February Update

Over the last month, the tech team has been working on building a resource site for WordPress tutorials and how-to documentation. We expect to release this site as a resource for students and staff in a couple of weeks. We have also been working on developing a replacement directory service to address the student profile permissions issue that is forcing us to clear the /Users/Shared folder so students can log in, as well as deploy Mac Store software to student machines. At present we have to perform a time intensive work around to deploy standard Apple apps like iMovie and GarageBand.

Over the course of the next month, we will be working on converting as much of our AWS infrastructure to scripts that will allow us to treat them as code stacks, which will enable us to hastily redeploy our infrastructure to a new region if that becomes necessary.

We are also developing ISI reports using the business intelligence tool, which will allow us greater flexibility in extracting student grade data that what is currently available in the reports feature.

We continue to support teachers who wish to implement student portfolios via WordPress grade level sites, and are working on improvements to the student web server for better responsiveness.

We are also exploring replacements for our help desk application in an effort to improve reporting and streamline the ticketing and feedback process.

As always, thank your for your support!

December Update

The technology team continues to check the fine details of our hardware deployments, making sure all of the machines are identified and properly configured.

New issue: We are seeing a problem where when a student logs in onto a station, the login is stalled and the machine becomes unusable. This has something to do with the way our LDAP service is structured and how the Mac handles initializing an account and setting permissions on the folders in the /Users/Shared account. The immediate solution is to clear the /Users/Shared folder, which has the potential of causing other students to lose work saved in their accounts on that specific computer. This issue is being researched and we hope to have a solution soon.

New issue: The Ripple Effects software not working with student accounts, but does work with a specific ldap account or a local account. The culture and client team has implemented a workaround where students can log into that specific account and use the software, instead of their student account. We are exploring alternatives with the vendor and will let you know if we find a better solution.

New issue: The BCCS site techs will begin working on cleaning up the power and network cabling to the workstations in each class.

Follow ups:

  • The classroom speakers at BCCS have been received and are being distributed to those who need them.
  • The CAASPP browser works with our new individual student account system, however we are not yet able to disable the keyboard shortcuts that cause the browser to throw a security warning. We are researching the problem and expect to have a solution by the end of January.All other tasks have been completed.

I wish you all Happy Holidays and hope you enjoy your winter break.

October Update

The technology team had a rough start to the year. We received and deployed more than 200 MacAirs and 16 refurbished MacBook Pros for student use, as well as 21 new MacBook Pros for staff use. We also implemented a new wifi authentication protocol for the staff network, and reimaged all 1100 student machines to work with the directory service, which required all students to set a password and log in with their student accounts, retiring the generic bccs & morcs local accounts. We also deployed new Chromebooks for incoming high school students. Personnel changes at BCCS interrupted this process, as well as delays in receiving the new equipment, so all school sites started the year playing catch up. In addition, all iMacs and MacBookPros with less than 4GBs of memory were physically upgraded to support the modern Mac operating systems. Unfortunately, this process took several weeks and we were playing catch up once instruction started, which led to a lack of confidence in student hardware readiness. At this point, the technicians are in the process of verifying that all 1100 student machines are individually correctly configured. They have completed about 75% of this process and expect to complete the project by the end of October. We also had a network configuration issue that caused significant latency at MORCS and BCCHS, which was resolved. Finally, during the reimaging of all student machines we missed the reinstallation of certain software such as Chrome and Flash, which we are in the process of redeploying.

The technicians will continue to leverage slack to confirm that each user that their help desk tickets have resolved to the user’s satisfaction. If you submit a ticket and it is resolved without the technician contacting you directly, or the solution did not solve the problem, please send me a slack direct message at @charvey and I will follow up.

In October we will focus on the following:

  • purchasing sundry supplies such as projector bulbs and laptop chargers.
  • piloting a solution for classroom sound systems using bluetooth speakers.
  • testing the new CAASPP browser for deployment
  • LanSchool deployment for all teachers for the OS X 10.x machines (not for iPads or Chromebooks)
  • onboarding process and training for the new site technicians
  • mobile device management training
  • Amazon web services disaster recovery and management training
  • iPad project for student home use at MORCS
  • ensuring all lab rooms are configured with the correct design software.

I apologize for the delay in getting the classrooms ready for instruction; we simply bit off more than we could chew, and have had to scramble to catch up. We will work to make sure that we are better prepared for next year’s first day of school. I appreciate all the hard work and patience that you have displayed and I am proud to be a part of the YPICS team. Your dedication to our students is appreciated. I am also proud of the hard work and resilience that the site technicians have shown in trying to get the classrooms ready for instruction. We will do better.

Student Accounts beta testing

The tech team is working on implementing student accounts for Mac workstations. At present, all students log into a computer using a generic username and password. The main issue with this process is that all users have access to all files in the account, which allows students to delete files other than their own.

The solution is to use a separate directory service that has all user accounts, adult and student, and use this service for authentication. We used to do this using Apple’s Open Directory service and it worked pretty well for several years. However, Apple stopped supporting enterprise applications such as directory service, asking their users to use other tools such as ActiveDirectory or OpenLDAP. In addition, serving student home folders over the wifi was more than the Apple file servers could handle, and there was a limit of 100 users we routinely exceeded. However, we still use the Apple Open Directory service for our staff wifi access.

Over the last year, we have been experimenting with a Linux based, cloud served OpenLDAP server. This server currently manages our print accounts. The tech team is experimenting at the high school with implementing this authentication server for our student Macs.

