Tag Archives: harnessing technology

To Block or Not to Block, that isn’t the question!

With kind permission I am reposting Scott McLeod‘s ‘Dangerously Irrelevant’ Blog Post about 26 Internet Safety Talking Points.

I hope to then follow this up by looking at each point (one a day perhaps) to strip it down and look at both sides of the point.

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For Leadership Day 2012, I thought I would gather in one place many of the talking points that I use with principals and superintendents about Internet safety…

 

  1. Even though they may use fancy terms and know more than you do about their domain, you never would allow your business manager or special education coordinator to operate without oversight. So stop doing so with your technology coordinator.
  2. The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.
  3. Mobile phones, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, Wikispaces, Google, and whatever other technologies you’re blocking are not inherently evil. Stop demonizing them and focus on people’s behavior, not the tools, particularly when it comes to making policy.
  4. You don’t need special policies for specific tools. Just check that the policies you have are inclusive of electronic communication channels and then enforce the policies you already have on bullying, cheating, sexual harassment, inappropriate communication, illicit behavior, etc.
  5. Why are you penalizing the 95% for the 5%? You don’t do this in other areas of discipline at school. Even though you know some students will use their voices or bodies inappropriately in school, you don’t ban everyone from speaking or moving. You know some students may show up drunk to the prom, yet you don’t cancel the prom because of a few rule breakers. Instead, you assume that most students will act appropriately most of the time and then you enforce reasonable expectations and policies for the occasional few that don’t. To use a historical analogy, it’s the difference between DUI-style policies and flat-out Prohibition (which, if you recall, failed miserably). Just as you don’t put entire schools on lockdown every time there’s a fight in the cafeteria, you need to stop penalizing entire student bodies because of statistically-infrequent, worst-case scenarios.
  6. You never can promise 100% safety. For instance, you never would promise a parent that her child would never, ever be in a fight at school. So quit trying to guarantee 100% safety when it comes to technology. Provide reasonable supervision, implement reasonable procedures and policies, and move on.
  7. The ‘online predators will prey on your schoolchildren’ argument is a false bogeyman, a scare tactic that is fed to us by the media, politicians, law enforcement, and computer security vendors. The number of reported incidents in the news of this occurring is zero.
  8. Federal laws do not require your draconian filtering. You can’t point the finger somewhere else. You have to own it yourself.
  9. Students and teachers rise to the level of the expectations that you have for them. If you expect the worst, that’s what you’ll get.
  10. Schools that ‘loosen up’ with students and teachers find that they have no more problems than they did before. And, often, they have fewer problems because folks aren’t trying to get around the restrictions.
  11. There’s a difference between a teachable moment and a punishable moment. Lean toward the former as much as possible.
  12. If your community is pressuring you to be more restrictive, that’s when it’s time to educate, not capitulate. Overzealous blocking and filtering has real and significant negative impacts on information access, student learning, pedagogy, ability to address required curricular standards, and educators’ willingness to integrate technology. It also makes it awfully tough to prepare students for a digital era.
  13. ‘Walled garden’ online environments prevent the occurrence of serendipitous learning connections with the outside world.
  14. If you’re prohibiting teachers from being ‘friends’ with students online, are you also prohibiting them from being ‘friends’ with students in neighborhoods, at church, in volunteer organizations, at the mall, and in other non-school settings?
  15. Schools with mindsets of enabling powerful student learning usually block much less than those that don’t. Their first reaction is ‘how can we make this work?’ rather than ‘we need to keep this out.’
  16. As the lead learner, it’s your responsibility to actively monitor what’s being filtered and blocked and to always reconsider that in light of learning and teaching needs.
  17. If you trust your teachers with the children, you should trust them with the Internet. Addendum: Mistrust of teachers drives away good educators.
  18. If you make it too hard to get permission to unblock something, you might as well not have the option in the first place.
  19. Unless you like losing lawsuits, remember that students and staff have speech and privacy rights, particularly off-campus. Remember that any dumb decision you make is Internet fodder and has a good chance of going viral online. Do you really want to be the next stupid administrator story on The Huffington Post?
  20. When you violate the Constitution and punish kids just because you don’t like what they legally said or did and think you can get away with it, you not only run the risk of incurring financial liability for your school system in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars but also abuse your position of trust and send messages to students about the corruption of power and disregard for the rule of law.
  21. Never make a policy you can’t enforce.
  22. Don’t abdicate your teaching responsibility. Students do not magically gain the ability at the end of the school day or after graduation to navigate complex, challenging, unfiltered digital information spaces. If you don’t teach them how to navigate the unfiltered Internet appropriately and safely while you have them, who’s going to?
  23. Acceptable use and other policies send messages to students, staff, and parents. Is the predominant message that you want to send really that ‘the technologies that are transforming everything around us should first and foremost be feared?’
  24. Imagine a scale with two balancing pans. On one side are all of the anxieties, fears, barriers, challenges, and perceived problems that your staff, parents, and community members put forth. If you want effective technology integration and implementation to occur in your school system, it is your job as the leader to tip the scale the other way. Addendum: It is difficult to understand the learning power of digital technologies – and easy to dismiss their pedagogical usefulness – if you are not familiar enough with them to understand their positive affordances.
  25. In a hyperconnected, technology-suffused, digital, global world, you do your children a disservice – and highlight your irrelevance – by blocking out our present and their future.
  26. Educating is always, always more powerful than blocking.

