Caching Server is a cool part of OS X Server: once you turn it on, it basically becomes a local cache of the App Store (Mac and iOS), keeping a copy of downloaded apps on your local network. This results in faster app downloads, as they’re coming from within your network, and less use of your broadband connection. Which is nice.
Unfortunately I’ve never been able to get it to work as my school is part of London Grid for Learning (LGfL). LGfL is a broadband consortium, which allows schools to buy broadband at much cheaper rates because the LGfL trust has built a lovely big network (with the help of Virgin Media Business) just for schools in London. With an eye to safeguarding children, this network is built to be very safe and secure. The upshot of this is that our little Mac server is buried deep within the network behind many firewalls and switches and routers and so on. Which has meant that Caching Server hasn’t worked, as it needs to sit pretty close to the open Internet.
Until Yosemite that is.
We recently had our server updated to OS X 10.10, and with that comes some improvements to Caching Server. One of these is the ability to set the public IP addresses/ranges that will use the Caching service, thus making it all work.
- Open the Server app and click on ‘Caching’. Turn it on.
- Click on ‘edit’ next to where it says ‘Permissions’.
- On the drop-down menu next to ‘Serve clients with public addresses’, choose ‘on other networks’.
- Click the plus in the box below and add the public IP address of the server. You can find this out by clicking the server name under ‘Server’ in the sidebar.
- Enter in the public IP address for all LGfL-connected, which is 126.96.36.199. Apparently!
- You then need to set some client configuration on your DNS server. Our DNS is on a Windows server, so I click ‘Client Configuration’, choose ‘Windows’ as the DNS type and then copy the command. I then open up the Windows server, type ‘CMD’ into the search box to open the command line, then copy the command.
And that seems to do the trick! Lovely.
When I first heard about the LGfL USO, it made a whole lot of sense to me: one Unified Sign On, allowing you to log onto a range of different services using just one username and password. As part of that service, something called ADSync is also offered, which allows your Active Directory to have all the same usernames and passwords as your USO account.
I first heard about this in 2010, and we have finally installed it in our school! Hurrah!
We were a little bit wary of this (as was my technician, who didn’t like the thought of someone else controlling our AD), but the installation seems to have gone very well. It was all installed remotely, but Atomwide were very friendly and helpful along the way.
The job isn’t completely done yet as all of the Mac home folders are still under the old names. However, Toucan are coming in and running some sort of magical script that will rename everything and make everything work wonderfully. For staff, this should mean there is one less username to remember. And for support staff who don’t log onto their emails very often but do use the Macs, it might help them remember their login!
Our school’s new website is now live – hurrah! I’m pretty impressed with how it’s turned out, mainly due to the elegant and powerful wonder that is WordPress. It hopefully should be easy to update as well, particularly once I’ve shown the senior leaders how to add posts and edit pages.
For those who know which school I go to, the website is www…sch.uk. For those who don’t, post me a comment and I’ll email you the link!
The last session of the LGfL conference was an update about the LGfL 2.0 migration. Basically, it’s a big job and it’s taking longer than we expected but will result in a faster, more secure and more resilient broadband connection for schools. Yay! One guy even tried enlivening his presentation by including Disney quotes. Fair dos.
The final 10 minutes or so was a very short presentation from Roger Larsen, the founder of Fronter. He gave a blistering tour of the history of education, starting with the Gutenberg press, through the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution to the computer revolution of the last 30 years. It was a bit similar to the metanarrative I heard at the Apple European Summit, only without mention of who invented all those computers. The contrast between the classroom of 100 years ago and today was also mentioned, albeit uncritical of the seeming lack of real change because we now have the data projector screen which lets you view your MLE (i.e. Fronter). Hmmm!
So, what did I make of the conference? I guess, because LGfL fundamentally is a broadband provider, the unspoken emphasis was on all the wonderful educational things you can do with the Internet. Conversely, the paradigm shift that the iPad is causing was hardly mentioned at all, maybe just in passing. A web browser is all well and good, but the interesting things are happening when you combine native software and web services (i.e. iOS).
However, LGfL (with Virgin Media and Atomwide) are doing a super job of providing broadband+services for schools in London and it was certainly interesting to hear more about that.
