Hi-Q Audio Recorder
Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Author:

We wanted the ability to record audio on our tablets. There was an audio recorder built-in but once recorded, the file was saved within the file structure and was a little tricky to get back. So with a bit of Googling, I found Hi-Q audio recorder. I did try a few others, but this seemed the best one. We have decided on the free version as we have no need for more than 10 minutes of recording.

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You simply press record and then stop.

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Once done, you press the menu icon (below).

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This then shows you all of the recordings and gives you the option to play them back, delete them or of course share them. I blogged before about Google Drive, so we could store our recordings online for others to get to if we wanted or we could email them to our radio station team and they could put them online too. It all works very quickly and easily!

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By far my favourite use of this so far has been by a teacher with a child that found writing difficult. She gave him the audio recorder, he spoke his sentence and then played it back, over and over before writing it down. I love this idea and it has now spread to other classes and they have started to orally rehearse their work before writing. They did this anyway, but hearing how it sounds when spoken will hopefully help to improve the quality of their work.

This could be used as an alternative to the Easi-Speak microphones that many schools have used in the past.

Google Drive for Sharing Photos
Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Author:

Google Drive has been around since the middle of 2012 and although at first I was sceptical, it really has come into its own this week with the tablets.

Every one of our tablets has Google Drive installed and is set to go to the tablets@ourschoolname.co.uk account that “owns” the tablet. We logged onto a PC and went to Google Drive and created folders for Infant and Junior as well as a few other things we needed. Inside each of those, we created a folder per class. This was the start and teachers (very) quickly added sub-folders for whatever they wanted.

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So, you simply take a photo. Press the share button share and then if the tool you want isn’t there, press see all. You can then upload to a whole host of different services. We of course want Drive.

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You are given the option to add a title. You can then press the folder name and be presented with a list of folders:

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Browse to the folder you want to upload to and press Select Folder. That’s it, your image is magically winging its way to Google Drive.

As mentioned before, all of our tablets are assigned to one user – tablets@ourschooldomain.com for example and there are potentially 100+ tablets taking photos at any given point. One thing we were concerned with was how we actually did anything with the pictures afterwards. I mean you can blog, tweet or whatever directly from the tablet, but sometimes y’know, you want to just…print them. Printing can be seen as a dirty word by some people who want a paperless world, but for us, we want stuff in their books, on the wall or for them to annotate. So we have fiddled with Google Drive a bit and now have an awesome solution.

We installed the Google Drive desktop app from here. To begin with, I installed this on two class computers. You install the program and it then asks you for your login (tablets@ of course) and then sets about downloading everything from your online Google Drive to your computer. This worked ok, but every morning I had to re-sign in before it would sync the photos to my computer. This was a pain.It was also set to download the images, currently at 4gb, to My Documents meaning that my profile was getting quite big.

So we installed it onto our server instead. We set it to put Google Drive onto a folder that all teachers and pupils can access and now, it works brilliantly. We timed it yesterday and two minutes  after a photo was taken, it had uploaded to Google Drive and downloaded onto our server for us to print out. In just two days this has been a game changer. It means that anyone in school can access and print the files, create Animoto videos with them, easily show them on their whiteboard and lots of other things in seconds.

The speed is key. It’s great having photos that you can take, share and print in minutes as it cuts down on any wasted time. In one lesson this week, we were investigating different types of triangles. Some children used the sheet and colour-coded them, others just wrote on the sheet but some boys decided to cut them out and write on tables. We then took a photo, uploaded and printed it and it was stuck in their books with notes before the end of the lesson. My LSA works with a child and they often use models, cubes or whiteboards and having a quick way to take photos and stick them into his book is really helping to share the learning he has been making.

masons tricky triangles

Oh and another Google Drive bonus? Unlimited storage. Yep. As much as we want. Wow.

 

PS: Before someone says, please check photo permissions for your children before uploading them online.

PPS: Oh and yes I know Google are evil and will harvest your images/soul/first-born, but their terms for file uploading are here. Please ensure that you read any terms and conditions and that you check with the powers-that-be before uploading your content online. There, that should do it.

Category: Android Apps  | Tags:  | One Comment
Android Apps – WordPress
Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Author:

To enable us to blog on our Android tablets, we have installed WordPress. We already have a self-hosted WordPress site so this is by far the best app to use to help us blog directly from the tablets.

