Books for kids

When the iPad first came out back in 2010, it also came with what was then called ‘iBooks’, Apple’s answer to the Amazon Kindle. You could buy and read digital books straight on your lovely new iPad…fantastic!

Some time after that, Apple brought out the Volume Purchase Programme, which allowed schools/businesses to buy copies of apps and books for their users. These came in the form of codes which would have to be redeemed against a user’s Apple ID. These codes could only be used once, which meant that if a user left your organisation you’d have to buy all their apps again, or recycle their Apple ID by changing the name and password.

Fast forward to 2013 and Apple brought out Managed Distribution, which allowed an institution (via MDM) to assign app and book licences directly to a user’s Apple ID. With apps, these licences could be recalled and distributed elsewhere if required, but with books the licence got ‘used up’ if assigned.

A few years later, Apple rolled out device-based app assignment, which allowed an app to be assigned to a specific iPad even if there wasn’t an Apple ID on the device.

Not so with books: these still needed to be assigned to an individual rather than a device.

In order to distribute copies of Apple’s coding or creativity resources to teachers, I was quite happy to assign those book licences to individuals because there were only so many teachers in the school. But when it came to our KS2 deployment, there wasn’t a way in Jamf Pro to easily make a list of all the 450 students and then assign them books.

However, in Jamf Pro 10.16, a new feature was released that allowed for the creation of smart user groups based on information imported from Apple School Manager. So this would allow me to make a smart group with just the students in a specific class or year group. Which I could then use to assign books. Added to this was the feature that allowed for the automatic registration of users with volume purchasing if they have a Managed Apple ID, which basically meant that the MDM could assign apps/books to the user without the user having to agree to the registration. Which is handy when working with a whole school 1:1 programme!

Jamf Teacher on Jamf Pro

When we first deployed Jamf Pro many years ago, when it was still called Casper Suite, there was a great little app called Casper Focus that allowed teachers to lock student iPads into apps, trigger AirPlay and — most importantly — reset passcodes on student devices.

Then along came Apple Classroom, plus a rebrand of Casper Suite to Jamf Pro, and Casper Focus was quietly retired. Don’t get me wrong, Apple Classroom is a GREAT product and gives teachers a powerful yet discrete way to keep tabs on what’s going on in the classroom. But it lacks the ability to reset student passcodes on devices. This meant that teachers had to contact IT to get iPads unlocked, should a child forget the 12 character alphanumeric passcode that they had thought would have been such a great choice for their device.

Until now.

Back in 2009, Jamf purchased an education-focused MDM called Zuludesk, and with it some really great apps for teachers, students and parents to manage their devices. Zuludesk became Jamf School and the handy classroom-controlling app for instructors became Jamf Teacher. As a user of Jamf Pro, we were still left out in the dark.

Thankfully, Jamf announced yesterday at their (remote) Jamf Nation User Conference that Jamf Teacher is now on Jamf Pro. Yay! Hopefully this will mean less Helpdesk calls from teachers and, more importantly, students able to get on with their learning more quickly.

Breaking the Webinar Fourth Wall

I love running educational technology workshops: it’s a chance to meet face-to-face with a group of educators, to share ideas and approaches on how to use computers in the classroom, and then watch teachers’ imaginations light up as they discover just what could be possible. Well, that’s the plan anyway!

I have had the privilege of running the Greenwich Apple Regional Training Centre for the last four years, delivering iPad workshops with a diverse audience of teachers. But with the COVID-19 lockdown, face-to-face workshops are just not an option. So, starting a few weeks ago, we started hosting some Apple RTC Zoom webinars. I had seen Zoom webinars being used successfully (such as for my church’s Sunday morning livestream!) and so it seemed like a good platform to go for.

Initially I thought of just running these webinars using a normal Zoom meeting, with each attendee appearing in the well-known video wall. However this puts an extra pressure on those attending to open up their homes/offices to complete strangers and doesn’t allow people to just tune in and listen. I also wanted to be able to integrate between Zoom and Eventbrite, both to know who is actually signing into the webinar and to make the sign-in process for attendees as easy as possible. So instead we went for the paid Zoom webinar add-on. The difference with this is that the host is the only one who can share their screen video.

Now with this comes the challenge of how you still reach out and cross the fourth wall and help attendees still feel like it’s an interactive workshop and not just watching a TV show. If we just wanted to put on a ‘performance’, we could just record it in advance and put it on YouTube and be done with it. Rather we wanted attendees to be able to contribute and share in the workshop, which makes increases learning and generally makes it much more enjoyable too.

