Monthly Archives: May 2011

Another ‘No to ICT Suites’ thread

This comes around on a regular basis about whether some schools (frequently primary school, but not exclusively so) need an ICT Suite. The desire or need to have one, or move away from one, will vary from school to school and there are many good discussions already out there about helping people decide what is best for a school on an educational basis.

After my post and video about the perils and pitfalls of mobile tech in schools (mainly aimed at handheld devices) this can be extended to other areas … and so, after a tweet from Mary Farmer, I thought I would put down some of the small things which I have come across over the years which can cause problems. None of these are show stoppers, and most will have some sort of solution, work around or can be planned for … but it is good to be aware of them first.

Now, there may be some assumptions here which are not right for every school but I am basing a fair bit on this around the idea that the ICT Suite will go and be replaced by either a handful of machines in each classroom or by sets of laptops which can be rotated around classrooms. It might even be a mixture … but there you have it.

1 – Initial Cost: The amount of money to set up, look after and replace a trolley of laptops is generally more than of a suite of desktops in a classroom. To get the same spec of laptop as a desktop is more expensive. You then have a mobile trolley to stick them in. There are various solutions out there, some with charging alone, some with network sockets (Important for a later point), some with security cables, some are seriously heavy duty and hard to break into and some are flimsy things which are basically a box on wheels with a number of 4 way extension leads to plug the laptop power pack into. Guess which one is cheapest? Guess which one schools are tempted to go for?

2 – Setup and maintenance: I know … this is all very boring and practical … and can easily be dealt with if you throw a bit more time at it. And there is a key point. Time is money … it doesn’t matter whether you employ someone in the school to do your IT Support, buy it in or it is done by one of the teaching staff in their ‘spare time’. The more efficient you can make this the better. To set up a set of machines, laptops or desktops, it works better if they are connected to a physical network point.

Remember I mentioned about those laptop trolley with network sockets as well? Well, connect the laptop to a wired point in the trolley and then the trolley is connected to a single wired point (preferably one with a 1 gig connection back to the core / central switch in the school). And this is presuming that you have purchased laptops which are happy to be booted up with the lid closed to have the systems, any software or any settings loaded onto them … most do but guess what … cheaper devices tend not to be happy about this or have problems with overheating if done on a regular basis … and it takes time and expertise to set a system like that up anyway … time + cost!

More common is to just get all the laptops out onto desks in a classroom, have a switch which they are all hooked into and then away you go … taking a classroom out of action in the process … and so it is done at weekends or holidays. Not the best thing in the world if you need software installing during the working term! And once they are set up … then there are updates and patches to the OS and software you need to do. Again, you can have similar problems … Security updates from Microsoft are a monthly thing. There are tools to help manage this but you then have to plan how these updates will get to machines, how will you test them beforehand to make sure it will not break any other software and whether there is a risk by doing so. This also applies to antivirus updates which should happen automatically each day!

3 – Storage: We have already covered about laptop trolleys and how they come in different shapes and designs, with a raft of different features and associated costs. You also need to make a serious decision about where you are going to stick this trolley before one of the teachers tells you exactly where you can stick it! This will probably be after they have had to walk from one of the of the school to another to push a heavy trolley around the school, trying not to run over little Emma or Michael (no matter how you are feeling it is *never* a good idea to run over little Emma or Michael… ), trying not to damage doorways, walls, tables, chairs, the trolley, other staff … only to find you have accidentally brushed past a display of work and torn it!

And then we get to where it is stored over night! Security is quite important here because a trolley which can be wheeled out of the school quickly (a burglar will not care about the doors and walls so they will be bashed a bit too) is a better prospect for your average IT seeking tea-leaf. Some trolleys can have security plates bolted to the floor, but that means wheeling the trolley back at the end of each day … trying not to damage doorways, walls, tables … you get the picture.

Of course, this is before you work out that the children are the ones who will be opening the door of the trolley and getting the kit out, and then putting it away again. And there will be times when you need the laptop power pack too (I’ll deal with batteries in a bit) and if the power pack is all cable-tied in (for very valid H&S reasons) then how do you get it out? Have spare packs at more cost? And what about the time to take the packs out (if not cable-tied in) and put them back in neatly so they are not damaged (ah … device lifespan … see further below!)

4 – Device Lifespan: In general the IT profession say you should replace a desktop after 3 years and a laptop after 4. This is not purely about usability, but also about when the warranty will run to, how long the device will physically last and about the amount of investment made in the first place. Software will change over time and new software will place more demand on the device. Because a laptop costs more initially then you have to run it longer to make sure you get full value. However, a laptop is more likely to suffer from physical degradation than a desktop. If we take hard drives first. Some laptop trolley store laptops on their edge and usually lean a little to one side. This means that the hard drives are not flat (or even directly upright), so if the devices are put away whilst running or are started up remotely (for updates, etc) then you can have, over time, hard drives fail and need to be replaced. Whilst this might be whilst they are in warranty (you did go for the extended 4 year warranty at some extra cost didn’t you?) you might find the manufacturer comes back to you and questions why 15 out of 30 devices have had to have their hard drive replaced. The usual response from a school or company is that we think that this laptop maker is rubbish … *when it is not their fault*!!!!