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Once installed, it will ask you to sign in. This is for users with a blog at wordpress.com. Here you simply type your username and password.

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If you have a self-hosted site e.g. www.ridersblogs.co.uk then minimising the keyboard shows the option to add the self-hosted information too. Here you add the username, password and the address of your blogs.

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From here you are provided with a slimmed-down version of the WordPress site but it gives you everything you’ll need and you can browse comments and pages or simply press the “+” to add a new post.

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Clicking on the screen will bring up the keyboard and clicking on the gallery (the red arrow) will give the option to add photos (right). Minimising the keyboard gives the option to publish when done.

With Android there is also the option to publish directly from other apps such as the Gallery or Skitch by pressing the share button share

From here you get a list of ways you can share (below) and one of these is WordPress. We found a slight problem with this as the default image for WordPress is set to 2000 pixels wide, which is huge and looked ridiculous. After much Googling, we found a (really obvious) solution.

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So we went into the settings page by pressing the menu option and then clicked on the name of the blog and changed the default image to around 400 pixels. This seems to be working for us at the moment.

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Category: Android Apps  | Tags: ,  | One Comment
Mobile Devices – Part 3 – Our Setup
Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Author:

I blogged before about how we have setup our Android tablets so that we can manage them and how we have installed Meraki to do this. I have had questions about what we have done next. There has been an interesting learning curve, it hasn’t been difficult, in fact it’s been rather enjoyable. Someone comes to me asking how they can achieve a certain goal, I then set about trying to accomplish it.

Before the children (or staff) got their hands on the tablets, there were a few things I needed to install. My plan is to blog about each app separately and will add to the list as I find and use more key apps, but we basically needed tools for the following:

These core apps are then installed onto every single tablet. Teachers can install their own later on or ask me to deploy some, but I needed these as a basis. It also helped with staff training for the less confident! These were all installed via Meraki.

I also needed to setup a “homepage” so that the children could get to key links such as Sumdog, the school blogs, Educaiton City or whatever without having to constantly type in the address or remember a login for each one. We have used Airhead to create a page that contains links to the sites that we use. The address for this page is then put into Bit.ly to make it shorter. This is not essential, but when you are typing it in on 100 tablets, every letter will save time! Once we visited the page we wanted, we added it as a shortcut and then put this shortcut on the main page of the tablet.

You can see below that the “blue head” icon is on our home page. This will take the children to a page containing the links that they will need. Incidentally, along the bottom are the other key apps that I mentioned above.

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To ensure that we could access the sites that we wanted to use, we have installed FlashFox. This is a Flash-enabled browser which unlike Chrome, will give us the ability to load Purple Mash, Education City and other tools that are still Flash-based.

As I said above, I will blog separately about the different apps we have installed, but this is how our default tablets look at the moment.

 

Which Blog Plugins?
Saturday, November 01st, 2014 | Author:

There is an old post where I listed the plugins that we use on our school blog to keep it ticking over and after a few emails with different people recently, and considering it has been three years since that post, I thought I should update it.

At school, our blog site is www.ridersblogs.co.uk and we use WordPress Multisite and this post goes into a bit more detail, but it means that I can install small pieces of code, known as plugins, that will help my site to run in a different way. Some of these are vital, some are cosmetic, some are free and others are paid-for.

If you have any questions about blogging, or if you think I have missed something obvious, please let me know. I am always trying new plugins to see how they work and how they can improve our blogging experience.

Akismet - This should, in theory, catch all of the spam and prevent it from reaching your comment page. Some does occasionally get through but it does a good job of stopping most of it.

Custom Meta – Very simple but on the normal WordPress page there is a small menu giving 5 options such as log in and the RSS feeds. With this plugin, I can choose which of those 5 to show and for most of the time, it’s just log-in so that teachers and children can easily get to the sign-in page.

Diamond Multisite Widget – A huge discovery. So much so that I blogged about this plugin when I found it. When you have 20+ blogs as we do, it can be hard to curate a menu of the links to them all. What if someone accidentally find a a Year 6 blog, you’d like a link on there to other blogs in your school, right? This plugin does that. It puts links to all of your blogs on the side of each blog ensuring that there is always a list of the blogs that are active across the whole school. Before this plugin, I had to manually edit a list of links on each blog. Urgh.

