How the new computing curriculum relates to IT budget planning

In January 2013, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove announced a major change to the national curriculum. In particular, increased focus will be placed on Computer Science as a cornerstone of IT teaching in education.

Will this actually make any difference to the IT Hardware in schools? Yes, of course it will!

For teachers to be able to teach programming and for pupils to be able to learn, the correct tools need to be provided to them. Without getting too technical, this will require the correct software and the correct hardware to run the software on.

Over the past 3 to 4 years, we have seen the rise in popularity of tablets in the education sector. This has revolutionised teaching IT in many ways, moving to a much more engaging, hands-on learning experience for pupils. This reflects the clear increase of sales in tablets in the wider world and the decrease of sales for desktop computers, in particular. In addition, statements such as the following are becoming far more commonplace in a number of schools: “we are getting rid of our IT suite/laptop trolley and replacing these with iPads” or “no-one uses computers anymore.”

So it’s as simple as tablets = good, desktops = bad then?

In a wider context, it is true that the sales of desktops appear to be in decline but one needs to make a very important distinction between the home user market and the business market. Yes, you may have swapped your laptop for a tablet but how many people use a tablet for their day to day job? Accountants, graphic designers, office workers and yes…computer programmers, how many of these use a tablet for their primary work tool? Perhaps some at a senior management level but not many others.

It is completely futile to predict the future of IT but current trends suggest that those who are claiming the death of the desktop computer are wide of the mark. It is more likely that desktops will move towards being primarily a business tool due to their greater processing power over their mobile counterparts.

Of course, with the advent of “hybrid” machines that can be converted from a laptop to a tablet by simply rotating or removing the screen, the argument appears even more unclear. This appears to be the logical direction that IT will head in, to mix the portability of a tablet and the power of a laptop. However, the fact is that this technology is still in its infancy and adoption of these type of devices has been slow – there is still no clear market leader in this field.

Bringing this back to the new curriculum, as it is clear that desktop computers (or laptops) are primarily used for programming in the real world, it is logical that these should also have a place in the classroom. At least until the next change in the curriculum comes around!

Deciding where a school should invest their IT budget is a daunting prospect but that’s what we are here for!

Rather than focusing on which devices your school would like to buy, first consider the programs that you wish to use (with the curriculum in mind) and then see if this is available on the device of your choice.

Some apps are ideally suited for a tablet device, such as the popular 2Build a profile. The portability of a tablet, along with the integrated camera means that monitoring pupil progress is far easier than with a laptop. In the same way, typing out an essay in Word or creating a computer program in Python is more suited to a desktop computer.

Age is also a factor as younger, primary age pupils will often find a touch device such as a tablet more intuitive and easier to use. This also needs to be considered.

To summarise: taking into account the changes in curriculum and the technology currently available, the most prudent approach for most schools is to have a mix of both desktops and/or laptops and tablet devices.

If you have any questions about planning your IT budget, please get in touch and we will be happy to help.

Best of BETT 2014

Another year gone by and another BETT educational trade show to showcase the latest trends in educational IT. This year was the 30th anniversary of the famous trade show and a great way for schools and educators to be inspired with ideas of how to utilise IT in the classroom.

TTS Easi Cars

Previous years’ trends of “Cloud” and “Mobile computing” were still in evidence but one word dominated: CODING. How very apt that Educational Secretary Michael Gove would open the show with his keynote speech as he was the one to bring in the change to the curriculum to include Computer Programming.

Of course, computer programming can be daunting for all ages, not just school children! Luckily, many software developers has taken this into consideration with a tiered approach. The first lessons start very much with the basics and build from there – each lesson getting progressively harder.

So, what examples of great ways to teach programming were available at BETT?

2 Simple at BETT

 

The ever-present 2Simple have launched their take on this subject, with their slightly unimaginatively titled 2Code. As already suggested, this package starts at the beginning with the principles of coding – ideal for those who have never done any programming before. This level is even suitable for the youngest primary age children as no actual coding is involved at this stage. Underneath however, pupils are actually learning many of the important concepts involved with coding such as using logic and variables. 2Diy was another way to teach coding which allows pupils to create their own computer game.

The good news is that all of the above are included as part of the Purple Mash suite, so if your school already has this, you are good to go! If your school does not have Purple Mash but is interested, Coretek can arrange for a 2Simple rep to visit the school and demonstrate these products first hand.

Although unrelated to coding, 2Build a profile was another very interesting app from 2Simple. Using a tablet, teachers can easily track pupil progress throughout the year. This is available for both Android and iOS.

One of our favourite coding programmes at this year’s BETT was Espresso Coding. Much like 2Simple’s Purple Mash, this is a cloud platform i.e. a website that your school simply logs into. The approach to learning was much like 2Code, with a step-by-step approach. The Espresso Coding site was impressive with colourful animation which would definitely engage pupils. An interesting aspect of Espresso Coding is that when the user reaches the hardest level, they are actually exposed to “proper” coding using JavaScript. Espresso Coding is available on a free trial until November, which is a great deal.

