Sunday, December 6, 2015

Student Help Desk Blog Started

Check out our Pinkerton Student Run Help Desk blog!

I have been absent from my own blog for a while working on projects at my new home at Pinkerton Academy. One exciting project that I am very excited to be a part of is the creation and co-advising of the Pinkerton Academy Student Run Help Desk.

Although we only started in April, 2015, our students create tutorial and support resources for teachers and their peers on how to work with any type of technology tool in learning. They also will come into the classroom to help with training and recently were chosen to support the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference in NH.

Check out posts from the students and myself at and see their app reviews of the month as well!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

iOS 7 Brings Changes to Configurator, the VPP & MDMs Managing iPads

The release of  iOS 7 and Mavericks brings some welcomed and unexpected changes to managing ipads with Configurator, the Volume Purchasing Program and Mobile Device Management (MDM) systems  like Meraki. After attending a session at the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference (, I gained some more insight as to how the changes will work directly from the Apple team. To recap the original process, a school district setups an online account with the VPP to purchase redemption codes for paid apps. This is not an iTunes account, just a code purchasing account. (More info on VPP found at the St. Vrain Schools site.) The codes are then sent to individual iTunes accounts manually or through wireless MDMs, like Meraki. This wireless process provides your users with paid apps on their devices or it can be done manually via a spreadsheet that is later imported into Apple Configurator and then pushed locally to ipads in a set sharing the same account. Configurator is used to put the devices under something called Supervision that allows for device code licenses to be both distributed and pulled back for redistribution to different devices as well as apply policies for security, wifi and other settings. More info on working with Configurator and Meraki can be found at my site at

Configurator takes a bit of patience, however, as it has been a bit clunky at times in the process of supervising, iOS updating and app distributing. Especially time-consuming was the constant distribution and updating of apps as Configurator requires iPads to be physically connected to a specific Mac via USB. This means collecting iPads constantly from the users. A preferable option would be just to supervise in Configurator and then do all policy and app maintenance work wirelessly from an MDM without having to collect the ipads several times throughout the year... again and again and again. There is an issue of bandwidth, however, in wirelessly pushing apps and iOS updates from your server. Mavericks for servers features a caching server that will cache a local copy of the latest App or iOS update data ready for the next device requesting it on your network reducing the "bogdown" on your network device and app updates. Originally, when updating to iOS 7, I had to go through a ton of the white "welcome" screens on every ipad that I was just updating or restoring from a backup and in several carts of 30 devices, that is cumbersome. There is now a third tab in Configurator beyond Settings and Apps. This one lets you skip some of these welcome screens and come back to them later like password, notifications, etc. You can also lock a device to one app such as an app needed during standardized testing that you don't want users tapping out of. This can now be done with the MDM as well making it easier to remove this setting when no longer needed.

VPP now has a new program as well. Instead of sending out codes to everyone, an invite is now sent out to individual user accounts to join what might be called your "VPP family" so you can distribute apps wirelessly from your MDM to them without codes. For carts of iPads using the same iTunes account, this won't quite work. For cart situations, the codes will still be necessary for use through MDMs like Meraki or through Configurator to distribute the paid apps. In the VPP site, you will now see the following options related this change:

The above picture shows where you download your 1-year token needed for this process.

The second picture in VPP illustrates the difference between buying licenses for users in your "VPP Family" versus buying codes for devices using the same account like those in a cart of iPads. The top option is for carts or anyone you prefer to just give a code to. The second option is to send paid apps to those iTunes accounts with individual devices in your VPP family.

In your MDM, you should also see a change. Being most familiar with Meraki because its free to school districts to use even without Meraki network solutions, I'll use that in my examples. There will still be the option to paste in redemption codes, one per line, to send to devices (such as those in a cart) that can not really be part of the VPP family. You will also see options like in the picture below requesting you to get the token from your VPP and add your VPP account so you can send apps to users in your VPP family without the codes.

