Quicker and Easier on iPad

At the end of last year, we did some monitoring about how Showbie was being used in our school. One of the insights from that was all of the work that was done in Computing could be done quicker and easier on iPad rather than using an iMac.  In our school, children have a timetabled ‘Computing’ slot when they get to go and use the iMac suite.  The children do enjoy it, but in this increasingly mobile age, children are just not as familiar with using a mouse and keyboard, let alone using an arguably more complex desktop operating system that is OSX. Perhaps they just need the practice, but actually the iPad allows children to achieve remarkably complex things (visual programming, video creation and editing etc.) with relative ease.  If we add in the simple but powerful e-portfolio workflow that Showbie offers for iOS, iPad increasingly comes up tops when compared to Mac.

So, what apps do we use for Computing on Mac and how can iPad replace/improve them?  Is it possible to go ‘iPad Only’ with Computing?

Email

We use LGfL’s London Mail to provide safe and restricted access to email for students during certain Computing units. It’s hosted by Microsoft and is accessed via a web browser.  It works fine on Mac as well as iPad, but on iPad it’s super easy to screenshot learning and add it into Showbie.

Visual Programming

We already use Hopscotch, Kodable, A.L.E.X. and Daisy the Dinosaur on iPad to teach coding using pre-programmed blocks.  On the Mac, we use Scratch, a great coding environment created by MIT. There is a (literally) junior version of it called Scratch Jnr, which is suitable for younger children but unfortunately they haven’t released a full iPad version yet.  However, there are other alternatives out there, such as Tynker.

Typed Coding

When we developed our Computing curriculum a few years ago, we included a strand which focused on getting children to type in computer code, starting with learning to type, then moving onto languages such as LOGO and Python. You can get typing apps for iPad, and even ones for LOGO and Python. Fun as it has been to introduce these to children, I think that they might be just a bit too tricky for Primary aged kids, so instead we’re going to introduce some more fun iPad coding apps.  Like Floors (which allows you to design your own platform games…)!

iWork

Pages, Numbers and Keynote are as fully-featured on iOS as a Primary school kid would need, so no contest there.  And are arguably easier to use.

iLife

iMovie on OSX is powerful, but it does add so many steps to the movie-making process: capture video on another camera, then import into Mac, then edit. iMovie for iPad is so simple and easy to use to use, with the advantage of being able to do everything on one device.

LEGO WeDo

The only sticking point was LEGO WeDo, a simple programmable LEGO kit.  WeDo 1.0 runs of a wired USB hub to connect the motor/tilt sensor/motion sensor.  However, LEGO have recently announced WeDo 2.0, which connects via Bluetooth to an iPad…yay!  I recently had a play with it at BETT and it was really great.

So, I think that going all-in on iPad for Computing can work!

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Appreciating Apple TV

At our school, we’ve mostly used Reflector as the way of doing AirPlay mirroring from our iPads into a large projected image. This has worked well when using old-fashioned VGA projectors and a 4:3 image. However, the connection can sometimes be unreliable, which is probably down to network/wifi issues. But, due to the advantages I’ve previously outlined, Reflector seemed a better choice than the main alternative: Apple TV.  Apple TV is a little black box that works (amongst other things) as an AirPlay receiver for content from your Mac or iOS device.

However, after some discussion with some fellow ADEs, I’ve come to appreciate the advantages that Apple TV has over Reflector.

  • It’s Apple’s AirPlay mirroring solution, rather than a third-party reverse-engineered hack, so that means it’s more likely work more reliably.
  • If connecting to an HD device via HDMI, setup is super simple.
  • You can have one-time device authentication, where a new AirPlay connection requires entering the on-screen passcode. This stops accidental AirPlay connections (thank you Early Years!) without having to remember or share a password.
  • Peer-to-peer. Which is amazing! With a lightning connector iPad, it uses Bluetooth to set up a direct wifi connection to the Apple TV, thus bypassing the local network and so reducing the network load.
  • Modern macs can AirPlay to Apple TV. I’m interested what impact this will have on its use in the classroom, is it makes it the same class citizen as the iPad.

Here are some things I’ve discovered to make setup easier:

  1. Turn on Conference Mode so that it shows instructions for AirPlay mirroring, rather than the normal grid of video apps.
  2. Turn on device authentication to make peer-to-peer AirPlay connection work.
  3. Have a wired Ethernet connection to the Apple TV to reduce load on your wifi.
  4. Do a restart on the Apple TV after setup to make the changes take effect.
  5. Make sure it’s an HDMI HD display your connecting to, either a projector or a TV. It just doesn’t work very nicely with old school VGA projectors, even widescreen ones.

The State of Mac Management

In the glory bygone days, managing Macs was easy: just setup a OSX Server, get Workgroup Manager working and then configure users preferences to your heart’s delight. There were ways to easily tweak settings using a GUI, or you could import whatever .plist file you wanted to and have a custom preference.

Now, it wasn’t all a bed of roses: the Mac had to be bound to the OSX Server for these managed preferences to work, meaning things got rather ugly if the server got taken down for any reason. Plus, you had to find other solutions for imaging Macs, deploying and updating software and remote access. But there were tools for this (Deploy Studio, Munki, Apple Remote Desktop), so we were happy.

Then along came Lion. As part of taking everything Apple had learnt from iOS ‘back to the Mac‘, Configuration Profiles were introduced. These were just the same as the profiles used to manage iPhones and iPads, offering ways to lock down certain things and setup accounts like email etc. The other cool thing was that these lightweight profiles could be pushed out to a Mac from an MDM server, removing the need to have the Mac permanently bound to a server. Instead, the Mac would keep hold of its profiles until the server gave it some new ones. Macs and iPads could all be managed from one place: one MDM to rule them all!

Workgroup Manager continued to be updated by Apple, but with very little attention given to it. The last version released was for 10.9 server: it still works in 10.10, but has officially been retired and any future support for it is quite unlikely.

As someone who likes to live at the bleeding edge of technological change, did I adopt it straight away? Not for want of trying! Apple offered their own ‘free’ version of an MDM as part of their Server app, called Profile Manager. We couldn’t even get it to work in 10.7, finally got it working with some iPads in 10.8 and then gave up on it in 10.9 (after suffering email profiles being pulled off every teacher iPad due to some weird Active Directory issue).

The issue with it boiled down to how Configuration Profiles just aren’t the same as Managed Preferences. In the ‘walled garden’ of iOS, we just accepted that certain things just weren’t manageable (like position of apps on the home screen or the initial setup of apps etc). Whereas Managed Preferences had given the Mac administrator the taste of absolute control – you shall have the settings I give you! Plus, they also had the fine-grained option of setting preferences to ‘once’, ‘often’ (ie every time you logged in) or ‘always’… with profiles, everything was just ‘forced’.

So, the questions are: what actually needs to be managed? what are the ways of doing it?

Things that need to be managed:

  • First run settings on stuff like Office
  • Mounting shared drives
  • Tweaking the UI as required, eg right click on Apple Mouse, sidebar defaults etc
  • Licence keys for apps
  • Setting keyboard, location etc
  • Managing the dock
  • Installing new software and patching existing software
  • Imaging new Macs
  • Running Apple Software Update

So what are the tools?

  • Using a Configuration Profile, either for the settings Apple gives you, or importing a custom plist – only works if you don’t mind it being ‘always’. Tim Sutton has a command line tool for converting a .plist file into a profile. An MDM server can push out profiles over the air and Munki can now install profiles too.
  • Tweaking the preferences in the default user template. Composer as part of Casper Suite has a handy feature for doing this as well as filling existing users’ preferences as well.
  • Running various scripts on startup/login/logout. Our Apple reseller has a way of running various scripts like this, and Casper can manage his too. You can also make payload-free packages which just run a script when installed and can be distributed with Munki.

So how do you choose the right tool? The factors are:

  • Cost: MDM servers aren’t cheap necessarily, nor is spending money on getting an Apple reseller to set things up for you.
  • Experience: are you savvy with scripting and dealing with the command line? If not, a solution with a GUI might be better.
  • Continuity: I work in a primary school where high turn-over of staff is quite common. Does the solution need to keep working even if you go?
  • Time: do you have time to learn and understand the intricacies, or do things need to work ‘out of the box’? I am in the fortunate position of being able to give time to figure some things out, but most primary schools aren’t.

At my school, we’ve gone for Casper Suite as a way to have a GUI for managing Macs that doesn’t rely on me being a complete Mac system admin with lots of experience in scripting etc., whilst also moving away from Managed Preferences and leveraging Configuration Profiles instead. Let’s hope it works!

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.

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…

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.

Erasing SMARTboards

As my fun treat for finishing term, I got to go back into school the next day and begin the great SMARTboard revolution.  This involved going round to every Mac in the school and unplugging the USB cable (and in some cases, the USB-serial cable…these are seriously old boards), taking away the pens and completely uninstalling any SMART software on the computer (drivers, extras, Notebook software etc.).  It felt good!

Reflecting on my passionate dislike for ‘smart’ boards (what an ironically misnamed product: I wonder how they’d take my preferred moniker of STUPIDboard?), I think it comes down to the fact that they’ve never really worked that well and have never really gotten any better:

  • endless aligning to try and make the pens write as they should
  • really quite horrible software for the Mac (although it has improved in recent years)
  • glare and shadow from the projectors
  • projectors!  Projectors are great in a darkened room (e.g. a cinema), but not in a bright classroom.  Plus the image quality degrades steadily but inevitably over time until you can barely see anything.
  • trying to make a mouse and keyboard user interface work with touch.  Apple have explicitly sworn off this idea (hence the iPad), but SMART seem to blithely carry on regardless.  I cannot count the amount of times I’ve tried to tap on some element of the user interface, but then for it to not quite be aligned correctly and so I give up and use the mouse instead.
  • really fragile board surface that results in areas of the board that just don’t work properly
  • have I ever mentioned the cost?  £2000 for a glorified trackpad is expensive in anyone’s book.

But I cannot sit back and bask in my delight for too long, as the challenge of communicating/demonstrating/inspiring teachers about how an iPad can be the smart man’s smart board still stands.

Getting rid of SMART Notebook

So, it’s been decided that from September 2014, Smartboards will be no more in our school.  The physical boards themselves will remain (as they are pretty good data projector screens), as will the speakers and projectors, but the USB cables will be ceremoniously removed from the Macs and Notebook software will be aggressively uninstalled from every Mac in the school.

Instead, teachers will be encouraged to use ExplainEverything, or even just Keynote (on Mac or iPad).  Or in fact anything they like.  If they just want a set of slides, Keynote will do the trick, and if they want interactivity, a mirrored iPad + stylus will suffice.  And if they want to just do some writing, there’s always a whiteboard and dry wipe pen!

Why the big move?

Well, for a long time I have had a particular dislike for Smartboards.  They are very expensive for what they are (a giant touchpad) and they never really work properly (always needing aligning, and once the surface gets damaged, are useless for writing). The Notebook software for the Mac isn’t really the greatest of Mac citizens, and using a giant but not always accurate touch interface to control OSX isn’t always very pleasant.  Apple has long realised that a touch interface needs a different user interface (as have Microsoft to a certain degree), but Smartboards seem to just try and fudge the issue.

Now that we have iPads, and the ability to mirror the display to the Smartboard display (via Reflector App), it in many ways removes the need for a Smartboard.  The interactive surface is freed from being fixed to one spot and can instead be wherever the teacher or child wants in the classroom. No wires!

The other issue is that Smart are now charging for their Notebook software via a subscription model.  It used to be that the software was free because everyone was buying the interactive boards.  But I suspect that schools aren’t buying or replacing boards very often (for example, we have some very old boards at our school), but are continuing to use the free software.  So Smart needs to make some money somewhere…

So we are left at a crossroads: do we pay (potentially) lots of money to keep using the Notebook software on interactive boards that increasingly don’t work? Or do we move away from a technology in its autumn and instead embrace the one that it’s still in its springtime.  It’ll probably be as popular as Apple’s position on Flash on the iPad, but I do think it’s the right thing to do.