The new iphone 3Gs arrived a few weeks ago. It was prompted by the dropping and smashing of my Windows Mobile based XDA Orbit. In truth, it was a phone that I never loved. This was the second time I smashed it, and I was always frustrated by the clunky nature of Windows Mobile and the lack of applications to install on it. So, when serendipitously, a letter arrived on my mat inviting me to upgrade the day after the XDA bit the dust it didn't take me long to decide.
The process was helped by my friend Dave who had spent an entire Italian meal showing off his new iphone (note to self, don't join the legion of "incredibly pleased with myself" Iphone users who insist on demonstrating its capabilities whenever and wherever - I have only been partially successful at this). He was inordinately pleased with his London Underground planner app which, not only planned his route for him, but told him which was the optimum carriage to get on to minimise distance through crowds to exits etc. He was unimpressed when I pointed out the logical flaw in this app: namely, if all iphone users on the Tube downloaded it then you would see empty carriages on trains except for the "optimum" carriage" which would be crammed with geeks peering at their iphones and using Google Latitude to see which of their Twitter friends were also wedged in with them. This image had me giggling, and I'm sure that there is a cartoon in there somewhere.
It wasn't enough to stop me putting my order in and I've now spent a few days playing with my new phone. It's a brilliant piece of software design - incredibly easy to use, but it does have its limitations:
It currently doesn't support Flash. This means that loads of the interactive content uploaded to Learning Platforms and available generally on the web won't work on it. To be fair, this is no different to other smartphones, although the HTC Hero does claim to support Flash now, although I'm told it's a bit clunky.
The phone won't run 3rd party apps in the background. That sounds fairly geeky, but it's an important point. As an example, I have downloaded the MapmyRide app which uses the GPS feature of the phone to trace any runs or bike rides I undertake onto a map. Unfortunately, if I receive a phone call during the training session I have to resume the MapmyRide tracking after the call. It would be so much better if it just ran in the background. Again, Android phones allow this.
Maybe I should have looked seriously at the HTC Hero,but I've been seduced by my iphone and in practice have found it to be a wonderfully intuitive and simple device to use. Synchronising contacts, calendar and email with Outlook was the work of moments and browsing the App Store has given me some great applications that will make my life a lot simpler. Doing stuff like taking a photo/video/voice memo/note is so intuitive that Apple don't put a manual in the box.
Here ar a few of the apps that I'm using regularly:
The Wordpress app is an absolute gem. I can set up access to as many Wordpress blogs as I want and write new posts, edit existing stuff, upload photos straight from the phone's camera and so on. It makes mobile blogging a piece of cake.
This is a Typepad blog, but the iphone app from Typepad is nowhere nearly as good as its Wordpress counterpart. Its biggest limitation is the inability to edit existing posts as it treats any edit you make as a brand new post. I use it if I really need to, but any edits or additions I leave until I get home.
Evernote is a new application for me that brings together the camera, notes, web bookmarks and voice memos into a single application. It uploads all notes that you create to your Evernote web page (creating an instant backup) and syncs with the Evernote desktop application that you can install on your home pc. I know some schools use Evernote on pupil handheld devices as their preferred jotter and I'm looking forward to exploring its potential.
Other apps I've installed:
BeeTagg: QR code recognition software (see post on QR codes)
Tweetdeck: Impressive Twitter app
MapmyRide: GPS tracking for exercise (there are lots of other GPS tracking apps)
Facebook: Nuff said
National Rail Enquiries: Although this cost £5 it is absolutely brilliant. If you use our rail network at all it's far easier to use this app to find out about trains/delays etc than using the web on your computer. Particularly keen on the "next train home" feature which, because it uses GPS will tell when your next train home from your nearest station is in a single click.I'm looking forward to exploring the new phone's potential (did I mention it makes phone calls too), and I would be very happy to receive suggestions for apps that I might have missed (there are so many thousands of apps in the Apple Store that finding what you want is actually a bit of a trial and error experience).
I don't usually blog about specific products but I will make an exception for this case, mainly because they are a software developer local to me. I will add that I have no financial interest in any of the products and services mentioned. The products in question also have a unique selling point that might just fit the bill.
Currentware are the software developer in question whose products are distributed by Codework who have been supllying IT solutions from their Stockport office for more than 10 years. They specialise in network management systems and as well as distributing products from various well known software companies they develop their own software.
