Tag Archives: it support

Think … erm … Different (part 2)

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

——————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, a summary.

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

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

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

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

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.

—————–

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.

How do you plan?

Lifecycle Management

Developing a process

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

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

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

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

In ITIL the service lifecycle is made up of 5 sections

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

And these we can change into some simple questions.

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

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

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

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

But Sharepoint Is a Business Thing … We Are A School

Originally posted at Sharepoint365 – http://sp365.co.uk/2011/07/but-sharepoint-is-a-business-thing-we-are-a-school/ 

After reading the various blog posts from the great and good of the world of SharePoint you don’t need me to talk technical, about the architecture of the servers, about the importance of design and branding, about particular functionality in an education or business environment … so what on earth am I going to write about?

Well, I specialise in facilitation, introducing people and things, suggestions about how people can approach new technologies … oh dear … I am starting to sound like a special advisor to a Minister of the UK Government.

So where do we start with SharePoint? Well, I can tell you what it is not. It is not a Learning Platform. It is not a replacement for an aging file server. It is not a cheap way of getting Office applications. It is not a complex system. It is not a solution to the lack of ideas you have about how to manage your life and your work. It is not the only tool in the world that allows for collaboration. Ok … one of those statements is correct … and it is the last one.

Sharepoint is a complex, powerful, wide-ranging tool that can address a number of areas in your school … if you just sit and think for a few minutes. Go on … I’ll still be here.

Done?

Over the next couple of posts I will look at simple tools and simple ideas about how Sharepoint can be used to make a difference in how your school manages school business, and where possible I will make direct reference to blog posts that have already appeared to help you get a wider picture. Today I am going to talk about team sites.

What is a Team Site?

Well, we all work in teams in one form or another. We all tend to generate stuff during that work. Files, conversations, lists of information, meeting dates, minutes of meetings, lists of jobs / tasks … it can go on, and on, and on, and on … and whilst we all have years of experience of emailing stuff to one another, forgetting to email stuff to one another, emailing the wrong versions, emailing the wrong people, writing meeting dates in a paper diaries and then forgetting to change the dates when a meeting has to be rescheduled resulting in you being the person that turns up 3 hours early to a meeting and wondering if you have no friends because you are in a room all by yourself … go on, admit it, we have all been there.

So what is a Team Site?

Out of the box a Team Site has all the generic functionality you come across a Sharepoint site. It is a blank canvas, and one which is handy to play with to learn how to get around Sharepoint. But it is only as useful as you make it. So let us look at the needs of an average secondary school department, having a quick thought about a few important functions which go on behind the scenes and away from the classrooms.

Let us consider coursework for GCSE English. The co-ordinator will always have a massive job to do. This will involve the recording of coursework as it is completed, unit by unit, by each student, which teacher marked it, whether it has been moderated, who by, does it meet all the required criteria, have the results been passed to the Exams Officer, has it been selected for external moderation, has it been sent off, and so on. To make sure this happens there will be guidance documents on what each unit of work entails, where it ties into schemes of work and resources, staff training on particular units and resources, staff training on moderation, feedback sessions between senior teachers in the department and other teachers …

Where does this fit into Sharepoint then? And let us keep this as simple as we can to start with (no InfoPath or workflows yet).

The Team Site is available to those who teach GCSE English and to other key staff such as the Exams Officer and SLT. This gets you looking at permissions. It also means you are looking at who the data owners are (in data protection speak) and ensures accountability.

The Calendar is a shared calendar which can be used instead of a sheet of paper passed round with deadline dates. It contains the meeting times, dates and locations. The meetings can also include relevant documents just like an email attachment … but we will mention that again later. The meetings can have alerts so you know when work is due to be completed prior to meetings.

Now most logs and records of coursework and marks will be on paper or spreadsheets. It is the work of a moment to use a spreadsheet to create a list. The spreadsheet already has the information you want, or at least the headings. This then allows for records to be created or amended for students as their coursework as it is completed and then marked. The spreadsheet is viewable by all and creates an open atmosphere between staff as they look at who is late completing the work. It also allows senior teachers in the department to provide additional support to staff who are not meeting the targets or deadlines.

Document libraries will contain files, videos, etc from the exam board or versions of work to use for moderation comparison. These can be linked to within the meeting appointments rather than attached (see, I said we would come back to it).

And this isn’t even looking at Wikis … a fantastic collaborative tool for sharing best practice. And we also haven’t covered the use of discussion forums to allow for healthy and private discussions between the team without it being all email traffic and the risk of emails being spread outside of those who need to be involved.

Now, none of this is exactly rocket science, has been mentioned by many other educational sharepoint enthusiasts, it is flexible enough to allow schools and departments to say “actually … I like the list bit and the discussion bit, but we already meet on a regular basis so no need for that” and it is powerful enough to have more functionality to add as people become more adept at using the team site.

So, there we have it. Team Sites and why a business tool can mean effective and improved management of a secondary school English department.

The Mac FanBoi / Open Source Evangelist goes to Reading.