For schools looking for other examples of programs that can be used to teach coding; Scratch and Kodu are very popular and for older pupils who want to learn a programming language, Python is ideal.

Smart Stand at BETT

Over at SMART, there was no new tech to speak of as such. The latest products on display such as the SMART Table and the Interactive Projector, although impressive, have been seen before. SMART seem to be focusing a lot of their attention into improving their resource centre: SMART exchange. This is where teachers can download lesson plans, resources and images to use with their SMART Board. The most impressive being the 3D models such as inside workings of the ear.

Over at the Dell stand, we encountered a very unusual device called Tobii. This allows the user to control a computer simply using their eyes! After a quick calibration, we were surprised how easy it was to navigate the Dell Windows 8 machine, browse the web and click on links, just like using a mouse. An obvious use of this technology would be in disabled children but this technology can also assist other pupils – one such application is as learning to read.

Caterham Show Car

Tablets were not as commonplace as at previous BETT shows’ but there were still a number to be found. Dell’s latest Venue tablets seems ideally suited to the educational market as they offered Windows 8 at an affordable price.

iMLS display

Finally, MLS have added to their reading Cloud by offering a service called Overdrive, where schools can purchase eBooks. The iMLS service allows pupils to access their school library via straight from their tablet or smart phone. Impressive stuff.

See you next year!

End of support for Windows XP

As you are probably well aware, Microsoft are due to end support for Windows XP as of April 8th, 2014. As such, we have compiled this short email to explain how this will affect you.

Why is Microsoft ending support for XP?

XP is a version of the Windows operating system that was launched in 2001. Although very popular in its day, it has now been superseded by three later versions, each offering a newer feature set and improved security over the last. As Microsoft understandably want to promote their latest offering – Windows 8 – it is in their interest to encourage people move to the latest version of Windows. The costs to them of supporting a 13 year old Operating System when they have three newer versions to support also explains this decision.

How will this affect me?

After the 8th April, if any issues arise relating to XP, Microsoft will not be offering any support. The end of updates for XP means that Microsoft will no longer find and fix any bugs in the OS, leaving it to degrade over time in terms of both performance and security.

As an IT support company, this puts us in a difficult position. If a support call is logged relating to a fault with XP, the only solution may be to either decommission or upgrade the machine in question.

We will continue to support clients that have XP machines but will not be able to offer a guarantee that these can be fixed if faults arise.

What are the next steps?

As part of our standard Total Care support package, we provide a budget recommendation report each year, a few months before the start of the financial year. As such, we actively encourage our school clients to keep their IT systems up to date. So, your school may well not have any XP machines left.

This year’s budget recommendations report will be sent out to all of our clients within the next month. This has a full list of all of your hardware assets and most importantly, where you will need to upgrade or replace machines to benefit from the latest versions of Windows such as 7 and 8.

The cost of upgrading to the latest version is Windows many sound daunting but if your school has an EES agreement that covers Windows, there will be no additional cost for licenses. We will upgrade machines rather than replace with new where possible to keep the costs down.

In the meantime, if your school still has a number of XP machines, we would strongly recommend assigning a portion of your IT budget in preparation for this change.

If you have any questions, please no not hesitate to get in touch.

Office 365 Email

Hampshire have now started to migrate schools from the previous OWL system to a new email system hosted by Microsoft called Office 365.

We think Office 365 is a great system and offers a considerable improvement over the old OWL system.

Here are a few reasons why:

Firstly, as this is a free offering from Microsoft, there are no monthly hosting charges. Secondly, as this is a cloud-based service, you don’t need an email server on site. So you are saving money on server hardware and electricity costs too.

Now you may be asking yourself “Isn’t this just Hotmail with a different name?” No it isn’t because with Office 365 you get to keep your current Domain. So if you current email address is joe.bloggs@hampshireprimaryschool.co.uk, you can keep it.

Office 365 also offers some great additional features. Each user gets 25Gb free online data storage with Windows Sky drive and an access to Office Web Apps where you can edit your Word and Excel files from within your web browser!

As Office 365 is hosted by Microsoft, it is your choice whether you choose Hampshire or Coretek to implement this service. The only caveat is that we cannot guarantee access to the Hampshire central address book. (NB – we have been recently informed that this is now available to all schools via the Hampshire Intranet).

There are a few pre-requisites for Office 365:
• Microsoft recommends Internet Explorer 9 or greater (so XP is not recommended)
• Your support provider will need to make changes to your internet settings
• You will need to provide a list of users that you wish to migrate over from OWL

If you would information on moving over to Office 365, including associated costs, please contact the office.

