isitswitchedon

Development Officer Diary

Looking ahead to 2013

As we reach the end of another calendar year, I’ve been taking a bit of time to reflect on the year past, but also looking ahead to next year.

2013 will see many changes for me. Just like the voting in Strictly, I announce these in no particular order:

Wireless technology rolled out in schools
BYOD support
Flipped learning
New version(s) of Glow
Impending fatherhood

Only one thing on that list fills me with terror, but I’m sure I will get used to Glow+ with “minimal training”.

Seriously though, 2013 sees the start of some fairly major changes in ICT provision, coupled with a shift in the scope and possibilities for learning and teaching. A more flexible provision of ICT should allow us greater agility, in order to respond to the changing requirements of pupils and staff.

I hope you all have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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An Apology

I have an apology to make…

I did promise that I would take this blogging thing seriously…

I did promise that I’d find time to put my thoughts down online…

#fail

#mustdobetter

Am I repeating myself? Am I repeating myself? Am I…

I moved house about a year ago (and it is my intention to at some point empty the four remaining boxes from the previous time I moved) and as part of that process I was required to notify the entire planet of my new address. As a new build house you are faced with the delights of postcodes not being recognised, confusion with spellings, people telling you that you don’t exist, the lot. So it may not surprise you to hear that I am only just at the stage where I can happily no longer pay the ridiculous amount I’m currently paying to Royal Mail to redirect my old mail to my new address.

 As a teacher I was required to inform:

  • my Education Department
  • my Local Authority HR Department
  • the GTC Scotland
  • my Union and, by the end of the process,
  • the Samaritans

So why am I telling you this? Well it struck me that throughout our existence we create parallel sets of almost identical data and that sometimes we lose track of where it all is due to it not impacting on our day to day lives. When systems are interrelated life is made a whole lot easier.

And I guess it is a bit like Glow. I know I am beginning to sound like a stuck record, but if Glow 2 becomes lots of disparate storage silos of content we will have little or no hope of a user being able to achieve an overview of what they actually have created or can access. Remember when all your lesson plans and resources were on a single floppy disk? Then what happened? You created more resources, so you needed more floppy disks, so you had to buy a storage box. Then they gave you a network drive, which you filled up with lots of large files, so eventually requested more storage for. Then you got a nice USB Pen (I still have my very first USB Disgo 64mb- £90 at the time!), buying several more as they started to fill up. Until you come to today, where you have several network drives, encrypted (or they should be!) USB sticks, external hard drives, content on Glow, content in Email, content on the web in various guises, and still that storage box of floppy disks propping up a shelf at the back of a cupboard.

So how did this all happen? Well the chances are that you moved to another medium when the original storage format was too inflexible for you. You bought the USB pen drive to move content between the home and work. You bought the external hard drive because you couldn’t fit all of your content on USB pen drives. And the floppy disks you just keep to show pupils how things were “in my day”…

It is imperative that whatever Glow 2 becomes and whatever is allowed to be connected to it, there must be complete integration in terms of resource sharing and storage. The storage should be accessible to all users both inside school and from home and should be scalable to meet the needs of the user. Whatever is created by the user, it must be able to be transfered between establishments and between Authorities and allowed to export at the end of their school life in order to be continued into their future life and career.

Anyone want to buy a floppy disk storage box?

Comparethepupil dot com

People walk past me in the street and assume that my athletic physique is honed from years of representing my country at International level in some form of sport. They seem somewhat surprised when I tell them that most of my athletic ability was restricted to Daley Thompson’s Decathlon and that my PE report from school said simply, “Stuart tries hard.”

What I can do though is identify ICT resources to support the next batch of athletes in the hope that they manage to get further than just joining me at the cafe in the local sport arena.

One early resource we had was Dartfish, the video analysis software and hardware. While this is seen as the market leader, it is quite an investment in terms of budget, so it never really spread to other schools in our area.

One thing we stumbled upon was Kinovea, an Open Source alternative which we now deploy as part of our standard image in Art, Drama and PE. While it doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as Dartfish it does offer a lower cost alternative for performance analysis.

Kinovea Performance Analysis Software

Pupils can have their performance compared against professionals or against each other. Slow motion replays can be used to critically evaluate methods and techniques. It may even improve the odd golf swing or two! The software is updated fairly regularly and the development community are always open to suggestions for improvements.

Don’t MIS Out…

A strange thing happened to me during some Glow Training the other day. I was demonstrating how to configure a Glow Group and there was a question from one of the attendees about setting up who can access the group. The question was prefaced with, “I don’t have time to go and manually add all of these kids!”, which then led to a cacophony of similar grumbles about workload and admin tasks…

Before people started to bail on me I decided to point out that there is a fairly simple solution to this- the group data relationship between Glow and the Authority MIS provider. A click to the Group Membership and I showed all of their classes and the pupils within it. When the pupil moves class, the MIS is altered and the membership of the Glow Group automatically updates to reflect this. “Wow” was the response, “I didn’t know it did that!”.

There are a lot of things in Glow that “just happen” (and I mean in a good way!), that most staff are completely unaware of:

  • the generation of accounts
  • the account matching when a child moves school to make sure they retain their work
  • the relationship of parents to children to create parental accounts
  • the attendance data and contact data being displayed to parents for all of their children, even across multiple schools
  • the class membership across potentially hundreds of classes
  • the teacher for each individual class

 So why am I blogging about this? Well, whatever Glow2 becomes, this relationship with data I feel must continue. Why should a class teacher have to spend time setting up memberships when the data is already sitting there on a secure updated system? Is there an opportunity with 28 Local Authorities using the same MIS to make it a National MIS and the core of Glow2?