Anybody who has spent any time thinking about network security will recognise the problem that USB ports present. Teachers and pupils plugging in USB pens can easily introduce malware and viruses to your school network, so many schools just block the USB ports. This is turn presents a problem given that teachers and children will also need to plug in digital cameras, microphones, microscopes and a host of other USB based peripherals. This can be got around by having higher level logins for teachers, but that still assumes that they have the skills and knowledge to prevent malware getting on to their network as a result of freeing up USB ports for their use.
Access Patrol is a neat piece of software that addresses this problem by creating a register of approved devices that are allowed to plug in to your network. So you might choose to allow particular cameras, scanners and microphones etc. and not allow USB pens. You could also restrict the use of these devices to particular users, or even allow specific USB pens, but not others. One of the great features of this software is, because it's based on the device and controlled by a console, it works even when the device isn't plugged in to the network. This is invaluable when controlling the use of laptops and netbooks which might be taken home by staff or pupils. At around £400 for a 100 screen network it's also a pretty cheap solution.
An extra feature of the product that I like is that it will schedule an auto shutdown (and power up)of all pcs on your network at a given time. This feature on its own could save you enough money in saved electricity to justify installing it on its own.
Like Access Patrol, Browse Control is a device based piece of software. It controls the internet access from the workstation through the use of user configured white list or blacklist filters. You can add any lists that you might have (N2H2 etc). Each user can have their own specific access parameters applied and allows time schedules etc. Again, because it is based on the machine, it works wherever your device is plugged in to the internet. Now this is interesting, because more and more schools are starting to investigate the provision of netbooks with 3G dongles to pupils with no broadband access at home. This usually begs the question, how are these 3G connections filtered and monitored? Because Browse Control continues to operate when remote from the school network, schools can create an off-site white list, or at the very list provide a basic level of site and wildcard blocking on these netbooks. And if you use the Browse Reporter reporting module it will report which sites the user hass accessed next time the netbook is plugged in to the school network. Again, at £400 for a 100 screen network it's an inexpensive solution that might complement your existing LEA based filter, giving you a bit more local control.
Apparently if you buy all 3 elements you can get a decent discount. Contact Currentware for more details.
This is a QR code. It's atype of bar code and this one contains the URL of a website. It was generated using the brilliant Kaywa.com. Also available on the site are QR code readers for mobile phones (Symbian i.e. Nokia phones and Java based phones - the website will tell you if your phone is supported). How could you use this in education?
Steve Moss, who I know from his days as ICT leader in Manchester, apparently was steering schools away from the notion of building ICT suites in schools in his presentation at the Naace conference. Indeed, I know several schools (my wife's included) that are actively considering other uses for the space. This move has been accelerated somewhat by the rapidly growing popularity of the "netbook" style of computer. Much smaller, and more robust than a traditional laptop, they seem to fit the needs of schools extremely well. However, before you chuck out the baby with the bathwater there are some points that need careful consideration.
For the last two days I have been working on the Lightbox stand. I have had great fun sharing what the children at Chorlton Park have been doing with it. Always so much more powerful to see real work produced by real kids.
Towards the end of the afternoon I got some time to look around, and a couple of things caught my eye.
First off were Valiant Technology, home of the roamer. I imagine that they have lost marketshare to Beebot in recent years, but their new robot is definitely worth a look as it takes robot technology into a whole new space where you can program it to do whole lot more than follow a sequence of instructions. In fact, you can design an environment for the robot to "live" in, and interact with. They are also developing a very good user community to help teachers with lesson plans and resources. So if your old roamer is sitting unloved in the bottom of a cupboard, it's time to have another look. More info at http://www.valiant-technology.com
I also liked Smart's frame for a plasma TV. By mounting the TV in the frame it becomes an interactive whiteboard - with no projector. It's not cheap, but might be just the ticket for small groups working in restricted space.
There's been a lot of noise about the Microsoft Surface (a multi-touch table - see photo) and it is a lovely piece of kit to play with - feels like a giant iPhone, and it's distinctly odd to "throw" objects across such a large screen. There will be masses of educational apps using this technology - I'm thinking of some great sorting and counting tools, for example, however, with a price tag of 8500 pounds and engineers based in Germany, don't expect to see one in your classroom anytime soon. It is definitely a technology to watch, though, as Microsoft a already talking to educational developers and will be announcing ed prices soon. I suspect that software developers are going to have to radically rethink software design as the children will be grouped around all four sides of the device.
Tomorrow I will be on the Incerts stand upstairs in the software zone, do take the time to drop by and say, "Hello."