BONUS 1. Elsewhere in your state – perhaps even near you – are school districts that have figured this out. They operate under the same laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that you do. If they can be less restrictive, why can’t you?

A huge thanks to everyone who has influenced my thinking and my writing in this area, including folks like Doug JohnsonSylvia Martinezdanah boydWill Richardson, and Tina Barseghian. I’m sure that I’ve forgotten a few talking points that I’ll just add later. Which one is your favorite (or least favorite)? What would you add to or change on this list?

For other Leadership Day 2012 posts, see the complete list of submissions and/or#leadershipday12.

My issues with BYOD

Firstly, let me state that I am an advocate for BYOD and anything else which gets more technology into the hands of learners so that it can be used *where appropriate* and that will also include some work to help SLT, Teachers and learners understand when it can be appropriate. As part of that I love to see the blog posts, articles, videos from folk at Microsoft, Google, Apple, Learning Without Frontiers and many, many more.

My first issue is around the shiny tech syndrome … the same issue that cropped up with IWBs and many other fantastic tools. You hear (or experience) a school saying “School A is using technology X and has fantastic results and we sort of understand why so *we* have to use it to!” and yes, I know this is a bit of a generalisation but we can all understand how it happens, the hard work folk involved have to put in to make it work as a result and that by some more careful thought it can be the success we all know it should be. This applies to so many different things in schools (and other sectors) so it is not just a technology thing. Having to think and plan about something can be mundane and boring but it can be, for your school, the thing that makes the difference. It is worth saying that not all schools need to plan as much as others … some schools have a culture of adaptability and innovation … and so can pick things up that bit quicker … going from a trial to full implementation with far less work, less planning, more trust between people involved (an important factor) and get wonderful outcomes. When trying to think of something to equate it to I tend to think how would a school deal with having to teach every lesson in song. If you think your school could adapt and change, very little training, understand the benefits … then this could be a sign you could go to BYOD with little educational pain.

And this gets to my second issue. BYOD and consumerisation of IT is wonderful. It puts good kit and tools in the hands of people who will make good use of it. There are barriers to this and some are practical, some are educational, some are technical and some are legal. This is where those schools who spend more time planing might be better off.

Let us deal with legal in this post … and this will not be a comprehensive list, will not form any sort of legal advice and should not be considered as a reason to go for BYOD or not to go for BYOD … merely a pointer for starting conversations with the relevant professionals who you would normally go to for advice and instruction (hopefully that covers my backside!) … so please take it as such. There are lengthy eSafety Law in Education discussions which can be had around the use of technology, online tools, walled gardens, etc and these should be considered. I cannot find a comprehensive list of what this involves other than schools should apply with the laws with regarding safeguarding … but I know that it will cover (and not a full list) The Education Act 1996, H&S legislation, Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, Common Duty of Care … as well as other legislation in place to deal with bullying, physical and mental harm.

