2018: A Year in Review

It’s that time of year when it’s good to reflect on what has been and look forward to what is ahead. Nothing ever stands still with technology (apart from in schools…I jest!) so it’s always fascinating to take a look back over a 12 month period and see what’s changed and what’s been accomplished. So, what’s been happening for me with Educational ICT in 2018?

Google Drive

At school we finally made the move to cloud storage this year, prompted in part by the release of Google Drive File Stream which allows a Mac/PC user to have their files and file hierarchy of their personal and Team drives on their desktop without all the files and data being copied down. This allows Team drives to work like glorified SMB shares in a Mac, with data being pulled down from the cloud as needed and changed being synced back up.

We made the switch with our admin team/SLT first, setting up a series of Team Drives for the different subsets of users and then copying across data from the old Windows shares. Apart from a few problems with files not syncing and the File Stream app needing the occasional restart, it’s been working pretty well!

Following this success, we moved the remainder of our network drives to Google Team Drives in September. It’s a no-brainer in education as it gives you unlimited cloud storage that you can access on a multitude of devices and platforms.

The Google Drive app on iPad is pretty decent enoough, allowing for easy viewing and sharing of files between staff. It doesn’t offer proper integration with the Files app on iPad, so it’s still the case of opening a copy of files in Pages/Keynote/Explain Everything and then uploading to Google Drive when you’re done. As teachers were used to WebDAV before, it works at least comparable to that.

One nice extra feature is the ability to share links to Google Drive files in Slack, which then displays the file itself (so long as you’re using single sign-on with G Suite).

Back the the Mac

Having trialled going #iPadOnly at school, we decided to put some macs back in classrooms for all teachers at the end of the summer term. It felt a little bit like a defeat, but actually was also a relief as iOS can’t yet take the full weight of being the only computer you use. The replacement retina 4K iMacs are lovely machines as well!

Recently, we recycled some rather old 2011 iMacs and instead bought a few of the new 2018 Mac mini’s. They are really fast little computers, with very handsome ‘space grey’ colour scheme.

#iPadOnly

Having said that, I still find that the iPad Pro is an excellent productivity machine, particularly with a keyboard and an Office licence (much as I hate to admit it). But what’s been particularly great is the regular stream of iWork updates from Apple, relentlessly adding in desktop functionality to the iOS version. The fact I can now edit master slides in Keynote, edit conditional formatting in Numbers and even publish eBooks in Pages makes using a ‘proper’ computer increasingly unnecessary.

I hope to be able to roll out some more iPad Pros to teachers, giving them a powerful mobile productivity device with an amazing stylus (perfect for teaching!).

Showbie in KS1

We had the wonderful opportunity of extending our 1:1 programme to include Years 1 and 2 in September, and I decided that we would use Showbie for organising all the learning rather than Seesaw as we’d used previously. Because kids don’t have to log out of Showbie on a 1:1 device, this gets rid of the username and password barrier. I’ve been impressed with how teachers are really making the most of the annotation and voice memo tools in Showbie to really make the most of each learning opportunity. We’re seeing a lot more development in oracy this year!

Shared iPad

With KS1, we also deployed the devices in Shared iPad mode. It’s worked pretty well, although there is a big restriction on the number of apps that can be installed due to the partitioning of space on the devices. There have been a few strange app issues too when moving files around, probably something to do with the Shared iPad mode.

Managed Apple IDs

It was with great joy that I welcomed Tim Cook’s announcement in March 2018 of 200GB of storage for school Managed Apple IDs. We had been using them with students because of the relative ease of making hundreds of Apple IDs at a time, but hadn’t used them with staff because of the 5GB storage limit. With the increase in storage, we moved all staff over to Managed Apple IDs. It wasn’t an easy process, as you basically have to download and re-upload all the photos and documents from one ID to another, but it’s definitely been worth it. Knowing that there’s more than enough storage for teachers, plus the ability to easily reset passwords, is great. Plus it’s free!

Cheaper Education iPads

The March 2018 Apple Education event also brought us the (slightly) cheaper and faster entry level iPad. It’s a great price with a more than decent processor, so it made choosing the device for our 1:1 programme very straight forward. Sure, it’s not got a laminated display or a super-amazing camera, but they seem pretty tough as iPads go (on delivery of our KS1 iPads, one of the pallets had been punctured in transit and one of the iPads was seriously bent by the impact, but yet the screen had not shattered).

#EveryoneCanCreate

This resource was previewed in the summer and was launched at the beginning of the Autumn term. It provides student and teacher guides with suggestions for how you can weave video, photography, drawing and music-making across the curriculum using iPad. I’ve been having a go at some of the resources with some Year 3/4s on a Friday afternoon, and it looks like good stuff. It definitely is Apple’s unique offering for iPad in education.

What have been your highlights?

A Year with iPad Pro

I watched with much interest the product launch of the 12.9″ iPad Pro back in Autumn 2015. Here was a fast iPad with a huge display, an intriguing super-accurate stylus and a simple to attach external keyboard.  I began to wonder: perhaps an iPad Pro could serve as a single multi-purpose computer for a teacher, rather than relying on the Mac plus iPad combo. With leaner financial times cutting into school budgets ever deeper, could this be a viable option?

There was only one way to truly find out: go ‘iPad Only’ with the iPad Pro. So from May 2016, that’s what I did! I passed on my MacBook Pro to our new technician and got myself a 128gb 12.9″ iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and a Smart Cover.

Here are my thoughts, one year on…

It’s Big!

