Sunday, February 20, 2011

The School of the Future!

Back to ranting I'm afraid, had a bit of a bad week ICT wise and need to let off some steam. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my school (in fact, my Federation of schools) is looking to replace its ICT system. Now, with the rise of the cloud, the cheapness and availability of mobile devices, the steady decline of MicroSoft and the inevitable rise of Apple and Open Source (read Linux) via Android, you would think this would be a no-brainer and indeed it is. We are going for a Windows 7 network! What? Apparently, core ICT (that which is taught in the classroom) need certain programs (MS Office) otherwise they cannot do their job properly (please insert your own snarky comment here). Also, ICT support think that this is the best solution (ie they are too lazy/stupid to learn another system or fear they may lose their jobs when we get a modern system that people understand and just works). So, here in 2011, in a school originally built under the Building Schools for the Future program (BSF,more on that later), we are about to install a 25 year old, intrusive, limiting ICT system just so we can teach typing and keep a few know-nothing MSCE qualified dorks in a job. Way to go. As a result of this, our highly successful 1:1 Netbook program in year 7 and 8 is likely to come to a halt (money being spent on 25 year old operating system and equipment) which also means that our Project Based Learning curriculum in year 7 and 8 will also come to a halt. Brilliant, a decision by a team of people who don't understand real ICT, swayed by a company desperately trying to get rid of old technology ruins 5 years of hard work.

Now, my school was completely rebuilt a few years ago under the BSF program. It really was impressive when it opened and seeing the kids faces as they entered for the first time is a vision that will stay with me for a long time. Almost as long as the look they had when they saw the ICT provision. Huge monolithic Dell computers with 20 or so wires hanging out the back and trailing along the ground to floor boxes in the middle of the room.
No cameras, no video cameras, no music recording software, just MS Office and some crappy old "educational" programs. So much for the future. There was some light shining on a gloomy reality though, we had Exchange e-mail. No more logging onto a clunky client to check e-mail, we could do it online or via push notifications. We could sync our calendars, and send invitations to meetings and find people in the address book (especially if you had iPhone/iPod Touch or later, Android devices), I was never more organised. This week I learned we are losing our e-mail system and will more than likely go with a system designed for schools (ie. They couldn't sell it to industry as it is rubbish) that will likely require a client (Windows only?) and won't do push notifications.

Towards the end of the week I was in another school working with a colleague who is successfully using Google Docs to deliver screen casts and worksheets to pupils. We where sitting in a shared office and I mentioned saving worksheets as PDF's so that students could view them on their phones (certain Google domains being blocked by the school due to their unsuitability) and was greeted with a chorus of "we don't allow phones in school". OK, fair enough, except that I had counted at least 20 kids lined up outside with phones (this is an inner city school, kids don't leave home without at least 1phone). I was also informed, when tried to show a webpage on my iPad, that the school wireless network was turned off (in case the kids worked out how to get onto it!) and another colleague chimed in that PDF was inappropriate as kids wouldn't know what they where and I/We should stick to using PowerPoint.

Building Schools for the Future, please excuse me whilst I step outside and shoot myself.

Edit I am not a Windows hater, to be honest, would be just as upset if they where introducing a Mac or Linux network. Why? Because I think ICT is much more than document creation and storage. Mobile devices are the future, sure qe still need a few desktop or laptop machines but these shouldn't form the backbone of our system and neither should some sort of fixed, serve based network. Kids need to learn now to access information, assess its accuracy and reliability and communicate their own thoughts to others. This can be done via mobile devices and the cloud.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, February 18, 2011

