Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Future's Virtually Secure... (but not pun free)

This week the dungeon’s present incumbents have been hard at work saving money and (we sincerely hope) making the network more efficient. This has been achieved by ‘virtualising’ our existing servers on two servers rather than the present five and using a storage area network to store all of the data on. This should mean that backup, maintenance etc… are simpler (and less time-consuming and so cheaper) and it means we only need to replace and maintain two physical servers rather than five. Over the coming months we will also be looking at how we can develop further the use of free apps and tools, as well as continue with the ‘cloud computing’ work last mentioned in April 2009. Sometimes adversity really can be the ‘mother of invention’. We’ll see.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

New Tech on the Block

The team have been hard at work throughout the summer trying to integrate the new server and storage into the network as smoothly as possible. This has left me with some time to get to grips with some new tech that may be of some value to us.

The first is a free App / Programme that has proved popular in recent months as it genuinely helps you to get more out of Twitter. Tweetdeck allows you to draw together all (well most) things of a Social Networking nature and is a great tool for managing Twitter feeds and accounts.

The big hardware release of the summer is the new Kindle 3. It is unbelievably small and light and great to read. If, like me, you find the glare of an IPad screen less of a joy after a while then this device may be for you. Forget browsing on it and focus on carrying 3000+ books for a price of £149 (£109 without the free 3G) and you have an affordable tool that has some real benefits when it comes to academic use.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Who Needs Information

We are about to travel in another new direction for us, particularly in terms of the way we share information within school. We have recently signed a new agreement with the Life Channel to provide content for our internal screens. As a part of this process we will also be adding LCD screens into Reception and the Dining Hall. Having screens in school to provide information is not new, but we are looking to ‘up the ante’ a little by primarily using high quality professionally produced content to effectively create our own internal television channel.

The Life Channel offers us the opportunity to access thousands of high quality programmes made especially for education. We can use that content to support initiatives in school such as anti-bullying week and healthy eating as well as show our own content. The timing of this project also fits nicely with the recent films we have made with the help of the BBC and Julian Richards, all of which will feature at our launch after Easter.

There is an argument that adopting this system will add a ‘vibrancy’ or a ‘buzz’ to the areas where screens are located. This is nice, but is not enough to justify our commitment to the project. This system will offer a high-quality platform for the content we produce in school. The planning and creation of media for the system is an excellent educational opportunity for our pupils. It is also important that the way we communicate some concepts and issues to all members of our community is of sufficient quality to ensure that people actually engage with it. Working with a professional production company will ensure that we are able to have the kind of production quality that convinces people that the issues are worth taking on board.

…and there are no adverts!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Still bouncing on clouds...and seeing the binary world in a different way.

Last year I wrote about cloud computing and how it seemed to us that the next few years would be dominated by the development of the 'cloud'. In just a few months since that time we have been able to make use of some of these tools in order to start to increase the flexibility of our school systems. Our recently installed wireless network is (after a few teething problems) allowing us to use a range of different types of hardware in order to develop a single 'product'. In the case of this blog for example, Google Docs has allowed me to use two different PCs and my mobile phone to draft and edit the entry before uploading it to Google Blogger. These tools allow me to collaborate with my colleagues on a variety of documents and resources and it's all free. How long this will remain the case I do not know, but the free to use model has a logic to it; build a community / followership and generate income through the provision of additional services and associated advertising.

These tools have really re-focused me on the importance of the software we use being productive above all else. The simple but effective tools found online or on my iPhone serve to remind me that I use these tools in order to 'get the job done'. In the last few years the huge and complex programmes that are dominant in market have started to get in the way of this simple principle. This is why some of the top commercial packages have been referred to as 'bloatware'. Are we now finally at that long predicted point where they will finally lose their grip?

The cloud 'revolution' has meant that we can supplement our website with Twitter, which enabled us to push our information more reliably and quickly during the recent poor weather. During that time we also made public our Facebook page. It is early days yet, but we believe that we can't ignore such technologies. We hope that we can be a positive influence within these arenas, including important advice and information in a way that may be more accessible to some people than more traditional methods.

The cloud may be the driver that leads to the development of more user-friendly devices that mean you don't need a good grasp of computing before you can get on with the job. Indeed, for the first time in many years I find myself seriously considering replacing a desktop with a non-Windows PC. This brings to mind my former colleague and friend, the late Paul Vigay. Paul was a RISC-OS programmer and disciple (who was moderately well known due to his involvement with crop circle research). Paul was my systems manager for 5 years in the 1990's and despaired as I oversaw the conversion of the school's Acorn network (RISC-OS) to a Windows system (Intel). To be fair this was the right choice at the time, but now? The truth is that I have had enough of those times when I have nearly finished a task when the dreaded 'blue screen of death' appears. So with the broader operating context changed, Mac OS10+ well established and my iPhone and iPod consistently delivering my next upgrade is likely to more radical than those in the past.