Then we get to laptop keyboards. You get what you pay for and so many cheaper laptops have keyboards where the keys fall off if you sneeze on them (not a good thing to do on any keyboard actually) and then you have to buy replacement keyboards and get them fitted. You do have the similar problem on desktop keyboards … but they are a few quid to replace, whereas laptop keyboards will by £45+ and they might insist an engineer comes out to install it so that you keep it in warranty … at more cost. Some manufacturers now treat it as a customer serviceable part and will just send it out with simple instructions about how to change it … but these devices tend to cost a little more on initial purchase … invest now to save later?

And then you get back to the reason why you might want to run down little Emma or Michael with the laptop trolley … because they have, between them, broken 3 screens (pencil on the keyboard when closing the lid), dropped two laptops, broken the socket where the power pack plugs into the laptop on 3 other them and put plasticine in the network socket of others (they wondered what shape it would make). So, from your set of 30 you could be down to 20 fairly quickly.

And then we get to battery life. Batteries on mobile devices suck. They don’t last the full day when you need them to, if they do then they make the machine big and bulky (and heavy) … making it difficult to allow certain year groups to get the kit out themselves … and certainly makes the laptop trolley even more heavy when pushing it around, then do not keep the same level of charge for the full 4 years and they have a limited warranty meaning that if they fail you might not be able to get them replaced after the first year (YMMV). So you have to consider them a consumable and plan to replace them when they start to fail. Oh, back to the initial cost again … you did budget for that didn’t you?

And there you have a short list of some of the issues which have cropped up … with some things people have done to work around the issues, or at least plan for them. It is by now means an extensive list and I would happily accept more things on there, and more suggestions about how you can get around them.

How to be nice to staff who leave your school.

And so the plans for the summer holidays are beginning, if not already in place, costed (with the little funds available) and with full project plan published to all staff so they know exactly what will be done when and why … and yes, that is the Red Pigs display team flying overhead!

One of the things which happens every year is that you will have staff join and staff leave. If they are joining they will need a variety of things setting up for them and each school will have a slightly different checklist for this, passed around a variety of departments / teams to makes sure they have computer and email accounts, a timetable on SIMS (other MIS are available), a contract, CRB check has been done, etc … and much of this is communicated via the staff handbook and school policies / procedures.

However (you knew that was coming), does the handbook also include how you deal with staff who leave? Hand back your car pass and ID card? Clear out your pigeon hole? What about the IT systems? Handing back any device you have (laptop, mobile phone, etc)? Now, this is not going to get into a big discussion about IPR and whether you are entitled to take a heap of resources away with you … but yes, it might be nice if there was something formal about zipping up your home directory, etc and burning it onto a DVD for the member of staff who is leaving. It might be that they will do it themselves onto a USB stick … either way it might be worth including in there about how they have to check files for any personal data of staff or students as they will no longer have a right to take that (in fact it would be a breach of the Data Protection Act) … but this is all common sense stuff that is minutia … the thing most people are interested in is keeping in contact with others.

Email is often a bit of a sore point for some staff … in some schools the account is just deleted, no chance to move it, no chance to take emails off, no chance to take contacts off … but to try to manage this for some schools is not just as simple as setting up a mail client, pulling it all down and then closing it all down. It *will* take time to get stuff off and time means money I am afraid.

Some RBCs / LAs do have the ability to export a mailbox, or if you are moving schools to one in the same LA / RBC you might be able to take the mailbox with you … and it could be a choice you give to staff if they feel it is that important. It might just be a case of having to forward things onto another mailbox … but remember the comment above about personal data? That applies in emails too, so be very careful what goes where. You might need to have some documentation from the outgoing member of staff to say they have only transferred certain things.

But once all this is done what happens about the account? Well, depending on the role within the school you might think that you can be nice and just use the email system or the email filtering service to set up a rule which forwards any incoming emails to their new email address at their new school. Depending on your email solution this can be quite simple to do, and the same with email filtering solutions.

However (yes … another one), that is not always a good idea. So you could be left with two options … the first is to set an automated reply. It can say some thing like “Thank you for emailing [person’s full name] at [school name]. Unfortunately [person’s name] has now left [school name]. If you would like your email details passed on please contact [general enquiries email address or a dedicate email address for this] and we will pass your details on as soon as practicable.” I know it is a bit generic but if they person emailing is trying to contact the school it gives them a way of communicating, and if they are trying to contact a person it helps them with this. The school can then send the details of who has been in touch to the teacher who has left … and this can be done for a few months … a year max. If the teacher fails to say thank you or acknowledge the effort you are making then you can remove the rule sooner.

