Eggs in one Microsoft/Google basket?

At the start of the week an issue arose which appeared to impact on a number of schools, in relation to syncing of OneNote on iPads or where using the Win 10 OneNote app.    This got me to thinking, should we be concerned where we are increasingly having all our technology eggs in one basket, being either the Microsoft Office 365 or Google Workspace for Education baskets.


First, I think it’s important to acknowledge the benefits of having your eggs in one basket.    Taking Office 365, which is the solution my school uses, one of the key benefits is integration.    Each of the apps integrates well with the others, be this using Outlook to setup Teams meetings or setting up a Microsoft Form based quiz, as an assignment in Teams.   As each of the apps are part of the same wider platform, they generally play well together.   As soon as you start to look at number of different apps from different vendors, integration and interoperability very quickly become problems.

User interface is another significant benefit.   Each of the Office 365 apps, as part of the wider platform, has a reasonably common user interface.    This makes it that bit easier for users, both staff and students, to gain familiarity and confidence in using each app and the overall platform.   Again, as soon as we look to different vendors, we find ourselves with different user interfaces across different apps, and therefore an increased learning curve for staff and students.

Security is also worth remembering.   As a single unified platform, I consider it easier, but not necessarily easy, to secure Office 365 versus similarly securing a number of platforms from different vendors, with integrations and potentially third party integrators involved.


The key draw back is the single point of failure.   When it doesn’t work the impact is huge.   Now in the recent case it was only OneNote which experienced an issue so staff and students could still make use of Teams, OneDrive, email, etc.   This is a lesser issue.   Had the issue related to the Office 365 platform as a whole then all apps within the platform would therefore be affected.    Thankfully, given the size of Microsoft, they have backups and resiliencies in place to reduce the likelihood of such an issue, however statistically over a longitudinal period the likelihood of such an incident eventually reaches 100%.    I would however suggest the exact same is the case where using multiple vendors to supply your solutions, however given the complexity of different systems and the resultant integrations required I would suggest the time period in this case before probability reaches 100% is much less, therefore representing a more significant risk.

It is also worth noting that where we are referring to SaaS (Software as a Service) there is also a risk that the vendor might choose to change the service such that it no longer meets our needs or may even discontinue the service.   In both these cases we find ourselves in the difficult situation of needing to find an alternative and needing to migrate potentially massive amounts of data. With Google and Microsofts productivity suites I would say the risk here is minor, however the possibility that an individual app within the wider platform may change or be discontinued is a more likely occurrence.


I don’t believe there is a perfect solution.   If you wanted to protect against a single point of failure, and having all your eggs in one basket, you would use more than one system, possibly using Microsoft as primary with Google as a secondary solution.    The issue here is that of resources and that of users.    Managing two platforms, keeping one ready to use if needed, and ensuring staff are ready to use the alternative platform will take at least twice as much in the way of IT support resources.   I would also suggest it is highly unlikely you could train users up to be able to be capable across two platforms. I think even trying to do this would impact on users confidence across both platforms. And this is without mentioning potential cost and financial implications.

Alternatively using different vendors for your video calls, emails, collaboration, etc and splitting up the functionality of your solutions is equally unlikely to work due to usability but also due to complexity and resultant fragility of combined systems, with each vendor focussed on their platform and not on others, or on the integrations you may have between platforms.

In Microsoft we trust

This brings me back to an acceptance that the benefits of having all my eggs in one basket, a Microsoft basket in this case, provides more benefits than risks.    It offers easier management, usability and security.

That said, it doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of insurance and to have the basics of Google in place just in case;  Yes it may not be ready to go, so may take some time to setup, but at least having it around means it is there should the worst ever happen.


Planning for Resiliency

This is my second post related to IT Strategy, following up on the previous post regarding “Seeking Value” but this time looking at the resiliency of systems and infrastructure particularly around when things inevitably do go wrong.

Resiliency: Keeping it all working

I recently heard Mark Steed speaking at the EdTech Conversations event in London where he referred to his approach to the use of Educational Technology at JESS in Dubai.

