Call for schools to register for aggregated tablet procurement by 6th May

The Department for Education is facilitating a procurement of tablet devices through the Crown Commercial Services (CCS) Aggregation team. The pilot procurement made a saving of 12% for participating schools.

The procurement will offer 4 tablet options: Apple iPads, Microsoft Surface Pro, LearnPads and a generic tablet, along with associated items eg. covers, security marking, charging trolleys.

Indicative timescales are April/May: gather school’s commitment and volumes, with delivery targeted in July/August.

For further information on this opportunity use the link below:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/register-to-buy-tablet-devices-for-your-school

It is not clear if this will include licences for management packages eg Airwatch MDM.

Scratch your Roamer

roamer_smallI am a great fan of Scratch and use it a lot with pupils in KS1 and KS2. Scratch has many experimental extensions which allow you to connect Scratch to all sorts of devices. One I have recently come across is Roamer ScratchX which allows you to use Scratch to control the new Valiant Roamer. Valiant have published a press release about the new Roamer ScratchX and now I can’t wait to get a chance to play with one of the new Roamers.

Did I hear an invitation? 😎

Air Server

Some time ago I spoke of how wonderful Air Server is. This is a piece of software that you can run on your PC (Window 7 or newer) or Mac so that it allows you to show you iPad screen on your desktop. This is brilliant in a class situation because you can wander around your class with your iPad demonstrating things or show children’s work on your IWB at the front of the class.

Well, Air Server has gone one better! You can now right click on your Air Server window on your PC and record what is happening on your iPad. Now you can record instructions on how to use your iPad and post them on your VLE or record what your pupil does on the iPad.

Brilliant!

Web based OCR

OCR or “Optical Character Recognition” is a technology that has been around for some time and allows you to scan a printed document and turn the picture of the text into real text. There are free OCR packages available and there are paid for packages. Some of these are incredibly good and are able to decipher page layout as well as the text eg newspaper columns. I have used OCR for many years on lots of different types of documents, particularly in connection with local and family history documents which can be quite challenging. One of the frustrations I have though is when I am in a school and want to grab the text from a printed document so I was very pleased to find a free web based OCR package that fulfils some of my needs.

free-ocr-logoFree OCR does the basics quite well. You have to put up with some fairly unobtrusive adverts and it is limited to a maximum 2MB file size but documents I have tried out so far have been pretty accurate. The site is explicit about its privacy policy which I am sure will be acceptable for most jobs but I wouldn’t scan sensitive information.

 

DB Primary and iPads

It is possible to put documents straight from your iPad into a gallery on DB Primary, for example, you could take pictures in class using your iPad and upload them straight into your class gallery.

Onwebdave way of doing this is to use WebDav Nav which is a free app (there is a paid for version as well). In DB Primary, go to your class gallery and look for the WebDav button. Click on it and it will open a Windows Explorer window with your gallery contents in. If you copy down the URL path in the top of window (the bit that starts http://) and use that in WebDav Nav on your iPad, along with your username and password then you can upload files. Now you can make events in your classroom available to your pupils on DB Primary “just like that”!

Office 365 SharePoint Calendar issue 1

If you regularly use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 11 with Microsoft’s Office 365 you may notice some occasional glitches. One problem we have come across is that the SharePoint calendar may appear to be stuck in month view and not show the times of appointments.

To remedy this you need to add sharepoint.com to the “Compatibility View Settings” list. You can do this by going to the Tools menu (press Alt if you can’t see it it), select “Compatibility View Settings” and then add sharepoint.com to the list.

You should now be able to view the calendar correctly!

iPad Ambassadors

I have recently started to run an iPad Ambassadors after school club of about 10 pupils in a primary school. The idea of the club is to train them up as experts in the use and care of the class set of iPads and for them to act rather like Digital Leaders. They will become the experts who can support the teachers and pupils in the use and care of the iPads and promote their appropriate use on a daily basis.