And then you get onto what some regard as the mundane aspects of legislation … and whilst we have mentioned H&S already we do have to come back to that when we consider the problems some schools used to have with trailing wires in the early 1:1 laptop schemes … not so much of a problem now with mobile / handheld devices but not everyone will be bringing in iPads / Android tablets … there will be laptops, netbooks, ultrabooks … and devices will also need some charging during the day as learners forget to bring them in fully charged or as the battery slowly burns out. This also steps into the practical aspect so we can leave it there for the moment. The next bit is about security. As much as we might not like the idea, we have a responsibility to ensure that all the data, the personal information, the work created by staff and learners, the services that are provided in the school, the machines we work on each day and the devices we connect on the network are safe, secure and there will be no loss or damage.

When any device connects to a system there are both legal requirements and usually terms and conditions for that connection. With your phone it is the contract you sign and the law of the land. You are not allowed to disrupt communications, misuse data, use communications maliciously, etc as points of law. You then also agree a contract to say you will follow the rules of who you connect to … which includes the above laws (and more) and also things like the amount of data you can download / upload, damaging the name of the firm, etc … and in schools the contract *has* to be signed by the parent as a minor, as has been pointed out to me a few times recently, holds no or minimal legal power. To some extent this is similar to school rules though … but this means that you *have* to consider the damage which could be done. You might not allow some children to connect devices to the school systems due to previous actions in the same way you might not allow some children to use sharp knives in DT lessons due to the previous damage they had caused (which, technically, would be criminal damage and that is something you can hold against some children as a criminal offence … but how many schools do prosecute!)

So, we have covered the idea of a contract and that there are legal requirements for a safe system. This includes protection of data loss / damage, viruses, use of the school systems to launch attacks against other networks. As much as we might want to think that these should just be covered by who ever does your tech support … the buck stops with the Head and Chair of Governors. When schools have lost data and had to sign Undertakings with the ICO it is the head and Chair of Governors who have to do it … and it is their neck on the line for the fine and even jail.

I recently asked a group of schools about what laws they have to follow to run a school network, what standards are out there for this and who would they go to for advice. Majority of SLT put the onus on their IT Support (either in house or contracted) and even those who accepted that they could not devolve the responsibility (it is only ever shared) they had to accept the limitations of what they could reasonably manage to cover themselves.

Personally I would love to see a legal review of what it takes to run tech, including BYOD, in schools. It is worth saying that none of the above should put anyone off … just show them the areas that need dealing with and I hope to cover a few more areas (technical / practical) in the next posts.

A summary then. No matter how much we all want to focus on the inspirational benefits that BYOD brings, we also have to fact a few realities that it is like any other change a school faces. It has to be done for a good reason, has to be planned and has to take into consideration legal boundaries, operational requirements and a lot of the other boring stuff. Educational benefit is not a magic want that will sort or over-ride the other stuff … just a really good reason for putting the effort in to sort it in the first place.

So, what would folk like to see next?

A breakdown of managed wireless?

Dealing with proxies?

Day to day operation in schools?

I am open to ideas and information … I don’t have the answers and I am always looking for others to share what they have done so far and the lessons they have learnt.

Tech Support – By Schools, For Schools

I know some of you might already recognise the phrase including in the title, as it is a central tenet of the ICT Register, but the same ethos is wide spread within the education community. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about school staff getting together at TeachMeets, having in-depth discussions via twitter though things like #ukedchat, online communities such as EduGeek.net or more local groups such as NorthantsBLT the growing role of schools taking ownership of their advice and guidance and how they share it with others is a very important part of how schools need to react to recent changes which have come out of DfE.

Many of the above are free … well, when I say free I really mean that they are paid for by people and schools using their own time for the benefit of others because they get the same sort of response back, or it is a bit of educational philanthropy on the part of others. This is brilliant in many ways, but can make it difficult to plan for sustainability. Also, there is nothing wrong with paying for advice, guidance, ideas, expertise, etc. There is often a saying used, “you get what you pay for!” and this is very true. People forget that the payment is not always cold, hard cash, but time and your own expertise … and when time, expertise, capacity and ideas are running short then people face the reality that paying for something is almost inevitable.

