Casper Suite

We’ve just had Casper Suite installed at my school. Part of the installation process is a three-day ‘Jump Start‘ where a highly experienced trainer (in our case, two, as we had someone shadowing) guides you through installing the software and the processes involved in setting up and running it.

So why Casper suite? Over the years, we’ve ended up using a range of different systems and technologies to manage the Macs and iPads in school. The Macs have been managed with an OSX Server running Workgroup Manager, plus a few scripts written by our Apple Reseller and the use of Munki for managing software installs and updates. With iOS, we’ve used Meraki, making use of the VPP programme and managed distribution, as well as Apple Configurator for class sets of iPads.

This has worked pretty well, but I knew we needed to move away from Workgroup Manager. Since 10.7 Lion, Apple has pushed the use of Configuration Profiles instead of Managed Preferences. Technology-wise, it isn’t a straight swap, as there are things you can do with MCX that you can’t do with profiles, and vice versa. But with 10.10, Workgroup Manager no longer even exists (even though the 10.9 version still works!), so I knew we had to do something. Casper suite was well spoken of, properly supported OSX as well as iOS, and seemed to have some cool features.

The main drawback of Casper Suite is the cost: as an educational customer, you only pay for support per device, which works out pretty cheap. But you have to pay for the three days of ‘Jump Start’ before you begin, which is not cheap! However, I calculated that it works out about the cost of a case per device, which isn’t so bad. An iPad without a case is pretty hobbled, and I’m sure Casper will add a depth and richness to our deployment.

The Jump Start went pretty well, and we managed to get everything working by the end of the three days. I did finish the three days feeling overwhelmed with everything there is to do (sorting out all the configuration of the Macs then imaging them all, plus redoing all the iPads), but I think it will come together over the next half term.

Here are some of the highlights so far:

  • Casper Focus: allows a teacher lock all the iPads in a class to a particular app or webpage
  • Self service: dishing up apps, books and in fact most things to users
  • Deployment Enrollment Programme (DEP): iPads get automatically enrolled to Casper and tied to a certain user out of the box
  • Composer: a powerful way to package up Mac apps, including the ability to fill the user template and existing users’ preferences
  • JSS: the fact it runs as a web service, meaning that Macs don’t have to be bound to an OSX server any more
  • JAMF Nation: a community of helpful geeks who are there to help find solutions to problem

I’m not sure it’s the right solution for small primary schools, or places without an onsite Mac geek, but I think it’s going to work really well for us.

Apple Distinguished Educator

So, I’ve been accepted to become an Apple Distinguished Educator, class of 2015!

I had to tell the story of how I used Apple technology to transform the learning environment in my school, both in words and in a video. It was quite tricky to distill it down into a decent and clear narrative, but I guess I must have done ok!

Part of the induction process is attending the ADE Institute in the summer. This should be a fascinating week, learning more from educators from across Europe, Africa, Indian and the Middle East about how to use technology to transform education.

Thought on Chromebooks

There has been much talk about the place about how Chromebooks are overtaking iPads in the classroom. Maybe they are. And maybe they do have advantages, such as:

  • cheaper hardware
  • easy to set up and manage
  • multiple users per device
  • works nicely with Google Apps
  • data all in the cloud
  • etc…

However, everything is done through a web browser.  Which to me sounds like a very depressing way to go.

The Wonderful WWW has been transformative (thanks Tim), but displaying everything using a web browser is really rather limiting in the end.  Hypertext Markup Language is not the same as a proper operating system with proper apps.  Which is what you get with iPad.  Which means you can do cool stuff like:

  • make videos
  • do green screen
  • draw with your finger
  • have a proper mail client
  • have 3D animations
  • etc….

Now, obviously all the best iPad apps make use of the Internet to make the experience better.  But making us of http:// isn’t the same as using .html.