The new system will allow a student to log in on any Mac, at any connected campus, using the same password. However, any files created on that Mac will stay on that device, unless manually moved to the student’s Drive account or to an external device, such as a USB. We do not expect to support student remote home folders any time soon.

In addition, we will need to set up an email based password change system so students can manage their directory account passwords.

Therefore, students will need to use the same computer each time if they want to use the file stored on that computer. This will require students adhere to seating charts and to manually back up their files. The advantage is that students can work on large files, such as videos, without worry of other students damaging their files using a common log in. In addition, students will have access to classroom printing with a managed quota and print logging.

Password security and logging in and out of one’s account will also be critical for this process to be successful.

We hope to migrate our wifi authentication to this directory service by the end of summer.

The long term goal will be to authenticate our Google accounts to this directory service, so that students will need one fewer password to remember, and can keep their accounts secure.

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Planned changes in April

We will be spending the next month ensuring that as many student machines are ready for state testing, by spot checking each classroom. Please test the CaSecureBrowser on your student machines. The software should say “Version 9.0” when it opens. Please also review the steps to disable Mission Control / Launchpad (System Preferences / Keyboard Shortcuts< uncheck all Mission Control and Launchpad shortcuts).

The student websites server configuration has been further improved, allowing unlimited uploads (10mb at a time) and reduce costs by dynamically creating the server at 6am each school day and destroying it at 6pm each school evening. This eliminates the server and hard drives costs when the server is not in use. The two school site servers have been combined into one server, which further reduces costs. The school server is also in a load balancing and autoscaling group that will spin up and destroy additional servers as necessary. This morning’s load test was very satisfactory, as the site handled 600 concurrent connections without breaking a sweat. I look forward to more student presentations of learning.

We are also beginning the budgeting process for next year, with an eye towards replacing the remaining white Macbooks, and MacBook Pros older than 5 years.

We are also working to develop the use of Slack as the preferred communication method, in order to increase transparency and speed of the organization’s decision making processes.

The tech team has implemented a “bug bounty” to encourage students to report issues with the content filter, as well as any “hacks” that allow them to defeat the filter, so we can fix them. I really appreciate that students are taking steps to “be safe” and “be responsible” using technology by helping us identify and solve problems. The form is available here, please feel free to publicize it in your classroom.

Enjoy your spring break!

Added Slider WD and increased image upload limit

In preparation for WordPress training, I realized the sites didn’t have a decent image gallery tool and where constrained by a rather small file size upload limit. While I do not want students to put a lot of large files on the server (such things should be accessed from Google Drive), students can now upload files as large as 10MB. They also have access to the Slider WD menu, which allows the easy creation of image sliders, which are useful as galleries.

You are welcome to contact Illuminate directly

As we are more than halfway through our first year of implementation, we have progressed beyond solving organizational issues and can now focus on making DnA/ISI work better for you, the individual user. As such, do not hesitate to contact the Illuminate Help Desk via help@illuminateed.com or other methods listed in the Control Panel’s help center. You no longer have to create a help desk ticket at www.ypics.org/hd/.

Upcoming changes in March

The tech teams will be adding memory to the 2009-2011 “clamshell” MacBooks, to improve performance. This will take about 10 minutes per laptop, possibly as much as 3 hours to complete for a classroom set of 15. Please coordinate with your site technician to make sure the upgrade can happen with a minimum of disruption to instruction.

We are working on creating an emergency failure backup server for certain critical infrastructure services, such as DHCP and DNS.

The report cards are being redesigned to add the Work Habits and Citizenship marks.

We continue to implement additional Amazon Web Services, including migrating away from Network Solutions DNS services, adding S3 buckets for data storage and emergency backups of critical servers. We expect to migrate all YPICS domains to AWS Route 53 by the end of summer. There will likely be a week-long period during July when external web services, such as school sites and teacher sites, may be briefly unavailable.

We continue to prepare for state testing in May. Our experience supporting the February benchmark testing will help us identify issues to solve prior to state testing.

The help desk has been servicing approximately twice the ticket load from last year, and the team has been working hard to address tickets within 24 hours, and solve them as soon as possible.

OK to upgrade to OS X Sierra

Our tech team has identified the SFA software issue that was holding back the upgrade to OS X Sierra. The SFA software we use was not developed for use in the Apple App Store, and as such doesn’t have the digital security ID to bypass the Security & Privacy Gatekeeper setting.  Once you have upgraded to Sierra, make certain you change the “Allow Apps Downloaded From: setting to “Anywhere.”

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Planned changes in February

This month is all about testing readiness, making sure the NWEA Maps and CAAASPP browsers are working. Our tech team has worked out a solution for setting the keyboard shortcuts so the testing browser won’t close by conflict with Spaces & Mission Control. This solution has tested successfully at BCHS and will be deployed to the middle schools by the end of this week.

Next week, please make sure all of the laptops are restarted so the keyboard shortcut policy takes effect.

The student websites appear to be handling the load. The password change tool is in effect and makes changing student passwords simple and quick.

We are developing an app which is essentially a collection of YPICS specific shortcuts. It is available for preview at http://cp.ypics.org, please feel free to try it out.

We are currently collecting data on how we use print services, specifically copies and classroom prints. At the end of February, we will take a look and see what our print usage patterns are and how we can control costs.

Have a great February, and a successful and uneventful benchmark test!