How’d I do?

So it’s 13th August and I start back work tomorrow morning. So the question is…how did I get on with my Summer Projects list?

Honest answer – not as well as I’d hoped, but better than I expected! You can read about the 3 big tasks in other posts. As for my other goals, I managed 3 of the 5 which I reckon was good going.

I completed the Higher Web Design slides and tasks for the pupils coming back (and mostly finished a series of BGE lessons on using the BBC Micro:bits). This was a hufftae. I wouldn’t have been able to teach that part of the Higher course without writing the materials, and there’s no chance I’m going to get time during the inset days to complete these.

I surpassed my goal of 2 books! Okay, I took the easy route out. I re-read the first 3 Harry Potter books during a week’s holiday in Morocco and listened to the audiobook of “Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda”, the book that inspired the movie “Love, Simon”.

My something new turned out to be a realllllllyyyy easy one. I took part in a couple of the activities put on by the entertainment team at our hotel in Marrakech. I know you’re probably thinking “that’s not something new” but trust me, it is. When I was younger I used to stay indoors and read rather than go to the kids club, and now I spent every precious second lying on a sun lounger. The staff done well to get me to join in!

As for the targets I missed. Go a week without Social Media…like that was ever going to happen! Though I am pretty disappointed in myself that I never got around to doing my Google Certified Educator Level 2 exam during my time off. I put it down to the Scottish weather being significantly nicer than usual and not wanting to take my laptop outside with me. I’m still planning on completing it, hopefully before the October holidays as Google are offering Certified Trainer coaching in Scotland in November and GCE Level 2 is a requirement to attend. Fingers crossed!

Migrating our Photo Library

The next task from my Summer Projects list was easy to set up, but pretty time consuming to implement; moving our photo library from the local network into Sharepoint.

At whole school events, on trips and throughout the day to day running of the school, we take a tremendous number of photos to evidence class work, share on our website, twitter feed and in our newsletters etc. We also make use of them in a Leavers Collage video at the end of each school year. These photos take up a huge amount of space on the server but get accessed fairly infrequently so I decided to move them online.

Through O365 and Glow, we’ve got a School Site that can be accessed by staff and pupils, and a subsite that can only be accessed by staff. I know that there’s a nominal limit on the storage capacity of these sites, but I’m confident it’s large enough for it not to cause us any issues.

First I collated all photos from our Staff and Pupil shared areas and grouped them into folders based on academic school years; actually finding all of the photos was probably the most time consuming job…I’m not convinced that I’ve actually found them all to be honest! Next I set up a location in the Staff Sharepoint Site with subfolders for each academic year and put a tile on the Sharepoint Site so that staff could find it easily. After that was finished it was a case dragging and dropping each folder into Glow and leaving them to upload. Thankfully there’s not a lot happening on Education networks over the summer holidays!

New Room Booking System

Task 2 from my Summer Projects list was a bit more interesting…

With our exchange servers’ impending doom I needed to look at a new method for staff to book ICT facilities. I installed a new system called Booked Scheduler running on an Mac Mini on our local network but it’s pushing 7 years old and I was concerned that it might fail mid-term. I decided to move it onto a web host for greater resilience and to allow staff to book rooms out with normal school hours.

Initially I guessed it would be an easy task. Set up a subdomain on the school webspace, install booked scheduler and transfer the database…didn’t quite out like that. Turns out that creating a subdomain on our school webspace required a WAN change which is chargeable though not overly expensive (in the region of £50-£100).

Securing the funds so close to the end of term would have been cutting it close, so I decided to investigate hosting on the server that hosts mrcasey.org. I’m able to add on additional domains for minimal cost…so I purchased schoolrooms.org.uk and setup a subdomain there for our school; the fee also includes unlimited subdomains so I can set up accounts for other schools for no additional cost. They offer the bonus of free SSL certificates on all domains and subdomains to ensure data transfer is secure.

The setup on my web host was fairly simple; but I wanted to make sure that moving the system onto an external server I had a robust backup system in place. While my host performs daily backups, I’m always reluctant to rely on systems that I haven’t setup myself. Booked stores everything in a MySQL database so I’m confident that provided I can backup the database then I have a backup of the full setup. A quick Google led me to this page which contains a PHP script I can trigger with a cron job. It was a bit out of date and required digging through the comments/making a few changes to make it to do what I wanted. I’ve adapted the script/cron job to backup twice per day and keep each backup on the server for 7 days (14 backups in total). My version of the full backup script is available here. The final pice of the puzzle was to check the physical location of the server before we start using it. My web hosts were able to confirm that the data was all held within the EU, in Romania, but offered be the option of migrating to a datacenter in Roubaix, Northern France. The French datacenter has a marginally better uptime record at 99.999%(!!) vs 99.995% so I requested the transfer; they completed this process for free in around 12 hours!

If you’re interesting in seeing a working version of my setup, you can find out more here.

New S1 Accounts

Task 1 from my Summer Projects list. This was an easy one!

Our managed service provider automatically transfers user accounts from our associated primary schools without any intervention. The downside is that we have a significant number of placing requests each year (in this case 37%!).

