, might be resistant and seek security. This is a personnel thing again.

The only way all the works together is by having Network Managers recognised for the expertise and professionalism they bring, Teaches recognised for the expertise and professionalism they bring, effective communication between all concerned and an understanding of how to manage change.

Dan’s presentation and challenge might have pressed some of the wrong buttons for some, but the follow up conversation should show how the challenge is needed for some, should be the norm for others and that no insult needs to be taken on either side if there is concern about the stance of either side.

Naace Impact Awards pt 2

It was quite a lovely shock to find that I won an award today.

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Last year Naace took the brave step of introducing an award aimed at technical staff in schools. At the time, when speaking with some peers from the technical community, some expressed concern about how a “bunch of teachers and LA folk could every work out how hard technicians and NMs work” and considering how difficult that can be within schools I can understand that a minority had some scepticism about it.

The award is an Impact Award, designed to see what impact you make on learning, and it is up to you to sell yourself against the criteria of “how do you make a difference in schools and with learners”… and that can be a daunting task. You are asked to measure what a difference keeping servers running makes, asked about why it is important to communicate about the services you help the school provide and how it can be used to support / deliver the curriculum, asked about the lengths you have gone to when making sure that the child with a visual impairment is not simply “catered for” but truly feels included due to assistive technology you provide, asked about how you work with teachers and SLT to generate ideas about emerging technologies or simply better use of existing tools, asked about business tools, asked about extra-curricular groups ranging from coding clubs through to bee-keeping … I can go on but you get the idea.

This year I was lucky to be nominated by a friend (a teachmeet legend) and since I am not in a school anymore I fell back to thinking about what I really do.

I work with and support communities of people. All those things above? That is what they do … day in, day out … and I am lucky enough to help some of them flesh out those ideas, give encouragement so they will go to meetings with SLT about their ideas, work with them to help come up with standards in schools … but most of all I am a part of these communities. I am mere mortal without them.

Most of those short listed are regulars and contributors to these communities, whether via twitter or mainly via EduGeek.net. On the whole we should say that these communities have won the award for me (not false modesty but a true statement) …

So I dedicated my award to the communities … #ukedchat, TeachMeet, NetworkNorthants, NorthantsBLT … but most of all to EduGeek.net.

Next year I will be nominating someone from EduGeek.net … and this is not a challenge for folk to up their game, or any other manglement jargon, it is just to say that you all should keep doing what you at doing, hold your heads up high and be proud of the difference you make. It is recognised and I am thankful to Naace to recognising this.

Thank you all.

Naace ICT Impact Awards

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It felt very strange on Thursday whilst down at BETT … I was nervous, excited, pensive and lots of other things which generally mean I was not too sure how to feel.

I had been put forward for an award and was waiting to hear about being shortlisted.

Naace has no doubt about the impact that ICT can have on learning and teaching when used well by skilled and creative professionals. ICT makes a real difference to learner’s achievement and engagement; it offers access to resources that would otherwise be beyond the reach of any school or college, it allows communication and collaboration beyond the physical and temporal limits of the classroom; it allows learners to think more clearly and see the world from another perspective. Naace has a long standing history of supporting those working in education to use ICT to achieve the greatest possible impact, and now seeks to provide some formal recognition of outstanding work in this area. (taken from [url=http://www.naace.co.uk/events/conference2013/naaceimpactawards2013]Naace: Naace Impact Awards 2013[/url])

I was put forward for the following award

Technical Support Service Impact – Sponsored by Meru NetworksExcellent customer service and technical competence are assumed by this award, but to win it, it will be essential to demonstrate the key differences that the service has made to the learning opportunities and outcomes of young people.

And have been shortlisted against the following.

