Warning: Personal post – my new job

September 6, 2015

Once again I am breaking the editorial guidelines for this blog.  This post isn’t a tip, trick, useful software or hardware.  Last time I did this was in 2012, so I think I’m allowed one every three years.


After 12 years of working for Cramlington Learning Village, I’ve moved on.

I’m thrilled to announced that I am joining FrogEducation as their Technical Customer Advocate.  My role is to work for and with Frog schools to help them get the most out of their platform.

I’m a huge fan of Frog, it has twice transformed CLV.  We embraced the concept of a VLE when we first bought Frog in 2008, creating a VLE which allowed teachers to push information to students and interconnect all our resources.  This was only 4 years after Facebook was founded, 3 years after YouTube, online learning was barely a concept in most UK schools.  Cramlington already had an intranet, containing hundreds of lesson plans – but this was a resource for teachers.  Frog3 flipped that by bringing our students online in a safe and secure portal.

In 2014, we upgraded to FrogLearn (still using Frog3 to manage it – recommended for upgrading schools at the time –  I don’t know if that’s still the case).  The effect was again transformative.  Frog3 (as good as it is) made lesson creation a slow process.  FrogLearn makes lesson plan writing easy.  Our staff (sorry, CLV’s staff) seem to have overwhelmingly embraced this, each writing dozens of lesson plans – last count was 3500 sites (1000 more since I spoke at Frog15).  These lesson plans sit within FrogDrive, but I helped created a department structure to aid in organising them and recreated the Accelerated Learning template first introduced to Cramlington in 1997 with the help of Alistair Smith.

You can watch me talk about it at Frog15:

It’s this experience and knowledge I hope to bring to all Frog schools and while I leave behind good friends and dedicated colleagues at CLV, I can’t wait to start!



My Top 4 Chrome extensions

August 10, 2015

Google Chrome is awesome a browser.   There are those who prefer it to other browsers and I can see why.  For an individual, it’s very customisable and while this can cause issues for schools, it’s an up-to-date, easy to use browser.

Let's face it, if you're reading this post, you probably already have a certain viewpoint

Let’s face it, if you’re reading this post, you probably already have a certain viewpoint

Added this one for balance

Whatever your opinion on Chrome, it’s extensions are really powerful, so much so that I keep a list of them to be able to reinstall them when Chrome decides to clean them out or I accidentally hit reset all (that happened this morning and it was like losing a family album :) ). I thought I’d share this list with you – which also has the happy side effect of making it easy for me to find them again :)

Open in IE


Link to Chrome Store

Google Chrome considers it a security issue to be able to open a link in Windows Explorer.  The trouble is that this is a really handy thing to be able to do if you’re managing an intranet server. Annoying, Google does allow you to open the Chrome downloads folder on its own downloads page, but I can’t find the code to duplicate this.  If anyone does know how, please tell the world (and me).

This extension offers the chance to open a link in Internet Explorer when you right-click on a link.   So, if you’ve got a page with a link beginning file:// the extension opens IE, which then opens Windows Explorer (and closes IE as a bonus).

There is a problem with the current extension though, it uses NPAPI which Google have announced they are shutting down by version 45.   On that day, I will be wearing a black armband.

These instructions on the Chrome help page will allow you to use this really useful plugin until then (note the slightly smug “if you must use…”  – yes Google, we must use it – make your browser better and we won’t have to!):

How to temporarily enable NPAPI plug-ins
If you must use a NPAPI plug-in, there’s a temporary workaround that will work until Chrome version 45 is released later in 2015:

  1. Open Chrome.
  2. In the address bar at the top of the screen, type chrome://flags/#enable-npapi
  3. In the window that opens, click the link that says Enable under the Enable NPAPI flag.
  4. In the bottom-left corner of the page, click the Relaunch Now button.

Window Resizer


Link to Chrome Store

I’ve got a HUGE desktop monitor.  I know, size isn’t everything, but sometimes inches do count.   It’s really handy for me to have multiple windows all visible at the same time.  Honest.

As any web designer worth their salt will tell you, it’s very important to design pages that fit on your target audiences screen.   It’s so easy to make a page too wide without realising it, or to have an important message below the “fold” (the bit not visible until you scroll down).

Window Resizer is a brilliant way of quickly resizing your browser to the size of the user’s screen.   We have multiple devices in school now; desktops running at 1024×768, others running 1440×900, mobile phones and Chromebooks.

Being able to quickly check what a page looks like, gives me a chance to catch mistakes and produce a better looking product.  You can customise the screens and shortcuts too, which just adds to my love for it.

User-Agent Switcher


Link to Chrome Store

Speaking of designing for multiple devices, User-Agent switcher allows you to quickly check how your page looks on a range of devices and browsers. There’s not much more to say about it really.

It’s helped design our mobile VLE site and is really handy when identifying problems when users complain their phone doesn’t see something.

Clear Cache


Link to Chrome Store

For some bizarre reason, CTRL + F5 works in Chrome, but doesn’t completely clear the cache.   Isn’t that the point of CTRL + F5, to clear the cache and refresh the page?

Apparently not. This handy extension takes care of the problem at least.

