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.

willywonka

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!

future

 


FIXED: Frog’s Kerboodle widget

December 14, 2012

Kerboodle is an online subscription resource site.  Frog is our VLE.   And Frog’s official Kerboodle widget allows single-sign-on from Frog to Kerboodle.   So no different usernames or passwords to remember.

Kerboodle

Kerboodle’s Frog widget. Big, isn’t it.

Unfortunately, when I downloaded the official widget from Frog, we discovered a really odd issue.  For our students and teachers on Windows XP machines running IE8* the widget doesn’t appear as a button?    The image is there, but that’s it??  My best guess is that some obscure security setting prevents part of the widget code from running.

Boring background bit (and some name checking)

Fortunately, I was at a Microsoft event hosted at the impressive Harton Technology College in South Shields.   Sean O’Shea (@SeanOfTheNorth) from Microsoft had invited me there to have a look at Surface and Office 365 and both are really very cool.   But more about these in future posts.  Frog had a stand there and Frog’s partnership manager Adrian Bantin (@thebantin) was on hand.

Adrian is a really nice guy and when I explained the issue, he sent me the FDP code that sits behind the widget.

Solution

I found a solution.  This might not work for you, but it works for us.  I’ve also sent it to Frog so they can pull it apart and see if they like it.   But in the meantime, this seemed to be the code which caused the issue:

widget.onLoad = function(){

var link = widget.createElement(‘a’,{‘onClick’:’javascript:openKerboodle();’,’style’:’cursor: pointer;’});    

link.setHTML(‘<img src=”http://appstore-misc.frogdev.co.uk/resources/images/uwa/kerboodle/logo.png” /></br>’);  

widget.setBody(link);                

}

Now, I think what’s happening is that this line:

var link = widget.createElement(‘a’,{‘onClick‘:’javascript:openKerboodle();‘,’style’:’cursor: pointer;’});

isn’t rendering in the browser.   But there’s more than one way to skin a cat or in this case call a Javascript function.  Which is what this code is doing.  It’s saying when you click on the image, run the function openKerboodle().

Another way of doing exactly the same thing is:

onClick=”javascript:openKerboodle();“>

This method is more traditional, the code goes inside the body tag instead of inside an onLoad function and most importantly (seems to) work.

Full code

xmlns=”http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml”      

xmlns:frog=”http://fdp.frogtrade.com/ns/”      

xmlns:widget=”http://www.netvibes.com/ns/“>    

<head>        

<title>Kerboodle</title>        

<meta name=”frogLib” content=”1.1″ />        

// <![CDATA[
src
=”
// ]]>https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.7.0/jquery.min.js”></script>

    <script>            

 <![CDATA[

                widget.onLoad = function(){                                   

openKerboodle = function(){                        

 UWA.Data.getText(‘http://www.kerboodle.com&#8217;, function(data){displayHtml(data);});                    

};               

  }

                displayHtml = function(data){                    

window.open(data);                               

}

 ]]>    

</script>

</head>

<body>

openKerboodle();”> http://appstore-misc.frogdev.co.uk/resources/images/uwa/kerboodle/logo.png /> </a>

</body>

</html>

Here’s a link to the text version, just in case the browser corrupts the code.  Make sure you download the file.  For some reason, the code doesn’t show up in the MediaFire browser.

 

 

*Can’t use other browsers.   Please don’t bore me with how wonderful Chrome and Firefox are.   Don’t care, not my department.  We’re stuck with IE.


Battle of the Handhelds: Redux!

November 19, 2011

I think the one post I’ve made which has caused the most feedback and continues to draw in audiences is my post about two devices we were considering for school use back in April, namely the iPod Touch and the Archos 43.

So much has happened since I wrote that blog entry.  First off, we didn’t go with either iPod Touch or Archos.  Like I summed up at the time, the iPod had too many restrictions and the single-touch Archos made it too frustrating to use.

Pick a device already!Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" Wi-Fi

At that point, our ICT Coordinator stumbled across the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  I say stumbled upon, because Apple pretty much had the high street sewn up.  All credit to them (and it’s changing now admittedly), but if you want to buy a tablet on the high street, everyone wants to sell you an iPad.  And why not, they’re great devices (personally I find them a little large and a bit heavy) but there’s no denying Apple created another product the world didn’t know it needed.