  • Tony Sheppard, Edugeek For tirelessly supporting colleagues around the country, providing guidance on suitable technology and facilitating the sharing of information and expertise
  • Joskos Solutions Limited For providing a consistently reliable ICT support service, with the flexibility to incorporate special projects and events, and enabling teachers to use ICT in their lessons with complete confidence
  • Phil Jones, Pool Academy For his enthusiasm and commitment to making ICT as accessible and enjoyable as possible, removing barriers to learning
  • Simon Sloan, Bedford Drive Primary School For his hands-on approach to supporting staff and students with their use of ICT in the curriculum and for introducing a range of opportunities to further the students’ experiences of ICT
  • Sahib Chana, Platinum IT For leading a range of technical changes and providing bespoke solutions across the curriculum that have accelerated and broadened the Academy’s use of ICT

I am amazed that a) I was initially nominated by someone who I respect for the amount of work he has done to enthuse his school, his fellow teachers, the education community and folk in general … and b) that folk are seeing the benefits you get from keeping technical folk involved, the impact that we can have on learning and also that we are thoroughly nice and helpful. As far as I am concerned, this shortlisting could have gone to numerous members of EduGeek (and it deserves too) and I am pretty sure that most of the above are members / lurkers anyway.

Good luck to all involved (and in the other categories as well) and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the NAACE conference.

And the winner is … iOS6

Today was another peak in the circus of an Apple Fanboi!

The Apple World Wide Developer Conference always has some interesting things to see and today’s keynote was no different. There will always be some hype, some disappointment, some pragmatism and some anger … and different people will feel it about different things, even within the realm of Apple Fandom.

To be honest, there was nothing which was too unexpected. We saw some hardware improvements in the Pro notebook range, tweaks in the consumer (albeit expensive consumer) notebook range and a some other hardware updates didn’t make it into the keynote but have come up on the Apple Store. Until we see the new kit in the hands of testers and real people it is hard to say what difference they will make but two key items on the top end MacBookPro are likely to be spoken about a bit … access to 2 Thunderbolt ports give you high speed I/O to a range of devices, from displays, external RAID enclosures, adapters for Gigabit Ethernet / Firewire 800 / fibre channel and a range of capture devices … and you still have a HDMI port for a second display and video output anyway. Couple that with the Retina Display and you have a device for video editors, photographers and so on … giving them one of the best graphics experiences for seeing their work. Of course, the debate goes on about whether some people can notice the difference with screens of this high calibre, and whether this is a marketing gimmick … and so we will have to wait to see what it is like when people start using the machines in anger.

We saw a raft of features spoken about with Mountain Lion, the next incarnation of OS X (no longer even called Mac OS X … a disappointment to those of us who paid for the original Mac OS X Beta). A number of these have been covered before as we are now on Preview Release 4. The strength which appeared to be taken from the new features seemed to be the accessibility tools (dictation, etc) and the portability of your personal settings to other devices. We have already seen the push for iCloud and how this links with Photostream between your devices … and this increase with iMessage, Notes, Reminders, Sharing and so on …

The key areas I am looking at with Mountain Lion are around AirPlay and Notification Centre. As someone who has a lot of inbound information streams there are some tools I use to manage this, but Notification Centre looks as if it could make a big difference for me.

And then we get onto the area that everyone was waiting for … iOS6.

With no formal announcement of an iPhone5 we are all looking to see what the new OS will do on existing hardware. Although we were told it would work on legacy devices back to iPhone 3GS, 4th gen iPod Touch, the iPad 2 and the new iPad (and yes, that is how Apple term it on their site) we do not know how much of the functionality will work. Siri will work on the new iPad we are now told, but will it work on the iPad 2? I doubt it … in the same way it doesn’t work on an iPhone4. A lot of the updates make more sense for the iPhone and iPod touch than the iPad. Moving from Google to Apple’s own Map service, Passbook for holding electronics tickets for cinema, flights, etc (possibly a lead into Near Field Communications [NFC] for using an iPhone for payment services?), improvements in how you manage incoming phone calls and notifications (it has only taken them a few years) … but the accessibility improvements have also seen me amazed that Apple appear to have really understood a need on the iPad. Enabling a parent / carer / teacher to only allow one app on a device as well as restricting touch input on particular parts of the screen seem to be encouraging using iOS devices with children. Engaging them whilst not overloading them.

An area of concern is the increasing integration with Facebook … as much as I generally trust Apple we are now in the situation where the ever changing preferences on Facebook will also have to deal with how that is applied with iOS too.

There is a lot to take on board with it all and I would recommend people watch Tim Cook take the keynote, if nothing else to see the difference between him and Steve Jobs, as well as a lengthier demonstration of all of the above.

