Pilot’s Licence

frustrationBeing a teacher or any member of the public service brings its share of criticism from many angles – public, politicians, users, workers within the system and so on. As adults we hope and expect that we can take this criticism as ‘constructive criticism’ where we can learn from mistakes and do the best we can to eradicate them and stop them happening again.

I know that doesn’t speak for everyone but if you have professional pride in what you are doing, one would hope that the effort would be made to improve things. It is disconcerting, though, how the political football of ‘blame’ gets kicked around from one person to the next with vicious criticism being considered the norm without consideration for those that are the human face behind the public profile. We are also very good at passing that political football around. How many times have we heard that schools and teachers are to blame for educational failings only for this, in turn, to be passed onto parents’ style of parenting only for this to be the fault of computer games / councils / TV / curriculum choices / insert appropriate subject here and back again! No doubt that all have their own level of responsibility – but my unease is how this pits people against each other when they should be working together.

I think the same has been happening with the Northern Ireland C2K computer system in schools. We have been very quick to criticise the provision in the past and it has almost become a ‘bye-word’ for failings and things going wrong. Indeed, one of the on-going jokes is the fact that the helpline phone number ends in ‘666.’

ComputerFrustrationThere are many elements of it that don’t work – it is cumbersome when wanting to add new technology; restrictive in its approach to genuine innovation; inflexible and short-sighted in an fast-paced, ever-changing technological landscape and very, very expensive when wanting to buy new equipment that worked within it. The contract didn’t suit the reality of many schools as they are now – pro-active in embedding new innovative teaching ideas through the use of technology (mobile or otherwise). But, who’s fault was this? It can’t be laid at the door of those workers who are manning the phones on a daily basis or out in the field working with teachers to get the best out of the system. This is an infrastructure decided upon by politicians and political advisors who were looking for the cheapest option, surely. And, if you buy cheap, you know what to expect…

However, I think that this is changing in the new ‘Transformation’ that primary schools are going to go through. Our school has been asked to be a pilot school to test the system and to provide feedback to benefit future schools. Again, this is from the basis of a primary school, it will be interesting to get perspective from our friends in post-primary in the future.

Installation

8, count them, 8 days!! That’s how long the install lasted and how long the system was technically ‘down’. However, this was a team of engineers arriving in school before many of the staff and leaving after staff had left. So, it is obvious that they wanted to do a good job. They were led by an excellent team-leader who listened to what we wanted as a school. He was then able to offer his own advice based on experience but, the bottom line was always what we wanted for our school. The team worked away – always polite, always engaging and engaged – a credit to the company. As well as this, I was constantly informed of what was happening, and why. This meant that I was able to feedback to my principal. This was followed up even further by emails that helped explain things further – including one on Saturday morning after the install had finished! I hope all schools get the same experience

Mission Control

After the initial technical work of installing the hardware had been completed, the next phase was the testing by Capita technicians and C2k staff. A team descended on the school and tested every element of the system – inside and out – to ensure that the new system was ready to go for Monday morning. A quarter of our hall genuinely did look like Mission Control as banks of monitors were flickering away beneath our large screen at the back of the hall. I regret not taking a photograph!

Clean and Simple

The login screen for MySchool is well laid out but also customisable so I can set the layout to suit the school. By far the biggest surprise will be for teachers is the ‘Start’ button! Unlike Windows8, there actually is one but there are no programmes behind it! Everything is driven by the ‘MyApps’ that is accessed from the front of the MySchool Login page! Culture shock awaits! it will take a bit of time for users to get into the habit of accessing their programmes from the ‘MyApps’ but once you have it in mind, I feel that it should become second nature.

myschool

As yet, I need to find out about installing your own programmes onto the PCs and where they will be accessible from. However, this is the reason why being on a pilot is good – you can ask the questions, give the feedback and, hopefully, see the results.

It seems clear that a lot of thinking has gone into the layout of the screens and their accessibility. As well as this, the level of access to sites has also been given a lot of thought. As ‘Network Manager’ I can set permissions for sites – including Social Media. However, this will, of course, cause some headaches for schools where there will need to be agreed policies on use (as with any work place). But, it is getting there. I found it intuitive and straight-forward. With a bit of technical support, I have even been able to embed the school’s Twitter feed into the teachers’ desktops – and give Tweeting rights if wanted.

Bear in mind, the world of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube et al didn’t exist when C2k got going and there was no provision in it at the time. This move indicates that there is a willingness to listen to schools and what they want – within reason, I suppose.

Holy Grail of WiFi access

The MERU wireless seems to be working well. Logging in from external devices is something similar to accessing Starbucks’ system – connecting to the system, then entering C2k login details on a webpage. This, in turn, gives access to the WiFi for devices and there was a plethora of devices being tested! It’s not entirely complete yet – I know that there are some Android issues and my W8 phone wouldn’t work (I knowwwwwwwwwwwww) but iPads / iPhones and iPods were all happily chirping away. To be honest, the heart of the system is security for users and C2k so I can understand if there is a bit of a hoop to jump through.

To print from such devices, though, there needs to be a print server on the system for them to talk to – both Mac and PC – something I wasn’t aware off and will look into facilitating in school if I feel it can be justified. I wonder if wireless printers could be a future option?

As well as this, there is still lack of clarity regarding Games Consoles being able to access the system. As you may be aware, I am a great fan of Kodu but it won’t work on an XBOX360 if it doesn’t have an internet connection. Again, something that being on a pilot assists the team with – and can be looked at in the future.

Close your eyes and jump!

June-19th-Trust-thumbThis is Sunday 15th September. Tomorrow, when the teachers all return to school and power up their new PCs and link to the Whiteboards, then the real story will unfold. I will keep this blog updated with snippets of information if it helps others in the process but, as I very vocally claimed on Friday night…

It works! It’s not perfect but, so far, it works!

Let’s hope it continues to do so!

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