And this is one of the areas where I think some schools do it wrong. It shouldn’t be that paying for something in cash is the last option, it should be considered an option from the very beginning when you are planning what you need, what your goals are, how your school will develop / deliver things like CPD, technical support, parental engagement, etc.

Technical Support is a perfect example of where failing to plan can result in staff in the school, both techie and teacher, having to scrabble around to find information and guidance. I have been preparing a number of reports around the use of Framework for ICT Technical Support (FITS) within Northamptonshire schools and conversations with schools who have staff trained and accredited against FITS has shown what a difference planning makes. Except that it doesn’t just stop at the school gates. A number of schools are actively involved in supporting other schools. This will range from Lodge Park Technology College being actively engaged with the ICT Register and Microsoft’s Partners In Learning, Sir Christopher Hatton School providing support on Microsoft training courses and technical support to local schools, Wrenn School providing technical support to local schools and staff being active in online communities such as EduGeek.net, and both The Duston School and Southfield School for Girls providing staff time and expertise to chair local working groups such as the Schools Broadband Working Group and NetworkNorthants (the local IT Community for technical staff in schools and school support providers). Some of this is for free (i.e. no charge to others) but some of it does have a cost and is well worth it.

Having another school cover your tech support or provide advice around it has some major benefits. This can range from educational understanding and expertise, through to experience of deploying some education specific technologies. Couple this with easy access for teachers to talk with teachers, SLT to talk with SLT, you can having a winning combination.

So I was please to see, over the weekend, a tweet from a friend on the south coast. Tim Dalton is the IT Consultant at The Wildern School, the school which runs its own TV Studio (BBC Schools Report), has previously run YouTube style services for other schools, has developed advice and guidance on using media technologies in schools … and much more. Tim put a tweet out letting his PLN know that they are doing it again, taking their expertise and bundling it up for others. This time it is is punnet; a support, development and advisory service for other schools. Whether it is hands-on, regular tech support, development of software and applications for schools or advice and guidance around classroom use of technology and school strategy, Wildern hopes to be able to cater for your needs.

Yet another example of By Schools, For Schools …

Do you have more examples? Are you involved in similar to the folk at punnet or the other schools mentioned? Have you spoken with other schools to share ideas, expertise, tools and goals? Go on … now is your chance.

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.

The James Review … what does it really mean for tech in schools?

The report is quite comprehensive in the breakdown of problems, but has to summarise some of them and it means some of the detail is missed. It also uses some language which misses out on opportunities to pin things down. It suffers from vagueness …

Although ICT is mentioned in a number of areas, a common theme that is expressed is that all capital investment needs maintenance and to be refreshed when appropriate. This is expected to be done, in principal, via revenue budgets for smaller amounts and DFC for larger amounts to a certain level. This means that the school should be able to quantify, if asked, how much it expects to have to pay each year for maintenance or refresh of the ICT infrastructure and facilities. It is hard to pin down whether software or ‘changeable’ assets could be included in here … that could be a good discussion over a pint some time in the future. This is where we get vagueness though … when it talks about maintenance / refresh it does not explicitly mention ICT as part of that. Some groups will use this to argue that ICT should never be considered as capital at any time and others that this says that it should. Perhaps some clarification would be nice on this.

Here are a couple of key things for you though … (mainly centred around part 2, but in particular 4.23 to 4.29)

The report talks about how local choice around building design (and this also means IT infrastructure) has often been a hold up, has meant that value for money hasn’t been achieved, that what was requested to be delivered by the leading person (eg the head) could be wasted as that person could have moved on by the time it is delivered. This is no different to one Network Manager coming in, setting things up *their way* and then, when they leave, their replacement starts to do things *their preferred way* meaning the school goes through change again. I’m not limiting this to just tech though … you get the same when a new HoD comes on board, a new site supervisor, a new chef in a kitchen … but schools need to make sure they have a long term plan and stick to it where they can.

The report also recommends that RBCs still exist, that they are changed to a more ‘price book’ style service where you only pay for what you want / need, 10Mpbs for primary schools and 100Mbps for secondary schools, that there should be more use and development of the existing public sector networks to make use of the existing investment as a way of delivering lots of services (including things such as BDUK). It also suggests that being a small school does not mean you use less bandwidth. In fact you might use more as you make more use of online resources to support the lack of specialisms/expertise within the school, and making more use of hosted solutions / services.

The ICT Services Framework should play a large part in any procurement, as should other large scale purchasing arrangements. Putting it bluntly, this means that for every chunk of kit you buy then you must check it against the same costs from BuyingSolutions. The only way the system will work is if people make use of it, and if they find they don’t get the best price from BuyingSolutions then they feed that back.

Other recommendations can also be seen that there should be central advice and procurement, and when that comes to the ICT section of new / rebuilt / refurbished schools, this should be for infrastructure only. It does not say what it considers to be infrastructure though… that worries me.

So … Managed services should not be a pre-requisite of any new building scheme, that the choice of desktop / systems should be down to the school, that there should be a plan to maintain IT infrastructure / assets and refresh it. On the flip side, the ICT services framework (which includes managed services) should be a serious option for all schools when they are considering how to spend their capital investment and how to maintain it. There is nothing wrong with schools have the same basic setup and then fine-tuning … having one person defining a vision or system is a risk …

One thing is clear though, there is a push to have more of a centralised role from a body. that can be DoE, it could be PfS … but the DoE has now taken on board the remnants of Becta. It has the infrastructure team and the safeguarding team, amongst others. The thing we don’t have yet is how the DoE is going to deliver their chunk of the Govt’s IT Strategy. This report *will* contribute to that, I hope!

So, for me the report covers some key problems and makes suggestions about how to deal with them. It agrees with some aspects of the Department’s present strategy (eg Free Schools) but also pushes on that things like RBCs are a good thing, that local authority involvement is still needed, that capital needs to be followed with enough money to cover maintenance and that relying on one person for a vision is not a good thing because they could move on.

A few notes on this then … the Harnessing Technologies grant was removed because there had been enough capital investment. Can we now see the money for the maintenance please? It wasn’t included in any budgets given to schools this year, even with ring-fencing being removed. And if we are talking about having one person making the decisions … then should we really have a politician (and this covers *any* politician from *any* party!) doing the vision / decision making around education? What happens if they move to another part of the Government? Just saying …

I’m sure I had some budget left?

Let’s face it … we have all had this thought in our heads at some point in the school year. We may have even said it out loud in front of the Bursar / Business Manager as we try to sneak an order in for something. We may be at the point of having to work out what we can’t do until the next financial year and hoping that we can at least do a little bit of what is needed, or buy essentials.

Well, I hate to break it to you but it is not going to get any easier. Whilst the CSR might have been reasonable to schools, you will find that the extra money will not come the way of any form of technology (I am not going to get into the political debate about whether there is actually an extra money. There will be for some and not for others … presume the worst, hope for the best!) This means that all those posts you might have read from Ray Fleming and Miles Berry are more relevant than ever.

If you haven’t read them then go and do so … don’t stop to read this drivel … read and read!!!

Oh … you are back … good show!

Where was I. Oh yes, budgets. All those out there who have a long term school development plan which take care of development of technology in the curriculum, how to fund it and when to change it please pass go and collect £200 … oh yes … there goes Paul Haigh and Mike Herrity … and a few more. Good to see you again chaps. And not forgetting Elaine Brent … actually … quite a steady stream of people going past now …

Ok, and let us see who is left. Ah … as I thought … still too many of you.

Let us see what we can do to deal with some of the problems. Have you looked at the LGfL/Becta Budget Planner? I know that it is a bit old, but still perfectly serviceable. You may have to use a bit of lateral thinking for virtualised servers and it doesn’t quite cover cloud services (not all of which are free) but it is a good starting point, and it will be a huge improvement on having nothing to help in planning your costs. There may even be someone who fancies putting this into a series of Google forms to help people in their planning, or it could be incorporated into your Sharepoint setup …

This is presuming that you know what kit you have got. I’m not going to start a rant again about inventories, configuration management databases, definitive software library … most people will have read my earlier posts about how important this is, how they are important to supporting FITS and how IT Support can struggle without them. There are plenty of good discussions on software to gather most of this for you, whether it is open sources (GPLi / OCS NG, etc) or built in with other tools (SSCM, NetSupport DNA, etc) and there are others out there with far more hands-on experience to review the software … so I will let you make up your own mind. Just remember that you cannot plan what you are going to use technology for, or look at what technology you need unsless you know where you are starting from.