As for what it all means for schools and education …

Hardware – Apple personal computers (desktop / laptop) are expensive. They can work out good value if you buy the one which is right for your requirements and you know how to get the most out of them, but in the present times of austerity this is more and more difficult. It seems to be that more schools are going down the mobile device (iOS or Android … and eventually Windows 8 !) and this is understandable. The lack of a decent server in the Apple hardware range does show that management of any Apple Device is not taken that seriously (IMHO) by the folk at Cupertino. A disappointing comment to make, but one many experienced Mac Sysadmins would agree with.

Mountain Lion – Again, the lack of mention of how the Server tools will work means that it will be interesting to see how the devices fit into a school environment. The increased emphasis on a personalised device, with settings and information following you around via Apple’s iCloud, means that there could be clashes in an education environment. The major bonuses for me come in the way of Airplay as a means of ditching the Interactive Whiteboard (until you are ready to make the most of them) and tools such as Dictation.

iOS – Again, the emphasis on a personalised device does work well with BYOD, but the increasing number of schools I speak with who only see the shiny nature of it or the cost cutting side … iOS6 will do little to improve or support the use of BYOD over iOS5. Until we look at the management tools and what settings can be applied to encourage best use of the devices … then we should still plan on making the most of iOS5. Siri is a major improvement, but like all information services (google search, wikipedia) information on its own does not give you understanding and knowledge … so we have to understand the most appropriate use (teachers before technology folks). Accessibility will be an interesting area to work on and develop, and how we make the most of personal devices as a tool and not as a cheap (or expensive) gimmick to generate engagement for the sake of it.

I am trailing Mountain Lion on my work MacBookPro (starting to get on a bit but should be serviceable) and will put my thoughts on this blog as I discover things I like or loathe, or if I spot things that could be fun in the classroom, or things which could help a teacher or SLT change / improve their working life.

I will also be testing iOS6 on an iPad2 (my own one) to see what apps do and don’t work, to try to see if we can lock it down and tweak settings, and to see if there are restrictions on some functionality … hopefully helping people work out whether they need to go for the new iPad or if they can get away with a cheaper iPad 2.

If you have any particular areas you want me to test or try out then let me know. You lot are going to be more inventive than I am for a lot of this because you are pushing the limits in class already.

Apple Leadership Summit – The Workshops pt 3

We have now covered the most simplistic methods which many schools are using to manage iOS devices, and frequently these are shared devices we are talking about, not individual devices owned by the user. The issues that this can bring is that as you grow with the number of devices you have or reduce the amount of time you have available to cover support of the devices you have to look at more efficient and practicable solutions.

The next area covered in the workshop was the concept of profiles. Those who have looked into Group Policy Objects (GPOs) in the world of Windows or the use of WorkGroup Manager (WGM) on Mac OS X can see easy parallels and might look to apply the exact same concepts used to lock down machines. Apple were keen to stress that it is not about locking down but more a case of ensuring that certain settings were enabled and that you knew where the responsibility lay for control / changes of the settings.

In a similar way to the nuts and bolts of GPOs just being a method of forcing changes to the registry on a  Windows client, and WGM forcing changes of .plist files on a Mac OS X Client, the iPhone Configuration Utility (IPCU) creates a text file which, when loaded onto an iOS device, changes settings.

It covers a number of areas including security, Wi-Fi, VPN, email, calendar, address book and some application restrictions. We covered some of these setting in the previous post when we looked at on-device settings, but a profile can also be used to set up part of the information required and allowing the user to complete the rest. An example would be to put in all the details for the Exchange Server but leaving some fields blank so the user enters the information relevant to themselves. A more details guide on this can be found on the help section of the Apple website

Another important security area is around passcodes where you can set the complexity including whether you allow simple passcodes (ie repeating / ascending / descending sequences), whether you require alphanumeric values (must contain at least one letter), minimum length, age, auto-lock time period, history and, possibly the most important if considering the device would be used by a member of staff, how many failed attempts before the device is wiped (I’ll talk a bit more at a later date about encryption on iOS devices).

We also have to consider whether the profile can be removed by the user. The options include Always, With Authorization and Never … remembering that if you wipe the device (there are a variety of methods) it will take it back to requiring activation and you start again anyway with a clean slate. Also remember that, in the most basic setup, the profile is something a user (or the person setting it up) has to accept to install. When we look at Profile Manager later on we can consider some of the ethos behind putting particular settings into the profile so that the user has to agree to various settings as a method of gaining access to certain areas (eg email) and a common method of control for this is the granting of access to the secure, wireless network.