Here’s a few things we’ve tried:

  • Chat. With Zoom webinars, you can turn on the chat box, either for discussion between the host and attendees, or between everyone on the webinar. This can be used for discussion or the sharing of contributions, ideas and feedback.
  • Q&A. There is a ‘question and answer’ box, which allows attendees to post questions or comments that they have and then the host to respond to them at an appropriate point in the webinar.
  • Polls. Zoom webinars has the option of launching live ‘polls’, which allows attendees to answer multiple choice questions, which the host can then share with everyone. This is really fun, and allows for everyone to share their experiences and for the host to get a better sense of the attendees’ context.
  • Live demos. This always raises the element of danger in a presentation, as things can go wrong! But if you’re doing a live demo of an online platform, this can really increase the engagement of attendees. During our webinar on using Showbie for home learning, we got attendees to sign up for a free Showbie account and then join a test classroom, thus all contributing to a shared digital space.
  • Voice contributions. A great way to include attendees is to allow them to talk in the webinar. In a webinar on Apple Teacher, we asked attendees if they wanted to explain how they would answer a question in the badge quiz. Attendees then pressed the ‘raise your hand’ button, which then notified the host who could then invite that attendee to unmute their microphone and contribute their answer.

Running a webinar can feel a bit like sitting alone in a radio booth, so all of these little features can really help improve the engagement and flow in a webinar session.

Lessons from lockdown

So, schools will begin to reopen in England from June 1st 2020, starting with primary schools and — more specifically — Years 1, 6 and Reception. There is controversy out there about how safe this is for children and teachers, whether it’s the right time to do this, and indeed how many parents will be confident in sending in their offspring to school at all. Whatever your position on that, this reopening still marks a watershed moment where we move from schools only being open for vulnerable children/critical worker kids to schools welcoming an increasing number of children and distanced home learning drawing to a close.

As we begin to move towards this ‘new normal’, I think it’s worth reflecting on the last two months of school closure and home learning to identify if there are some useful lessons we can draw from it. It’s difficult to know what lasting changes we might see in the education sector following coronavirus, but here are my main takeaways.

1. Technology can help with learning

I’ve believed this for a long time, but it’s been encouraging to see many other schools come to this conclusion too (in practice if not in articulated thought). It’s not necessarily been in all the snazzy ways that the EdTech proponents sometimes promote, but rather in the mundane but vital things like distributing learning resources via your learning platform, or providing digital tools to complete tasks, or allowing interactive communication between students and teachers via video conferencing or text chat. I wonder what kind of correlation there is between the amount of learning that has happened during lockdown and to what extent schools have made use of technology in their approach.

2. Kids need computers

With all of the benefits that technology can offer with home learning, it’s only possible if children actually have access to computers and the internet. That the UK government has put in place a scheme to provide these devices to families in need betrays the reality of a digital divide. At my school we have sought to provide loaner iPads for families who need them, which has definitely helped.

Once children are back in schools, the problem still stands though: if you’re going to use technology as a learning tool, it works best when there is ubiquitous access to it. We are incredibly fortunate to have a 1:1 iPad programme at my school, but it saddens me that this still is so rare in the state sector. I dream of the day when giving every child a computer is as obvious as giving every child their own pencil and exercise book.

3. Teachers need decent computers too

Our teachers are all assigned a modern iPad with a keyboard and Apple Pencil. This could have been considered excessive, but was has been so helpful during lockdown. Need to write your end of year reports? No problem – type away on that Smart Keyboard. Need to create PDF worksheets for your learning platform? Just use the PDF creation features built into the share sheet. Need to add the answers on top of a digital work sheet? Simply use markup tools and the Apple Pencil. Need to screen record an explanation to help students? There’s the built-in feature or something like Explain Everything.

4. There’s lots of options out there

A recent study in the US showed that 52% of students were using Google Classroom as the platform for home learning. Which means that Google must be doing something right (although not everything). But that means that nearly half of the students were using something else! We use Showbie, but I know that Seesaw, Microsoft Teams, Tapestry and Purple Mash are widely used. This is heartening in many ways, showing that there is still lots of innovation in the area of learning platforms and that schools are willing to find the best solution for their context.