And then we hit the big snag … not a small one … or even a middle sized one … but a dirty great big one that means you could have to delve into your god-like powers again. Surely you have heard the motto of the IT Manager who has stuff dropped on them days (or hours … or even minutes) before it is needed.

Miracles I can do today … for the impossible please give 24 hours notice … and some pizza … and coke … and chocolate … and a bit of time off afterwards … and did I mention the chocolate?

Yes, the White Paper means the goal posts are shifting once more. Some of you will be in schools who are not that bothered. You may have SLT who are strong enough to recognise that the goal posts always shift and so you adapt or just create your own … sticking two fingers up to the world of politicians and they know what they do is good for the kids. For others … you might find that the targets of the last few years (or perhaps the last few months) are now out the window.

The first thing I would recommend you do is to take stock of what you have (darn it … I’m talking about the inventory again) but not just the physical aspect … but the functionality too. What software have you got? Office suite? Stuff for graphics and art? CAD/CAM? Programming? Numeracy? Go on .. delve down into that long forgotten cupboard of old software and check the licences on them?

Now, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to try and find out what the educational need is for the school. Are the school going to change any of the courses they run? Perhaps drop Media or Music Technology (well … you didn’t need those Macs you were planning to buy, did you?) and concentrate on English and traditional music courses (let’s all get classical).

Well … some English courses are now very media laden, so check out about cross-over of kit. Did you know that those Macs you did buy for the fancy sampling also have tutorials for playing the piano? Why not look at things like GigaJam to make the use of them for teaching the local community to teach themselves keyboards, etc …

You get the idea … if you have a tool to do 1 thing then try to find 3 other things to do with it.

Projectors and IWBs … now I know IWBs have been round for ages but by teaching staff how to use it to save annotations from what they have been doing during that lesson (save as PDF, upload onto your VLE) then you can get revision materials created without having to get a heap of handouts printed out before the exam at the end of the unit / course … another cost saving there …

I think you get the picture now.

Find out what you have got.

Find out how it can be used.

Find out what changes the school plans to make.

Talk with people about making the most use of the kit.

Talk with SLT about buying stuff that will have the most impact for least money.

Be prepared for change … change is inevitable.

Do *You* Know A Technical Champion?

Last year, in Northamptonshire, we tried something slightly different. With all the work that goes on nationally through TeachMeets, Unconferences, and other alternative CPD events it was clear that there is so much educational expertise that doesn’t seem to stick its head above water too much. Now, we all know about the success which is EdGeek.net. It is fantastic to see them at BETT each year and I am the proud to be the only member who has been to every conference (it helps that I used to organise them, I suppose), but when I moved to the county council team it was hard to pinpoint exactly what benefit it gave the county.

There were a number of regular members who were absolutely fantastic and who went out of their way to help others … but the same was true of folk in the county who weren’t members. Since I was running the half-termly meetings for IT Managers and IT Support Providers I was able to see that the unconference style would not be the best thing in the world to bring everyone together … but what would? What really drives the technical community together? Other than ranting about users, the chance for free food and a some of use doing the stereotypical thing of speaking geek about the latest gadgets … what would help?

Well, continuing the group meetings was a start. In spite of it sometimes being the Tony Sheppard show there were frequent speakers from the schools, talking about implementing disaster recovery options, deploying windows 2008, tailoring the EMBC filtering for local control based on user-groups, layer 3 networks, purchasing and procurement, data protection, BCS, security …

But were there people out there who could make more of a difference? I definitely thought so … and still do … and so I looked at what funds I had available for projects and I put together a plan … a cunning plan … a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and … hmm … we are going into stereotypes again, aren’t we.

Let’s see what we can do to find the Über Network Managers … the people who are technically inspiring; who have a fantastic grasp of managing the impossible (remember folks, miracles we can do today, the impossible requires at least 24 hours notice!); who can communicate with children, staff, middle and senior leaders; who can check over a budget spreadsheet and find the erroneous double entry for an ink cartridge; who can provide a healthy discourse on Bloom’s Taxonomy and why it had to be converted for the digital world …

Where can we find this wondrous being?

