Finding SSO: Complexity for IT, Simplicity for You

By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

SSO, or Single Sign On, is something I often discuss with school leadership, teachers, parents, and students. SSO refers to the ability for users to have one login and password that gives them access to all, or the majority of, the services they use. I have achieved this, and I would like to share the path I followed.

The Scope

The scope of SSO is very important. Many people will feel they have achieved SSO if their Google Apps account connects them to a few services. I would classify this as a very limited scope.

In the SSO implementation I am suggesting, the scope is:

  1. Email and Groupware Systems/Cloud (Google Apps, Office 365, etc.)
  2. School Information Systems (For example, PowerSchool)
  3. School Wifi and LAN Network Access. Accessing the network with the single account. This prevents unauthorized users from simply using the network with a shared SSID.
  4. Login Windows for School Owned Laptops and Desktops. This means users apply the same username and password for the school hardware.
  5. Printing and copying access
  6. Additional systems such as Follet Destiny, BrainPop, etc.

With this implementation, all the core IT services on-and-off campus can use, and require, the SSO. Each user uses one username and password to connect to 90% of their resources; and they simply match their username and password on systems that may not be compliant.

For the end sure, this is a transparent process.

The Heart of the Solution

Are you a Google Apps for Education School? If the answer is ‘yes’, then the answer to true SSO is a bit more complicated. Google does not offer a traditional directory service. In order to facilitate a full SSO implementation Google schools need a middle solution.

The concept is that the middle solution has permission to access and use the Google Apps accounts. Once this is enabled, the middle solution will sync and/or translate access between services. The login will either be the username(which is the first part of the email), or the full email itself. The password is managed in the middle solution.

I do not like to promote any specific services. However, for this design I made a special agreement with a company called JumpCloud. There are other services that will do the same job, and unlike traditional methods used for SSO, these cloud based solutions are easy to migrate from in the future.

If you are not a Google Apps for Education school, then odds are you do have Office 365. Microsoft now provides most of the needed features in their Azure Cloud, using Active Directory in the Cloud. This can be free, or licensed, depending on your needs.

If you do not have Google or Office365, then you probably can use any number of Open LDAP Cloud services, or you could technically build and host your our service with Amazon.

If you notice, I am staying in The Cloud. In my experience, very few schools have the in-house talent and resources to facilitate SSO using onsite servers. They can get the services to work, but the speed and quality is no where near that of the cloud based providers. I used a self-hosted solution in China for four years, and once I was able to move off-sight, the end user experience greatly improved.

Enough of the Tech Speak

If you are not working in technology, the sections above will help you immensely in speaking with your technology leadership about SSO. However, to rebound from the monotony of SSO vocabulary and processes, I would like to take a trip through the end user experience.

A new person (employee or student) joins your school. They sit down, and they activate their GMAIL.

When the GMAIL is activated, there is a message in their inbox. They open it. The message directs them to the middle solution provider. The user re-enters their password, and confirms their email.

A few minutes later they get another email, this one is for Office 365. The user opens it, and agrees to terms or service by entering their username and password.

From this point on, that username and password are now linked to all the services, including the school owned devices and network.

The initial steps can be done for new staff before they come to the school. This is an excellent time saver, and I find that new staff like this engagement. If they make a mistake, their email will always work for them. The other services are not critical until they arrive.

The student experience is a little different. I find it is best to have an initial registration process and location for new students. In this location, the WIFI network is open.

However, after they activate, they switch to their official network, and they sign-in with their new ID. Remember, there is no anonymous access. Once implementation is over, only those who are trusted members of the school can use the same networks as students and employees.

If you want to know more about creating seamless SSO experiences, or if you would like to share your own experience, please comment or email me directly, tony.deprato@gmail.com .

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Summer Maintenance Project

So at this time of the year schools often begin finalizing their summer maintenance projects, looking for ways to improve the facilities for the kids and for the teachers, and for us this year is no exception. It’s an exciting process to go through for sure, knowing that we will arrive back after the holiday to a few upgrades or builds that will enhance our day to day experience at school. The idea of course is to look critically at the current facilities, identify areas that need some attention, and then put a plan together to begin the work. It’s the same thing that we as educators should be doing every summer with ourselves…looking critically at our current practices that may need some attention or improvement, and putting together a plan so that we come back next school year as better educators for our kids and for each other. It’s all about reflection and action, and there is no better time than the summer to work on your game so to speak. I wrote a post a few years ago that speaks to this, and I want to share it again because it’s an important reminder to do some work over the next couple of months…think of it as your own personal summer maintenance project. Here’s a piece of that previous post…

With the holiday in plain sight, I want to talk briefly about taking some time over the next couple of months to reflect, and to think about the ways that you can become even better…a better educator, a better colleague, and a better person. In my opinion, the act of reflection is the most important part of learning and growing, and the summer break is the perfect time to do this. Whether it’s a personal or professional reflection, the power of looking back cannot be overstated in my opinion. Thinking about your actions, your beliefs, your attitudes toward others, your reaction to things that may not have gone your way, or even the way you see yourself (your worth, and your value to others and the world) is remarkably profound. Without reflection, the opportunity to discover or to re-discover yourself and your potential is lost.

So, as you’re sitting on the deck of your cottage, or swimming in the lake, or playing a leisurely round of golf, or even engaging in some summer professional development, I’m asking that you think about the ways that you can emerge from your well-deserved holiday a better version of yourself. What are the areas of your life, and your teaching, that need a bit of a push? Are there ways that you can enhance your lesson planning and delivery…are there ways that you can build stronger relationships with your students, particularly the ones that you find the most difficult to engage…are there ways that you can become a better teacher leader…are there ways that you can push yourself out of your comfort zone and take more risks…are there ways that you can become a better teammate and colleague…and are there ways that you can become more innovative in your approach to instruction? My bet is that the answer is yes to most if not all of these questions, and the challenge that I’m giving to you is to not just think about them, but to act on them, and come back in August armed with concrete ways to make next year the best year of your professional life.

There are too many educators out there that get so comfortable and complacent in their job that they end up delivering the same year over and over again, and the only thing that changes are the beautiful and eager faces in front of them…please don’t be that educator. Think about specific ways that you can improve upon this year, and to never deliver the same year twice. Keep the best aspects of your teaching, and stretch yourself to improve on the areas that might need some attention. Everyone has room to grow, and everyone has the opportunity to reflect, to plan, to act, and to become better. I’ve already identified a few things that I need to work on to become a better leader, and I’m excited to think critically about these over the next several weeks in order to make next year my best one to date.

So with that in mind, and with the end in sight, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for what you gave to our students and to our community over the past ten months. I recognize how hard you have worked to give our kids the best possible school experience, and it has been inspiring for me to watch the effort that you put into building such strong and lasting relationships with students, parents and with each other…thank you. You have made my first year at ASP a magical one, and I cannot wait for year two! Come this week full of smiles and energy, and give our amazing kids the best last week ever…summer is coming and I couldn’t be more proud of the work that we’ve done as a team over the past year. Have a wonderful final week and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Summer Sun

– Robert Louis Stevenson

Great is the sun, and wide he goes

Through empty heaven with repose;

And in the blue and glowing days

More thick than rain he showers his rays.

 

Though closer still the blinds we pull

To keep the shady parlour cool,

Yet he will find a chink or two

To slip his golden fingers through.

 

The dusty attic spider-clad

He, through the keyhole, maketh glad;

And through the broken edge of tiles

Into the laddered hay-loft smiles.

 

Meantime his golden face around

He bares to all the garden ground,

And sheds a warm and glittering look

Among the ivy’s inmost nook.

 

Above the hills, along the blue,

Round the bright air with footing true,

To please the child, to paint the rose,

The gardener of the World, he goes.

Quote of the Week…

Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

– Henry James

 

Fun Summer Video –

In Summer

 

TED Talks –

What gardening taught me about Life

Live Fearlessly, Love Hard

Draw Your Future

 

Related Articles –

Grow over the summer

Rock the summer break

Summer learning

7 Things that work year round

 

Parts Unknown

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NkoOfMWNuA&t=690s

My family thinks I’m odd. When we went to Hanoi, Vietnam in 2016, I was obsessed with going to the hole in the wall restuarant that Anthony Bourdain and President Obama ate at together. Their visit was still fresh so there were huge pictures on the wall of them and a buzz around the place. I found the table that my two favorite people in the world sat at and ordered the same meal. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life.

Everyone who has chosen the international life has a story about what inspired them to live overseas. For me, it was a combination of never feeling like I fit into my American suburban surroundings, an emotion that quickly dissipated once I joined the Peace Corps and spent three years in rural West Africa. I had, at last, found my people. Peace Corps Volunteers became my tribe, my compatriots, my soul mates. And I never turned back.

Anthony Bourdain personified that feeling and put into words and pictures the emotions I often experienced living in the world and in coming into contact with different cultures.

When people ask me what I’d be doing if not working in a school, I say every time without hesitation, “I’d be Anthony Bourdain, travelling the world, walking into random kitchens, talking to people, learning their stories, and absorbing life in its quirky, unfiltered, celebratory sequence of messiness, raw living and hard work.”

I am deeply saddened by his passing because he was my muse, my “keep it real,” my connection to what it really means to live this life of travel, culture and people. His shows were a poetic composition of life, his message one of humanity, love and good times, free of pretension, racism, and commercialism.

He was a constant reminder of why I do what I do. (Even on the darkest days).

My family often make fun of me because when we go on vacations I make an effort to (as they like to say) “wander into the village to talk to the local people.” They laugh, but this has put me in people’s kitchens from Ireland to Istanbul and given me a picture on life that not only puts my work in perspective but allows me to feel that connection to humanity and purpose that Tony Bourdain so eloquently described every week.

He once said upon accepting a Peabody Award that he asks three simple questions on the show: “What makes you happy?” “What do you like to eat?” What do you like to cook?” And the rest took care of itself. It was an approach to understanding people and culture that was so simple that it has served as a constant reminder as to why I do what I do in international education.

But we’ve made it so complicated.

Many of us in international education work in places that have large gates, security, and little to no connection to the surrounding community. From our sports competitions to our arts and academics to the food, we live and work in little bubbles that don’t resemble anything other than their own sanitized entity.

We claim that we are preparing people to be global citizens through things like the IB and a variety of languages and international days and so on, but in large we have become so risk averse, so predictable, and so standardized that we are becoming the complete antithesis of what we aspired people to be when we chose the international life. “International mindedness” has become an air-conditioned simulation through laptops, I-Pads and high stakes grueling exams. Does the kid who achieved a 45 on the IB or a perfect 5 on and AP exam know how to ride the local bus or order a plate of chili crab in Hokkien?

“When we repatraite,” they say, “We don’t want any gaps. It has to be a seamless transition from one place to the next, from Manila to Miami, from Boston to Budapest.”

Well it’s not a smooth transition. And it shouldn’t be.

In a recent interview with Bourdain, he was asked how he managed the offering of local food that was unappetizing or not necessarily fresh. “Food,” he said, (I am paraphrasing), “Is a window to someone’s community, to their culture. Food is the beginning of a conversation of someone telling you who they are. And what’s the worst thing? You deal with it. Maybe a few rounds of antibiotics.”

He reminded me that while there were inherent risks in life and getting to know other people, that they were often risks worth taking. He inspired me to shake things up when they needed to be, to make connections to the local maintenance workers, the cooks, the cleaners and to get a real understanding of the international life. One of my cherished memories of my time in Singapore took place last Sunday night, for example, when I was invited to the Hindu wedding of one of our IT guys whom I had taken the time to get to know. The looks on the faces of the other workers when I arrived at the wedding was something I’ll never forget. That’s what Tony inspired in me and that’s why I work in international schools.

So whether I’m wearing a suit behind the high gates or wandering into villages to talk to the local people, I am inspired by what Tony Bourdain taught me in my commitment to international education and the lessons young people need to learn to embrace the world, other people’s food, and to answer the question, “What makes you happy?”

Farewell Tony, I’m really, really going to miss you.

The Accidental BYOD Solution


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

In 2008, I would have said Apple is the best BYOD solution for any school or family that could afford the platform. Then Apple started to change. I think it could be argued, they quietly have abandoned the education market.

Event the recent iPad and classroom management software changes barely address most of the issues. In fact, in many parts of the world, managing Apps legally and efficiently is not even possible.

Aside from oddly developed apps like Swift Playgrounds, iPad App development eventually falls into two categories:

  1. A Focus on Consumer Consumption over Learning
  2. A “Make it the way the App Says” Philosophy

There is no ability for students to go beyond the rules of the iPad, to change the rules of the iPad, or to create anything that was not predicted. The iPad experience is shallow compared to the opportunity to take a blank slate, and build it to a specification or idea(like an opportunity found on a laptop/desktop computing platform).

Microsoft has made amazing strides recently. Specifically, Microsoft products such as the Surface.  However, the Surface products are expensive considering their feature set. There are also security issues involved in running Microsoft products. The Microsoft hardware does not reflect the actual cost of ownership, when much of that cost is used for defending the organizational ecosystem.

It is difficult to recommend a Surface product to a family, because they can spend less for an Apple product.

The rest of the market is too fragmented to build a stable long term platform plan. Unless a school directs students to only by a specific make a model every year (and every year it will change), there is no hope to establish a level playing field with BYOD students.

But. Maybe there is hope. An unplanned, and possibly accidental partnership. Google Chromebook + Amazon.

Google has been a big education player for some time. Their services and branded hardware are dependable and flexible. The hardware changes often, but the Chrome OS is consistent.

Chrome OS is a solution for any school that has reliable internet access. Chromebooks can make an excellent hardware platform, yet have some reasonable opposition among many EdTech leaders:

  1. The platform cannot run powerful applications like Photoshop, Video Editing Packages, Etc.
  2. The platform is slow when working outside the core Google products
  3. Chromebooks have one official browser, and are not fully compatible with all websites/applications
  4. Although it is possible to code and create software on a Chromebook, the development options are lacking compared to those of a traditional laptop (This is important for schools developing computer science and/or app development curricula.)

What if these four issues were eliminated? Would the Chromebook be a better choice for most BYOD families or for schools buying hardware for students?

Enter Amazon Workspaces.

I tested Amazon Windows 10 Workspaces last year. I liked the experience, but had no reason to use the service. It occurred to me recently that if Amazon Workspaces supported Chrome OS, then I could create a flexible platform for BYOD that used Chromebooks.

Guess what? There is a Workspaces Client and App for Chrome OS.

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I have tested this platform for the last 6 weeks using the new Samsung Chromebook and an Apple Laptop. I wanted to compare the performance of the Workspace’s Client service on two hardware platforms. Here is what I have found:

All four issues above were resolved. I even installed Photoshop and used it at the office.

Although Chrome OS is free, Workspaces is not free. They do have a seemingly affordable educational package. The downside to the Chromebook+Amazon combination is the entire process, of getting signed-up and calculating the price, is very convoluted. Amazon for Enterprise Business is mature. Amazon for education seems like a discount coupon, not a well directed initiative.

The next issue is setting up management for the Workspaces. The cost of doing this at scale is currently not clear. The cost is clear online, but the actual bills do not match the flat rates. I regularly ask for my costs to be explained. I send scenarios to people at Amazon to get pricing, and then I wait for the bill. The bill never matches the predictions.

I am close to having what I would consider an affordable and reasonable deployment model for Workspaces with Chromebooks.

Keep in mind with Amazon you pay for what you use. How many schools pay for a campus level licenses for Adobe Creative Cloud, yet only use a fraction of the licenses in any one semester?

How many schools give all students a license for Windows 10, just in case they take one or two courses where Windows is required for the curriculum?

Imagine only paying for what is needed, when it is needed.

Part two of this topic is pending until July, when I receive my next bill. 🙂 

Flip the Script

So I just finished reading a really, really interesting book titled, The Power of Moments, by Chip and Dan Heath, and I strongly recommend it as a summer read for everyone. Even though it isn’t specifically written for educators, there were parts throughout that resonated deeply with me, and got me thinking about how I approach my day to day life in and out of school. There were a couple of chapters in particular that pushed me to reflect on my own experience as a student growing up, which is always an interesting exercise, and I also found myself stopping to analyze the various routines that I have which ultimately have come to shape my days. If nothing else, this book will help you to think critically about the experiences that you are currently providing for your students, and more importantly, it will get you to evaluate how well you are taking advantage of the small but beautiful moments that make up your life.

One of the chapters that hit home for me had to do with this idea of “flipping the script”, or purposely creating moments of elevation that rise above the routine that your students and colleagues have come to expect from you. Just for fun, think back to when you were a student going to school, or as a child growing up in your home, and identify the moments that scream out to you as joyful and truly memorable. For me it was things like road trips or field trips, sporting events that I played in or saw live, memorable parties that I hosted or attended, and all those “first times” that ignited all my senses. Now, think about how often we create those kinds of experiences for our own kids in school, or with our relationships that we have with our colleagues.

I bet that if you really think about it, you’ll notice that we don’t provide nearly enough experiences like these for our kids throughout the year. In the book, one High School principal in the United States is quoted as saying, “we run school like it’s a non-stop practice…you never get a game!” Think about it, we have a tremendous opportunity to do better, and to purposely find ways to elevate our experiences at school from the routines that we’ve come to rely on, to moments that create lasting memories for our kids and each other. Routines have a way of blurring our days together, and if you think about the past year with your own students, what do you think they will remember years from now? I have thought about my own routines at school which are in need of a flipped script…things like faculty meetings and student assemblies and how often and in what ways I celebrate kids and teachers.

This summer I’m going to think really hard about how I can change it up next year to create many, many more special moments that will elevate everyone’s school experience from routine to surprise, and to create lasting memories that will bring us all closer together. I want to challenge you all to do the same over the next couple of months, and to think of opportunities that you have to give your kids and colleagues some moments of elevation…give them less practice and more game time!

Finally, there was one other huge take away from this book that I’ll just quickly share. It had to do with how well we recognize others, and how often we purposely go out of our way to change a person’s day for the better. It talks about how one seemingly small interaction with a kid or a colleague can actually be life changing. I often joke about how I can live off of a compliment for a month but there is some truth to that, especially with kids who are desperate to hear from an adult that they are special, and worthy, and unique, and beautiful as people in our world. How often do you pull a kid aside and tell them something that will make them smile from ear to ear? How often do you write home to their parents and simply say what a joy it is for them to be in your class? How often to you stop a colleague in the hall and thank them from the bottom of your heart for being a friend or a confidant or a mentor? How often do we go out of our way to change a person’s day for the better? Probably not often enough. I’m trying to do better with this and I’m pleading with you all to do better as well. Seek out and create moments to make someone’s day with a simple compliment, a sincere thank you, a little written note or email, and watch how quickly their days change for the better…I’m not joking when I say this…people can live off of a compliment for a month or longer!

Anyway, only a couple of weeks to go and we’ll hit the summer sun so finish strong and bring your best selves to school as we speed toward the end. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week – 

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you!

– Ann Lamott

 

Build Peaks – Dan Heath

All Practice, no Game – Dan Heath

 

Related Articles –

Break Out of the Routine

Rejuvenate Yourself

The Power of Moments – 

 

Great TED Talks –

Comics Belong in the Classroom

How to Turn Strangers Into a Team

A Good Night’s Sleep

Where to Find Joy