Google Classroom – Early Preview

Yesterday I received the email! Welcome to Classroom by Google!

These comments will probably not all be valid for long as I think that a lot of what is here will change or be added to before the main release. I will say that to anyone that has used my service I wrote called homeworky.com this pretty much replaces it!

So the first thing to do when you login is create a class.

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Class name is self explanatory but section seems to really mean sub-heading or description (it appears below the class name)

If I enter “Physics” as the Class name and “Science” as the Section your class will display as follows.

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At this point in your Google Drive you will now have a “Classroom” folder and within it a “Physics” folder.

Now we can look at the Class page.

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You can change the cover photo to one of Googles pre-defined ones (I guess in the future you will be able to upload your own)

Now for a tour of the page.

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Having set an assignment you will see this on your class stream.

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If you click on the Assignment you get an overview of who has submitted the completed assigments.

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Ok so now if we switch to a students view of this.

I have manually added a student to my course but you can also share the class code with anyone who you would like to join your course. When they login to classroom they will see the course as below.

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They can then click on the assignment they need to “Turn In”

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So if for this assignment the student needs to hand in a Document they can either add one they have already made or create a new one.

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Clicking on this Document will then open up Google Docs and let you write your document. This document is store in Google Drive in the appropriate class folder.

Once you have finished editing the Document the “Turn In” button can be clicked.

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Students can then add a message to go with it, if they like.

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So now switch back to a teacher. You can see one assignment has been “Turned In”

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You can then have a view the Document, comment on it, edit it or whatever you like within Google Docs. You can also have a conversation about it from within Classroom instead of in the document. You can then grade the assignment (must be a numeric grade, hopefully this may change)

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And as with everything if you look in your Google Drive the assignments are all there in the appropriate folder structure.

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Well that was a quick whistle stop tour of Classroom as it is today. I will have a longer play with it and update this post as the product evolves.

 

Cue Your Next School Production

Last week we put on our latest school production (Dance Show), Born to Dance. We have always used iTunes to manage the tracks using playlists but it has never been ideal. We have always wanted to be able to set the gap time between tracks but iTunes just doesn’t have that feature.

I started a hunt to find an application that could give us more control over our playlists. After a few minutes of searching I came across QLab.

“QLab makes it simple to create rich multimedia designs for live performances and installations. From Broadway to the West End, in churches, museums, store fronts, concert halls, and theatres around the world, people use QLab to bring their audio and video to life.”

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Once I got my head around QLab I realised it was awesome! and free if you only need 2 outputs! which we did 🙂 We were able to cue all our tracks and put in presenter notes for each cue. We could set pre wait, post wait and also other triggers.

We always have a network camera streaming the show live to our dressing rooms but it can sometimes be hard to see whats happening if the lights are shining bright.

So this lead me on to my next challenge. Can I get a live feed of the current track from QLab. I started looking into “Scripts” with the help of Twitter Scripter using the script below I was able to cue a tweet to Twitter.

tell application “Twitter Scripter”
          tweet “Track 4 starting now ” & time string of (current date) using account “CFGS_b2d”
end tell

I then made a webpage on our CFGSLive system which showed the latest tweet and the live video stream.

QLab has a lot of potential and I am going to use it a lot more in the future!

 

Cube Live – Google Books Powered School Library

At Churston we are always developing new products and our CFGSLive system has created many talking points. Our most recent success has been the development of our new library system. I have had lots of requests to know more about it so I thought I would quickly detail the main features.

All of the book covers, details and ratings are all powered by Googles Books API.

Dashboard

CubeLive Dashboard

 

The dashboard is the home screen for the library.

  • Featured Author
  • Featured Book
  • Recommended Books
  • Popular Books
  • Fact of the Day
  • Question of the Day
  • Your Loans / Overdues
  • Recently Returned Books
  • New Books

Featured Author / Book

The  featured author and featured book are set my the library staff. They are used to try and promote authors and specific books.

Recommended Books

We recommend books to users based on many different factors for example, other books that have been read by them, by users like them e.g. Year, Gender.

Question of the Day

Questions can be set by the library staff and then house points are automatically awarded for correct answers.

Loans / Overdues

The dashboard displays current loans and also highlights any overdue loans. Overdue loan reminders are automatically emailed out to users Google Mail accounts.

 

Book Pages

Book Profile Page

 

Each book has its own profile page which shows all of its details, reviews, available copies, author links, locations and some other buttons for user engagement. Also because we are using the Google Books API we have the ability to read any book that Google has made available to read online right from within our library system, if a book is out on loan then you can just start reading it online.
From a books page users can mark the book as read and add it to a reading list. Marking books as read allows for better recommendations to be made and the reading list give the users the ability to queue up books that they would like to read. Book reviews can also be written and house points are automatically awarded once the review has been approved.

Admin Desk

Admin Desk

The admin desk gives the library staff all the tools they need to loan resources, reserve, return, run reports and also carry out any other admin tasks that may be required.

There are many more features that I haven’t detailed and also loads more still being developed. Watch this space!