Let’s change Glow to Glue

I’ve been really struggling to put down in words my feelings for the future of the Glow portal and ICT in general. Those of you (and I know there are some of you poor souls) who follow me on Twitter (@isITswitchedon) will have heard my witterings over the past few weeks, which could probably be summarised as:

  • If we reduce filtering we need increased bandwidth
  • I support the notion of pupil devices, but this also increases demands on bandwidth
  • More bandwidth means higher revenue costs to Authorities
  • We still need Glow V2

So where do we go with Glow V2? There has been a lot of talk already about several big companies and their Cloud based services being seen as a possible complete replacement for Glow. It is clear from the criticisms of Glow V1 that its lack of ability to respond quickly enough to change in ICT was a key failing, so I can understand why we are looking at the “big hitters” in ICT- it’s a safe bet that they will be able to respond and drive change.

One fear I have is that we could be going too far by selling our soul over to someone else entirely. Google, for instance, could kill off a service like iGoogle tomorrow:
http://www.businessinsider.com/googles-failed-attempts-to-win-social-2011-3?op=1
I have no issue with Glow V2 signing up to any service, such as Google, where we have a contract in place for a guaranteed term for certain services, but I keep coming back to thinking that we need a core portal that Scottish Government has some form of control over to integrate the other services to. It can be as free and open as you like and allow the APIs of other services to connect, which would allow change to happen.
What it should also allow is for Authorities and schools to subscribe to additional services as they see fit. Another benefit of this approach would be a gathering point for other associated agencies such as GTC, Education Scotland, SEEMiS, COSLA, etc. I’m not touting Moodle as a solution, but something along those lines, with a Scottish Government hosted environment that allows the integration of all these other Edu apps services through freely available plug-ins.

It really does come back to my title- let’s change Glow to Glue…

Glow Glue

As good as my Word…

One thing I love is change upgrade. I love it, I really do. I itch with excitement when a new version of a product comes out. I count down the days until a new piece of software is launched. I keep my computers up to date with the latest version of everything that is on them. Yes, I am that nerdy…

However, sometimes I forget that not everyone is as keen to move on. Let’s take MS Office as an example- it’s a core product to most things done in school, but it has a product refresh every 3 or 4 years. The move from Office 97 to 2000 was fine, 2000 to 2003 also fine, but 2000 to 2007 was a dramatic change for users. Gone was the long menu driven layout in favour of a “ribbon” layout divided into related tasks. It took me a good month or so to adjust, but I now love this layout. Others I’ve spoken to are not as keen; some on a usability basis, some on a resources implication for prepared pupil support notes.

Office 2007 Ribbon

One of the best resources I’ve found are the Interactive Office 2003 to 2007 guides:

Powerpoint

Word

Excel

They are fully interactive- do what you would do in 2003 and it will show you how to do it in 2007. Everyone I’ve shown them to has loved them!

So what next? Well Office 2010 is out and some of our schools will be moving to this in the next few months. Why? Well, the video embedding, the blogging, the collaboration tools, the image editing, I could go on! I love change…

The perfect host…

One thing I have noticed with people taking their initial forays into Glow is thGlow Navigation Bareir struggle to navigate around the site and the concept of School, Local Authority and National level groups. This isn’t really helped by the navigation bar down the left side of Glow, which can only take you to the top level of each area:

Over the past year we’ve tried to counter this issue by putting in links, graphical interfaces and trying to find some form of uniformity of branding across our Falkirk Glow sites. This helped make things slightly easier to navigate, however one issue we still faced was how we could quickly update this branding across all Falkirk Glow groups.

Some components in Glow are less well known than others, one of which is Glow Web Hosting. The main reason it is overlooked (I think) is its lack of support for some of the latest web design tools. Basically, the component allows FTP transfer of files to a webspace (which can be made public or private) in order to create a website. I’ve been using it so far as a public facing RSS aggregator for digital signage, which I really must blog about some time…

So, how does this fit in with navigation in Glow? Well… one thought I had was to use the webhosting space to host the common branding buttons. These look like this:

The buttons are basically HTML code that hyperlink to the relevant page. As they are hosted on public webspace, all you have to do is create a Page Viewer webpart to the URL of the webspace then import it to all of your Glow Groups. This allows us to edit the buttons on the webspace and the changes carry through to all of the Glow Groups. We’ve already had to make a few changes from the original concept, but these changes can be made quickly and easily, as opposed to having to edit and update every single Glow Group!

Show me a sign…

We’ve all been there-  sitting in the reception of a building and being entertained by a plasma screen on a wall, telling us all about what is going on in the world today. With the increasing number of new build schools, this business approach to digital signage has led to companies selling their shiny screens to education.

In our Authority we have several different companies providing signage products over the past 5 or so years, but I’ve often found them to be clunky to use and unsustainable. I’ve also questioned the scalability of such products, with schools being quoted frankly hideous amounts of money to display the work of the school.

And then we discovered Xibo: http://xibo.org.uk/

Xibo Display Signage

Xibo is an Open Source Project for Digital Signage, offering all the capabilities of commercial signage, but with the added bonus of scalability and affordability. The management software can run on existing servers and the client software runs on fairly low end hardware (we use old PCs that were destined for the bin!).

In terms of set-up, the management software is far superior to any of the other products I have used, with schools now updating their signage on a daily basis, keeping a fresh look to their displays. We even have school dining halls and staff rooms running targetted displays with key messages for the week.

Over the next few weeks I will post some more on this topic, as well as some pictures, as we now have some additional systems feeding into the displays.

About time….

After much taunting/encouragement/teasing/jabbing and general mocking, I have finally made the move into blogging.

My main motivation is to record some of the things I get up to on a day to day basis, as well as draw attention to future developments in ICT in Falkirk Council.

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