Microsoft Teams Doing Attendance with Automatic Data

By Tony DePrato | Follow Me on LinkedIn

Posted in Educational Technology, Helpful Tips, Instructional Technology, Learning 2.011, management, Tech Integration, Tony DePrato, tutorial, VideoTipTrick | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creating a Smart Tech Support Dashboard with O365

By Tony DePrato | Follow Me on LinkedIn

Posted in Educational Technology, Google Apps, Helpful Tips, management, Tony DePrato, tutorial, Video | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Episode 179 – Student Fail

Tony and Patrick are at it again. We’re still talking about the Coronavirus about a somewhat dubious story out of China some hardware and how some students were pretty sneaky. Be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Music or your favorite podcasting app.

  1. Online learning, biggest issue I am seeing: controlling students vs lesson prep
    1. Behavior problems online are not tech problems
    2. Be realistic – it cannot be business as usual
    3. Daily touchpoints for teachers and administration
    4. How often do students need to be online with the teacher?
  2. Chinese students try but fail…
    https://technode.com/2020/03/02/dingtalk-begs-for-stars-on-chinas-app-stores/

    1. Funny story, but again Social Media thinks it is real.
  3. ViewSonic Viewboard – Awesome, but don’t get sucked in. 
    1. https://www.viewsonic.com/us/products/shop/viewboard.html
  4.  Sneaky, sneaky kids and electronic tests by Patrick Cauley
    1. https://itbabble.com/2020/02/13/sneaky-sneaky-kids-and-electronic-tests/

Download here!

Posted in Podcast | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Smithsonian for the win!

The Smithsonian has released nearly 3 million images, 3D models, videos and more into the public domain! What this means is that anyone can search, find, download, use adapt and publish any of these artifacts without asking. So get searching and share this with your kids. Chances are if they are working on a research project, they may find media that can safely be used.

https://www.si.edu/openaccess 

Posted in Helpful Tips, Patrick Cauley | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to use Pear Deck

The Pear Deck add-on is very popular amongst teachers. It allows them to bring interactive elements into their Google Slides presentation. Check out the video above to get a better sense of what Pear Deck offers and whether or not it is right for you.

Posted in Google Apps, Helpful Tips, Patrick Cauley, tutorial | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cybersecurity Part 4: Surviving Ransomware

ransomware-3998798_1280

By Tony DePrato | Follow Me on LinkedIn

The scope of all the following arguments is for equipment owned by the school, or equipment approved to use at school. This post is not promoting policies for personal devices used solely at home, nor is this post addressing devices that may be used for entertainment or non-academic purposes.

Ransomware, in its most basic form, is self-explanatory. Data is captured, encrypted, and held for ransom until a fee is paid. The two most common forms of ransomware delivery are through email and websites.~ https://insights.sei.cmu.edu/sei_blog/2017/05/ransomware-best-practices-for-prevention-and-response.html

Ransomware is scary. Ransomware, once it begins to propagate, becomes more about survival and mitigation and less about prevention.

I have thought about how to advise K12 schools around the world how to prepare for ransomware. I have concluded that there are only two approaches everyone can follow: Reduce or Completely Remove Windows and Create Very Inconvenient Backups of Data. 

Reduce or Completely Remove Windows

I decided to compile known types of ransomware. I stopped at 106 identified types. Here is a graph, and link to the sources, that demonstrate what operating systems are vulnerable:

Screen Shot 2020-02-19 at 8.58.44 AM

Data Link

If you want to do the math:

  • 106 Ransomware programs
  • 100 Target Windows Operating Systems
  • 93%-94% of Targets are Windows Operating Systems
  • Using Windows is Riskier than Using other Systems

“Riskier” is a little weak in this case. It is very likely that Windows users will be a target, it is very unlikely that Apple and Chromebook users will be a target.

If the goal is to live in a relatively peaceful ransomware free environment, then the majority of end-users need to be using Apple or Chrome-based devices (Linux varieties are also an option for a subset of users).

There are tools for Windows that help defend and protect against ransomware. However, nothing is better than not being attacked at all.

Create Very Inconvenient Backups of Data

Every time I ask an IT director or IT manager about backups, they claim they are 100% compliant and 100% able to deal with any problems. I have never believed my planning was close to 100%, nor have I ever believed I could restore 100% of all data. I would say, at my best, I am 60%-70% certain that I can restore 80%-90% of data.

