ActiVote Walkthrough Part 1

At my visit to Musselburgh Grammar this morning, I spoke to some of the maths department about using Activote. They were enthusiastic about the potential of the technology, but said something like "it looks easy as you stand there and explain it, but we'll forget everything you've said by the time we next come to use it".

So.... to provide a bit of backup, here's a step by step guide to using Activote with your class.

The following assumes that the voting pads have been registered with your PC. If not, chase up IT!

Setting up the User Database

You'll want your pupil names to be stored in the system, so that their names appear at the top of the screen when you run a vote. Here's how....

In East Lothian, we have a problem - we don't have write-access to the place on the C drive where the user database is stored! To get around this, we need to copy the default user database to somewhere that is writeable, then tell ACTIVStudio that we've done so:

  • In ACTIVStudio, go to ACTIVote/user database. You should see this (click image to enlarge):

user database dialogue

  • Go to File/Save as and save the user database into subjects/maths/staff

  • Go to Activote/Settings, and change the ACTIVote User Database to the file you just copied

Importing Pupils into the User Database

Before you can import pupils into your user database, you need to export them from whatever electronic record you currently use. This is relatively easy from either Excel or Filemaker:

  • export the following columns to a "CSV" file: first name, surname, register class

  • In ACTIVStudio, go back into ACTIVote/user database.

  • Go to File/import and choose the CVS file that you just made. This dialogue will appear:

import dialogue

  • By clicking on the red headings, you can tell ACTIVote which fields are which, then import

The newly imported pupils appear at the bottom of the left hand side scrolling window.

  • Double click on folder to change them to teacher names

  • Double click on sub folders to change them to class names

  • Drag over the pupils and click on the arrow to move them into the classes

You now have a user database that all staff in the department can access.  Just make sure that everyone changes their ACTIVote settings to point to the new user database.

The importing section of what we just did is covered excellently here at PrometheanPlanet.

Coming in Part Two.....

  • Setting up a flipchart to vote with a particular class

  • Classroom routines

  • Running adhoc votes (my favourite!) the terror-free way

  • Creating pre-prepared votes

  • Using ACTIVote for formative assessment (the whole point of the exercise!)


  1. Thanks Robert - this is great. I will contact IT and make sure that Activote is on all of the PC's in the Maths department. See you soon, Ollie

  2. Exellent Ollie - it is ridiculous that they still haven't installed them in all the maths rooms. Sorry I didn't catch up with you again today - too busy being dazzled by the mathematicians!

  3. You're right Robert, it *is* ridiculous - it's high time they were working 18 hour days until this has been done. There should be more constructive criticism like this on the web.

  4. Hi Mr/Mrs/Ms Slacker. I worded that badly. I should have said "it is ridiculous that they haven't been installed in all rooms yet". Those who know me will be aware that I have often spoken in defence of the excellent, overworked East Lothian education IT support officers. It's not their fault. But there is clearly something very wrong somewhere in the system if we spend tens of thousands on technology but can't invest in sufficient IT support infrastucture to have the technology up and running 4 months after it arrives in schools.

    It is particularly frustrating when the only thing stopping us from installing it ourselves is the council policy on user privileges. The solution is right in front of our noses but we can't see it because we have "standards" and "policies" that are too inflexible to allow pragmatic decisions in the best interests of education.

    Give me sufficient privileges one Wednesday and I'll gladly spend it registering the devices in schools. I know exactly what to do. Alan and I registered the devices together on my desktop. That's a constructive suggestion isn't it? It really isn't tenable to say "we can't cope, but we won't let you help, even though you are clearly capable of doing so, because our policies say you can't".

  5. Some of you feel that it is ridiculous that this software hasn't been installed yet. I totally agree with you. We have attempted on at least 2 occasions to install the software in all maths rooms at Musselburgh Grammar but have been unable to do so as the rooms have been in use. Certain staff have been particularly unhelpful in providing times when we can get access to the computers claiming that they are always in use. If staff wont allow us to use their PCs to install the software what are we supposed to do?

    Also it is worth knowing that we have been spending a lot of time trying to get the software that comes with the boards and the firmware on the boards up to the latest versions. We've had to do this because the neither the software provided nor the firmware on the boards as supplied is current.
    Obviously for the boards to work to their full potential with peripherals such as Activote and the wands then they need to be patched to the latest levels.

  6. Hi Alan. You may find this odd - but I'm extremely grateful that you and "A Slacker" took the time to comment on my post and put me right.

    I've clearly offended you and your colleagues with my original post. I'm very sorry about that. It was wrong of me to assume that no attempt had been made to install the software. i should have got my facts straight before posting - serve me up a big slice of humble pie. The situation is very frustrating (as you agree), but clearly it is not helpful to play the blame game as I did.

    I hope you'll pass on my apology to your team.