The other option is sometime contentious … you can redirect all the emails from staff who have left to a dedicated mailbox and a member of staff can check on a regular basis if there is anything which needs dealing with. This is important for accounts of folk like Headteachers, SENCO, Bursars who have been using a named email address rather than a role-based email address (eg firstname.familyname@school.region.sch.uk rather than head@school.region.sch.uk) to make sure nothing important is missed. If you are doing this then you need to tell that member of staff before they leave to ensure they inform all the people who may email them on a non-work basis that they have moved employers.

So, a few ideas about how you can be nice to staff when they leave by allowing them to make sure they don’t miss things on email. Although we live in a world of social networks and immediate access, many people would be surprised how often an old email address is still in an address book somewhere … and you can be sure that when you need to contact someone urgently, then this is the only contact you have.

 

****EDIT****

I’ve just been reading a blog entry from James Marshall at Microsoft about Live@Edu which directly relates to the above and is well worth reading.

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ukliveatedu/archive/2011/07/28/to-delete-or-not-to-delete.aspx

The Perils & Pitfalls of Mobile Tech in Schools

I do have the occasional rant about things. Most of the time it is down to having passion about things I believe in or it is intend to grab the attention of others to make them think. Last night at TeachMeet Midlands 2011 it was a bit of both.

I recently spent a good 30 minutes breaking down what is wrong with trying to use mobile tech in schools, the naivety of some folk, the plain stupidity of others and the frustration of having to deal with people who are just blockers, have personal ethos issue which blind them to people using particular tech or who are just plainly wasting money! The other day, when chatting with Shaun Garriock (one of the Directors of EduGeek.net) on Skype, I ran through some of these to break it down into smaller chunks.

Since I now like to give people a chance to see what I present at TeachMeets I videoed myself doing this ‘slightly longer than the official 7 minutes’ rant and intended to just play it at the TeachMeet … but as people who were there, or who watched it online, there was a tech fail. Apparently videos using Quicktime was not expected, nor using a site which needed the QT plug-in. Normally I would just upload it to Vimeo but I didn’t want to risk a problem accessing it so stuck it on my own webspace. This did play to my advantage though … as it showed haw tech can sometimes just not work. I was happy to just pick up the mic and speak … and rant … and whilst I did not get all of what I wanted to say out I tried to cover the key areas on personal devices, relying on 3G, trying to manage apps, problems with charging devices, issues with proxies, using a managed wireless network …

Below is the planned presentation (now hosted on Vimeo) and I give a solemn promise to spend some time to put together the full 30+ minutes … and I will try to break it down into small chunks to make more sense. If anyone has good examples of where things just have not worked as expected, where they are doing things which take far more time than planned, where they have had to come up with workarounds … then please email them to me via grumbledook@edugeek.net and I will try and incorporate them over time. The first thing I will talk about it proxies and wireless networks so get those stories and ideas coming forward. I hope you enjoy the video below.

TeachMeet Midlands 2011 – The Perils & Pitfalls of Mobile Tech in Schools from Tony Sheppard on Vimeo.

Red Tape or Legal Backing

I know I’ve been a bit quiet recently. This is mainly down to workload (lots of meetings), a lot if DIY (converting part of the house/garage into a home office) and bouts of Man-Flu. However, I have been inspired a bit with a new group I have been involved in over on LinkedIn.

There is a new group, for those looking at the legal position on eSafety when it comes to areas such as monitoring, logging and accessing what children are doing with computers in schools. The group was formed by a Brian Bandey, Doctor of Law specialising in international IP, IT, Cloud, Internet and eSafety Law, and he started the ball rolling with the following breakdown. It is a part of a longer report which I think will make interesting reading.

The Legality of a School Technologically ‘reading’ a Pupil’s web activity

or

“Interception of Pupil Web-Browsing”

Introduction

The question being posed is, in a sense: “What are the law-based issues over Pupil Internet-Browsing Activities being captured by desktop monitoring services.” There’s a reasonably complex network of different Laws from different spheres active over this area and they don’t apply in equal measure to pupils vs. staff. However – although the action of the Law can be summarised, it needs to be understood that a considerable amount of detail is being lost.

Interception and Monitoring

The two main pieces of legislation in the UK with regard to interception of communications (which includes monitoring)are: The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (‘RIPA’) and The Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) (Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000 (‘the Lawful Business Regulations’).

In essence RIPA provides that:

–           to intentionally and without lawful authority;

–           intercept a communication on a private system in the course of its transmission;

–        unless it is done or authorised by someone with the right of control e.g. the headmaster or his IT manager acting on his authority;

–           …. is a criminal offence.

