Category Archives: Mobile Learning

iBooks developments

After my recent blog post about the education announcement from Apple I mentioned that I had some questions about where this left the ownership of created resources. I did send some queries out to some folk who had done education work with Apple in US schools and found they had raised similar questions … and had the response of, “We can understand your concern and will get back to you.”

It was pleasing to see an email on 3rd to say to keep an eye out for the update of iBooks. Sure enough, an update was released and the major change has been captured by a number of sites but my favourite has to be from 9to5mac.com.

It clears up about the use of PDFs you export (i.e. do with them as you wish) and makes it clear that the iBook format is locked in to the iBooks Store for sales … but as I mentioned previously, if Apple are operating as your book publisher (vanity or otherwise) then you can expect them to take a cut of your money.

The questions not answered … in a school the EULA is likely to have been agreed on behalf of the end user by someone such as a Network Manager. What happens if the school haw one rule but the creator of works does something different? I know, I know … not Apple’s problem but that of the school and what they do for dealing with IP and who has the right to sell or resell work done by staff. I was asked why I had raised this previously as surely the idea that the school agrees the EULA for software on behalf of the user is common … but I still say that the direct link into a platform for selling work makes it different enough to worth special consideration. I think this is one I might ask Leon Cych about this as I think Apple have not caused an issue here … just highlighted it.

The other question I have is about ePub3 … I still like open formats for those who *want* choice (even if that choice is to go for a more locked in system) and for all the pushing that Apple did with HTML5 I just want them to use a bit of fair play here (and not use FairPlay). I’m happy to use iBooks Author and iTunes U, but don’t want to lose a good standard as things get fragmented.

Apple in Education – iBooks or eBooks?

There is no denying that Apple have actively been part of some interesting changes in education over the years. The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow in the 90s and the present version, ACOT2, combined with projects like Apple Distinguished Schools, Apple Distinguished Educators, Apple Regional Training Centres and Apple Solutions Experts … and we can always say that Apple have seen schools and children as a valued market, even if they haven’t always shown some of their educationalist credentials … but that is a for a long discussion over pizza and drinks.

The point to look at now is based on the recent Apple Education event, led by Phil Schiller at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. It was interesting to see the international league tables appear … I half expected a certain Secretary of State of Education appear … but part of this was to stress the importance of taking action to stop the “flatlining”.

The video of teachers, administrators, from US schools showed the downside that they are experiencing at the moment. However, it initially failed to show the good things that Apple and many other tech companies are already doing, but Phil did stress how there are lots of resources already being used and this includes the iPad … but more needs doing and no single company or group can fix it all. It is also worth pointing out to non-US readers that some of the problems will having fingers clearly pointed at the rigid curriculum that can be dictated by school boards. Now, this is not the National Curriculum as we know it in England but far more rigid, with text books centrally prescribed and lessons being taught by rote. From talking with colleagues in various US states they will point out that this varies from district to district and school to school, but that sounds all too familiar to us over here, being told that our ICT lessons are boring.

So, the scene is set. We are told that things are bad, stuff needs to change and teachers need more help and freedom. Apple’s answer is based on rebuilding student engagement … via the iPad of course.

Rebooting the text book

Text books are good … and the source of knowledge and information. Apparently the publishers have said this is true so Apple are now reselling these materials now so they can be used on the iPad. There is no denying that the the new books available via iBooks 2 are far better than looking at a plain text book and Roger Rosner, Vice President of Productivity Software, demonstrated how the new books can have a raft of features … some of which we have already seen via interactive materials already delivered to computers from Pearson, Nelson Thorne, etc … but put together with the extra features such as highlighting sections of text to create notecards for revision (study cards, flash cards … whatever you prefer to call them). The organisation of the layout after rotation, the use of multi-touch gestures to aid navigation … these are tweaks that make a good improvement to ideas we have already seen before.

And here we hit my first query. A quick delve into the background of the iBook will show that this is a special format belonging to Apple to allow you deliver specially formatted resources to iPads. This is similar but vitally different to an ePub formatted eBook. Thomas Baekdal covers some of the difference quite extensively but the first query is about whether it is right to lock down resources to a single platform or, as it turns out, a single device.

But I’m The Author … Aren’t I?

Apple have been thorough … they don’t just want the big names to provide the iBooks though, they want classroom teachers to create resources too. Thank $deity for that. A WYSIWYG tool to help educators collate and build fantastic resources that simply works. We all know the effort Apple go to when making things as simple and as quick as possible, and, having looked at building eBooks for some time, I had opted to go to Pages to do most of the work with a little bit of tidying up in either Calibre or Sigil. My initial thoughts on iBooks Author was that it followed suit, not surprising when you consider Roger Rosner heads up the team dealing with productivity tools like iWorks. Users of iWorks are now hoping that this shows that Apple will be taking more of an interest in the other tools instead of just doing limited ports for iOS versions of Keynote, Numbers and Pages, especially as iBooks Author will use Pages and Keynote resources. Reading Vicki Davis’ blog she found it pretty simple too.

And with such a fantastic tool, which is free, you have to wonder if there are catches. Apparently people have spotted some and time will tell what it will mean. The main thing some people have concerns about are who owns / controls the resulting materials. The EULA of iBooks Author includes some specific instructions about what you can and can’t do with resulting work. John Gruber over at DaringFireball.net has a number of blog posts looking at the EULA, Dan Wineman examines some specific sections on the restriction along with Cult of Mac and Audrey Watters. Now that is a lot of links to go through and most of it is opinion and interpretation. My take is as follows.

The EULA appears to say that if you use iBooks Author to create work then you have 2 choices. First is that you create works and make them available for free. If this is the case then you the iBook Author created file can also be given away for free from anywhere, including the iBooks Store. The second choice is that you want to sell your resulting iBook and to do this you *have* to publish that file via the iBooks Store, and Apple take a 30% cut of that.

Don’t get me wrong … I have no issue with Apple taking a cut. They are operating as a publisher, are charging a commission at a published rate and if I want to do any differently and still have it go out via the iBooks store and earn from it then I have to go to another publisher who has a commercial arrangement with Apple … and knowing Apple there will still be a 30% cut *and* whatever my publisher wants to charge. I would expect the same with a physical book … the publisher takes a cut as does the book shop. I have no problem with it being 30% either … as an unpublished author I would find this reasonable, knowing that other means of publishing are out there … but … and this is key … if I want to make full use of the wide range of options in an iBook then I know that I have to agree to working in Apple’s closed arena. If I feel that I don’t need to do that and that other ePub creation tools will do the business then I am free to do that.

The areas that I need an explicit answer on include the following.

If I create an eBook and have 2 versions of it, one created in something like Sigil and the other in iBooks Author, can I sell the iBooks version via the store and the Sigil version in other places? They are different works, but include the majority of the same text, images and resources. The difference is the creation tool.

If I take an existing book I have produced and I am selling elsewhere can I also create an iBooks version and still sell the original?