    As I said before, I have often spoken in defence of your team Alan - in particular I have pointed many people in the direction of your fascinating post highlighting the difference in resources available to corporate and educational IT support.

    Whilst I obviously regret my ill-considered outburst, I hope that this exchange will serve to highlight for others the fact that your team are handling a preposterous workload amazingly well under the circumstances, and are often at the receiving end of criticism from teaching staff that is hurtful and unjustified.

    My offer to help still stands, of course ;)

  7. Does that mean you will only get a technician's pay on your Wednesday helping?

  8. Do you think we'll ever get the chance to find out "hard up boy"? BTW, anonymous commenting is rather rude in this context - you are plainly involved here - why not say who you are?

  9. Why not answer the question and think about the consequences?

  10. I've apologised for causing offence. Now you are being rude and aggressive in tone on my blog. If you have a valid point to make, please identify yourself and do so.

  11. Anonymous commenting only devalues whatever points are trying to be made, especially when the author of the blog has made every effort to keep your comments online. It's important to have a conversation on a blog, not a rammy. That's what Robert's trying to do here. Yes technicians work hard, yes they could be paid more, yes it's a job which is difficult to plan out - is a problem going to take 2 mins or 2 hours to resolve? Yes it's made more complicated when you turn up and cannot get access to classrooms. From the teachers' point of view there are other pressures which are equally unpredictable, namely kids ;-)

    Hopefully through blogs like this we're able to better explore the tensions than we ever have done before, but we must do it in a constructive manner, not a destructive one.

    If I had been the author on this blog I would have already deleted the anonymous remarks and reposted the rules on commenting on my blog: you say who you are and have a conversation with me, you don't hide.

  12. Cheers for that Ewan. I left the comments online to illustrate the fact that I'm not the only one who sometimes speaks in a less than commendable tone :)

  13. I think the anonymous posters may have thought that you are having a pop at them. I thought you were only voicing your concerns about the situation and if people took it the wrong way then so be it. There's obviously a technican/IT officer with a chip on their shoulder.
    I can see a little of their point when they mentioned the wages thing but I just think it was said in the wrong way.
    Some taxpayers may want teachers to teach and not be wasting their money by spending all day installing stuff on computers when others are paid to do that. If there arent enough tecnicians to do the job expeditiously then surely its more economical to employ more technicians/IT officers rather than rely on (expensive) teachers. I believe East Lothian are in the process of taking on two more IT officers. My guess is that in the very near future it will take more than that to keep on top of things.
    One of the answers to the problem of levels of IT technical support is staring them in the face but we shall have to wait and see how desperate things get before someone thinks outside the box.


  14. Brian - I think you're probably right , both about why our anonymous friend was getting so shirty and about the point he/she was working towards.

    As to having a chip on their shoulder, I can see why - teachers can be pretty rude to and demanding of the IT support staff. Being rude back is not very constructive, of course.

    I don't really get the point they were trying to make though - when our head teacher offers to cover a maths class, I say "great - thanks". I don't complain about the fact that he gets paid a lot more than me. Nor do I expect him to take a pay cut for the 60 minutes that he's helping us out.

    Perhaps we shouldn't be second guessing what the anonymous commenter was trying to say though - let's hope that he/she feels able to come out into the open and continue the dialogue :)

  15. Just a quick note to say that I’m really enjoying this discussion! It’s the sort of dialogue that we need to have – lets hope that we are able to tease out some of the finer points.

  16. Although I can see the point you are making with regard to the head teacher covering a class, I think a better comparison would be the head of IT covering a class whilst you did something else. Your head teacher is, after all, qualified as a teacher which means they would be breaking no rules if they were to stand in for you.
    If the head of IT was not GTC registered, or had not been subject to an enhanced disclosure Scotland search, then there is no way on earth that they would be let near a class.
    I guess some IT officers would argue that if a teacher has no IT qualification then they shouldn’t be fiddling around with computers and doing stuff that others are employed to do.
    Please remember that the vast majority of council staff can be sacked or made redundant if there is no demand for their jobs. An argument could be made that if the teachers did all the IT work it could lead to a reduction in numbers of IT support staff. This could have a knock on effect on the workloads of teachers and off it goes into a vicious spiral.
    I know Teachers can be sacked as well, but in my 20yrs in local government I have yet to see one be shown the door apart from the obvious reasons. If there is no demand for their subject then they are placed on the transfer list and re deployed elsewhere.

  17. Fair point Brian. For the benefit of those reading this without t knowing the characters involved, I should say that Brian and I have met several times, and that I have the utmost respect for what he does :)

    My offer to help would only be reasonable if those who are responsible for the completion of this task could realistically expect that I could do it correctly without screwing things up. I guess that I hadn't really thought about that. With this particular task, though, I think that it would be the case.

