Friday, 29 July 2016

Stream Ate My Email Address - a word of concern

Update: It may in fact not be Stream's fault at all but rather a bizarre "combined effect" of also setting up a service with Apple (there are some disadvantages to the multi-cloud lifestyle)

So I'm getting all these emails at an address instead of my usual one - mildly annoying but everything seemed to be working - I just assumed it was something I'd done. I was also finding my email seemed to be auto-cc ing me into messages I sent, which I hate.

Finally had some time to look:

When I signed up for Stream it has somehow created a new entry in Office 365 for my user and taken the default email address with it.

Now I have people who will help me and no doubt sort it out - when we do I'll post it here, but it is a VERY bizarre and really annoying glitch. What worries me is that Stream had the authority to muck about with something as basic as my identity online!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Stream; Report a Problem

I posted about how good I think Microsoft's second private video sharing service "Stream" is and having thought long and hard about the wisdom of forging ahead with further work to deploy Office 365 Video in our network of schools I can only think of one thing the product needs to be 'good enough' to just jump straight to using.

The idea:

Private sharing of video provides a great service - it allows users to create channels, publish video to other users in that community and build a social shell around that. Great for the classroom for teachers sharing work from groups, demonstrations - there's a whole category of material I would not want on the public web but do want to be able to share to specific groups of learners (and vice verse).

Stream offers a fair more organic and user-led approach which I think is much more likely to be adopted and not result in a centrally managed, sterile resource. But as it currently stands all my users can publish video. I've pondered on that - users are not anonymous and if a student wants to share a cat video with a group of friends....  that is not the end of the world - but what would be so simple to do, and would answer a lot of concerns is very simple - a "report a problem button."

Right there next to the 'Fav' button let's add another which says "I'm not happy with this video I think I'd like to report it" - and allow me as 365 admin to nominate a group of people to receive those alerts (ideally with the URL of the video and as much management information about who has viewed it etc as possible). We can then train people, deal with issues as they arise and keep the notion of a 'managed personal learning environment' where we recognise that it is adaptive learners not adaptive learning we're aiming for.

That then places the emphasis on the user community to have educated, sensible behaviour in a managed space, without the draconian limitations of who can publish video (because after all, if they want to share something very dodgy... well they can do that very easily in many places outside our control).

In the absence of...

That may already be on the roadmap. Either way I can't guarantee it will be available for September so we're left with the slightly odd situation of encouraging users to upload content to Office 365 Video knowing it is going to be end-of-life and not knowing how we will migrate that content over - so I really do hope Microsoft will have answer to that (I think they will).

As I said in an earlier post we are using Salamander to sync our MIS to our Active Directory, so every class in every academy will have Office 365 groups and Google Apps groups. For Office 365 Video we are setting up some initial quite coarse grained channels for individual sites (where all members of teachers @ academy name can publish and all people @ academy name can view).

As a starting point we know that will give us a good simple video-sharing service - but Stream is so much better, just not quite there yet.

Monday, 25 July 2016

What Adaptive Learning Isn't

One of my career lows was during the final interview for a head teachers job. This was in the era when "Personalised Learning" was A Thing, and every candidate had to do a 10 minute presentation to all staff about their approach (which must have been insanely enjoyable for the staff, but I'm sure they at least managed a wager on the outcome).

That final interview was not pretty. It had been a long two days if I'm honest, and it was a big interview panel (about 15 people in at least four ranks of seats, a bizarre setup that seemed designed to make everyone feel awkward).  Then the member of senior leadership that I had sensed didn't like me* the whole way through fired this left-field question about how I would personalise the curriculum for every one of the 200 students in each cohort at the school. In a sea of highly abstract leadership questions, here was something for the curriculum and technology geek in me to pounce on.

I made a basic error and answered the question I was asked (instead of the the question I should have been asked**) with thoughts on single year courses, modular courses, mixed age teaching to create curriculum flexibility for greater matching to the needs of groups of students and technology may have come in there at some point. There is a lot that can be done with structures and setup - just as there is a lot that can be done with MOOCs for eLearning (without meaning MOOCs *are* eLearning).

