OneNote and BYOD

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been doing some holiday research into ideas which could help integrte ICT within learning and teaching in a BYOD environment.

This has led me to look at hardware and software suitable which Is largely operating system platform independent.

There is of course, a lot of browser based software out there which help to make bring your own device possible. And in Scotland we are further aided in our National Education intranet called GLOW.  The recent upgrades to GLOW to include a O365 SharePoint tenancy for all pupils and teachers further augments the range of tools which pupils can have at home.  As all users can now have access to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote coupled with 1TB of cloud based storage in OneDrive (Microsoft’s Dropbox equivalent.)

hXYVJ_U4_200x200The purpose of OneNote has always eluded me somehow as I have always felt that I could achieve the same or better in Word or Publisher. However, OneNote in the context of learning coupled with the ClassCreator tool form a very powerful complimentary partnership.

To explain, OneNote behaves like a pupil’s jotter (or exercise book for non-Scots) where each curricular subject could have a notebook with multiple tabs representing topics and multiple pages for either lessons or sub topics and tasks.  Other uses too could include e-portfolios. When you couple this with the fact that OneNote is available for everyone on every platform and free to all learners then we have a powerful tool for learning. In my mind the light bulb has switched on.

OneNote ClassCreator which is available in SharePoint O365 (GLOW) takes this a stage further allowing teachers to create OneNote notebooks which are allocated to their pupils both tasking them and simultaneously allowing pupils to have the work monitored and corrected (without even the perceived public humiliation of a teacher standing over a shoulder.) There are a number of good video tutorials about this which both demonstrate this in action and can take teacher through the process.

First, watch Microsoft in Education’s YouTube channel.  There are 34 videos many of which show the power of OneNote used by pupils coupled with a suitable device.  The use of handwritten entries in OneNote is of particular interest.

Second, look at www.onenoteforteachers.com. This shows teachers how to use these tools to set up the class notebooks and how to get the most out of OneNote.

Issues?  I always like to identify any downsides too!  O365 web based versions are limited as are the apple and Android versions.  Microsoft understandably want to sell windows kit therefore the most fully featured versions of all applications are available in Microsoft Office 2013.  It’s also worth using this as it integrates from the desktop directly into GLOW. However, this is worth the effort in my opinion. GLOW wouldn’t  let me log in to OneNote without a Microsoft account and it didn’t like my GLOW login details.  I’m assuming that this is a current glitch that will be resolved soon. Just as ClassCreator wasn’t working until on day of this week.

Overall, this looks like a really useful tool which I plan to explore further in the current weeks.

HP Streams and BYOD

The Christmas Holidays have come upon us and that provides a little downtime to facilitate some thinking about new things.  This holiday I have been considering the implications of how bring your own device could ever work.  Of course this really means that I’ve been investigating the killer hardware and software which would allow this to work. New and favourite pieces of hardware include the new line of products from HP.

The new HP Stream products further demonstrate the cloud based nature of modern ICT.  The range includes a 7 inch (£99) tablet, 8 inch (£149) tablets, 11 inch (£169), 13 inch (£229) and 14 inch laptops (£229).  They have also just announced a HP Stream mini desktop (~£120).

HP Stream 7
HP Stream 7

The key thing with all of these devices is their low price point. I am writing this post on a HP Stream 7 signature edition which I bought from the Microsoft store at the sale price of £79 with free postage.  It’s terrific!  I have thoroughly enjoyed using it and as an avid fan of all things Apple I have been quite happy to put my other toys aside in favour of this budget device.  As a possible tool for pupils at school this little device can pack a punch and runs Microsoft Office (bundled for a year) with ease. When you consider the ability for Scottish Schools to use windows based devices like this with the national O365 SharePoint tenancy in GLOW then these little devices have the potential to change productivity in the classroom.  They also have a fairly parent friendly price compared to Apple devices whilst still allowing access to industry standard applications.

The only downsides which I have discovered are the battery life, as whilst I get a fair few hours from the device it’s not an all day battery, and the cameras are pretty poor. But what do you expect for this price?  These haven’t affected the usability of the device for most purposes.

Next, you need the killer apps… My research took me to a variety of applications including OneNote coupled with ClassCreator.  However, that is worthy of it’s own post and will come next.

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This article focuses on the HP Stream devices.  Other PC, Apple, ChromeOS and Android devices will also work with GLOW.

Testing the blog server with pupils

Having spent almost two and a half years On this project it was a great sense of achievement to finally have some pupils using the blog server. It also, was not without it’s hiccups. Th Blog Server was used by two classes in this school the first a colleague of mine allowed a small group of his pupils use it. His only response was that whilst it worked it was a bit slow.