    More generally, the difficulty many teaching staff have is that they are qualified in IT. I did two years of computer science at University and am a fully qualified computing teacher. I'm not suggesting that this makes me qualified to run the entire East Lothian network, but it does make me different from the bulk of teachers who have no formal IT training - there is no recognition of this at present.

    I don't understand why we couldn't "suck it and see" - let a few suitably qualified teachers have some more rights on the machines for a wee bit of time, and then evaluate how it went. It might just make things better. If not, fair enough.

    You are absolutely right about the status of non-teaching staff. I definitely take my job security for granted, and forget that others don't that security. That's a point that we need to bear in mind if we are hoping to encourage non-teaching staff to enter into debate.

    I would never want to do something that would jeopardise the jobs of IT staff - I really wouldn't want to go back to the early '90s, when computing teachers had sole responsibility for maintaining IT in schools. It did get in the way of teaching! But realistically, my taking a couple of hours to register a set of ACTIVote pads is hardly likely to result in mass redundancy is it?

    I think I may be pushing at an open door here - I know that Alan Cruickshank is openly exploring ways to improve the service his team provides under difficult circumstances.

  18. Just a quick note, I am only in my second week of blogging and I have to say this is one of the most interesting discussions I have come across.

    Quote Ollie:
    "It’s the sort of dialogue that we need to have – lets hope that we are able to tease out some of the finer points"

  19. I understand your frustration at not being able to put your full skills mix to use, I am sure that it happens not only in teaching but in a variety of council posts.
    A similar example would be the fact that I have been driving for over 26 years and have a clean licence for the last twenty of those years. I have driven everything from mini's to trucks and even drove a BV206 all terrain tracked vehicle whilst serving in Norway with the Marines. Yet if I want to drive the school mini bus I would have to take a test. I guess it’s all down to policy.
    The policy at the moment is that people who are employed to do IT do the IT stuff and the people who are employed to teach do the teaching stuff, people who work in accounts do the accounts and the people who are employed to sweep the streets, sweep the streets.
    I do think that its right to flag up these issues and have a healthy debate about them. Remember the good thing about policy is that it can be changed. It just takes enough people to get round a table or in this instance a keyboard, and things can start to happen. It may be very slow but who knows who is watching, listening and taking note.

    P.S It’s a bit of a pedantic thing but could I ask you in the future to refer to "non teaching staff" as support staff. We must be one of the only professions constantly identified by what we don’t do. ;-)

  20. I suppose the difference between your driving example and my situation is that you at least have the option to take a test and be allowed to drive. I have no such option.

    As you say, it's all about policy. This particular policy has been exactly the same for at least 8 years despite constant protestation from IT qualified teachers about its inefficiency. To my mind, it reeks of the old demarcation rules that made UK industry so inefficient in the past.

    As regards your title - thanks for putting me right. Support staff it is :)

  21. Yeah you are right about the test. If I wanted to I could take it. I choose not to as I fear I would spend most of my day explaining to people why I wasn’t running about in the mini bus doing this that and the other thing for them when they were perfectly able to do it themselves ( some staff think thats why support staff are here after all ).

    Its possible that if IT qualified teachers started to do small, urgent, jobs that it could escalate. Once it gets round that some staff are prepared to do such tasks, other less principled staff would be calling asking to re adjust the colour on their monitor etc etc etc

    I am with you on the job demarcation thing. I, personally, would back your campaign for qualified staff to install software.

    I don’t know, but maybe in the past the council employed drivers to drive the mini bus and a change in policy (no doubt after several years negotiation) then allowed staff with driving licences after taking a short test to drive them.

    As for the last eight years, I can assure you that with regards to the council that is a mere trifle. Don’t get disheartened it may take another eight years. It took me seven years for someone to come and replace a leaking and cracked sink in the science department !!! ;-)

  22. LOL - I feel you pain Brian!

    I also understand the reluctance of IT to go down this line. They are ultimately responsible for the proper functioning of IT systems, and the idea of trusting someone from outside their team not to screw up must be a bit daunting.

    I also agree with you about the risk of teachers getting sucked into spending hours making trivial changes on machines. This would have to be amanged carefully.

    What's wrong with me this morning - I'm being far too agreeable :)

    I think that in the past we just drove the minibuses! Like we just took kids cycling, walking, beachcombing etc etc.

  23. Thinking back what you said on demarcation, it has often been said that it was the fault of the Unions in the 60’s and 70’s but actually it has its roots in the late 19th century when the industrial revolution was in full swing and many of the skilled artisans feared that new practices would lead to a reduction in standards. Anyway, I digress.
    The union I am currently a member of encourages its staff to embrace modern, flexible working practices that allow for continual personal development in order that the worker can fulfil their full potential and be an asset to their employer. For this to happen employers must offer modern flexible contracts that are reviewed on a regular basis so that, for example, changes in information technology can be addressed.