It’s the Ronseal of Chrome Extensions.

Upgrading the TV studio

July 27, 2015

I wrote this original series of articles back in 2010, based on the TV studio I set up in 2008.   Well, the march of progress or time or whatever has begun to catch up with the equipment.


The trouble with a TV studio is that everything works with everything else.  I couldn’t just replace the SD cameras (and not just because they still work), but the Vision Mixer only works with the SD footage.

HD or not HD

I’m not a huge fan of HD for school studios, the quality and file size have always meant SD is perfectly fine, but time does move on.  One of the Vision Mixers was starting to fail and I realised that if the camcorders did stop working, they couldn’t be replaced with a similar model.  All camcorders available now are HD only.

The conclusion was unavoidable: It was time to move to HD


Deciding to switch to HD forced the decision to replace the video mixer.  I knew about one option, the professional NewTek Tricaster – a product I have coveted from afar for a long time.  The trouble is, last I looked, the Tricaster retails at around £6000.   I put in the entire original TV studio for that amount!


That’s when I called Planet eStream, they supply Cramlington with their video streaming system and are really nice guys.  I explained:

  • I have a small amount of money in the budget
  • I need to be able to record, stream and edit the videos before uploading
  • Premiere Pro will not capture USB, so I can’t buy an SD adaptor
  • I have a spare HD 3MOS camcorder

Their solution – vMix

vMix's interface.   Note: that's not me

vMix’s interface. Note: that’s not me

vMix is a free and/or cheap “studio in a download”.  It can take almost any type of image source from cameras and files to PowerPoints and screen captures and allow you to mix, merge, chromakey them in a bunch of different combinations.

Before we upgraded we had 4 PCs in the TV studio, now it’s a little different:

Before upgrading After upgrading
  • Capture and streaming PC
  • Background PC
  • Captions PC
  • Teleprompter PC
  • vMix PC
  • Teleprompter PC

Four PCs also meant 4 heat sources in a small room.  It’s really surprising how much difference only have 2 has made.

In the end, we did spend a bit of money.  I bought an i7 PC with a Magewell capture card.  This capture card takes 2 HD inputs and passes them over to vMix.   We’ve also spent $60 on vMix HD so that we have more flexibility with output images.

Virtual Sets

We’ve also been playing around with the virtual sets in vMix which adds an extra dimension and bizarrely, we’ve found we only need one physical camera to act as a two camera studio.


We have an HD camera, outputting at 1920 x 1080 pixels.  We stream to whiteboard PCs around the school site, so we stream in SD to avoid bandwidth issues (actually output size is 800 x 480).  This means that an HD virtual set can have multiple views which don’t have to even overlap!

Still from the fascinating exposé we did into the private life of the traffic light's Green Man.

Still from the fascinating exposé we did into the private life of the traffic light’s Green Man.

So, from this single camera, I get:

  • A wide, establishing shot
  • A close up on the first presenter
  • A close up on the second presenter

Being able to cut or zoom-in/out so we’re not always on the same shot makes the video assemblies more interesting and having a locked off camera has reduce pressures on the team.  It no longer takes three of us to run an assembly.  One member of staff can do the whole thing.

I’m a huge fan of vMix.  It’s made filming so much easier.  The chromakey is very easy to set up and you can even save your set up so you don’t have to do much more than load it in each time.  It doesn’t hurt that it’s running on a top-spec PC either.  At one point last term we streamed an assembly from the computer running the Planet eStream encoder, vMix and vMix’s desktop capture.  I don’t think the fan even kicked in.

vMix seems to have a strong online community to who are frequently requesting changes and importantly, it seems those requests are being listened to and acted on.

Google Email Content filtering

May 20, 2015

At Cramlington, we use Gmail for our student mail.  It’s a good system that ties in with the devices we provide to our students through 1:1 schemes (Android tablets and Chromebooks).

Chuck Norris Gmail

Modding Gmail

There can be some issues using a third-party external email service.  For instance, we made the decision to prevent students having external email access.  They can’t email anyone outside the school.  If you are an administrator for your school’s Gmail system, you can control this access through the Routing section in the Advanced settings of the Admin Console.

Outbound Routing Settings for Gmail

Outbound Routing Settings for Gmail

Stop swearing!

Swearing meme

The other side of student email is teaching responsible use.  If we don’t prepare students for interacting appropriately with others online, then we have failed as educators.

Students are like everyone else.  I’ve used swear words in personal email, but I don’t think I’ve ever sent an email which included profanity from a professional account.  It’s just not professional.   I don’t think kids are unique in not understanding the difference between personal and professional, but at least we can help teach kids the differences.

Gmail has content filtering possible.  If you go into the Advanced settings of the Gmail Admin Console, there is a section marked Objectionable Content.

Objectionable content settings

Objectionable content settings

I’ve no idea where it came from originally, but here’s a spreadsheet of inappropriate words, alternate spellings etc which can be uploaded to the Objectionable Content:

(Don’t judge me on the contents)

Any email that comes through containing one of these words gets re-routed to my email inbox.  One additional aspect that was a bonus is this also works if a student shares a document or comments on a document which also contains inappropriate word.

