Tag Archives: FITS

Do we *REALLY* know how much is spent on IT?

A tweet was posted by @MSETCHELL yesterday (mattianuk on EduGeek) about being asked to work out the cost of the entire network.

This didn’t strike me as a strange request to be honest. It just seemed to be a standard pain-in-the-backside, paper-generating, unread-report-producing exercise … probably needed because of some arcane bid proposal which schools sometimes get involved in to try to squeeze money out of any available pot or group. It is worth saying the businesses do the same thing when applying for EU funds, regeneration funding, moving locations, etc … so it happens all over the place.

I replied that

I thought that would be fairly easy to generate? Have asset library with original costs, calculate depreciation, etc

But Matt said he had a full inventory but not purchase costs.

It struck me about this being another example of where silos exist in schools, this time between departments of support / admin staff rather than between curriculum departments.

It also made me wonder what do people record in their asset library? How do them maintain it? Who is the ultimate owner?

At Learning Possibilities, we work based on ISO27001 : 2013 (part of our standard of working for a variety of contracts, as well as best practice) and knowing your assets is vital, whether they are physical, intangible or information assets. Whilst the standard is over the top for most schools it does clearly align with standards such as the Framework for ICT Technical Support (A school friendly Service Management IT Management regime based on ITIL v2 and v3, with elements of other good practices from areas such as PRINCE2 and LEAN).

An asset library should not just be about the make, model, serial number and location of a physical piece of kit; it should include other relevant information too. When you install a network in a school you spend a certain amount on cabling … this is also an asset that is often missed. Is the cabling infrastructure in your school suitable for the next 5 years? Are you expected to go Gig to the desktop? PoE?

I’ll be posting a thread on EduGeek to discuss this in more detail about what could and should be recorded but I thought I would set out the basic principles here.

  1. All assets have an initial value (on purchase), a replacement value (how it would cost to replace it based on whether you do like for like replacement or old for new) and a depreciated value (how much they are worth now with their value going down due to an agreed method … and there are a variety of methods).
  2. All assets have a set period of useful life. This might be set out when you purchase the device and be based on a variety of factors. Usually these will be the warranty and support periods for the product, how frequently it receives updates, an estimate on how long you think the functionality will fit your needs and so on.
  3. All assets should be associated with a purchase order, when a direct purchase was made.
  4. All assets should have an ‘owner’. This is the person who is responsible for them to the institute and not necessarily the person who manages them on a day to day basis. An example would be the MIS hold information about timetabling, personnel, students, etc but the SIRO is ultimately responsible. In the same way the iMacs being used in Music are ‘owned’ by the Network Manager, not the Head of Music.
  5. Assets have to be written off at some point in their life. This can only be done by an authorised member of staff.

There are probably more I could add, but this is a starting point for most people.

Some of the above information might be able to be held in the software you use for asset management. Some might already be held in other systems, such as the finance systems.

It will be up to each school whether there is any replication / duplication of the information held … and who updates the relevant asset libraries too.

From the above this should be enough so that the Head and BM can easily see what the value of the network is (in financial terms) and what the total direction is over a period of time, see what is about to be at end of supported life and what they need to replace like for like (in general terms).

Not only does this allow for SLT to plan, it helps them decide on whether maintaining a status quo with regards to IT is affordable or whether changes need to be considered on financial grounds. Changes on curriculum, or leadership grounds are a separate discussion, and that has a slightly different set of criteria and measurement.

There are plenty of ways you can check whether others you work with, as partners or suppliers, are following similar models … a basic tool for IT management. For us it is our work on ISO27001: 2013, but for others it could be ITIL v3 certification of staff, FITS certification,  ISO/EIC 20000 certification. At Learning Possibilities we ask it of some of our partners and are happily reassured.

Have a chat with your own school to see who manages what areas of assets, how the Facilities Management team monitor and write things off, how the Business Manager controls what is put down as needing covering for insurance? See what standards they look at when working with others?

 

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 2

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

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

Today’s point is about Decision Making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Perils and Pitfalls of being ‘The Block’ to learning & teaching

Once again I fall into the role of the fervent defender of the blighted IT Support teams in schools. As much as I enjoyed a good argument (oh no you don’t!) there are times when I feel that the word compromise is missing from the vocabulary of some people.

In a short break from the course I am on at the moment I picked up a tweet to a blog post from our friend Spannerman2.
It makes for good reading and raises an important points about IT and ICT & Computing as subjects, about the lack of subject specialism in teachers of these subjects and about the amount of effort which goes into running (& locking down) a school network.

It does, however, throw stones. I don’t think stone throwing is any good at the moment in education. It just generates a lot of people pointing their fingers and saying, “you are doing it wrong!” without any ideas or support for getting it right.
In conversations on EduGeek.net there have been ideas shared about how you can make things more manageable and flexible on a school network, about how you can give freedom to staff and students, about how to manage situations better and stop the ‘them & us’ perception which can be the stimulus to things getting out of hand when there is the slightest problem.

So here are a few ideas. First we will have the objectives … the school needs computers systems. It needs three types of systems really.

Let us cover the easy one first. We want a system that allows for the running of a school, the day-to-day stuff of administration, the ordering of toilet roll for the toilets, the paying of staff, keeping records on students … you know the sort I mean. It used to be that this network was kept as separate as possible from everything else. It had to be … it holds sensitive data, it needs to have careful controls over who can do what with it … both legally (DPA) and for audit reasons. However, more and more senior leaders have realised that this network holds some really valuable and vital information. Stuff that can make a difference in the way teachers operate in the classroom … and teachers also need to add to this information too. So that means it has to overlap with the other systems in the school. Problem number 1 arises, but we will come back to this one.

