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I received an email from a primary school recently along these lines:

I wonder if you can offer advice. I have put off updating our office software for quite sometime now as what we had (MS Office 2003) (I know, an ancient relic) seemed to do the job, teachers were familiar and the costs were quite high. I think it is time to move on but unsure what to. I wonder if cloud computing services are the way to go, or other free packages in terms of traditional software such as open office. Or should we look to something completely different.
I would value your thoughts and observations of schools on your travels!

I responded something like this:

Hmmmm Depends on a few things really but here are some considerations:

  • Do nothing – consequences are what? Stuff gets even more out of date and misaligned with what’s out there in the world. But it is an option for a little while yet maybe.
  • Upgrade your MS Office software and licences to something a little more contemporary – consequences are quite severe in terms of a financial hit and you will also need to think about any ‘transitions’ staff (and pupils) may have to make to ‘new’ software which is fairly different from a user point of view.
  • Install ‘Free’ Office applications (such as Open Office) – ok, this is a cheap option and one that many schools I know have taken. It certainly does the job and has a similar enough look and feel to the ‘authentic’ applications to be manageable.
  • Cloud solutions – I’m thinking Google Apps for Education (GAfE) and Google Drive here (although Microsoft have their own equivalent – Skydrive (more later)). If you were to explore this option, it requires a fundamental shift in thinking about how everything works. Stuff is no longer done ‘locally’ on a machine (although it can feel a bit like it) but it is done via a browser. The other essential difference is the way in which documents become far more fluid in terms of sharing and collaboration – this is powerful stuff and potentially truly transformational. However, it is very much a new and different way of doing things with new and different approaches to workflow. This takes some considerable getting of the head round things (especially as a whole-school thing). The same is true for the Microsoft offering, they provide online storage (Skydrive) and a set of cloudy, browser-based software apps called Office365 (think Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc) that look very much like conventional MS software (comfortably familiar for some perhaps). All the same sharing, collaborating etc is available with Office 365 as with GAfE. The difference between these two though is that you can get going with GAfE immediately cos it is part of the (the local authority solution) thing every school has. Now you’ll ask me how to do that… erm… I’ll find out. I know of schools doing this stuff extensively (but not sure about within our local authority). So, as with anything, I recommend a bit of trying stuff out. Why not install and play with Open Office? For one class? Why not see how (one class?) gets on with GAfE? Then informed decisions are easier to make. virtual roulette wheel download

I offered to extend the request to this blog, see what responses people came back with, and there came the following response:

Thanks for that, very comprehensive! We have dabbled with open office and I have used google docs a little, just not quite the same, but all valid points you make. It would be interesting to hear what other people do so no problem with sharing via a blog. Also, I find that some features get blocked by the firewall, so if we moved in that direction I would want to be sure we can use it. The issue of having to log in too bothers me for cloud computing. The children log onto the laptop/server and would have to log into the cloud service too, unless we can find a way to facilitate a single log on.

So, what are you doing in your school?
What do you do about ‘Office’ applications or software, licences etc?
Have you elevated into the clouds? Is it sunny or stormy up there?
What are the pitfalls? The advantages?
What about firewalls? Logins?
Do you do different stuff with different ages of pupils?
Have you recorded your progress for us and others?

I’d love to see some replies! Many thanks in advance!

**UPDATE**
I suppose some people just like the speed and efficiency of Twitter as I got some useful replies there:

 

 

 

 

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Front to back?

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photoI had an email from a school recently. I thought I would record my response here as it illustrates my thinking on an approach schools seem to sometimes take to technology purchases generally and ipads in particular.
The school said they were looking into purchasing some IPads for students within school and were wondering if I could offer any advice or point them in the right direction.

They were seeking answers to three specific questions at this point:

  • What IPads are being used for and how they can enhance learning?
  • Which model IPad is the most popular within other schools?
  • Are other schools using Macbooks for synching/updating etc?

I replied as follows:

I am sure you appreciate that these are *big* questions that you are asking and perhaps not the easiest to answer in an email. Having said that, I’ll do my best.

What IPads are being used for and how they can enhance learning?

This is *huge*. Where do I start? Really the question could be asked more broadly about ‘technology’ and the answer would be wide and complex. In a way, it would be helpful for the school to undertake some visioning of how they want technology to integrate and support the learning experience and then consider whether ipads might be part of this. Many schools mistakenly start their thinking with the device and then on to how it might support learning. In some ways this is the wrong way round. I have a little further reading on ios considerations and deployments in school here: http://bitly.com/bundles/dughall/k but this is merely a drop in the ocean. the best online casino for mac usa

Which model IPad is the most popular within other schools?

Again, I wonder if this question is coming from thinking that is the right way round. What is it you want to achieve? Then ask which device will best suit the vision. Why ipad? Why not an alternative tablet? Why not Android? Windows 8? Why not netbooks? Laptops? Ipods? Why not a mixture? Again, ask yourselves: 1. What do you want to do? and then 2. What will help you do it?

Are other schools using Macbooks for synching/updating etc?

Yes. Or an iMac. There is no doubt that the deployment of large numbers of ios devices is greatly helped by having a MacOS PC (laptop or desktop).