Data. Not operating systems and settings. Data. Not the software that was installed. Just all the data consisting of but not limited to documents, databases, movies, music, pictures, special configuration files, scripts and code, and the inclusive content of all websites.

There is only one question a person needs to ask to confirm if backups are safe from ransomware: “Can the backup be accessed right now if we need it?”.

If the answer is ‘Yes’, then backups are going to be vulnerable.

There should be at least two layers of backups. Layer one can be data that is backed-up and accessible on the network, in the cloud, and/or from normal workstations. Meaning, someone can sit down and create or restore a laptop, database, etc by following a workflow at their desk.

Layer two backups are inconvenient. These backups are stored outside of the normal network. These backups are scheduled and not even accessible by network administrators without taking extra steps. These backups require some level of multifactor authentication or even a physical lock and key.

Backup

Layer two backups also need to be tested at least monthly (this is only recommended for K12 schools most businesses need to test more frequently; school districts would need to test very often and on a predetermined schedule).

Tests need to include:

  1. Data restoration
  2. Data access and use
  3. A scan for malware, ransomware, etc
  4. An iterative process to consistently reduce the size of backups
  5. An archival process to store data that will most likely never be needed, but is legally required to store
  6. Imagination. Because you never know where you will be and what the situation will be when you need to access these backups

A very low tech approach to a layer two back-up could include someone taking an external drive to the data source, moving the data manually, and then locking the drive in a safe. Do not overthink this, just start doing it and keep improving the process. If you can access these backups from your workstation, then those backups are vulnerable by definition.

If ransomware happens, and the data cannot be decrypted, this layer two data would be safe as it would be offline. Layer one backups may stay secure, but layer two backups will be secure unless you are victim of very bad timing.

The cybersecurity industry is rapidly developing better protocols for handling ransomware. Staying educated and studying cases is not only essential, but it should also be scheduled into the cycle of work at least once every 6-8 weeks.

The data above could change. An uptick in ransomware for Chrome or Apple of even 1% is enough to review internal processes and procedures. Until then though, get the number of Windows OS users down and make better backups.

businessman hand holding money banknote for paying the key from

Start Your Research Here

Ransomware: Best Practices for Prevention and Response

https://insights.sei.cmu.edu/sei_blog/2017/05/ransomware-best-practices-for-prevention-and-response.html

Posted in Educational Technology, management, TIEONLINE | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sneaky, sneaky kids and electronic tests

This week, is a good week. I learned a whole lot about something this week and I thought I’d share it with you my good reader.

So let me layout the scenario for you. It is the end of an grading period at my school and like many other school this is a time for tests and projects. One class giving quite a few tests is our Spanish class. The teacher there uses on an online assessment tool, Edulastic for this tests and the students use Chromebooks. Since it is a language test and it is offered online, there are some ways that kids can, shall we say, get some online assistance (AKA cheating).

We, the tech department, thought we had this locked down. With Edulastic we can make a “Scene” that only allows the Edulastic website to open and that is it. No new tabs or searches allowed. We also blocked Google Translate from the Google translate control panel so that site or the extension could not be used and we patted ourself on our backs.

So students took the test and when we looked at GoGuardian to make sure they weren’t able to open any webs we noticed something odd. Something didn’t make sense. Check out the image below of a timeline of two different students.

Problem #1

We are stupid, or at least I am. There are plenty of translation extensions that students can download and install.

Guess what, extensions don’t need a website, so they are invisible to GoGuardian, so at the beginning of the week we thought there were students who were installing the extension before the test and then uninstalling it afterwards.

So, we disabled students’ ability to install apps/extensions from Google control panel. Pretty easy and we set up a Google form for students to request apps/extensions to be allowed that we could vet.

OK – now we can really pat ourselves on the back . . . right?

Problem #2

Did I mention that I was stupid? During a test that we were monitoring on GoGuardian we saw this.

So the student on the bottom is what it should look like during a test. A solid green line showing a student consistently on the Edulastic test. The student above was odd. Why was it so fragmented? Those gray slivers are open and empty tabs. What was happening?

So we looked a little deeper and saw this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How could this be? I mean we plugged all the holes . . .didn’t we? Right?

The teacher spoke to this student and he was pretty forth coming. He said that if you type a question the Google Omnibar, it will give an answer without performing a search!

Of course he is absolutely correct.