I probably sounded plausible, and the ideas would have created a more bespoke experience for each learner without huge cost, but I was making a basic mistake. Personalised education is not about creating one curriculum per student, any more than the travel industry was personalised by travel agents using technology to create incredibly bespoke packages for everyone: it was personalised by the disruptive force of people equipped to go do it themselves.

Personalising learning is about equipping each student to personalise their own learning experience and by creating the flexibility to allow that to happen (both are required - otherwise you get either frustrated learners or wasted resources). For me, when thinking about eLearning, that is about much more than just what happens in the classroom.

I went on to work at the SSAT with Professor David Hargreaves and got a much better understanding of the many ways schools can support personalisation - there is still a lot of good stuff on the web about this - for anyone interested I'd suggest this as a starting point (you can Bing! some of the original material if you so choose, but not from the SSAT anymore sadly).

Anyway, in Hack Education Weekly News this week I bumped into this piece about Agile Learning from George Siemens at eLearning Space. Siemens critiques much of the work in the field of adaptive learning as being over-focused on content - ensuring the learner accesses the right content in the right form.
Today’s adaptive software robs learners of the development of the key attributes needed for continual learning – metacognitive, goal setting, and self-regulation – because it makes those decisions on behalf of the learner.
Anyone following the SSAT personalising learning work would recognise that Siemens is raising the lack of development of some of the key things a learner needs for personalisation. Much adaptive learning technology is the opposite of co-construction - it is just 'doing it for the learner' using an algorithm, faster and cheaper.

Siemens argues that it is not about Adaptive Learning per se, rather about developing Agile Learners.

I agree so very, very strongly and will endeavour to be on-trend by talking about agile learning rather than personalised learning from now on. Wonder if there'll be a standards fund grant for it... ah nostalgia.

* I actually met the person in question years later at an SSAT event (on personalising learning bizarrely) and after a really interesting and positive discussion I dared to admit to them that I thought they'd disliked me from the start of the selection process only to be told that was completely untrue. Mind you, I'd have said that too in the same situation...

** Answering the question you think you should have been asked rather than the one you've been asked is probably not the best technique, but it has worked for me once when asked "our students don't bring pens and pencils to lessons, how would you resolve that" - telling them what I thought the real question was, and answering it gave me enough time to work out an answer to the first question!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Stream versus Last Year's Views on Office 365 Video

On a blog I used to run about Chromebooks (that ended up being almost nothing to do with Chromebooks) I wrote a little bit, a year ago, about what I felt needed to happen to Microsoft Office 365 Video to make it better - very much in the spirit of 'wow, this is good but please...'

With the release of Stream I thought it would be good to revisit those points.

The name. Really. Azure Video. Microsoft Video. Video 365. 
Well - 365 Video never got a better name but Microsoft Stream certainly ticks the boxes.

Video thumbnails all take the first frame of the film. This is plain daft as most videos have either a plain colour or logo start. Either starting a fixed distance in to choose the thumbnail or (better) letting the owner decide which frame would be epic.
This was fixed in a later version of 365 Video and Stream has the feature to set the thumbnail right from the start.

Sharing... I can send someone a link but I have no embed code or code fragment to copy and paste. Means I have to grab a screenshot, embed that in a web page and link that to the video. Hmmm. If the focus is on finding video in Delve (I think it might be) or visiting the portal rather than picking up content elsewhere this is OK. I can live with it, but I'd rather live with it done right!
365 Video is gradually getting better and better at sharing and embedding (although I still haven't been able to use it to put out a video publicly which I thought was intended - that would mean we could have one video store, and for each video set permissions). Most of our use of 365 Video centres on people linking to a channel and just going to that as a web page. We haven't used the Yammer links much but we certainly will this year.

Stream seems to me to be much more designed for sharing publicly right from the off, so promising.

