Monthly Archives: June 2011

Can you ever have too much of a good thing?

Well, it looks like you can.

I’ve recently been tracking down a number of web 2.0 tools to ensure I register / protect my online identity. I am known as Tony Sheppard and as GrumbleDook with such equality online that it is hard to separate the two. However, since there is a rather good Jazz musician called Tony Sheppard I have opted to protect my identity as GrumbleDook.


Most people recognise my avatar or variations of it and I am always looking for ways to tweak it a little, make it more interesting or relevant, but without losing the importance of this being my online representation.

However (and there is always a however), I am not the only GrumbleDook out there … and I was recently castigated via email for some comments which had been made by someone else. At this point I had to spend some time explaining that I am not an online poker player, I am not an urban photographer / artist, I am not American, I do not live in Brighton / Watford / Washington / Phoenix / Sydney / Hong Kong, and I have never played in a brass band.

The fact that all of the above can be found to be linked to 7 separate individuals and I am not any of them made me wonder that because I do have a goodly number of the related domain names, I have registered accounts for a large number of web 1.0/2.0 accounts under the name of GrumbleDook and I am more often than not the person who appears in searches for GrumbleDook in the search engine of your choices … it is not surprising that someone might presume that all GrumbleDooks are actually me … especially as some are pretty techie related too!

I have spoken with people before about protecting your online identity (having had a student in an earlier school once register an account with an online service as they knew my online nickname … and having to deal with the fall out) and I still believe that it is important. The idea of a person as a brand has been spoken about by people far more knowledgeable and eloquent than me … but if I ever want to operate as a business, or ensure that anything I publish to the ‘net is recognisable as mine then it is something I have to keep up with.

I have come to the conclusion that although we may put a lot of time and effort in establishing our presence online, there are limited ways you can do this and there will always be confusion. I would also recommend that, where possible, you identify where the other people are who may share some aspects of your identity and if you can come to some sort of arrangement then it makes it better.

Will the world end if I don’t manage to ensure that *I* am GrumbleDook on particular services? No … I missed out on Facebook, there are many forums out there with GrumbleDooks on, I don’t have all the domains registered … yet … and I also have to remember that I have taken the name based on a character in a popular comedy (though not many people like the first series … some the joke is lost on many) … and so I do not have an exclusive right to the use of it.

There are examples of parents trying to do similar as I have done from when their children are born … and whilst I can understand this, I also have to point out that part of establishing an online presence is also about the social aspect of life. Many people will grow and change over the years … a number of friends and colleagues have changed their online presence over the years, rebuilding their identity. For me, I would find this difficult as my personal and professional identities are closely linked. I also believe that trying to change a personal identity is difficult but can understand the need at times to do so.

Where does this leave me now? I have a number of business tools I am starting to evaluate (including Office365 and Google Apps), and for me to continue with the professional brand of GrumbleDook, then I have to ensure that I get in there first with such tools. The grey areas come when we look at Social Networking tools … as I would consider many of these as professional tools, but others might consider them as personal tools.

Over the coming weeks I am going to be updating part of my blog to incorporate other tools I am trying to I will start using my ‘About’ page to say what is me … and even create a page to say when it is not me.

I would be interested in how others have approached some of these issues (even from fellow GrumbleDooks), with both the good and the bad in life.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

After a wonderful day before half-term, running the Safeguarding Through Technology day for NetworkNorthants, I am brought home to the reality that there are many risks out their for people on the Internet, never mind children.

With the high profile news of Mac malware in the wild including variants coming in, that rely on users agree to stuff being installed (well, Macs are impervious to viruses, aren’t they?), more conversations about schools wanted raw Internet feeds because they don’t want to be dictated to about filtering policy by the LA (even though the provided solution *can* do what they want, they are happy to pay out for a perceived sense of control), lengthy discussions on online groups about legal liabilities … And believe me when I say that the idea of risk management around this can be a minefield!

But there is light at the end of the tunnel for people. With the right combination of tools you *can* make things more flexible and allow it to work for the school. Now, please note that I am not saying that by choosing certain products you can legally protect yourself about everything or that certain products are better than others but let us just run through some basic concepts and you can ask yourself what tools will fit you best.

And let us also not forget the NEN eSafety matrix to help you too .. And the CEOP resources … And Digizens … And ChildNet.

So … Ready to start?

