Tag Archives: edugeek

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.

The James Review … what does it really mean for tech in schools?

The report is quite comprehensive in the breakdown of problems, but has to summarise some of them and it means some of the detail is missed. It also uses some language which misses out on opportunities to pin things down. It suffers from vagueness …

Although ICT is mentioned in a number of areas, a common theme that is expressed is that all capital investment needs maintenance and to be refreshed when appropriate. This is expected to be done, in principal, via revenue budgets for smaller amounts and DFC for larger amounts to a certain level. This means that the school should be able to quantify, if asked, how much it expects to have to pay each year for maintenance or refresh of the ICT infrastructure and facilities. It is hard to pin down whether software or ‘changeable’ assets could be included in here … that could be a good discussion over a pint some time in the future. This is where we get vagueness though … when it talks about maintenance / refresh it does not explicitly mention ICT as part of that. Some groups will use this to argue that ICT should never be considered as capital at any time and others that this says that it should. Perhaps some clarification would be nice on this.

Here are a couple of key things for you though … (mainly centred around part 2, but in particular 4.23 to 4.29)

The report talks about how local choice around building design (and this also means IT infrastructure) has often been a hold up, has meant that value for money hasn’t been achieved, that what was requested to be delivered by the leading person (eg the head) could be wasted as that person could have moved on by the time it is delivered. This is no different to one Network Manager coming in, setting things up *their way* and then, when they leave, their replacement starts to do things *their preferred way* meaning the school goes through change again. I’m not limiting this to just tech though … you get the same when a new HoD comes on board, a new site supervisor, a new chef in a kitchen … but schools need to make sure they have a long term plan and stick to it where they can.

The report also recommends that RBCs still exist, that they are changed to a more ‘price book’ style service where you only pay for what you want / need, 10Mpbs for primary schools and 100Mbps for secondary schools, that there should be more use and development of the existing public sector networks to make use of the existing investment as a way of delivering lots of services (including things such as BDUK). It also suggests that being a small school does not mean you use less bandwidth. In fact you might use more as you make more use of online resources to support the lack of specialisms/expertise within the school, and making more use of hosted solutions / services.

The ICT Services Framework should play a large part in any procurement, as should other large scale purchasing arrangements. Putting it bluntly, this means that for every chunk of kit you buy then you must check it against the same costs from BuyingSolutions. The only way the system will work is if people make use of it, and if they find they don’t get the best price from BuyingSolutions then they feed that back.

Other recommendations can also be seen that there should be central advice and procurement, and when that comes to the ICT section of new / rebuilt / refurbished schools, this should be for infrastructure only. It does not say what it considers to be infrastructure though… that worries me.

So … Managed services should not be a pre-requisite of any new building scheme, that the choice of desktop / systems should be down to the school, that there should be a plan to maintain IT infrastructure / assets and refresh it. On the flip side, the ICT services framework (which includes managed services) should be a serious option for all schools when they are considering how to spend their capital investment and how to maintain it. There is nothing wrong with schools have the same basic setup and then fine-tuning … having one person defining a vision or system is a risk …

One thing is clear though, there is a push to have more of a centralised role from a body. that can be DoE, it could be PfS … but the DoE has now taken on board the remnants of Becta. It has the infrastructure team and the safeguarding team, amongst others. The thing we don’t have yet is how the DoE is going to deliver their chunk of the Govt’s IT Strategy. This report *will* contribute to that, I hope!

So, for me the report covers some key problems and makes suggestions about how to deal with them. It agrees with some aspects of the Department’s present strategy (eg Free Schools) but also pushes on that things like RBCs are a good thing, that local authority involvement is still needed, that capital needs to be followed with enough money to cover maintenance and that relying on one person for a vision is not a good thing because they could move on.

A few notes on this then … the Harnessing Technologies grant was removed because there had been enough capital investment. Can we now see the money for the maintenance please? It wasn’t included in any budgets given to schools this year, even with ring-fencing being removed. And if we are talking about having one person making the decisions … then should we really have a politician (and this covers *any* politician from *any* party!) doing the vision / decision making around education? What happens if they move to another part of the Government? Just saying …

All Change

It is not often that a change in something really makes me sad but this week there has been a change to EduGeek.net.

It was wonderful to finally hear, last month, the announcement that Shaun (Zerohour) had become a full time partner in EduGeek and I know it will help Chris take EduGeek forward. Shaun has played a huge roll over the last few years to help make EduGeek what it is, from helping to make it a world class forum with all the right tools, through to being the translator of ideas into actions. $Deity knows he has had some strange ideas thrown at him.