Interception is defined widely in RIPA and includes making some or all of the contents of the communication available, to someone other than the sender or intended recipient. It is thought that transmission may also cover access to both read and unread messages e.g. on a academy/school central server.

How does the School have a Legal Right to Intercept?

An obvious route for the School is to secure good evidence of Parental Consent in the case of Pupils and Employees consent in the case of Staff. For ‘belt and braces’ – one needs to ensure that authority is given by the person (internally) who has “the right to control”.

So the Law is that Lawful authority is required to intercept:

–        If there is no lawful authority then consent of the sender and receiver of the communication is needed;

–        RIPA allows some limited interception by the controller of the system without the consent of the sender or the recipient;

–           RIPA sets out the conditions under which third parties such as the police may intercept.

–        The Lawful Business Regulations are the main source of lawful authority for the controller of the system to intercept and monitor. They permit the monitoring or keeping a record of communications for purposes such as standards, national security, prevention and detection of crime, investigating unauthorized use, and ensuring effective system operation.

–        The interception must also be relevant to the business of the system controller. (NB: This is the clinching argument for Educational Establishments – since there can be no argument that Interception and Monitoring of Pupils Web-Browsing is entirely relevant to the School’s activities)

–           Every effort must have been made to tell users that interception may take place.

–        Communication which has been intercepted and contains personal data is subject to the Data Protection Act 1998. (I’ll return to this subject)

Thus, it begins to become obvious that the Interception and Monitoring by Schools of Pupils (and Staff) Web-Browsing (and E-Mails for that matter) is perfectly lawful if carried out sensibly with reference to RIPA and the Lawful Business Regulations.

The Obligation to Monitor and Intercept

This is a serious and complex subject but I must touch on the School’s obligations to actively monitor Pupil-Pupil E-Communication (I talk of E-Communication since Pupils often shuttle communications through FaceBook or BeBo which aren’t e-mails per se).

The School must simply not ignore its Common Law Obligations (the Law of Negligence) and its Statutory Obligations (the Health and Safety Acts and the Education Act 2002) to keep Pupils Safe.

Educational Institutions have a duty to ensure the safety of their students and to protect them from any reasonably foreseeable harm. Liability arises for psychiatric conditions caused by repeated exposure to obscene or offensive material when using the institution’s IT facilities.

It is also now well-established that psychiatric conditions arise for the victims of Cyberbullying.

Finally, It is also now well-established that such psychiatric conditions which arise for the victims of Cyberbullying can lead to suicide.

Data Protection Law

This is a simple issue. Schools collect a very great deal of “Personal Data “ (a term defined under the Data Protection Act) on their Pupils. E-Mails can be Personal Data and the School simply needs to treat this data like any other – that is in accordance with the Data Protection Principles.

Human Rights and Privacy Law

The Law has always recognised that Students when at School or some other Educational Establishment have only limited rights to Privacy.

Consider:-

A Teacher sees John whispering to Jane in the Class. She moves forward (unnoticed) to overhear the conversation and overhears John’s whispered (bullying) threats.

Are we really saying here that John had his Right to Privacy under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (to which the UK is a signatory) and the Human Rights Act 1998
(Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 is the Right to Respect for Privacy and Family Life) contravened?

The answer is a resounding “NO”. So it is with any pupil communication

It should be noted that in the famous case of Copland v. United Kingdom the Court considered that the collection and storage of personal information relating to the applicant through her use of the telephone, e-mail and internet interfered with her right to respect for her private life and correspondence. While the Court accepted that it might sometimes have been legitimate for an employer to monitor and control an employee’s use of telephone and internet – the need for informed consent was paramount.

But, as a matter of Law, Children cannot give informed consent.

So we return to the overarching need for the School seeking appropriate consents from parents.

Dr Brian Badey

www.drbandey.com

It really does cover so much, but it needs a bit more teasing out for me. When thinking about the barriers to adoption and acceptance of AUPs in schools it would be helpful to identify the areas which are covered under legal grounds for children, for introducing children into what they are likely to find or have to deal with as adults and which sections are there as moral/ethical agreements between the school, the children and the parents.

I’ll try and keep things up to date on here as interesting comments are made by various people. It is also worth pointing out the use of words such as Negligence, Law, Consent as these are specific to how these words are used within law (hence why they are capitalised), yet there are many times other with reference these words with using them solely with respect to the legal meaning, but as part of context from other Acts of Law, reports, government advisories, notices of Statutory Requirements and so on.

The group is gaining a broad range of members, but it could do with a few more specialists … perhaps an expert in Child Law, those involved in safeguarding investigations and those involved with unions (to work out the impact on staff, who are being monitored by the same systems).

(Edit – I’ve updated the post with the full statement from Brian).