Profiles can be loaded via USB, can be emailed out to users to install, can be pulled down from websites or pushed out wirelessly via MDM solutions. One important thing to remember when exporting profiles from IPCU is security. These are text files and if you do a simple export can be read and changed via a plain text editor. You can sign the profile so any changes will noticed by the device if you try to install it but this basically changes it to read only mode. What should be considered as the only option is sign and encrypt the file. Just think … this profile could have all the settings needed by a user to join your hidden wireless network, usernames and passwords for mail servers (if using a profile per person or allocating a specific email account per device) and so on … do you really want that in plain text?

It is simple to sort though by just ensuring you export it signed and encrypted.

The next post will look at some of the uses of the new tool on the block, Apple Configurator, and what we were shown about what looks to be the first stage of a good methodology for managing and deploying devices in bulk.

Apple Leadership Summit – The Workshops pt 2

The workshop spent some time looking at the range of tools to support and manage iOS devices and so I’ll run through some of the areas which it covered. I’ll also try to highlight where most of us are when it comes to many schools trying to do ad-hoc management of devices. For the sake of short-hand I will use iPad to describe an iOS device … but I could easily say iPhone or iPod Touch.

The first things we are generally all used to using is iTunes. Those of us with personal devices or those who are using BYOD / student leased devices are likely to not see a lot of use of iTunes as it is done by the user instead. Some schools with only a handful of devices might be using iTunes managed from one machine to look after devices .

All devices, whichever method you use, needs to go through 4 phases and iTunes can manage all those.

  1. Activate
  2. Update
  3. Configure
  4. Sync

When you get an iPad out the box or when you do a remote wipe it needs to be activated. It can be done over the air (with the advent of iOS5) or it is commonly done using iTunes for many users. This allows you to set up basic things like language, country, enable / disable location services, connect to a network and restoring from a saved backup (an important idea to come back to later).  It is also possible to put iTunes in Activation-only mode so that the update / config / sync can be done by other users and other tools.

The iPad will then check to ensure that it has the latest version of iOS (remembering that it cannot restore a backup from a newer iOS version). You then configure the iPad as to how it will backup, whether it can sync over Wi-Fi, what it will sync (going into detail in the tabs for Apps, Tones, Music, Movies, TV Shows, etc), type of video quality (i.e. between HD and SD) and so on. In the general summary tab I personally think that people should have a good look at the ‘Configure Universal Access’ button as the use of voiceover and zoom can be quite handy for many learners.

Once you have the device the way you want it with the relevant Apps and media then it will sync, taking us through to the final action of setting up an iPad in the simplest manner, via iTunes. Of course, trying to do this for a raft of devices is neither practical nor efficient. The simplest method of doing this on bulk is to take one iPad, build it the way you like it and then restore the backup onto each new iPad as you activate it, which will go some way to automating the configuration and sync sections.

And this is where a lot of school stay … an ad-hoc arrangement where a HLTA or IT Technician has to build a new ‘image’ (well … backup an exemplar iPad) and load it onto the other devices. There is little ‘locking down’ of the machine and whilst it is a bit of a mess to cope with it can be a lot cheaper than spending a lot of time and money on the other tools.

There are some quick wins though. iTunes on its own will allow you to configure certain things but to really perfect a device you need delve into the on-device configuration. Setting up for home sharing can make it easy for learners to access resources shared via iTunes (always use a second AppleID for this in my experience) but the real benefits come when you look into Settings > General > Restrictions. Here you can turn off access to iTunes, installing or deleting apps, YouTube and even Safari … though Ned and co did warn us to be careful about this as some Apps make use of Safari to work. You can set the ratings for content, allow or block In-App purchases, and more. Well worth having a look at the Online Manual of iOS 5 for more information about what setting you can control.

And this deals with basic setup of the iPad. Fine for a handful of devices and there are some tools to make bulk restore / sync a possibility when also tied in with storage / security trolleys.

In the next blog post we look at iPhone Configuration Utility and who this will build a profile of setting for you similar to the manual job of using iTunes / on-device settings.

Apple Leadership Summit – The Workshops

There were 3 streams at the event and, although I really wanted to buck the stereotype and get more involved in the content creation stream, I really had to go to the infrastructure stream as there are so many questions and queries about Mobile Device Management (MDM) that needed looking into.