Sway. I love Sway. I truly wish it wasn't tied in with consumer Windows ID rather than 365 logins, and I would kind of like to be able to embed 365 videos in there in the same way I can embed YouTube ones.
Sway has all the marks of being made by a sub-team at Microsoft who don't seem to be that enthused with integrating with their own products - OK with me as I'm pretty agnostic, but I'd like to see an incentive for people who use Microsoft's web publishing product to store their video in Microsoft's video sharing product.

Having the default to not giving every single user the ability to make a new channel might be sensible. Maybe I'm a control freak.
Stream actually makes this worse, but it is only a beta. 365 Video we have now set to be more locked down.

Please let us do a little branding of some kind on the home screen. Not anything massive, just a few light touches.
365 Video still looks pretty terrible and doesn't allow me to brand it. I hope this gets addressed one day.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Microsoft Stream - a new approach to video for the school managed PLE

Adding data to an uploaded video

The pace of development of Office 365 is truly impressive. I work with both Google Apps for Education and Office 365 (see other posts for the how and the why of that) and in very broad terms I'd say we see ongoing incremental improvement in Google Apps (much related to adding a level of fit and finish you'd expect) compared to a pretty relentless programme of new releases from Microsoft.

Stream is new. You could summarise it as "an in-house YouTube" which neatly summarises what it does and the greatest problems it faces in one phrase. The space the Microsoft are exploring though is video sharing within a defined community, and that is an interesting one.

It seems to answer the same questions as Office 365 Video which we have already settled on as our primary video service for schools, but although still in beta Stream seems to offer that little bit extra - this is an attempt to set out what I think it needs to do (well), what it does and how it compares to Office 365 Video.

Our philosophy is that of the mPLE - an managed space where who people are and what they can do is managed, but where the tools and services made available to them is as flexible as possible. Video sharing is obviously one of those services teachers and students want.

Without a service the default behaviour from users is to either put a video file in Google Drive/ One Drive and share it that way (which works and gives control over access but doesn't give any overarching structure with things like channels etc) or to put it on Vimeo (not linked to our single sign on) or YouTube (which is the gold standard for these things but has so many issues to control and manage that it's not my first choice for this role).

A class channel in 365 Video - with who can upload and who can view managed centrally.

First the original. Less than a year old, Microsoft Office 365 Video. 365V handles all the videos we upload without issue, has a good mobile app which makes it suitable for classroom use (to record and upload clips from within the app), and lets an administrator create channels and set who can add to each channel and who can view it. As a bonus a channel can link to Yammer (which we use as our professional social network), so that new videos automatically feature in Yammer as they are released - so for professional development or for letting staff know about the availability of a new resource within their interest group it's ideal.

It isn't so good at sharing/ embedding video outside the organisation and it is build on Sharepoint, although it does try to hide it - this means occasionally it can lapse into some confusing user interface conventions that work if you're an IT admin but not for others.

For me though, the fundamental weakness of 365V is its strength. It is superb where IT admins build a structure and users then create and publish within it. It is not organic. It does not welcome the teacher who wants to create a channel for a class at short notice, or for the group of students who need to share material just within their group.

Stream is still rough at the edges (it is a preview) but fully functional and already has a level of 'finish' in how users interact with it that is more on the level of the best Microsoft web services (like Sway or Outlook online).

Unlike 365V it starts with the user as a publisher/ manager of their own content rather than as a contributor within a fixed structure.

In Stream the starting point is the user as publisher, managing *their* content
I can see myself wanting to ask "how do I stop xxx from doing yyy?" before making it universally available (and for all readers rolling their eyes at that... well if they walked a few miles in our shoes they might think the same), but right from the start this is something that a teacher can pick up and 'just use' - make their own channel, bring in their students (using the 365 groups we're syncing with our MIS using Salamander as described in the last post) and make stuff, without waiting for someone to build it for you.

