Meraki and LGfL 2.0

Having a few moments at the end of the day, I thought I would give Meraki a spin. I had much more success with enroling an iPad, particularly when compared to the frankly hopeless time I had with Lion’s Profile Manager, but then couldn’t get it to actually update settings remotely or anything. Then I remembered…of course, the LGfL firewall! I’ve submitted a request for the various ports, so we shall see how that goes.

LGfL at the Mermaid (pt.III)

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.

LGfL at the Mermaid (pt.II)

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.

Fronter Updates

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…

LGfL at the Mermaid (pt.I)

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’…

RAv3 and VNC

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…

LGfL 2.0 attempt 1.1

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?

LGfL Staff Mail on OSX and iOS

WordPress is wonderful because it tells me all kinds of fascinating information, such as what people were searching for when they ended up on this site. And one quite frequent enquiry is regarding LGfL’s Staff Mail settings on a Mac. It’s really easy to set up and here’s how…

  1. You need to be running Snow Leopard (10.6) or higher.
  2. Open up Mail and add an email account. Enter your name and email address etc.
  3. On the next screen, select ‘Exchange 2007’ as the type of server.
  4. Put in mail.lgflmail.org as the server. Then put in your USO username and password.
  5. It’ll ask you about adding contacts and calendar for the account. These can be handy for auto completing addresses of your colleagues
  6. All done!

The settings are pretty similar for iOS. You just need to select ‘Exchange’ as the type of account when adding it in Settings > Mail, Contacts & Calendars. The domain is lgflmail. Easy!

Do post a comment if my instructions don’t make sense…

LGfL 2.0 attempt 1.0

We had quite an ambitious but not unreasonable plan today of switching over our broadband at school to LGfL 2.0 by the end of the day. We nearly managed it, but with several large stumbling blocks.

We started out tackling our admin network, as they only have 13 computers and a server.  This was working quite well until we realised that users could browse the internet but couldn’t access any services from the server (such as shared documents and databases etc.).  Not good.  This is because LGfL 2.0 does web filtering by requiring each computer to use a given external DNS rather than a local one, or something like 8.8.8.8 from Google.  If you set the external DNS first, then you can’t see the server; if you set the internal DNS first, then you can’t see the Internet.  Aaarrrghhhh!

After several fraught conversations with Atomwide we eventually got it to work by getting the server’s DNS to forward external requests to the external DNS.  We had tried this previously, but we only got it to work by completely rebuilding the DNS.

After doing a second sweep of the Admin computers to check they worked properly, we moved onto the Curriculum network.  At first, this seemed pretty straightforward as the old proxy server could be turned off on the PCs with a judicial tweak of the Group Policies and the Macs could be adjusted by pushing out the following commands using Apple Remote Desktop:

networksetup -setwebproxystate Ethernet off
networksetup -setsecurewebproxystate Ethernet off

Bargain.  Changing the DNS settings on the server seemed to be a little more straightforward and soon the Internet was up and running successfully.

Sophos on OSX proved a little more tricky to fix, as I couldn’t convince it to change its preferences with Workgroup Manager.  Instead I had to log onto each machine and put in the new update URL, which is now as follows:

http://sophos10.lgfl.org.uk/escosx

The next big problem then struck, in that the Internet connection was flaking out.  It would sometimes connect, but would then timeout repeatedly.  We tracked down the problem to the fact that both the Curriculum and Admin networks were plugged in at the same time (not unreasonable!).  We’re still awaiting a fix on this from Atomwide, so in the meantime we’ve switched the Curriculum back to our old provider.

London Mail made useful!

LGfL (London Grid for Learning) offer a wide variety of services for schools, including a Microsoft-hosted ‘London Mail’ for use by children in schools. This includes features such as ‘safe mail’ where you can control who the user can send and receive email with.

The only problem is that it requires children to remember their USO login details to access it, which is not the most memorable string of letters and numbers in the world. My experience is that email for children is therefore often underused in the classroom.

At our school we’re running a trial classroom with an emphasis on more independent learning. Part of this was to email work to groups of children that they can then access at one of the classroom iMacs. But with email access requiring putting in obscure usernames and passwords and visiting obtuse websites, it never really happened.

Whilst perusing LGfL’s website, I discovered a new section about London Mail where they promised access for smartphones and with Outlook, so I contacted Atomwide and they sent me the login details.

It requires Outlook IMAP access, which can be done natively in Apple’s Mail, and was very easy to sort out. Now one child just has to log onto one of the iMacs and open Mail – easy!

For this interested, here are the server details:

  • username: uso.account@lgflmail.net
  • Incoming hostname: imap.outlook.com
  • Outgoing hostname: amsprd0102.outlook.com