Auto Menu (PHP)

March 19, 2014

More often than not, I get asked to upload and link some files from our teachers to one page or another.  This is part of my job and I’m happy to do it.  But sometimes, I get asked to upload 20 – 30 files in one email.  This gets tedious.  And generally, I’ve no sooner finished than I get another email requesting a couple more in another location.  Complaining about this seems a little childish, but the truth is, it’s boring work that takes time.

How geeks deal with repetitive tasks

How geeks deal with repetitive tasks

I’m a great believer in “Work Smart, not Hard”.

Work smart, not hard

Work smart, not hard – nailed it!

Being a WSNH believer (some would say an evangelist), I wrote this bit of code, which automatically populates a page full of links to the resources inside a folder.  It even takes into account sub-folders.

Script

Hopefully, you can implement this yourselves, but if not, drop me a line.

You can download the script here.  I could have pasted it here, but the formatting was lost and it looked really ugly.

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Need a small server capable of hosting databases?

June 16, 2013

In my last post, I talked about using PHP and if you didn’t have access to a server that allowed PHP to run, what could you do?  For the more technically minded out there, you may be surprised that this is even an issue.  The sad truth is that lots of free websites don’t offer PHP and quite a few schools have the servers locked down through official policy and end of argument.

Managed support does not simply allow access to our servers

Use all the memes!

There is hope

A year or two ago, our IT support (not a managed service) started buying QNAP Tera-stations.   Ultra-cool name aside, these network storage devices are great for back-ups.  We use them to hold our photo archives and video project construction files.  Some of you would be amazed* at how frequently I get asked to make a change to a five year-old video.   Keeping the source files makes that a lot easier.

Technology changes all the time, so rather than recommend a specific model, I’ll talk about the features available on even the basic, home model.  In the software section, this is just some of the features they offer:

QNAP TS-21

One of QNAP’s home range

  • iTunes server
  • Music server
  • Photo Station
  • Video Station
  • TV Station
  • FTP
  • Auto-back up
  • Print server
  • Anti-virus

And most importantly, for this post, it can also act as web server with PHP support and MySQL database support along with phpMyAdmin (which is an easy database management system)

While not wanting to endorse a particular product or even model, a quick Amazon search shows that these products are not bank-breaking (we’re talking a couple of hundred pounds here).

Uses

I think these products have been loaded with features to appeal to the geek-at-home.  I’ve quite tempted to get one for myself to house all my media.

When discussing them recently with an ICT teacher from another school, he pointed out it would be a huge benefit in his classroom.  He’d be able to allow his students to program webpages to interact with databases without risking the security of the school’s servers.

At Cramlington, we’re seriously discussing# the possibility of loading up one of these with our interactive webpages and offering it to other schools.  Another school could take the QNAP, plug it into their network, change a couple of settings and be running things like:

  • Drag-and-drop seating plans
  • Custom timetables
  • Class blogs
  • Rewards system
  • Random name selector
  • etc…

 

A nice, simple solution with a huge range of possibilities.   Damn, I should totally get sponsorship before hawking products for free.

 

 

* I suspect those of you in a support role would not be that surprised. 🙂

# Don’t get too excited just yet.  We’re discussing it properly and going about trials sensibly. Watch this space.


Sparkbook

January 28, 2013

Sparkbook is a database driven system I’ve built for school which populates students directly from our MIS (Serco Facility) and allows teachers to quickly mark them against different criteria.

The system is designed to be customisable, so teachers can add their criteria. There is a tiered marking system built in – teachers can choose from 5 (and counting) marking tiers:

  • Expert, Apprentice, Novice
  • Gold, Silver, Bronze
  • etc…

You can set a target and Sparkbook calculates both the current level and ultimate grade.   It’s the sort of thing, I’ve discovered lots of staff had been doing manually in MS Excel for years, spending ages build all their spreadsheets.

Finally, I’ve described it as a mobile device companion markbook, in that it can run from a tablet (resized automatically and linked from our Frog VLE) leaving the user’s computer screen free.   Very handy if you are marking online work, no changing windows.

I’ve only soft launched it so far.  That is, I’ve linked it in, but not drawn everyone’s attention to it.  I prefer to do introduce new systems this way, it gives systems time to settle in.  There are bound to be glitches, change requests and training issues. By simply making the link available without a grand announcement,  it naturally limits the number of teachers who try it without training.

Showing off

I’m aware in writing this post that Sparkbook isn’t actually available for you all.   Sorry about that.  My long-term ambition is to take a lot of the systems built at Cramlington and package them up as a product for other schools.   Delays in MIS product updates have killed that ambition for the moment and even then, I’ll have to investigate just how we’d go about providing a dynamic product such as this; but that’s the goal someday.   For you, it’s either hang on or apply for a job teaching at Cramlington Learning Village.