And I got a free mug.
Here’s some of the other things I heard today…
Best Value Technology
Helpful insights from Paul Shoesmith on how to make the most of your money and ICT resources in schools. Some of his suggestions:
- Use what’s in your cupboards already. That USB webcam could also make a cheap visualiser!
- Think about your total cost of ownership before buying. Cheaper upfront may not be in the long term, i.e. cheaper printer but expensive toner.
- Paper. Huge amounts of money is wasted on printing that is unnecessary. In what ways could schools go paperless and save money?
‘Leading Creatively Costs Nothing’
The CEO of the Pearson Group came and talked about the importance of creativity. It was quite inspiring really, although trickier to put into practice due to the limitations and structures of our current schooling system. I loved her accounts of how six-year-olds might finish well-known sayings. For example: Strike while the…bug’s near. Don’t bite the hand…that’s dirty. A penny saved…is not much.
Anyway. Stuck for creativity? Go for a walk. Put things aside. Make links between unlikely concepts. Ask “What can go right?” when calculating risks.
LGfL Content Highlights
Showcasing new content on LGfL, such as Royal Mews and Romans in London. Not bad!
E-safety 360 Scheme
Ken Corish from South West Grid for Learning talked about a school self-assessment for e-safety called 360 degree safe. It seems pretty thorough and can result in an official ‘E-safety Mark’ for your school as well.
This was quite interesting, with lots of information about where Fronter is headed. They seem to be making it more attractive to look at and easier to use. Good news indeed!
More to follow…
On this remarkably sunny and pleasant morning I travelled to the Mermaid conference centre near Blackfriars station for the LGfL Schools Conference. It’s been interesting so far, and I’ll try and post throughout the day.
After some refreshments in a bar areas overlooking the Thames, the conference kicked off with a welcome from Brian Durrant, the CEO of LGfL. He’s a good guy, and was helpful when I had to email him to try and sort out our LGfL 2.0 fiasco. There was then a brief video welcome from Sir Richard Branson himself, as Virgin Media now provide all of the broadband for schools across London.
Niel McLean was the first keynote speaker proper, talking about ‘What next for online education’. Niel helped put together the original ICT curriculum in the UK and had lots of interesting things to say. I was particularly struck by his thoughts on the 5 basic competences in ICT (awareness, user, maker, evaluator, holistic) and we hopefully will be using them to think about reshaping our ICT curriculum over the next term. He also talked about the way that technology gets adopted in schools and that it has to reach a certain point for it to begin to give a return on the financial investment. For technology to really make a difference, the whole system needs to be redesigned in order to enable really innovate use of ICT.
The first seminar was done by a guy called Mike Briscoe, all about ‘Critical Leadership Decisions’. He outlined 9 different areas that need thinking about (direction, new technologies, future living, e-safety, teaching & learning, value for money, data, provision, beyond school) and posed us lots of questions. One thing I found fascinating was the off-the-cuff comment that most schools are now considering deploying iPads/tablet computers. This is pretty mind-blowing, considering that the iPad was only released a mere 2 years ago. The question is, what are the impacts for teaching & learning for things like iPads (apart from motivation)? Hmm…
Anyway, best listen to the seminar I’m in about ‘Best Value Technology’…
It’s the LGfL conference on Monday, somewhere in central London. I’ve never been before but I hope it’s going to be a useful time, hearing where things are going for the whole London network. There’s even going to be a video presentation from Sir Richard Branson himself, as Virgin Media now provide the infrastructure for the new LGfL 2.0 connection.
One seminar I’m particularly interested in is about ‘Best Value Technology’. I’m pretty sure they won’t be saying to go out and kit your school out with Macs (much as I would recommend it!). But I wonder it they will mention the price-disruptive iPad (no doubt they won’t, to avoid being too ‘Apple-focused’). One would be hard-pressed to find a £270 laptop that is worth even turning on, let alone one that is pushing the boundaries of technology.