The presumption on the EULA is that the individual (i.e. the End User) has agreed to it. As well all know, most schools will deploy software to computers via central management tools. With Macs this will be a combination of DeployStudio and Apple Remote Desktop in most places but the agreement has already been agreed on behalf of the end user … and this is point number two. Does a school have the right to agree on the behalf of their employees to the EULA on how things will be published? Does it also have the right to agree it on behalf of children? Does the network manager / IT support team have the right to do this on behalf of the school? I know that EULAs are routinely agreed on behalf of the school but this one has some specific restrictions and perhaps people need some training around this or at least a policy? And this clearly steps on the toes of how schools deal (or fail to deal) with IP.

And this brings up another concern I have.

I mentioned about children creating and publishing … when we look at the whole event I only heard from marketing people, product managers, schools administrators, teachers … we saw lots of children using laptops and the provided resources … other than highlighting text / taking a few nots in an iBook (perhaps under direction from a teacher?) I didn’t see any creation from children. When I went to the Apple Leadership Summit last year a key area covered was children as creators / co-creators / collaborators. At least there we had good examples of using the Wiki Server section of Lion Server for sharing and collaboration, but this was missed at this announcement. If you are not going to talk about children, as learners, as creators and collaborators then you have failed as a company engaging in education.

iTunes U is a fantastic tool and it is easy to see that it is targeted to gain some of the market from people like Blackboard, but if schools start to rely on this as the single delivery mechanism for resources, then you remove valuable tools from the hands of learners.

So, my summary … the new iBooks are going to be a fantastic resource. iBooks Author is a powerful, yet simple, tool for putting together these resources. iTunes U will be a good way of stringing a series of resources together. The caveats would be that we should not limit ourselves to a single platform or device (from what I have seen / heard / tried you cannot get the new format iBooks onto anything other than iPads … ruling out iPhones and iPod touches), that provided resources are only part of the equation, that you should not forget to give learners opportunity to collaborate and create, that there are technical / legal concerns that have a lot of opinion around them but perhaps need an official stance … but we should also not be scared to try something new. If you are concerned then continue to produce your resources with tools such as Sigil and Calibre, publish as standard .ePub files and make the most of them. There is still a wealth of tricks to make these eBooks wonderful anyway.

Think … erm … Different (part 2)

Thanks to all for the positive response to part one of the report on the Apple Birmingham Leadership Event. I have tried to continue to be as open as I can about the day, and whilst there is still considerable criticism in some parts about Apple and their strategy on technology, I hope I am giving some insight into how their tools can be used within schools. It is not intended to be a sales pitch but to give people as much information as possible to make decent evaluations on their options. I know there may be some inaccuracies in here and it is an opinion piece. Apple staff are unable to comment on it formally so if anyone who was there spots anything, please let me know.

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The afternoon also contained the Hands-on workshops and I opted for the technical strand, ably hosted and run by Chris Jinks from Apple. Out of my 5 Questions, a number of them were linked to the technical strand … not because I am a Geek, but because this seems to be one of the major areas which is a barrier to adoption of new tech. Lack of information and advice can be a key reason for failure of using any technology in an educational environment. it detracts from the benefits of the tools and the reason they are there in the first place. This is true no matter where the technology is from and is in no way Apple specific as a problem. However, the approach which Apple has taken in the past has sometimes been open for question. At a previous BETT show, Russell Dyas and myself were at the press briefing from Apple and when asked about giving more advice to schools on the technical side we were told that schools shouldn’t need to use in-house staff but buy the expertise in from ASEs and partners. That obviously went down well.

However, there is more information available to schools … if you know where to find it and who to ask. ASEs, ADEs and AASPs are still the first point of call for many areas but events like today are starting to fill in the gaps.

The session was a two-hour version of what is usually a full day training event. We knew it would be a tad sparse in some areas and Chris apologised about that, but there is a lot to squeeze in. Again, Apple like to breakdown the areas covered and look at it in the following blocks.

  • Mobility with Apple
  • Creating Content
  • Distributing Content
  • Managing Devices
  • Infrastructure for Learning

What is mobility? It is about my content. Anytime. Anywhere. Video, Audio, text, applications … things I create and consume (I was feeling like I was listening to Graham Brown-Martin from Learning Without Frontiers actually). This is about whether in a lab, at home, on the move, etc … important to remember the difference between 3G, WiFi, LAN. We looked at having to consider the broadest audience … desktops, laptops, mobile … think of who you are reaching and how. Consider the delivery mechanisms, work to standards and understand why some are moving away from certain tools. This is where the Flash-bashing started. Earlier in the day I had raised about the issues with the lack of Flash in education since there are many resources in Flash (with few plans to change from talking with some vendors) and the push is very much that Flash might have been very good once, but now is just not suitable because things like killing battery life, CPU overhead, etc. Likewise, when conversation go onto standards HTML5 was up there are the way to go … and I had to point out that it isn’t ratified, that there is the risk that it might go down a route Apple don’t want and that time / money could be wasted. However, Chris did ask what the alternative would be then … and after you rule out the use of Flash (and we can have a long discussion about Flash and open standards) there is little left to go for. As an aside, I have been party to a number of rants about how bad Flash is, especially for updating, things breaking and not being open, yet when someone decides to drop it (such as Apple or Microsoft for the Metro interface of Windows 8 ) you get an outcry of the masses … sometimes I think you just can’t win!

Back to the session though, and we looked at what were the building blocks (Text, Audio, Video) and the construction areas (podcasts, web, apps). Again, stressing the use of open formats, text comes in 2 forms – PDF and ePub. I did query (via Twitter) about whether Open Document format (ODF) should be included in there and after some research it is indeed a standard for office documents along with OOXML and even the UK Govt has previously stressed ODF and open standards should be used as a standard for sharing documents … and it has support from Apple but iWork still does not support ODF. We already know that PDF is fine when used in it’s simplest form but as soon as you start adding other objects into it (video, etc) then you are relying on additional code to make it work … and there in lies a problem. In schools it is so frustrating to receive materials as PDF from an exam board only to find you need a particular version of Adobe Reader to open it and that it will not open in any other PDF reader. This is where ePub comes into its own. It gives a greater user experience, allows for more user control such as changing font, text, colour, flexible orientation, etc. Personally I like to use Scrivener or Calibre to create ePub files. When looking at audio we talked about the importance of compression vs quality. MP3 still wins out as a format for many. For video we looked at the difference between Codecs and Containers, H.264, MPEG-4, MPEG-2 : m4v, mp4, 3gp, mov, avi, etc … and looked the simplicity of selection within the Apple toolset. Assembling all these parts together is the construction bit … and this is what makes the difference.