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

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

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

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

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

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

After a wonderful day before half-term, running the Safeguarding Through Technology day for NetworkNorthants, I am brought home to the reality that there are many risks out their for people on the Internet, never mind children.

With the high profile news of Mac malware in the wild including variants coming in, that rely on users agree to stuff being installed (well, Macs are impervious to viruses, aren’t they?), more conversations about schools wanted raw Internet feeds because they don’t want to be dictated to about filtering policy by the LA (even though the provided solution *can* do what they want, they are happy to pay out for a perceived sense of control), lengthy discussions on online groups about legal liabilities … And believe me when I say that the idea of risk management around this can be a minefield!

But there is light at the end of the tunnel for people. With the right combination of tools you *can* make things more flexible and allow it to work for the school. Now, please note that I am not saying that by choosing certain products you can legally protect yourself about everything or that certain products are better than others but let us just run through some basic concepts and you can ask yourself what tools will fit you best.

And let us also not forget the NEN eSafety matrix to help you too .. And the CEOP resources … And Digizens … And ChildNet.

So … Ready to start?

Ok … Let us look at the safest option. No Internet at all! Well… it is the safest option … or you could say it is safest for the school. For this you are looking at a system which is, by default, set to only allow authenticating staff onto the internet. Some schools do have this and find it acceptable. Not many and it is as bad as the idea that by having a posy of flowers under your nose you will not get the plague when you step outside! Some schools can work like this though, with all interaction with the internet through staff accounts, on staff controlled devices and staff clicking the buttons. It’s doesn’t help that children that much when out in the real world, but is an approach which, educationally and technically, can be made to work. This all tends to be done using filtering technology, so that when the internet feed comes into a school it will have already gone through a filter which restricts things or a filter sat inside the school

Then you have the limited access options. First you can go down whitelists, having set of known, good websites. This can be delivered though filtering products or many of the classroom management tools. A teacher can set internet access only to particular sites and the client on the workstation will block everything else, or the filter will. The classroom tool is handier for the teacher, but the filter solution is less prone to errors.

Then you start into the controlled access options. The first one we can look at is the application of filtering solutions. This can be based on particular devices (classroom machines get one set of filters but staff laptops get another), it can be based on blocks of users (all year 5 pupils get one type of filtering but year 10 get something different), it can be based on individual users when they log in (so that two year 10 children can get slightly different access as one studies Art and needs access to some images of nudes yet the other doesn’t but studies Computing so needs access to sites containing scripting codes).

Some filtering options can have combinations of all of the above. Some solutions allow for control by time (give more access to online games during lunch), some can tie in with particular systems … such as groups within the Active Directory (whilst a child is in the ‘Art’ OU they get particular settings) … and some can be controlled by the choice of a teacher / administrator at a give time.

Then we can look at monitoring and reactive solutions. Some desktop solutions will monitor keywords and respond accordingly. They might take a screenshot and block access, they might send an alert to a member of staff, they might simply log what has gone of for review later. You can then take a more ‘classroom management’ approach.

Classroom management is always going to be the most effective way to ensure learning is taking place, as well as ensuring the safe use of computers. A member of staff with access to see and share the desktop of their pupils and students gives so much more control to the teacher. However, the most common use of this is to see if children are off task. This is a poor use of these tools. Sharing desktops, passing control around the class so that they can provide support to each other, demonstrating learning to their peers … these tools can do so much more that police the network!

And in reality, a combination of filtering and carefully chosen classroom management tools works best. For some schools you are looking for stuff that logs activity to deal with specific problems (bullying, abusive language, etc) and in others you are looking for tools to share and control desktops. Combined with flexible filtering solutions which can be targeted to support where needed, then you have a well covered school, which is managing the computer and internet usage by staff and students.

And this is before you get to some of the other benefits. Some classroom tools can support the management and maintenance of your computers. Rolling out software and patches. Monitoring your inventory. Deploying system changes. Print management. File management. Some of these you might already have, but look at all the functionality. It might be better to have the functions over a number of solutions, or it may be best to consolidate it all in one pot.

There is never going to be a single right or wrong answer. A school will have to look at the options and pick what works best for them. It has to be based on what provides the legally required protection of children, it has to provide a solution which is economically viable to produce and support, and it has to help children learn their boundaries, to give them the skills to look after themselves in the outside world.

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.

How to be nice to staff who leave your school.

And so the plans for the summer holidays are beginning, if not already in place, costed (with the little funds available) and with full project plan published to all staff so they know exactly what will be done when and why … and yes, that is the Red Pigs display team flying overhead!

One of the things which happens every year is that you will have staff join and staff leave. If they are joining they will need a variety of things setting up for them and each school will have a slightly different checklist for this, passed around a variety of departments / teams to makes sure they have computer and email accounts, a timetable on SIMS (other MIS are available), a contract, CRB check has been done, etc … and much of this is communicated via the staff handbook and school policies / procedures.

