Tag Archives: change management.

The Importance of School Domains

With the every changing world of technology and education we all understand that nothing stands still. With more and more schools becoming Academies, buying a variety of services from a plethora of providers and having direct control of the funds to buy these, schools are generally more discerning about their presence on the World Wide Web.

This change of stance can result in websites which engage with parents and learners, improved communication systems and better marketing with the local community.

One of the frequent changes you see is around the choice of domain name a school will use. Traditionally, schools would use a domain based on their name, the geographical Local Authority they are in (but not always part of) and a tail of .sch.uk to identify them as a UK School, eg blogs-pri.dookland.sch.uk.  This domain is allocated to them by Nominet, is linked to the DfE number of the school and belongs to the school.

Sometimes you will hear that the domain belongs to the Council / LA and this is not altogether true. The domain belongs to the school, but might be controlled by the LA as part of delivery of services (eg over an RBC) or has previously been managed by the LA on behalf of the school, via the LA tech support team. Schools can ask for the domain to be transferred to a Registrar of their choice and can have someone manage the associated DNS.

Some schools chose not to use their .sch.uk domain. This could be because of the above myth meant they registered a new domain when leaving an LA service, they might not like the long URL or email addresses it can give, it can be down to a marketing / PR choice or it might simply be personal preference of a member of Senior Leadership / technical staff.

There are a few important things to remember about your choice of domain though. Firstly, the ends of domains, that is to say the generic Top Level Domains (gTLD) such as .com, .net, or country specific / country-code TLDs (ccTLD) such as .co.uk and .org.uk, have a specific purpose and identify the type of business or organisation you are. These domains are register for a period of time and have to be re-registered on a regular basis. They are open to dispute by other groups of the same name and you can even find conflicting domains ([schoolname].com and [schoolname].org) being used by different schools, or even by commercial or charitable organisations with a better claim to the domain than the school.

Some companies and organisations will try to capture all related domains so that this problem is dealt with, but schools often forget that they have the .sch.uk domain which they have left fallen by the wayside.

Your .sch.uk does not lapse, it is free, it can only be controlled by your school, it cannot be grabbed by a former student with an axe to grind and it doesn’t have to be your principle domain.

At the moment I recommend schools, which are choosing a different domain as their principle domain, to keep hold of their .sch.uk domain. If you are swapping email services then this extra domain can usually sit in the background so emails to the old addresses still reach their original recipients. Websites can have a CNAME record to redirect your .sch.uk domain to your preferred domain.

Generally, there is no excuse for not keeping the old domain other than wanting to have a ‘clean break’, or you make use of services which do not allow for other options. If this is the case then you need to consider the impact of lost emails, irregular communications which might get missed, etc.

A few hours of work now can save you days of trouble later on. Go on, be proud to let people know you are still a school … that is what .sch.uk is there for after all.

Internet Safety Talking Point 1

In my last blog post I republished 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 responsibility and accountability.

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.

This raises an important point. With great power comes great responsibility, and there is a group in schools who have a lot of power. Whatever you might think of your Network Manager or Technician, of your LA Support Manager or even the Academy Technical Director (I will generically use the term NM to cover these and similar positions), how they have gained power / ownership / responsibility / control will be so varied it would take several posts to pinpoint which applies to your case. We would also end up talking about stereotypes and pigeon-holing people.

In reality it is rarely for it to be one reason as to why a single person might be making major decisions which affect a wide range of people, and it would be wrong to always assume malice, arrogance, superiority complexes on their part. It would also be wrong to assume the ignorance of senior managers in schools, apathy of staff, poor funding and poor communication. However, I am sure all of the above would sound familiar to many.

Instead, let us look at the idea of responsibility and accountability.

Yes, the NM is likely to be the expert in the field as to what technology can work, how it can work, how to support it and so on, but the requirements which set out what technology is needed should not be set out by a single person, but by a group of stakeholders working out what is best for the school (or schools if part of a larger group). This involves planning, communication, compromises, compliance (with laws, local and school policies, etc) and it will require targets / outcomes. This is where the oversight and accountability comes in … and it doesn’t just apply to the NM. It is needed … and should be in place.

And this is where we hit a number of problems.

Firstly you might be in a school where there is no communication, planning, team-working, etc and so someone has to effectively be a visionary, trying to guess what is needed or to lead on the choice of technology, almost in a single-minded way as nothing would happen without this. This can effectively place all the power and control with a single person with no oversight. This is not specifically their fault, and Scott’s point, in my eyes, appear to be a shout out to Senior Leaders in schools to wake up, stop relying on a single person and to make it more of a team effort … not a call to snatch back power from someone else.

Within the UK there is a standard for IT Support (based on industry standards) called FITS. This clearly sets out how the NM, Senior Leaders and other stakeholders can establish the targets, hold people accountable for delivering on projects / work and set out the standards by which systems will work, how changes will be decided and managed, how choices of technology can be made and how this can be measured against the desired impact.

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.