New Coretek Wallpaper and branding coming to your school very soon!

To make our Coretek TotalCare systems look the part, we have produced a Coretek wallpaper that will be displayed on the desktop backgrounds and login screens of all school machines. As well as a rather tasteful abstract design and Coretek Logo, the wallpaper also includes our contact information if you need to get in touch.

Coretek Educational WallPaper

We will be rolling this out shortly to all of our schools so expect to see this in the near future.

Support for Windows XP and Server 2003 ends 2014

For anyone who read our article about the impending end of the EdictNet system, you will already be aware that this is mainly due to Microsoft ending support for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. The official date is April 2014.

This does not mean that your XP machines will become unusable overnight but it is important to be aware that if issues do occur with these machines, they will not be under support.

Our Coretek TotalCare system is already compatible with all versions of Windows up to Windows 8 so if you are already supported by us, the simple option is to either upgrade or replace the machines in question. Schools that are still using Server 2003 should budget to replace their server in 2014 for the aforementioned reasons. In fact, this should be considered a much higher priority as the server is the central point for the school’s IT infrastructure.

The cost of upgrading to Windows 7 (or beyond) needn’t be prohibitive. Many schools are already eligible via the Microsoft EES licensing scheme. So there may not be any additional cost for hardware or software.

In addition to keeping IT equipment in a supportable state, upgrading to the latest Windows versions provides a whole host of improvements such as: new features, improved security and better performance.

If you have any questions or concerns about the end of XP and 2003, please get in touch.

End of EdictNet

Hampshire IT have announced that they are due to end support for the EdictNet system as of April 2014.

This news may be concerning for many schools still on the old system and unsure how this is going to affect them. To this end, we have produced the following Blog post to run through exactly what this means and what options are available for schools in Hampshire.
 

Why is EdictNet support ending now?

Basically, it’s all about Windows XP and Server 2003.

These versions of Microsoft Windows were what the EdictNet system was built upon. Although excellent in their day, these operating systems are now over 12 years old and Microsoft has decided to end support for these as of 2014. What this means in layman’s terms is that if any issues are found with XP (or Server 2003) from 2014 onwards, Microsoft’s official stance is to “upgrade to the latest version”.

As you can imagine, this makes supporting computers with XP a very difficult proposition for an IT Support Company. Hence the end of the EdictNet system.

For more information, here is the full press release from Hants IT explaining the decision: Hampshire IT EdictNet Strategy
 
Why don’t Hampshire just upgrade the EdictNet system to work with the latest versions of Windows?

We can only speculate here but as XP came to its end, an inevitable decision would have been made on how to provide support for current future operating systems such as Windows 7, 8 and beyond. Instead of amending the EdictNet system, Hampshire instead have opted for a new system: HSS or Hosted School Service.

HSS is what Hampshire are offering to supersede the EdictNet system. Although this is a replacement, it differs in a number of key ways. Most importantly, this is a hosted system i.e. the main IT infrastructure is actually owned by Hampshire and located in their datacentre, rather than on the school premises. This is good in some respects as the responsibility for IT equipment such as servers is handed over to Hampshire and there are other benefits such as a perceived reduction in energy costs.

However, there are downsides too. These include: an increased reliance of the internet line, slower performance, large initial expenditure and lengthy contracts. This subject alone is enough to fill a whole blog post and we have done just that. So see our post: Hosted Services, not always the right choice, not the only choice if you are interested in more information on HSS.
 
What options do I have?

There appear to be three fairly clear options:

1. Keep the EdictNet system
2. Move to HSS
3. Move to another provider such as Coretek Ltd
Option 1 is clearly the cheapest but offers the considerable disadvantages that any none of the IT equipment in school will be supportable from April 2014 and that it is not possible to buy new computers with XP installed (and hasn’t been for many years). So this isn’t really a viable option.

Option 2 is entirely possible. This decision will of course be at the schools discretion. What we would recommend is to research the HSS system fully before deciding to go with it. Talk to other schools who already have the system installed, talk to other providers, and of course read the small print.

Option 3 is probably the least considered option but may well be the best choice for many schools. This option will provide schools with the opportunity to keep their IT infrastructure on site. In addition, it may be possible to upgrade much of the equipment such as laptops and desktops instead of wholesale replacement. A more cost effective option such as this would be particularly suited to smaller schools (especially infant’s and primary’s) who have tight budgets to adhere to. Schools who are also very keen to preserve their independence would also suit this option. By keeping their server’s on site, the school is free to choose a supplier of their choice to support them. Conversely, by choosing HSS, Hampshire IT becomes the only choice available.
 
How do I know another provider is going to give me a good level of service?

We understand that change is scary and many school’s take a ‘better the devil you know’ attitude. This is fair enough but all we ask is simply to consider IT Support like any another service or product you would purchase in school. Most schools wouldn’t think twice about shopping around for a photocopier supplier or electrical contractor, so what should IT be different? As long as due diligence as carried out, there is no reason why you cannot find a quality provider.