    Personally speaking my contract is nearly twenty years old and can be quite restrictive. My job has changed nearly 100 per cent since and I have asked several times for my contract to be reviewed and updated to take into account the changes but have no interest from the council in doing so. Some school support staff are actively discouraged from seeking CPD training with obstacles being put in their way, whilst other council employees, for example, at John Muir House take full advantage of CPD which is, after all, of one of the councils core beliefs.

    So where does this post fit in with the original discussion. Well I guess what I am saying is that we work in 21st century schools, with 21st century technology, but until personnel address the fact that there are still staff working under 20th century contracts with little or no access to CPD then the flexibility that Robert (and myself) wants for staff to be able to carry out their jobs efficiently, whether it be in a teaching or support roll and to the benefit of the pupils, will just not happen.

  24. Did I sound like I was union bashing? Probably not - just being paranoid! I'm proud to be a member of the EIS, and was a union rep for MSF back in my insurance company days.

    To return to your comment - well said! It would be interesting to here what other people feel about these issues. Speak up now folks - don't be shy ;)

  25. Yes please pipe up, my fingers are numb.

  26. A few observations:

    Not many businesses give 'normal staff' admin rights on their computers, due to this taking the stability of the system away from the control of IT departments. It also allows people to install (accidentally or otherwise) software which has not been approved or possibly even not licenced correctly. The buck for these sort of issues usually stops with an IT manager at some level - if it was you, would YOU take the risk? Also, as a Head Teacher or department head, would you be happy for a member of school staff to be dealing with IT support at ANY level (installing software, changing settings, adding new printers) when they should/could be doing their day job? I believe East Lothian trialled the use of nominated teachers being co-ordinators for ICT at some point - was there responsibility pay for this, or was it a volunteered role? How much front-line support did/do these people carry out?

    If the current staff supporting you aren't getting things done on time - why? Are they incompetent, lazy, badly organised, overworked?.... If the former 3 apply then it's a disciplinary, line management or training solution that needs applied, but I suspect Mr Ledingham's announcement of extra IT support staff maybe means it's the latter scenario that is mainly the problem. If so, then doling out extra IT responsibilities to members of staff at schools (and who chooses who would get given this extra (unpaid?) responsibility?) is solving a problem which has a potential solution on the way. How many schools do the IT support staff cover?

    Lastly, I appreciate Mr Jones' comment regarding him being a qualified computing teacher - but with the greatest of respect to computing teachers in East Lothian and beyond (and I do know a few) there is quite a difference between teaching computing and having a career in IT support. I suspect teachers know theory and programming, concepts and basic hardware information - but unless they have a strong personal interest in computing and have had time to learn enough about Windows platforms to effectively administrate a PC, the training required would be a further barrier to giving teachers more control of school PCs. There will be some staff who are keen to take on the job - but is 'self certification' of competence the way forward? How could East Lothian Council determine competence?

    It's quite an interesting debate - I have lectured in IT, worked in IT and spent almost 16 years in schools (split between curricular and support roles), so I hope my input will attract further comment?

  27. Chris,

    Just to say that, on the whole I agree with your comments. The ICT officers are definitely not "...incompetent, lazy, badly organised..." Indeed, they work hard and with great skill whenever I deal with them. I totally accept that they are simply overworked and all jobs must be prioritised.

    For what it's worth (and I've not spend 16 years in schools - more like a quarter!) the Networks in ELC schools are by a country mile the most stable and reliable I have seen. Only once in two and a half years at Dunbar have I been 'down' a machine for any length of time. That can only be achieved through very tight administative controls to ensure only those with the relevant skills can do anything out of the ordinary.


    I have to say I personally find the comment "I suspect teachers know theory and programming, concepts and basic hardware information - but unless they have a strong personal interest in computing..." a bit derogatory. I can assure you I did not manage to pass a degree course by having a mere passing glance at computer science, and I am sure this applies to many (most?) others in my position. Perhaps there are some who know little more than what is on an SQA syllabus, but I for one have a very strong interest in computing! In fact, I'd go so far as to say I am not a 'Qualified Computing Teacher' but rather a Computing Scientist who happens to have an additional teaching qualification!

    Have to say, this is by far and away the best debate so far on the issues surrounding ICT in schools. Lets keep talking - because communication of both sides is undoubtedly an issue - and hopefully we'll get something worthwhile out of it.

  28. Ditto M Tennant's comment about the professionalism of our IT support officers. That's not the issue. I'll reply to the previous two comments properly later today, but I'd like to point folk again in the direction of the consideration that Alan (the man who is accountable) is giving to these issues here.

  29. 'M Tennant',

    I am very sorry if you found my comment derogatory. The point I am trying to illustrate (in my own ham-fisted manner) is that Computing/IT is a 'broad church'. By necessity people working in different sectors of the industry have quite different skillsets - teachers are geared up (as a minimum) to have a broad enough knowledge to deliver the curriculum, IT support staff have more in-depth knowledge about a smaller area of expertise. I would suspect most IT support staff can't program (in the traditional sense) or even have a knowledge of programming languages, whereas most teachers wouldn't be able to effectively troubleshoot problems with a router or server without further training.