BETT – Mr Gove’s Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tech Support – By Schools, For Schools

I know some of you might already recognise the phrase including in the title, as it is a central tenet of the ICT Register, but the same ethos is wide spread within the education community. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about school staff getting together at TeachMeets, having in-depth discussions via twitter though things like #ukedchat, online communities such as EduGeek.net or more local groups such as NorthantsBLT the growing role of schools taking ownership of their advice and guidance and how they share it with others is a very important part of how schools need to react to recent changes which have come out of DfE.

Many of the above are free … well, when I say free I really mean that they are paid for by people and schools using their own time for the benefit of others because they get the same sort of response back, or it is a bit of educational philanthropy on the part of others. This is brilliant in many ways, but can make it difficult to plan for sustainability. Also, there is nothing wrong with paying for advice, guidance, ideas, expertise, etc. There is often a saying used, “you get what you pay for!” and this is very true. People forget that the payment is not always cold, hard cash, but time and your own expertise … and when time, expertise, capacity and ideas are running short then people face the reality that paying for something is almost inevitable.

And this is one of the areas where I think some schools do it wrong. It shouldn’t be that paying for something in cash is the last option, it should be considered an option from the very beginning when you are planning what you need, what your goals are, how your school will develop / deliver things like CPD, technical support, parental engagement, etc.

Technical Support is a perfect example of where failing to plan can result in staff in the school, both techie and teacher, having to scrabble around to find information and guidance. I have been preparing a number of reports around the use of Framework for ICT Technical Support (FITS) within Northamptonshire schools and conversations with schools who have staff trained and accredited against FITS has shown what a difference planning makes. Except that it doesn’t just stop at the school gates. A number of schools are actively involved in supporting other schools. This will range from Lodge Park Technology College being actively engaged with the ICT Register and Microsoft’s Partners In Learning, Sir Christopher Hatton School providing support on Microsoft training courses and technical support to local schools, Wrenn School providing technical support to local schools and staff being active in online communities such as EduGeek.net, and both The Duston School and Southfield School for Girls providing staff time and expertise to chair local working groups such as the Schools Broadband Working Group and NetworkNorthants (the local IT Community for technical staff in schools and school support providers). Some of this is for free (i.e. no charge to others) but some of it does have a cost and is well worth it.

Having another school cover your tech support or provide advice around it has some major benefits. This can range from educational understanding and expertise, through to experience of deploying some education specific technologies. Couple this with easy access for teachers to talk with teachers, SLT to talk with SLT, you can having a winning combination.

So I was please to see, over the weekend, a tweet from a friend on the south coast. Tim Dalton is the IT Consultant at The Wildern School, the school which runs its own TV Studio (BBC Schools Report), has previously run YouTube style services for other schools, has developed advice and guidance on using media technologies in schools … and much more. Tim put a tweet out letting his PLN know that they are doing it again, taking their expertise and bundling it up for others. This time it is is punnet; a support, development and advisory service for other schools. Whether it is hands-on, regular tech support, development of software and applications for schools or advice and guidance around classroom use of technology and school strategy, Wildern hopes to be able to cater for your needs.

Yet another example of By Schools, For Schools …

Do you have more examples? Are you involved in similar to the folk at punnet or the other schools mentioned? Have you spoken with other schools to share ideas, expertise, tools and goals? Go on … now is your chance.

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.

——————

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.

How do you plan?

Lifecycle Management

Developing a process

Whether you are using ITIL, FITS or other ideology / tools to help you develop a support service, you will find that you will borrow, adapt, use, tweak, refine and make wholesale use of a plethora of pre-existing examples of procedures. It is a simple fact of life that sharing and comparing procedures is more efficient than re-inventing the wheel in isolation.

However, you will find that there will be occasions when you have to create a process specific to your school and your school’s services. You may be the first school you know to move to a specific technology or to use it for a particular purpose, within the curriculum or for services involved in running the school. It is at this point you can fall back on two areas of support for such tasks.

You might have developed a house style for your processes with set communication routes, set timescales, a pre-defined hierarchy of decision-making and clear mechanisms for measuring success. Or it might be that you truly are starting from scratch.

Either way there are a number of ways that spending some time looking at Lifecycle Management could be beneficial to helping developing processes. Those with FITS or ITIL experience, especially ITIL v3, will tend to look at the whole service first to see where the process sits and then work on it, but the principles are basically the same.

In ITIL the service lifecycle is made up of 5 sections

  1. Service Strategy
  2. Service Design
  3. Service Transition
  4. Service operation
  5. Continuing Service Improvement

And these we can change into some simple questions.

  1. What do we want?
  2. How is it going to work?
  3. How do we get it to work?
  4. How do we keep it running?
  5. How can all this be improved and how can we use it to improve other things in the future?

And those with ITIL or PRINCE2 experience are now screaming that this is over-simplifying the process … and they are right, but we have to start somewhere. It is hard to talk purely on theory and go on about simplifying ITIL or FITS, so we will have to look at a real world example which we have to fit processes around. Let’s go for a big one that will affect every school, no matter whether a school runs additional management software from companies such as RM, whether you run thin clients, schools who manage computer deployments from central systems, all the way to small schools with a handful of computers … yes, we are talking about INSTALLING NEW SOFTWARE.