Samsung (who incidently make the iPad for Apple) have their own range of tablets, a 7″ wifi, a 7″ 3G and similar in the 10″ range.  They’ve also started on their gen 2 tablets which are even more sleak, though not widely available yet.

We evaluated and then chose the Wi-Fi only, 7″, P1010 model.  It runs Android Froyo, has 16Gb internal memory, front and rear cameras.  It comes preloaded with ThinkFree Office (which allows creating and edit MS documents) along with a host of other apps (some good, some not worth it).

Size does matter

The main difference between the 7″ tablet and the smaller handheld we were looking at before is the size (obviously).  When you’re using the tablet, it feels like it is for work.  You can achieve a lot of the same stuff on the smaller devices, but they lack a feeling of productivity.  With the Samsung, you feel like you’re using a work tool.

We did look again at the iPad and iPod Touch, but the cost of the iPad is too prohibitive to seriously consider (those schools that have gone down the iPad route must have sacrificed something else from their budget).  Ultimately we found iOS too restrictive/problematic in terms of file uploads, Flash (yes I know Adobe have pulled development) and for building our own apps as well as paying for other apps.

Niggles

There are a couple of niggles.  The battery gives you a day if you’re using it.  Given the size of the device, I was surprised, but I suppose powering the much larger screen is the big difference.  The native keyboard makes some truly irritating errors, but Steven Lin has kindly ported the Gingerbread keyboard.  Neither of these are big issues, at least not compared to:

WTF!

The tablet cannot charge from a computer’s USB while turned on!   Wait…what?  That’s like… the point of USB.  We’ve got round this issue by buying these special cables.  It took a couple of hours searching the internet to even find out what the problem was.  It turns out to be a voltage issue.  These cables contain a switch and resistor which gets round that.

Still, these are all niggles and while many would point out that you shouldn’t have to deal with niggles, life always proves otherwise.

Order ready

We ordered the tablets about a month ago (with parental contributions) and they are due to arrive within the next two weeks.  All the preparations have been done (fingers crossed).  We have a comprehensive mobile version of our VLE, a really cool instruction booklet to be given out with the devices and we’ve put together a number of school-specific apps:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I do hope that we’ll make some of these available on the Android Market.  They are all built in Adobe AIR, which has made the creation of Apps so much simpler.  I think we will eventually move away from AIR, but for right now, it just works.

In conclusion

Have we chosen the right device?  I think so.  The size is right.  The functionality is right.   The price is right ~£300 (including insurance).  I’ll admit my heart sank a little when Amazon announced the $199 Kindle Fire – but it’s not out in the UK yet.  And not in the quantities we need.  And can we even run our own apps on it? Maybe next year, if this year is successful.

The battle may have been won, but something tells me the war has just begun.


My First App!

December 20, 2010

A few months ago I posted about the new App Inventor from Google which has a pretty impressive App maker for Android phones.

Unfortunately, I found it all a little awkward to use.  Animations for example seemed impossible.   Google own Android SDK also proved a steep learning curve.  And you need a Mac to use Apple’s iOS SDK.   So all in all, building useful Smart Phone Apps (or even rubbish ones) seemed out of my grasp.Buffalo Billy plays Pig on my HTC Desire

Then several things happened.   Firstly, Apple announced a relaxation of the policy towards third-party App making software, then Adobe released Air for Android.   Suddenly it was possible to build Apps in Flash Professional and export them for phones and tablets!

This weekend, in a couple of hours, I took a favourite game my wife and I built for a ventriliquist friend of ours (back in 2005) and converted it to ActionScript 3 (AS2 is a lot easier, but is being replaced by the more complex AS3 – though AS2 will still work for traditional flash resources on websites).   Once it was running in AS3, using the new AIR for Android template I was able to plug my phone into the PC, set it to development mode and build a new App. 

For some reason, Adobe have almost hidden their Android template.   After much searching, I found it on their Adobe Labs site.   But it was apparently available or linked from their Adobe AIR site.  Strange?

