Sharing files between iOS and Windows in School

At our school, we have been using the iPad increasing success. Our catalog of regularly used apps is small, with most activity being in the browser for research purposes. However, when children are generating their own content, we have often struggled in sharing files effectively and transferring these to the next platform – usually a Windows laptop. This wasn’t initially a problem and only emerged after each iPad had been connected to more than five Windows computers – reaching the maximum number of devices to which a single iPad can be connected before sharing is denied. Once we started managing the devices with Apple Configurator (using the ‘Supervision’ feature), the USB option was no longer available to us at all.

I was already aware that some schools use Dropbox as a platform for sharing files, but this in itself introduces complications that I wasn’t prepared to accept – configuring user accounts, relying on Internet access, sharing limits and the ever present possibility that a free subscription will no longer be available. Let’s not even think about data protection issues either.

As an alternative, I tried a couple of other app based solutions. Firstly, BitTorrent Sync, a free tool from the BitTorrent team that enables local network sharing via their app across multiple platforms. Next, Flick. Flick allows you to share in a similar manner to BitTorrent Sync, getting its name from the ‘flick’ action you perform on your touch device to share the file. Finally, I also took a look at newer sharing tools like Portal from the PushBullet team, which allows files to be shared by scanning a QR Code with the camera on your device in order to establish a secure connection to the destination device on your local network. None of these really worked for us, either having some restriction that left us wanting more, not being reliable enough or introducing some complication in the sharing process that users may find confusing.

For now, we have opted for a local installation of OwnCloud. Think of OwnCloud as a self-hosted version of Dropbox. If you are a confident website or server manager, installing OwnCloud on a web server isn’t going to be too difficult for you. Here’s a no-frills guide to how we setup our OwnCloud sharing.

Setup your local (or remote) cloud hosting

 – Install OwnCloud (or provision via your web host)
 – Create a folder that will become public
 – Click the Share button and select ‘share link’
 – Set ‘allow editing’ to On
 – Copy the share URL to the clipboard; paste into your documentation for reference

Setup your Web Clip in Apple Configurator

  • Open Apple Configurator
  • select the profile to which you will add the Web Clip
  • Paste the URL you copied from OwnCloud into the Web Clip URL field
  • save the payload

Optionally add sub-folders

  • create sub-folders in your OwnCloud share for each year group
  • use the same link generation process
  • distribute links to class teacher(s) in order for them to quickly gather content via any device

Advantages over other file transport methods

  • share files directly from the iPad without using a cable (via the Camera Roll) and therefore incrementing the maximum device count
  • avoid needing to setup an app with username and password (with or without Configurator)
  • avoid needing to setup an email account on all iPad devices (with or without Configurator)
  • when hosted locally, can be used to share student work without placing data in the public domain (cloud)

The User Process

Without the OwnCloud app

  • create your media and save to the camera roll
  • open OwnCloud using the Web Clip you distributed to your managed iPad’s
  • optionally select the appropriate folder to save the files
  • press the upload button
  • select all files for uploading
  • if warned about conflicts, select to preserve New Files and Already Existing Files

With the OwnCloud app

  • open the app
  • enter your server ip address and URL path
  • enter your username and password
  • optionally select the folder to save the files
  • press the + button
  • allow OwnCloud to access your photos
  • select files from the camera roll
  • press Upload

Outside the OwnCloud app

Not all applications include the ability to send their content to another application – these instructions will only work if they do include the feature. The OwnCloud app will always prompt you to authenticate, even if you wish to upload content to a shared folder.
  • use the ‘share’ or ‘upload’ or ‘open in’ option in your app
  • select OwnCloud from the list
  • the OwnCloud app will open
  • verify that your OwnCloud instance and folder are correct
  • modify the file name if necessary
  • press Upload To to start the upload process

Handling Sharing Conflicts

When uploading multiple files from an iPad, you may be presented with a warning message about the duplicate names your files will create. For example, if you select three images from your iPad Photos, by default each will be named ‘image.jpg’. Uploading these three images sequentially will overwrite the first ‘image.jpg’ with the second ‘image.jpg’ and this will ultimately be overwritten with the final image, also named ‘image.jpg’. To prevent multiple files overwriting each other, make sure that you select to keep both new and existing files by placing a tick in the ‘new files’ and ‘already existing files’ checkboxes. It’s a little confusing at first and we would rather not have to think about the overwrite method, but even our younger children have been able to easily share their files.

Hampshire ICT Conference 2015

Last week I made my first visit to the Hampshire ICT Conference, a regional event for education staff who are delivering the computing curriculum in the primary sector.