Here at Coretek we have vast experience of migrating schools from EdictNet for 15 years and we stand by our service. Don’t just take our word for it, hear from other schools who have happily moved over to us: Testimonials from our school clients

If you have any more questions, please get in touch.

Working from home from your iPad made easy!

One question that we get asked quite a bit at Coretek by our schools is “Can I use Secure School Gateway from my iPad?”. Well, over the last few days, Microsoft have released a new Remote Desktop App that will allow just that. RD Connect

Although Remote Desktop Apps in other guises have been about for some time from other third parties, they have lacked integration and some features that allow for a fully-fledged remote experience when using an iOS device.

Here are just some of the new features from this initial release.

• Full support for RemoteFX Hand Gestures enabling a swift and fluid remote experience
• Support For RD Gateway Services – (Tech Jargon. Sorry! Very important though!!)
• Full support for video and audio remoting
• Supports Apple iOS 6.0 and later devices

This release highlights the shift that Microsoft have been undertaking towards the “any cloud any device” notion, adding further support to other non-windows devices. The same Remote Desktop App has also been released for Mac and Android.

Look out for the App in the Apple App Store and check it out. If you are a Coretek customer, we will be putting together a tip sheet shortly so as to get you up and running with this new tool as soon as possible.

Matt Hibberd – Systems Engineer

EES Work at Home (WAH) rights explained

EES Licensing is a great way for schools to gain access to Microsoft software at a reduced rate. See our EES Licensing Blog Post for some more information.

One of the big selling points of EES is Work at Home rights (also known as WAH). This allows the staff that are covered under the terms of the agreement to use the software at home. Simple enough? Well, yes but there are a few caveats.

For instance: you certainly can’t just dish out your school license key (MAK) to staff to use on their home machines. Staff need to either:

  • Request Work at Home licenses from a partner called a DDSP
  • Order a set of discs for the required software (minimum 25 units)
The licenses aren’t free but are provided at a very reduced rate compared to RRP.

A fantastic article which explains the whole process can be found on the SLA Education website: Work at Home Rights under EES.

Or for those with plenty of spare time, the details are also available in the official Microsoft guide (page 14): EES Program Guide

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Reducing the cost of storage for schools with Data Deduplication

Everybody knows that IT Infrastructure is boring and no LSA, Head Teacher or Class Teacher wants to know, worry or even care about how their schools server works, or how a disk subsystem functions…. Until they try and save a really important document and get a “Disk full” message (god forbid!)

It’s only then that people start to ask questions. Where has all that space gone? I thought we had plenty of space to go around? Why have run out of space so quickly? Who can we blame?!!!

Well sometimes this kind of situation can become a reality for schools and with budgets low, storing all that data can be an expensive undertaking. Modern teaching delivery methods involve high quality media such as videos, lots of photographs, music and such like. This all has a cost… A storage cost.

One of the biggest bugbears of storage consumption is data duplication. You may not know this, however many files share a lot in common, not just identical ones. Without going into too much tech jargon here, there is real potential for a significant amount of storage to be tied up in duplicate data, essentially wasting space that could otherwise be used for more useful information.

This is where a brand new feature to the new Windows Server 2012 platform comes in; Data Deduplication.

Data deduplication has the ability to sift through all of your files, looking for information that has been duplicated and removing those duplications as and when necessary. This has many benefits including:

  • Lowering the total cost of ownership – The need to budget for more expensive servers that can cater for all that data can be mitigated, a direct result of more efficient use of storage.
  • 50%+ space savings rates can be expected – Typically, deduplication will yield around a 50% saving rate (sometimes even more) depending on the files you are storing.
  • Non-destructive – just because Joe blogs has one file and Sandy Miller has a copy of the exact same file, it doesn’t mean that Joes gets deleted. Data is simply stored more efficiently, file integrity is thus preserved.
  • Your schools storage goes further – Schools have been finding that there storage is going a lot further than it has done in the past. Once again, this results in your schools investment in IT continuing on in service for a lot longer.

All new Coretek Educational implementations are now being delivered with Data Deduplication out of the box, meaning any school approaching Coretek can take advantage of this feature straight away. This further exemplifies the fact that Coretek are striving towards helping schools save money wherever possible. regardless of how small or insignificant a change or technology may seem, these types of factors all add up to real cost savings.

If your schools server already runs Windows Server 2012 (you may not know, however you can always ask one of our tech support team members to find out how to find out!) you will probably find that you can take adantage of this feature straight away.

One other thing to note is that there are no costs associated with this technology. As this is just a feature in Windows Server, it is completely free. There are no licenses, no special software or any other components to factor in or budget for.

 

Matthew Hibberd – Systems Engineer