However, it was a sad day too. A great friend has decided to step down from involvement in running EduGeek as he takes on a new job. Russell Dyas was one of the first people to step up to the plate and get things done shortly after EduGeek was created. Whether as a moderator, writing news articles, organising meetings with suppliers and vendors, changing what was a simple get together into the first EduGeek conference … all the way through to managing to secure EduGeek a regular spot at BETT, Russell has been a key person in making EduGeek what it is today.

Let’s take a step back and have a look at him though … Not long after EduGeek started he turned up, a veteran contributor and moderator on the RM forum, and started being helpful … nothing more than that really. Welcoming new members (we would joke about being sad enough to watch the membership roll grow each day, commenting about people we recognised from various places, often other mailing lists, forums or newsgroups), putting events onto the calendar, collating news items … you just couldn’t help but like the bloke. That was until he turned nasty …

A few of us thought it would be nice to get together one half-term (Oct 2005) … I offered my then school as a base … next thing we have a speaker … and then another … and eventually we have the first EduGeek.net Conference. From that day there was no getting out of the fact that when Russ pushes you, you eventually get things done.

EduGeek and ICT Register at BETT 2006

The following January Russ and I agreed to run a small survey on IT Support Staff whilst at BETT, and the kind folk at the ICT Register (who had already supported the first conference) let us hang around their stand. It was even better when Chris turned up to chat as well… and with inspiration from Drew Buddie & co with the ‘Help Us Get To BETT’ stand for Moodlers, Russ made it his goal to have an EduGeek presence. After much wheeling and dealing with EMAP Russ organised a prime spot in the National Hall Gallery … but the opportunity came up for a smaller slot in the Grand Hall, but downstairs, next to one of the cafés. An inspired man, he grabbed it as soon as he could and EduGeek have had the Technical Help Point there ever since. That’s not to say that the work was finished there … oh no! Someone had to organise sponsorship to cover the costs of electrics, insurance, furniture, IT kit … and then someone had to organise it all. Yeah … thanks Russ. I had a full head of hair in the photo from 2005 … by the time I retired in 2009 I was the baldy bloke we all know and, hopefully, love.

So, we have established that Russ is a person with ideas, can get people motivated to do things and is experienced at delegating things down to others. I think we should all worry on the day we receive a parcel with a return to sender address with Impero on it … if you get one, just make a cup of tea and wonder what Russ has gotten you involved in now.

So, a short salute to Russ Dyas … retiring from EduGeek on 31st March, but still around, giving advice, helping people out and creating work for others.

I’m sure I had some budget left?

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

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

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

Oh … you are back … good show!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think you get the picture now.

Find out what you have got.

Find out how it can be used.

Find out what changes the school plans to make.

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

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

Be prepared for change … change is inevitable.

Do *You* Know A Technical Champion?

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

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

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

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

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

Where can we find this wondrous being?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Usernames – Should they identify a pupil?

Completely forget about this post over on my blog on EduGeek. Thankfully, this site now this pulls in all my posts from any possible blog I use so I thought I would send this one out anyway … from November 2009.

In a discussion about student IDs I got a tad frustrated by the take some people have about Becta guidance and that it is given from a point of not really understanding how the real world works or giving examples …

Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook
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With all respect to DB and AT … B*11*cks

Becta put out the recommendation based on data protection guidance and esafety guidance from a heap of places and just collate it. Having a go at them for doing this is pretty pointless and hiding your head in the sands about wider issues.

1 – a kid emails a mate about something, who then replies but includes a mate outside of the school. The person outside of the school is an adult, and then now might have name, approx age (cause they understand that 09 at the beginning of the userid in the email means they started at the school in 2009) the surname or forename (so many schools have it as jbloggs or janetb) and they are also likely to get the forename from the email too. It is not about a single piece of data that makes it dangerous but when you string it together.

2 – People hate giving real, flesh and blood people a number as their identity. “I’m not a number, I am a free man!” I hear you cry … well, how many of use know our NI number off the top of our head. I am pretty sure that ex-forces / police / etc can remember their numbers too! There is nothing wrong with introducing this to the kids as long as it is done in a timely, professional and sensible fashion. Roll numbers from MIS are fine … if your school uses ID cards then get this number onto the ID card. If someone wants a password reseting then just ask for their card. Job done … simples!