The 12.9″ iPad is certainly big. I still get children asking me, “Mr Lings, why is your iPad so big?”, even though I’m sure they’ve seen me wander around the school with it all year. The screen size is literally twice as big as a ‘normal’ iPad, meaning you can comfortably fit two full sized apps next to each other when doing split-screen multitasking. This generous amount of screen estate is great for when you’re sitting down to do some work at a desk. Developers are beginning to take advantage of the size too, such as how iWork apps now can have an on-screen formatting panel rather than relying on a pop-over. However, it does feel a little bit too big for using the iPad when teaching lessons. It’s not impossible, but a slightly smaller iPad would be better for day-to-day classroom teaching.

Split-screen Multitasking

This has been a feature of the operating system since iOS 9 and requires a newer model of iPad (iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, iPad Pro and iPad 5). And it’s really useful! The productivity gains of being able to have two different apps up at once is hard to understate: whether that’s Notes and Keynote when creating a presentation, Safari and Numbers when doing some data crunching or just having Documents by Readdle open on the side when moving files around. The fact the 12.9″ Pro has such a big screen means that both the apps have plenty of room each.

Speed

The A9X chip is fast. Coming from an iPad Air (and an iPad 2 before that), this makes using the iPad so much more enjoyable. Apple’s iWork and iLife apps can be quite intensive to use at times, but the Pro handles them all fine. It truly does feel like ‘desktop class’ processing power, which makes a big difference to productivity.

Apple Pencil

Ever since we had started using iPads instead of Interactive Whiteboards in my school many years ago, a decent stylus was something that the iPad was missing. With the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, that decent stylus is here! It’s really nice to use, particularly when modelling any form of writing when teaching. It really does offer that pixel-level accuracy and has a lovely feel in your hand. Charging using the lightning socket on the iPad is really fast, although it does seem a little precarious. You can use an adaptor to charge it with a normal lightning cable, but it’s much slower that way.

I use a back cover from STM, which includes a little slot to store the Apple Pencil. The only downside to this is that the Pencil stays in Bluetooth connection to the iPad all the time and so discharges in about a day, even when it’s not being used at all. Hopefully there’s a fix to this coming in future…

There an app for that

Part of the journey this year has been discovering and making use of new and existing apps to ‘get jobs done’ on an iPad. With a bit of creativity, you can do most things!

  • Documents 6 (https://appsto.re/gb/Vw_Vv.i) – FREE: this allows you to manage documents and files on your iPad as well as easily access a range of cloud and network storage. The most useful way to use it is a bit like the desktop on a Mac: you put stuff stuff there whilst you’re working on it. Because it makes use of ‘Document Providers’ in iOS, files can accessed in other app, allowing you to easily upload files on Safari or quickly email multiple documents.
  • Word (https://appsto.re/gb/PWh9I.i), Excel (https://appsto.re/gb/pqb-I.i) & Powerpoint (https://appsto.re/gb/-ji9I.i) – Office 365 Subscription: I’m still a big fan of Apple’s iWork suite, but sometimes you just need to edit and create native Microsoft Office files. They’ve done a really good job with it and it definitely comes in handy.
  • Screens (https://appsto.re/gb/MBbgN.i) – £19.99: a VNC app that allows you to remotely connect to a desktop computer. I use this for keeping tabs on a couple of Mac servers, but it’s also useful for those pesky websites that just don’t work on an iPad (Apple School Manager and Mathletics Dashboard I’m looking at you!).

Print Preview and the Share Sheet

One really great ‘Easter Egg’ hidden in iOS 10 is the ability to generate a PDF wherever you can print. When printing something on iOS, it should bring up a print preview below. If you pinch out on it, it opens full screen and has the share button to then do what you like that PDF. This little trick opens up loads of possibilities!

To conclude, going ‘iPad Only’ isn’t for everyone, but it definitely is a viable option. Using iOS all the time makes ‘legacy’ desktop operating systems just feel so overly complicated and time consuming. In a sense, the iPhone is the ‘post-PC’ device, with over 1 billion of the hand-held super-computers sold so far. Because the iPad uses iOS too, it can benefit from that world of apps and workflows too.

The demise of Flash

I was talking to someone today about their job and they told me that they were a web developer. Nothing remarkable about that. Only that they used to be a Flash web developer but now they’ve had to retrain to build stuff in HTML 5.0 because there are something like a tenth of the Flash jobs out there than there were a year or so ago.

The iPad really has killed Flash.

If only education content providers would realise this!

iMovie Export Fix

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!

Setting up iPads pt.3

Yesterday I managed to finish setting up the iPads…yay! It was much less eventful and just involved setting the remaining iPads going during the day and then turning them all off for storage over the summer.

All that remains come September is to assemble the IKEA storage boxes, put the iPads in their cases and do some staff training.

In hindsight, it was pretty straightforward after all. I don’t imagine setting up 45 MacBooks or something would have only taken a day or so!

WebDAV

My problem is that I, deep down, hope and expect software and technology to work easily and first-time. One day I shall learn…

Our other task for today was to try and set up a WebDAV share on our windows server for our new iPads. Unfortunately we couldn’t get it to work, although our amazing technician is looking into it

I did manage to setup a new WebDAV share on our Lion server though. I was having trouble accessing it until I discovered the correct URL for the WebDAV share. It should be something like this:

http://hostname/webdav/sharename

The Lion share will work for windows and Macs too, so I’ll just add another share point to each user’s desktop called ‘ipad’ or something. It’s not ideal that it’s separate to our ‘school’ shared drive, but hopefully we’ll get the Windows WebDAV working before too long.