The Web is standards based … HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. At least these are where Apple technology is centred … mainly because it works and keeps things simple. We looked at the use of apps v web and a hybrid approach, but Chris was keen to say that Web Apps give the best method of dealing with a broad audience. We looked at using Pages to create ePubs and it does work extremely well …

Distributing content is an important factor in education still. As much as we might love the idea of user created content and co-creation as an approach within the pedagogy of your curriculum, you are pretty much guaranteed to have some content to distribute to the users / pupils / students. There are 2 ways to get content onto devices, via cable or via WiFi. Cable requires plugging in and using iTunes. This is suitable for personal or 1:1 devices but is a pig for class sets. Even setting up the small technology toolkits we have had going out to schools takes up time and I was glad that Peter Ford was doing it rather than me! I have to admit that iOS5 and Sync over WiFi has been very handy for me on my own devices … but again, that comes down to personal responsibility. When it comes to WiFi there are a number of tools for hosted shares for accessing WebDAV style solutions … WebDAV Navigator can be a handy app and many apps have tools to allow you to save to WebDAV too. I did ask about the use of iCloud and the Data Protection Act and at the moment there is no direct guidance / advice. As always with these things, if you have concerns or cannot confirm you are not covered then you should not use such services. On a personal note I think iCloud to a local server would be a good option … but I doubt we will see Apple do that for a variety of reasons, including security. The methods of ensuring that published apps are done via Apple’s services are also part of the locked down environment and I’ll leave it to iOS App Developers to give better explanations of how and why this works. As far as those deploying solutions in schools go … you are not bundling your own apps and pushing them out GPO style.

We then started to make use of a locally deployed Lion Server. This was key to how the workshop continued but with a bit of careful thinking a number of the features can be delivered via other options. We started by accessing the Wiki Server, an easy way of getting resources made available by the class teacher, in this case it was hosted on a local MacMini Server. Interestingly I was discussing the use of Wikis with Tom Rees (@trees2066) and we both agree that this is one of the best co-creation tools out there. Unfortunately, as far as I have been able to find out, Wiki access is a bit clunky still in Lion Server. If anyone has a good guide to allowing student control of the Wiki I would appreciate it.

Then we get onto controlling the devices. Yes … I know most are thinking the same I was … about time, but it really did make sense why the session followed the structure it does. You need to understand what type of resources may need to be used and how they are accessed first.

The session talked about the 3 options … the personal device (in a 1-to-1 situation), the institute owned device assigned to an individual (still 1-to-1) and the shared device. With a shared device it is a fixed setup, only admins make changes … and you have to return to base (i.e. the SysAdmins) to reset, update or redeploy.

With any 1-to-1 setup you are going to get a mix of institutional and private data. Apps could be owned by the institute (gifted?), provide updates one recovery capabilities … but there is a massive amount of user responsibility. The User is in charge, can do pretty much anything and chooses to accept the configuration to be part of the educational environment … but more on that later.

All new devices (or when devices get redeployed) have to go through 4 steps. Activate, update, configure and sync. Who will do these steps really depends on the model used. Mobile Device Management tools are key. It seems that Apple’s MDM tool actually uses the same provided sub-set of controls as the larger commercial offerings out there. There is a difference in the UI and when you buy in a commercial package you get told how it will work … I suppose this could be viewed as the same as using parts of RM’s CC3/4, which bolts on / controls aspects of Microsoft’s Active Directory.

A key aspect of using MDM though is the Certificate Signing Request. No matter what you use, this is a must (again, going back to the security mentioned earlier) and is needed as part of the Apple Push Notification Service … Security of updates of configurations is carefully thought out here … and yes, it needs to be thought out and planned, the central server / controller needs to be available … and at this point you realise that if you don’t have a central machine then you are going to struggle. If you already have an OSX Server to control any desktop / laptops from Apple … then this is where to start.

Centralised configuration can do a lot … sort out wireless settings, proxy settings, email, calendar … and much more. A number of these can also be provided on OSX Server, but you can also use other providers too. Exchange is big one in many schools now, but I have recently seen a setup accessing a hosted Sharepoint / Exchange solution from a VLE provider too. But back to the configuration … One important thing to remember … you cannot stop people removing apps via the central configuration, it is a setting you have to do on the local machine (Settings > General > Restrictions … then Enable Restrictions and turn Deleting Apps off).

The main config tool you will come across is the iPhone Configuration Utility to create Profiles of how devices will be configured. These are then initially pushed to connected devices (via cable) or pulled by the user. This is where OSX Server comes into play. The same box running the Wiki Server also enables devices to connect to a configuration service. Pretty simple really. Set up a guest wifi in your school which only gives you access to the config server. Connect to the server via a web page. Pull down the config (if you are allowed too … security starts with User Authentication) by authenticating, install the provided certificate and then the encrypted config comes down over the air. The details of what can be controlled via the iPhone Config Utility are covered in detail in Apple’s documentation and there is quite a bit covered there. This new config can then have the *real* WiFi network settings in it.

Those of you who have experience of dealing with .plist files for controlling Apple OSX devices via WGM or .adm files for GPOs will not be surprised that the settings are just XML strings … but the config tools do all the work for you.

The session showed some examples of over the air changes. We had YouTube running … and then it was gone. The app closed and was then gone from the device. Access to particular WebApps / resources pushed out as weblinks. Device access to OSX Server provided WebDAV used to show uploading of pictures and documents created in Apple apps such as Pages.

The session really did only touch the tip of the iceberg, and I think that even doing a full day would not cover all the questions many of us would have. Like many things, it would only be after a few weeks of hands-on testing of a deployment that we would have a good idea about the full extent of what can and can’t be done, the different places you have to go to to make changes, the extent to which Apple security controls so many things … and so we come onto the positives and limitations of central deployment.

I’m not going to strictly put them in order, because so many are linked.

The ability to have some control is needed and what you get is kept as simple as possible. This keeps the background load on the device pretty low, which has the positive affect of longer battery life, etc … let’s face it, we have all moaned at some point about the load AV software or certain middleware applies to devices … and it also means that there is less chance of conflicts of settings. The limitation is that you have to operate within boundaries of the tools and settings you have … you can’t suddenly think of a new tool or setting. If the option is to turn YouTube off then that is what you have … not just limit it to particular sections. For that you have to use another tool such as a proxy server / filtering solution. You can’t stick remote monitoring tools on there such as you might have on desktops (Impero, NetOp, AB Tutor Control) or the security key loggers (Securus, Policy Central) as this is not what it is designed for.

As a device which can be personalised you also have to accept that the user can choose to turn of your centralised controls. If they do then they loose access to all those settings you have loaded onto the device … the wireless, the email, weblinks, etc. Now, I know many will be screaming at the screen right now about that being useless in class environment … the disruption as yet another student needs to go to see IT Support to get things fixed … but surely this is just another bit of classroom management. If a child doesn’t turn up with the right PE kit, or damages equipment in Design Technology … then surely it is a discipline issue, not the problem of the equipment / technology. And yes, it does go back to what has been mentioned before about carefully thinking about which model you are going to use.

Personally, I can see a class set of iPads only really being usable if there is an OSX Server device in the same room and accessed by the class teacher. There will be some admin tasks around this and I can see that being a problem due to some restrictions about how much tech support / admin teachers should be doing. I think you do need this personal access to the OSX Server too as this will be a key tool for providing access to resources and pushing things to the devices. I do also worry about how files / resources on a class set of devices would be tidied up / cleaned out. This needs a bit more thought and planning really. In a 1-to-1 scheme this is the responsibility of the user, and you could say that tidying up the device could be seen as an activity by the child in the same way they would tidy up the classroom before leaving a lesson … but we all know things get missed. All it would take would be for one naughty child to find a dodgy picture or, probably even worse, take an unsuitable picture and maliciously leave it for someone else (another child) to find. This is not just a concern I have about Apple devices … far from it, I worry about the misuse of any handheld device … and the lack of pretty much any control on Android devices worry me even more. We’ll have to just see what happens when Windows 8 comes out too, but based on previous experience of working with Microsoft tools … I think this will be a bit more thought out.