Well, you can’t … or rather you can, if they are given a chance … and sometimes there is not a chance because the top people can still have to spend their time fire-fighting, bailing people out of stupid ideas and trying to do the impossible in *less* than 24 hours.

So what could I do to help them? Give them the knowledge and tools to help themselves, or even give them the time and recognition needed to fine-tune their existing skills. And so the idea of the Technical Champion was born. Someone who has been fast-tracked into a management scheme aimed at middle leaders, but from a technical angle. And where do I find a course for this? Can there be something out there that takes a healthy dose of service management, project management, change management and shoves it all together with some processes to get the ball rolling?

Yes … FITS does this and since I had been banging on about how it would be the bedrock for good practice across the county it was about time we had some folk with real experience of the training. So, we funded four Network Managers, joined by a member of staff from ULT and myself and a fellow NCC Harnessing Technologies Manager … we did both the practitioners’ and managers’ courses.

I now had a core of 5 people representing schools, who could either share their experience and expertise directly with other schools, or who would feed it to schools through me.There are case studies to be written up over the coming 3 months and still more work to do with them.

And so, a year later … I am now expanding the group. I am now funding 8 more Network Managers, IT Technicians and ICT Coordinators through the FITS Practitioner course, being mentored by some of the existing Technical Champions too. The themes this year will be Communication and Change Management. They will have their own Moodle-based community to discuss and plan things together.

And the really exciting thing? For me … there is very little work. Gone are the days when the LA adviser was the High Priest … we are not the fountain of all knowledge. Instead the expertise in each school is key. As much as I have a fairly big ego, I happily hold my hands up and say that my hands on knowledge on technology is not as up to date as those working on it each and every day.  Then again, there is no Network Manager who is an expert on every bit of technology out there … or an expert in how it can be used most effectively either.

It also helps if you remember that each school is slightly different and will respond to the same problems or requirements in different ways. Helping the group to understand how to be flexible is important too. The best way of doing that is to get them to share … but accept that there is no single ‘best way’ of doing something …

So, the deadline for applications for the next group is Friday 29th October. We already have more applicants than places and so each applicant (who already has the support from their school) will have to write a short pen portrait of themselves and say what they will bring to the group. The existing Technical Champions will make the final decision and the FITS Training will be in December.

What does this have to do with areas outside of Northamptonshire though? Well, I am pretty sure that we all know someone who could be a Technical Champion. They might be a regular on EduGeek, they might be someone who is a key figure in your local LA IT forum / meetings, they might be someone who always gets calls and emails from others for advice and pointers, it could be they are a regular blogger, it could be that they are a community figure who develops things for free …

I know that I can’t fund people to go on FITS training, but I would still like to hear from you if you think you are, or could be, a technical champion. This is not replace any other forum, group, website, etc … this is just to try and link together a core group of like minded people who would be interested in generating some case studies, sharing some experiences and helping each other with a little constructive criticism.

The Perils and Pitfalls of being ‘The Block’ to learning & teaching

Once again I fall into the role of the fervent defender of the blighted IT Support teams in schools. As much as I enjoyed a good argument (oh no you don’t!) there are times when I feel that the word compromise is missing from the vocabulary of some people.

In a short break from the course I am on at the moment I picked up a tweet to a blog post from our friend Spannerman2.
It makes for good reading and raises an important points about IT and ICT & Computing as subjects, about the lack of subject specialism in teachers of these subjects and about the amount of effort which goes into running (& locking down) a school network.

It does, however, throw stones. I don’t think stone throwing is any good at the moment in education. It just generates a lot of people pointing their fingers and saying, “you are doing it wrong!” without any ideas or support for getting it right.
In conversations on EduGeek.net there have been ideas shared about how you can make things more manageable and flexible on a school network, about how you can give freedom to staff and students, about how to manage situations better and stop the ‘them & us’ perception which can be the stimulus to things getting out of hand when there is the slightest problem.

So here are a few ideas. First we will have the objectives … the school needs computers systems. It needs three types of systems really.

