Category Archives: ict vision

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.

You say Computing, I say ICT…

It was interesting to see some of the education twitterverse today. From elation and smugness with the reversal and changes to proposals around GCSEs, to frustration and annoyance about the opening of the consultation on the draft National Curriculum … and then you hit the screams of joy or unbelief after ICT is slapped for a rename to Computing.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. The delivery of ICT goes from the wonderfully creative and engaging to the inane box ticking … and there can be a place for box ticking actually, but not how some folk do it within education.

Poor teaching is poor teaching. The idea that an important element of working with computers, including deep changes to knowledge and skills, was needed to be put back in had very few people disagreeing.

There has been some frustration about how some of this has been managed though, and how the interests of some groups seem to have pushed others out … a little bit of politics and a bit of Politics really. The agendas of some groups have ended up with a consultation that has, at times, excluded others … and if we consider that Naace (The ICT Subject association) members that have been leading the way on this … then it should not surprise anyone when Naace members get annoyed. I know I am. I am also a member of the BCS and yet they have done little for recognising the career and progression of my profession, those working in IT in education. It is a shame when the agendas of some stamp all over others … and the really sad thing is that most of the folk involved in those groups are not doing it intentionally … they are fighting for the same goals, but things get twisted around, certain businesses have their say and you just get that sinking feeling that we will be having similar conversations in 5, 10 and 15 years.

I put out a series of tweets earlier to express my initial feelings and to try to pass a message to others.

The name change from ICT is part curriculum need, part branding / marketing / spin and part politics (at both Gov’t and interest group level)

Considering the amount of cross-over with some of the interest groups I have a feeling a number of friendships are getting strained

For those doing great things under the umbrella of ICT, keep going. The snobbery against it will disappear over time … and we will all win

If you do poor things under the umbrella of ICT then this is a wake up call … and we hope things improve

But a Plato those enthusing about Computing … please don’t deride those doing great things as ICT, or allow others to do so!

Politics is a fickle thing … you never know when those in power will turn against you.

I hope this sums everything up for you …

Play nicely, play fairly, share and don’t let others tell your friends that they are not good teachers / educators / techies when you know they are!

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.

Internet Safety Talking Point 2

This is my latest blog post based on Scott McLeod’s 26 Internet Safety Talking Points.

Over the next few weeks I am looking at each point to tease apart the ideals behind them, to try to see both sides of the discussion and to share examples about who others have work on the issues. A lot of this will be from a UK-centric position but hopefully it will provide some insight into the similarities and differences with our friends in other countries.

Today’s point is about Decision Making

The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.

To use technology you should have a reason, understand what you want it to do and also understand how you can measure whether it is achieving it or not.

Oh dear … this sound like we are going to talk about planning again.

In the past a number of choices about technology have been a little chicken and egg with what has been used. There have been pilot projects or innovative schools who have gone out and done something interesting with new or emerging technology. The technology has inspired them to try something new and when it has worked you then find research to look into it on a wider scale. This is where folk like Becta came in … as well as groups such as the Association of Learning Technology, NAACE, Besa and so on. They took the research to the next level, either as partnerships with schools, those doing the research, with suppliers or as the controller of funds (or any combination) … resulting in ring-fenced funds to allow schools and LAs to implement a given technology.

So the idea that the technology should be based on your choice has not always been the way it should have been, but it was usually instigated based on good practice and research. How will it was implemented is then debatable and how much that removed control and decision making from individual schools is another point some will raise.

But where does the technology coordinator (NM, ICT Coordinator, LA Technology Manager) sit in this? To some extent they might have chosen the specific technology based on available funds, with a certain set of features, but the pedagogy behind it all should be pretty agnostic and be able to use whatever is provided. An IWB is an IWB … and whilst specific software might have benefits over other solutions the idea of it being used by learners is common … it is just the method which might change. The arguing point against this is around wireless tablets connected to projectors (removing the requirement for the learner to come to the front of the class … an important feature in some schools with learners who do not engage when in front of their peers) or the ‘add-on’ tools such as voting systems (actually a separate technology in their own right but can work well with IWBs).