So, a summary.

iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads can be centrally controlled in an educational environment. It is best designed for a 1-to-1 scheme rather than class sets, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work and work well. No matter what model you choose you will have to think carefully about how you want to deliver the curriculum, how you will push out access to resources, how you will change some of the school procedures to take into account the growing use of handheld devices and this really does mean thinking about how classroom management will deal with things rather than relying on technology to fix things for you. You need to look at how you deploy and control your wireless networks.

I would honestly recommend anyone looking at either class-sets or 1-to-1 schemes to talk with other schools already doing it. You must also talk with at least one Apple Solutions Expert or AASP. They will help you with access to Apple Distinguished Educators who can work with you to think about your curriculum to make the most of the investment made in the kit. It is not just about the cost of the equipment alone.

ASEs will also help you access other things too … including things like information / support from Apple Financial Services. If you are serious about going to a 1-to-1 scheme then the finances need to be carefully thought about. I have seen too many 1-to-1 schemes fail on that aspect or fail on the curriculum design.

There are plenty of good resources on the Apple site to go through (some already linked) and the case studies make interesting reading … and with enough time in-house staff will be able to deliver good, workable and stable solutions … but I would still like to see a comprehensive guide as to how to deliver this. However, we have already covered how Apple tend to deliver things … and, being honest, the expertise of ASEs is usually worth the investment in time and money.

Think … erm … Different?

The following article takes a look at the use of iPads as mobile devices in schools and is based on attending the Apple Birmingham Leadership Summit at Birmingham Science Park on 19th October, the pre-event discussions on EduGeek.net about questions which should be asked, discussions on Dr Brian Bandey’s eSafety Law in Education group on LinkedIn and from talking with colleagues in a range of schools across the UK.

For reference, this article is not intended to spark any pro- / anti-Apple discussions and where possible I will make reference to where models translate across multiple systems or where they differ. This is not meant to produce a definitive answer for any school about what to do with mobile technology.

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I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to the latest in a series of Apple Education events a few weeks ago. An invite-only event too. After a relatively quiet spell, where Apple relied on Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs), Apple Solutions Experts (ASEs) and Apple Authorised Service Providers (AASPs) did all the work and interaction with schools, this year saw a veritable plethora of events supported and run by Apple, almost like a young butterfly coming out of the chrysalis … or was it a badger coming out of hibernation!

The event was to be run twice, on 18th and 19th October, and so I was happy to accept the invite. It would give me a chance to bring up a number of questions I had myself as well as many others I had been fielding from others … some from people not as supportive of Apple as I am. And before we go any further I should explain that most people regard me as an Apple Fanboi! … except when attending Microsoft events where I am often viewed as an Open Source Evangelist … or when attending Open Source events where I am sometimes looked upon as a Microsoft diehard. Sometimes you just can’t win!

Back to the preparation for the event. I know I had a series of question, but I knew that it would only be fair to allow others who couldn’t make it or weren’t invited to be able to take part. And so I started a thread on EduGeek.net to formulate the 5 important questions.

1) What are the plans for making integration of OSX.7 and AD actually happen and stay as something reliable?

2) Can Apple give examples, case studies and instructions about how to employ iOS Devices in a multi-device, multi-user environment … taking into consideration accessing and saving files, security, patch management, application deployment and configurations settings for accessing the network infrastructure? This includes working with educational networks where there are specific filters, proxies, firewalls, etc.

3) Can Apple be clear about how Apps are now to be licensed on iOS and LionOS devices, taking into account that this is for devices that are multi-user and users who will access multiple devices, especially in the light of recent changes to the iTunes ToS in the UK.

4) Can Apple be clear about what work they are doing with suppliers of educational resources and tools to help them provide stuff that will work across the range of Apple devices? If you can get Flash to work it would be a start!

5) When will Apple start giving information to people in schools instead of just saying “Go ask an ASE” … who are wonderful, but people in schools also want to learn and deploy things themselves (or have to, depending on the budgets).
(Sorry if it seems that I want to do ASEs out of some business …)

Reserve questions (in case anyone else asks one of the above or if there is a clear demonstration of it at the event)

6) Any chance of knocking another 20% off the price for schools?
7) When are you coming back to BETT instead of just being done by ASEs? (who are wonderful people … yada, yada, yada)
8) When can we stick OSX on kit other than Apple kit? We’ll pay! Honest!

 

The day started well, handed an iPad2 when I arrived … only to find I had to give it back at the end of the day. Still, there was WiFi available to use with my own kit to save having to setup / personalise another device.

We started with a breakdown of where Apple are in the education arena. About their trip in working with schools over the years, and where they saw themselves fitting today. Apple’s approach is based around 4 levels of literacy. Basic Literacy, Information Literacy, Media Literacy and ICT Literacy. This was very much a case of looking how you teak their tech and use it … There were some interesting samples about how the world has changed … the 5 months / years to change Article published in hard copy for Encyclopaedia Britannica compared to 5 minutes on Wikipedia. On a personal note I tweeted about how this doesn’t take into consideration the weeks to argue with editors / mods about structure, verifying references and the in-fighting which goes on behind the scenes …

When talking with students Apple clearly see that in student desires they want … learning that provides the equivalent functionality as their social environment, learning that accommodates a mobile lifestyle, learning that adapts to individual learning style, and learning that encourages collaboration and teamwork.

To be honest, there were lots of stats about how the various markets Apple are involved in have grown and changed … and this is not meant to be a sales pitch so there is little point in me including them here … but I have to admit I do take all such stats with a pinch of salt, and that is with all companies. Talking about the iPhone having the first proper browser on a mobile device is spin … especially when I was using my P800 for it a while ago and I even had a tweet back talking about the Newton being the first circa 1994 and then Mobile Explorer in 2002-ish (@waltatek). So … stats … pinch of salt. No offence intended. A key comment though was that when you look at the adoption curve, for iPads we are still in the early adoption phase … so it is important to speak to the visionaries and those who have already been there. Frasier Speirs was highlighted as an example with the quote “It’s not the technology, it’s the content” and that ran true throughout the day.

Some time was spent looking at iTunes U but there was a more comprehensive session later so I’ll cover it further down the report. Likewise iBooks and the use of ePub as a format was raised. The iBook Store is very novel-centric, but that is where the funds come in to do other stuff. Again, ePub covered in more detail later. Good examples of Apps given, dissection of a frog for science reminded me of Operation! but growing examples of good tools, many are free. I’ll try to set up a dedicated page to link to others who have better lists of these sorts of resources. VLE / LP providers are also making iOS friendly front-ends … Blackboard given as an example but I have also used the one from FirstClass too. Some opting for iOS friendly web front-ends instead. More about standards later!