iOS and photo's

Yesterday, my special year 7 group where making t-shirts with QR Codes printed on them. This was the cumulation of a project where they had been looking at what makes them unique and the idea was to generate a QR Code with a piece or pieces of their personality they would take to a new planet (slightly more exciting than the PowerPoint presentation they had to make last year). We started by reading a précis of Stephen Baxters novel Ark (well worth a read if you like Sci-Fi and global warming/disaster/interplanetary space travel), decided what qualities ann astronaut/coloniser would need, then decided which qualities we had that would be useful (it was pointed out that myself, as a geek, might be useful as I'm good with computers and "stuff"), wrote them down on the MiniBooks, checked the spelling, then copied and pasted into the QR Codes website and generated a code. This was sent to Technology who then printed iron-on transfers so by period 6, we could go and make our t-shirts.
As you can imagine, excitement was high. The only problem was, how to get photo's?
As you are probably aware, there are strict rules governing the purchase and use of ICT in schools. Microsoft don't make camera's as far as I know so rule 2b comes into force; any ICT procured for use must hinder teaching as much as possible. It must be hard to use, out of date and intrusive. We do actually have some illegal cameras (nice Cannon A70’s or some such) but of course, no card readers, leads or functioning USB ports means it is difficult to get the pictures somewhere useful (the shared drive? Accessible by only the chosen few and only in school? Fronter (which periodically loses stuff)? flickr (blocked-category:useful or educational)?

I ended up using my iPhone. Not ideal as it is a 3G model, the quality of the camera is poor (so ideal for use in schools!), to be honest, I could have drawn a better picture however it was all I had. So, got pictures, now what to do? A while back I bought an app called iPicasso that allows you to load photo's straight of the iPhone to picassa which handily, is a Google service that isn't blocked in school. So, five minutes later, an album was made, uploaded and shared with the kids. Brilliant.

This kind of leads me into another thread about iOS devices (this is probably true of other mobile platforms too, I don't know as I haven't got an Android device yet) and their general handiness. Having got back tonight, I decided I wanted to crop some of the pictures and generally tart them up a bit, bought an app called Pic Transfer (59p), sent the pictures via Bluetooth to my iPad, used PhotoPad to crop etc, used iPicasso to upload to Picassa and voila! Used the iPad to get the embed code for the album and embedded it into this blog:
Base Camp t-shirts

Now I know I could have done all of this on a desktop PC/Mac/Linux box or laptop but the sheer portability of the devices meant I could have everything up and running by the time the class got back to our usual room. Ignore the fact that this blog is about iOS devices, if mobile devices can do this sort of thing, the power they have is huge, whatever the OS they run. The desktop/laptop dominance of ICT really is over.

As an aside, we had about 10 minutes of the lesson left and excitement was still high but contained as the class watched the slide show on the projector screen whilst we cleared up the room.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More iOS WebDAV-Using iPads with RM Easylink

As I have probably mentioned, part of my teaching role involves working with the Local Education Authority (LEA) one day per week. This usually takes the form of me working with teachers or departments on the implementation of ICT systems such as our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), Fronter. However, recently I have been working with one of our local City Learning Centres (CLC) looking at how we could use iOS devices in education. One of the more challenging aspects of using said devices is getting files off them and onto then school network. I have posted a couple of solutions previously, mostly using Dropbox and WebDAV and a colleague of mine at then CLC has been experimenting and I thought I would post his results.

As a way of introduction (especially for non UK readers), RM are a company that provide ICT solutions to a number of UK schools. Part of the package is a system called Easylink that allows users to access ann area on the network for storing and retrieving files (a file share I suppose). Anyway, I have it on good authority that RM Easylink suppose WebDAV and my colleague has managed to work out a simple way of setting up RM Easylink with iPads/iPod Touches. The document he created is below:

As I said, it is not my work, all credit goes to Andy Menzies at the CLC, if you have any questions or queries, please post a comment and I will relay them on and get back to you.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The iPad sucks!

Ask an expert and they will tell you, the iPad sucks. They a only any good for media consumption, You can only do what Apple allow and it doesn't do Flash. All in all, it is a severely gimped toy, an expensive one to boot. So, I've had my iPad now for about 8 months now and with the release of iPad 2 imminent, I thought I would have a go at tackling some of the more ridiculous criticisms of the device.

1. IOS is no good for production of content

Well, if this blog doesn't count as production of content, or indeed any of the files embedded in it, then yes, IOS is no good for content production. There are no decent productivity apps for IOS, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Blogpress, iDraw, Notes +, Sketchbook Pro, iThoughts and a multitude of music apps are all figments of a deranged fanboy imagination!

The iPad is a superb productivity device, it is my personal choice for production of documents. Pages is possibly the greatest app ever, the touch screen, multi touch gestures and slick programming make Word processing a joy. Honestly, I love using the iWork apps, I also love all the other apps I have used both in the production of this blog and other work I have done for school and home. I will admit, the iPad cannot do everything (complex spreadsheets instantly spring to mind) but what it cannot do is minor compared to what it can do. I am gutted if I cannot use the iPad and have to resort to a "proper" computer.