    This isn't to say that SOME computing teachers don't have a much wider/deeper skillset - but teachers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, not just Computing Science graduates. It is good to see 'Computer Scientists' like you electing to move into teaching - the professional body for Computing in Britain (the British Computer Society) is currently concerned at the general decline of popularity in Computing as a subject choice.

  30. Chris,

    Appology most definitely accepted! Don't worry about it - I just needed a rant as oftentimes teachers suffer from the same problem as ICT officers - people give us much less credit for what we know!

    Your further explanation of your earlier post certainly communicates the real issue very well, and I have to say I totally understand what you mean: I wouldn't even know where to start writing scripts for a windows environment! So how would it be possible to determine whether someone is suitably skilled for additional rights, and what rights?

    I have to say I like Alan's idea of developing a database of people's skills in schools - but the same question above would still apply.



  31. Hi there. I'd like to enter the debate on a different tack.

    From my perspective as a complete ICT numpty/non specialist, the debate highlights several issues.

    1. That using cyber space to communicate, while being amazing and wonderful and all that (no, I'm not being cynical) also has potential for mis-understanding. All communication does of course, but I suspect that without all the non-verbal signs and checking for meaning that constitute face to face communication there will always be a mismatch in the speaker's intention and the readers' comprehension. This is illustrated perhaps by Robert's very first post which was clearly not intended to cause offense but did.

    I heard an interesting discussion on the radio about the difference styles of 'she-mail' and 'he-mail'! Another enormous source of confusion for us all - and not just online!!

    I don't know enough about curricular for ICT but should be surprised if these areas are discussed with kids. But if we are encouraging collaborative learning then perhaps we need to address these concerns head on and help our young people (and ourselves) to navigate the morass of potential difficulties as well as explore the exciting possibilities of online working.

    2. I'll not elaborate here but the debate also brings to mind the issues around leadership and management discussed in Don's blog recently. Which segues seamlessly on to my final point:

    3. A thought about those ICT co-ordinators. I'm new to East Lothian so don't know how they were appointed or how they work. I wondered, however, if the Glow mentors could tap into their interest/enthusiasm/ expertise - along with those with Masterclass experience - to help spread the word. I know (see point 2) there are concerns surrounding volunteers with extra responsibilities but feel that there might be people out there with knowledge, skills, understanding and, crucially, energy to 'spread the Glow' a little further?

    Hope this makes sense.


  32. Chris, it's true that most workplaces have bolted down desktops. Those machines are there to provide a work environment. A predetermined set of tools to perform a predetermined set of activities. Bolting down the machines provides a decrease in support costs without any loss in necessary functionality. It's a no brainer.

    Education is different. A desktop/laptop should provide a learning and teaching environment. If we are learning and teaching in an exciting and creative way, we don't necessarily know in advance what activities we might want to undertake. The fact that our machines are bolted down restricts our opportunities to be spontaneous and creative. Thus in education, bolting down machines reduces support costs but also reduces learning and teaching potential. I'm not sure that we, as an authority, even accept that this tradeoff exists, let alone that we have the balance right.

    Mark, I agree about the stability of our systems. It's something that I tend not to notice - I'm sure I would if it started falling over. On the other hand, we could avoid all problems in our systems by never switching them on! As I said, there is a balance to be struck between functionality and risk. It seems to me that we are paralysed by our extreme risk-aversion.

    I don't blame anyone for this culture. IT teams are working their hardest in difficult circumstances, and see the freeing up of machines as a guaranteed way to increase their workload. IT qualified teachers see the selective freeing up of machines as a guaranteed way to decrease IT support costs. Wouldn't it be interesting to try and find out who is right? As I just said on Alan's blog:
    How about a small trial? Select a number of teachers at a school, and allow them greater rights on machines. Wait 4 weeks. Then analyse whether the IT support required in school was greater or less than in another control school, and whether or not the desktops have been in any way screwed up. Also analyse the extent to which IT has been used in interesting and innovative ways in the two schools. Of course, this trial could only go ahead if IT could have a basic degree of trust in the teachers.

    What would we have to lose from such a trial

  33. [...] Take Robert Jones for example – Robert posts about using voting tools in the classroom, and in the comments section a huge debate takes place about the role of ICT technicians. Unrelated to the original post, this is a great discussion. Had I not be redirected to it, I would have missed the discussion entirely after reading the original post. As I didn’t comment on the post, I didn’t subscribe to the comments, so therefore the discussion was ongoing without my knowledge. Fair enough, it had nothing to do with me, but it is something that I find interesting none the less. Had I known about it, I would have directed our own technicians to the discussion, so that they too could have read or contributed. [...]