And so we get to the first question I could ask. 4) Can Apple be clear about what work they are doing with suppliers of educational resources and tools to help them provide stuff that will work across the range of Apple devices? If you can get Flash to work it would be a start!

Apple are working with publishers to help them find easy ways to convert materials / resources. They are also linking them with iOS-using schools to try to help show the need to change, but the focus is on the drive from the education market as well as when resources need to change. A lot of video is now accessible via HTML5, but Adobe now also have tools to convert from Flash content. It was noted later on in a replied tweet that the output from this can sometimes be as resource hungry (if not even mores) than Flash itself. Time will tell.

Apple tends to separate things into 3 areas. Technology (which they do and they like to say they do it well … It tend to agree, other might not), Content (which they also do, or enable, or support) and Pedagogy (which they don’t do, but rely on us to provide that bit … but will support and help link people together in this area). As part of this Essa Academy was used as an example. The change in the school through introducing iPod Touches was immense. Improved parental engagement just the tip, but it was important to spend time looking at changing to take in all 3 areas above. Tech alone is not a fix! Also looked at examples of tech to save money … printing used as an example once more. I would be interested to see financial comparisons against saving through other changes in tech such as the case studies provided by MS when people move to Sharepoint … Don Passey’s research also key here. I am sure similar could be done via Open Source options too … cost savings through tech is almost tech-agnostic.

I did get a chance to ask about licensing and was told it was not explicitly being covered today but to ask again later.

The Primary school case study was interesting to here. An almost complete meltdown in tech (no explanation why) resulted in no engagement with tech, not enough time or resources to get it running properly and general frustration due to the impact on learning. Significant work was needed so research started. BETT was instrumental in looking at options and after consideration (and quotes, plans, etc) Apple was decided as the way to go. Initially it has been about rolling out iBooks but they are now planning stage 2 with iPads. The audit of software on PCs showed 75% of software not used. What remained was replaced with Mac equivalent or other options. Sometimes the publisher did a Mac version anyway. A fair bit of training is needed for new staff but pupils are fine. They even had to get more tech in due to rising demand. I have to note at this point that they could have done the same change through other options … either sticking with a Windows based solution or even tried open source but it is good to see the lengths they went through to evaluate the need and the reasons to change, including impact. I did note that there were frequent mentions about PCs being a barrier and Mac versions of software was simpler to use. Having used some of the programs which are cross platform and having spent time working with schools looking at transference of skills between programmes and platforms, I do tend to feel that some of this is a psychological barrier, but there is no denying that such a change can motivate people to be engaged with tech again. I just worry about moving from a school based on only one system … to it being based solely on another system. Most of the examples of programs used had their Windows-based equivalent (including Comic Life) but the key targets they set of engagement with tech, embedding ICT in learning (a lot of learner centric stuff shown …) and confident use of multimedia, were met easily.

The secondary school presentation gave a rounded snapshot of how the school was working and what they already did well. Some key points in the ethos of the school included making sure students understood that learning can be hard, a struggle, but effort is rewarded … perhaps not immediately, but it does come in time. There is nothing wrong with hard work. The school made good use of R&D time for staff to look at school needs. After some investigation the issues the schools had in the curriculum centred from it being a teacher-led model … and that suffered when there was a change of staff or illnesses. The change was needed to move to learner-centric. This also created the need for a device to be personal as learning is personal. The ‘Airplane’ scenario was mentioned again … this is where students describe lessons as being on a airplane. You face the front, are strapped in, have to turn all tech off for a few hours and just hope it gets you where you need to go! I did ask what comparisons had been done with other similar schemes (remember folks … 1 to 1 schemes are nothing new and some have had the same impact as the iPod Touch / iPad schemes … it is not about worrying that we are re-inventing the wheel … just that it is the exact same wheel instead of an improved model with better traction, less wear, etc) but the R&D had shown them what had worked well elsewhere. The finance around this is covered later on in the report … but yes, it costs a money, but the reduction in other costs (replacing labs, etc) helps. It was interesting to hear Prof. Stephen Heppell’s name come up in the discussion about the research for the right device too … and it is important to note that although the full scheme has only been running since Sept it had a pilot last year and has been 2 years in the planning. From personal experience I know that this is important!

Looking at the management of the devices (I’ll also cover some of this later) it is important to remember that these are regarded as personal devices and so the students and their parents look after them. Apps recommended by the school are free and anything that gets paid for is via the parents.  As for the other part of management mentioned, the importance of a good WiFi solution was key to it working. Out of the various offerings they had there were some very cheap solutions … but it was doubtful that they would deliver … as mentioned before in other articles / blogs, cheap does not mean best value. You ned to select a solution which is fit for purpose and plan around the true needs … not allow it to be a limiting factor. I know other 1 to 1 schemes that have struggled due to this, including one school that has improved their wireless 5 times over the last 10 years … partly due to changing tech, but also due to needing to makes changes to get it just right!

The talk on Finance of iPad/iPod schemes came directly from Apple Financial Services, where there is an Education team. iStudent covers the kit and the soft costs around it (within limits specified by financial regulations … IIRC it is 20% of a lease scheme can be soft costs but I’d need to check that again). So the cost covers the lease arrangement, the insurance, the warranty, case, support with parental contributions. It is possible to add work from ASEs / AASPs onto another deal but you would have to speak with Apple and their resellers for more details … but in comparison to other similar schemes I have seen for 1 to 1 offerings it is very comparable. Some of the value-added comes in the extent of the support and insurance … world-wide cover, the offering can be tailored into a range of options. The important thing is that there is a good option here which schools can make use of, but like all lease arrangements … plan how you are going to exit from it, how you plan to deal with the last 2 years in school for KS4 students, etc …

And then there was lunch. For someone on a diet … the Black Forest Gateaux was very nice. Oh well … more time on the Wii Fit to burn it off methinks.

We resumed the afternoon with Worcestershire County Council talking about their move to delivering resources via iTunes U. For those who have not come across it iTunes U is a section of the iTunes Store where you can freely access education videos and audio clips. These will range from MIT courses (wonderful examples for Physics), all the OU materials right through the the more recently acclaimed Khan Academy. Worcestershire County Council looked to take the existing resources they already had on video and which they already published to DVD. After work to encourage all staff to make materials public they hit a brick wall … permission. Although the existing permission slip allowed for publishing of materials to DVD and online, it was deemed that putting the materials into a system which could allow for them to be downloaded to an off-line device automatically was not covered. This was taken all the way to the ICO and had a lot of legal work done on it. A new permission form was agreed and now being used. Unfortunately this form is not in the public domain due to the legal specifics in it, but it might be an idea for a number of us to approach the ICO about a template which could be used. A job for another day perhaps … any volunteers? It is also important to remember that the materials are not stored with Apple … but on your servers. From personal experience of podcasts I know that it is key to understand RSS. It might even be worth looking at www.archive.org as an option for online storage. A question was raised from the floor about LA blocking the use of iTunes U. After a bit more digging it is not a technical issue but a permission issue … so I will be working out what exactly is entailed in giving permission for a school … I have a feeling a request might be coming my way soon!