The rapid development of cloud computing must be making traditional educational software companies reappriase their future direction (or cr*p their Pants). The notion of running applications that have traditionally run on the PC such as word-processing and spreadsheets on the internet might be new to most teachers, but they are already widely used in the small business community. And teachers are already used to platforms such as VLEs and web forums and suchlike that run online, so any resistance to teachers adopting online tools might be relatively easy to overcome especially when they realise that running applications in the cloud can offer schools potentially large cost savings and great educational and time saving benefits at the same time.
If you enter the words "proxy bypass" into Google you get 293,000 results, many of which will contain detailed and fairly simple instructions on how to bypass your school's and local authority filters. For the most part this is done to gain access to social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace. In the main, good monitoring of your school's web activity can spot this sort of thing going on and can take steps to block it. Secondaries have become very adept and spotting suspicious surf patterns among students (and staff) and until now it has largely been assumed to be a secondary school proble.
Last week a primary school in Manchester where I work discovered a Year 6 pupil had set up a proxy bypass and was downloading all kinds of unsuitable material (they also warned a temporary member of staff about doing exactly the same thing - setting up a bypass, that is). In past blog posts I have ranted more than a little about the irrelevance of filter systems and the need for better education and better monitoring, so, which of the following apply in your primary school?
I'm guessing that for most primary schools that none of the above apply.
We are rapidly getting to a situation where the existing complacency around web filtering in primary schools is no longer tenable (massive generalisation, I know, but in the last 18 months I have been in over 100 primary schools and can count on one hand the number with proactive web monitoring systems). Children and staff are actively seeking ways to get around the filters and nobody in the school even knows. The only reason that the above mentioned primary spotted the problem is that it is someone's job every week to check the web access reports.
What's the solution? Certainly not more filtering, as web access becomes cheaper and cheaper and the skills to get around filters becomes more widely disseminated (how many of the children in your school have elder siblings at secondary? How many have web access on their mobiles?), filters are becoming redundant. No, the answer is much better monitoring; back that up by an active Acceptable Use Policy; and finally much better education for staff and children alike on the issues surrounding internet safety, safe surfing habits and educational use.
The vast majority of schools still use Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) despite this being a browser with well known security vulnerabilities and is essentially 7 year old technology. Worldwide, IE6 still commands a 29% share of the browser market, but the figure in education is likely to be much higher (anecdotally, more than 90%). This is largely down to schools not spending time and money on what is perceived to be a non-essential upgrade. Typically, schools will only move to Internet Explorer 7.0 (IE7) when they purchase new kit or undertake major network upgrades. Any computers in schools purchased before September 2006 are still likely to have IE6 on them.
It's high time that this changed and schools updated their browsers across their networks:
So, it's time to do your favourite website providers a favour and give IE6 the old heave-ho and upgrade to a more modern browser. By sticking with IE6 your school systems are more vulnerable to attack and you are missing out on potentially large performance gains.
I'll begin by saying that I don't normally do hardware reviews as I am not really qualified to write them. However, Phil Birchinall from Computeam let me play with his Asus Eee PC the other day and was really excited about the potential of this device. First off, it's small and light, being only 9" across and has a brilliant 7" screen: much bigger than those you get on a pda/eda/smartphone. Add to that the ability to plug it in to your school network or work wirelessly, as well as a proper (compact) keyboard, and you have a device that could really make you think again about investing in laptops.
Plus Points for Schools
There are further developments in the pipeline, however, that give this device even more potential. An 8gb version is on the way, as well as a version that is running Windows Xp instead of Linux. I'm also told that they will add a GPRS version in the spring to enable you to hook up to the internet anywhere you can get a mobile phone signal (contracts for this type of service can be as little as £10 per month or can be bought casually, whenever you need to be mobile, e.g. on a residential.
In the brief time I used the device, I logged on to my blog site and found that it had no problem supporting Wordpress or Twitter or most of the other web services that I use, in fact it was a dream to use on these sites - particularly on Teachertube. My only word of caution, noted above, is to make sure that that it's compatible with any content that you've subscribed to.
In short, don't think of this device as a replacement for a laptop; it has nothing like the storage capacity or flexibility. However, if you want a device that provides an excellent browser and a suite of productivity software (wordprocessor, spreadsheet, presentation etc) it could be a great solution. The very fast boot time and long battery life alone should be enough to entice those among you who have (and I include myself) experienced endless frustration with under-specced wireless networks trying to cope with too many laptops at once with the added fun of batteries dying all over the place.
The only real problem may be getting your hands on one - they are proving extremely popular.
Other information about this device: