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Showing posts from 2015

ClearOS 7.1 as a Windows Domain Controller

I've been a long time user of ClearOS for gateway, DNS,DHCP, backup and a variety of other services. It is a Linux distro that is backed up with a marketplace of great apps that can be easily managed via a web config (although you can drop into cli whenever you want more control). The new samba directory app allows ClearOS to behave as a full on Windows Domain controller and file server without the cost of Windows Server.

So this is a demo from installation to a working DC and files server. Its about 40 mins for the full job - so skip though bits - gives you an example of what you can do. Please note the the Samba Directory App is currently in beta - but I've not spotted any bugs in a my test setup yet.

Acer R11 Chromebook

I've been tempted to buy light portable touch Chromebook for myself for a while now. I initially considered the Asus Flip which has a nice design, but relatively slow processor and small screen. Instead I bought the Acer R11 Chromebook as its get a faster Intel processor, 11.6" IPS screen and currently can be had for £179.99 compared to the £200+ of the Asus.

Now I have a 2013 Pixel which is a great device but it has a few shortcomings. Firstly, the battery life is only a few hours and secondly it's quite heavy and a bit big to lug around. The other issue I have is that I use Realtime Board and Explain Everything quite a lot and while they work fine on the Pixel - the positioning of the screen is not ideal for writing on. The Flip feature of the R11 allows you to work at what ever screen angle you want.

The good points of the R11:

Seems pretty robust - despite being a plastic case.Keyboard is OK as is the trackpad.IPS screen is far better than most Chromebooks.Touch screen…

AccessNow 7.3 direct copy function

Ericom AccessNow has recently been moved to version 7.3. This version brings direct copy and paste from remote apps to local apps - a very useful feature. You do need to use Chrome as your browser.

Brief demo:

Annotated Seating Plans in Google Sheets

Annotated seating plans have been something we have been working on for a while and I've just about got there in terms of functionality. This has been a combined effort between several members of staff and myself, with getting the data off SIMS (our MIS) in a sensible format being the most challenging aspect.

It looks like:


The system basically does the following: User makes a copy of a central sheet.Selects a classData auto populates and updates periodicallyUser arranges students in a grid
So as little end user (teacher) setup as possible required. Broadly speaking this now works. The issues that do arise come from the inability of SIMS to extract all the data we require in one report. We use 8 reports in total with then need merging into one central data sheet. The following two videos look at the inner workings of the seating plan sheet and the backend datasheet.



So it's not perfect, but for most classes it works fine now. Updating the back end sheet I've now got down to…

Ericom AccessNow 7.2 on a Chromebox

We have be using Ericom AccessNow and Secure Gateway for a while to give access to Windows Apps on ChromeOS and also to allow off site access. The latest version has a revised user interface and a clearer look. Brief demo below:


Simple Parental Contact System using Formmule and Google Sheets

This is a brief demo of a system I've been playing with to replace a commercial contact system we currently use. Still in the testing phase - but might work quite well for a small to medium sized school using Google Apps.

I'll update this once we have tried it with real parents and see how well (or not!) it actually work.


Draftback - useful Chrome Extension

Draftback allows you to playback the revisions of a Google Document. It also allows you to analysis when a document was edited, who edited it and for how long. Useful for looking in detail at how a student has created a piece of work over a period of time. Get the extension here.

Demo on one of my docs:

How to automatically create Google Classrooms for an entire school using RosterSync and Capita SIMS

In this guide, I'll look at how to automatically provision all your Google Classrooms for your school based on data held in SIMS (the most common UK MIS).