3 – When Becta (and others) give guidance or a framework too many people say “this is the way we have now been told to do it!” so they don’t give too many examples anymore because people don’t think for themselves and just point the finger if it is not right for their school. They just can’t win. Before you have a go at the lack of examples about it why not say … “hey, let’s think of some ways to improve this!”

I bet that if I was to suggest we do this though we will get a slack handful that say something, but people are more than happy to jump on the bandwagon about BSF, job applications, salary scales … I guess we all have different priorities.

Why did I leave an internet start-up?

It has been a slow month for blogging and I am quite a bit behind in setting down various notes on from paper to the digital page. I presently have 3 articles partly written around Sharepoint and other tools on the LA Learning Platform (Sharepoint & Web 2.0, hosted vs local Sharepoint and SafeMail vs alternative email solutions), 2 additions to the Standard Network Configuration / Build for our schools, and so on. However, this time I want to speak about TeachMeets, having spoken at one again about a week and a half ago.

Most times I have spoken at TeachMeets it has been a fair chunk of rhetoric (not being a classroom practitioner) and every time it has been a last minute thing, to fill up space and mainly because I have been inspired by something I have at that particular TeachMeet or the event associated with it. This time was meant to be different. I knew I had what I wanted to speak about, had stuff ready to show … but it never works out like that does it!  I do have a good excuse though.

Last January I retired from EduGeek.net, and if you don’t know what it is then think of it as an online community, herded carefully to share ideas and answer each other’s ideas. Nothing new there really … except that it is now one of the top hits in google, has the backing of thousands of members and is now a company. It earns money which is ploughed back into the site, running an annual conference for members (free to attend) and helps fund the running of the Technical Help Point at BETT each year …

So why would I retire from being on the staff (a volountary role) just as it takes off? Why would I step down from a group I had been part of since a fortnight or so after it started up? Why would I move on from a group where I had a position of authority and control? Well … I didn’t. Leave that is. I discovered that I had to get a balance between work and life. I also discovered that my use of EduGeek really needed to go back to about the collaboration and sharing. I was missing that bit and it was a really important decision.

My need for collaboration has always been great … not because I don’t have ideas, I do … but I need to share and compare them. Since getting online properly 11 years ago I have been lucky to be involved with a number of sterling communities … starting with Alt.Fan.Pratchett and other newsgroups (I remember with fondish memories the circular arguments between the windows, linux and RISC fanbois on uk.education.schools-it!), then moving onto JISC Mailing lists, Becta forums and then I found EduGeek … a sense of coming home occurred and after a bit of cajoling into doing more behind the scenes work I discovered that I was one of the admins … a respected member of the community and running things with the support and direction of the EduGeek EduGod, Chris Byers. But I continued with my other networks too … I was on twitter mainly due to Russ Dyas (fellow EduGeek Admin), facebook due to a plethora of old friends, blogging due to Peter Ford and I have a presence on most social network / web 2.0 sites … partly to protect my online presence (ooohhh … that is another post that I need to finish actually). I have had a few prods recently about it being strange about stepping down from an EduGeek role  too … in spite of repeatedly explaining about needing a life, work commitments and having to do other stuff.

So … what does this have to do with TeachMeets? Well, at TeachMeet Bett 2010 I was originally going to talk about collaboration and the benefits of it and EduGeek.net was going to be my principle example, but I ditched that … not because Edugeek.net was the wrong example … but because I got inspired. Although collaboration could be about one site or one group, it plainly isn’t with me.

One of the previous presenters that night demonstrated a fantastic site, http://linkbun.ch, as a URL shortener and once you have put a list of URLs on the page it will give you a single shortened URL. Click on it and the page gives you the option the entire bunch … each link in a new tab. http://linkbun.ch/kc2y was the list I put together and this is pretty much my list of sites where I have learnt how to collaborate. Translating this to teachers, they could get the various resources they need for a lesson and just send a single link out to kids, translating it too techies then this could be the various FAQs and how-to guides for soemone else to complete a piece of work. It has lots of uses for me and it was just perfect to show people where I use to collaborate.

So .. to answer the original question, I didn’t leave an internet start-up … I am just looking for the next stage in my journey (but glad to have various places to stop back at on my way around).

I’m also wondering at which point I will turn up to a TeachMeet and actually talk about what I planned to instead of having a cracking idea on the night!