They are also addressing the question of ‘Where next for online learning?’. My hope is that online learning escapes from the arbitrary and frustrating limits of the web browser. We use 2Simple’s Purple Mash, which is in many ways great and quite remarkable considering it’s all just done in Flash in a browser. But it would be incomparably better if it was a native ‘app’, making use of web content and interactivity where appropriate, but also harnessing the power of the operating system to print and save stuff properly. It’s just too easy to accidentally close a web browser and lose everything. A gazillion iOS apps and counting may be trying to tell us something…
One of the joys of LGfL 2.0 is that a lovely firewall is installed in your school, which by default blocks nearly anything getting in or out. One of the things that is blocked is Log Me In, a remote access tools used by schools to log into servers etc when offsite. This has not been enormously popular, but thankfully there is an alternative which is in many ways better. It’s called RAv3.
RAv3 is a service offered by Atomwide, which uses some clever Cisco back-end to allow secure remote access. I don’t really understand it all completely, but there’s quite a lot of information on their support site. Once it’s turned on, you can set up which servers or computers you want remote access to and then which users get which access. There is a web-based portal at rav3.lgfl.org.uk with various different options.
One of the technologies is called ‘any connect’, which basically opens up a secure VPN tunnel into the LGfL 2.0 network, using your USO to authenticate. For the Mac, it involves downloading a bit of software, but that means you can also go in direct from the app rather than using the web-based portal.
Once you’re in, you can then use Screen Sharing to view any servers using VNC (such as a Mac server in our case). At first I was at a bit of a loss to know how to do this, as obviously all the servers don’t appear in the network browser in the Mac. But then I discovered I just needed to use Finder’s ‘Connect to Server…’ and then type vnc:// followed by the IP address of the server. Amazing! Now I can check my server wherever I am…
A weekend or so ago, our most excellent technician did the fantastic job of switching our school over to our LGfL 2.0. We were going to wait until the Easter holidays to do it until someone from LGfL pointed out that we were running two broadband connections, which was costing lots of money so please can you switch over as soon as you possibly can, thank you.
The switchover did involve moving all the admin computers into the curriculum subnet as the new firewall couldn’t cope with different subnets using the same cabling. But all seems to be working now. I’ve managed to tame WebScreen enough so that most people can access most of what they need, and we’ve turned off all the proxy servers so that people can even get Internet access.
How has anyone else found the switch?
Today I had some training at Atomwide‘s headquarters in Orpington, having a reasonably technical look at the range of services they offer, such as USO, Staff Mail, London Mail, WebScreen filtering and remote access. It was really good to see some human faces instead of just interacting with a support site, but also to understand the bigger picture of how everything works. With the demise of any sort of local authority level ICT stuff, it feels like very little is now communicated to schools about what’s going on with LGfL. And because of data-protection, Atomwide can’t just email everyone just because they’ve got all our email addresses, even though I wish they would.
It was a very organised day, with precise start and finish dates, and an individually wrapped and named sandwich at lunchtime, which had been previously ordered on their support site weeks earlier. Atomwide certainly are very thorough in their approach to ICT, with a deep commitment to an audit trail, and it was helpful to talk through issues we had been having.
- I didn’t know I had to create the aliases for our Staff Mail accounts, so they don’t end in @lgflmail.org but rather @myschool.com. I was wondering why lots of the new staff’s email accounts weren’t working correctly, but now I know it was my fault. Or rather I only found out today that it was my fault.
- LGfL 2.0 doesn’t let things like logmein for remote access for security, but the new solutions actually seem quite powerful once you know how. They also offer VNC support, which is good for remotely accessing Macs.
- I also didn’t know anything about distribution lists, but do now. Will be playing with that over the next few weeks, as some members of staff have been asking about how to easily send an email to all the teachers.
- Despite being warned off AD-Sync by someone from LGfL, it does still seem like an attractive proposal. I’m all for teachers only having to remember one login for everything and so I’m willing to sacrifice some local-level control over our Active Directory.
- WebScreen 2.0 is the new web filtering service on LGfL 2.0 and apparently I need to go back at another time for a day’s training on how to use it! But I think I’ve gleaned enough information to be able to make the WWW actually useful when we do the switch.
Hopefully I will now be in a better position to manage the switchover to LGfL 2.0 that is happening this weekend…we’ll see!