Category Archives: Uncategorized

Padlet – Getting started

Padlet – Getting started

Padlet gets a lot of interest at the school I work at and what’s not to like?  It’s easy to use and a great way of assembling content and building an easy to use lesson resource.  For those that are new to Padlet, I thought I’d link to an old post by @ictevangelist as it’s a really nice demonstration of how to get started and has some great ideas for how to use in the classroom.

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Two 16 Space Lap Cabbys Available!

In case anyone is interested, my place of work (St Albans High School for Girls) has TWO 16-unit LapCabbys up for grabs – they are both heavily used, a bit creaky but come with one key (each) and DO work and could be useful for someone?

They must go to another school and are free to a good home!  Please let me know if you’re interested in these, they must be collected at your own expense and are as seen!  You don’t have to make a donation, but if you wanted to that would be most appreciated!

Contact me via ‘About’ above or on twitter @button_bashing if interested!

Cheap software vs. the ‘Industry Standards’?

One thing that crops up regularly in educational circles is ‘cheap’ software being used in preference to ‘industry standard’ titles such as those produced by the big software houses such as Microsoft and Adobe.  Very often, ‘full fat’ software, such as the MS Office suite, Adobe Creatives Suite and ‘Pro’ editing tools such as ProTools, Final Cut etc. are spoken about as ‘extravagant’, overly-complex and cause Finance Depts across the countries to wince as they see quotes for site licenses roll in that would make your eyes water.  In the ‘age of austerity’, should schools be looking at cheaper alternatives to well known products?  Well, the answer as always is ‘yes and no’.

There are, of course, some neatly-crafted Educational titles, but in a lot of cases they have such limitations that they are only useful for teaching the basics – even then, it’s entirely possible for trends to move on and the point of teaching the skills in question becomes lost.  It’s also possible that these packages are selected because a limited feature set is attractive to the teacher, but are we doing a disservice to the students who will quickly reach the limit of the software’s potential and become frustrated by it?

Firstly – let’s dispel a myth.  ‘Pro’ software is always expensive.  Wrong.  Recent times have seen Microsoft wake up to the fact that schools are not a cash cow, ready to be milked till dry.  Office suite software has never been more affordable for staff or students and specialist media titles very often have cut down versions available with the key features remaining but at a fraction of the cost.

So, does that mean we should be grasping for our chequebooks right away?  No!  There are a lot of excellent, free or low cost alternatives to Office suites – Openoffice being one, and of course Cloud-based services such as Google Apps and the emerging ‘App’ market.  These are fantastic tools, and some truly offer a glimpse into the future where more and more content exists and is developed in the cloud, however, to not expose students to software in common use in industry, is a huge mistake.  When students attend job interviews, familiarity with ‘industry standard’ software is a key requirement, no-one in their right mind is likely to hire an office worker who isn’t familar with Microsoft Office – even on a basic level.

The more specialist the software gets, the more tricky it gets to ‘back a winner’.  Look at Music Technology or Video editing – there are certain programs out there (Protools, Final Cut, Premiere, Vegas, Avid etc. etc.) that it’s crucial we are able to expose interested students to.  If a recently-graduated student appears at an interview with only experience of Windows Movie Maker, they simply won’t stand a chance, regardless of the results they are able to get from it – competition for places is huge.  As an institution, we don’t have to be purchasing site licenses left, right and centre but having access to the technology is critical, lest we purely rely on the students’ home environment to do so, and that’s hardly fair is it?

So, what could support this?