Side effects

I’ve already touched on students using their emails for (very) personal communication.  Spelling mistakes and abbreviations have also caused emails to be blocked.  I generally scan the email to see what the problem word was.  I’ve removed a few words from the list (e.g. job) which is only inappropriate in certain context.

I do wish our teachers would stop shortening ‘Assessment‘ documents to ‘Ass‘!

There have been a few instances of party invitations being blocked because kids insist on using text speak:

Will you cum to my party?

For some reason, we also get quite a few copied-and-pasted rap lyrics emailed round.

The content filter has led to a few detentions and highlighted some bullying issues.  In the few instances parents have been called in to discuss their child’s email language.  Seeing the email printed out has never failed to produce an appropriately annoyed response. :)

I don’t like having this access.  On one occasion an email was re-routed due to a mis-spelling.  Scanning the email, I saw it was a student talking about how upset they were as their pet had died.   I was really tempted to let her tutor know, so they could be supportive.  In the end, I didn’t.  It was an invasion of privacy and while accidental, there was nothing I could do which would make that invasion appropriate.

Creating a ‘FrogLearn Widget’

April 24, 2015

First things first.  You can’t actually create a FrogLearn widget and have it appear in the sidebar, but this hack lets you come close in terms of functionality.


What it is

In a nutshell, I built a webpage which allows users to set up a date countdown.  Pressing the submit button generates a URL which can be pasted into a FrogLearn Embed a Website widget.

Frog's Embed a Website widget

Embed a Website

What you need

In this example, I created a webpage with jQuery embed and code to run a date countdown.  It’ s not my countdown code.  I got it from trulycode.com.   I’ve just adapted it into a form so that anyone can quickly set up an event countdown.

You can download the web page here

When you first open the page, you’ll see this form, with instructions:

Form to add a date

Filling in the form, adding  title, date and time and clicking Create a countdown sends you to the same page (with  few variables added).  The page now looks like this:

Countdown display

And that’s it!

If you copy the address of the webpage and paste that address into the Embed a Website widget, you’re able to create a customised, easy to edit “widget”.


Hopefully you can see the potential for this kind of hack.   It’s not limited to just this one resource.   By creating a simple form which generates a URL, we can start to add some Frog3 type customisation into FrogLearn.


I’ve adapted this quite heavily so that the page will run locally.  All the CSS is on the page and it points to Google’s hosted jQuery.  This means it needs to be connected to the internet.  If you have your own server, then I’d suggest installing jQuery and repointing the links.

Feel free to adapt the code, although if you’re going to put it on your own blog, then a link back to here would be nice.

IT Support Geek Meet – North East

April 11, 2015

So… for the past few years (pathetic I know) I’ve been talking about organising a GeekMeet.  Like a TeachMeet, but with a focus more for school IT Support.  Teachers with an eye towards ICT would of course be more than welcome.

For those of you not familiar with TeachMeets. Congratulations.  :)  The events are made up of 2- and 7-minute presentations where volunteers stand up and share good ideas / concepts.  There’s a few minutes for questions after each presentation and an interval for a chance to chat properly.  For those of you who use Frog, it would a bit like their Meet-Share-Learn days, just not only about VLEs.

I think realistically, there’d be a few differences between a GeekMeet and a TeachMeet.  In the couple of TeachMeets I’ve attended there was a clear drive to avoid specific products and to refer more to techniques.  While this makes sense in a teaching context, I don’t have an issue with an IT professional saying: “this product is really great, because …”.

I also think that some people have issues with public speaking.

Socially Awkward Penguin understands

Socially Awkward Penguin understands

I think we could look into offering Presentations-by-Proxy (PbP?).

Your voice

What do you think, is this something you’d come along to?

I’ve set up a Google Form so you can register interest and I can get an idea of what you’d want a GeekMeet to be like.

I’ll email out this link to everyone I know, but please forward it to your colleagues as well.  This will definitely be a case of the more, the merrier.


FIXED: Printing sites in FrogLearn

November 11, 2014

Not so much a fix as a hack, but it works, it’s quick and it solves a problem.

Bagel holder  from a CD spindle

This is an AWESOME lifehack!

At Cramlington, we switched on FrogLearn in September 2014 and it’s been a great success so far.  Our teachers have loved the control they have and the flexibility of editing anywhere.


What they haven’t loved is the frustration that comes with trying to print a lesson plan.

A Cramlington Lesson plan

Pictured: A pretty lesson

Print view

Pictured: a not so pretty lesson









Due to the way FrogLearn generates sites, you end up seeing all layers when attempting to print.

Why print?

One could ask the question: “if all your lessons and materials are online, why do you need to print at all?”

Let’s just say, there are certain bodies out there who like the concept of a printed lesson plan and leave it that at.

I should also add that Frog are aware of this issue and I believe are working towards a fix.

The Solution

I’ve outlined the solution in the video below:


  1. Drag to select all the text you want to print
  2. Go to the Print settings in Chrome
  3. Choose Selection only

And that’s it. At least it worked for me. Hopefully it will help you as well.


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