Our first session covered unplugging them, getting them out of the storage cases, putting them away, checking that they are charging, switching them on and off, muting and volume control, gestures (one to five fingers!) and using the camera with Morfo.

StoryCreatorBookCreator

Our second session looked at two free iBook packages – Book Creator and Story Creator. I asked the pupils to explore them both and very quickly they discovered features in Book Creator that I had overlooked. At the end of the session I asked them to rate both packages out of 5 and they gave both of them full marks! However, when we started to discuss them in more detail they decided that Book Creator was the better package. Book Creator allows you to easily add photos, video, text, and sound, edit the background and export as an iBook or pdf to Dropbox or similar. Story Creator could do some but not all of these things, looks to be aimed at younger children, did allow freehand drawing on the screen but the biggest limitation was that the finished book could only be exported to the developer’s website and not to Dropbox or other cloud storage. Also, since Story Creator seems to be aimed at younger children it seemed a bit strange that the preferred method of logging in to the website was via Facebook!

So far the iPad Ambassadors have enjoyed what they have done showing great enthusiasm even when the iOS7 update reduced our last session to only four iPads. I am looking forward to hearing back from the teachers and the pupils how their skills and responsibilities affect their learning and behaviour over the next few months.

A class set of iPads

ipadI have been fortunate enough to be involved in a project to set up a class set of 30 iPads in a local primary school. The iPad 2 tablets have 16GB memory, are stored in three iLuv cabinets and are connected to a Mac Mini running the latest server software with Apple Configurator. One of the reasons for using Apple Configurator is that it allows you to use the Apple Volume Purchase Program.

The initial set up was very straightforward, after installing Apple Configurator and “configuring” it there are three choices:

  • prepare
  • supervise
  • assign

Assign is useful if you are going to use iPads as personal devices but as these iPads are going to be shared between a large number of pupils we opted for supervising them.

The first step was to prepare the new iPads. I prepared one iPad using Configurator with no additional apps, made sure that all the settings were how I wanted them and then backed it up using Apple Configurator.

I then used Prepare to create several profiles, one for wireless, one for the proxy settings, one for additional Web Clips (web page shortcuts) that I wanted on the tablet screen and one for restrictions. I set up separate profiles so that I could enable or disable one at a time if needed, for example, I may want to remove the restrictions so that I can test things out and it is easier to just untick the restrictions profile than to keep editing a single profile. It is also easier to do fault finding this way.

I used iTunes to download iPad apps that I wanted onto the Mac Mini and then used Apple Configurator to add and select the required apps.

The Prepare section allows you to sequentially number your iPads as you prepare them and to restore a backup image so after setting these I hit the Prepare button and plugged the iPads in one by one. Not long later I had 30 iPads all setup and configured for use! Simples!

Supervise allows you to maintain control over groups of iPads. Each time you plug an iPad back into the cabinet and press the sync button it is automatically restored to the configuration that you set. This allows you to easily add or remove apps or settings without having to completely rebuild the iPads from scratch though there are some things that you can’t manage this way.

I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to setup 30 iPads using Configurator. I also prepared them to use a Mobile Device Management (MDM) package called Meraki which is free and works using cloud management but currently the Internet provider blocks this and so I haven’t been able to test it in school (it seems to work brilliantly when tested from my workshop!)

So, what problems have I hit?

Well, initially I set Apple Configurator so that the iPads didn’t do any updates. Then I did an update to Apple Configurator which seems to have set iPad update as on by default and I didn’t notice. The result? iOS7 was released and 27 iPads tried to update to iOS7. Unfortunately Apple Configurator wasn’t iOS7 compliant and the whole system fell flat with the iPads all showing an iTunes connection image on their screens. It took me several hours to get them back up and running and I wasn’t able to downgrade them to iOS6 though apparently there are ways of doing this. Searching the Internet shows that quite a lot of people were hit by this problem and have had to spend a considerable amount of time sorting it out. Next week I intend to rebuild them all with a fresh “base image” of an iOS7 built iPad so as to get all the settings correct.