The final session was the hands-on workshop. There was too much choice here and i could have gone to them all. Dave Baugh, Joe Moretti and Oscar Stringer (all from CrunchEd Productions) ran 3 of the sessions and I will link to any reports / blogs from those attending when I get them. I went to the session looking at the technical strand. I still had 3 questions to ask (4 if you include asking about licensing again).

I think I will leave the report there for the moment and cover the Hands-on workshop in a separate article … it will be lengthy enough on its own.

Have really asked all the questions you need to about online storage?

File System by iBjorn

Because I have a background of being involved in discussions around data protection I sometimes get a prod about online storage and web 2.0 tools. Over the last 6 months I have had quite a few over online storage options, but I have never really stuck down on (electronic) paper what my concerns are and why I have them.
There are a few concerns I have, some centre around ownership of files and data, some around data protection and some around management of the tools.

Online storage often comes under attack over IPR of images, concerns about control, heated rants about how company x is making use of *our* files / photos to generate revenue on a free service, etc … and we only have ourselves to blame for not reading the T&Cs fully, for not keeping abreast of changes to the T&Cs (though some companies make life extremely difficult to find the changes or contribute to those changes) and for not accepting that if we take part in a free service then there are likely to be limitations and issues. We take on that risk ourselves and we need to accept some responsibility for that. Whether we are talking about LinkedIn using profile photos of members in their marketing by default, changes to FaceBook privacy options, changes in security / ownership when companies merge products … there have been so many times when the masses rise up indignantly to protest and then rush around making changes and, in the worse cases, swap services … and yes, I have been there, expressing my frustration too.

This is increasingly important if we are asking children to make use of these tools as we are being trusted in our judgement and selection of these tools … after all not all children, across the broad age range we have using these tools, are emotionally, intellectually or perhaps even legally in a position to make some of these choices on their own … but that is a discussion for another time probably.

But discussions today centred around online storage, and in particular the growing use of DropBox to remove the need for USB memory devices. For those who have not come across DropBox.com, it is a an online storage system which will synchronise selected folders from one or multiple devices to an online repository. Folders or sub-folders can be shared for automated synching with other users, making it a fantastic tool for collaborative sharing of files and materials. There are a number of other tools like this ranging from Microsoft’s SkyDrive, shared document libraries in Sharepoint, Moxy, Box.net, ADrive and many more. DropBox and SkyDrive are both free so that is why you will see them in heavy use … especially in education. Free comes with limits though and sometimes that can be the amount of space, sometimes the SLA doesn’t really exist and sometimes there is a lack of control over certain aspects of functionality or how it changes.

When it comes to DropBox though, my main concern is that users are significantly at risk of breaching the Data Protection Act and they don’t even know it. This is especially important right now as it is being recommended to NQTs who might not know any better … let’s face it, there is not that much about Copyright law, Data Protection and IPR within teacher training and, from what I have seen and been told, there is a presumption that this is covered within schools by school policies … and we all know how wonderful many schools are for having decent Data Protection policies and explaining them to *all* staff.

I know that my blog is read by a wide range of people so I just need to go back a little to cover an aspect or two of the Data Protection Act. The DPA has 8 principles, which are pretty self explanatory and the 2 most important principles to look at for this conversation are 7 & 8.

If we start with DPA Principle 8 first … this about where data can be stored, moved through, processed, accessed, etc. And this is the first place we fall down with DrpoBox. There is an ongoing query that has never been fully answered about whether DropBox.com is compliant with this.

Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the EEA unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data.

Now, what this means is that if you use your online storage and sharing to move about or access anything that can be deemed ‘personal data’ (which for teachers can range from pictures of children, their personal details, information about their progress, medical information and so on) then you have to do it within the European Economic Area or other countries where we have set agreements. With the US this is called the U.S. – EU Safe Harbor and there is a list of companies who have been certified with this and across what aspects. It is important to remember that being certified is only part of this … the specifics of what has been agreed is equally as important and that will differ from company to company. I have previously commented about iCloud and Apple before to reflect this.

When you look at the list you will spot that DropBox.com is not there. When you dig through the T&Cs for DropBox you will find that they use Amazon for their storage facilities … which is good … Amazon *are* on the Safe Harbor list so that seems to tick the boxes … apart from they don’t say that they will only ever use Amazon and they don’t say how they use them, and what agreements they have in place. Ah … so we are back to square one then.

I have asked the question twice now of DropBox.com and not even had tickets opened. There is a discussion at the moment about this on the forums and still no definitive answer.

To deal with this I know some users of DropBox will make use of other security solutions to bolster how they deal with DropBox. This involves using an encryption tool to create a secure folder / file which is then synchronised via the only service. A common tool for this is TrueCrypt and that works fine at a technical level … meeting the criteria of DPA Principle 7, where you are taking suitable technical measures to ensure the security of data … but the principles are not pic and mix … you have to meet them all. Right now I use an encrypted folder on Dropbox for my non-sensitive files (so only I and others I trust can access them) and do not use it at all for sensitive items.

For sharing pictures for stimulus with others (teachers / children), for sharing videos, etc, especially cross-platform and when using apps on mobile devices, then I can see that it will be fine for use in UK schools … but for staff to share in general … no … not yet.

SkyDrive does meet the criteria as the data centre used is in Ireland, but it is still worth thinking carefully about what you are sharing with others and how.

Article published on EduGeek.net and copyright to EduGeek.net and Tony Sheppard

Image : File System by iBjorn (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Perils & Pitfalls of Mobile Tech … extra

I was asked a while ago if I could write up the transcript of either my talk on the problems trying to roll out mobile technology into schools which I did at TeachMeet Midlands, or if I could write up the transcript from the video version already on my blog …

My sincere apologies for the delay in getting this done, but here it is …

The Perils & Pitfalls of Mobile Tech in Schools

The Mac FanBoi / Open Source Evangelist goes to Reading.

Most people who take a butchers at my blog, peruse my EduGeek posts, try to decipher my deliberations or are simply mindful of my meandering thoughts, are aware of my use of Apple products and my preference to ensuring Open Source Software is always considered when looking at options.

So I take great delight in mentioning that I have been accepted to join others at Microsoft’s Summer Camp on 23rd & 24th August in Reading, and a big thank you has to be given to Jan Webb and Stuart Ball for running this event again.

I’ve been to a number of Innovative Education Forum / Partners in Learning events now and I am always impressed with the number of ideas you see shared. Now I get a chance to be part of that sharing with a closer group and I hope to come away with a lot more to be able to pass on to schools and contribute to it too, if the output from friends who attended last year is anything to go by.

However, I will always be looking at this with a Geek’s head. I know that some schools have hit barriers when trying to roll out particular software, to make it do certain things or when making sure school systems are not put at risk when allowing children to do certain things. I hope to be able to work through a number of problems around this and give suitably sage advice (You want to give out the admin password to the kids???!!!! AAARRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!)

It is fun to see that one of the criteria is to bring along a Windows laptop. I *always* take a Windows laptop with me to Reading … that fact that it is a bit of Apple hardware just makes it more fun … the question is whether I leave it running Windows 7 or downgrade to Windows Vista … just because I can. (Look … I have already said I am a Geek … I don’t *have* to make sense!)