  34. I'd just like to thank everyone for participating in this discussion.

    The key to developing our practice is to try to see a problem through other people's eyes - this discussion translates that intention into a reality.

    We're all in this together - but people should be free to challenge existing practice as long as they have a regard for other people's feelings, take account of some of the constraints which shape existing practice; and adopt a solution-focussed approach. Factors which generally characterise this discussion.

    I intend to table this discussion at our next Education ICT Strategic Group - with a view to exploring further some of the suggestions.

  35. Just as an add on, I contacted a colleague who is a senior technician with Dundee Council. He informs me that the IT set up in Dundee is very similar to East Lothian, with the IT division having a designated team that handles Education. The team will respond to calls within an agreed time span that ranges from a rapid response to a period of a few days depending on the problem
    The big difference is that every secondary school has a member of the IT outreach team based there, this person also covers the asscciated cluster primaries. Their role is mainly network and software related, installing new programmes and downloading drivers etc.
    In addition to this all technicians undertake a basic “first aid” course run by IT division to act as a first port of call within the secondary schools (where possible) whenever the outreach member is not there.

  36. I started teaching computing at a time (1993) when I was the only IT support available within the school. If a machine broke I boxed it up and sent it to the central support, which picked up the computer on a Wednesday and returned it a week later, it the technicians could fix it.

    In the late 90's I started to see councils invest in IT support with the advent of the NGfL.

    However my experience of IT support in education has been of a varaiable standard but on the whole satisfactory. Sometimes I've had excellent support. Other times I've wondered who the client/customer was and what my school/council was getting for the money.

    The truth is IT support can be a highly complex system of interrelated hardware and software. It is difficult for young IT officers to have the depth of knowledge and experience that will allow them to solve the problem on first attempt. But as an IT literate individual I'll understand a reasonably complex explanation as to why the "bloody promethean board" isn't working. I'm not looking for reason why it doesn't work I want to know what the technician is going to do to get it to work. And if that involves checking the known-bugs website or contacting the manufacturer or doing some research to gain a better understanding of the problem then I can accpet that.

    Finally let me just say that as far as IT support is concerned the best people for the job is a well supported, well qualified IT Support staff not computing teachers or Glow Mentors, they have the children to worry about and that's complex enough.

  37. This discussion has been given a somewhat strange slant by the fact that it grew organically from the original, unrelated post.

    My original offer to help install activote devices was not indicative of a broader wish to be involved in technical IT support across the school. All I want to be able to do is to use my own equipment effectively, and perform basic IT maintenance/installation tasks for myself. Nothing more than that.

    I agree wholeheartedly that in general it is the job of IT support staff to provide IT support to those that need it.

  38. I would think that your IT Support department are unlikely to allow teachers higher level access on the basis of 'I just want more powers for myself'. Any move towards delegating some administrative access to teaching staff would presumably be on the basis that they were assisting their department and/or other colleagues in some way. Just wanting to be able to install software and do maintenance (not sure what you mean by that) on the PC that you personally use does not seem like a justification for elevated access privileges? Without wanting to sound pedantic can I also clarify - do you have your own equipment that you use in the school (but is tied down by your employer's IT staff), or are you referring to the school's equipment that you normally use? Not many employers allow ANY personal equipment to be brought into their setups, let alone supported in any way.

    I would disagree that it's the job of IT support staff to help "those that need it". The job of IT support staff is to support IT across the board. The concept of only helping those that are less knowledgeable about/capable with IT is a dangerous boundary to draw in my opinion.

    Kenneth's posting seems quite sensible to me, and gets to the core of this issue - computing teachers/Glow Mentors/other ICT-involved teaching staff etc should be more concerned about the pupils and less about the nitty-gritty of the IT operations. The posting by 'BrianC' from 17th Oct seems to pick out another authority as having a better model to use - but Don Ledingham's blog seems to suggest that East Lothian are already looking at employing more support staff. Will this extra staffing (and presumably faster response to requests to install software) make all this debate over teaching staff doing any level of IT support academic anyway?

  39. I don't really follow you Chris. Let me give you an example - suppose that I'm using a mac at school, and when I launch itunes, I get an alert telling me that a new version is available. If I have sufficient privileges, I just click, and the job's done. Without them, and assuming that there's some functionality in the new itunes that might be useful to my teaching and learning environment, I'll have to raise a job for IT, who will have to send someone out to install the new version, wasting a huge amount of time.

    That's the kind of inefficiency I'd like to avoid in a positive way, rather than in the way that it is currently avoided - by many users thinking to themselves "sod it - I really can't face going through the whole process of putting in a job to IT, I'll just do without".

    Your question about whether it was really my equipment made me laugh out loud! Have you seen the episode of "The Office" where the guy from IT comes to fix a PC? The user starts by saying "I'm having a problem with my PC..." and the technician cuts him off, saying "It's not your PC mate, it's the company's". To answer your question - no, I'm not using my own equipment in school.