What’s missing?

For me, the biggest thing that is missing from Configurator is a way of arranging the apps on the screen of the iPad and in folders. I can do this in the base image but if I add a new app later I don’t want to be going back to build a new image. It would be great to be able to add a new app from Configurator and say I want it in this folder or at a particular place on screen 3.

There are also some restrictions that I haven’t yet worked out and the documentation is a little thin on, fortunately you can put iPads into groups on Configurator and I will be experimenting with one or two iPads by putting them into their own group and applying different profiles to test these settings out.

I am also looking forward to the school’s Internet Provider changing their settings so that we can use the additional features of Meraki though I will also be exploring other MDMs like Airwatch. I also hope to be able to use the Assign feature of Configurator to manage staff iPads. More on these later.

Useful links

Connecting iPads to projectors in the classroom

A teacher with an iPad, what a fantastic pair! In an ideal world the teacher can wander around the classroom with their iPad whilst showing images, videos or other apps on the screen at the front of the class. You see a great piece of work as you wander, photograph it with the iPad and display it at the front of the class in seconds. You find that pupils are struggling with a concept so you quickly pull up a web page or video to help.

How is this possible? Well iPads come with a system called AirPlay which can mirror the iPad screen on an AirPlay receiver device using wireless networking.

What AirPlay receiver devices are there?
appletvThe best known AirPlay receiver device is probably the AppleTV which is a small box costing about £75 that has an HDMI output so that you can connect it to a suitable projector or screen using an HDMI cable (or an HDMI to VGA converter such as the Kanex ATVPRO). The iPad transmits its screen and sound to the AppleTV which makes it appear on the screen. This is a brilliant solution but in a classroom with a workstation attached to a monitor and projector you will probably also need a VGA splitter / switch so that the PC and iPad can be switched between to project on both the screen and projector. Costs soon mount up and the cabling can be a bit untidy!

airserverIf you have a PC or Mac workstation or laptop already attached to your projector and you have decent wireless (you will have this already, won’t you, in order to run all those iPads!) then there are software packages which can turn your desktop / laptop into an AirPlay receiver allowing you to keep the cabling simpler and reducing the cost quite significantly. Two packages I have looked at are AirServer and Reflector. AirServer works on both Macs and PCs but you have to be running Windows 7 or better on the PC. Reflector works on Macs and PCs including Windows XP. You can try both for a trial period to see how well they work for you. I would strongly recommend that you investigate them first before buying an AppleTV. There are some restrictions eg your iPad and workstation need to be on the same network (sometimes school wireless is set up on a separate network from the workstations) and your wireless connectivity needs to be good. Cost? From about $4 depending upon licences required.

Another, but more expensive option, is to buy a projector with built in AirPlay, ethernet connection or wireless that can either be connected to directly using an iPad. There are some available now and this may be worth considering if you are replacing or buying new projectors.

Of course, an AppleTV does far more than mirror your iPad to another screen but you may not want all these additional functions in the classroom.

So, if you are a teacher and you have an iPad, why not try out the software for free and revolutionise your classroom?

mb or Mb?

Just to clarify things for those of you who are as pedantic as me, mb stands for milli-bit and Mb stands for mega-bit. Your Internet bandwidth is usually measured in Mbps or Mega-bits per second, that is 1 million bits every second.

A milli-bit per second connection (mbps) would require 1 million seconds to shift one bit, that is about 11.57 days. Since there are about 16 780 000 bits in a 2MB photo it would take over 531 centuries to shift a single photo!

A mega-bit per second (Mbps) connection would take abut 17 seconds.

Of course, if someone offers you a MBps connection then that is a mega-byte per second connection and since there are 8 bits in a byte you would expect it to be about 8 times faster!

Does it matter? Well I think so, along with capital letters and punctuation. You can change the meaning of something completely if you don’t pay attention to the detail.

Eats, shoots and leaves!