Google Apps for Education

On Friday November 20th and Saturday November 21st, over 45 educators from the Sooke School District have been participating in a regional Google Apps for Education summit being hosted at Oak Bay Secondary School. The workshops and keynote addresses have generated a lot of excitement among the participants as our district moves forward with its plans to make Google Apps for Education (GAFE) to our students and our staff.

At the time of writing, GAFE is available to any SD62 staff member who is interested in exploring this tool and seeing what it has to offer. Our goal is to have GAFE available by November 30th, 2015 for students. The final availability date for students will be confirmed later this week as we put the finishing touches on our GAFE system.

In order to support staff and parents in the use of GAFE, we have prepared some important briefing materials. They include detailed information on how the tool will be made available to students, and the approved uses of GAFE. We have also prepared an FAQ that is mainly for the benefit of staff, but which is also available to parents and students.

We are looking forward to making GAFE available to students and staff, and seeing the the benefits that come along with these tools including Google Classroom.

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iPad Security Processes Revised

In response to requests from teachers and support staff, the School District is revising its security protocols for iPads that are deployed to staff. Please note that these protocols are for those machines that would be exclusively deployed to teachers and support staff. iPads that may be deployed to students will continue to have more tightly managed security.

It is important to note that the District installs Meraki software on all district-owned iPads. This software allows technicians to deliver remote support to the devices, and prevents the installation of unauthorized software on the iPad. Since the iPads are owned by the School District, unauthorized software is defined as any App that is installed on the device using an iTunes account that is not district-managed.

The Meraki software also reports the physical location of the iPad on which it is installed. This allows the district’s technicians to locate a device that may be lost, or stolen. Staff using these iPads should be aware that the software will record and report the current location of the device regardless of whether it is on a school district, or other wireless network (which includes home networks). The district’s technicians are explicitly denied permission to examine this information without prior authorization by the District Principal for IT, an Assistant Superintendent or the Superintendent. Normally, that permission is only granted in the event that a device is reported missing.

The revised security protocols will enable individual users to add their own email accounts to the mail app. This will enable them to receive district or personal email on the device. To give our staff this functionality, these revised security restrictions will also make it possible for an individual to change the iTunes account on the device. However staff are cautioned NOT to change the district-provided iTunes account on the iPad. Further, if an iTunes account is changed and is used to install software on a district-owned iPad, that software is subject to remote removal. The Meraki software tracks the individual app titles that are installed on a particular iPad. We are required to take this step in order to ensure that we are in compliance with software licensing and copyright.

If a staff member needs software installed on the iPad, the procedure will remain unchanged. To arrange for an installation, please contact the IT Department’s Help Desk with the following information:

  • The name of the iPad (found under Settings)
  • The exact title of the requested software (many apps have similar titles, so it’s important to give us the exact wording so we can install the correct title for you)
  • The budget code that should be charged (in case there is a cost to the software

Please note that this procedure should be followed even if the requested software is free to install. This will help to ensure that the app is not misidentified as a title that hasn’t been authorized and remotely removed by a technician.

There are two additional important considerations regarding staff use of the iPads. Firstly, as a district-owned device, staff should be aware that all use of the iPad (including any personal use, such as emails, or taking pictures) must conform to the District’s Acceptable Use expectations, as found in Policy and Regulation B-115 – Learning Resources and their school’s individual Acceptable Use Policy. Secondly, syncing of personal iCloud accounts will remain disabled in order to safeguard the privacy of students and staff members using district-owned iPads.

Any questions regarding these new security procedures should be directed to the IT Department’s Help Desk.

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MyEducationBC – Weekly Scheduled Service Outages on Wednesdays

The IT Department staff has recently become aware of the fact that MyEducationBC is routinely taken off-line for maintenance and updates. Every week, from 6:00 PM until 9:00 PM, our users should expect that the system will be taken off-line. When this happens, user accounts will be disabled and this will prevent login. Also, users who are logged into the system when it is taken down should be advised that they are being logged off (though this may not happen consistently).

We know that in the past day, some of our current MyEducationBC users have been caught by this outage, and have been forced out of the system before they could post their work (meaning that the changes they made were lost).

The IT Department strongly advises all of our users to make sure that on Wednesdays, they log off the system by 5:00 PM, and that they don’t try to re-access the system until the next day. This should help in avoiding any problems in case the outage starts earlier than scheduled, or lasts longer than originally planned. We recommend sticking to this routine until further notice.

Thanks for your patience as we continue to move forward with our implementation of the new system.

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New Procedures Page – Traveling with Mobile Devices

Our school district provides cell phones and other mobile devices to some of its employees to help them in the performance of their work. Sometimes, these employees are required to take these devices (which are mostly cell phones) with them when they travel outside of Canada. We have just created a new section for the blog called ‘Procedures and Guides’. Here you will find links to information resources for our district’s computer users. We have posted our guide titled Traveling with District-Owned Mobile Devices as a page in this section. If you have been assigned a district-owned mobile device, and you’re planning on traveling outside of Canada during the Holidays, please take a moment to review this very important guide.

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MyEducationBC Training Resources

Starting today, MyEducationBC trainers will begin providing training to teaching staff in the schools undergoing conversion to the new system over the Winter Break. Teacher training will initially consist of:

  • Logging into the system for the first time
  • Setting user preferences
  • Navigating the attendance module
  • Navigating the gradebook
  • Where to find additional information

The training is structured as a live demonstration for a large group. At the conclusion of the demonstration, participants will receive individual usernames and passwords that will allow them to login to the training version of MyEducationBC. We also have a MyEducationBC group in Yammer, our district’s social network. If you want to join the district’s social network, you’ll need to sign up for an account with your SD62 email address.

To help our school users access information on the system, we have also posted a link on the side menu of our Blog under Helpful Info and Links.

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New Equipment Orders and Software Requests

Many of our district’s staff may not be aware that in the last budget cycle, the IT Department’s staff was reduced by 1 FTE of technician time. This represents a 17% reduction in our department’s ability to resolve service calls. While we have made the best of it, and tried to limit the impact on service levels as much as possible, there are impacts.

Because of this, we’ve had to explicitly define priorities for the different types of service requests we receive. More specifically:

  • 1st Priority – Service requests that represent an interruption to crucial services and activities. For example, if it’s time to print out a school’s report cards and a printer isn’t working, this request will go to the top of the list.
  • 2nd Priority – Service requests that represent an interruption or breakdown, but it’s not  crucial in the moment. For example, if there are 30 computers in a lab, and one isn’t working properly, this request is given a medium priority.
  • 3rd Priority – Requests from schools and users to install new equipment and software.

Requests for new equipment and software takes up a significant amount of administrative and technical resources in the IT Department. Therefore, in order for us to manage these types of requests, we are processing them on a predictable schedule. Specifically:

  • Requests to purchase new equipment can still be made at any time, but the orders will only be evaluated and placed on every second Friday.
  • Requests to purchase and install new software can still be made at any time, but the orders will only be evaluated and placed on the last Friday of every month.

Over the past two weeks, schools and departments have been putting in equipment requests as part of our traditional Fall Bulk Order. The would do this through our Coordinated Equipment Order SharePoint site (Note: the link works, but only for users who authenticate with their SD62 username and password). In order to make it easier for schools to place new orders, we will keep this SharePoint site open from now on, and the site has been retitled ‘Software and Equipment Orders‘.

We hope that his provides our district’s technology users a predictable and easy-to-use system for requesting new installations of software and equipment. As always,  your suggestions for improvement are welcome!

(Edit – Saturday, November 29th at 12:55 PM – This equipment ordering system is for school-initiated equipment orders for new/additional items. If an order needs to happen as part of a replacement for an existing system or a breakdown, we will continue to order this equipment in collaboration with schools and departments as it is needed. Equipment that is part of a fix will generally be ordered as soon as possible)

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BCESIS Service Restored (again)

At approximately 9:15 this morning, the district’s technicians implemented a new solution to the BCESIS connection problems. This appears to have resolved the issues users were facing when they logged in this morning. In some instances, the fix requires a restart of the computer in order to take effect.

As stated in a previous post, this problem is being caused by the fact that BCESIS requires a version of Java that is very much out-of-date. We are unable to install newer versions of Java because that will also cut off access to BCESIS. The good news is that with the district moving forward with MyEducationBC, the new system will not require any version of Java to run.

We’d like to thank those who emailed in suggestions and possible work-arounds. We decided to hold off on sharing those with the rest of the district, as we felt a more permanent fix would be the better approach. We appreciate your understanding and patience as we have worked to restore service.

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BCESIS Connection Problems Continue

On Friday, we reported that the BCESIS connectivity problems had been resolved. As of this morning, we are receiving reports from schools that some users are still experiencing problems connecting. The solution that the technicians put in place on Friday afternoon does work to restore connectivity, but the problem reappears afterward. The technicians and help desk ladies are aware of these problems and are currently working on a solution. As more information becomes available, we will post updates to the blog.

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BCESIS Service Restored

Earlier this morning, the IT Department blog was updated to advise everyone that there was a problem with BCESIS. We are happy to report that, through the hard work of the technical staff throughout the day, connectivity to BCESIS has been restored. The fix involves your help. We are asking that when sitting down at a workstation, the first thing that users do is to log themselves off the machine, and then log back in again.

The issue was caused by a security update released by Microsoft, that then tried to prevent the version of Java on our computers from running. Further, the issue did not appear on all district computers. We are required to keep this old, and outdated, version of Java running in order to maintain connectivity with BCESIS. The update recognizes the old version of Java and then prevents it from running in order to improve the security of the workstations. The technicians have encountered this problem before with updates, and had already implemented a solution to prevent a loss of service. This particular update from Microsoft instituted a new and unforeseen change.

We’d like to thank our users for their patience as we worked to restore service. Please pass this information on to colleagues who haven’t yet seen this information to ensure they know the fix when they return to work on Monday morning.

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BCESIS Service Interruption

Late yesterday afternoon and into this morning, we have become aware of a problem involving the Java version we use for BCESIS in our school district. As a result, many users are reporting an error message when they try to connect to BCESIS. The IT Department is currently investigating the cause, and we hope to have resolution soon. In the meantime, we ask for the cooperation of our users by not calling or emailing Help Desk or individual technicians with this issue. This will allow us to focus on finding the solution.

Once service is restored, we will post an update to the department blog. Thanks for your patience.

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