To carry out the following you need to be a super admin on your Google Apps domain. The end result will be the creation of a Google Classroom for each class in the school, pre-populated with a lead teacher and students.
Step 1 - Create a SIMS report to pull off all students and the classes they take. You will need a report that contains the student forename, surname, Google Apps email and all the classes they take. So a pre-requisite is to have all your Google usernames on SIMS. The fields I use are shown below:
Upload the resulting spreadsheet and convert to a Google Sheet.  Step 2 - Create a SIMS report to pull off all teachers and the classes they teach. You will need a report that contains work email, full name, class name and subject of the class. See my report below: In excel - use the 'remove duplicate' option in t…

New YouTube controls in Google Apps for Education

New YouTube controls have recently been added to the Google Apps Admin console. Below is a brief video guide on how to use them and what they look like in practice.


Hapara Workspace - a first look

Workspace is a new feature of Teacher Dashboard that has been released into public beta in the last few days.

I've just loaded most of our classes and students into Teacher Dashboard for the coming academic year and have spent a little time seeing what it can do. It essentially bring in the assignment setting of Google Classroom into Teacher Dashboard and the ability to build courses which you can use year after year. Demo video below:

If you have access to it, there is a feedback bar on each page to put in suggestions.
A few observations so far:
I've noticed that from the students point of view it creates a folder called 'Workspace' and in that a folder for each Workspace the student becomes a member of. Now as Teacher Dashboard creates a subject folder for each subject, then I'd like the Workspace folders to appear in the associated subject folders. Would make the integration with Teacher Dashboard a bit more seamless. However, I can imagine how this might be tech…

Pinning Websites to the Shelf in ChromeOS 44

There are quite a few significant changes with ChromeOS 44 Stable. One that is slightly harder to spot - but quite useful is the ability to pin websites to the 'Shelf' (taskbar at the bottom of the screen). Little demo:


Just be aware, if you have a managed device, your administrator may pin apps to the shelf for you, in which case this won't work.

How to pin the 'Files' App to the shelf in ChromeOS via the management console

I pin various apps to the shelf in ChromeOS for our users and for a while have wanted to pin the very useful 'Files' app. Its slightly non obvious how to do this as it's not a WebStore app as it's built into ChromeOS.
So go to the pin apps dialogue (in user settings of Chrome Management) and add a custom app:

App ID: hhaomjibdihmijegdhdafkllkbggdgoj
URL: http://clients2.google.com/service/update2/crx

Click save and you are done.

Deploy AdBlock Plus to Chrome domain wide and suppress startup page

If you want to block ads in Chrome Adblock Plus is a good option. It can be deployed to PCs via group policy in the same way as any other extension. However, once installed it opens up its own startup page that you may not want. There are good instructions here on how to remove the startup page. But if you want a little more explanation see below:

First, add the app to your list of force install extensions. You need to add:
ldcecbkkoecffmfljeihcmifjjdoepkn;https://clients2.google.com/service/update2/crx


Next add a registry key: You find these in Group policy preferences.
So set the Hive to HKLM Key path to: Software\Policies\Google\Chrome\3rdparty\extensions\ldcecbkkoecffmfljeihcmifjjdoepkn\policy Value name:  suppress_first_run_page Value type: REG_DWORD Value Data: 1 Base: Decimal
Apply the policy to the appropriate users.
Adblock Plus will now silently install the next time a user logons on and fires up Chrome.
You might want to block ads to save bandwidth and some ads, even on fai…

Awesome Drive Chrome Extension

We have some users who still need to be able to work with Office files while storing their files in Drive. One answer is to use the Google Drive Sync Tool (the local install of Google Drive). The downside of this tool is the all the files are cached on your local hard drive and unless you are disciplined and only sync the folders you need (and how many users ever bother to go into advance settings to do this?) you can use up a huge amount of local hard drive space. The other issue is that the process of syncing those files uses significant bandwidth and if you have a site with a 1000 users - you run out pretty quickly if any number use this tool.

Another solution is the AwesomeDrive Extension. This allows you to open Office files directly from Drive into local apps and save them back without the need for the local Google Drive Apps and its associated issues.

I've pushed this app to all PC users via Group Policy - see my guide here. Demo of it in action:


Just be aware it only works…

Staff Professional Development system in Google Apps

For a while now we have been using an expensive online professional development system that nobody seems to get on with too well. So I was asked to come up with a system that works in Google Apps and does the basic core things that the paid for system does.

So the key things are:

Easy way for staff to record objectives.Method for approving and reviewing these objectives.Method for submitting CPD activities and having them approved.Method of submitting overview statements.Keeping all of this in a central easy to navigate central store for the head.
Seemed like an ideal opportunity to get my two favorite spreadsheet functions into action - importrange and query. So if you have not met these two functions - here are the basics:

Importrange
=IMPORTRANGE("1MHqboMSXVImyh_wFKi2WAazZinqCo_90tfYaEbOszqo","Form Responses 1!A1:N2000")
This pulls data from one Google Sheet into another. So I've got several forms as part of this system and want to pull data from them all into jus…

molview.org - online molecular modelling

As a chemistry teacher I've always wanted a good online molecular modeling application. We finally seem to have one with molview.org.

With this online app you can quickly build up complex molecules and view them in 3D. You can also export them or embedded them in sites. It also includes analysis tools to look at bond lengths, angles, NMR and IR spec. So great for A-level chemistry. Brief video below:


Chromixium - release 1.0 - guest session configuration.

Chromixium 1.0 has been released. This is a version of Ubuntu thats been configured to look and feel a lot like ChromeOS. If you want to have a multiuser machine - you can configure the guest session, which is wiped clean after each user logoff.

Pretty quick to install and configure and a great way of reprovisioning old hardware.


Instructions to install Chrome and configure guest session.

1. Install Google Chrome Go to this site http://www.google.co.uk/intl/en_uk/chrome/browser/index.html
Click on the Download button
Select 32 bit .deb (For Debian/Ubuntu)
Click Accept and Install
Click Save to download the file to your Downloads folder (google-chrome-stable_current_i386.deb)
Once it has downloaded, close the browser
Open Files (file manager) from the dock and open your Downloads folder
Double-click on the file google-chrome-stable_current_i386.deb and it will open in the Package Installer (GDebi)
Wait a few seconds for the package to be prepared.
Click on Install Package and enter you…

Features in the Files App in ChromeOS 43

The new dev channel version of ChromeOS 43 has a few new tricks - quick demo on my little HP11 below:

Separate Policy for Safesearch and YouTube Safety Mode

Youtube Safety Mode and Safesearch can now be configured separately in the Google Apps Management Console and via Group Policy (with the latest template - available here).

Below is the new policy in action for our staff users - so Safesearch on - YouTube Safety off.


Domain wide deployment of Google Docs Addons

Now you can deploy addons domain wide (or by sub-OU) to your Google Apps users. Its very straight forward to do and the process is illustrated in the video below. The only thing to remember is that the publisher of the addon need to publish it to the Google Apps Marketplace for you to be able to deploy it as described in the video.


Using Quarantine Manager in Google Apps

Fairly recently Quarantine Manager was introduced to Google Apps. This is a tool that works alongside SPAM filtering, objectionable content and content compliance rules you may have setup. Essentially the Quarantine Manager holds messages that fall into the categories you have defined for administrators to view before approving or rejecting the messages.

We have used this to block all SPAM messages going to students. This is a brief look at how to set it up.  Please note, it is very important to have authenticated email setup - this prevents things like group notifications every ending up in SPAM.
Step 1 - define some Quarantine Names Head to email settings. You will find 'Manage Quarantines' below 'Authenticated email' near the bottom:
Click on 'ADD' - top left Give the quarantine a name and description of what it is going to do. Decide if you just want to drop the message or send a rejection email. See example below: This in itself does nothing - you have to …

Some frequently asked questions about locking down managed chromebooks

There a number of questions surrounding the management of ChromeOS devices in schools that crop up on a fairly frequent basis. So I thought I'd answer a few of the most common ones here that are not that obvious unless you are in the know.