 

Deploying iPads with Apple Configurator

iPad is an amazing tool but I did find them quite a challenge to deploy. Below is a very rough guide as to what I did. I may go into more details for this process in the future if people want me too.

Enrolling for Education Account

  1. Create Admin Apple ID for use as the Education Volume Purchasing Program Administrator.

https://appleid.apple.com

  1. Enroll on the Education Volume Purchasing Program. (This may take about a week!)

https://edu-vpp.apple.com

  1. Create Program Facilitator account and add credit card details to the account. (This is the account that will actually be used to pay for apps, maybe a finance department account as it will require a credit card to purchase apps, gift cards cannot be used here!)

http://edu-vpp.apple.com/asvpp_manager/

  1. Create Master Apple ID for downloading Apps from the iTunes AppStore.

https://appleid.apple.com

 

  1. Install Apple Configurator https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/apple-configurator/id434433123?mt=12

Apple Configurator
Prepare first iPad

  • Setup Local Restrictions on the iPad as required
  • Create a Profile (Choose the options which are relevant to you e.g. Age restrictions, disable facetime, please note that if you tick the option to disable installing of apps then you will not be able to install apps even with the configurator! Either create a profile specifically for disabling this feature and you can apply it at the end or don’t apply the configuration profile until after you have installed apps.)
  • Deploy it to an iPad
  • Take a backup of the iPad and name it something like iPad Base Image


Prepare Future iPads

  • Choose to restore iPad to iPad Base Image (Or whatever you named your backup)


Adding Apps to Apple Configurator

This process is simple once you have got your head around it.

NOTE:

  • To install free apps you do not need to do anything special you can just do that with a normal iTunes account (Step 4 of Enrolling for Education Account) Skip to Step 4 below and ignore anything to do with Volume Purchase Program (VPP).

  1. Login to https://volume.itunes.apple.com/gb/store with your Program Facilitator account
  2. Search for and purchase the number of Apps you require (Tip: Generally if you want more than 10 apps it works out cheaper to buy 20.
  3. Download the spreadsheet of Volume Purchase Codes
  4. Login to iTunes with yours Master Apple ID (Step 4 of Enrolling for Education Account)
  5. Find the App you want to install
  6. Click to purchase it then when it asks for a payment method choose redeem code and use one of the codes from your spreadsheet you downloaded
  7. Login back into https://volume.itunes.apple.com/gb/store with your Program Facilitator account
  8. Re-download the spreadsheet of Volume Purchase Codes (One will now say redeemed but don’t worry Apple Configurator knows it hasn’t been used.
  9. You can now import a purchased app into Apple Configurator using the + button in the App panel. Browse to your iTunes library folder and into the Mobile Applications folder. ( Probably username/Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications ) Double click the App you want to add.
  10. After adding a paid app to Apple Configurator, import Volume Purchase codes for it. Click the indicator with the numeral 0 in it to reveal the Volume Purchase Code Management sheet and click Import Redemption Codes…, then select the spreadsheet containing your redemption codes. The redemption codes will be listed in the second column.
  11. Your Apps are now ready to be installed onto your iPads

Supervise

  1. Select the iPad you want to administer.
  2. Change your Restore dropdown back to Don’t Restore Backup on each device. (You can leave it but this will make simple updates to iPads very long winded in future!)
  3. Click the Apps tab if the app you want to install is not listed then click the + at the bottom left. Browse to your iTunes library folder and into the Mobile Applications folder. ( Probably username/Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications ) Double click the App you want to add.
  4. Put a tick in the box to the left of the Apps icon. This means you want the app to be available on this iPad.
  5. Click Apply
  6. This process needs to be repeated for all iPads or you can group your iPads and tick all the Apps you want for that group.

What to do with those pesky Netbooks!

If you are like me then you may have thought “Wow netbooks! double the amount of computers for your money!” Then on deploying them realised “Damn! Less than half as good as normal laptops!”
Due to the lack of decent processor and in our case lack of adequate memory that Windows demands the netbooks are very disappointing. Students find them frustrating and teachers avoid using them wherever possible!

So what can be done with them.

  1. Wait for them to die (It probably won’t be long until a frustrated student helps out)
  2. Sell them?
  3. Change the OS.


A New Operating System

I have been trialling Chromebooks and love how simple they are to deploy, how speedy the bootup time is and how they just work.
So can I make the Netbooks into Chromebooks. Well sort of yes! You can be a super geek and compile ChromeOS yourself or you can use one that has been ready made for you. Hexxeh compile versions of ChromeOS that can run from a memory stick or be installed. http://chromeos.hexxeh.net/

Be aware your homemade netbooks probably still won’t be as good as real ChromeBooks due to the hardware and they will not be manageable through a Google Apps domain but they may find a new lease of life even if only used as a quick research machine.