Let me use our VLE (run using moodle) as an example.  It runs off a web server, which means it can be accessed anywhere in the world on any platform that has a web browser.  But the downside is that it’s a horrible and clunky experience.  Adding a calendar entry on an iPad versus on a Moodle page is like comparing something easy to something unpleasant.  We use a SIMS plugin so we can enter assessment data and take registers, but the user experience is horrible.  Admittedly, using SIMS on a PC isn’t all that wonderful, but at least it’s a native experience.  A web page isn’t native for anyone.

Which is why I’m thinking that we might need to look at the SIMS Teacher app.  It doesn’t do anything more than what Moodle can, but it potentially does it in a more pleasant way…

Bye-bye SMARTboards

Having unplugged and uninstalled ourselves from the SMART ecosystem, embracing instead mirrored iPads and Explain Everything, one problem still remained: having a surface to write on! Using a stylus (or finger) on an iPad is ok as far as it goes, but for properly modelling good handwriting to a class you need to be able to write on a large surface.

In many ways, the ideal scenario is . This gives you a crisp digital surface and a really good physical writing surface. However, at my school there just isn’t the space for both in our classrooms. In a new building, we experimented with putting dry-wipe paint on one of the walls and then pointing an HD projector at it too. Writing anywhere on a wall is cool, but having the ability to include digital content is handy too.

So, in order to roll this out across the school, we decided to install special where the SMARTboard surface was before. These boards are designed to be projected onto so you don’t get as much glare as a normal shiny whiteboard, but you can still write on them. We kept using the existing 4:3 VGA projectors, but the boards could also fit a 16:9 HD projected image for when we upgrade in the future.

The installation went down very well with teachers. One of the consequences has been seeing less use of the projector for when it’s not really necessary. Having a decent writing surface to teach with is actually really rather lovely.

Yosemite won’t boot

Since upgrading our Macs to OS X 10.10 Yosemite, we’ve had an issue where Macs won’t boot up properly. They start up and show the grey loading bar, but it gets to 50% and then gets stuck there. Some hacks and tricks would sometimes help (like resetting the PRAM and repairing the disk and permissions), but not always. I hoped that 10.10.2 would fix things, but alas it has not.

It turns out that the problem was to do to with having the Mac bound to an Active Directory. Thankfully, I found a solution on the JAMF support pages from the contributor Chris Hotte. He suggests editing the rc.server file as follows:

  1. Boot into single user mode
  2. Type ‘mount -uw /’
  3. Type ‘/usr/bin/nano /etc/rc.server’ to edit the file
  4. Type in the following code.

    #!/bin/sh
    /bin/echo BootCacheKludge Beta 1.0 – Chris Hotte 2015 – No rights/blame reserved.
    /usr/sbin/BootCacheControl jettison

Hope that helps someone! You can find the original post here.
You can read the post here. Hope that helps someone!

What’s the point of iPad?

If you go to any sort of Apple in Education event/conference/briefing, they often say that you should be really clear about the aims of any sort of technology deployment. This way you can then evaluate whether your deployment is working well or not.

Here are some of the aims (sometime conscious, sometimes unconscious) for the different stages of our technology rollout in school.

iMacs

Purpose: provide computers that could do movie-editing and just generally worked (didn’t get viruses/fail to turn on most days).
Success?  Tick!

Teacher Mac Minis

Purpose: extend familiarity of OS X to teachers and therefore children, provide a bit more reliability.  Whilst supporting 4:3 screen ratios and not being too expensive.
Success? Mainly. The fact they had to run with ageing monitors/smartboards/projectors/sound systems made the experience rather less that wonderful.

Teacher 1:1 iPads

Purpose: familiarity with iOS, teacher exploration of new apps.
Success? Yes! Plus the bonus of teachers using email much, much more often.  And we got to try out the Great Smartboard Experiment.

Class sets of iPad minis

Purpose: more provision of computers to enable use of ICT across the curriculum.
Success? Moderate. It is happening, but not as much as it could.

So, how do we take our iPad deployment (for the kids) to the next level?

Some ideas…

  • Work out exactly how can iPad help with learning in English and Maths
  • Do some staff training on that
  • Support teachers

We’ve got a day with Julian Coultas in a week or so (courtesy of Toucan) where I’m hoping we can work out how to best move things forward.  Stay tuned!