5. But choose your technology carefully

Not all technology is created equally. If you’re in a position to evaluate and implement a technology solution, you need to have a clear idea of the problem you’re trying to solve, a vision of how technology can help and then a plan of you’re going to make that happen. You can then evaluate a potential technology stack with that in mind.

6. Technology can help with learning once we’re all back at school

My hope is that schools, having been plunged into the deep end of implementing a learning strategy with technology during school closures, will not file away the experience under ‘crazy things we did during lockdown’ but will actually implement some of it in the ‘normal’ classroom (i.e. the one where teachers and children can share a room unhindered…perish the thought!).

Sure, there’s probably no need for Zoom lessons once the teacher is standing in front of the class, but could video conferencing come in handy in any other ways? Maybe to link up with another classroom from across the globe? Or record explanations for children to refer back to?

And whilst printing, photocopying and physically handing a paper resource out to a class has many benefits, perhaps digital workflows and PDF annotating has a place? As a school, we’ve basically gone to zero photocopying whilst the school has closed , saving time, money and paper. Could much of this usefully continue?

I am sure that teachers at my school are looking forward to the option of using a wider range of apps with students – Book Creator, Clips, Keynote etc etc – rather than just Showbie. But you can sure do a lot with ‘just’ a combination of PDFs, voice memos, text annotation tools and the pen tool. I am hoping these competencies and confidences will not be lost but rather built upon in time.

Using Slack in a pandemic

We have been using Slack at my school for about four years now. It has generally worked really well as way for our whole staff team to communicate together effectively beyond email, helped by the fact that we provide all staff with a device and because it works across a range of platforms (iPadOS, macOS and web etc).

But as I reflect on the last few months of pandemic school closure, Slack has definitely made remote working a lot easier for us an organisation. I can sit on my kitchen table and easily flow between a range of different tasks: solve an ICT problem for a teacher; glean valuable feedback from teachers on an aspect of home learning; schedule a Zoom meeting with senior leaders; stay in the loop about activities happening for critical worker children still in school. Each task might not seem hugely significant by itself, but the fact staff from across the school can get this sort of work done without getting buried in endless email threads helps make school life feel at least a bit more cohesive.

Here’s a few things that have helped us make it work:

  • The more channels the better. Sack works best when there are channels about a specific tasks or project. We had lots of existing channels that worked well for us during ‘normal’ school opening, but with the change to distanced working, we needed some new channels to reflect the new tasks at hand. For example, we set up #who-is-in-school for posting rota details, rather than them getting lost on our general channel. Having a dedicated channel means that people who want or need to know that information can find it quickly.
  • Pin important posts. Once you have made specific channels for the specific topic/project, it’s very helpful to ‘pin‘ key documents or information. As well as making the information stand out for those already in the channel, those joining can just scroll up and find it too.
  • Turn group discussions into private channels. Sometimes an existing channel doesn’t have quite the right people in it for the information you want to share, so you create a new new direct message to those people. But creating a private channel instead (or converting an existing message group into a private channel) clarifies the ongoing conversation topic and makes it simpler to return to the conversation.
  • Use ‘reacji’ to keep track of tasks. Slack allows you to react to a post with an emoji (e.g. 👍) something Slack cloyingly call a ‘reacji‘. This can be used as a great way of to both let people know that you’ve received a message and be a note to yourself that you’ve dealt with it.

How to make iCloud save the day

For various different reasons and entirely due to my own incompetence, on Monday I managed to accidentally and remotely remove all of the apps from all of our teachers iPads. Not a good way to start the day!

So, after fixing the problem and setting all the apps to reinstall again, I reflected on what does happen to all that app data should any app be accidentally deleted in future. Sure, you can restore from an iCloud backup, but that’s a pretty time-consuming process and it would be better if everything lived nice and safe in the cloud.

So, how did various different apps perform?

  • iWork: fine, so long as teachers had been saving to iCloud Drive (with the free 200GB of storage with Managed Apple IDs).
  • G-Suite: absolutely fine, as the very epitome of cloud storage.
  • Office365: more of a mixed story, depending if people were saving things to ‘On my iPad’ or to OneDrive. The Office apps don’t default to the cloud, which is not great.
  • Slack: requires the user to know the name of the workspace before signing in, but once you’re in it’s good as new.
  • Explain Everything: nothing is saved to the cloud, so any projects that weren’t already exported are lost.
  • Book Creator: not a problem, mainly because I had previously turned on iCloud storage via MDM. Once you open the app and wait a few moments, all of your previous books reappear…yay!