  • Implementing a well thought-out strategy, with links to Gifted and Talented programmes, enrichment and extra-curricular opportunities to enjoy exposure to the technology across and outside of the curriculum.
  • The decision makers should have the ability to act quickly (with limited investment) in new technology – not panic buying, but introducing quality Trial programmes that takes on board teacher and student feedback and are regularly reviewed outside of the technical team.
  • Training time and materials readily available, up to date and engagingly authored to allow staff to feel less isolated from the new equipment.
  • ‘Key concepts’ taught as early as possible – it’s perfectly fine for goals to be as broad as possible early on, allowing for interests to become more refined as the student becomes more responsible for their own learning.  For example, despite my rubbishing of Windows Movie Maker earlier, it can serve to develop a basic understanding of timeline-based video editing. It’s only then that we can show the students what can be achieved with modern techniques and software.
  • Access to technology – there needs to be enough access to technology to make experimentation possible.  Students are happy, in most cases, to fail, to play and experiment with software and hardware until they get SOMETHING out of it.  In lieu of structured learning, this is a great start for encouraging students to go further and could be just enough to spark an interest!
  • Cross-curricular support.  If there’s an interest in Music Technology, why not get students recording presentations, recitals, shows and some of the other exciting events happening throughout school?
  • Don’t do everything, everywhere.  ICT Suites are brilliant, but for many tasks, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work and multi-purpose rooms simply aren’t ideal.  Whether it’s the layout of the furniture in the room, the spec or the setup of the machines in question or simply the amount of competition their is for access to the room, allowing areas of specialisation is crucial to ensuring the technology is able to deliver in a way the user expects.

‘What are you trying to do?’ The great technical staff / end user divide.

The above is probably the phrase I use most in my day-to-day support role.  In almost all cases, as teachers and students report problems, it’s only after asking this question that I’m able to offer help, or propose a solution.  Why is this?  It’s an interesting point that technical people very often have a different approach to their interactions with technology than those that are not so technically focused.  This isn’t to say that either party is ‘in the right’, but it can prove confusing for those who try to ‘walk the line’ between the two worlds – I count myself in that group!

A supplier to the school recently told me of the problems they have with getting information to Software Developers.  Very often a message will be relayed through a number of people, eventually ending up at the Development Team as a totally different project to that which the original user requested!  Part of this problem is the ‘chain of command’.  Because an issue has progressed through the layers of support, the risk of Chinese Whispers has increased, but also so has the feeling of detachment from the original user.  Helpdesk solutions DO help Support Teams plan their day, react to issues and ensure users are communicated to effectively, but they can add an unnecessary layer of stress to anyone reporting a problem.  However, the problem is bigger than that.  In most cases, when a user reports a problem, or a limitation of the software/hardware they are using, they are stressed – quite often they feel let down, either by the technology or their own ability and this can lead to lack of clarity in any requests to the Technical Team.

So, how can we ensure that Technical / End user conversations happen effectively?   One low-tech solution is to simply talk it through.  Very often we find that an email conversation over a matter of days could have been dealt with quickly by a face-to-face meeting.  IT departments can help by becoming more visible – it’s rare I can walk a corridor without bumping into someone with a request and that’s GREAT – it’s often the best part of my day to have a chat with someone and them (hopefully) leave feeling they’ve been helped.  I just don’t get that feeling from closing a ‘ticket’.  Let’s not forget that in education, we are dealing with users that have far less control over their time than we do, in support.

But there’s more.  Users can be encouraged to give more context and information in their requests and this can be done by VERY short, regular sessions with the staff, perhaps at briefings and other training times but also at key points throughout the year (preferably BEFORE busy times, not during).  It’s important that everyone realises the two-way nature of diagnosing and fixing technical issues.

Lastly, it’s important for all of the technical staff to have a decent understanding of how the technology is being used.  We aren’t in the business of simply opening a door and letting people do what they want once inside, but supporting, developing and advising how they can carry out their tasks in way that’s best suited to them and support teams should be making time to discover this.  Who knows? These investigations might mean a change of technology is required?  And that’s just fine, as long as such decisions are measured and taken in view of a wider strategy, it’s only right and proper that things should develop and change – the trick is spotting it coming!

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Useful eSafety advice via Grapple for Students

grapple - eSafety advice

Part of the problem of a lot of eSafety sites can be the condescending tone and patronising ‘advice’ dished out, with little real world examples to relate them back to.  This site is different to many out there.   Worth a look!

10 PRINT “Hello World!” 20 GOTO 10

Hello and welcome to ‘Franticbuttonbashing’ – a blog dedicated to the sometimes painfully clashing worlds of IT and Education!  I guess I should probably highlight right now, I’m not a teacher, but I work in Education and am hoping this blog will be of interest to Teachers, Techies and even Students, alike.   I’m heavily involved in the development of a VLE, so look out for lots of nerdy VLE-related stuff to come!