The other arguing point around this is about policies and strategies. I hate to say it but there is a little thing called the law. In fact it is the Law. It deserves the capitalisation. And this varies across the world. There are many things which educationally would seem to be perfect decisions but are then put on hold or stopped because the NM / Tech coord / etc says no. This is not done lightly, nor is it done without consideration for what benefits will be lost and it is usually done with some attempt at compromise. Areas where there will be clashes ranging from safeguarding, copyright and intellectual property, data protection and information management, funding and classroom management. A good NM will educate you about these (if you are not up to speed) and will work with you to get the most out of tech … but they are frequently the gatekeeper as to what tech you can use because they have the knowledge about the bits which will cause problems. In the same way you have people to tell you not to try blowing up the science lab (in spite of how much fun it was when we were at school to see people do experiments that blackened the ceiling), or have people who tell you not to use certain classrooms due to them falling down … you have people who will say not to use certain technologies in certain ways. I’ll discuss the legal side of this in a later post … but just try to believe that a good NM is talking these into account and advising Senior Leaders, classroom teachers, office staff, parents, learners, local community and the random people who ring up the school because of things you post on the internet.

Yes, the Technology Coordinator works for you, but part of that job is choosing or helping to choose appropriate technology and keeping you safe. Don’t give them a job and then tell them they can’t do it!

On the other side, your NM should not keep things as a dark art and be the only person making choices. Any choices made should be clearly explained and, as per the last blog post, show where they are held accountable. Likewise the choice of technology should not force you down a particular educational route, but it can be an inspiration for doing something different. Be aware of the differences and look at the early adopters to see what they did and what worked / failed.

To Block or Not to Block, that isn’t the question!

With kind permission I am reposting Scott McLeod‘s ‘Dangerously Irrelevant’ Blog Post about 26 Internet Safety Talking Points.

I hope to then follow this up by looking at each point (one a day perhaps) to strip it down and look at both sides of the point.

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For Leadership Day 2012, I thought I would gather in one place many of the talking points that I use with principals and superintendents about Internet safety…

 

  1. Even though they may use fancy terms and know more than you do about their domain, you never would allow your business manager or special education coordinator to operate without oversight. So stop doing so with your technology coordinator.
  2. The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.
  3. Mobile phones, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, Wikispaces, Google, and whatever other technologies you’re blocking are not inherently evil. Stop demonizing them and focus on people’s behavior, not the tools, particularly when it comes to making policy.
  4. You don’t need special policies for specific tools. Just check that the policies you have are inclusive of electronic communication channels and then enforce the policies you already have on bullying, cheating, sexual harassment, inappropriate communication, illicit behavior, etc.
  5. Why are you penalizing the 95% for the 5%? You don’t do this in other areas of discipline at school. Even though you know some students will use their voices or bodies inappropriately in school, you don’t ban everyone from speaking or moving. You know some students may show up drunk to the prom, yet you don’t cancel the prom because of a few rule breakers. Instead, you assume that most students will act appropriately most of the time and then you enforce reasonable expectations and policies for the occasional few that don’t. To use a historical analogy, it’s the difference between DUI-style policies and flat-out Prohibition (which, if you recall, failed miserably). Just as you don’t put entire schools on lockdown every time there’s a fight in the cafeteria, you need to stop penalizing entire student bodies because of statistically-infrequent, worst-case scenarios.
  6. You never can promise 100% safety. For instance, you never would promise a parent that her child would never, ever be in a fight at school. So quit trying to guarantee 100% safety when it comes to technology. Provide reasonable supervision, implement reasonable procedures and policies, and move on.
  7. The ‘online predators will prey on your schoolchildren’ argument is a false bogeyman, a scare tactic that is fed to us by the media, politicians, law enforcement, and computer security vendors. The number of reported incidents in the news of this occurring is zero.
  8. Federal laws do not require your draconian filtering. You can’t point the finger somewhere else. You have to own it yourself.
  9. Students and teachers rise to the level of the expectations that you have for them. If you expect the worst, that’s what you’ll get.
  10. Schools that ‘loosen up’ with students and teachers find that they have no more problems than they did before. And, often, they have fewer problems because folks aren’t trying to get around the restrictions.
  11. There’s a difference between a teachable moment and a punishable moment. Lean toward the former as much as possible.
  12. If your community is pressuring you to be more restrictive, that’s when it’s time to educate, not capitulate. Overzealous blocking and filtering has real and significant negative impacts on information access, student learning, pedagogy, ability to address required curricular standards, and educators’ willingness to integrate technology. It also makes it awfully tough to prepare students for a digital era.
  13. ‘Walled garden’ online environments prevent the occurrence of serendipitous learning connections with the outside world.
  14. If you’re prohibiting teachers from being ‘friends’ with students online, are you also prohibiting them from being ‘friends’ with students in neighborhoods, at church, in volunteer organizations, at the mall, and in other non-school settings?
  15. Schools with mindsets of enabling powerful student learning usually block much less than those that don’t. Their first reaction is ‘how can we make this work?’ rather than ‘we need to keep this out.’
  16. As the lead learner, it’s your responsibility to actively monitor what’s being filtered and blocked and to always reconsider that in light of learning and teaching needs.
  17. If you trust your teachers with the children, you should trust them with the Internet. Addendum: Mistrust of teachers drives away good educators.
  18. If you make it too hard to get permission to unblock something, you might as well not have the option in the first place.
  19. Unless you like losing lawsuits, remember that students and staff have speech and privacy rights, particularly off-campus. Remember that any dumb decision you make is Internet fodder and has a good chance of going viral online. Do you really want to be the next stupid administrator story on The Huffington Post?
  20. When you violate the Constitution and punish kids just because you don’t like what they legally said or did and think you can get away with it, you not only run the risk of incurring financial liability for your school system in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars but also abuse your position of trust and send messages to students about the corruption of power and disregard for the rule of law.
  21. Never make a policy you can’t enforce.
  22. Don’t abdicate your teaching responsibility. Students do not magically gain the ability at the end of the school day or after graduation to navigate complex, challenging, unfiltered digital information spaces. If you don’t teach them how to navigate the unfiltered Internet appropriately and safely while you have them, who’s going to?
  23. Acceptable use and other policies send messages to students, staff, and parents. Is the predominant message that you want to send really that ‘the technologies that are transforming everything around us should first and foremost be feared?’
  24. Imagine a scale with two balancing pans. On one side are all of the anxieties, fears, barriers, challenges, and perceived problems that your staff, parents, and community members put forth. If you want effective technology integration and implementation to occur in your school system, it is your job as the leader to tip the scale the other way. Addendum: It is difficult to understand the learning power of digital technologies – and easy to dismiss their pedagogical usefulness – if you are not familiar enough with them to understand their positive affordances.
  25. In a hyperconnected, technology-suffused, digital, global world, you do your children a disservice – and highlight your irrelevance – by blocking out our present and their future.
  26. Educating is always, always more powerful than blocking.