    I agree wholeheartedly that my focus should be upon teaching and learning, but when I see thousands of pounds worth of fabulous kit being underutilised, it would be remiss of me not to try to do something about it.

    By the way - the Activote devices are now installed on all maths machines across the authority - big thanks to the IT support officers for the overtime they put in to get this done.

    I refer back to my idea of a trial. We can talk around and around this subject, but no one actually knows whether or not things would be made better by giving greater privileges to suitably qualified staff unless we try it. Why don't we try it?

  40. This post just received another anonymous post. Interesting points, but I'm not willing to have a conversation with someone who isn't willing to identify themselves.

  41. I think that was a little harsh - that posting seemed to raise some good points. Presumably the person who did the posting works for the Council (maybe even the IT department), so is an a good position to make a contribution - but also has something to lose if they make their identity known?

    I'm all for deleting abusive posts from anonymous contributors in forums, blogs etc - but I think it stifles legitimate debate for you to to censor posts in the way you have done. You may stop this person contributing again - surely non-abusive, topic-related posts are welcome even if the person wishes to remain anonymous?

    That said - it's your website, so obviously you run it the way you want.

  42. Having spoken to colleagues in Edinburgh about their IT support System I have to say that our's is by far the most stable. I commend EL IT staff for this but needless to say I have some issues.

    Communication between my establishment for logging and getting jobs done is not very good. Our IT support staff attend the school and often are unannounced. This can lead to serious disruption of classes. Jobs are often signed off without anyone in the school being aware they have been done or are still incomplete and signed off. The IT support staff are very helpful and I think that at times it is poor recording of the task at either or both ends of the task by both parties which creates the problem.

    Some tasks which are small, such as logging on as the administrator to delete a shortcut on the desktop left on by an install by IT, requires a new job and IT request. For issues such as this a member of the staff with sufficient knowledge and some suitable training could solve it by having a higher level of access.

    Staff have the same access rights as the pupils to the Internet. Sites are constantly blocked and unless you have an alternative access to the Internet you need to put a request in to have teaching resouces accessible just for evaluation.

    Staff cannot log on to the internet at home with school equipment and so have to purchase the same software they have installed on school equipment if they wish do do work at home on their own PC. We are encouraged not to transfer files from home PC to School PC without a protracted exercise.

    I feel I must repeat myself here in order to restore the balance. I do know how hard our IT support staff are working and appreciate the setup we haveis miles better than Edinburgh. Well done IT.

  43. There were indeed some interesting points. I'm afraid though, that the price of participation here is that you identify yourself. That rule isn't up for discussion.

    I very much hope that "A Slacker" will come out into the open, and repost his message. In fact, I kept a copy, so if he'll identify himself, I'll reinstate it.

  44. I have resisted the urge to become part of any blog so far but feel that I cannot sit on the fence any longer.

    I’d like to say a few things.

    Firstly I agree wholeheartedly with what Hilery said on the 12th of October. This cyber communication has almost certainly aggravated certain persons posting on this thread due to their interpretation of others posts. If this blog had been a conversation face to face, we would not be here reading this. I myself have had emails misinterpreted by others due to my bluntness when typing communications, as I’m sure we all have. And in recognition of Don’s post on 13th October, using a solution focussed approach; I have come up with a solution. How about we all arrange to meet up for a pint and discuss this?

    Secondly I myself work at North Berwick High School and feel that the installation of my interactive whiteboard has certainly enhanced the learning experience my pupils get. I have made many calls to the IT Helpdesk asking (funnily enough) for help since starting at NBHS some years ago. I have the utmost respect for all the “Support Staff” I have come into contact with. I am aware they all work exceedingly hard (as do we all) and always try to go above and beyond the call of duty. I do not think anyone could say anything different. However, I, as a professional feel hampered very occasionally by the lack of access to system settings on the desktop computer I use at work. I have the same access privileges as the pupils I teach. Therefore I am unable to register devices with my computer. Generally this is not a problem but since the installation of the interactive whiteboard we have had some powerful equipment provided to us, which compliments the board. These include the Activote pads (a voting system) and Actislate (a tablet that can be used anywhere in the room). To register the Activote pads requires administrator access to the computer, then the pressing of 30 buttons. To register the Actislate requires administrator access, then pressing a button on the slate to get a pin code, and entering the pin code on the computer.

    Activote pads will stay registered with your computer, multiple users to use them without causing system problems. This job was done by IT support staff for me during the summer holidays. Many thanks.

    The slate however drops its registration with your computer if it is registered to another computer. Not so good. We therefore have a piece of equipment rendered unusable by the department as IT support staff will have to come out and register the device for you with the machine in your room every time you wish to use it. I presume therefore that around £1800 worth of IT equipment is sitting in boxes around the authority doing nothing.

