A Month in Aladdin's Cave
I’m trialling a Management Information System (MIS) in my school called Aladdin, which gained a “top of the class” award when we reviewed it in February 2010. Aladdin is an Irish-designed cloud application that allows my whole staff access to all the school’s administration.
Up until last year, I had built our school intranet using Google Apps for Education and I’d built up a fairly decent set up with a roll book, a calendar, a number of forms for reporting things and a good noticeboard. Part of the reason that we decided to move to Aladdin was that it did all these things better. Another part was if there were things that we wanted to change or enhance, the Aladdin team would do their best to help us out.
Aladdin is built on Google Apps so the feel of our intranet did not change much. However, I wanted to make it look almost exactly as the staff were used to. My first request was the ability to personalise the homepage and within days, I was able to change colour schemes, set different logos and change the look of the homepage really easily.
I set up the staff accounts quickly and began creating a similar homepage that they were used to seeing – a calendar, a virtual noticeboard and a reminder section. I also added a “popular” menu which linked back to some of my Google created pages such as reporting a yard incident and booking in a “catch up” session with a support teacher. I also kept our SEN page in Google initially. However, in Aladdin, I also added a yard duty timetable on the front page, which I like very much.
With the front page looking well, it was time to get the students into the system. Luckily, we didn’t have to type in everything manually. After assigning classes to particular teachers, I simply used Aladdin’s import tool to automatically import the children’s details in from a spreadsheet and it guided me through the process easily. I was also able to import the children on our pre-enrolment list, which was great. Although Aladdin will import the data for you for free, I like doing things like this myself!
The first day of school arrived and we decided to have a staff meeting to try out our new look staff intranet. Initially, the staff wondered why we were changing. They loved the old system. So did I. However, as soon as I showed them the new way of taking the roll, I had gained some new fans. Aladdin’s rollbook assumes that all children are present and all the teacher has to do is click the children who are absent each day. It’s much quicker. Even better, it also allows teachers to input the reason for an absence which helps with returns to the NEWB.
We did have a few teething problems with the noticeboard. Initially only the administrator (me) was allowed to post messages on the board and there was no way to reply to them. These were changed within 24 hours of my request and now staff are happily posting messages up and conversing everyday.
The people who are most benefiting from the new system, apart from me, are the school secretary and the deputy principal.
Our secretary has never found it easier to get access to our students’ details if needed. She also has a module called “Money” which she has been using for collection of schoolbook money. She’s also already organised our staff Christmas party using the system!
The deputy principal in my school is in charge of all matters to do with attendance and Aladdin has cut her workload significantly. Our DP has the honour of filling in the physical roll books until the Department of Education allow us to record electronically only. Because it’s so easy to take the roll, all staff generally are quicker to fill it in during the day. However, more significantly, Aladdin automatically generates the Cúntas Tinnreamh exactly the way it appears in the real thing. We are printing this out and sticking in the physical book each month. On the 30th September, our DP was able to automatically send our NEWB stats with the click of a button. Aladdin automatically generated the report. I’ve never sent back my NEWB returns so quickly! We can also see at a glance the children who have missed the most days, any unexplained absences and lots more.
Another benefit we’ve found since the start of the year is that we have been slowly moving most of our SEN support stuff over to the Aladdin application from the Google page. By creating templates, we can now create IEPs and other documents for each child directly in the system, which can be printed for the child’s file.
We will probably start using Aladdin for standardised testing later in the year but we’ll be requesting a couple of ideas before we do so.
All in all, I think the staff are won over by Aladdin. It’s great that it’s ever evolving and improving. We’re learning as we go along and we’re enjoying helping this product get even better. I think the next step in its evolution will be the amount of access rights different staff members will have. At the moment, all my staff have been made administrators but I will change this when I have more control over what staff can access.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited by an Irish designed education product. We’ll more than likely be starting to use the texting service that comes with Aladdin in the next month or two as we still have a good bit of credit left on our current system. Next time, I write about Aladdin, I’ll report on our progress with the texting and any other treasures we find.