In Stream, once uploaded you can add comments etc and publish to channels that you create (rather than have made for you)

Users can upload and publish video (it seems faster to transcode and prepare video than its 365 brother), decide who will be allowed to see it and generally get to work. There isn't a mobile app for Stream yet, but I expect it's on the way.

As well as being more 'swooshy' Stream has the kind of user-led approach that is likely to lead to far faster adoption and adaption in classrooms.

It may be that features from 365V move to Stream until they end up with something that does everything 365V did but with a way better look and feel and a dynamic approach for the user to do more 'grassroots' sharing. Combining Stream channels and 365V channels would be great (but if they don't it is going to get awfully confusing when a teacher ends up with two completely different video channels with the same names shared with the same users....). This is likely to be more powerful, more messy (in the overlaps) and result in a simpler story - 365 ends up with one video sharing service that is a "private YouTube for our schools."

Or it could just leave 365V to wither away (we will be using it but already I'm wondering about how we'd move content if required) and keep developing Stream over the next 12 months.

Either way, it is probably the most interesting new 365 venture of the year so far.


After a few more hours of reflection and a couple of conversations I'd add that I think I was being over-harsh on Stream above and I should perhaps be clear - I think this is potentially a very very big release for schools. Since Google Apps retired Google Video and went all in on YouTube there hasn't really been an 'in house' video story there unless you built it yourself in Sites, or used private G+ groups.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

M is for Identity: Managing the mPLE

In my last post about Managed Personal Learning Environments I argued that an mPLE has the agility and flexibility of the "Anything Goes" personal learning environment, but the security and structure of a VLE. Is that really possible? This time I want to explain that further and share the first stage of our multi-school setup and the next step which we're rolling out this summer.

The key element to being able to manage is identity management.

To safeguard the children who use our system we must be confident that we know who the people on our system are.  We have to maintain a directory of people that can use the system across 33 schools and ensure that it is kept up to date, and we have to maintain a structure of group membership so that you can address a resource to the right people without having to expend a lot of energy.

Single Sign On is important. It means people using the system don't go crazy from repeatedly having to put in user names and passwords everywhere, but it's more than a convenience - if you don't have single sign on you have an awkward mess that will frustrate people and leave holes in your safeguarding arrangements.

There is no one way of doing this - I'm just describing how we do it.

Active Directory might have a long history, but with the advent of Azure it's still highly relevant. Although it requires people with a definite skill set to manage it (I have happily managed Office 365 and Google Apps domains, but there are dim corners of AD I don't pretend to engage with - but I have colleagues that do). When you go to one of those desktop PCs and login, it's Active Directory that checks that there is an account with that name, grants access and determines what you're allowed to do on the network. We have a federated Active Directory across all of our sites, so that I can login anywhere (well that isn't the main reason, but it's a good by product) which breaks membership at each academy into units that can be managed locally.

So we know that if someone is in AD that someone in that academy has verified they are who they say they are and should be able to do what they are allowed to. It means teachers at Academy A can work with students at Academy B even if they have never met, because both are validated as real people with access rights on the system locally. We also know that those people have agreed to a set of conditions (an Acceptable Use Policy) and that anyone who doesn't follow those rules will be taken off the system [I'll blog in a future post about a way we're developing to automate renewing that agreement of the AUP].

So far, so very traditional. All this is really is a standard (medium sized) enterprise network being done in schools. We work closely with European Electronique to deliver. As an organisation we're very "cloud based" (I dislike that term and prefer to think of it as "web first" but we have registered and use so I guess the term has stuck).

Last year, as well as nearing completion of that all-schools enterprise network we offered two very important cloud services to our users - Office 365 and Google Apps for Education. Neither one, nor the other, because if you can use a combination of both, why would you limit yourself to one? As I'll explain in future posts, we often make two tools available that do the same job, but individual academies can engage more with one than the other - the beauty of using the web is the ones that best suit that school can be used.

The Office 365 link uses an Azure single sign on connector and it "just works." We had some fun setting up Yammer, which I'll touch on in the future, but Yammer is a semi-detached part of Office 365 in truth but other than that once we make an account in AD and assign an email address, within an hour it is ready to use in Office 365 (with one wrinkle I'll mention below).