It’s an Awards thing!

It is lovely to see people truly get the recognition they deserve when they have done something good. It doesn’t matter whether it is the appreciation of children and parents at the end of a school year, that round of applause after presenting at a TeachMeet, seeing your blog referred to many times or the simple recognition by fellow educationalists.

There is also a bit of cynicism around awards for those in education or providing products / services in education. There are big awards for Teachers, novel awards via LWF, trade awards at things like BETT, Impact awards from NAACE and the old Excellence awards from Becta.

Say what you want about the TES Schools Awards, if you look at the schools and groups nominated for ‘Outstanding ICT Learning Initiative or Partnership’ in the TES School Awards you have to say that these are a good bunch, with folk nominated or winning awards previously … and this year we have a rather interesting group from Northamptonshire up there too.

I am so proud to see that Northants BLT is up there too. What started off as the brain child of two rather interesting characters has taken on a mind of its own … and it was designed that way.

20110708-094512.jpg
The drive provided by Peter Ford and Tom Rees to create a grass-roots network of educators who wanted to try things, share things, improve things and keep doing that under their own steam has, in my mind, taken the best out of TeachMeets, school partnerships, Study Centres, area-based working and individual skills of those involved, so it is quite correct that it gets the recognition it deserves.

So as I travel down with the motley crew to the awards today I have to ask myself … will I be any less proud if they don’t win? No, of course not … and I already know that winning is not the reason they are there … in fact it is not the reason I will be going down either … I am going down to have a look at the wonderful things others are doing and taking it as another opportunity to share and network.

The Cloud Is The Future

Yes … the conversation is coming round to the same thing once again. This time it is sparked off by the Apple WorldWide Developers Conference in San Francisco. With all the stuff that has gone on, it is not surprising that Apple would make some changes about how their software interacts with each other, about how they can get a bit more buy-in from their users and how they can make sure they grab back some ideas from other companies.

And true to form, Apple have come up with a number of things, lots of good stuff, but a few things which makes me take a step back and think about how it will hit schools. Of course, this is just a first look at what the offerings are and the fine detail might make a world of difference.

So, going through the keynote timeline, Apple discussed OSX first. It has been around for 10 years now (and yes, I did pay for the beta and then paid for the released version, but I also pay for a technet subscription and regular make use of beta OSS too) and there have been many changes during that time. The change in hardware (when hell froze over and Apple move to Intel) allowed a step change in how powerful the Apple computers were but for most of us it has been smaller, less spoken about changes that have made a difference. The introduction of multi-gesture on track pads was a little thing, but those who have used the magic trackpad or magic mouse know the difference it makes. So, having all the multi-touch gestures we have come to know and love seems a good thing, especially if they are improved and tweaked.

The use of the Mac App Store to deliver Apps is quite a handy thing, and the automated syncing and updating of Apps between devices will make life easier for many with multiple devices, or those upgrading. And this is where I hit flaw number one in the announcements. Those of us in schools want a nice simple way of managing technology, which doesn’t create any issues for staff using it and to make sure it is secure and consistent for learners. If I am not in centralised control then this creates a problem. And it gets worse (or better if you are a general consumer) … Lion will be a download. Lion Server will be a series of add-ons and things like Profile Manager look quite good (from the limited information so far) but what is going to happen for OS deployment? What about App deployment? Patch management? IT just doesn’t seem to add up yet, and the last thing any IT Manager wants to do is to have to wait until it comes live in July before finding out what is going on … remembering that many schools will have already been planning their summer rollout. What happens when new hardware arrives with Lion on and cannot be rolled back to Snow Leopard to fit in with the present system?

Ok … there are 250 new features so the 10 shown at the Keynote don’t really do it full justice. Version control of documents, Air Drop for quick file transfer … there will be good and bad … but make sure you plan well.

And so we get to iOS5. With no new announcement of iPhone hardware we have to look just at the OS.

To be honest, there was little here that I could sing or dance about for schools. Yes, there is better integration with things like the camera can directly link into twitter, more stuff on iBooks (some good ePub resources out there, not forgetting iTunes U) but iMessage, Game Centre, Mail … nothing really to make my skin tingle … until a throw away comment. Full screen Airplay from iOS devices to an AppleTV 2. Yes … a tablet based IWB with multi-touch and a wide range of educational apps. I am waiting for the Developer site to come live again as I am likely to upgrade my Apple TV2 and iPhone to the latest builds just to give this a try. I have already mentioned to people about getting iPads (pref iPad 2 to ensure there is a camera) to hook up to projectors but this makes it even better. No doubt, there are a number of other functions which will be wonderful, but I still worry about centralised management for a class-set of devices, and some of the cloud based news later worried me even more. I am all for freedom of control of tools … but no control at all? This now puts iOS as a consumer OS, with limited business application. It also means that it will mean a lot more work for a school to look after them.

And then we get to the cloud services. To some extent the show covered cloud services throughout. The syncing of Apps, the automated updating of apps and OS, the syncing of docs … and we all knew that iCloud was coming! And sure enough, it is here. Photostream between devices and the web, most of the previous MobileMe stuff being improved / updated and given away for free (erm … what about those of us who are subscribers? Refund?) But then we have to think about the syncing of documents. Now, there is a list of companies in teh US who have signed a Safe Harbor agreement with the US Department of Commerce, and Apple do have an entry on there … and here it is.

Personal Information Received from the EU/EEA and/or Switzerland:
Online and offline customer and human resources data. Apple collects customer data during certain transactions and communications with its customers, including when users register to use Apple products and services, purchase Apple products and services, register Apple hardware and software, apply for commercial credit, and participate in surveys. Customer data is transferred from EU Apple subsidiaries to Apple Inc. (which is located in the United States) for the purposes of marketing, facilitating transactions, customer support, customer communications, improving Apple products and services, auditing, data analysis and data storage. Human Resources data is transferred from EU Apple subsidiaries to Apple Inc. for the purposes of conducting the human resources and financial management of Apple Inc. and its subsidiaries. Such purposes include, without limitation, making available documentation on personnel, administering compensation, payroll, benefits, administering stock options, bonus plans, succession planning, recruiting new employees, addressing various legal obligations concerning personnel status, data audit and error control, and tracking the use of temporary workers and independent workers.

So … can you tell me where it covers the contents of my files? And if I stick a class list (which home addresses) on my iDisk (as it is now) or have it as a doc which travels between my devices (via the Apple server farm) then I am putting data at risk in spite of the DPA saying *DON’T*! Ok … maybe I am over-reacting … but you can see my concern. Syncing stuff can be good, but there are certain issues with it. If you are in a school do you need to sync things to the cloud to pull it back down to the same school but a device being used by the child sat next to you? What about using a little of this magic to work a bit smarter closer to home? *That* is what I am more interested in …

So … first thoughts are that there are only a few things that jump out as going to make a massive difference to use by children and use by teachers. There are still lots of things that give it even more potential … but then we hit my second thoughts. This is a consumer device that is going to be a pig to try to manage for a centralised resource. This is nothing new with Apple though … and we generally muddle through … and it is just a shame that Apple, who have such a strong following within education, still seem to miss some opportunities.

