Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Which Macbook is right for me?!?!



So I need a new laptop for work and I’m in the process of making my decision between the new Mac Air that was just announced recently and the 2017 MacBook Pro sans Touchbar. The difference in price between the two for the base model is only $100 which translates to about R2000 and herein lies the difficulty with the decision! I guess it comes down to what I would be using it for on a daily basis.


The advantages of the MacBook Air, based on my initial research, is that it is slightly thinner and lighter and comes with Touch ID. I will be travelling off-site sometimes, although much of my day is spent walking across campus to different classrooms and I carry my iPad and laptop with me. I think the difference in portability will be negligible although the convenience and added security of the Touch ID might come in handy.

The MacBook Pro offers a bit more processing power (both in terms of CPU and GPU) and would be better for video and photo work. I guess the question is - will the Macbook Air be good enough?

Being a fan of mechanical keyboards, I am worried about how bad the keyboards are on both of these devices. I guess the edge goes to the newer Air - at least you won't have the issue where some dust can literally break your device!

Pretty soon a decision will have to be made. I'm torn. But I will keep you posted on developments. For now - it's decision-making time!



Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Who are the most important people in a school?

New school year, new devices. Part 2

So in my previous post I outlined how excited we are about the new devices and accessories we will be dishing out to our new students next year. Today I want to chat about how we are going to (try!) make sure students get the most out of these devices.


But first a question:

Who are the most important people in a school?


Surely it must be the principal; he is the one that makes all the important decisions. Or maybe the governing body? Wait, it must be the students - they are after all the reason we're in this profession!

Actually, no. I'd like to argue that teachers are the most important people in a school environment. They are the ones who will more than likely be there the longest (some over 35 years!) and also the ones who will have the biggest impact on young people's lives. Just think back to your teachers - I bet you can remember most if not all of them. The good ones, at least.

So I think it is vitally important that we equip our teachers to deal with this ever-changing world we live in. Think about that teacher that was trained in writing on the blackboard and was both excited and nervous when the amazing OHP was introduced. That same teacher is the one who now has to deal with 30 youngsters all with an iPad in their hands. "Where do I even start?" is a question I have heard on more than one occasion.

This is why we have decided to do our device rollout in a different way. For one whole year, teachers had iPads without a single student using a device in school.

This has afforded us the opportunity to take the time to prepare teachers for what is coming. If they are comfortable with the idea of a tablet as a learning device, then the transition to digital learning will be much easier.

So how exactly did we do it? Well, teachers were placed in groups of 3 and sorted by their technological ability. This was the most difficult part and the old adage of "you can please most people most of the time" was never truer. Still - teachers have a timetabled slot for Tech Training where they see me in their group once a fortnight. We have a dedicated training venue that is designed to make them feel comfortable and also to be something different - it doesn't look like a classroom or meeting room.

Bean bag!

No desks
We progress through our own training, tailored to the needs of each group and teachers have recently begun documenting their tech journey in a blog which they share with me. We keep a training diary of what is covered in each session and this can be referred back to later on if need be.

My main philosophy is not to overload teachers with Apps - students need to become proficient in a core set of Apps that work across the curriculum. In this regard, we have chosen Google Drive as our Cloud storage (aith GSuite apps of course) along with Google Classroom, and then Explain Everything as our Digital Whiteboard (but its SOOO much more than that!).

Teachers have signed up to do the Explain Everything course on Udemy and are beginning to use this regulary in class. Students are enrolled in Google Classroom and teachers set assignments and mark them digitally using their Apple Pencil on their iPad (a truly awesome experience!). No more books or piles of essays to carry home!

Anyway - I guess I better wrap this up. I could go on for days! Teachers are excited (albeit nervous!) about what is to come, and hopefully our approach goes some way to prepare them for the unexpected. Technolgy changes so fast, we need to learn transferable skills rather than how to do something on one device in one specific app.

What do you think?? Let me know.






Tuesday, 18 September 2018

New school year, new devices. Part 1


New school year, new devices.

Being in the southern hemisphere has its perks. The weather is generally pretty good to name but one.

BUT unfortunately, it does also have its drawbacks, like the fact that our school year is different from the USA or Europe.


We follow the Gregorian calendar - our school year starts in January and ends in December.
This means that, while the majority of the rest of the world is on their long summer break, our teachers are slogging away in what we call the term from hell, also known as Term 3.

For someone like myself, it comes with its own unique set of challenges.
Tech companies like to do major updates to their software over the long summer break, which of course falls right in the middle of our school year. This means teachers have to adapt very quickly to these changes, and I have to incorporate them into my training schedule.

This year we have had to deal with Google Classroom and its fairly significant (albeit welcome) updates, as well as the usual new software for iOS (including iOS12 which was released yesterday and the much awaited School Work app).

One of the announcements earlier in the year that we were most excited about, was the release of the new iPad 6 aimed directly at the education market. It comes in at a more reasonable price point and also has support for the newly announced Logitech Crayon, a device that is similar in functionality to the very expensive apple pencil. What we like about the crayon, is that it can be used on any iPad (no pairing necessary) and is a lot more robust - the Apple Pencil is definitely not something I want to put in the hands of a bunch of 14-year-olds.



An important element for us to consider was the inclusion of a solid case with integrated keyboard.
One of the downsides to the non-pro version of the iPad is the lack of magnet for the Smart Keyboard (which doesn’t need a Bluetooth connection or charging). Fortunately, the Logitech Rugged Keyboard Combo case has a built-in magnet for making a seamless connection to the keyboard. The sturdy case will also help protect the iPad against drops from up to 4 ft and is spill proof, so little accidents shouldn’t cause too much damage.