System number two is the one used by teaching staff to deliver what they do, day in, day out. Teaching. I don’t want to turn this into a ‘them & us’ post … I never do … and sometimes people have to remember that those most likely to read my blog from the teaching community are those most likely to understand and want to push what tech they have … in fact, the people who are the cream, those who have risen to the top … but try to remember that there are those who can do *some* of the things that you do and are learning fast … but there are also those who struggle … not just with tech, but with classroom management, with change in general … and I am thinking about *all* staff in schools. A single solution is not always the best thing … having one setup for all staff … only giving limited access to doing stuff … but the problem is that at the moment it takes time and investment to give a more flexible system for staff. There are little things which can be done, like giving rights to install software on their laptops, giving more relaxed filtering … perhaps not even ‘filtering’ as such, but just logging what is used on the internet (remember folks … audit trails!) But what happens when a laptop is brought back in to the IT team to be fixed because something they downloaded at home seems to have broken stuff (after they have turned off the anti-virus or stopped it from downloading updates or running scans) … and that is if you are lucky and they don’t just plug it into the network and infect other computers where teachers have also turned off the antivirus too … and so you have to fix their machine. You might need a spare laptop or two so that they still have a machine to use in the classroom (back to investment again) and then there is the time and staff to fix it. Problem 2 appears … planning for the inevitable workload that comes with either building systems to deal with having to fix problems like this or having to do it on a case by case basis.

And so we go on to system 3 … the most problematic because you are having to cover three conflicting needs. The student workstations / laptops. Here you have to think about what software is needed, who gets to choose that software, pay for it, develop resources for teaching using it or even for teaching the software itself (either the skills / concepts or the specific software … that argument is for another day) … and then let us think about that touchy area of classroom management. I don’t like people blaming technology when it is being used as substitute for classroom management … I’ve spoken about how filtering gets abused this way before and the same applies to locking down the desktop, turning off the ability to right-click, where things can be saved … it all boils down to how much disruption in the classroom the teachers can handle, the amount of effort which is needed to fix problems that arise and so on … So we get to Problem 3 … and this *is* aimed at the teachers who might read this blog. COMPROMISE. Oh, that was also aimed at the Techs too.

So what happens when we need these 3 systems to overlap … or even be the same system?

I would love to say that this is a perfect solution out there … but there isn’t. It will *have* to vary from school to school purely due to the nature of each school, the emphasis each school might choose to put on classroom control, on how much investment the school puts into different aspects of IT, what technology gets used, the strength of things like Web 2.0 tools, of VLEs, of email, of using data straight from the MIS … so many factors that *no-one* can give a single system that will suit everyone.

Instead … how about thinking a little more about how you are going to get to where you want to go. I can guarantee that the end system you want cannot be delivered overnight and be usable by everyone without considerable pain … so you are likely to have to do things in steps. These steps have to be done with compromise and I’m going to say my usual mantra … Change Management!

So … let us think about something that gets raised a lot at the moment. The introduction of student owned devices (yes … I know I have avoided mentioning the learners themselves … more below) can be considered in a few stages, some technical, some pedagogical. If you are going to introduce this sort of system then yes, you will have to segregate it from system 1 … the stuff you have to legally protect. A typical way of doing this would be by having a ‘dirty’ wireless network … a separate WLAN that is only used by students, *may* have some restrictions on it … but will give them access to the internet at the bare minimum (even if you choose not to filter then at least log it). You then have to consider how it will be used in the classroom. Will it be used in conjunction with a VLE? Online stuff such as Live@Edu or Google Apps? How will you ensure that the iPad is being used for work and not just to watch stuff on iPlayer? GameCentre? The netbook is not being used to just hog the school internet connection to pull down pirated video or software? Or the laptop used for chatting on IRC, tweeting about what they got up to last night or on facebook poking their mate in the class next door? The same way that it used to be notes on pieces of paper, or ‘interesting’ magazines shared by some of the boys (actually, both of those still happen too) now there is a new range of things to distract the learner …

One way of dealing with this is by using the student wireless network to force the student to log into the school terminal server system (various solutions are available to do this via a website) and so that they can use their own device in the school but with some element of control by the teacher / techie / school.

There is still another way … the idea of privilege, of use versus abuse. And this is where we talk to the learner. They can make some of the best and worst suggestions and decisions you can come across. It might be that they want the system to allow them to do nearly everything, but on the understanding that if it is abused that they get locked down. Hmm … that might even work in conjunction with other polices the school has? Wow … revolutionary concept?

It might be that the desktops are set to be rebuilt each night … so that if the students do mess things up then it is not a problem. It might be that you have systems that go back to a baseline after each log-off. you can do almost anything … but there has to be a reason to do it, it has to be a balance between what is possible, what is practical and what delivers some sort of benefit.

So … there we go … a start … I’ve already prodded a few of the detractors to techies locking things down or wanting to drop working systems to go to Open Source based purely on ethical principle rather than education need or practicality … if they want to change then I want to see a range of options and some sort of roadmap about how to adopt it, both technically and pedagogically. “Just because…” is not a suitable answer. I might want to put studded tyres on my little Smart car just because … you never know, we might get heavy snow tonight … it might become fashionable … it might mean I can drive over an ice rink to drop off James Bond to do a bit of bomb disposal and save the world … or it might tear up a recently resurfaced road … cost me a fortune to buy and get fitted the new tyres.

So … a start … let us see how it goes from here.