Over the coming weeks I will be looking at the questions above and applying them to the task of installing new software, looking at the wide range of options, looking at how different schools and schools systems might come up with different answers, looking at what the impact is on those having to come up with solutions, giving real examples of how schools have overcome obstacles to developing these processes and looking at the various roles within schools who will have to be involved.

As always, I am always interested in talking with schools who have gone through some of this and if anyone would like to be involved then please let me know.

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.

The Ignorant Bliss Of The Idealist

It seems a bit strange to say this, but I may have said some stuff that was wrong. Yes … me … saying I could have been wrong. Then again I could have been perfectly right and this is just a cunning plan to make people feel sorry for me and make them pay attention to what I have written.

On Wednesday 2nd February 2011 a thread started on EduGeek.net around the fact that one of the respected regulars was happy to report that after some time they had been allowed to set up SIMS on staff laptops and then also allowed to remove full admin rights from Staff and lock them down. As a result they couldn’t install software, only change their background and add icons to their desktop.

Over the years this has been a continual battle for some members … to be able to take control and run their systems the way they should be run, with decent security, forcing staff to make use of the support team so that they can plan, stop viruses entering the network, and so on … I’ve been there myself and supported many others in similar positions. The problems that centre on Data Protection, security of files and data, prevention of network intrusion by non-school devices are real world problems …

But … and there is a big but … the simple fact was that I have a problem with people wanting to lock things down without due consideration for how it will affect the technology to be used for learning. I know that it might seem a bit strange for me to take this stance, but it is one born out of frustration.

My first point was that when software gets installed there is not time to test every single function, and quite often the first person to find these faults are teachers when planning lessons. By applying restrictions this can be made worse … from experience of macros in access and excel, templates in CAD/CAM software, preferences in Open Office, the ability to run embedded flash files. Now, you could argue that this is a good thing as they are likely to find the same flaws the students would do when they try the same activities during lessons, but that isn’t why it happens in most places. In fact, having talked about this with some people over the years this has even been put forward as an excuse to use to be able to force staff to accept lockdowns. Not in many places … but enough for me to worry about it.

The next worry raised was about license compliance. After all, if you give people the rights to install software then how will you know what is installed? How do you know they will not put on ‘dodgy’ software, possibly downloaded from interesting sites on the internet, possibly borrowed from a friend what they think is legitimate software they have purchased from the market but is, in reality, as black market as the movies we all get warned about in those wonderful “you wouldn’t steal a car” trailers we get on DVDs. They might even remove software the support team has spent ages getting set up. Turn off the automated software updates and the anti-virus. The risks are endless.

But these are adults we are talking about. Grown people who are capable of following instructions if they are explained to them. And so we hit the next barrier. The argument that SLT do not back up the support team when they explain to staff how stupid they are when they do any of the above. It goes into a downwards spiral of either blaming staff who follow this route or SLT with no backbone ….the only escape is to take control themselves … or convince others to allow them to do so.

Here is a key point. Read it carefully. If this is you, and you are doing it because you don’t having backing from SLT or you have far too much bitter experience of stupid staff … then you are only masking over the symptom. You are not fixing the problem.

Those of us who want to treat staff as knowledgeable users and ensure that SLT understand and accept the risks and benefits of technology feel your pain, we do, … you are not on your own. It happens in all aspects of a school. Go speak to your Bursar / Business Manager about why most staff are not allowed to do anything other than order items through them. Ask about why some departments get monthly financial reports, or even weekly at some points in the year. Ask pastoral staff about why they always have to deal with parents complaining about their child being sent out in a particular lesson but they are fine in others, by taking extreme control you ensure that the job is done.

But is it?
Who is it that thinks about how the kit and software will be used?
Most Support staff will shy away from giving educational advice to teachers. I know what the reaction would be from most teachers when a member of support or admin staff comes up to them and talks about T&L. Thankfully this is changing, but it is a two-way thing.

So, am I an idealist who thinks that Network Managers are being horrible to teachers or am I just trying to stop people ignoring the main problems?

I don’t think it is such a surprise that most people who reacted are from a secondary base. Talking to staff in primary schools or those who support primary schools there seems to be more trust, more freedom, both to make mistakes and to gain a lot more knowledge about how to use IT.

But … I know most people are not saying that I am wrong … just that in the real world it doesn’t work the way I think. I think it does and even if it doesn’t for you, then perhaps that this should be part of your targets … to look at how you can give staff more freedom and responsibility without creating too much work or putting IT systems at risk.

As a result I am setting myself a task to speak with as many people who do give more freedom to staff and find out about the journey how to get there. I will try to coach it in such a way that it will help SLT, IT Support and teachers speak a common language and try to develop an agreed goal. I am not saying there is any magic button that can be pressed … the Strategic Leadership of ICT course is sorely missed as a tool helping the process of change, often a long and sometimes stressful time, needing support, understanding and compromise on all sides.

Failing that it will also include a few hints and tricks about how you can work from the inside to make changes.