It is seamless, but then you'd expect two Microsoft products to talk to each other wouldn't you? (I am smiling when I type that, but these two, whilst clearly from different planets in terms of design, mesh perfectly).

Our Office 365 is a multi-domain, single tenancy - so each site can have it's own domain name, but all exist in the same directory space. With 12000 users we're probably one of the bigger schools sites in the UK and I cannot recommend the core parts of 365 highly enough.

We use a product called GADS to do the same thing with Google Apps and again that just works. From the perspective of a Google Apps admin the only difference is that I never touch user accounts in Google Admin (because any changes I make will be overwritten within minutes) but in every other way it is business as usual - with a Chromebook, a Google App on an iPad or a Windows PC.

We did have some issues with some Google Apps (like G+) and apps on iOS that we suffered through for a while until we found that some parts of single sign on in GADS weren't set to the defaults - if anyone encounters that I'd be happy to explain it.

The result?

If you use an iPad, iPhone or Android device in our schools you just use any Microsoft or Google App you like and use the same login details and it works.

If you use a Mac or PC similarly it just works - in Windows the integration with 365 is pretty deep in places and you'd never know we were mixing in anything else.

Chromebooks love it. We use them in Kiosk mode and make our homepage the default. Within a couple of seconds of startup you're at a login screen.

The downsides? This year the biggest has been scale. Managing groups has grown into a full time concern - and it is no joke trying to use something like Google Classroom or OneNote Class Notebook if your class doesn't have a single up to date email address that you can be totally confident is right up to date. With 12000 users those groups just aren't.

Another issue is automating Office 365 license allocation. Making a user in 365 isn't enough, you need to attach licenses, even if they are free ones, to each account and right now that is a manual process (or a little powershelgl script if we're feeling adventurous).

Several tools exist to do the job of bringing some order to that.

Capita have just launched a product called SIMS ID that seems to do much of what I describe above but also pulls information from SIMS to update group membership. I don't know how well this would scale to a multi-school setup because SIMS does not really understand a multi-school world in the way I'd like.

Ruler Connect has a tight integration with SIMS too - pulling group membership from SIMS and writing it to Active Directory or Office 365. We really liked the product and the people and although we didn't select it can certainly suggest it is worth a good look.

In the end we've chosen another tool called Salamander. Salamander can sit in our data centre on a relatively low powered server and talk to each installation of SIMS overnight. When a member of staff or student is added it will pull the details through, add it to AD with the right group membership and license and if an account is taken out of SIMS it will suspend it. This level of automation will give us time to do the interesting stuff, reduce risk of errors creeping in and solve the problem of group membership. When I want to share a OneNote document with 11Tec1 at an academy, I'll be able to do so with the confidence that all the people currently in that group will access it - and the beauty of that is that every Google Apps and every 365 tool will be able to do so.

I hope that's been of interest - in many ways this is the least learning focused post in this series, but without the management in mPLE we have something that is not fit for purpose as a place online for children to work. When assembling our mPLE, the price of entry for a product is to be able to let users use their AD credentials to sign in... and between 365, Google ID and AD there are very few services that don't make the cut.

What I'd like to write about next are some of the tools and design decisions we're making in putting together an mPLE - some services have to be mandatory (e.g. email, although we have Gmail and Exchange Online, we need one to keep a single directory of addresses and to make compliance simple to manage) whilst others we can give choices and let the users decide, and others we need to buy in and do the integration work such as our upcoming eBook Library.

If you're interested in this stuff and would like to steer the series in any way, please do get in touch buy the usual methods.

Managed Personal Learning Environments: Clearing the decks

It's been a very quiet year on the blogging front for two reasons. Firstly as I've been working on the EdTech unit at Leicester University (which was the reason for starting this particular blog and I'm not going to start another one) I've not had masses of time to blog about specific things of wider relevance, and secondly because the things I was blogging about at Chromestead had frankly gone off the boil. My disappointment at the disaster that was Google Play for Education and somewhat bizarre "Androidisation" of ChromeOS means I don't have much that is constructive to say, so best policy is to shut up.