However (you knew that was coming), does the handbook also include how you deal with staff who leave? Hand back your car pass and ID card? Clear out your pigeon hole? What about the IT systems? Handing back any device you have (laptop, mobile phone, etc)? Now, this is not going to get into a big discussion about IPR and whether you are entitled to take a heap of resources away with you … but yes, it might be nice if there was something formal about zipping up your home directory, etc and burning it onto a DVD for the member of staff who is leaving. It might be that they will do it themselves onto a USB stick … either way it might be worth including in there about how they have to check files for any personal data of staff or students as they will no longer have a right to take that (in fact it would be a breach of the Data Protection Act) … but this is all common sense stuff that is minutia … the thing most people are interested in is keeping in contact with others.

Email is often a bit of a sore point for some staff … in some schools the account is just deleted, no chance to move it, no chance to take emails off, no chance to take contacts off … but to try to manage this for some schools is not just as simple as setting up a mail client, pulling it all down and then closing it all down. It *will* take time to get stuff off and time means money I am afraid.

Some RBCs / LAs do have the ability to export a mailbox, or if you are moving schools to one in the same LA / RBC you might be able to take the mailbox with you … and it could be a choice you give to staff if they feel it is that important. It might just be a case of having to forward things onto another mailbox … but remember the comment above about personal data? That applies in emails too, so be very careful what goes where. You might need to have some documentation from the outgoing member of staff to say they have only transferred certain things.

But once all this is done what happens about the account? Well, depending on the role within the school you might think that you can be nice and just use the email system or the email filtering service to set up a rule which forwards any incoming emails to their new email address at their new school. Depending on your email solution this can be quite simple to do, and the same with email filtering solutions.

However (yes … another one), that is not always a good idea. So you could be left with two options … the first is to set an automated reply. It can say some thing like “Thank you for emailing [person’s full name] at [school name]. Unfortunately [person’s name] has now left [school name]. If you would like your email details passed on please contact [general enquiries email address or a dedicate email address for this] and we will pass your details on as soon as practicable.” I know it is a bit generic but if they person emailing is trying to contact the school it gives them a way of communicating, and if they are trying to contact a person it helps them with this. The school can then send the details of who has been in touch to the teacher who has left … and this can be done for a few months … a year max. If the teacher fails to say thank you or acknowledge the effort you are making then you can remove the rule sooner.

The other option is sometime contentious … you can redirect all the emails from staff who have left to a dedicated mailbox and a member of staff can check on a regular basis if there is anything which needs dealing with. This is important for accounts of folk like Headteachers, SENCO, Bursars who have been using a named email address rather than a role-based email address (eg firstname.familyname@school.region.sch.uk rather than head@school.region.sch.uk) to make sure nothing important is missed. If you are doing this then you need to tell that member of staff before they leave to ensure they inform all the people who may email them on a non-work basis that they have moved employers.

So, a few ideas about how you can be nice to staff when they leave by allowing them to make sure they don’t miss things on email. Although we live in a world of social networks and immediate access, many people would be surprised how often an old email address is still in an address book somewhere … and you can be sure that when you need to contact someone urgently, then this is the only contact you have.

 

****EDIT****

I’ve just been reading a blog entry from James Marshall at Microsoft about Live@Edu which directly relates to the above and is well worth reading.

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ukliveatedu/archive/2011/07/28/to-delete-or-not-to-delete.aspx

The Perils & Pitfalls of Mobile Tech in Schools

I do have the occasional rant about things. Most of the time it is down to having passion about things I believe in or it is intend to grab the attention of others to make them think. Last night at TeachMeet Midlands 2011 it was a bit of both.

I recently spent a good 30 minutes breaking down what is wrong with trying to use mobile tech in schools, the naivety of some folk, the plain stupidity of others and the frustration of having to deal with people who are just blockers, have personal ethos issue which blind them to people using particular tech or who are just plainly wasting money! The other day, when chatting with Shaun Garriock (one of the Directors of EduGeek.net) on Skype, I ran through some of these to break it down into smaller chunks.

Since I now like to give people a chance to see what I present at TeachMeets I videoed myself doing this ‘slightly longer than the official 7 minutes’ rant and intended to just play it at the TeachMeet … but as people who were there, or who watched it online, there was a tech fail. Apparently videos using Quicktime was not expected, nor using a site which needed the QT plug-in. Normally I would just upload it to Vimeo but I didn’t want to risk a problem accessing it so stuck it on my own webspace. This did play to my advantage though … as it showed haw tech can sometimes just not work. I was happy to just pick up the mic and speak … and rant … and whilst I did not get all of what I wanted to say out I tried to cover the key areas on personal devices, relying on 3G, trying to manage apps, problems with charging devices, issues with proxies, using a managed wireless network …

Below is the planned presentation (now hosted on Vimeo) and I give a solemn promise to spend some time to put together the full 30+ minutes … and I will try to break it down into small chunks to make more sense. If anyone has good examples of where things just have not worked as expected, where they are doing things which take far more time than planned, where they have had to come up with workarounds … then please email them to me via grumbledook@edugeek.net and I will try and incorporate them over time. The first thing I will talk about it proxies and wireless networks so get those stories and ideas coming forward. I hope you enjoy the video below.

TeachMeet Midlands 2011 – The Perils & Pitfalls of Mobile Tech in Schools from Tony Sheppard on Vimeo.

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 …