Do you still need those VPP codes? Well if you have carts or sets of devices using the same iTunes account or situations where a account is not joining the VPP family, or wireless and bandwidth issues, then Yes. If you are in a 1:1 or have more iPads associated with individual accounts, you do not need codes for them.

Depending on your comfort level with Configurator, you can decide which option works better for your situation. From my work managing iPads, I find it preferable to use Configurator for just supervising devices and then sending out apps through an MDM so they do not have to be collected from users constantly. For carts, Configurator is still preferable for app distribution. You can send apps and policies to carts or sets of devices still with the MDM but using codes and someone has to be there to put in the iTunes password and accept the app installation. Many of the changes I have found helpful in the management of iOS devices now that I understand them better and hope this article clears up some of it for others.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Getting Better at iPad Management: New Configurator and Meraki SM

I've been working with and supporting iPads for almost 4 years now and the major challenge I'm always finding schools need help with is in iPad management. These awesome devices were originally designed with the individual in mind but then brought to the steps of our schools in carts and bundles. How do we manage all of the apps and content for these devices?

The original method was the beloved iTunes. I say "beloved" with a lot of sarcasm because after a week of updating/ restoring numerous carts of iOS devices that first year, I had several choice words for it followed by a lot of chocolate and Tylenol. To this day, even though I feel I may have finally acquired my iTunes "black belt", I can easily find myself struggling with moments like "Why are those 10 iPads doing that and these 20 are fine!" I knew something had to be out there better than this. 

Then came two free tools that changed things for those of us supporting masses of these iOS Devices; Apple's Configurator and Meraki's Systems Manager. Now, the first version of Configurator was not the perfect "answer from the tech gods" that I was hoping for but it was definitely better than just iTunes. 
Here is what was better with the original version though:
1. No more manual tracking of license codes or of which schools actually bought licenses. Configurator does it for you
2. Have a special paid app that should only go to a specific device in a group? Or have groups of users that each need different apps, settings and restrictions?
Configurator can control that.
3. Want to prevent users from "rogue"syncing to iTunes on their own computer and changing all the settings and content? 
Yes, Configurator does that too.
4. Hate pulling 30-130 copies of the latest iOS from the wireless and depleting your bandwidth? 
Configurator allows you to pull from a locally saved copy to push onto all connected devices.
The challenges of the first version:
1. Not super intuitive, flexible or forgiving for its user.
2. Lots of steps to remember
3. Device management is tied to the one Mac and by tied, I mean physically the iPads have to be connected to that Mac to run the program. So if it dies and you don't back it up, it's a long sad phone wait with Apple's VPP support and you have to collect iPads to make changes or updates.
Picture Directions on how to use Configurator found here on my site:

Meraki Systems Manager: now owned by Cisco, Meraki's wireless systems manager is a free wireless mobile device management system for almost all types of devices. It can support iOS, Android, PC or Mac and can be used alone or together with Apple Configurator. It is run from a web dashboard so you do not have to be on a Mac or even physically near the devices you are managing because it runs over the Internet. I have run it from a PC, iPad and Android Device.
Setting it up on devices is easy and flexible. You can go to the web browser on the device, type in and the school enrollment code to install. There is an app you can download from the App Store. You can also send it to users in an email with the enrollment code embedded in the install link.  It's as non-invasive or invasive in managing/supporting the devices as you want unlike Configurator or iTunes. 

Picture directions for Meraki found here:

Recently, both of these tools have had some updates and here is what has gotten better:
1. now shows the status of each device and exactly what they are doing.
2. you can click on any ipad in that group during a process to see what processes are occuring (or stuck) on that specific device
3. You can choose, Never Update iOS, When Available or If in Recovery Mode.
4. You can select all apps in a list with a new icon at the bottom
5. iOS updates no longer have to be pulled down locally by iTunes. The moment you download it for 1 ipad, it goes to a folder in Configurator where it holds it for other iPads that will also require it.

1. If a device has been Supervised by Configurator, then you can now not only deploy paid apps wirelessly through Meraki but also pull back those licenses to apply to another supervised device.
2. If you install the Meraki app onto the iPad, it can be set to not be deleted and provides more accurate location information.
3.Additional profile restrictions to match iOS 7 have also been included.