The first task was going through incoming class lists to identify pupils from non associated primary schools – a fairly easy task thanks to our office staff – and sending it off to the managed service provider. This year they were on the ball and I received the user account list 3 days before the end of term (this usually comes mid summer).

Next I had to go through the list of user accounts they’d sent through and match each account to a pupil that we’re actually expecting in August. This year there’s 65 pupils from associated primary schools who’ve either put in a placing to another secondary, or who have move between primary schools and have multiple imported accounts…those accounts will need to be deleted at some point.

Next onto the Room Booking System setup.

Summer Projects

Image by Dafne Cholet

Every year I set myself a few targets of things to achieve over the summer break, after all I’ve got 6 and half weeks off! Most years I don’t managed to tick off everything on the list, mainly down to procrastination, so this year I’ve decided to list them and chart my progress. Some are necessary tasks in my ICT co-ordinator role others are professional development and some are just a bit of fun…so here goes:

BETT 2016

I was fortunate enough to be released from school for 1 day this year to attend BETT on Friday and Saturday. Following my invitation to the Apple Education Leadership Summit in 2014 I was excited to get back to a large scale Education event to see what developments there has been in #EdTech.

Given that this was my first visit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I purposely didn’t go with a specific focus or plan of attack(despite everything online telling me that this was the way to go!), instead I decided to use this year as an opportunity to get a feel for the show and who/what was there; it both fell short of & surpassed all expectations at the same time.

The Good

24026555193_7c4d4b5091_kThere was a lot of cool, geeky tech on show, and not just expensive kit like 3D Printers or C-Touch Interactive Touchscreens(I’ve got 3 and I LOVE them…more to come on that topic in another post), but also lots of affordable kit such as the BBC micro:bit (free to all S1s/Year 7s), a large number of cool projects to extend the micro:bit such as this robot kit, crane kits and the pi-top which allows you to create a Desktop or Laptop computer using the RaspberryPi!

There was also this cool animated wall created using around 1000 micro:bits which I couldn’t help snapping a short video of!

 

24653347975_1e80c476d6_oOther highlights included the Microsoft and Google stands which showed the benefits of using Office 365 and Google Apps respectively in the classroom. I’ve previously expressed my interest in Office 365 to encourage a collaborative classroom and am about to embark on a pilot project using Google Apps for Education and specifically Classroom & Hangouts to assess their impact on my classes.

The Bad

Many of the stands, I personally felt, had no specific education focus, but instead were high cost corporate products being pitched at the education market and sadly exhibitors who were clearly fed up or too exhausted to care by Friday afternoon(read – the majority of the Website/App development stands along with the multiple Green screen/video editing solutions that I passed).

One stand that I’d been very keen to visit, but was sadly disappointed with was Show My Homework. I’ve long been a fan of a paperless approach to things like homework. I realised very quickly after I started teaching that the majority of my students bin their homework diaries after 3 or 4 weeks of school, but carry their mobile phones and iPods with them at all times, so now ask my class to take a photo of the homework assignment or add it to their reminders app.

I was impressed with their web based system, push notifications to student’s phones and the fact it ties in with many SIMs systems, they also apparently have a SEEMiS tie in on their roadmap for 2016. Personally I found them too pushy on the sales front; I know that they have sales targets to hit, however I made it clear when I first spoke to them that I was only scoping out products to suggest to our SLT and didn’t have the authority to make a large scale IT purchase, I was asked several times “What can I do get you to agree to take our product today?” and “What would you say if I offered you a 3 year deal to match your current homework diary pricing?”. They also had no clear pricing structure, seemed to guess what prices they would offer based on my answers to their questions and had absolutely no pricing on paper that I could bring back to my senior leadership team.

Summary

BETT 2016 was a fantastic experience and I came away with lots of ideas for developing our whole school ICT strategy as well as my own classroom, however having experienced it in person I would plan my next visit more rigorously and collaborate with colleagues in our Local Authority IT team to ensure that I had a clear focus for my visit and didn’t spend as much time visiting stands that had no benefit to my school or others in the area.

The ever changing face of Apple Education

APLEveryone who knows me knows that I’ve got a bit of an obsession with all things Apple but one thing that does slightly irritate me about the iOS ecosystem so that it can change drastically with a new update and very little notice.

I have sole responsibility for managing iOS devices in our school, with the numbers currently sitting at 73 iPads, 4 iPods and 3 Apple TVs, which I managed with a combination of Apple Configurator and Meraki MDM. We’re not currently enrolled in the Apple VPP program which give us some challenges not faced by other schools but we’ve managed to overcome them so far.

The release of iOS 9.1 brought the ability to roll out free apps through Meraki without touching the devices which led me to collect the iPads from staff and begin to update the software and settings on them (some of which are still running iOS 6.1!!!)

The latest Apple announcement is that iOS 9.3 will give Education even more control over the devices, allowing students to personalise their device by logging in with their AD credentials. I’m not sure how this will work in practice, e.g. will it require AD synchronisation or is that feature optional, will the students require their own school issued Apple IDs? There’s a lot of questions that will need to be answered before I decide to collect all of the devices in and upgrade them again.