What you are seeing here is what Google calls instant search and there is a way for us to turn that off in the Google. There was also a translate feature in Google that we turned off as well. I guess this is what offers a translation for sites in foreign language.

Now do I pat myself on the back? No because I am sure the students will find another way. Just like the Dutch Boy and the leaky dike. I am just plugging holes as students find new and inventive ways to . . . “gain assistance.”

What have I become

I always thought that being working in technology – I’d be the cool guy on campus. I’d be the person people would go to with problems and want to talk tech with. I am that person, but I have also become something else.

I’ve become . . . The Man.

I’m OK with that.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Streaming in the classroom – Airtame 2

I wrote a review about Airtame back in July of 2018 and I was pretty impressed by it. The price point was fair, the fact that it could mirror most devices (limited with iOS and Android but still not bad) and it could be used as digital signage. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that we can manage them in a cloud dashboard. Yep – there is a lot to like.

Now there is Airtame 2 and I have thoughts people. Some good and some not so good but let’s get into it. Oh, before we do that – I would like to mention that we had to purchase this Airtame 2 from Airtame itself. They did give us (my school, not IT Babble) a 50% discount for the purchase which I felt was very generous.

Price

Got to start here. The original Airtame was a little north of $200 if I remember correctly. The newer Airtame 2 costs $400. I believe they have discounts for buying in bulk, but that is almost double the original price which should raise your eyebrows a little.

That price is not just greed though. The Airtame 2 has much better internals. The original Airtame was pretty underpowered and since it plugged directly in a display, that can sometimes make it difficult for it to connect and stay connected to the wifi.

This new design allows you to place the Airtame out in the open so it has a better chance to grab onto and hold onto the wifi signal. Smart.

What can it do?

Well – it can do pretty much everything the first Airtame can do, but since it is more powerful inside, it can simply do it faster and better. Loading times are cut down for digital signage (in my experience), connecting your computer to it to share your screen is faster as well and the streaming is better, but more on that later.

You still have the cloud dashboard which can let you reboot the device if it gets stuck, update at appropriate times (Apple TV – I’m looking at you) and of course change the on screen directions and customize the screen to have your school’s logo. Nice

The first Airtame took a while (a looong while) to update. This new Airtame 2 updates really fast. To give you an idea – the Airtame 2 had an update waiting right out of the box. It took 2-3 minutes to update and reboot. The Airtame 1 would take more than 10 minutes. This was not a one time occurrence either. It was painfully long.

The unit itself has three ports:

  1. USB C connector
  2. Micro USB (for power only)
  3. Kensington lock hole

To connect the Airtame to your display you will use the Aircord. One side is the USB C plugs which goes into the Airtame 2 and then it the Aircord splits into two other cords. One is an HDMI that clearly goes into the display and the other is a USB that must go into its own power source. I was told to not plug it into the projector/display. The display will not provide it enough power to work properly. We used an included USB plug and then plugged that into a power strip.

To connect your device to the Airtame 2, you will need to download the Airtame app. If you have a Mac or iOS device, you can use Airplay, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You will get significantly better results streaming through their app. In fact, I was told by a sales rep that it will use a third less data when using their app.

When connected, basic usage has a noticeable lag. The mouse looks a little choppy gliding over your desktop. All the other devices seemed to perform a little better in this regard. Trying to use my trackpad and looking at the display really threw me for a loop. I got confused and had to just look at my screen. If I was just showing a slideshow, website or PDF this would be fine as the lag isn’t terrible enough to disrupt what was being displayed.

I also didn’t have any unwanted disconnections while testing, which of course is a good thing.

Streaming Video

How did the Airtame 2 fair? Really well 🙂 I am impressed with the performance. It is nowhere near as nice as the BenQ but it was far superior to the WePresent and the Mersive Solstice. In fact, I would go so far to say that it is almost in the same league as an Apple TV – almost. The audio was never out of sync with the video. There were times when frames would drop out but when the video resumed on the display the audio was right there with it.

It really was impressive.

Teachers may grouse about these dropped frames and without longterm testing I can’t say if it gets worse but for right now I find this completely acceptable. Below is my example. You don’t see any dropped frames in this example. By the way – the TV color is wonky – not the color of the video.

The worst I saw was a bunch of dropped frames in period of 5-7 seconds and then it seemed to stream just fine after that.