Ok … Let us look at the safest option. No Internet at all! Well… it is the safest option … or you could say it is safest for the school. For this you are looking at a system which is, by default, set to only allow authenticating staff onto the internet. Some schools do have this and find it acceptable. Not many and it is as bad as the idea that by having a posy of flowers under your nose you will not get the plague when you step outside! Some schools can work like this though, with all interaction with the internet through staff accounts, on staff controlled devices and staff clicking the buttons. It’s doesn’t help that children that much when out in the real world, but is an approach which, educationally and technically, can be made to work. This all tends to be done using filtering technology, so that when the internet feed comes into a school it will have already gone through a filter which restricts things or a filter sat inside the school

Then you have the limited access options. First you can go down whitelists, having set of known, good websites. This can be delivered though filtering products or many of the classroom management tools. A teacher can set internet access only to particular sites and the client on the workstation will block everything else, or the filter will. The classroom tool is handier for the teacher, but the filter solution is less prone to errors.

Then you start into the controlled access options. The first one we can look at is the application of filtering solutions. This can be based on particular devices (classroom machines get one set of filters but staff laptops get another), it can be based on blocks of users (all year 5 pupils get one type of filtering but year 10 get something different), it can be based on individual users when they log in (so that two year 10 children can get slightly different access as one studies Art and needs access to some images of nudes yet the other doesn’t but studies Computing so needs access to sites containing scripting codes).

Some filtering options can have combinations of all of the above. Some solutions allow for control by time (give more access to online games during lunch), some can tie in with particular systems … such as groups within the Active Directory (whilst a child is in the ‘Art’ OU they get particular settings) … and some can be controlled by the choice of a teacher / administrator at a give time.

Then we can look at monitoring and reactive solutions. Some desktop solutions will monitor keywords and respond accordingly. They might take a screenshot and block access, they might send an alert to a member of staff, they might simply log what has gone of for review later. You can then take a more ‘classroom management’ approach.

Classroom management is always going to be the most effective way to ensure learning is taking place, as well as ensuring the safe use of computers. A member of staff with access to see and share the desktop of their pupils and students gives so much more control to the teacher. However, the most common use of this is to see if children are off task. This is a poor use of these tools. Sharing desktops, passing control around the class so that they can provide support to each other, demonstrating learning to their peers … these tools can do so much more that police the network!

And in reality, a combination of filtering and carefully chosen classroom management tools works best. For some schools you are looking for stuff that logs activity to deal with specific problems (bullying, abusive language, etc) and in others you are looking for tools to share and control desktops. Combined with flexible filtering solutions which can be targeted to support where needed, then you have a well covered school, which is managing the computer and internet usage by staff and students.

And this is before you get to some of the other benefits. Some classroom tools can support the management and maintenance of your computers. Rolling out software and patches. Monitoring your inventory. Deploying system changes. Print management. File management. Some of these you might already have, but look at all the functionality. It might be better to have the functions over a number of solutions, or it may be best to consolidate it all in one pot.

There is never going to be a single right or wrong answer. A school will have to look at the options and pick what works best for them. It has to be based on what provides the legally required protection of children, it has to provide a solution which is economically viable to produce and support, and it has to help children learn their boundaries, to give them the skills to look after themselves in the outside world.

The Cloud Is The Future

Yes … the conversation is coming round to the same thing once again. This time it is sparked off by the Apple WorldWide Developers Conference in San Francisco. With all the stuff that has gone on, it is not surprising that Apple would make some changes about how their software interacts with each other, about how they can get a bit more buy-in from their users and how they can make sure they grab back some ideas from other companies.

And true to form, Apple have come up with a number of things, lots of good stuff, but a few things which makes me take a step back and think about how it will hit schools. Of course, this is just a first look at what the offerings are and the fine detail might make a world of difference.

So, going through the keynote timeline, Apple discussed OSX first. It has been around for 10 years now (and yes, I did pay for the beta and then paid for the released version, but I also pay for a technet subscription and regular make use of beta OSS too) and there have been many changes during that time. The change in hardware (when hell froze over and Apple move to Intel) allowed a step change in how powerful the Apple computers were but for most of us it has been smaller, less spoken about changes that have made a difference. The introduction of multi-gesture on track pads was a little thing, but those who have used the magic trackpad or magic mouse know the difference it makes. So, having all the multi-touch gestures we have come to know and love seems a good thing, especially if they are improved and tweaked.

The use of the Mac App Store to deliver Apps is quite a handy thing, and the automated syncing and updating of Apps between devices will make life easier for many with multiple devices, or those upgrading. And this is where I hit flaw number one in the announcements. Those of us in schools want a nice simple way of managing technology, which doesn’t create any issues for staff using it and to make sure it is secure and consistent for learners. If I am not in centralised control then this creates a problem. And it gets worse (or better if you are a general consumer) … Lion will be a download. Lion Server will be a series of add-ons and things like Profile Manager look quite good (from the limited information so far) but what is going to happen for OS deployment? What about App deployment? Patch management? IT just doesn’t seem to add up yet, and the last thing any IT Manager wants to do is to have to wait until it comes live in July before finding out what is going on … remembering that many schools will have already been planning their summer rollout. What happens when new hardware arrives with Lion on and cannot be rolled back to Snow Leopard to fit in with the present system?

Ok … there are 250 new features so the 10 shown at the Keynote don’t really do it full justice. Version control of documents, Air Drop for quick file transfer … there will be good and bad … but make sure you plan well.

And so we get to iOS5. With no new announcement of iPhone hardware we have to look just at the OS.

To be honest, there was little here that I could sing or dance about for schools. Yes, there is better integration with things like the camera can directly link into twitter, more stuff on iBooks (some good ePub resources out there, not forgetting iTunes U) but iMessage, Game Centre, Mail … nothing really to make my skin tingle … until a throw away comment. Full screen Airplay from iOS devices to an AppleTV 2. Yes … a tablet based IWB with multi-touch and a wide range of educational apps. I am waiting for the Developer site to come live again as I am likely to upgrade my Apple TV2 and iPhone to the latest builds just to give this a try. I have already mentioned to people about getting iPads (pref iPad 2 to ensure there is a camera) to hook up to projectors but this makes it even better. No doubt, there are a number of other functions which will be wonderful, but I still worry about centralised management for a class-set of devices, and some of the cloud based news later worried me even more. I am all for freedom of control of tools … but no control at all? This now puts iOS as a consumer OS, with limited business application. It also means that it will mean a lot more work for a school to look after them.

And then we get to the cloud services. To some extent the show covered cloud services throughout. The syncing of Apps, the automated updating of apps and OS, the syncing of docs … and we all knew that iCloud was coming! And sure enough, it is here. Photostream between devices and the web, most of the previous MobileMe stuff being improved / updated and given away for free (erm … what about those of us who are subscribers? Refund?) But then we have to think about the syncing of documents. Now, there is a list of companies in teh US who have signed a Safe Harbor agreement with the US Department of Commerce, and Apple do have an entry on there … and here it is.

Personal Information Received from the EU/EEA and/or Switzerland:
Online and offline customer and human resources data. Apple collects customer data during certain transactions and communications with its customers, including when users register to use Apple products and services, purchase Apple products and services, register Apple hardware and software, apply for commercial credit, and participate in surveys. Customer data is transferred from EU Apple subsidiaries to Apple Inc. (which is located in the United States) for the purposes of marketing, facilitating transactions, customer support, customer communications, improving Apple products and services, auditing, data analysis and data storage. Human Resources data is transferred from EU Apple subsidiaries to Apple Inc. for the purposes of conducting the human resources and financial management of Apple Inc. and its subsidiaries. Such purposes include, without limitation, making available documentation on personnel, administering compensation, payroll, benefits, administering stock options, bonus plans, succession planning, recruiting new employees, addressing various legal obligations concerning personnel status, data audit and error control, and tracking the use of temporary workers and independent workers.

So … can you tell me where it covers the contents of my files? And if I stick a class list (which home addresses) on my iDisk (as it is now) or have it as a doc which travels between my devices (via the Apple server farm) then I am putting data at risk in spite of the DPA saying *DON’T*! Ok … maybe I am over-reacting … but you can see my concern. Syncing stuff can be good, but there are certain issues with it. If you are in a school do you need to sync things to the cloud to pull it back down to the same school but a device being used by the child sat next to you? What about using a little of this magic to work a bit smarter closer to home? *That* is what I am more interested in …

So … first thoughts are that there are only a few things that jump out as going to make a massive difference to use by children and use by teachers. There are still lots of things that give it even more potential … but then we hit my second thoughts. This is a consumer device that is going to be a pig to try to manage for a centralised resource. This is nothing new with Apple though … and we generally muddle through … and it is just a shame that Apple, who have such a strong following within education, still seem to miss some opportunities.

As I try things out I will put up new entries … and I am eager to have suggestions about what to look at. That said … comments such as “swap to Android / Windows / Linux / Etch-a-sketch” are pretty old hat now … even if they do raise a slight smirk.