Today I helped run some iMovie training for teachers at school, which was fun. Part of that involved rigging up a MacBook Pro to a projector in our training room, which also has an AppleTV connected to it. I was presenting Keynote slides, but also wanted to occasionally mirror an iPad to demo how to use apps like Educreations to do basic storyboarding. I was using Reflector to set up an AirPlay receiver, but it struck me that I should just use the AppleTV instead. After all, Mountain Lion lets you mirror your Mac’s screen to an AppleTV.
My problem with AppleTV from before was that the aspect ratios seemed to go a bit wrong when mirroring 4:3 content vs 16:9. I tried fiddling with the projector’s aspect ratio and putting it on some sort of widescreen zoom mode made a difference. However, I then installed an update on the AppleTV and set the projector to good old 4:3 (rather than ‘auto’) and it all seemed to work! Mirrored 4:3 iPads filled the screen, but also Keynote slides too!
So maybe AppleTV works better than I originally thought!
Hmm. Today a Year 6 teacher told me that the iPads weren’t charging. The ISIS charging cabinet is basically some 10 and 8-way power adapters plugged together with iPad power adapters plugged in. But yet it seemed that all the iPad power adaptors didn’t work that were plugged into one of the 10-way power bars. I checked with a different adaptor, and the 10-way adaptor was definitely still working. I then took out the iPad charger and plugged it directly into a wall socket. That seemed to make it work again! I had to do that with all the iPad adaptors affected, but they now seem to work ok.
This is a little bit worrying. It could be an issue with the iPad mini design, with the lightening cables or with the fact I’m using lots of power bars. I’ll keep an eye on it. It’s worked fine up until now though, which is what is particularly confusing. Maybe there was a power surge which affected the iPad power adaptors?
I was talking to someone today about their job and they told me that they were a web developer. Nothing remarkable about that. Only that they used to be a Flash web developer but now they’ve had to retrain to build stuff in HTML 5.0 because there are something like a tenth of the Flash jobs out there than there were a year or so ago.
The iPad really has killed Flash.
If only education content providers would realise this!
Back in 2010, when we were considering getting some Macs in school, one option we considered was getting a set of MacBooks for use by kids. As we already had some PC laptops which connected to the server via wifi, I thought we could do the same with some Macs. However, our reseller strongly advised putting in wired network connections if you are binding a Mac to an Active Directory as performance would be poor on wifi. I didn’t think much further about this as we ended up getting lots of iMacs instead, which all ran off wired Ethernet connections.
However, I recently tried adding a MacBook Pro to our domain, running it just on wifi, and this cautionary advice all came flooding back. Because we’re a big school, we make a lot of use of shared drives for saving work on. Working on a document off of a network drive requires a constant connection, which can become a little tiresome on wifi (particularly if the access point has a couple dozen iPads on it as well!). Having had enough of the spinning beach ball of death, I found a long network cable and plugged myself in.
Running documents off a server does feel a bit like living in the dark ages though. Admittedly, it is handy to be able to log onto any computer in the school and have all your document just there, but you do pay for it with a performance hit. Storage read and write is the last great bottle neck, which is why Apple is aggressively moving towards flash storage (Flash? We love flash!) wherever it can. The iCloud document model also makes a lot of sense: your documents live on your iPad/Mac/iPhone, but any changes are pushed to your other devices so that the same document is ready and waiting when you get there. That way you get the speed (and non-reliance on a permanent network connection) of a local document with the convenience of network storage.
In my music lesson today, we were listening to different songs about the environment (with classics such as Leave them a Flower and 3 Rs) in preparation for making a radio show. Children worked in pairs on iPads, listening to each track and deciding which ones they liked.
In previous years, I had got children to search for songs on the iTunes Music Store, but with the iPad I instead just emailed a list of iTunes URLs to each iPad. I was expecting this to open up in the ‘iTunes’ app, but instead it opened up a preview panel within the Mail app and allowed children to listen to a good minute and a half of each song.
Emailing URLs is a very low-fi way of guiding children to different web resources, but it’s remarkably simple and easy! The only problem is when one child deletes the email, but this is easily fixed by fishing around in the trash.
I love using Explain Everything for my teaching as it gives rich interactive-whiteboard-like functionality using an iPad instead of a clunky and often unaligned ‘smart’board.
However, today I discovered it’s not always the best tool to use with kids. In my music lesson we were listening to different sounds, and I wanted an app that could just be written on, much like a drywipe mini whiteboard. You can do that with Explain Everything, but it’s just a bit too complex for using with Year 2 kids as you can easily have the pen unselected and then end up moving all the items on the screen around instead.
As an alternative, I quickly downloaded Educreations (which is free!). This app offers a stripped down set of features and allows you to just use your finger to draw with on the screen. This worked much better.
I also had a go at using Socrative to do a class quiz. You have to set up a teacher account (which you can do online) and then you just give your room number for children to log onto your quiz. Children then answer the questions and get immediate feedback.
I’m realising more the power of the App Store in education. It can take a bit of thinking to discover the best app, or combinations of apps for a job, but once you do it leads you to all sorts of interesting places.
Over half term we had the fun job of upgrading our Mac server to Mountain Lion and then fiddling around with user accounts to make the Macs play nicely with our new ADSync setup. As part of this process, I decided to change the way that the ICT Suite worked.
The old setup had children logging in with a class login, which allowed for a shared ‘documents’ on the server. However, you would have to be logged in with those credentials to see the files, which would be annoying for teachers wanting to access work elsewhere in the school. Entering a password to login was also rather tricky for the younger children, wasting a substantial part of ICT lessons early on just with logging in. Also, because iMovie projects were saved locally to a machine, children would have to go back to the same machine with the same login to continue with their video. This generally worked well, but if a child didn’t check that the Mac was logged out before starting work, they may have no idea what login to use to go back to it in a later lesson.
Instead, I set up the ICT Suite as follows:
- A local account, without a password
- The login screen showing the local non-adminstrator account as a ‘badge’, rather than a text field for username and password
- When children log in, a shared drive is mounted via Managed Preferences, which has the username and password build into the URL (e.g. smb://username:password@pathtoserver/sharepoint). This shared drive is a subfolder of the shared drive that teachers use across the school, meaning teachers can see children’s work but children can’t see all of the teachers’ work.
- A login script runs which renames ~/Documents to ~/MacDocuments and then creates a symbolic link to the mounted shared drive and calls that ‘Documents’. This little manoeuvre tricks Finder into putting that shared drive into the sidebar where Documents used to be, and also makes it the default save position
The upshot of all of this is that it makes the ICT Suite have much more of an iOS-like experience; instead of typing in usernames and passwords, you just click and go. Popping into the ICT Suite today, teachers and children certainly liked the change!
Profile Manager is now working! Woo. Now I just need to find the time to actually play with it.
All down to Dave from Toucan.
Munki really is brilliant. From the user’s end, it is basically invisible, installing software when the computers are sitting logged out and never bothering anyone. From the admin side, it is super quick to import a package file and super easy to add it to the list of files to be installed. This week alone I have been able to push out three different installs, confident that, by the next day, they will be installed on all the machines.
The only problem with it is that the admin backend is not hugely user-friendly, relying on setting up your own webserver, typing stuff into Terminal and editing a .plist file of software to be installed. I would love it if someone might perhaps consider building a beautiful and simple GUI backend too. Anyone offering?