The Airtame 2 does have Airplay built into it, but the results are stinky. I didn’t record a video, but the lag between the audio and the video was there and consistent through every video test with threw at it, so use the app fellow reader. If you want a video – let me know in the comments below.

Issues

The biggest issue I have is the Aircord (that is its actual name). It is just not practical. The connection to the Airtame itself is a USB C. Because the unit is circular in shape, when I plug the USB C in it feels loose, as the cord can wiggle. I do find this disconcerting, but it doesn’t feel like so loose as it will fall out.

Now we get to the “Y” part. This is what I really don’t like. So it goes from a USB C cord and splits into two: an HDMI cord and a USB A cord. The cord itself feels like it is made of quality material, but that material also means that it is stiff and not easy to manage.

Also, the length of the cord is problematic. Obviously the Airtame needs to be near the display, so HDMI isn’t an issue but then you have to plug the USB A plug into its own dedicated power source. This can be a stretch – literally. It really limits where you can plug this into. If you have a projector and the power outlet is more than a meter (or about three feet) from the power source you will need an extension cord (which Airtame will sell to you) or reposition your outlet.

It is just maddening! All the other units we’ve tested have much more flexible power options:

  • Mersive Solstice – POE or a USB plug
  • WePresent – POE or a USB plug
  • BenQ – Draws power from the device via a USB cable

I believe the USB option for the Airtame 2 is an option and it may give you a lot more options when placing it than the Aircord.

There is also a POE adapter that you can buy from Airtame which would work, but that adapter currently sells for $119 USD, which seems an outrageous sum for any adapter. I mean it is more than a quarter of the price . . . for an adapter!

Maybe I am making too big of a deal out of this cable, but it really bothers me. The POE adapter does give you some more flexibilty but then that cable is not super flexible and managing it is awkward. It is almost too long to really hide behind a device but not quite long enough for the power. I don’t like it.

Managing the Airtame 2

Like I mentioned earlier they have a dashboard that is in the cloud, so you can access it anywhere and do some basic management. It is included in the price but they do have a cloud plus subscription that will give you much more power over them. This is more for the digital signage aspect than the actual streaming uses. It’s good, easy to use and pretty straightforward.

Would teachers like it?

Ultimately, yes – I think they would. I am not sure if it streams better than an Apple TV, but it does a pretty good job. The Aircord worries me with its longevity and the price of the POE adapter is also a worrying cost for a dongle. We had an Airtame 1 that lasted only a year and a half before completely dying, but the Airtame 2 feels much sturdier and a higher quality of production.

Will it replace our Apple TV’s?

Probably not. Having a few on hand for presenters doesn’t seem like a bad idea, but on a large scale it doesn’t offer enough, given the price. The Apple TV may not be the best streaming device we’ve tested but for the price it is hard to beat that value. Digital signage is something we do implement in a few places at school and having and owning the device (with no subscription) may be a good way forward in that aspect, but I can’t think of the Airtame 2 replacing the Apple TV’s . . . yet.

Posted in Patrick Cauley, Review | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Episode 178 – Forced to Flip

Tony and Patrick are back with a pretty important episode this time that is having an impact on some of our friends overseas but could happen to you one day. Also, social media sucks. Be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Music or your favorite podcasting app.

  1. Tony’s post: Flipped without permission
    1. https://itbabble.com/2020/02/05/flipped-without-permission-some-advice-about-teaching-online-an-itbabble-no-frills-video/
    2. Basic rules
    3. Behavior
    4. Platform options
      1. Learning Management System
      2. Record content
      3. Microsoft Teams/Slack (middle school-high school)
    5. Avoid the need for a VPN
    6. Daily check in with department
    7. Weekly check in with administration
    8. Consistency
  2. Social Media is horrible- Coronavirus is more proof
    1. Do your own homework 
    2. Trust vetted sources
  3. Emergency Tech in the Go Bag
    1. Laptop
    2. USB Cords
    3. Documents
    4. Battery pack (you can try)
    5. Two external hard drives
    6. International power adapters
    7. No Chromebook 😦
    8. Core documents

Download it here!

Posted in Podcast | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

School portal – How to Improve the Parent Experience

A lot of schools offer a Parent Portal. Some portals are more robust than others but they all seem to offer these features:

  • Check their child’s academic progress
  • Check out school events (athletics, groups and clubs alike)
  • Pay for fees

Sounds good right? Well, yeah, but sometimes parents don’t use the portal. Why don’t they use it and is that a bad thing. I’ll talk about our portal and my thoughts.