    My point is that all I want to be able to do is press a couple of buttons from time to time. I am certainly capable of doing so. I just need the correct level of access. I don’t see this as too much to ask, and really feel that there is no harm in letting me do this. Furthermore I don’t feel it should be up for discussion. I need the access. I don’t want it!

    Which brings me nicely to my third point. Supposing I did get given Administrator access to the ELC computer I use at work. If I did make a mess of the hard drive, surely all that would happen would be an IT support officer would come out and copy a fresh image onto the hard drive of the machine and hey presto (Correct me if I’m wrong). This would require one visit. It would cut down on the number of calls and visits to the machine I use and allow these overworked guys to get on with more urgent work.

    I look forward to the pint.

    Craig Stebbing
    North Berwick High School
    (Just in case you thought I was going to stay anonymous)

  45. I am surprised to hear that the slates for use with the new whiteboards in Maths are not being used. As I understand things, IT set them up in one classroom in each school (we couldn't do more owing to technical limitations with the software). If I was from the Education department I would be very disappointed to know that they are not being used at all and would feel that the investment had been a waste of money and time.

    As has been stated the slates will currently only work on one computer and need to be reconfigured whenever they are moved to another classroom. We all agree this is a less than ideal situation. However what Craig failed to mention in his comment was that he is aware IT staff have been trying to find a resolution to this problem. We have been working with Promethean (the suppliers) and on Friday they provided a fix which unfortunately didn't work. However it gave us enough pointers to enable us to tweak it and we have now managed to get it working. We will be rolling it out over the next week or so.

    If we had followed Craig’s suggestion then he (and presumably colleagues in each of the other schools) would be re-configuring the slate every time it was used in a different classroom.

    I know which approach I prefer.

  46. Craig can speak for himself of course, but I certainly wasn't aware that a solution to this problem was on the horizon. The way that the slate is designed to be used is for it to be registered with a computer before it is used. This registration takes a matter of seconds. To describe this as "reconfiguration" rather overstates the level of effort required :) Anyway, if a solution is forthcoming then let's celebrate that success!

  47. Hi Robert,
    Whew! I'm glad you don't see this as reconfiguration :-). I got my facts wrong about the fix. Unfortunately the slate still does need to be set-up in each classroom everytime its used. The fix allows users to do the themselves as Craig was advocating but without the requirements to be an administrator on the PC.

    Personally I don't think this is very good and hopefully the next version of the software will allow the settings to be saved on each PC.

    My apologies for misleading people with my earlier post.

  48. [...] [...]

  49. Hi again folks.

    I do stand corrected by Alan C. I did not specifically mention that a solution was being sought. However all I knew at the time was that a call had been logged. An automated response is sent by email confirming this. Staff do not receive any communication as to whether or not the problem is being worked on. We are given a priority rating. (I’ve only ever had low priority against my calls. How does a call becoming medium or even still high priority?) We all know that solutions are being worked towards as we have great faith in our IT support staff. I presumed that people would also know that IT support staff would be seeking a solution to the problem and was wrong to do this. I was definitely not trying to be misleading in any way. I presume that Alan C is not accusing me of this. I was unaware that a solution was close to fruition! Again a failing of cyber communication possibly.

    I’m glad that Alan C and Robert sorted out the reconfiguring/registering issue as I am not asking to configure hardware. I am asking to register it. (press a button!) This would take about the same time as recalibrating my board, which I have to do from time to time.

    I am glad a solution has been found and can’t wait to try it out. I will also actively promote the use of the slate in schools across East Lothian by networking with my maths colleagues. We do need to get value for money on the last 6 months of manufacturers warranty after all.

    However I also asked the following in my previous post:

    "If I did have administrator access and made a mess of the hard drive, surely all that would happen would be an IT support officer would come out and copy a fresh image onto the hard drive of the machine."

    I see this potentially meaning less call outs and possibly the option of solving minor system problems through a phone call.

    Am I barking up the wrong tree here?

  50. Great news. The slate fix has now been done. An IT support team member came today and has made the appropriate changes to the system for us. It works a treat. Well done and thank you very much to the IT team members. My classes are finding the new technology useful.

    I know I'm harping back to my previous comment on this blog bug I would be grateful if someone in the world could answer my question:

    "If I did have administrator access and made a mess of the hard drive, surely all that would happen would be an IT support officer would come out and copy a fresh image onto the hard drive of the machine.”

    I see this potentially meaning less call outs and possibly the option of solving minor system problems through a phone call.


  51. It's finally gone quiet here! I never got a reply to why we couldn't trial greater privileges for certain members of staff, nor did Craig get a response to his question about reimaging hard drives. Ah well....

  52. I'll have to try other avenues to get the answer to my question. If I get one I'll certainly let you all know.

  53. You definitely put a large amount of work into that post and it really is incredibly fascinating to see the idea process that you gone through to come up with those assumption. Many thanks for that.


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