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General Chat Thread, Wordshark lookalike. in General; Our Learning Resource Unit has always used Wordshark and Numbershark but I fing it a real pain and don't want ...
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    Wordshark lookalike.

    Our Learning Resource Unit has always used Wordshark and Numbershark but I fing it a real pain and don't want it on the new system. The SENCO thinks it's brilliant but the TAs say the kids hate it.

    I'm sure there must be web based stuff that would provide a similar resource to Wordshark. Can anyone suggest anything?

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    mr_wordshark's Avatar
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    What is causing the pain?

    Hi Laserblazer
    Declaration of interest - I'm the support manager for WS and NS, and a first aider, and less near retirement than I thought I was.
    Sorry, I haven't yet found anything which is better educationally and lower price,
    Am I correct in thinking you have fairly old version of the software? I'm aware of a couple of schools in Droitwich with some seriously old versions which will now be less stable than any tech would want.
    I'd be really interested in knowing why you find it a real pain - the more we find out what people don't like, the better we can do something about it for the future.
    Any chance of you phoning Support 0208 748 1170 & asking for me, or a quick email? I'm happy to come into work early (7am onwards) if it is easier to talk before school.

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    I've emailed you Rik.

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    We don't use Number / Word Shark here but I've used it in a couple of the previous places I've worked (so I'm obviously talking about older versions here). The graphics quality isn't the best but, as people have pointed out, SENCOs seem to find the program useful and they are, after all, the ones who should know best.

    Quote Originally Posted by mr_wordshark View Post
    I haven't yet found anything which is better educationally and lower price
    Do you have any studies, facts, figures, etc, that explain exactly what the educational benefits of Word / Number Shark are, or is "Educational" just a bullet point on your marketing literature? Can you explain to us the design philosophy behind your applications - what, exactly, makes them educational?

    the more we find out what people don't like, the better we can do something about it for the future.
    The graphics do look a bit outdated - I'm sure it doesn't affect the gameplay / educational value aspect of the software, but having nice graphics does help get the more reluctant type of pupil to actually use the software in the first place.

    Can your software be used from inside a VLE, do you have a version that runs inside a web browser? Do you have an MSI installer package available for installing your software on a Windows-based network?

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    David Hicks

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    Wordshark- Reply to David Hicks

    Hi David
    I agree -the DOS version graphics (discontinued in 2001 but still around in many schools) do look very dated. The v3 and v4 graphics were all redrawn, but are deliberately kept as simple as possible for various educational reasons - particularly that certain children's special needs are better supported with simple graphics. This does mean that you don't get the whizzy graphics of Wii & latest gaming software, but does mean that the programs will usually run on the lowest spec computers that schools around the world still use.

    Studies - yes, a major one from Univ. Hull/Chris Singleton, now fairly well dated, and others (unpublished) from PGCE & other university students. We haven't felt a need to pay someone loads of dosh to produce a study, as some software companies do.

    There are a large number of non-sponsored reviews out there - i.e. totally independent of us. Tameside teachers, for example, have posted up several for both Wordshark and Numbershark.
    Try also Word Shark from White Space

    We have posted up links to some of these at:
    Numbershark hints


    Both Wordshark and Numbershark are huge programs, approaching 500Mb, and would need some re-authoring to run within a webpage. However, we have several dozen schools whose students access both from home and from school through Citrix or Terminal Services very happily, and many more who have an icon for the progam(s) on their VLE for easy loading. Some VLEs seem to be designed to lock out 3rd party software - others are much more amenable!

    Hope this helps. Sorry about the delayed reply, but I only pop into this forum occasionally. Anyone with the software, or having questions prior to sale, normally contacts us direct.
    We used to have a MSI, but several techs suggested we dropped it as the software installs so quickly without it these days.... hence reading some of the adverse postings here with particular interest!
    Cheers
    Rik
    (Support Manager, Wordshark/Numbershark)

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr_wordshark View Post
    The v3 and v4 graphics were all redrawn, but are deliberately kept as simple as possible for various educational reasons - particularly that certain children's special needs are better supported with simple graphics.
    Okay, that makes sense.

    We haven't felt a need to pay someone loads of dosh to produce a study, as some software companies do.
    I more sort of meant did you figure out how to make software suitible for special needs children first, then write the software?

    There are a large number of non-sponsored reviews out there
    Okay, thanks.

    Both Wordshark and Numbershark are huge programs, approaching 500Mb, and would need some re-authoring to run within a webpage.
    Hey, gap in the market there :-)

    Some VLEs seem to be designed to lock out 3rd party software
    Indeed.

    We used to have a MSI, but several techs suggested we dropped it as the software installs so quickly without it these days...
    We've had this misunderstanding on other threads, too. Wanting an MSI file is nothing in particular to do with ease of use, speed of installation, or us being lazy and not wanting to run an install program. Most of us are looking after hundreds of workstations. The standard way to fix pretty much any problem with a Windows workstation is to re-install a fresh copy of Windows, generally by re-imaging the harddrive or via a remote install of some kind, so you just have a basic copy of Windows with drivers and nothing else installed. You then have software install on top of this. The software install needs to be automated so it works the same way each time, no mutiple steps to go through to set a bit of software up - we can't remember install procedures for multiple bits of software, for multiple workstations, it all needs to just work. Ideally you should be able to reimage and reinstall a classroom of 30-odd machines in a single lesson (generally less than an hour).

    There seems to be a misconception amoungst software developers as to how often this happens - it's way more often than developers seem to think, and network managers need software that installs properly over a network. Actually, my preference would be for something that simply ran from a web server and avoided the whole workstation software installation problem in the first place.

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    David Hicks

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    mr_wordshark's Avatar
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    Hi David
    Thanks for this. Yes, we worked with many SEN children first, found solutions that worked, then wrote the software - the development/programming team are experienced teachers, and the Ed director is still a teacher. I'm in support, but even so was a deputy head of large SEN school, as the co. want staff with real school experience. We are very much into the "what works" mode, one reason why I'm researching dyslexia at M Ed level, and others in the dev team have also huge experience/quals in literacy/SpLD

    We later found that the software was also proving popular with more able, so further added and tweaked and tested and re-tweaked... and that continues.

    There probably would be a gap in the market for the whole program to be "web delivered" - though we are finding so many more schools are going to a thin client / terminal services type solution and hence having remote access across the web that we are keeping this under review. Web based = annual subscription or similar, which with servers etc makes it more expensive than our current one - off price. I've looked at several web based products, and all are rather more expensive that we charge for what they offer: Looking into price of hosted servers with the bandwidth and secure backup needed, I can see why. I'm also conscious that for every school that wants a web server solution, there is currently another that wants "in house" at least until the internet & bandwidth are faster/cheaper/more reliable. "Sorry no school today, the internet is down....."!

    Regarding the MSI - most schools using the network version have nothing to install onto the client machine. The program sits on the server, the start-in icon sits on the "desktop-all users" (or selected groups) and propagates to the client machines on logging on, so there is no software to install on the client machines. Also, many more schools are going down the thin client route, so no reinstalling of workstations as such.

    When we had an MSI, people were using it - instead of reading the instructions that suggested you only used it for very slow / wireless situations - hence several of those techs suggesting we got rid of it! Removing the MSI was not a lightly taken decision, and one we keep under review: I'm open to persuasion on this one. I do fully agree that if our program had to be installed onto the local client machines, then we would keep the MSI by default.

    Having been ICT coordinator + n/w manager + de facto tech in a special school, I've considerable sympathy for where you are coming from, even though I was dealing with tens rather than hundreds (that also declares my vintage )
    I popped into a 800-client comp school last week to observe an install - they installed both WS and NS onto servers and deployed both across the whole n/w in under 30 mins, and commented that they couldn't see how it could possibly be any easier.

    One of the really useful things about this forum is listening to you guys and working out what people find difficult (usually, installing the obsolete versions and/or the domestic single user CD version, OR the real rare tecchy funnies that crop up once in a blue moon)

    Hope this lot is useful. Do give me a buzz if it makes more sense to discuss than email. Cheers,
    Rik

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr_wordshark View Post
    we worked with many SEN children first, found solutions that worked, then wrote the software
    Ah, good - I get the impression that a lot of the educational software I see marketing material for only has the "educational" bit tacked on afterwards, the software is written first and then someone figures out how to sell it. Nice to know someone's doing it the right way round :-)

    I'm also conscious that for every school that wants a web server solution, there is currently another that wants "in house" at least until the internet & bandwidth are faster/cheaper/more reliable.
    Oh, of course, different establishments needs differ and you have to decide what to spend development time and effort on based on what you think will sell. I'd not trust an externally hosted solution either, I was thinking more of a web server that installed locally at a school somewhere. Ideally, of course, there would be a proper standard way to slot your content into schools' various VLE platforms, but this would probably take more development effort to get working accross all platforms than it's currently worth.

    The program sits on the server, the start-in icon sits on the "desktop-all users" (or selected groups) and propagates to the client machines on logging on
    It just runs from a network share, you mean? I thought WS / NS tracked user progress and scores - does this mean there has to be a world-writeable file or folder somewhere?

    I do fully agree that if our program had to be installed onto the local client machines, then we would keep the MSI by default.
    Slow / intermittent connections over wireless are (unfortunatly) increasingly common - lots of schools seem convinced that wireless laptops will be great and are a tad surprised to find their wireless infrastructure can't cope. It's a problem solveable by spending decent money on a decent managed wireless system, of course, but that's the kind of thing that many schools don't have quite yet.

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    Hi David


    You said:
    "Ideally, of course, there would be a proper standard way to slot your content into schools' various VLE platforms, but this would probably take more development effort to get working across all platforms than it's currently worth."

    Just to indicate that we take feedback seriously:
    We wish there were a proper standard way - different VLEs all seem to do things that bit differently. We must also remember the rest of the world, who do not necessarily do the same thing! We are also looking at SCORM and other "standards", which are some way from settling down. You may have seen the work done in this area by SALTIS, which we are following with interest (& are now members of).
    A few months on, we have looked again at the world schools market: Quite a number of overseas and UK schools are moving (and have moved) to virtual desktops, terminal services & Citrix/Zen solutions, rather than web-based VLEs (which seem to be more in vogue in the UK than elsewhere).

    Critically (for us) these are providing good home/school links for staff and students, including full access to Wordshark and Numbershark from "where-ever". Given each programs' size, bi-directional traffic, and so on, this seems to be (according to those schools) a good solution. These schools have Wordshark/Numbershark on their student/staff desktops, accessed through terminal services or Citrix/Zen technology rather than over the web. To the child or teacher, it feels the same, but with the ability to retain the more complex features of both that frankly would be a challenging process to re-engineer for web running.

    Quote:
    The program sits on the server, the start-in icon sits on the "desktop-all users" (or selected groups) and propagates to the client machines on logging on
    It just runs from a network share, you mean? I thought WS / NS tracked user progress and scores - does this mean there has to be a world-writeable file or folder somewhere?

    Sorry, David, to clarify: Yes to all of this, it can/does run from a network share (or from client HDDs if wireless). All student data is stored in a (hidden) world-writeable folder "[word]shark-shared", each user having their own userfile within that. Thus, any teacher has potential access to progress and scores of any child's records from their own desktop.

    Quote:
    Slow / intermittent connections over wireless are (unfortunatly) increasingly common - lots of schools seem convinced that wireless laptops will be great and are a tad surprised to find their wireless infrastructure can't cope. It's a problem solveable by spending decent money on a decent managed wireless system, of course, but that's the kind of thing that many schools don't have quite yet.

    Agreed, David. We have evolved the programs to be able to run from the local wireless HDDs, with just the user data on the server, mainly for this reason. We then use very little bandwidth for the program data - often Kb rather than Mb per user. Doesn't help, however, when the wireless access falls out completely. I understand that BECTA are not pushing wireless as the great solution - do you get that feeling?

    Cheers

    Rik
    (Support Manager, Wordshark/Numbershark)

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    A few months on, we have looked again at the world schools market: Quite a number of overseas and UK schools are moving (and have moved) to virtual desktops, terminal services & Citrix/Zen solutions, rather than web-based VLEs (which seem to be more in vogue in the UK than elsewhere).
    But those aren't the same thing. Remote access solutions can provide access to licensed software packages for pupils from home, but one of the main features of a VLE is the idea that everything feeds back in to a central marks database, allowing content packages to report pupil progress in a standard manner. The problem with this approach, as you have found, is that this rather limits what your content can do - forcing authors to squish their content into an arbitrary content packaging format, with features decided upon by someone else, doesn't make for a package format that will be adopted in a great hurry.

    I think a better approach would be for a VLE to provide a standardised API to allow external applications to transfer marking information to the VLE. This would allow content authors to implement their end of things however they liked - as a web-based application, as desktop clients, whatever - and simply report marks in to the VLE as needed. You would need some kind of common authentication mechanism between the VLE and the content package, but that's easily done by having both authenticate against the same Active Directory / LDAP server.

    What sort of approach is SALTIS taking?

    All student data is stored in a (hidden) world-writeable folder "[word]shark-shared", each user having their own userfile within that. Thus, any teacher has potential access to progress and scores of any child's records from their own desktop.
    This strikes me as sounding a little on the insecure side - a world-writeable area where pupils can potentially dump files, or tinker with their own or each other's scores.

    I understand that BECTA are not pushing wireless as the great solution - do you get that feeling?
    I don't know - I work in a private school, so what BECTA thinks doesn't affect me much :-) Possibly the idea is that in the future all (state) schools will have ICT run by an external provider, with decent managed wireless provided.

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