I blog fairly extensively about the last Leadership Summit here and here so I already had a good idea what we were in store for, and I have also done a fair bit of investigations already. The introduction of Lion Server changed a number of things, and newer tools which have been added on since are also changing ideas about how to plan and manage devices.

I’ve got to say a big thanks to Ned and the rest of the Apple team in the workshop. We all know that companies will toe a certain party line, and these folk are no different, but the allowances for healthy interjection from delegates, questions ranging from the slightly enquiring to the in-depth technical and still managing to keep the workshop pretty much on track meant that they had to field some difficult questions and gave some pretty good answers, and tried not to disappoint when they could offer no more than some basic “sorry, but there is no VPP yet” responses.

I’ve also got to say that there are some legal and regional things about MDM which were covered. The Apple folk did remind us that *we* have to make sure that *we* are happy that *we* are following the T&Cs, laws of the land, etc. The session was a technical one, not a legal and contracts one. There are differences about how we might opt to manage things in UK compared to US because of a number of facts, but the main one is that the Volume Purchase Program (VPP) does not operate in the UK so solutions which talk about bulk purchase and pushing out apps are technically possible in the UK, but not following the rules at this time! We did look at options about how to ensure you are fully licenced and that is another key fact to remember.

So, caveats done and we can continue.

The session started with each delegate introducing themselves and explaining what they were looking for from the session. It was good to see a range of primary, secondary and special schools, people employed by schools and 3rd party support firms, as well as representatives from RM and Jigsaw24. In general most are looking for ideas about how to deploy and manage devices, and about app deployment and the legalities behind it.

Presently we tend to think of traditional IT deployments of suites in classrooms, or we have started to move away from them to mobile classrooms. We then also have those who have gone (or are starting to go) down the one to one route to give an easy way of all being able to access devices (a common theme from the day, to be honest). iOS devices are slightly different and we have a number of options. How you plan your infrastructure is dependant on how you want to plan to use the devices.

We can split it into 3 areas. Device Sharing (closest to present day), One to One (mix of institutional and personal data) and User Responsible (highly personalised and almost anything goes). Once you have thought about which option you want then you can start to plan how to get there. Personally I think it is likely that once you start planning then you might find barriers to going down certain routes and you might have to make compromises … sometimes down to money, sometime down to the need to change the curriculum … it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try but there might be times you have to be a little pragmatic.

Looking at the methods of managing devices we can see 6 areas.

iTunes – which we are pretty used to with them being consumer devices, but with a large manual requirement

On-device configuration – where we use the settings on the device or on particular apps, again a familiar task with a large manual requirement

iCloud – again something we might be used to

iPhones Configuration Utility (IPCU) – a way of generating profiles which can be applied to one or more devices. Those of us used to GPOs within Windows AD or WorkGroup Manager with macs will find this fairly familiar and the idea that a GPO is just a series of registry changes, or in WGM generates changes to .plist files … profiles are pretty similar.

Apple Configurator – the new kid on the block which is likely to be key for many of us. It allows for prep for mass deployment, supervising devices and assigning devices to individuals within the organisation.

And finally … Mobile Device Management (MDM) – the full blown tool which makes use of a framework provided by Apple to do all of the above. Within Apple’s toolset we have Profile Manager on Lion Server (used in conjunction with some of the above where needed) and you have an MDM lite solution …

There are a number of good 3rd party MDM solutions out there and to some extent it is a bit like making the decision about whether to use middleware on your network to manage Windows, whether it be RM’s CC3 or CC4 or one of the other products out there (Viglin’s Classlink, CSE, etc). It also depends on the mindset of the school. If it the attitude is “lock it all down” then you might want one route, and if you prefer a more ‘enabling’ and user reliant option then you go down another path.

So … there we have the first post … with the above tools you can go from delivering a shared device in a library which can be set up quickly for each user as it is booked out to them, a device which has all the settings for email etc and just requires the user to finish it off by putting in their username and password, you can stop the buying, deleting or even access to various apps, or you can bulk prep personal devices but to get access to your wifi settings they have to ‘log on’ to a certain managed profile. Over the next week I will try to cover each tool in a separate post.

The final thing I will say is that, whilst not explicitly mentioned, it is important to have a decent infrastructure for the devices to run over, and a presumption that most of the management / config will be done on a Mac (some tools don’t require a Mac but the significant ones will do).

Apple Leadership Summit – Intro

It is good to see Apple throw themselves into the education arena a bit more after having been notoriously shy over the last few years. With the corporate stance on attending tradeshow meaning that the official presence at BETT has not been a possibility it was wonderful to see a number of combined ASE/ADE/AASP stands, actually staffed by many of the same people who came along and worked on the Apple stand in previous years.

Having attended a previous Apple Leadership Summit last October I was glad to be able to get an invite to the latest one, held yesterday at Silverstone. Over the next post or two I’ll be covering most of my notes from the event and hopefully be able to give a significant update on where I left things after my blog posts after last year’s Summit.

The notes will take from my own notes, my tweets and some tweets from others.

I’ll try to split the posts into 3 areas: vision, practice and infrastructure design … the last one is likely to be a biggie so I will probably start there. Whilst most of what was covered is about mobile devices from Apple, a lot of the principles about how you plan and think about it can be translated to other offerings.

BETT – Mr Gove’s Speech

It was interesting to finally get to an opening keynote at BETT and it turns out to be Mr Gove, Secretary of State for Education. Having read a few newspaper articles over breakfast most of us knew the basics of what the speech was going to say, but we all know and appreciate that, short of publishing the whole speech in a newspaper, there will always be some element of selective editing … and some important bits can be missed.

I did video the whole speech and will probably do some selective clips in a later post to highlight certain points but the key things (for me) can be drawn out of the full text which is available on the DfE website, which also has a copy of the video.

Over the last few months we have seen a bit of softening from Mr Gove on some parts of technology and ICT. The initial lack of any comment or ideas on technology were disconcerting for many, and the rawness of the demise of Becta, coupled with the scaling back of LA involvement, had hit a nerve with many. Whatever the good reasons for such a rapid change, it was detrimentally viewed due to so many other issues it was causing. The political flags waved on all sides and some tended to forget a key fact … lack of information and unsure direction was having a detrimental effect on schools who were delaying adopting good use of technology often because they were waiting for the next hoop to jump through.

Well, the core of the speech helped solve some of that. Some of the hoops are going. The Programme of Study is going under consultation with a view to being scrapped by September 2012. No hanging around waiting for alternatives to be formulated, discussed, dissected, tested, implemented and reviewed … but a quick change to let schools get on with doing what they know best. There is still a requirement to teach ICT, but no prescription about what / how.

And for the schools who still need help and support? There are plenty of folk who can help with this, ranging NAACE to fellow schools, commercial suppliers through to consultants, and a number of special interest groups. Comments from others at the speech ranged from “About time, we have been giving examples of where it could be better for ages” through to “Oh yes, another chance for people to profit at the expense of schools!”

Of course, it is worth saying that some of what Michael Gove was saying raises even more questions. The repeated bashing on about the ICT curriculum being poorly taught to bored children seems to a little away from demonstrations I saw at the show, from what I saw at the TeachMeet, with what I see in local schools. I am not saying there are not times when it is boring and mundane, and is merely hoop jumping for tick box curricula … we all know that some courses and work can be done that way, but it doesn’t mean that it is *all* done that way … and the knocking of ICT by some to promote other agendas (including Computer Sciences) seems to have been jumped on by our political masters. Of course, we can argue that this would not be done without evidence and cause, but I worry about the good being thrown out with the bad. At least now, after the speech, I can hopefully say that those schools who are still doing good stuff with ICT will continue to do so.

But Computing … that is the next big thing. Lots of reports abound about how we are missing the skills for this and the various groups working on dealing with this are coming from different positions. Ian Livingstone spoke at the recent Microsoft Partners in Learning event about the role of computing and creativity (linked in with the games and creative industries), with STEM ambassadors stressing the link with science … and naturally you will come across many IT Professionals who will push computing / computer science with a greater understanding on the use and management of computers.