Not completely unsurprising as the hardware was an old computer with 512 Mb Ram, an Intel Celeron D Processor and two 80Gb hard disks. Whoo-whee!!! Not exactly bursting with lots of power but it’s a start. Anyway, it was struggling to allow the pupils to access the dashboard simultaneously so I’m currently taking a two pronged approach to solve these issues. First, I’m looking for a better box, a proper server and one will come my way in due course. Second, I’m looking for optimisations which can be implemented on the server.

Optimisations

There are two optimisations which can help improve the performance of the blog server. Caching the PHP pages generated from WordPress and cache the database queries. Both these optimisations save processor operations and can speed up the web server’s responses to the users.

There are a number of WordPress plugins which can be used to cache these pages. I’ve tried WP Super Cache and WP optimisation. Plus others which I’ll post later.

The latest test with 7 users worked well and fairly fast. The educational benefits are starting to become evident following this test of this one fact I remain pleased and positive.

Optimisation of the Blog Server – 9/6/11 19:55 (Blog server, multisite, mysql, optimisation, php, testing, wordpress)

Ok, so the story so far…

I’ve built the blog server, it is now installed on the network and this involved routing the blog server to look through the network’s proxy server. The problem with trying to achieve this is understanding the nature ofna network which is not your own. I found various articles here but configuring the network was a bit tricky.

Here are the articles which I used for advice
article 1
article 2
etc

I also created a plain HTML file which was very useful it had embedded content for YouTube as this would prove if the problem resided with my WordPress installation. This indeed prove to be a master stroke on my part. As indeed I did have an issue with the wordpress setup. There seem to be a myriad of hidden options which can be added to the wp-config.php file and some of these do the trick!

Blog Server Demo

This is a wee video which I shot using one of the mockup servers that I created. But basically you’ll get the idea!

 

<iframe src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/nQP_jlUD9OE?hd=1″ width=”480″ height=”390″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen”></iframe>

 

It has taken a long time but the real version went live on our network last week. Now all I need to do is get my pupils involved in using it!

Blog Server

The problems you face when it comes to implementing a project like this are wide and varied. This is a proper computing project when the issues are many and rely on a cool head and a logical approach. That’s easier said than done! As when you come across the challenges your state of mind, fatigue etc vary and I wish I could have stopped myself battering on when the logical side of the brain wasn’t always as sharp as it could have been.

Setting up the blog server with Ubuntu, that was easy. If you’ve ever Installed an operating system then ubuntu is much the same. follow the prompts and there are many webcast demos on YouTube to help you out. Just see my last post for some details.

Then there is the lack of an HCI – if you want a lean mean blog serving machine then you need to try and reduce overheads, accordingly I did without the GUI and went for the command line only server installation of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. Well… second time around!!! My first incarnation of the box was based on 8.04 LTS and predates the later release.

However, the learning curve of learning and controlling everything by command line using a SSL client like putty or terminal is too big a task for most. Therefore I plummeted for Webmin, a web based interface which allowed me some control via a web interface. I would happily recommend Webmin although during the last installation which I carried out I have discovered that one of the dependent packages has been relegated to the back dated old software repositories which ae not in vogue. I ever of course to the dependent package for libmd5. however there are blog articles about how to install this.

Next we have the main event! Setting up the blog server to do something. In my case I leafed how to set up virtual hosts for my multiuser version of wordpress. During the first incarnations of my server I installed the multiuser version of wordpress called “wpmu”. However this version has now been integrated into the main edition of WordPress and been rebranded WordPress Multisite. I have now installed this on my latest server.

in my earlier editions of the server I had to run DNS and Apache on the same server but on my school network the two have to be separated with DNS being handled on one of our two main servers. This meant that I actually rebuilt the server from the ground up and relied on apache only on my web server.

This actually meant that when I edited the /etc/network/interfaces file and the resolve.conf files that I had very little configuration to do. However, it has to a be said that apache did want a specific ip address to be entered against the server and did not allow it to work leaving the setting on the wildcard * entry for all addresses.

having had my server set up and working at home i took the machine to work and adjusted the appropriate networking settings. this presents more issues. Firstly getting the correct network settings, making sure that you can ping other machines within the network and getting a nslookup from the dns server for my internal domain name. Next, e-mail, I couldn’t send and receive emails until I reconfigured the postfix mail server nor the wordpress plugin configure email, I have just managed this and both are now working. I’m going to take a few days and make sure I’m happy which one works best.

My next challenge is to try and set up the correct proxy settings for the web server. As, I need my webservr to be able to intereact with the outside world. Traffic from outside will need to supply updates, plugins, themes etc via FTP, rss feeds, slidesshare and YouTube embeds will need to pass throughout the web server to be displayed on the blogs that people wish to serve up. I’ve read the apache advice on this concerning mod_proxy and the related modules and I’m working on getting the correct settings next. All in all, I’m pleased with the wordpress install and will be happier when I get it working fully and feel that I can move onto the next part of my blog server – the video and media server YouTube clone. i’ve tried both phpmotion and clip-bucket. My next post will tell you about these and my experiences so far trying to incorporate them into my blog server.