Configurator also has a lot more profile settings options and features like "Lock to App" that are next on my list as I work towards better managing these devices in schools.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Which Chromebook is Right for You?

Lately, I have been getting ready for deployment of almost 400 Chromebooks at the middle school in the main district I work for as a Tech Integration Specialist. Each of us in the IT department as well as a few chosen others in the district have been trying out different models ahead to see which is best for the students, and what one teachers or other users may prefer.

For those chosen teachers and a couple of admin, we had them try the Samsung xe303C model which we called the "3 Series". This is the less expensive of the Samsung models at $249 and really was the one we were looking to purpose for the middle school students. The battery life on them is pretty solid and can last almost all day for a typical school day, or just under 6 hours expecting that they may go idle, sleep or intermittently be turned off during that time. They do not have a large solid state hard drive so not a ton of offline storage but they turn on and off quickly nor do they run hot to touch which is what we want for students; long battery life, instant on/off, not overheating quickly. The challenges are, that they do not have the best output to a projector. Even though it does come with HDMI, the mirroring feature is not perfect and I work with many classrooms that do not have HDMI ready projectors. Also, you can not run any java based programs even web-based ones that work in Chrome on other devices such as laptops. Grade book programs like PowerSchool/Grade, Screenr, IEP Online or other Java dependent web apps will not work and you can't connect to your Interactive Whiteboard, of course. For students, though, this isn't an issue. They access their grades through a web portal, usually, that doesn't require java, create videos with apps like WeVideo and don't really need to connect to the classroom projector or Interactive Whiteboard software. We found this model is perfect for the grade 5-8 student user. There are two USB ports on the back (1 is a 2.0 and the other a 3.0 for the major techies out there), 1 HDMI port and a Multicard SD/XD port which is great for students who have take photos with phones or cameras using these cards.
fragile Ethernet port
5Series side ports
3 Series

Some others and I tested out the XE550C or "5 Series". This is the more expensive Samsung model at about $600. The price was already higher than we wanted for students but this was a test for a teacher, trainer or admin. The first pro I found for this model was that the output included a DP++, or DisplayPort, which works well in mirror mode output to a projector using a DP++ to VGA adapter (seen in the picture above). This is wonderful in a district where you use Docking stations that also use DP++ ports but not so great when you can't find your VGA adapter and run to the local Radio Shack to grab one in a pinch where the young teenager behind the register tells you loudly and slowly like you are learning a new language." I THINK YOU MEAN AND H-D-M-I to V-G-A Adaptor. HDMI IS WHAT...." No, I tell them, I really do mean DisplayPort and the fact that they are now staring at me blankly is not filling me with confidence that I'll find one easily in time. So if you can get a hold of DP++ adapter, this model has great output to most VGA projectors. The powercord is a little less flimsy on the end to snap off like the student model and the battery is close in comparison to the 3 Series. This one does also have a Multicard slot as well as an Ethernet port for situations with lack of wireless but it didn't always configure intuitively like I thought and seemed a bit clunky but better than nothing when trying to train a group of teachers while the wireless keeps dying. While it felt a bit sturdier than the student model, because I do so much training in different settings, for my needs, I decided to move on to the next model we were trying out.