My School’s Portal

Let me tell you about what parents can do in our portal. Unlike other parent portals I have seen, ours is pretty modest.

As you can see parents can access information about their children (of course) and here is what everything else does:

  • Groups – This gives parents quick access to their and their child’s groups. Those could be parent groups, athletic groups and clubs
  • Resources – This is link page. It uses icons that give parents quick access to important information. That could be to pay their tuition, a list of study tips, etc.
  • News – This is a summary of all news and announcements from their groups or their child’s classes.
  • Calendar – Pretty self explanatory
  • Directories – This is where parents can look up contact information for other members in the school community.

That’s it. That is all it does. We also have the ability to assign certain school forms through the portal so the parents can login here and take care of that.

The portal is all hosted in the cloud and for us, we get limited options on how to customize it.

The Problem?

Well, the problem is that not a lot of parents use the portal on a regular basis. We can talk about why that is and I would also like to explore is that such a bad thing? Let’s get into it.

Some parents do not like the portal – plain as that. They find it not very organized or easy to navigate. This, unfortunately, is not something we can control. Another reason parents have given me is that the portal is used differently from one grade to another. Specifically, they are referring to grades that are in different divisions. For example, the difference between 4th grade and 5th grade. 4th grade is in our lower school and 5th grade is in our middle school. The problem is in middle school the students travel from one class to another with a dedicated teacher for that discipline. In 4th grade, they see the same two teachers for all core subjects and there is a lighter homework load. So, it is understandable that these two grades use the portal differently and parents can sometimes not like that.

Then there are inconsistencies within the divisions themselves of how the teachers use the portal. For example a 1st grade teacher uses it differently than a 4th grade teacher. This is also understandable as 1st graders have very little homework, while 4th graders have homework almost every night.

However, there is something to be said for consistencies in the portal. Regardless of grade level, all portal pages have the same options. They all have the same sections, they all start with similar layouts and having some more consistencies about what information should go where could be a good thing.

Now, that is the why – but is it a bad thing that parents don’t access it on a regular basis? Hmmm – I think it is but hear me out about my hesitation. Parents should know what is happening in the classrooms academically and where they are at in the curriculum. This information leads to better reinforcement at home and this usually translates to better understanding in the classroom. This is undeniably good.

Do parents need to log in every night though? Maybe not. Maybe the portal should be treated like a reference book. Reaching for it when needed, like a dictionary or encyclopedia. So when would those times be? Perhaps at the end and beginning of a unit. To check up on major assessments and projects. Maybe if their child is struggling. I don’t have the answer but I wonder if this would work better for most.

Purpose of the portal

The portal is a hub of information for the school. The information will center around their child but then there is also school information as well, but if you think about it a little more – the portal is also a training exercise. Schools are using the portal to train their parents (and older students) that if you want/need info about our school, athletics, classes or groups then this is where you need to go.

It is here to train them to keep up with their child’s schedule and academic performance and also important events and actions they need to complete (signing a permission slip for example). Like any good training program – consistency is key. Without it, the program fails and I think that is the situation my school finds itself in. We have an OK portal but the consistency isn’t there . . . yet.

Ask

I think it is important to ask the stake holders (parents, students, teachers) about how they use the portal and what they would like to see out of it. While there will never be a perfect portal that all three stake holders agree on how it is used, trying to make it as accessible and streamlined as possible is still a valiant goal.

With that in mind, ask how these people are using the portal. Create survey’s and listen. What I have found is that you can very often hear one person say they use the portal in a certain way and then you will hear another person say they use it in a completely different way.

What you are looking for here are common threads. Again, it won’t make everyone happy but we are looking for a streamlined and consistent experience for the students and parents and with enough feedback hopefully you can start shaping the portal to your school’s needs.

I’m working on a survey right now and when I have it ready – I’ll be sure to share it with the IT Babble community.

Consistency

Finally, once you have data and feedback it is time to layout guidelines. Talk with administrators to work on what is realistic and sustainable but once those are set share those guidelines with everyone. Make the community accountable to making sure that teachers post to the portal and that students and parents are checking the portal. This shared responsibility takes a lot of pressure off of everyone’s shoulders and shares the load across the teachers, parents and students.

Posted in Opinion, Patrick Cauley | Tagged | Leave a comment