I know that Apple have a pretty strict NDA in place with their staff and developers, however it would be really useful if there was a process in place to allow Education IT Managers prior knowledge of updates to allow for more effective ICT planning.

Adding Content to Xibo

After the technical set up it was time to customise Xibo to suit our requirements.

xibo templateFirst I designed a simple background image with the school badge and sections for news, weather and bulletin updates. I wasn’t looking for anything too fancy, so I put it together in Keynote and exported the slide as an image. It’s important to export as a JPEG rather than a PNG. While the quality is better with a PNG file, the transparent sections used for BBC News and Weather don’t display correctly unless a JPEG is used.

In the Xibo web app, I selected Layouts then Design (I just used the default 4:3 layout that was pre made in Xibo), uploaded the background image and removed all existing regions.

Adding new regions was really simple (right click, add a region and resize to suit) and soon I had a Layout with 3 separate content regions that we could edit. First up was the RSS Feeds for live BBC News Headlines and Weather updates. The RSS feeds can be found on the BBC website for my favourite price…free! Just look out for the orange logo shown below.

BBC RSS

Clicking on the RSS logo will give you the feed URL which you have to pop into Xibo. Just edit the region that will contain the news, add a ticker and paste the feed url into the Link box. The rest of the settings can be changed to suit your requirements. Ours is set up to pull live news every 20 minutes, and loop for 600 seconds (10 minutes) at a time.

RSS settings

Finally it was time to add in our existing bulletin messages. These are simply created in PowerPoint and exported as images (again JPEGs) and then added to the bulletin messages region of the layout; by default our images are displayed for 10 seconds.

Media TypesThe great thing about Xibo is it can display loads of different data types including videos or flash animations. As we add more up to date bulletin messages, I’m beginning to experiment with videos, flash animations and even live webpages (the school calendar from our website for example).

It’s early days for our installation, however I’m already planning to move to a web based installation that will allow me to update the content on the screens from any workstation in the school, or indeed any computer connected to the internet.

Digital Signage

Our school is set up with 3 large LCD screens in our social areas to provide information to pupils and up until now we’ve had the screens running with a PowerPoint of our bulletin running on a loop. However I’ve always liked the idea of BBC News 24 or Sky Sports News with a ticker along the bottom of the screen and news displaying to the side.

So over the Christmas holidays I tasked myself with investigating new Digital Signage Solutions for the school. The 2 biggest requirements were ease of setup/use and a low cost (read free!). Most of the solutions that I looked at required a cloud based server and a local client, however I wasn’t entirely convinced that these solutions would work on our Managed Wireless. So after a long search I settled on 3 solutions that might suit the bill Acquire Digital SOLO, Xibo and Digital Signage.

After downloading and installing Acquire I spent around an hour attempting to get the local server application talking to the local client application with no luck; Acquire was out.

XAMPPNext up was Xibo. The server documentation showed states that a web server with PHP5 and MySQL installed was all that was needed; ideal as I’ve used XAMPP on a few occasions before so I knew that it would do the job. After installing XAMPP I started up Apache and MySQL as services and created a database and user for the Xibo installation.

Xibo LogoNext up I copied the server files into the htdocs folder of XAMPP and ran through the (fairly) simple installation wizard. Finally I installed the local client application which is (sadly) only available for Windows or Linux, plugged in the details that I provided during the server setup.

All in all it took me around 25 minutes to download and install everything. After a further 15 minutes of tinkering I decided that Xibo was the solution for me so unfortunately I can’t comment on Digital Signage which may or may not have done the job.

In my next post I’ll show how I setup our Layouts, added existing bulletin content and added live news and weather updates to the bottom and side of our bulletin messages.

Refresh

In my new post of ICT Co-ordinator for the school I have responsibility for our annual computer refresh. We’re very fortunate with our managed service provider and have our stations refreshed every 4 years.

This year was obviously my first experience of going through the refresh process and it was…interesting!

Planning began around the beginning of September when I received our assets register which listed the equipment that we had in the school along with a rough estimate of the number of new stations that we would receive in November. The first task was to identify the oldest station numbers in the school and where they were located. This was relatively painless (except pinpointing the location of the laptops that were due to come off of the network!) After this was completed and I knew how many stations we were replacing the order for our new computers was placed.

The hard work began around 2 weeks before the delivery of the new stations; I had to plan the order that the old stations would be removed in, as well as arrange cover for the classes that I would miss and complete my S5 reports (also due during the refresh!).

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Finally D-Day was upon is, thankfully the new stations were arriving on an inservice day, therefore no classes were affected and I could ask the rest of the members of my faculty for support in unloading 9 pallets of boxes. It was no mean feat and involved unwrapping, moving, stacking and counting 258 boxes of computers and monitors.

 

The next week was spent moving the boxes into the correct rooms and removing the old stations ready for uplift, every single department in the school had at least 1 station to be replaced so there was a lot of disruption teachers’ routines. Thankfully I was given cover for 2 days to allow me to do the move and everything went smoothly.

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After 5 exhaustingly long days I was done! 119 stations removed and into the store cupboard ready for uplift, and 129 new stations placed in their departments ready for installation. Thanks goodness I have a year until I have to do it all again!!