Aside

The Year 5 teachers have been making exciting iBooks about the Greeks using iBooks Author, and as part of that they’ve been making some movies on iPads with iMovie.  However, we just hit a snag where the movies would fail to export to the camera roll.  Arrgh!

Thankfully, Apple Discussion Forums came to the rescue, with the suggestion to check the privacy settings for photos.  The fix worked – yay!

iMovie Export Fix

Explain Everything

I have been hunting for a while for something that would replace smartboard functionality on an iPad. Display mirroring to an AirPlay receiving device (such as an Apple TV or a Mac with Reflection running) is half the battle, but the other is finding an app worth its salt.

There are a few possibilities for free, but they have their shortcomings. Such as:

  • Educreations. Simple, allows drawing and writing, well written. Unfortunately you cannot save and then edit a slideshow – it only lets you record one and play it back. Which essentially renders it useless for advance planning!
  • Doceri. There’s a free and a paid version and it seems nice. The display mirroring mode is cool too, allowing the iPad user to see the controls but for them not to show on the big screen. The handwriting tools are particularly effective. However, it doesn’t let you enter text.
  • ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard. Not bad but doesn’t allow you to enter text.

SMART have now released an iPad version of their Notebook software (for the tidy sum of £4.99) but it’s pretty much useless on several accounts. Firstly, when mirroring the app, the iPad still turns off the screen after 2 minutes, which is not helpful. Secondly, the internal file system is bust as whenever you import a new notebook file it just opens the most recent file instead. Oh, and then pen functionality sometimes doesn’t work too.

So, I was very pleased when I discovered Explain Everything. It can be a little clunky to use, but has the following plus points:

  • Gazillion ways of getting files in and out of the app (Dropbox, Evernote, WebDAV etc)
  • Allows you to type text
  • Robust onscreen writing
  • Prevents the screen turning off when in use
  • Easy manipulation of anything onscreen
  • Can record audio as well as an animation of all your interactions

Generally good stuff. And a bargain at £1.99!

iPod Touches and Parasync

With great rejoicing, a set of 16 iPod touches arrived the other day, along with a clever Parasync case and docking system thingy.  The idea is for them to be used as digital still/video cameras with children, plus the use of apps such as Safari etc.  I have always been a bit snooty about syncing devices, being rather loathe to spend substantial amounts of money on a glorified USB hub in a box, but I think I am now convinced of their value, if only that 16 devices can all be charged using just one power lead.

Setting them up was a little bit more of a challenge, partly because I was trying to be too clever.  I initially tried using Apple Configurator to set them up, which would allow me to set a pretty lock screen with the iPod number on it.  However, this didn’t work so well, with several iPods refusing to accept the configuration profile.  They also then didn’t allow images to be downloaded to iPhoto or iMovie as the ‘Supervision Mode’ configuration profile essentially completely locks the device down.

I then tried the old-school but tried-and-tested approach of using iTunes (boo!).  Which worked really well! The steps were as follows:

  1. Disable automatic backups
  2. Download apps etc. on iTunes
  3. Plug in one iPod, sync across apps and set it up just how you want it (e.g. email accounts etc.)
  4. Backup that iPod to iTunes (right click on it in the left hand column and select ‘Backup now’), making sure that the backup is encrypted (this saves all the passwords etc.)
  5. Plug all the other iPods in and then restore from the initial backup
  6. Rename all the iPods to their correct names

I also used iPhone Configuration Utility to add a configuration profile for the Wifi and for Meraki on each device.

Definitely much quicker!

I showed the iPods to the staff team quickly at today’s staff meeting (after a few Q jokes as I open up a slightly formidable flight case) and people seemed enthusiastic.  Hopefully they will get used regularly across the school!

Why not to do 1:1 iPads

I had an interesting discussion last night with a friend about 1:1 iPad deployment in a primary school. She was horrified at the thought of every child getting an iPad which they could use all day long. She has an iPad at home that she lets her kids use, but she is always concerned to limit the amount of screen time her children are having, even if they are playing educational games. Life is bigger and wider than staring at and tapping on a glass screen all day. Maybe she has a point?

Updating to iOS6

One of the horror stories I’ve heard about iPads in schools is when it comes to iOS updates. Our apple reseller warned it was a laborious process of plugging iPads into iTunes one by one and then waiting an hour per device. Not fun. So I was intrigued to know if iOS 6 would be able to update on the device or if it needed a wired connection to iTunes. The good news is that wireless updates work fine!

Our iPads are set up to work completely independently from iTunes; after an initial setup with Apple Configurator. Updating them just involved tapping ‘install update’ in Settings and then waiting a short while for it to install. The iPads even helpfully pre-downloaded the update when sitting charging on wifi.

The only slight annoyance is that the iPads seem to forget their Apple ID for the App Store after the update, but that’s not too much of an inconvenience to fix. It does mean that I can’t so easily just ask a teacher to do the updates on their iPads as the Apple IDs are all slightly obtuse iCloud accounts I have set up…

iChatting across subnets

We’ve had iChat set up on our macs for a while, making use of Bonjour to provide a zero- configuration way for teachers to communicate around the school. We now have a second site and teachers wanted to be able to iChat between sites but it wasn’t working as Bonjour doesn’t easily work across two different subnets (especially if LGfL are involved!). So instead I set up iChat Sever on our Lion Server.

It was mainly straightforward, once I had figured out how…

  1. Turn on iChat server on the Lion server.  Involves switching it to on.  It sets up a Jabber messaging server.
  2. Set up the login details using Workgroup Manager.  There is a manifest called ‘iChat.Jabber’ which gives you a managed client settings already set up.
  3. When a user logs onto the Mac, their credentials are used to log onto the iChat server.  This requires an AD or OD setup, which meant a few issues when it came to the experimental ditched directory Macs. I had to set these machines up manually using the user’s network logins.
  4. Initially, the iChat window doesn’t show any ‘buddies’, which  renders the service useless at school because teachers wouldn’t know each other’s iChat accounts.  Lion server promises the ability to add all users as buddies automatically, but this only seems to work if you’ve got an Open Directory setup (i.e. all user accounts are on the Mac server rather than elsewhere).  Instead I had to log each user into iChat and then run the command ‘sudo jabber_autobuddy -m’ in Terminal on the Lion server.  This adds everyone who has ever logged into the iChat server onto everyone’s buddy list.

It seems to be working fine, with the teachers across two sites particularly finding it helpful.

Erasing SMART Ink

One of the features of Smart Notebook 11, the latest version of the software used to run Smartboards, is a featured called ‘SMART Ink’.  It’s an evolution of the previous functionality that allowed you to write on any window using the Smartboard pens. Previous versions just put a big picture frame over to allow you to write, which was great for full-screen applications but not so good for windows that move around.  To get around this problem, SMART released SMART Ink, which ties the writing to a specific window, which can then be moved around the screen.  Which is all great in theory.

However, in practice it results in lots of ugly green boxes sitting in the title bar of every single window you have open, and even every little dialogue box as well.  And then when you move the window around, it doesn’t gracefully move with it but rather jitters around, destroying all the hard work Apple engineers have done in giving silky-smooth-graphic-card-accelerated windowing.

But not only that, it also seems to generally slow the Mac down, as acknowledged here and here by SMART. Not very smart.

Several people have suggested ways to remove the software, which I have roughly followed.  It basically involves removing the ‘SMART Ink’ login item from System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Items and then killing the process using Activity Monitor.  It’s a bit of a faff to go computer to computer, but seems to have had a good impact on speed.