It does worry me that some schools seem to be getting their thinking a bit ‘back to front’. Of course, for large purchases, it would be appropriate for for school governors to ask a question that I always find helpful: “What was the thinking behind this decision?” and the associated: “What alternatives were considered?” and “Does this represent the best value for money?”

 

Dilemma!

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Another school governance post. A ‘partner’ post to my one on the Role of the Staff Governor. This time, I have been thinking about the challenges that face parent governors and the problems they face with the different metaphorical hats that they need to wear.

Here are some thought-provoking scenarios that parent governors may face. What do you think? Have you had any similar ones? Can you think of others? How would you deal with them?

1. Through discussions at governors meetings, you are aware that a member of the teaching staff has been experiencing relationship difficulties and has consequently been taking frequent time off school as sick leave and for a variety of appointments. A group of parents approach you and demand to know what you, as a parent governor, propose to do about it. How do you respond? What about if your own child is in that teacher’s class? rtg casino canada

2. There is another parent governor who you also know socially. Over coffee, they start to express concerns about the ability of one of the teachers at the school, saying that they are not up to the job and that children are not making progress. How do you respond? What about if the concerns are about the Headteacher’s competence/ability?

3. You are a parent governor in a primary school that does not have a formal school uniform. You believe very strongly that the school should have a school uniform and expressed that view at a governors meeting at which the decision was taken to continue without the uniform. A parent approaches you and says “I really think there should be a school uniform! What a stupid decision! What do you think?” How do you respond?

4. You receive an invitation on Facebook to join a Facebook group that is critical of the school/headteacher. How do you respond? If you are not on Facebook but are aware of the group’s existence, what would you do?

5. You are on an interview panel for the appointment of a teacher. After interviewing a young female candidate, the headteacher says “Oh, we wouldn’t want to appoint her, she’d be off on maternity leave in the next couple of years and we’d have a right headache finding a temporary replacement.” How would you respond?

6. Your child has a really good friend in his/her class that is also your next door neighbour. The child is excluded from the school because of a behavioural incident. His mother, your friend and neighbour, comes round to your house to ask you what you think and to say how unfair she thinks it is. How do you respond?

7. A parent comes up to you and says that they think you obviously became a governor because everyone knows that the children of parent governors get treated more favourably. How do you respond?

8. A parent tells you they are really unhappy with their child’s class teacher who they say is always shouting at the class and making their child unhappy and not want to go to school. They say to you, “You’re a governor. Can you sort it out?” How do you respond?

Image thanks to Broodkast on Flickr

Protect or not?

I was asked today whether or not a school or class twitter account should be protected or not (a parent had suggested they should lock down the accounts and only allow approved followers) and whether there was any advice or guidance I could share on the matter. Here’s what I said in my reply. I thought it worth sharing wider:

As a rule, I would advocate open unless there is a compelling argument otherwise – this ensures a wide audience etc. Ask yourself (and the parent maybe) “What exactly are your concerns about the followers and why would you want to set it to accepted followers only?” I’d love to know the answer to this one.

Here are some concerns that may be cited: 

–    Predatory undesirables may follow the account. Answer: They could do this whether or not the account is protected. How would you know whether the request from @dave32457 is Nathan’s grandpa in Australia or a predatory undesirable? What’s more, if you set the account to protected and needed to approve followers you would get:
1. An additional administrative overhead (are you going to ask every new follower to explain who they are and why they want to follow? How would you ever know if that’s the truth?) and
2. A potentially greater problem if it turned out that one of the followers was a known predatory undesirable and the school had (albeit inadvertently) approved them as a follower – the press would like that, I reckon!

–     Some Twitter accounts are clearly undesirable and inappropriate to have as followers. This is an unfortunate feature of Twitter that occasionally such accounts appear as new followers. This is the only potentially compelling argument to protect a class/school account. However, for me, it doesn’t outweigh the benefits of being open. My advice on this would be to monitor followers daily and block any inappropriate or undesirable ones. You may have to actually view the timeline of the new follower’s account for this.

–     Followers are visible as followers and they may tweet inappropriate things and this may impact negatively on our reputation as a school by association. My answer to this is that what your followers say on Twitter is no more your responsibility than what parents might say down the pub or on Facebook – it is their look-out.

–     “I don’t want my chiild’s image published on the internet.” This is more than just a Twitter argument actually. Answer: Why not? Exactly why not? Ok, fair enough if there is a genuine child-protection issue but if not? What exactly are you worried about?

 One of the great things about an unprotected account is that it does provide a genuine and potentially huge global audience which is one compelling reason for a school/class to use Twitter, alongside the other which is parental engagement. Another, slightly technical reason for keeping it open is that retweets from protected accounts do not work so, someone like myself (or Nathan’s mum for instance) would be unable  to share further the fabulous stuff being tweeted  (including to Nathan’s grandpa – who might not yet be following). I love the way that I can share the greatness of Twitter as a fantastic school tool by retweeting school/class accounts to my wider following of schools and educators and this would be curtailed with a protected account. Whether you follow other accounts and who they are is another matter and worthy of some caution and consideration as it represents a choice.

What do you think? Should schools or classes protect or unprotect their Twitter feeds? Is it different for a class account vs a school account? Have I missed anything? I would really welcome your input as a comment!

Images with thanks to leehaywood on Flickr (via creative commons)