I think the time is right to blog a little now though. Partly that is because I think I have some things that are interesting to share that combine the reading I did for the EdTech course around online learning, and will be relevant to anyone planning longer term for their school or group of schools. Also though because of the sheer idiocy of some of the things people selling to me have said about the subject and their strategy. It seems bizarre but much of the old snake oil around VLEs and "learning platforms" has come full circle and is emerging wearing new hats (often from the same people) - and a desire to debunk is a great motive to write.

Back in April I wrote a surprisingly (to me) coherent piece about Managed Personal Learning Environments. In a nutshell I argued that the debate between those advocating PLEs as the new wave to sweep away the sclerotic and over-priced Virtual Learning Environments (or LMSs or MLEs or Learning Platforms) is one between two sides who are both wrong, and right at the same time.

VLEs are wrong because they can never meet a broad enough range of needs which are shifting rapidly, within a single platform, because they are out of date before you've even finished rolling them out, meaning you end up defending your investment rather than pushing it forward, because they put you as the educator at the mercy of the development roadmap of people you don't control and frankly because I have never, ever used one that I ever wanted to use a second time. On the plus though they give you a place to securely host your content and decide who can and can't use it and by and large they work as advertised.

PLEs are wrong because although they answer most of the problems with VLEs they don't do what VLE's do well. They don't allow you to control who can do what, and they don't allow you to manage what they can do with your content. If you think those things don't matter you probably aren't responsible for ensuring that the people who your learners are interacting with are the people they say they are, and you probably don't deal with buying and deploying material that you don't own.

I argued in the blog that what is needed is a mPLE - a lightweight management framework that is extensible and can work with as many of those PLE tools as you can make it. Embrace the agility and variety (and power) of those tools, provided you can authenticate who is who and what they can do (and when you can't do those things, draw a line there and stay inside it until the tools to advance become available).

What I want to do in this series of posts is set out my thinking about how we've built and are now extending an mPLE with various partners for our network of 30+ schools and 12,000 users.

The P-Bomb

So you're meeting someone who has a genuinely good online service. They've probably got the lead in a niche and a good number of schools on board and they want to grow. The demo is good, the product is solid and then they drop the P-bomb. "Guy, we see this developing into a platform." Just once I wish I could get up and walk out at that point. But it keeps happening (three times in key meetings to me this year so far).

If I were making and selling an online service to schools my logic would be:
  • OK we have made something that does one thing really well on the web.
  • Schools like it and we have a good brand.
  • We want to make more things and make more money.
  • Let's develop another service, that is not an outgrowth of the first one, but a stand on it's own feet one, maybe add some links between them for those that choose to buy both.
  • Let's sell that as an independent entity so we have two services to sell.
  • Maybe let's give Guy a discount if he buys both.
That way customers build their own platform using your services </rant>

The C-Bomb

OK I can't resist. The Androidisation of ChromeOS.

I want to buy these great lightweight, simple to manage, multi-user devices for our schools so that children can use the best web apps, but also so they could download Android Apps on them said no-one ever. Google please, ChromeOS is great. A tablet version with a rear facing camera that allowed a teacher to video work and screencast it in lessons would have been a killer product, but you gave us the Pixel C instead (because another tablet at a premium price would be great because nobody else is doing anything far better already in that space, said no-one ever). But a model for Chromes where every time a student opens a device and logs in a series of apps are downloaded so they can use an internet based device whilst not on the internet...

There are not many examples of an app I would like to download to use whilst offline that would be useful (offline). The few examples I can imagine (for example an offline text editor) could be baked into ChromeOS in the same way the Files App is.

I like the people I meet at Google and I think they are doing some great work (I also like people at other companies) so I won't write about Google Play for Education.