In his speech, he talked about a “no excuses” approach to systems and the infrastructure on which educational technology solutions rely. His view was that if the foundations on which EdTech use are built are not solid, and if things such as Wi-Fi or the wider network don’t work or are intermittent then users of educational technology, be it the students or teachers, will simply turn off and seek non-technology solutions. Winning them back in the event of reliability issues being extremely difficult or near impossible. As such building strong technology foundations, a resilient infrastructure, is therefore key. Planning for when things might go wrong is a must.

As with most things building resiliency isn’t simple. In a world of infinite resources we would simply double up (N x 2), or even double up plus add spares;  So in the case of our Internet provider we would require two separate diversely routed fibres so that, in the event one fibre was damaged, we would be able to run off the 2nd fibre. We might then have a third redundant backup solution, possibly with lower capacity, and again diversely routed. All of this sounds good and minimises potential downtime from fibre damage within the incoming internet services however this all comes with a cost, first in terms of financial costs of additional lines and also in terms of additional hardware and support costs. We don’t live in a world of infinite resources and therefore decisions need to be taken as to how much resiliency we build in. This is where the usual risk assessment and management processes must kick in.

Let’s consider the key pieces of infrastructure which may exist and issues around each:

  • Internet Service Provision, Firewalls and Core Switches

monitor-1307227_640As we use more and more cloud services, internet access and school internet provision becomes critically important. Due to the critical nature of internet access, when looking at Internet service provision, firewalls and core switches, the two main focal areas I would consider are doubling up where finances allow or carefully examining the service level agreement along with any penalties proposed for where service levels are not met. In the case of firewalls and core switches, cold spares with a lower specification may also be an option to minimize cost but allow for quick recovery in the event of any issue. When looking at the SLAs of providers in terms of their support offering for when things go wrong consider, is it next business day on-site support or return to base for example and how long their anticipated recovery period is.

  • Edge Switches and Wi-Fi

network-cables-499792_640In the case of edge switches and Wi-Fi Access Points we are likely to have large numbers especially for larger sites. I would suggest that heat mapping for Wi-Fi is key at the outset of a Wi-Fi deployment, in making sure Wi-Fi will work across the site. In looking at resiliency for when things go wrong my view is an N+1 approach. This involves establishing a spare or quantity of spares based on the total number of units in use and the level of risk which is deemed acceptable. High levels of risk acceptance mean fewer spares, whereas a low level of risk acceptance may lead to a greater number of spares.

  • Cabling / Routing

surprised-3786845_640Cables break plus various small animals love to chew on cables given half a chance.

As a result, it is important to examine your overall network layout with a view to any weak points where a single failure might impact on large areas or large numbers of users within the school.  Where possible plan for redundant routes such that any single failure can be quickly resolved by using an alternative route thereby minimising downtime while you wait for repairs.

  • School Management Solutions (SMS) /Management Information Systems (MIS)

I include the schools MIS system given its criticality in relation to parental contact info, student registration, etc. It is a critical system within a school. As such it is important to consider how it is backed up and how recovery would be undertaken. It is also important to test the processes. I have conducted tests in the past which have shown the recovery process did not perform as expected; Had I not tested, the first I would have known about difficulties would have been when I needed to recover the MIS for real, which is a time when the last thing you want is for things to not go as planned.


I note that the above is not an extensive or comprehensive list and I might have included classroom display technology, Mobile Device Management (MDM), Network Access Control (NAC), CCTV, access control and a whole manner of other solutions which may exist, however in the interest of keeping this post brief and to the point I have left these off.

For me, the key in relation to resiliency is a risk-based assessment of your systems and infrastructure.

We need to know the risks and their impact on the school. Armed with this information we can prioritise our available resources towards the aspects of our infrastructure where the greatest level of resiliency is required. The other key consideration is transparency and ensuring school leaders are aware of the risks which exist, where the available resources have been prioritised and where decisions have been taken not to deploy resources, plus the reasons why.