Making Book Creator save to iCloud

Now at this point I need to interject: how exactly did I got Book Creator to save everything to iCloud? It’s not the default setting, that’s for sure!

I stumbled upon the solution a few years ago when we introduced Shared iPad in Key Stage 1. Shared iPad mode heavily relies entirely on apps using iCloud to store all their data so that when a user logs out of one iPad and into another one, all of their app data magically follows them. Some apps support this out of the box, whereas others need to have a few settings turned on via MDM.

One cool thing about MDM is that you can use it to push out certain configurations to apps when they are installed. On Jamf Pro, there is an ‘App Configuration’ tab on apps and it’s in there that you can put in the extra settings. Such as…

<dict>
<key>enableCloudSync</dict>
<true/>
</dict>

If you enter this information, even if the iPad in question isn’t in Shared iPad mode, it will automatically save the user data to iCloud. Handy!

Please see https://support.bookcreator.com/hc/en-us/articles/209212825-Configuration-for-Shared-iPads for full details from Book Creator.

Making Explain Everything save to iCloud

So, could I leverage this benefit to fix any of the other apps? The answer is yes!

Explain Everything supports Shared iPad mode, so I used the same trick to get it to save data to iCloud even if the device wasn’t in Shared iPad mode. The following configuration dictionary in the app configuration worked for me:

<dict>
<key>SharediPads</key>
<true/>
</dict>

Please see https://docs.google.com/document/d/1atOMVFtTh38dG6twc9EbCTjBrB78gsBAbmHMVXrzHUw/edit#heading=h.i0got4llqoyo for full documentation from Explain Everything.

Making it easier to sign into Slack

Now, Slack doesn’t use iCloud per say. But it would be handy if school devices knew the school Slack domain by default to make signing in much simpler. And it turns out that they can!

The following app configuration is what you need:

<dict>
<key>OrgDomain</key>
<string>yourslackteamnamehere</string>
</dict>

Please see https://storage.googleapis.com/appconfig-media/appconfig-content/uploads/2017/11/Slack-AppConfig-ISV-Capabilities-V2-.pdf for full details of what is possible with managing Slack.

Connecting and engaging learners with Showbie Class Discussion

It is the law in the UK that children have to go to school, unless they are being home schooled. Which means, barring attendance issues and the inevitable follow-up of penalty notices and court action, children generally come to school. A teacher has to put the work in to make their lessons engaging so that children pay attention and learn, but they don’t usually have to worry if kids will show up at school in the first place.

With home learning and COVID-19 school closures, things have changed: we can populate our virtual learning platform with as many learning activities as we like, but we can’t actually make children log in and do them every day. To counteract this, we’re doing the following:

  1. Phone calls home. We have asked teachers to make phone contact with each student in their class (it’s a primary school, so this is up to 30 children), to check up with their general wellbeing but also to encourage them to be logging into Showbie and doing the learning activities.
  2. Troubleshooting technical problems. Before the school closed, we emailed home children’s Showbie login accounts. The majority of children were then able to log in and start the learning, but not everyone. Through responding to support emails from parents, texting home login credentials and even phoning parents to talk through problems, we’ve seen 85%+ able to login at least once.
  3. Providing a device. Because we’re in phone contact with families, we’ve been able to identify those families who just don’t have enough computer access for their children to learn. We’ve been sending home some ageing iPad Airs and are now scraping together some 5th Generation iPads to go into homes too.
  4. Making tasks engaging and accessible. We are designing three 30-minute learning activities for children to do each day. These are mostly recapping existing topics in English and maths and then introducing new learning for the rest of the curriculum. If learning is accessible to children, they are more likely to want to come back and try it the next day.
  5. Feedback from teachers. Showbie has lots of great feedback options, such as voice notes, text comments and annotation tools, so we are encouraging our teachers to make good use of these. If a child has put in the work to log in and do their learning, it’s important that they know that someone has been looking at it as it will motivate them to try again the next day.

On top of all of this, we’ve been experimenting with using the Showbie ‘class discussion‘ feature. Within each Showbie class, a teacher can turn on class discussion to allow students to have real-time text conversation together. As the lockdown has continued, children are increasingly desperate for contact with their classmates and so class discussion will help them stay relationally connected in, but also provide a meaningful ‘pull’ mechanism to encourage children to keep on logging into Showbie.