BONUS 1. Elsewhere in your state – perhaps even near you – are school districts that have figured this out. They operate under the same laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that you do. If they can be less restrictive, why can’t you?

A huge thanks to everyone who has influenced my thinking and my writing in this area, including folks like Doug JohnsonSylvia Martinezdanah boydWill Richardson, and Tina Barseghian. I’m sure that I’ve forgotten a few talking points that I’ll just add later. Which one is your favorite (or least favorite)? What would you add to or change on this list?

For other Leadership Day 2012 posts, see the complete list of submissions and/or#leadershipday12.

Early Adoption – do you plan?

It is wonderful to continue to hear about people eager to look at the latest technology and see what a difference it makes in schools … and as an avid early adopter I do have to urge a note of caution at times … even to myself.

It has been interesting to catch up with a few others who are trying out iOS 6 and also having some fun playing / learning about the Raspberry Pi … but the best thing I have seen recently has been around Windows 8, the next system from Microsoft. If you haven’t had a recent read of the Microsoft UK Schools Blog recently then I suggest you pop over to look through the last couple of posts.

With the release of Windows 8 all very imminent it is no surprise that this appears to be a hot topic but I’ll let you into a little secret … I am pretty sure that no-one is expected to have it all up and running for when schools start back in a few weeks. In spite of a lot of access to release previews, healthy discussions on technical sites, serious cogitation by hardware manufacturers … the main point for me has been about awareness raising about what the change to a new system might mean.

If we take the post about chances to learn about Windows 8 then we can see that there are plenty of chances to look at development on Windows 8 (good for those involved in Computing@School) as well as a chance to look at curriculum resources. There is a free eBook available about programming apps on Windows 8 and making your network ready for Windows 8, but the best blog post for me has been the report from IDC about why you should move on from Windows XP.

From an IT Management point of view it is always interesting to see someone stick down figures around how much effort goes into managing and maintaining IT systems. Any form of change, regardless of whether it is for IT or anything else, will also incur a cost. It could be in capital costs (in IT this could be licences, hardware, etc), training, expertise or simply staff time. Balancing out whether you continue with the status quo or invest in making a move is sometimes a difficult choice but the above report from IDC really does hammer out that if you are still using XP now then you need to plan what you are going to do in the near future. They are not saying that you should jump now, but it does give you ammunition to start planning.