As I try things out I will put up new entries … and I am eager to have suggestions about what to look at. That said … comments such as “swap to Android / Windows / Linux / Etch-a-sketch” are pretty old hat now … even if they do raise a slight smirk.

Another ‘No to ICT Suites’ thread

This comes around on a regular basis about whether some schools (frequently primary school, but not exclusively so) need an ICT Suite. The desire or need to have one, or move away from one, will vary from school to school and there are many good discussions already out there about helping people decide what is best for a school on an educational basis.

After my post and video about the perils and pitfalls of mobile tech in schools (mainly aimed at handheld devices) this can be extended to other areas … and so, after a tweet from Mary Farmer, I thought I would put down some of the small things which I have come across over the years which can cause problems. None of these are show stoppers, and most will have some sort of solution, work around or can be planned for … but it is good to be aware of them first.

Now, there may be some assumptions here which are not right for every school but I am basing a fair bit on this around the idea that the ICT Suite will go and be replaced by either a handful of machines in each classroom or by sets of laptops which can be rotated around classrooms. It might even be a mixture … but there you have it.

1 – Initial Cost: The amount of money to set up, look after and replace a trolley of laptops is generally more than of a suite of desktops in a classroom. To get the same spec of laptop as a desktop is more expensive. You then have a mobile trolley to stick them in. There are various solutions out there, some with charging alone, some with network sockets (Important for a later point), some with security cables, some are seriously heavy duty and hard to break into and some are flimsy things which are basically a box on wheels with a number of 4 way extension leads to plug the laptop power pack into. Guess which one is cheapest? Guess which one schools are tempted to go for?

2 – Setup and maintenance: I know … this is all very boring and practical … and can easily be dealt with if you throw a bit more time at it. And there is a key point. Time is money … it doesn’t matter whether you employ someone in the school to do your IT Support, buy it in or it is done by one of the teaching staff in their ‘spare time’. The more efficient you can make this the better. To set up a set of machines, laptops or desktops, it works better if they are connected to a physical network point.

Remember I mentioned about those laptop trolley with network sockets as well? Well, connect the laptop to a wired point in the trolley and then the trolley is connected to a single wired point (preferably one with a 1 gig connection back to the core / central switch in the school). And this is presuming that you have purchased laptops which are happy to be booted up with the lid closed to have the systems, any software or any settings loaded onto them … most do but guess what … cheaper devices tend not to be happy about this or have problems with overheating if done on a regular basis … and it takes time and expertise to set a system like that up anyway … time + cost!

More common is to just get all the laptops out onto desks in a classroom, have a switch which they are all hooked into and then away you go … taking a classroom out of action in the process … and so it is done at weekends or holidays. Not the best thing in the world if you need software installing during the working term! And once they are set up … then there are updates and patches to the OS and software you need to do. Again, you can have similar problems … Security updates from Microsoft are a monthly thing. There are tools to help manage this but you then have to plan how these updates will get to machines, how will you test them beforehand to make sure it will not break any other software and whether there is a risk by doing so. This also applies to antivirus updates which should happen automatically each day!

3 – Storage: We have already covered about laptop trolleys and how they come in different shapes and designs, with a raft of different features and associated costs. You also need to make a serious decision about where you are going to stick this trolley before one of the teachers tells you exactly where you can stick it! This will probably be after they have had to walk from one of the of the school to another to push a heavy trolley around the school, trying not to run over little Emma or Michael (no matter how you are feeling it is *never* a good idea to run over little Emma or Michael… ), trying not to damage doorways, walls, tables, chairs, the trolley, other staff … only to find you have accidentally brushed past a display of work and torn it!

And then we get to where it is stored over night! Security is quite important here because a trolley which can be wheeled out of the school quickly (a burglar will not care about the doors and walls so they will be bashed a bit too) is a better prospect for your average IT seeking tea-leaf. Some trolleys can have security plates bolted to the floor, but that means wheeling the trolley back at the end of each day … trying not to damage doorways, walls, tables … you get the picture.

Of course, this is before you work out that the children are the ones who will be opening the door of the trolley and getting the kit out, and then putting it away again. And there will be times when you need the laptop power pack too (I’ll deal with batteries in a bit) and if the power pack is all cable-tied in (for very valid H&S reasons) then how do you get it out? Have spare packs at more cost? And what about the time to take the packs out (if not cable-tied in) and put them back in neatly so they are not damaged (ah … device lifespan … see further below!)

4 – Device Lifespan: In general the IT profession say you should replace a desktop after 3 years and a laptop after 4. This is not purely about usability, but also about when the warranty will run to, how long the device will physically last and about the amount of investment made in the first place. Software will change over time and new software will place more demand on the device. Because a laptop costs more initially then you have to run it longer to make sure you get full value. However, a laptop is more likely to suffer from physical degradation than a desktop. If we take hard drives first. Some laptop trolley store laptops on their edge and usually lean a little to one side. This means that the hard drives are not flat (or even directly upright), so if the devices are put away whilst running or are started up remotely (for updates, etc) then you can have, over time, hard drives fail and need to be replaced. Whilst this might be whilst they are in warranty (you did go for the extended 4 year warranty at some extra cost didn’t you?) you might find the manufacturer comes back to you and questions why 15 out of 30 devices have had to have their hard drive replaced. The usual response from a school or company is that we think that this laptop maker is rubbish … *when it is not their fault*!!!!

Then we get to laptop keyboards. You get what you pay for and so many cheaper laptops have keyboards where the keys fall off if you sneeze on them (not a good thing to do on any keyboard actually) and then you have to buy replacement keyboards and get them fitted. You do have the similar problem on desktop keyboards … but they are a few quid to replace, whereas laptop keyboards will by £45+ and they might insist an engineer comes out to install it so that you keep it in warranty … at more cost. Some manufacturers now treat it as a customer serviceable part and will just send it out with simple instructions about how to change it … but these devices tend to cost a little more on initial purchase … invest now to save later?

And then you get back to the reason why you might want to run down little Emma or Michael with the laptop trolley … because they have, between them, broken 3 screens (pencil on the keyboard when closing the lid), dropped two laptops, broken the socket where the power pack plugs into the laptop on 3 other them and put plasticine in the network socket of others (they wondered what shape it would make). So, from your set of 30 you could be down to 20 fairly quickly.

And then we get to battery life. Batteries on mobile devices suck. They don’t last the full day when you need them to, if they do then they make the machine big and bulky (and heavy) … making it difficult to allow certain year groups to get the kit out themselves … and certainly makes the laptop trolley even more heavy when pushing it around, then do not keep the same level of charge for the full 4 years and they have a limited warranty meaning that if they fail you might not be able to get them replaced after the first year (YMMV). So you have to consider them a consumable and plan to replace them when they start to fail. Oh, back to the initial cost again … you did budget for that didn’t you?

And there you have a short list of some of the issues which have cropped up … with some things people have done to work around the issues, or at least plan for them. It is by now means an extensive list and I would happily accept more things on there, and more suggestions about how you can get around them.