In January We will be adding an additional 200 iPads on our network. This will obviously place an increased strain on our network, and having a solid infrastructure as the backbone for a 1-1 deployment is crucial. This includes, among other things, making sure your Wifi Access Points are well positioned with enough density to cover your whole campus.

In part 2 of this post I will be discussing our strategy for ensuring a smooth transition to a digital learning environment.



TTT


Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Do passwords drive you insane?



Over the last 3 weeks, I think I've reset 37 passwords.

That, quite frankly, is being conservative. People simply can't do ALL the right things when it comes to creating strong passwords AND remember them. Somewhere something has got to give. Passwords are fast becoming the bane of my life and the sooner we can get to a place where we no longer need them, the better.

Until that time arrives though, the best way to prevent this problem is to use a password manager. Using a password manager will not only help you remember your passwords, but it will also:
  • Allow you to create stronger, longer and more secure passwords (because you no longer need to remember them!!!)
  • Reduce the need for corporates to have users change their passwords so often (because their passwords can now be much more complex)
  • Remove the problem of using the same password more than once (DANGER!)
  • Avoid the issue where people simply use a variation of the same password (password1, password2, password3...)
Over the last few years I have been using Keepass, an open source password manager that lets you store your passwords in an encrypted local file or your favorite cloud storage. It is, however,  a little bit too “geeky” for the average teacher and therefore I started recommending LastPass. This happened when the free version started allowing you to access your passwords across multiple passwords devices.

Unfortunately their takeover by Logmein has caused a little bit concern in the tech world and after doing some research I no longer recommend Lastpass. Adding and removing features from different tiers causes confusion and as much as I know it’s a good service, most South African teachers would not fork out the $24 annual subscription.

My search for a replacement has led me to Bitwarden and to be honest, so far I am very very impressed. So much so that I’ve actually moved away from my beloved Keepass and now use Bitwarden across all of all my devices. It’s open source, which means the code is available to anyone and their openness about security gives me immense peace of mind.
Bitwarden lets you access all your passwords with the click of a button and installs as an app on iOS or Android devices, and as an extension in the Chrome browser.

I could go on and on, but why don't you rather check it out for yourself? Here is a handy How-To guide to get you going. Please leave a comment below to let me know if you like it.



TTT

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Professional development that works

While sitting aboard a flight on my way to London last week, it allowed me some time to reflect on the start of this year and the effect that handing out 55 iPad Pro's to teachers have had.



Seeing their faces when they unboxed their brand new devices, complete with apple pencils and smart keyboards, will tell you most of what you need to know. Excitement was definitely in the air and people are so keen to see how these devices can change the way they work on a day-to-day basis.

This year, we have planned our professional development around fortnightly sessions in small groups of 2/3 with people of similar technological ability, and the feedback has been incredible. Teachers are asking more questions and beginning to experiment, not only with their new device, but also ways to enhance the content they need to ”deliver”. Our focus is on changing pedagogy and how technology can enhance the learning for students, moving away from the traditional spoon-feeding approach to something...else.

Being able to sit down with teachers on a regular basis is truly a privilege. I am hoping to get to know them better; each with their unique teaching style and to be there on their tech learning journey should be exciting! I absolutely love the fact that everyone has their own needs and are at different levels - doing the same thing week after week would kill me...

Kill me now...

I am very interested to find out how others go about their PD in schools. What do your schools do to allocate time for developing professionally? Leave a comment below.

Till next time.

TTT


Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Summit Central - Apple and BETT

Howdy from a cold and wet London! 

I have been fortunate enough to be in London to attend two stunning Edtech conferences - the Apple Leadership Summit and BETT.



The Apple Summit, held at the amazing Crystal in the Docklands, was a great opportunity to see the best of what iPad’s can do to transform education. There were real life stories from different schools across Europe who use technology to create personalized learning for students from a variety of backgrounds. This ranged from making their own music using GarageBand all the way to using code to program drones!



Attendees were put in the shoes of students and experienced capturing new ideas, working with others and then ultimately creating something personal for themselves. This is where education can be really powerful - when learning is tailored to their own individual needs and they are themselves involved in creating this learning.

Sustainability is a big feature at the Crystal, with displays about saving water (very pertinent for us Capetonians!) and recycling waste used as the content for creating lessons. What I am most struck by is how big an impact a device like an iPad can have on a field trip - the ability to record information through photos and videos and then immediately use this information to create learning materials, whether in the form of a blog post or a creative video using the amazing new Clips app (a firm favorite at the Summit, by the way!).



Seeing educators from around the world with a twinkle in their eye, excited at the possibilities that technology can bring to the classroom also creates some excitement in those around them. The vibe was one of enthusiasm and I’m sure most people who were at the Apple event are going back to their respective schools and asking them to get the cheque books out!

I’m off now to attend day 1 of BETT and I will surely let you know how it went - stay tuned!


TTT

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Dishing them out

So next week I will have the pleasure of dishing out more than 50 iPad Pro 10.5" tablets to teachers. It has been a long process getting to this point, and hopefully I will be able to outline and share some of my experience of how we came to decide on the route we are taking on our technology journey.

But before then, as I am preparing my initial presentation for the launch of the devices, I am finding it difficult to explain to these teachers just how fortunate they are to be given a device like this.

I mean, it only takes a quick Google search to see that no other tablet can come close to the complete package the iPad Pro has to offer. Marques Brownlee, or MKBHD as he is known, puts it very well in his video review. Skip to 6:16 for the good part!


Consider then, also, that each teacher will get the Smart Keyboard, as well as an Apple Pencil to further enhance their productivity. My next challenge will be to educate them on how to make the best use of all this technology to enhance the learning experience for the students in front of them.

Stay tuned!

Until next time,

TTT