We trialled it initially with Year 6, adopting the same model as #AppleEDUchat Twitter chats with the class discussion open for an hour and the teacher posting a new a pre-prepared question every 10 minutes. It was generally a big success, with a good number of children logging in and participating. After getting feedback from teachers, we made the following adjustments:

  • 30 minute discussion, as an hour was too long
  • Starting and ending with 5 minutes for ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, as children really wanted that space to just ‘chat’
  • Four questions posted at five minute intervals
  • Teachers to pause class discussion after posting the question, to give a chance for children to read and consider before responding

We also discovered that Showbie had helpfully released an update to their software, allowing teachers to pin posts in class discussion. This allowed teachers to keep their question at the top of the discussion, rather than it being lost in the flow of conversation. Handy!

This was my favourite unsolicited feedback from a child:

The EdTech Demonstrator School Programme

Back in October, I absent-mindedly posted a little Twitter flurry about the vital importance of professional learning with technology for teachers and how schools can support each other in this, but if schools don’t have enough money to even buy computers there definitely isn’t any to pay for such training.

Unbeknownst to me, the UK Department for Education — that very day — announced what they called the EdTech Demonstrator School Programme. The idea for this was that the government would identify schools who are doing effective things with educational technology and then provide funding for them to support other schools in developing their own EdTech strategy and approach.

As a school already both doing innovative things with technology and supporting other schools as well, we registered our interest and then formally applied for the programme. After a brief purdah hiatus (thank you Brexit!) we were then invited to interview for the programme where we had to present our plans for spending the funding. Our proposal was basically to run a 5-day course throughout the year for computing leads and senior leaders, helping them explore all the elements required to make EdTech work in a school. The majority of the funding was to go on paying release costs for schools for delegates to attend, plus providing a baseline of technology to use through the programme (hello iPad!). The course would culminate in a celebration event, where each school would present about what they had learnt over the year and how their vision and strategy for EdTech had developed.

Then coronavirus hit.

Suddenly schools up and down the land realised that maybe they did need EdTech after all, starting…right now!

In light of this, the DfE repurposed the EdTech Demonstrator Programme as a way of supporting schools with distanced learning. It turns out that my school was one of the successful 22 applicants and now join 20 schools in being part of this revised programme.

If your school is looking for some support at this time, please visit https://edtech-demonstrator.lgfl.net to register your interest!

The Lowest Common Denominator

We are fortunate to have a 1:1 iPad programme in my school. As a Primary school, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) wasn’t ever really an option, mainly because I am not sure how many parents would be willing or able to provide a computer/device for their child to use at school. But this is also to our advantage: because we provide the computers, every child in the school has the same device and so teachers can plan and teach with a confidence that all students will be running the same operating system (baring the odd iPadOS hold-out), with the same apps and hardware that supports all the same features. This is incredibly helpful because it reduces the potential friction/annoyances of technology not working as part of the learning process.

Joining schools across the globe, we have now moved to home learning in response to the current COVID-19 crisis. Our approach has been to leverage the existing experience and confidence of teachers and students in using Showbie by using it as our remote learning platform to deliver learning resources to students, provide tools for students to complete the work (i.e. through annotation tools, voice memos etc) and submit it back to the teacher who can then give some sort of feedback (either individually or as a class) and use it to inform future planning. This seems to be working well, with 82% of children logging in at home so far.

But because we are relying on whatever computer devices children have access to at home, Showbie to all intents and purposes becomes the lowest common denominator for learning. Some pupils are using ‘tablet’ devices, which might be a low-powered Kindle Fire or maybe an ageing iPad. Others are relying on negotiating a time slot on a laptop shared between several siblings and a working parent, or maybe even trying to complete tasks using an iPhone or an Android smartphone. Because Showbie offers both an iPad and a web app, this becomes possible. But it also becomes the ceiling as well – we can’t push the sorts of learning tasks beyond annotating PDFs, typing comments, recording a voice note or visiting web resources. When we’re used to designing learning using the range of apps and tools possible on iPad, this can be a bit frustrating!

Now one way around this could have been to have sent home all our iPads, like they have done in other 1:1 iPad schools. It was something we considered, but things moved very fast in the UK – from ‘we’re not closing schools!’ one day to total lockdown a week later.

And if we were a Chromebook school, maybe all this would be totally normal and fine, with teachers used to learning and creating just in a web browser. Maybe.

But I guess the main takeaway is that, with EdTech, you need to make sure your lowest common denominator is as high as possible: work to have a common technology platform that gives teachers and students the most leeway for learning.