Edit: just put together a flyer for our next gig using PhotoPad and iDraw on the iPad. Sent straight to Dropbox via the Dropbox app and also as a PDF via Pages and dropdav. Took me about half an hour, started with a colour photo, converted it to greyscale and adjusted levels in PhotoPad, exported to Photos, imported into iDraw, added text. Converted text to paths, adjusted lime and fill, lined everything up and voila!

2. It's an expensive content consumption device

And so is a television, only the iPad can do more than a television, is portable and costs less (ok, last one is a bit tenuous as TV,s range in price and are getting cheaper all the time but you get the idea). Also, as pointed out above, you can produce content on an iPad, just look at the 1000’s of apps, a great deal are for production of documents, music, artwork etc. About 90% of this blog content is produced on an iPad. Also, the iPad isn't expensive, other computers may be cheaper but that doesn't make the iPad expensive! Try driving an Italian car, then you know what expensive is.

3. There is no file structure

Yes there is, it's called Dropbox, it's free and it absolutely rocks. Get a Dropbox account, get the free app, read my how-to's for setting up WebDAV (or read other peoples how to's) and you have files wherever you have an Internet connection. The nice thing about this is the average user needs to know nothing about file structure or saving files. If there was a file structure, users would lose files, period. I know this because I teach school children who just press the save icon (even though I have told them and showed them a million times how to correctly save files, use folders etc). IOS is fine the way it is, it is designed for average (not computer literate) users but has the ability (thanks to the developer community, a superb SDK and a way to seamlessly deliver apps) to be customised to work the way you want it.

4. iPad will get completely owned by Android

Bring it on, I am a huge fan of Linux, I regularly use (and highly recommend) Ubuntu Linux. I have used Mandriva, SUSE and Fedora on Netbooks and even wrote an Ubuntu based distro for use on our Netbooks at school (but we decided they would run too quickly and might be useful so we went with Windows XP!) so if Android (which is based on Ubuntu) can offer the same slick user experience, range of apps and reliability of IOS, then that is a good thing. I'm not sure Android is quite there yet but then I haven't tried Honeycomb so really can't comment. Just remember, IOS is not about specs, it's not necessarily about features either. It is about a slick, easy to use interface and Apps. This is what Android has to compete against.

5. It will only do what Apple allows

Well, yes. But is this such a bad thing? You can only get Apps from the App store and only ones that Apple has approved but then you get quality (iFart apps aside!), code is checked and you generally don't get the dodgy code, malware, and general misbehaviour of stuff downloaded straight from the Internet. Because you need to use iTunes, you always have a backup of your IOS device (come on, be honest. How many of you have lost a hard drive and never bothered to back up your files, let alone the entire operating system?). This is vital to non ICT savvy users, the experience is slick, loading Apps is seamless and, as long as you have synced, you always have a restore point. Apple also provide an easy to use developer kit so writing Apps is pretty straightforward, anyone can develop Apps and the channel for distribution is also there. As a result, there are some really superb Apps available for IOS, it is Apps that have driven the platform. Want do something Apple doesn't provide (like printing or wireless file transfer)? There's an App for that. Apps are cheap, plentiful, safe to use and allow you to customise your use of the device whilst Apple maintain quality control and a good user experience. Personally, I would rather work like this than have a device I am constantly having to maintain due to broken permissions, orphaned files and the like. Anyway, you can always Jailbreak the device, it's not like Apple put a lot of energy into stopping you.

6. Windows 7 tablets are coming

Shut up! We've had Windows XP tablets for 10 years, hardly anyone bought them, they where an awful device, slow, buggy and not really touch screen devices. They where also expensive. I use an ASUS Eee Touch desktop every Friday and the first thing I do is plug in a mouse and keyboard. It creaks along on an Atom processor and the touch screen is appalling. I hate the device, it is a bad Windows machine (slow processor) and a really bad touch screen device. If Microsoft really want to get into the Tablet market, they need a proper touch interface (Windows Phone 7?) and proper touch enabled Apps. Word etc where designed for a mouse and keyboard, Apple might restrict the device but what it does it does very well.