To do the following, you must have device management licences. Some of these tricks can be achieved using other means through third party add ons - but this is all done with just device management.
Prevent non domain users logging on In the admin console go to 'Device Management', 'Chrome', 'Device Settings'


Use the above policy to restrict who can sign-in to your devices. Wildcards are allowed as in the example above. This does not stop users signing into a non-domain account once signed into the device. Prevent users from signing into private accounts or adding accounts once signed in. In the admin console go to 'Device Management', 'Chrome', 'User Settings'


Use this policy to block two url's…

Chromixium - a possible way of reprovisioning old hardware.

I've been playing around with Chromixium over the past few days. This is Ubuntu 14.04 modded to look and feel a lot like ChromeOS. It is possible to install actual ChromeOS on your own hardware - but its a tricky business and I've had limited success. Chromixium, being built on Ubuntu has excellent hardware support right out of the box and is relatively easy to install - taking only 10 minutes or so to be up and running. It might be an effective way of reprovisioning some old laptops...

While it looks a lot like ChromeOS - its still Ubuntu at its core. So some of the advantages of ChromeOS are not there - but on the other hand you can install local linux apps. You can easily install it as a virtual machine using VirtualBox or create a live USB boot stick if you want to give it a whirl. Brief look at it below:


And just for fun, I've booted a 9 year old Windows laptop with the USB live stick. Works really well and runs fast.
Just a shame about the battery life....
One update…

ChromeOS 42 with some interesting Material Design touches

I've been trying out ChromeOS 42 on my Pixel. This is the latest dev channel release and it bring in some interesting Material Design touches - especially to the file manager. This will be a couple of months away from the stable channel - but something to look forward to. If you don't want to risk the dev channel yourself - this is what it looks like:


Building your own public display system

I've been meaning to document how we setup our own public display system for sometime and have finally got round to it. We have 5 large displays in public areas around the school that display information. These are independent and can display different info on each screen. So what do you need?


Obviously - some displays - big TV's or monitors - either will do. If TV's - remember to turn off any power management features! You can get 42" models for <£300 now.Mounts to fit them to a wall - typically around £20-30 mark.Mini PC - anything will do - something that can run Windows.If you have WiFi you don't need cabling - but otherwise a network point near the mounting location.Suitably located power socket.
You need to setup is a system where the PC will boot up, auto logon and then be able to be controlled remotely by someone elsewhere in the school who puts stuff onto the displays. So this is how to do it:

Step one - build the PC
Install Windows and domain join the d…

Google Play for Education in the UK

I've just enabled Google Play for Education on our domain. To do this you need to have either ChromeOS or Android management licences (or both). This will then give your teachers a really simple way to first out Android Apps, Chrome Apps and Books to individual students or groups.

So this is a brief look at what it looks like:

Speech Recognition in Google Docs

If you prefer to dictate your documents, you can now directly into Google Docs. Simply add the Voice Addon found here. You can pick your language - so speak in French, German, English - support a range of languages. Seem to work really well - the odd correction is needed but better and faster than most I've tried.

Be interested to see how good the other languages are.

Brief demo:



Remote Desktop on ChromeOS using Ericom AccessNow and Secure Gateway

We have just started using  Ericom AccessNow and Secure Gateway to allow access to our remote desktop server on ChromeOS. Previously we had been using free rdp clients - but the time has come to bite the bullet and pay for something.

AccessNow has some key advantages over free rdp clients:

A configurable user interface.Accelerated rdp Clipboard support between remote and local sessionAbility to send files to and from remote sessionSecure Gateway to allow off site access
Brief video demo done on a Chromebook off site:


Getting this working is not hard assuming you have an existing rdp server. You just need to read the Ericom manuals carefully. If you want to use the off site Secure Gateway, you will need a public IP address forwarded to the local server IP address with ports 80&443 open. In addition you will need a standard SSL certificate for the domain name you use for the secure gateway (otherwise your browser will warn you about untrusted sites all the time!).
We will see how it …