The third model tried out by our techs (and later purchased by myself) was the newer model by Acer. A great price at just around $200, it appeals to the teacher and trainer for that a few more reasons. First, it has both a VGA and an HDMI port to output to displays such as the older projectors found in most classrooms (so I can easily project no matter what classroom projector I work with during training sessions). Second, it does have a 320 G solid state drive for storing offline files. Working a lot with websites, screenshots, videos, I find myself downloading a lot to the Files app and rarely pulling them off to a USB drive or moving them to my Google Drive as they are often too big. Third, the end of the powercord is much more durable instead of the tiny pin sized end that the Samsung has and it also has more keys on the keyboard than the Samsung. There IS a delete key, Page Up/down and there ARE all of the Fn, or function keys, on the Acer model which are all missing from the keyboard of the Samsung models. Teachers that are used to these keys on standard computer keyboards get a bit frustrated with their disappearance on the Samsung Chromebooks. Also, the Ethernet port was a bit less fragile and the overall size of the devices itself is very slightly smaller for storage in smaller cases including in my iPad bag so now I can travel with one bag for both my Chromebook and my iPad. Lastly, the battery on the Acer is removeable (unike with Samsung's) so an extended battery may be possible to add on in the future. The only downsides with the Acer is the multi-touchpad is a bit less responsive than the Samsung but my wireless mouse took care of that and the hard drive adds a little heat and weight but not too much.

Conclusion: Samsung XE303C is the right fit for most classroom students. The Samsung XE550C was a bit high in price but a decent choice for school admin. The Acer would most probably be best received by the majority of teachers, trainers or others that need to share their display with others, watch their budget and are used to a traditional keyboard.

Note that I have not yet tried Lenovo's Chromebook at the time of this review. Maybe that will be next.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Organize Your Digital Life with IFTTT, Now On iOS

With all of the different cloud services, online resource curating tools and social media engines, it may feel like a dizzying task to keep up with it all. Working with Edtech, I'm always trying to build workflows to help with this process. That's why I fell in love with last year. Its both an online tool and an iOS app that can help you organize you digital life.

How does it work? You use and create something called a Recipe. For example, "If This Weather today calls for rain Then my Gmail will email me That." Another might be "If I post a picture on instagram then save it to my dropbox." Or maybe, "If I receive an attachment in my Gmail, then save it to my Dropbox or Drive."

Ok, I think you get the idea. I have used this tool to cross-post across social media streams, blogs and more. Now, they have added the app for iOS so you can include things like "if photo added to photos app then save to my Drive". It includes what are called "Channels" to digital tools such as; Evernote, Gmail, Dropbox, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, RSS Feeds and more but, now, also includes some of the iOS apps. To try it, go to the website at or check app out using this link.

What recipes will you create?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Workshop Resources: Interactive Whiteboards

Looking for resources to use with a Promethean, Smart or Mimio interactive board?

For the most part, I prefer sites that work in a simple consistent manner when using an interactive whiteboard. I also like tools that work across the different brands of “IWBs” that are in the schools.

Here is my Google site with a list of resources that will lead you to even more resources and ideas for using interactive whiteboards.

Edmodo Library of Interactive Whiteboard Resources</ajg

Edmodo Library of Interactive Whiteboard Resources

A Journey Into New Media Literacies

I had been working for the past year on a grant project through the New Hampshire Department of Education that provided opportunities for teams of teachers from different school districts to receive training and equipment that would equip them to become tech leaders in their schools. There were five groups of teams from across the state and each group could include a varying number of teams and participants. My group contained five teams from five different School districts and a total of 19 participants that each had received an iPad, tickets to conferences and rigorous online training. The online learning piece found on exposed them to digital tools, concepts, and ideas to transform them into a future Tech Leader at their school. One of my teams also came up with a very exciting project. They had decided to explore deeper into the concept of NML, or new media literacies, as defined by Henry Jenkins from They focused in on specific areas within new media literacies and created a toolkit for educators that both explained what NML is and create ready-to-use lesson plans for the classrooms. It was an ambitious proposal as they planned on meeting once a month reporting on pre-determined questions and assignments in a Google group, then going on to create a toolkit, working in the TLC grant program in addition to their current full-time teaching positions. They also presented their materials to the other teams in the grant of enough face-to-face session using hello slides and on the online piece for the other teams to respond to and using their own classrooms.

They presented their presentation to our teams recently as well as the teams of another group and I have to say I was very impressed with their final product. I collaborated on the project with their team leader, Robin Corbiel, throughout the year but I have to say that I have nowhere near the amount of energy this incredible educator has. Take a look at their project and all the wonderful things they put together throughout their journey into it NML.

TLC and NML project site