Wednesday, 16 January 2019

iPad rollout in school - pitfalls and successes PART 1

So the week finally arrived. What has seemed like years in the making is upon us and I have to say that it has been a busy one!

What I'd like to do in today's post is to start to highlight some of the mistakes we made, as well as give some tips on how to ensure your rollout is as smooth as possible - things we will do again next time around and things we will do differently. There is so much to cover that it might be the first post of many, so watch this space!

We have chosen to go with Zuludesk as our Mobile Device Management system and, despite some frustrations, I must say that it is worth the investment (of both money and time to learn a new platform). We upgraded from using Apple's own Profile Manager, and although in theory MDM's can only use the API's that Apple makes available so technically they can all do the same things, I feel so much more comfortable working in Zuludesk than I ever did in Profile Manager.

The most important thing to be aware of though is the syncing between Apple School Manager and Zuludesk. I do not think anyone who uses the tedious process of uploading users from a CSV file through an SFTP client to a Dropbox folder to get them into Apple Schoool Manager would say that it is an easy or enjoyable process.

The first advantage that Zuludesk has is that it provides its own built-in SFTP uploader. What this means is that you can create users and classes in the Zuludesk interface and it then creates the CSV files for you in the background, which you then upload to Apple School Manager without even having to think too much at all about whether your column headers are correct or whether you're missing data from cell E145.

There are a few places where you have to manually sync data. One is on the dashboard, which mainly syncs users from ASM back to Zuludesk. Then there is the Classes sync which does what it says oin the tin. You also have to sync VPP purchases in the Apps section and finally the sync from Zuludesk to ASM happens when you upload through SFTP (although in Zuludesk this is a single button press!)

It took me a few tries to get the process working smoothly - we had a few typos in our original data input and this created some issues with the creation of managed Apple ID's (twins who's usernames were swapped around for example!). Now though, once we find a mistake (I am about 70% through the rollout and the odd issue still creeps up!) it is relatively easy to fix on the spot and we can get students up and running within 40 minutes. This means we do not have to arrange special sessions for them to get their iPads, it simply happens in their IT lesson.

There is so much more to talk about, I think this will have to be a series! I will keep going once I have some more time. For now though - let's get ready for another day!

Bitmoji Image

Sunday, 6 January 2019

What should I buy?

A question I am faced with on a regular basis is one regarding an upgrade to a personal device.

"What laptop should I get?" OR  "I need a new phone - any advice?"

Well - as much as this is not part of my official job spec, it is something I LOVE to do - nothing better than spending someone else's money!

So - if you have any questions regarding whether to get that latest iPhone (and help Apple out of their financial dilemma!)  or which new laptop to buy for your child going off to college - drop me a line and I'll try my best to help!

See you guys later!

Bitmoji Image


Saturday, 15 December 2018

MDM's - love or hate them?

With the country's teachers all going on holiday last week, I was looking forward to some much-deserved rest. BUT...

Next week we have to onboard all our new iPads in preparation for our rollout in January. We have decided to change from Apple's own Profile Manager (which we currently use to manage our relatively small fleet of devices) to Zuludesk. This will be a new experience for all of us and we are both nervous and excited to experiment with what it has to offer.

We are also making up our minds about what to do regarding our setup for Apple Classroom - do we want teachers to have more control and create their own (ad-hoc) classes or do we want to make it simple for them that when they log on they already have all their classes created with students enrolled and ready to go?

All of this relies heavily on your MDM solution. I am sure to do a write-up of my experience with Zuludesk once I have been using it for a while.

Fraser Speirs did a great write up on developments in Apple Classroom that explains some of what to expect, but it is always daunting when dealing with things like this!

I have been having quite a lot of difficulty in trying to get all of our students data uploaded and synced to Apple School Manager, but this is more of an issue with getting the right data out of our school management system. I think we have finally got it working, but it is still a work in progress...

I am sure to check in before Christmas and keep you posted on how we get on!

Bitmoji Image

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.


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.