In schools this is vital as, no matter how much IT Support plan, it has to go hand-in-hand with how the school will deliver the curriculum, how the school will make use of IT to run on a day to day basis and also how the children respond to the change.

A lot of people have been looking at tablets in education, primarily iPads, and this is another good reason to start looking at what you are doing with technology. The arrival of Windows 8 will allow for schools to consider using iOS, Android, Windows 8 or any combination of the above. Change is inevitable … and it is better to look at it and ride the wave than crash and burn when someone demands something that is not going to work!

And this is the point where the innovators and early adopters are hitting a brick wall. I can remember listening to Ewan McIntosh tweeting that project management stifles innovation … and I can agree with this, because it is hard to push the boundaries of what you can do with tech when you can’t get access to it.

And this is the point where the planners, budget holders and senior leaders raise their head and ask about making sure money invested is done so wisely, that people don’t buy a lot of white elephants (we could dedicate a website to the amount of tech which is bought but never really used) and that what is bought and used actually has an impact and isn’t just there because it is a toy, a plaything, something shiny or because everyone else is using them.

And so we have to get to a compromise.

Early adopters need to have access to tech and they need to try things out. Systems in schools need to allow for some of this to go on but also to hold people accountable for what they are doing.

The report from IDC say that schools need to look at change. It shows that cost of keeping to the status quo (which will rise) and it gives a chance for people to start having ideas about what they need to do in the future. From chatting with various sources working on Windows 8 in education it is clear that testing things with OEM tablet manufacturers will be a good thing to do, running pilots in collaboration with other schools to look at Windows 8 devices, iOS devices and Android devices, comparing the ideas against earlier research on Windows Tablet devices (remember that tablets in education is nothing new … perhaps just improved) and then deciding how to adapt what you do with technology.

With Windows 8 coming out soon and the raft of devices it will generate (including the Microsoft Surface), the ever changing flavours of Android and the upcoming release of iOS6 from Apple … there will be a lot to try and there will be a lot of cross-over between all the different option.

(image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/5018415361/)

Is Change Really That Hard?

I’m going to let you all into a little secret. Technologies changes.

Phew … thank goodness I was able to get that one off my chest. It has been eating me up ever since I got involved in technology in education all those years ago!

Ok, tongue firmly in cheek but you would be surprised the looks I get when I say that. People will start with tales of woe and regret from where they have seen schools to scared to change, failing to plan to change, or constantly changing for no discernible reason.

Talking with many IT Support colleagues I tend to hear anecdotes where a school has failed to plan for change and set suitable targets for measuring the impact of the change. We all know that some change is inevitable and outside of our control, such as the demise of support for an operating system or the end of a period of warranty.

Recent changes from both Apple and Microsoft seem to be strongly discussed right now, whether when I visit schools, on twitter, blogs or EduGeek.net. Yet there is a lot of information out there to support schools with the changes which are coming in or are already available.

For Microsoft, the big change hitting schools right now is the advent of Office365. As well as the benefits you can get from the existing Live@Edu service there are other features including LyncOnline and SharepointOnline. The questions I tend to see at the moment are technical and operational so I usually point people to the UK Education Cloud blog or to people like James Marshall (@Jamesbmarshall on twitter and EduGeek.net), but I really wanted to highlight a set of training videos for those dealing with the technical setup more than anything else. If you haven’t been following the UK Education Cloud blog then have a look at this post.

Where Can I Get Office 365 For Education Deployment Training?

And then we get those facing the prospect of putting in more to their Apple ecosystem. The growth of iPads / iPods in schools has been a drive for this and rather than get involved in the argument about whether this is a good thing or bad thing, I want to be pragmatic with helping people realise that if the kit is being purchased then you have to get on a deal with it.

I tend to recommend that schools work with an Apple Solutions Expert as this can give access to best practice, links in with Apple Distinguished Educators to ensure that education is central to the project and also to think about getting the right level of expertise with the school support staff or from contractors you bring in. As part of this I want to point people to the range of seminars that Apple now run online..

https://edseminars.apple.com/seminars/ are a little US centric but can be invaluable for when working with partners to deploy Apple solutions.

There are plenty of good CPD events out there available for people looking to change how the technology is deployed or used within their school, both on a technical and educational level. These will range from weekly Google Hangout sessions with the likes of Leon Cych, the educational chats on twitter, course run via VITAL.AC.UK or simply spending time reading threads on EduGeek.net.

If change is going to happen … no … scrap that … *when* change is going to happen then you should be ready, have a plan and see how much it makes a difference.

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.