As usual, I am somewhat out of my comfort zone at this sort of event – whilst I have a good understanding of what happens in the classroom, I am not a teacher. I support the staff who deliver all subjects, including ICT. It’s my job to ensure that they are able to deliver the curriculum through a ‘path of least resistance’. By this, I mean that the infrastructure, tools and support for their planning and delivery should be aiding their progress and not hindering it. My interest in a conference of this sort is therefore perhaps slightly different from those in a teaching role.

The conference surprised me almost from the start. I’ve been to plenty of educational events and heard plenty of different speakers, but none quite like Tim Rylans and Sarah Neild. Tim and Sarah are a double act – a brilliant one, too. Tim is quite loud (in a nice way) and makes some truly awful jokes (also in a good way), while Sarah has so much fun making her contributions that each is often punctuated with an excited giggle. The premise of their presentation in this instance is to introduce delegates to a plethora of different tools that will help them in their delivery of ICT. For the confident and experienced, this provides a great opportunity to expand the set of tools they may already using in the classroom. For anyone less confident, there is plenty of incentive to get stuck in; in my experience some staff will find the sheer number of apps overwhelming. Even experienced staff can get carried away with the excitement of a new tool before properly assessing its value and matching this to a specific need.

If we simplify the theme to ‘here are some great apps you can use in the classroom’, my mind starts thinking about some related points.

What I noted from most of the resources Tim shared (all of which can be found on Tim’s website, by the way) is that they can each be implemented using the infrastructure you will already find in all of the schools represented at the conference. For anyone with one or more tablets or laptops, a wired or wireless network, reasonable Internet access and some form of classroom visualisation, you can probably implement many of the suggested resources right away.

I’m going to make some recommendations that I think supplement Tim’s app suggestions. Before I do, there’s one thing I heard during the presentation that I don’t recommend. Once tip suggested using mobile video streaming tools and sending children off to explore your school as investigative reporters. This might be indoors, and could equally be outside. If you venture outside, you will need some wireless access and could ‘put the access point on the window sill’ to extend your wireless coverage. It will probably work, but if you have a managed wireless infrastructure, moving access points around when you need to isn’t a feature that will have been considered in during the specification and design process. I’m not saying don’t do it, but rather to check with your ICT staff about your classroom needs before you start to make changes – they should be pleased to help.

So now you’ve got a bumper crop of new resources to try in the classrooms and you are hungry for more. Tim’s website is great, but perhaps you want a slick method of reading new posts without having to open your browser each time. Most websites have a way to read content in feed of news known as RSS (really simple syndication) and is a means of delivering website content to another output for consumption or re-use. Navigate through all Tim’s recommendations like a pro with an RSS feed and your favorite reader. I use Feedly, which presents to me the latest items in a feed – like a ‘daily digest’. I can then decide whether I intend to do anything with the app. If I do, then I can use the sharing options to send the article somewhere else – maybe a ToDo list or an Evernote notebook. If not, the article is marked as read and removed from my reading list.

You’ve got some great tools, but how are you managing those user accounts? Why not use a password manager, like LastPass? Once you get past a couple of different passwords, it becomes a bit more difficult to remember them (because your passwords aren’t all the same, are they!?). With the help of a good password manager, your passwords are always available and safely stored for you to access any time. The great thing about many password managers is that they can be used through your browser, so you won’t have to get your ICT team to install anything first – but do check, because it’s always good to have a second opinion before you install any browser extensions, since some of them aren’t a nice as they might seem. Once your password manager extension is installed in your favourite browser, you should be able to save and recall passwords with ease and on any computer the extension is installed.

From Time to time, apps have their prices dropped or even go free for a while. Find out when the apps you really want go free with App Shopper. App Shopper watches the iOS and Mac app stores and lists applications by platform and category where a prices has dropped. There are a number of ways to view the price changes, but if you are waiting for a few specific apps to drop in price, I suggest that you create a user account, add some apps to your wish list and choose to receive an email notification when the price changes. You might just find a bargain or two!

Finding copyright free resources

It’s important to remember that when using resources in school, they are often protected by copyright in some form. Finding resources that are not protected by copyright can be tricky. You can make the search process easier by using the Creative Commons search tool, which finds content that you can use more openly in the classroom. Finding copyright free resources can be difficult – a good place to start is the Creative Commons Search:

– To begin, visit the Creative Commons search homepage at http://search.creativecommons.org
– Next, enter a search term in the box labelled ‘enter your search query’
– Finally, using the boxes below the search field, choose the place you would like to search

The list of places to search covers a range of media types – here are a few to start with:

– For pictures and images: Flickr
– For clipart: Open Clip Art Library
– For audio: SoundCloud

You can also find out more about how to use resources within the terms of copyright at the Copyright and Schools site: http://www.copyrightandschools.org/