For those of you who don’t know the dice game Pig, you take turns rolling a dice and adding up the amount on the face.   If you throw a ‘1’, you lose your points and play reverts to the other person.   You can end your turn voluntarily at any point.  The winner is the first to 100 points.    You can play the original version here.  One cute thing we added for the app is that you can shake the phone to roll the dice. 

There are certificates to be correctly filled out, and testing to be handled before I submit this game to the App Market.  And in theory, I should also be able to press a button an convert it into an iPhone App too.  I’ll post here once I know more and as I understand, for Android at least, you don’t have to submit it.  You can just host an app install file on your own server.

This is going to be huge frankly!  As school budgets tighten, and ICT use expands, imagine the savings possible if we can build our own tailored apps.   The new Advent Amico is a 7″ Android tablet which costs £129.   That’s cheaper than most netbooks.   We found netbooks main disadvantage was that they look like laptops, so people assume they can handle the same software as laptops.   Smart phone tablets are taken to be big smart phones, and people only expect web browsing and basic use.

The future is looking very bright, and if not orange, then decidely mobile!


LiveWeb – Web pages in PowerPoint

August 2, 2010

MS PowerPoint is a great presentation tool but I often advise against teachers using it.  It’s nothing to do with Microsoft or compatibility.  Even the iPad can show PowerPoints so if Steve Jobs says they’re ok…

The reason (mega-corp rantings aside) I advise not to use it is often educators will want to link to a web page or resource and PowerPoint tends to be unpredictable about how it handles that link.   Because you present from PowerPoint fullscreen sometimes when you click a link to open a web page it pops up behind the presenation. 

If only there was a way, some sort of plugin for PowerPoint that allowed you to view web pages in a slide, just like a movie.  Oh wait…

LiveWeb's user interface

LiveWeb is a free Add-In for our favourite presentation tool (yes I got fed up typing PowerPoint) that once installed allows you to view web pages just like videos.   You can even link to documents on your computer (although it is a little awkward). 

Personally I’d love it if the designer would add an internet toolbar so you could go backwards and forwards move easily, but other than that, this is a great tool and very handy in presentations.


TV studio

July 29, 2010

So typical, after just promising that there would be no drop off in blog posts, I’ve been away from WordPress for a week!

I do have a good excuse though, we’ve spent the better part of the first week of the holidays rewiring our greenscreen TV studio.

Greenscreen TV Studio

I’m very proud of that studio, which unlike most school’s was entirely fitted by myself and colleagues.  There are some excellent companies out there, like PlanetDV who will do all the heavy lifting for you, but they do charge for the fitting.

Also, the majority of systems use professional software which adds another layer of complexity to the filming process.  With the best will in the world, students don’t need high-end products as a studio when used correctly is more about confidence building and public speaking skills.

The studio cost less than £7000 to fit completely (compare this to a nearby City Learning Centre’s £250,000).  I’ve often talked about sharing how we did this and so it’s about time I did.  

In the coming weeks alongside the 20 tips, I’ll be posting a breakdown of how I designed the studio, the choices I made and the impact it has had on teaching and learning.  Hopefully by the completion you’ll have a shopping list of everything you need to replicate the facility, if you so desire.  and if not, you might be a little entertained along the way.


My job

July 23, 2010

Cramlington made it official yesterday, elevating me to the lofty role of VLE Coordinator.

A VLE (when used best) is the portal for everything the school does.  Like The Force and Gaffa tape, it binds us together; providing a one-stop shop for lessons, homeworks, notices and safe social networking.  While many platforms are little more than file storage, a VLE should be so much more.   Teachers can pull down resources for the class, and push out work to the students.  As gateway, a VLE can be the launching pad to encourage research and collaboration and independent learning.  A communal meeting point, it can bring a school together through shared experience.

We use Frog as our Virtual Learning Environment which can be used “out of the box” but like all products pushing it to its limits takes additional effort.   I’m very pleased and honoured not only by the school’s senior team for this promotion but also from the reaction of the teaching staff which has been positive to say the least.

 Don’t worry loyal readers 🙂  I’m sure my new duties won’t interfere with writing this blog and more 20 tips and poor english real soon!