I am not saying that any of these are wrong or any is more right than others, but it does come across at times as a bit fractious and people are grabbing for control … sometimes losing some of the benefits of joined up work. Recent discussions on the Computing at Schools group have shown this too me … people annoyed at the perceptions about others possibly charging for access to a robust curriculum, in spite of this being something that Mr Gove was clearly promoting … buying in resources, expertise and structure …

And so we get back to the core of the Speech. Mr Gove says that Computing is important … because lots of notable people and some important reports say so. No direction will be given on exactly how this will turn out but references to work from BCS (actually from CAS, which BCS are helping to co-ordinate, but supported by Microsoft, Google and others), mention of NAACE and talk about commercial firms providing knowledge and expertise.

Nothing on Open Source, other than an oblique reference in a section heading … no real mention of what it means and even possibly mis-representing how open source products can be collaborated on with developmental forks and code being rolled back into a single project … in fact the opposite of what he says about things being in a single document. Nothing explicitly about examples of collaborative sharing. In fact … you could say that this opportunity to mention the Big Society seems to have been missed as well …

So where does this leave us? Or rather where does it leave IT Professionals working in schools?

If computing is going to have a larger role in schools then we have to make sure that schools have ready methods of allowing computer studies / computing / coding to take place. There have been a number of comments to me that teachers in some schools (thankfully a small number but still over 100 in the last 2 years) have experienced problems with their IT Support staff blocking changes. Yet I know of many schools where teachers and children code on a regular basis. When asked about this at the NAACE conference last year I had to explain that there is no standard way of saying to schools, “this is how you do it” … because there is no standard for IT facilities in schools … not even in those with managed services under BSF.

And after the speech we know that there will be a number of different ways of enabling the different options for computing to take place in schools … in fact it is an important part of the speech … no central prescription … schools choose what they think is best. So the only way it will work is if IT Support staff and companies become even more flexible. It means ensuring that you are actively talking with other staff in school now about what they are planning, it is all about instead of saying ‘no’ to something tying to explain what the issues are, what compromises can be made and making people aware of the legal requirements which you have to comply with no matter how important the educational needs are. It is about talking to other schools in the same position. It is about taking part in the planning of the curriculum as well.

One comment that has stuck with me, from Miles Berry (Senior Vice Chair of NAACE), was that IT Professionals in schools are in a pretty unique position to work with teaching staff. Their wide experience of technical expertise, planning, scripting and understanding of UI almost makes them perfect to help develop what happens with computing in schools …

So I look forward to the next 12 months and what it brings to IT Professionals in schools and the impact of Mr Gove’s speech. hopefully it also brings more professional recognition as well as fostering closer working between them and teaching staff.

BETT 2012 – The Summary

It may seem a little strange to write a summary without having written the other posts … but best to keep things short and sweet.

There will be more posts, but rather than the initial splurge of activity post-BETT I thought I would share ideas, opinions, what I saw, conversations I had, etc … but over a longer period … and it also means that I have the benefit of looking at blog posts from others too … and this year there are a plethora of posts!

I am pretty sure I can summarise the event pretty quickly …

From the point of view of a regular visitor / exhibitor … a few new things, not much of a change of emphasis (i.e. no sudden swings to IWBs, VLEs, tablets, content, $new_revolutionary_tech, etc) but more emphasis on showing use in classrooms / the difference it makes to a school.

Strategy … a fair chunk of the show was taken over by the idea that schools have to make the decisions now (a good thing) because there is no-one there to help them. I felt this is not quite true as there are a raft of people around to help schools … LAs still exist, communities of other schools are collaborating more, there are plenty of formal groups ranging from The Schools Network and NAACE through to think tanks and special interest groups such as Computing At Schools, and this is before we get to the amount of support and sharing going on via the exhibitors at the show. To some extent Mr Gove’s opening speech covered the importance of taking control of your own destiny and so on … but more on that in other posts.

Networking … for many this is the key to the show. We are not talking about the movers and shakers meeting in closed rooms, but innovative and exciting teachers / senior leaders / IT Support having a chance to meet with others of the same ilk, sharing ideas and projects. These range from people from the K-Team through to fellow EduGeek members. Sometimes it is a mutual friend who introduces people, sometimes it is the fringe events giving chance for people to find new connections (Collabor8 4 change) and sometimes it is the exhibitors joining the dots.

So, a hectic 4 days followed by a few weeks of picking through the various notes I made, videos and pictures taken, emailing new people I met and keeping in contact with old friends.

I will also try to link to specific blogs and articles I have found of interest during or post event … and looking forward to reading a lot more of how other felt about the show.

(Also posted via EduGeek Blogs)