GarageBand Pricing

I love this time of year. Not only does the latest release of iOS mean that I have an oodle of iPads to get updated (which takes varying degrees of time depending on how much free space is required to install the update), but a month after the mega IPHONE announcement, Apple calmly release a slew of other updates for the Mac and iLife/iWork. Yay. Last year’s came with quite a few headaches (such as the way iWork didn’t play nicely at all with SMB shares) but hopefully they won’t repeat this year. I’ve already tried saving a file over SMB with newest iWork, and it seems to work fine. The ‘proper’ file format they have finally created I’m sure is to thank for that.

Last year, GarageBand threw in a bit of a curveball by being free but requiring an in-app purchase to unlock all of the functionality. This is a system admin’s worst nightmare, as there is no decent way to do this upgrade on a whole school’s worth of iPads and apps.

Thankfully, it seems that this year Apple have rescinded on the in-app upgrade option and have slapped a price on instead. For new devices, you get the app free and on existing apps you get a free upgrade.

A few questions though:

  • What happens with Apple Configurator? Do we have to have app codes to install the app? Or even just to sync existing iPads with Configurator?
  • If we now need app codes, can we still apply for free ones on iPads bought in the last year?
  • What about codes for Macs?
  • I hope to make some investigations this week to find out more…

iPad Next Steps

So, it’s been about a month since we’ve enforced using an iPad to teach with rather than the use of a ‘Smart’board. Some teachers love and some are not so sure. The keen ones tend to be those new to the school (and so perhaps expecting to have to do things differently than before) and those who hate it tend to be the old hands.

Here are some of the things people miss:

  • On screen timers. I know the iPad has a timer app, but you can’t have a timer in the corner of a screen in Explain Everything.
  • Being able to watch YouTube videos easily. The iPad YouTube app sucks when it comes to AirPlay mirroring, so teachers are having to switch to Safari on the Mac.
  • Having a decent surface to write on. Some classrooms have separate whiteboards (of varying quality) whereas others are using flip charts a lot.
  • AirPlay mirroring isn’t always the most reliable thing in the world.

One solution to some of these problems is to add web browsers to Explain Everything and then add web timers designed for iPad. Handy!

To fix the other issues will probably involve getting decent whiteboards everywhere and installing new wifi.we shall see…

Early Doors

Kids have only been back in school for three days, but things seem to be going ok with the Great Smartboard Experiment.

Here are some things I’ve noticed:

  • There have been no complaints from teachers (well to me anyway…!) about the lack of Smart Notebook. There was a lot of  murmuring before the change about how it would be such a disaster etc., but now we’ve begun, it seems that teachers have found that using Explain Everything and a mirrored iPad isn’t so bad after all.
  • Some of the die-hard naysayers of Explain Everything have even told me that they love it!  Things like the laser pointer are really handy.
  • Nearly all teachers are giving Explain Everything a go.  I noticed that one teacher was using their own MacBook and Notebook on the first day, but it turned out that they had just forgotten to bring in their iPad that day…
  • Continuing staff training is still needed, such as with getting the hand of AirPlay mirroring or making use of how Explain Everything stops the iPad display from going to sleep.
  • Sometimes just using the Mac and PowerPoint or Safari and YouTube does the job fine.

I probably should do some more in-depth enquiries into what’s working for teachers, and what could work even better.  In many ways this is quite a seismic change to classroom practice and I think it will need continuing vision-casting and support.

Explaining Explain Everything

Today, as part of some INSET, I did some training with staff on how to use their iPads instead of their SMARTboards. It started off with some explanation of the reasons for the nice away from Notebook, and then some time exploring features of Explain Everything. We had two streams: one for those completely new to the app and those with a bit more experience.

I took the group who’d already had some training. These were the teachers who weren’t new to the school and so there was potentially resistance to this change. But I think people were reasonably open, particularly when fears were assuaged with cool things like importing/exporting to our school shared drive via WebDAV and “triple tap to overlap”. Oh, and capacitive styluses!

We shall see how it all goes as term begins…