User Role Editor – Another favourite. With WordPress you can different levels of user e.g. administrator but there are times when you only want children (or staff) to be able to do limited things such as write and edit their own blog posts. This plugin lets you create a role for the children and assign different capabilities to that role.

Unfiltered MU – Occasionally when a user wants to embed a video from a site such as Animoto or some sound from Soundcloud, WordPress was removing the HTML embed code. This plugin helps to prevent the code being removed.

Feedjit - This is a simple display of the last 10 or so people to visit your blog. This is great when showing it to a class as more often than not, at least one will be a non-UK based visitor leading to a discussion about where in the world that city or country might be.

WPMU Dev Dashboard (Paid for) – I have subscribed to the WPMU Dev package as it provides me with a range of plugins and themes that I have setup on different blogs within the school. I have also made a few blogs for other schools too so having extra, high-quality themes is very useful.

Easy Blogging (Paid for) – This is an amazing plugin. It is part of the WPMU DEV package but you can also buy it separately. What does it do? To put it simply, it can be set so that users of a certain level e.g. children, only see certain options when they sign in. So I have this set to allow children to only see “New Post” and “My Posts” and that’s it. They won’t get to see the comments or any of the other options that are potentially available to them. When combined with the User Role Editor, this becomes a very useful plugin. There is also the option to turn this on when logged in as a teacher meaning that the less-confident teachers can log-in, click “Enable” and be presented with a cut-down screen with just the things they need. Awesome.

 

Mobile Devices – Part 2 – Setting up Tablets
Saturday, November 01st, 2014 | Author:

In my last post, I wrote about setting up Meraki to manage our Android tablets. In this post I thought I would go through the physical hardware side from unboxing the tablets to having them setup and ready to play with.

As soon as the tablets are turned on, there is the first choice of choosing a language and then selecting your WiFi.

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From here, clicking on “Advanced Settings” will provide the option to setup the proxy settings for your WiFi, if you need to. The tablet will then spend a few seconds connecting.

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You will then be asked if you have a Google account. I’m not sure of the best way of organising this, but we have created one account e.g. android@ridersapps.co.uk (Our Google domain) and then every tablet device is “owned” by this account. We have six tablets per class and have no plans for moving towards 1:1 so the devices do not belong to the children and will probably not need to sign in to their own Google accounts either so having 1 account for all devices seems to be the best option.

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There are then various different terms and conditions and options before your device will be setup. In total, I would say 2-3 minutes per device. Of course having a few lined up to setup at once will always speed things up :-)

 

Now, the next part involves customizing the tablet for your school. First things first, we downloaded the Meraki Systems Manager app. This was mentioned in my previous post.

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Luckily, by searching for “systems”, you find Meraki first on the list. Install the app and it should appear on the home page, if not, look on the apps menu and it will be there instead. I found that 95% of the time it made a shortcut on the home screen.

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Once you open Systems Manager, you will be asked to enroll the tablet onto your Meraki domain. Enrolling will ensure that the profile you set up on the dashboard gets installed on the device. This will include the WiFi information and other settings you have decided on. Although enrolling is where we found a major problem. It appears that you can’t enroll the device if you are connecting through a proxy server. So there are a few options:

1) Take all of the devices home and use your home WiFi to enrol them all. Cons: Carrying them all home. Do you really want to do this at home??? Pros: Setting them up whilst watching TV.

2) Get your phone out, turn on the option to act as a WiFi hotspot and connect them through your phone. Pros: You can do it in school (providing you have decent phone signal of course) Cons: If you have a lot of devices, you might find you have to do them in small batches. I could only do 3 at a time, more than that and the WiFi speed slowed down. Also, it only uses a teensy bit of data, but I did find that I went over my monthly allowance of 750mb after setting up 100 tablets.

To be perfectly honest, neither option is ideal and I hope that Meraki can fix it to make life a lot easier, but hey, it is what it is at the moment.

Another thing to be aware of is that when the tablet connects to a different WiFi e.g. your home one or your phone hotspot, you will be asked to sign-in to your Google account again. I think that this is a safety measure, but it’s something to be aware of. I took the first 30 tablets home, set them up and gave them to teachers and they were being asked to re-sign before downloading apps. Oops.

Once enrolled, the device gets added to the Devices page on the dashboard and it can then be renamed as required. We have renamed all of ours according to the class they are going to and then stuck a label on the back of the tablet. This helps people know which device they have used and helps me know where things are!

So, once you’ve gone through the enrolment process, now what?

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Connect to your school WiFi, load Systems Manager and scroll right to find the Managed Apps page. This will be a list of the apps that you have setup via the Meraki Dashboard. From here, you can click on an app and you will be taken to the Google Play page for the app. Click install and it will then download. You can queue up lots of apps but you still need to go back to Systems Manager, click on them, click install and so on.

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Once setup and enrolled, if you add an app via Meraki, it will send a notification to each tablet and by clicking on this, you will get taken to directly to the app page so that it can be installed. This is nice, but you would then be relying on teachers/children to find the notification and install each app.

I would like to see some improvements in this process. It would be great to install remotely so that instead of there being a notification, the app actually installed instead. All in al though, for a free product, Meraki is great. I’d be keen to hear on how you have set up Android tablets so please let me know in the comments box.

 

 

 

Category: Hardware  | Tags: , , ,  | 2 Comments
Mobile Devices – Part 1 – Meraki
Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 | Author:

Since posting about our tablet devices, I have received a range of questions about their management so I decided to write two blog posts about how we have set them up and managed them within our school. These are similar steps for our Apple and Android devices. We currently have 10 iPads on our domain, 8 being used for monitoring children via the 2Simple Profile app in our pre-school and Early Years and 2 iPads used for SLT for various monitoring tasks and for observations. We also currently have 108 Android tablets for use by children from Year 1 to Year 6.

To manage the devices, we have used Meraki from Cisco. This is free and is available here: https://account.meraki.com/secure/login/dashboard_login This post will show you some of the things that Meraki can do and what we have set up so far.

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The first thing to do is to visit the website and click Create Account. It will ask you to verify your email address and then you can login and access the dashboard.

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Once logged in, it will ask you to create a new network.

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We gave it a name and then chose MDM for Mobile Device Management. I’m not sure what the other options do!

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You are then given the option to add devices. You can add IOS, Windows, Android or Chromebooks. Our Chromebooks are managed by the Google Apps dashboard and I haven’t tried adding Windows devices.

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There are two ways to add an Android device. The first is to download the Meraki Systems Manager app from Google Play. Once open, you click enrol and enter the 10digit code. Alternatively, visit the mobile website and enter the code on there. This will then ask you to install the app anyway. Please note, this isn’t our real code, this is a mock account for the purpose of this blog post.

For IOS devices, this works in a very similar way. There are a few certification steps along the way where you have to verify things with Apple, but it is easy enough to add a device using the steps provided.

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Once some devices have been added, it would be useful to create a profile. For IOS this gives you the ability to lock certain features e.g. turning off Siri or Facetime or blocking apps from installing. It also allows you to set a passcode for all devices.

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For us, the most important part on the profile page is to setup the Wifi. We were able to assign the Wifi name (SSID) and the password and proxy settings. This was then pushed to all devices within our Meraki domain. We set this up and then added all of our devices, once enrolled, they automatically collect the settings. If you have added devices already, simply click the sync option on the app and it will re-download them.

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Once the devices have been added, they will show on the Monitor>Clients page. From here, you can click on each device and rename it. You can also see the serial code, useful for inventory purposes and it also shows other information such as which version of the operating system is running, which apps are installed and which are missing. It also shows a map to give a rough location of the device.

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From the MDM>Apps page, you can choose which apps to install on the devices.

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For Android, you simply click Add New and then search the Google Play store. Pressing add and then save will send a link to this app to all of your devices.

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You can also click on an app you have used previously and re-push it to any devices that haven’t installed it yet.

For IOS devices, the process is similar but you will need to register for VPP (Volume Purchasing Program) so that you can buy the apps at a discounted rate and then install them on multiple devices. This can take a little while to go through as when you register for VPP, Apple will check your identity and that you belong to a real school. Once this has all been done, you can add the information from your VP account into Meraki. Free apps work in a similar way to the Android apps above.

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For Apple devices, the Organization>MDM page will highlight the various certificates and approvals that you will need to get things working. It doesn’t take long, but it is another step in the process.

 

We have only just started using Meraki, but it seems like a fab free tool for managing lots of devices. There are lots of things that it can;t do e.g. setting up each device to look the same or updating the operating system, but for the basics, it does them very well.

This next post looks at how to enrol the devices onto the Meraki domain.

 

Category: Hardware  | Tags: , , , , , ,  | One Comment
Setting up Chromebooks – Part 2
Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Author:

Following on from Part 1 where I talked about the physical setting up, this post will talk look at the Google Apps Dashboard and the settings that are currently available. Be  aware, this is Google. They change regularly. If it changes a lot, I will update this guide.

First off, you will need to login to your Google Apps Dashboard – www.google.com/a/yourdomainname.co.uk for example.

You will see an icon for Device Management. If this is not there, click More Controls at the bottom to bring it up.

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Then you will see Mobile and Chrome. Next to each, there are links to Devices (takes you to Devices below, Settings (takes you to Device Settings) and Shipments (takes you to Advanced\Shipments).  For this guide I am looking at the Chromebook setup rather than the Mobile one. I haven’t used the Mobile pages on Google Apps yet so I’m not sure how they work.

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Clicking Chrome will show this screen:

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The top number on this page shows the amount of active users within the last 7 days. Below I’ll try to explain each page of the menus is for and what it can do. I will also say which options we have turned on or off and which we have left. Obviously you can choose your own settings, but this is what we have done. If the settings aren’t mentioned below (there are a lot) then we have left them alone. I have tried to just mention the main ones.

 

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This page gives you the choice of various options for the users within your domain. You can choose a default wallpaper for example.

>>>>Pre-installed Apps and Extensions – Chrome has apps. Lots of them in fact. Now there is a way of managing some of these by pre-installing them onto the devices. Simply click Manage and then search for apps to install onto every chromebook.

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>>>>Security – We have chosen to never lock the screen when it is idle and to disallow incognito mode but these are minor things for us. We also don’t save the browser history either. We have prevented users from proceeding to malicious sites and allowed sites to detect users’ geolocation just to prevent sites from asking! I’m not sure if this is the best option, but it stopped a few errant pop-ups.

>>>>Startup – We have added the Home button to all chromebooks. This makes it much easier to get to the school website, especially for younger children. We have also set the Homepage URL. We have a page setup – www.ridersschools.co.uk/children – that has links to various tools that we use so it’s easier to get to that and then navigate to other stuff. We have also set the Chromebooks to load that page and the Google homepage on startup. That covers most things that we the children will use.

>>>>URL Blocking – There is the option to block URLs from being accessed but our filtering does this anyway, so we have left this blank.

>>>>Bookmark Bar – We have enabled this to make it easier for students.

 

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We haven’t changed anything on here as every user logs in to access the Chromebook so the settings on the menu above will apply.

 

 

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>>>>Guest Mode – We have allowed this just in case there is ever an issue logging on (usually an incorrect username or password but so far no-one has needed it.

>>>>Power Management – We have told the devices to remain on if they are on the sign-in screen. We found that this was easier than trying to figure out if the device was off or asleep.

>>>>Auto Update Settings – We have set the Chromebooks to auto-update and these are scattered over a 14day period. This means, unlike Windows, updates will happen slowly rather than trying to update everything all at once. To be honest, we have yet to notice an update cause a problem. When an update gets downloaded, it is installed the next time the machine is turned off and on again. Easy.

>>>>Time Zone – We have set the time zone. It was confusing the children when it was on US time :-)

 

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This is where you can add your wireless settings so that the Chromebooks will automatically join the network. Click Add Wi-Fi, add the name, password, proxy settings etc and then save. The Chromebooks will now find the Wifi automatically. Adding the Wi-Fi here means that if you change the Wi-Fi password for example, you just need to tell the Chromebooks one rather than having to do it manually on every device.

 

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This shows you the serial numbers for all of the devices that you have enrolled within your domain. It also shows if the device has been provisioned, when it was enrolled and by which user. There is also a notification of how many licenses you own and have used.

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Errr…this page seems to show all of the other menus..but in one place. Not sure why it is there. There might be additional options, but they are not obvious! Ok, so shipments is on there. But that’s it.

 

So that is how we have set-up our Chromebooks. If you have any ideas for improving this, or you think I have missed a setting that is vital or if you have any questions then please add them in the comments below and I will amend this post accordingly.