My concern with resiliency is that it is often something which people don’t worry about until things go wrong. Then come the difficult discussions as to why preventative measures or recovery plans hadn’t been put in place. Better to consider resiliency regularly and ensure that the state of play, including the risks, are all made clear to all. At my school, we approach this as part of an annual IT risk assessment process including risks related to resiliency. If you don’t have a risk assessment which includes a discussion of resiliency, it would be my strong advice to create one.


Keep running

running-1944798_640I was reflecting on August 2018 and I came across my post on my efforts to complete Couch to 5k.    It is now a year further on and around one month ago I finally reached my target and completed the Couch to 5k programme, running my 5k distance in slightly longer than the 30mins allocated.    I must admit I was very happy to achieve this having spent a number of years trying.   It required a certain amount of motivation and resilience to keep going even when I was finding it difficult but I managed to sustain the effort and reach my goal.    Since then however I have had a family holiday plus an injured foot and therefore I haven’t continued my practice of running as I had intended to do.     In fact, I think I have only run twice since completing the programme.

As the start of the new academic year is on the horizon and as the winter weather and dark mornings will set in soon, I think it is important that I restart my running in the coming days, to try and get as much out of it as possible before the weather puts me of.   I think this will also help with a bit of the new year blues which I feel have crept in over the last week or so.   It may be that my sudden stopping of going for a morning run may have contributed to some of the malaise I am currently feeling.

My hope is that I can once again develop a regular habit of going for a run starting with trying to get two runs in before the end of this week.



Couch to 2K, to couch then 5K?

running-1944798_640The path to success is seldom a straight line.    My struggles with improving my personal fitness go to prove this.

For several years, I had set a target at the start of each year to try and get fitter or at least to engage in some sort of fitness activity.   Sadly, each year I have ended up prioritizing this target as low and therefore failed to make much progress against it.  I completed courses, read books, completed projects, but neglected the health and fitness aspect of my well-being.  I either couldn’t find the time, couldn’t find an appropriate fitness activity, couldn’t establish a habit or routine or one of a number of other excuses which all sounded plausible and valid to me at the time.

This year I made progress.   I started the couch to 5K programme and for 5 weeks made good progress.   It was becoming increasingly difficult each week as I had to run for longer periods of time however I had built a habit of getting up for my run each morning before work.   I was experiencing some mild aches in my legs but this wasn’t stopping me.  I simply put this down to the strain of the increasing distances.    I was motivated, and I could see the progress I was making.   Each week I was running further and further.   All was going well towards achieving a 5K run.

Then I had a family holiday and took two weeks out.    On my return I decided to jump in at week 4 of the programme, stepping back a week as I thought this would be sufficient to build up the habit again.   I found it difficult to restart my habit of morning runs but I managed it.   After only a couple of runs I started to have painful aches in the left leg in particular.    I gave myself a couple of extra rest days to see if this would help.    It didn’t.    I then tried to work through the aches and pains and this didn’t help either.

I eventually settled with a couple of weeks of rest and decided to go all the way back to week 1 of the programme, which brings us up to this week.    On Monday I wanted to start but made the excuse that it was a bank holiday.    Tuesday wasn’t any good; I cant quite remember what my excuse was, possibly that the first day back after a bank holiday deserved a lie in.    Finally on Wednesday after a significant internal struggle in getting out of bed, I did week 1 run 1 again.  Now, I just need to establish the habit.

As I reflect I can see decisions which impacted my progress, some right decisions and some where in retrospect I may have been wrong.    I can see that motivation has been key.   In the first 5 weeks I could see my increasing fitness level in the increasing times spent running.   This obvious progress kept my motivation up which helped in maintaining my habit.   When I stopped however and when I then had difficulties restarting the progress wasn’t there.  I was running distances less than I had previously managed but having pain in doing so.   It was demotivating and as a result made sustaining the habit difficult.   Trying to get going again was difficult and I must admit to being close this morning to not going for a run, to in effect give up on the whole endeavour.

I have now taken my first step to restarting.   The motivation and habit isn’t there so I will need to rely on my resilience and perseverance.   I suspect this will mean, each morning for the foreseeable future, I will need to fight to get myself out of bed and running rather than having an extra 30mins in bed.   Hopefully in five weeks time I will be back to the same stage I had previously achieved and that I can then go beyond to my eventual goal of 5K.

I wonder how my experiences might be mirrored in student learning?   How do we as teachers help to ensure they remain motivated and develop resilience?






Football and learning

The World cup has started and I am sure classrooms all over the world will be seeing football related themes, examples, etc. in use as teachers seek to engage students and contextualise learning.    As I sat watching the Spain vs. Portugal game I identified one particular opportunity where football could be used to share an important piece of learning.

It was the 88th minute when Ronaldo stepped up and stuck his free kick round the wall and into the top right corner of the goal.   The Independent described the goal as “sublime”.    I suspect throughout the tournament, and beyond, we will repeatedly see re-runs of the television footage of this goal.

The learning point for me lies in a fact which the commentator shared after the initial shock and awe which immediately followed the goal.    This attempt, this free kick in the world cup, a major tournament, was Ronaldo’s 45th attempt to score from a free kick in a major tournament.   Ronaldo had attempted and failed to score on 44 occasions.

I take two things away from this.

1) Never give up.    Ronaldo had made attempt after attempt and failed to score yet with 2 minutes left in the game which Portugal were losing, he still decided to try a difficult shot despite 44 failed attempts.   He could have gone with easier options such as crossing the ball.   He could have considered the likelihood of success having failed 44 times and judged a direct attempt on goal too risky or too unlikely to success however instead he went with the attempt and saw his 45th attempt sail into the net.

2) Beware of your memory.    We will remember the quality of this goal for time to come.  We will hail Ronaldo as one of the best players in the world if not the best but do we remember the 44 failed attempts?   I doubt it.   This is simply the availability bias at work, in that the goal was recent plus it had a positive outcome, hence it comes easier to mind than the 44 failed attempts.    Students need to be aware of this bias.    One test result or one piece of feedback, whether positive or negative, is not a measure of our ability, knowledge or skill, despite the fact it will come easily to memory.   We need to take care and avoid such strong memories influencing decision making or our perceptions of ourselves and our abilities.

I am sure the World Cup will continue to serve up opportunities for learning as well as providing entertainment.   For now I will get back to watching the Croatia vs. Servia game.


References:, June 2018,  Ronaldo finally scores major tournament set-piece at 45th attempt,

Luke Brown, Independent, June 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo World Cup 2018 hat-trick goal: Portugal star makes history with stunning free kick against Spain,

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Pass or Fail….But be resilient.


The educational world is full of contradictions.   A perfect example is the recent discussions on the importance of developing resilience in students and even digital resilience as discussed at a recent conference in Australia.    I strongly agree with the need to develop resilience in students as throughout their life students are likely to encounter difficulties and even failure.   Teachers need to support and develop students such that they are able to get past such difficulties and learn from then, picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and marching onward.

The issue is that all of this is against a background of student examinations and standardised testing where students are either considered as pass or fail or in the case of standardised testing, above or below average.    I would question how possible it is for a teacher to develop resilience in a student who often hears and sees reference to how they are below average.   I would equally wonder how possible it is for the above average student.    Students invariably look at scores and grades and no matter how much we try to avoid categorising ability based on such quantifiable measure they will focus on these and make comparisons between themselves and their peers.    Students after all are often told by their parents about the importance of qualifications and of grades, and they see the focus put on these measures by their older family members including brothers and sisters.   Failure to meet expectations therefore has a significant impact and even more so where a student perceives it to happen regularly or even often.  No number of positive comments and reinforcement from teachers is likely to address this.

If resilience is as important as is claimed, and I believe, then we need to re-evaluate what we currently do particularly with regards constant testing, grading and examinations.   If resilience is just another fad then we need to drop it now and concentrate on what really matters, whatever that is.

Photo courtesy of Sira Anamwong at

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