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Chromebook boosting classrooms

After allaying its critics, Chromebook has been labelled by educators as the essential classroom tool. In a recent study by Acer – European Schoolnet Educational Netbook Pilot of 2010, 74% of European based teachers who participated in the study believed that netbooks in classrooms will allow students personalised learning, and 89% of all teachers believe that netbooks will add value to improving computer literacy.

According to Peter Lacey, Education Lead for Acer Africa, the question is not if the Chromebook will enter South African classrooms, but when and how. Selborne Primary School based in East London decided to partner with Acer to introduce the Google Chromebook as part of their classroom learnings early in 2013. Through the Acer Premier Partner Program, Acer Africa has managed to successfully provide technology solutions to over 120 schools across its network. The success, according to Lacey lies in the fully customisable solutions that Google and its platforms provide.

After comparing several solutions, the school’s governing body decided that the Google platform will be the best vehicle to move the school into the next phase of its technology journey. Sarah Friend, Grade Seven teacher at Selborne explains that, “ease of use is probably the stand out feature for me. This allows each pupil to use the device according to their unique learning ability.” According to Lacey this is what makes the Chromebook unique to any other netbook.  “The Chromebook supports the learning material of a school’s current curriculum while allowing a pupil to expand this learning with additional online tools via the safe and secure Device Management System (DMS) and it’s always up to date.”  The robust build of the device and selection of applications allows both educator and pupil to get the most out of the learning process. A recent study supports this claim reporting that more than 60% of students have indicated that their learning experience is enhanced by the Google Chromebook. “As an IT administrator of the school, I can manage our Chromebooks, the learning material and other Chrome devices, from a cloud-based Admin console or DMS,” says Friend.

“Since its introduction to the South African market, late in 2013, the Chromebook has had a clear and lasting value add in the local education sector,” says Alister Payne, MD of Google Cloud Solutions. Payne refers to the advancements of technology in the classroom as Tequity, or Tech Equity. “Bringing tech into the learning environment creates an enhanced learning experience.” According to Payne, Tequity reaches further than only the physical accessibility of devices, but the convenience of accessing information via a device as well as the simplicity thereof. Lacey elaborates on this point by conveying that technology should never be introduced to a classroom to replace educators, but rather to aid the facilitator to support pupils during the exploration and curation process. “This is the future of learning,” says Lacey. “Students become content creators rather than content consumers.” With a plethora of applications and collaborative tools at their disposal, each student consumes learning material according to their capabilities, making it a lasting experience. “There are different apps for everything from dissecting a grasshopper to taking a tour through ancient Egypt. Google Chromebook is an essential and interactive tool for the 20th century learner” says Lacey. By making this paradigm shift more emphasis is placed on exploring and comprehending content rather, than following a graded curriculum based outcome.

Another feature that is unique to Google Chromebook is the mobility. Students are able to work on group projects whether they are in the same room or not. Additionally, teachers are also able to evaluate how individuals contributed to group projects. Via the Google Classroom Assignment application, teachers schedule assignments on any subject and are able to track its project. Peter Lacey, Education Lead for Acer Africa add that this in turn creates a paperless classroom, creating a greener learning environment.

Although the adoption of the Chromebook in local classroom cannot be disputed, there are still a fair amount of concerns. These concerns are echoed in the Acer – European Schoolnet Educational Netbook Pilot where the three main objections to the Chromebook was the lack of support, distracted learners and limited access to internet. Even though the first two concerns have been discredited in the last five years, the latter is still a valid objection in our local environment.

The integration of Chromebooks in the Selborne classrooms have dissipated original fears which included the lack of support, distracted learners and limited access to internet. “The five year project has seen Acer invest in the Google Ecosystem Support Base in South Africa, and in this time learners have showed increased engagement,” says Lacey. “Although access to internet remains a concern in rural areas, urban areas are well serviced, and the current number of adopted schools will continue to increase.” Lacey concludes by saying that with government’s commitment to further reduce data costs the country is on the cusp of a connectivity explosion which will filter through to schools and allow for easier access to e-learning.

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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as end-of-support looms, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2008.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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