Maybe even spruce them up with some stickers 🙂

 

Xirrus Wireless Array

In my opinion Xirrus have got the approach to wireless exactly right! Other products using the traditional approach of having controllers and lots of access points is complex to install, costly and also fundamentally wrong.Xirrus make WiFi Arrays effectively a wireless switch. The Arrays combines the controller and access points into one. They come in all different sizes and are modular so if you only need low level of coverage then you can just put 2 modules in or in high density areas upto 16! Being modular means it is easily upgradable and also means it can support multiple technologies e.g. 2.4Ghz, 5Ghz, RFID and more.The design of the arrays resembles a giant smoke alarm and Xirrus claim the 8-slot array to be able to support upto 640 clients! They have lots of figures and case studies to backup the claims.


Installation was really simple, the web based interface is easy to use and I had the array configured and working within minutes. There are many many options when configuring the device, seems to have everything you would ever need. Only thing it is currently lacking is a guest access system.I tested transferring a 500mb file in a variety of configurations. On my current WiFi system (Controller and Access Point) Using 2.4Ghz (G) it took 5 mins 48 secs, then using Xirrus 2.4Ghz (G) it took 1 min 35 secs lastly using 5Ghz (N) took 56 secs.Conclusion
Xirrus has a very flexible, efficient and cost effective system.

Pros

  • Modular (Easily Upgradable/ Expandable)
  • Supports many different technologies (A/B/G/N)
  • Easily Configurable
  • Fast!


Cons

  • XMS is too expensive (Management Software, though you only really need it if you have lots of Arrays)

Hitachi – Interactive Projector

I was pretty sceptical about this product, I really couldn’t see it living up to the hype! But it really does!

The “Ultimate Interactive LCD Projector” offers an innovative solution that delivers all of the benefits of a short throw projector and interactive whiteboard without the need for complex and expensive dedicated equipment. As long as there is a flat surface available, even just a bare wall, the pen based interactive projector will perform amazingly well!

It comes with the Hitachi StarBoard Software, which has all the usual Interactive Whiteboard features but also it works with other packages too, I tried SmartNotebook and Promethean’s ActivStudio.

As a projector it also has lots of great features; a tonne of inputs including mic, network manageable, built in speakers ( you can actually hear!) and 5000 hour lamp life.

Conclusion

  • Easy to setup
  • Can be used as a mobile interactive whiteboard (not ideal as needs recalibrating, though this isn’t hard to do!)
  • Short throw projector – less shadow, no white spot and  no blinding 🙂
  • Slightly slower response than a conventional interactive whiteboard, although not really noticeable to a new user.
  • Saves money on a conventional setup!
  • Easily fitted by caretakers.


Google Apps – Collaboration at its best!

I am asked by many schools about the implementation of Google Apps, whether it was a good move, whether it was easy, whether its used much and I answer yes, yes and yes!

Implementing Google Apps was an amazing decision, email use rocketed! And all for FREE! Thanks Google!

We started off by migrating all our current mail to Googles servers using there imap migration wizard then switched the MX records for our domain to point to Googles servers and we were up and running.

A few staff were not initially keen on the conversation view for their emails but quickly got used to it and now would say they prefer it.

Google Apps is so much more than just an email system, you have the ability to work on live spreadsheets and documents with your whole departments making changes, live! Sending questionnaires (forms) has become hugely popular something which we would never have done before is now just a few clicks away.
Calendars are synced with phones etc and you can even build your own website in minutes all with no need for technical staff to install a thing.

LG Network Monitors – Low Cost, Low Energy!

LG Network Monitors allow a single PC (Server) to be shared by many users at the same time, using LG’s solution can enable you to provide independent computing to a whole classroom.

As you can imagine you will save a lot of money on the initial investment of hardware (£250RRP per screen) and then the ongoing energy costs (upto 85% less energy).

You will need to buy a fairly decent computer to run as your host machine (Server) the recommended spec is an i7 processor with 4Gb of RAM.

LG provide a software package called i-com which will allow teachers to remote control, chat, transfer files, test and power off the suite.

Conclusion

  • Low Hardware Costs
  • Low Energy Consumption
  • Clutter Free
  • Quiet
  • Low Heat Output
  • IT Support only have one computer to fit/fix
  • Very good for web browsing, desktop publishing. Definitely shouldn’t be considered for a suite that requires video editing capabilities.

 

iPad – A Teachers Best Friend

Here are some of the things that the iPad is being used for SIMS, Internet, email, calendars, VLE, lesson plans, Schemes of Work.
Benefits of using the iPad
  • Instant Access – The iPad is always on, you do not need to wait for it to boot up and then logon.
  • All Day Battery – The battery on the iPad will last all day so there is no need to carry a charger or be near a plug socket.
  • Weighs no more than one book but can contain more than you could ever carry.
Although the iPad works great on its own, it is also used to complement a laptop, it does the things it is designed for very well e.g. the Internet, video and I have also seen it produce some pretty nice spreadsheets using numbers, but it cannot do everything a laptop can do.
Using an iPad is very intuitive but it does require learning something new, it is not a touchscreen laptop running Windows. The iPad is a very personal device, it is not a device that could be easily shared between staff. To get the most out of the iPad you will have all your personal emails, calendars and documents on it.