7. I can't connect it to my work network

Actually, you probably can, its just some clown in the basement doesn't want you to connect it to the network, lest you see how easy it actually is and then we realise they have been telling porkies* about how difficult stuff is. IOS does Exchange out of the box, it does it really well so if you use Exchange as your e-mail server, you should be OK, go online and find put how to do it. As for Wireless, you will probably find that that too can be done but they just don't want to do it. Also, you may well find (especially in schools) that any sites you want to visit are blocked for "security" reasons. In my local authority, most Google services are blocked as are any sites that mention games, so when we want to look at games reviews in Product Design...

8. It doesn't have a camera

And neither did most computers until a few years ago, back then we had to buy a decent camera, use it to take photos and then load them up to a computer to edit. Funnily enough, you can do this with an iPad. I don't know about you but I don't want a rubbish, fixed focus lens camera thrown in to the device just to add another feature. Also, the iPad is completely the wrong size and shape to take photographs or shoot video (we use the webcams on our Netbooks to shoot video and they suck big style!). No thanks, i'll continue to use my decent camera and load up the photos using the camera connection kit or, i'll shoot photos/video with my iPhone and then use the said camera connection kit or one of the many Apps that allow iPhone to iPad photo/video transfer.

9. It doesn't do Flash

True. This may be a deal breaker and it may not. I spent a large part of my life trying to get people to use Flash to produce interactive content and I hate it. Flash has had its day. It can be a pain as a lot of online content production such as Prezi, Zoho Office, Voki etc are all Flash based. There are ways around this, Skyfire allows you to watch Flash videos and Always on PC gives you a full desktop OS (Fedora) online. The App costs £14.99 and I haven't tried it out yet but as well as giving you full Open Office and GIMP online, it also gives you Firefox so you can view Flash content if you desire. I assume other thin clients like Citrix do a similar job.

I have probably missed off a couple of excuses but I think this gives a reasonable response to some of the criticisms of the iPad and IOS. As I have said elsewhere in this blog (see reasons why the iPad rocks #3-it annoys IT departments), the iPad isn't fully understood by some ICT types. Those stuck in the world of desktop OS's and registry problems often don't understand the need for simplicity, a bit like a teacher doesn't understand when a child cannot get how to solve equations. More worrying, some ICT types feel threatened by devices like the iPad. They give power to the users and they feel threatened hence all the FUD about iPads etc.

To those new to this blog, I say this. Try an iPad, think carefully what you want to do with it and read around to see if you accomplish your tasks. It might not be for you but please, take advice, especially criticism, and treat with caution. A lot of people don't understand the device but a lot more cannot stand to be wrong!

Rant over.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Send files from an iPad to Dropbox

One of the most common requests/questions on internet forums seems to be "How do I send files directly to Dropbox from my iPad?" to which the answer is either (a) you can't or (b) only if the app directly supports uploading to Dropbox. For iWork users such as myself, this is a real pain, you either have to tether the iPad to a Mac/PC and use iTunes sharing or use one of the work arounds like I have previously mentioned (see my post on setting up Dropbox as WebDAV or how to get files onto my Mac for more information). Now in the last update of IOS/iWork, Apple very kindly added support for WebDAV. Unfortunately, Dropbox doesn't directly give you WebDAV access so until now, if we wanted to send files directly to Dropbox using this protocol, we had to set up a share and where really restricted to being on the same network (unless you are happy to implement port forwarding). I say up until now as last night I discover dropdav. This is a website that offers to work as a WebDAV server for you and route files straight through to Dropbox and, because it's web based, you can use it from anywhere (of course, I work in a school so I have no doubt this site will be blocked for "security" reasons!

Below is a PDF that shows you step by step how to connect and send a file straight to Dropbox.

This really is a neat service, I shall be testing it out over the next few weeks and let you know how reliable it is.

Also, a colleague of mine has managed to get WebDAV/Dropbox connection working using RM Easy Link (a system provided by a large UK school ICT provider) so hopefully I shall be able to post a how to on that quite soon as well.

Needless to say, another argument about closed systems, walled garden and Apple being the evil empire who strictly control what you can do and how you do it is dashed thanks to Apple implementing Open Standards. Now, if only they would allow music apps to save properly to the iPod app rather than just iTunes sharing!

Hope you find this useful.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad