Saturday Certificate Sessions Coming to an ISS School Near You

Over 50 teachers, TAs and administrative staff attended last month’s Saturday Certificate Sessions:

Feedback was great – and the lunch catered by Liberty probably didn’t hurt. So here’s more good news – to meet the need for relevant, connected training in Office 365 and other educational technology tools, there will be four SCS events in the 2019-20 school year: September, November, January, and March. Stay tuned here for more details!

Calling All Innovators

We’re looking for four innovative, collaborative teachers to be Tech Ambassadors! This is a new stipended opportunity for the 2019-20 school year. The application deadline is Tuesday, April 30.

New Telecommunications Option for Teachers

In the past, NCPA was a Google Apps school. Teachers needed to use a VPN to access their e-mail, calendar and documents, so we provided ExpressVPN as a benefit so that teachers could access their work-related files from home and other off-campus locations. We also provided the Cisco Anyconnect VPN, which connects users to the school network and its government-authorized commercial VPN.

Since the school’s founding in 2012, China has become more aggressive in blocking VPN services, and is fining individuals for using unauthorized VPNs. ExpressVPN has become less reliable, and our users report the least satisfaction with ExpressVPN among NCPA’s IT services according to our annual survey. By comparison, users report higher satisfaction with the Cisco Anyconnect VPN, which provides more reliability and better speeds for everyday tasks.

To mitigate the risk posed by these issues, beginning in the 2019-20 school year, new faculty will continue to receive access to the Cisco Anyconnect VPN, and will additionally be provided with home routers to extend the NCPA campus network to their homes using the SSID NCPA-Offsite. When connected to NCPA-Offsite, users have access to the campus network and its government-authorized VPN – it’s just like being at school. However, the school will not provide ExpressVPN, the use of which is illegal according to Chinese law.

Pilot users in semester 2 2018-19 report higher reliability and speed using the NCPA-Offsite router. It’s also more convenient because you don’t have to use a VPN app at home – when you’re connected to NCPA-Offsite, you’re connected to the internet via the campus network. You will still have a separate, non-VPNed WiFi network.

Returning teachers may choose to participate in this new scheme by completing the form below by May 15 at 4pm. Returning teachers who don’t respond will continue with their current benefit.

The Best Mapping App for China

Google Maps isn’t accurate in China – it’s hard to search for places of interest, it doesn’t offer accurate GPS location, it needs a VPN, and public transport and walking directions are outdated or broken (for example, it doesn’t show the new metro extension to the school). Lucky, we have Lost Laowai to help us find our way! Lost Laowai is a “Bilingual Map App for Foreigners in China” that works on iOS and Android. It uses Amap, an accurate Chinese mapping service, and translates the interface so that you can search for places in English, Pinyin or Chinese – and then get public transport or walking directions.

This really is a game-changer – now you’ll know which buses in Nansha will take you to the new Starbucks or Vietnamese restaurant, or how to get to the Ikea in Panyu, AND you’ll be able to navigate from your true current location.

Navigating by public transportation:

Navigating by walking:

Additional Parent Contact Information Available for Faculty in PowerTeacher

More parent contact information is now available in the PowerTeacher > sqlReports 5 > Student Demographics for Teachers report. Where previously there was only a “Guardian E-mail” field, which may have been the father or mother, there are now two additional columns for mother’s e-mail and father’s e-mail.

The registrar’s office requests that you e-mail both parents when contacting home. This will better inform parents and make them more likely to repond to/act upon your e-mails. Please contact Lucy Zhong,, with any questions.


IT Services Annual Survey Results

Thank you to the 30 faculty and staff who completed the IT services annual survey. The response rate of 25% is slightly higher than expected for surveys solicited electronically. The IT department reviewed the results of this survey on February 19 and we will review our individual satisfaction survey results as part of our personal goal-setting process. The graph below depicts the results, which are also available in an interactive online format.

The three services with the least satisfaction are Office 365, ExpressVPN and home internet when not using a VPN. We know that Office 365 is an adjustment for many teachers used to Google Apps, and it is a more complicated system to use. It is also the only collaboration suite which our students can access in China, making it the default choice for all international schools on the mainland.

We see user education as the best way to improve satisfaction with Office 365; the upcoming March 16 Saturday Certificate Session is the first effort and if it is successful we plan to replicate the model. We’re also open to offering on-demand training for both office staff and teachers. The complexity of the system means that training will be most effective when it happens directly before or after the user needs the skills, hence our desire to give this training on demand rather than scheduled throughout the year.

As ExpressVPN and home internet are offered by third-party providers, we have limited control over them. There is not an alternative ISP who offers home DSL service, and since foreign VPNs are not authorized by the Chinese government, ISPs and the government take active steps to block services like ExpressVPN. We noticed that satisfaction is much higher for the school’s Cisco AnyConnect VPN service, which connects users directly to campus.

We encourage users to use Cisco AnyConnect rather than ExpressVPN since the former connects users to campus and then to our approved, commercial VPN provider. We are also investigating whether we can install routers in teachers’ apartments that would provide access to the campus network and approved VPN – no need to run a separate program to connect – at which point we would begin to phase out ExpressVPN. We plan to phase out ExpressVPN faster for new hire teachers once this router is available.

We’re happy that a near-super majority of users are very satisfied with their school-issued laptops (replaced every four years or sooner), the equipment available for check-out and the service we provide via walk-ins and through our address. We will continue to issue Mac laptops – the MacBook Air, for 2019-10 – to faculty and TAs (office staff are currently on a mix of Windows and Mac devices and we plan to maintain this for the time being). We are investigating how to install phones in each classroom to make it even easier to get in touch with us in urgent cases; this may happen in phases over 2-3 years.

We noticed that only 27% of users are very satisfied with our school WiFi network, and only 38% of users are very satisfied with our classroom A/V situation. By August 2019 we will have completed an upgrade of the WiFi access points that we hope will make the signal more reliable, especially when moving between buildings (AQ2 remains on an older system due to the need to coordinate with ULC and Yingdong). We hope this improves your satisfaction.

We plan to continue our rollout of AppleTV boxes to enable wireless projection in classrooms; around 10 units will be installed in classrooms over the summer of 2019. We also installed mounted speakers in 2018 to improve audio quality. We suspect that it would take brand-new projectors in each classroom to further improve satisfaction; projectors in general can seem dim in brightly-lit classrooms, and their image quality degrades over time. LED TVs are an alternative: they turn on instantly and are much brighter than projectors. We piloted several models in classrooms and feedback was that some felt 65” models are too small. The tradeoff, then, is between brightness and image size. For the future, we plan to continue replacing 20% of our projectors every year, and installing new bulbs on existing units if required.

Finally, only 30-34% of respondents were very satisfied with our communications platforms: the staff portal, the daily bulletin, and the NCPA WeChat group. One concern we’re aware of is that students don’t read the daily bulletin. This year, study hall implemented a routine to check the daily bulletin every night. We’ve recently installed digital signage TVs near the stairwells that show the daily bulletin headlines to continue increasing the bulletin’s exposure, and the daily bulletin will remain the official way of making whole-school announcements for the foreseeable future. We do plan to add the announcements to students’ PowerSchool portal, so they will see it in PowerSchool, on the digital signage TVs, and via e-mail. We also want to make the staff portal mobile-friendly and work with the orientation coordinators to add content about life in China to the staff portal or the upcoming Social @ NCPA website created by the social committee. This would help our faculty and staff find answers to frequently-asked questions that come up in the WeChat group.

Finally, a few responses to the anonymous comments since we’re unable to reach out to you directly:

For the person paying for their own ExpressVPN connection, foreign staff on full-time teaching contracts are eligible for an ExpressVPN account per household. If you’ve been paying for your own and you fall into the aforementioned category, please stop by the helpdesk!

For the person wanting a PDF guide to Powerteacher Pro, this has been available in the Staff Portal’s Tech Knowledgebase and on the EdTech blog since October. Updates are published as daily bulletin posts and on the WeChat group, so please make sure you check those! In the future, we plan to add a subscription option so that you can receive these updates in your e-mail box once a week.

What’s up with the digital signage?

To continue improving school communications and culture and the tidiness of our hallways, we now have designated announcement corkboards and digital signage at the main stairwells of AQ1 and AQ4. ​Additional corkboards and signage will be installed in the back stairwells of AQ1 and AQ4 in the coming weeks.

The digital signage shows a loop of the daily bulletin headlines, social media posts tagged #pulaoproud, and the school calendar by default. It’s also possible to display graphical posters and videos when requested by teachers and student organizations.

Please followed the guidelines posted on the corkboards if you would like to affix a printed poster or add a graphical poster or video to the digital signage. Avoid posting announcements willy-nilly on windows, doors, floors, lockers, etc; these may be taken down by ayis beginning next week.

Email Matt K if you have questions!

Dashboard: The Most Underappreciated Office 365 Feature

The Dashboard ( should be every user’s entry point to Office 365, and it’s the most underappreciated feature for new users as it lets you search, find shared files, and access frequently-used groups.

Office 365 Sharing vs. Google Drive Sharing

When you’re sharing files in Office 365, the links don’t work exactly like Google Drive – and if you don’t know the difference, you might end up giving people edit access without meaning to. The two-minute video below explains.