Let us cover the easy one first. We want a system that allows for the running of a school, the day-to-day stuff of administration, the ordering of toilet roll for the toilets, the paying of staff, keeping records on students … you know the sort I mean. It used to be that this network was kept as separate as possible from everything else. It had to be … it holds sensitive data, it needs to have careful controls over who can do what with it … both legally (DPA) and for audit reasons. However, more and more senior leaders have realised that this network holds some really valuable and vital information. Stuff that can make a difference in the way teachers operate in the classroom … and teachers also need to add to this information too. So that means it has to overlap with the other systems in the school. Problem number 1 arises, but we will come back to this one.

System number two is the one used by teaching staff to deliver what they do, day in, day out. Teaching. I don’t want to turn this into a ‘them & us’ post … I never do … and sometimes people have to remember that those most likely to read my blog from the teaching community are those most likely to understand and want to push what tech they have … in fact, the people who are the cream, those who have risen to the top … but try to remember that there are those who can do *some* of the things that you do and are learning fast … but there are also those who struggle … not just with tech, but with classroom management, with change in general … and I am thinking about *all* staff in schools. A single solution is not always the best thing … having one setup for all staff … only giving limited access to doing stuff … but the problem is that at the moment it takes time and investment to give a more flexible system for staff. There are little things which can be done, like giving rights to install software on their laptops, giving more relaxed filtering … perhaps not even ‘filtering’ as such, but just logging what is used on the internet (remember folks … audit trails!) But what happens when a laptop is brought back in to the IT team to be fixed because something they downloaded at home seems to have broken stuff (after they have turned off the anti-virus or stopped it from downloading updates or running scans) … and that is if you are lucky and they don’t just plug it into the network and infect other computers where teachers have also turned off the antivirus too … and so you have to fix their machine. You might need a spare laptop or two so that they still have a machine to use in the classroom (back to investment again) and then there is the time and staff to fix it. Problem 2 appears … planning for the inevitable workload that comes with either building systems to deal with having to fix problems like this or having to do it on a case by case basis.

And so we go on to system 3 … the most problematic because you are having to cover three conflicting needs. The student workstations / laptops. Here you have to think about what software is needed, who gets to choose that software, pay for it, develop resources for teaching using it or even for teaching the software itself (either the skills / concepts or the specific software … that argument is for another day) … and then let us think about that touchy area of classroom management. I don’t like people blaming technology when it is being used as substitute for classroom management … I’ve spoken about how filtering gets abused this way before and the same applies to locking down the desktop, turning off the ability to right-click, where things can be saved … it all boils down to how much disruption in the classroom the teachers can handle, the amount of effort which is needed to fix problems that arise and so on … So we get to Problem 3 … and this *is* aimed at the teachers who might read this blog. COMPROMISE. Oh, that was also aimed at the Techs too.

So what happens when we need these 3 systems to overlap … or even be the same system?

I would love to say that this is a perfect solution out there … but there isn’t. It will *have* to vary from school to school purely due to the nature of each school, the emphasis each school might choose to put on classroom control, on how much investment the school puts into different aspects of IT, what technology gets used, the strength of things like Web 2.0 tools, of VLEs, of email, of using data straight from the MIS … so many factors that *no-one* can give a single system that will suit everyone.

Instead … how about thinking a little more about how you are going to get to where you want to go. I can guarantee that the end system you want cannot be delivered overnight and be usable by everyone without considerable pain … so you are likely to have to do things in steps. These steps have to be done with compromise and I’m going to say my usual mantra … Change Management!

So … let us think about something that gets raised a lot at the moment. The introduction of student owned devices (yes … I know I have avoided mentioning the learners themselves … more below) can be considered in a few stages, some technical, some pedagogical. If you are going to introduce this sort of system then yes, you will have to segregate it from system 1 … the stuff you have to legally protect. A typical way of doing this would be by having a ‘dirty’ wireless network … a separate WLAN that is only used by students, *may* have some restrictions on it … but will give them access to the internet at the bare minimum (even if you choose not to filter then at least log it). You then have to consider how it will be used in the classroom. Will it be used in conjunction with a VLE? Online stuff such as Live@Edu or Google Apps? How will you ensure that the iPad is being used for work and not just to watch stuff on iPlayer? GameCentre? The netbook is not being used to just hog the school internet connection to pull down pirated video or software? Or the laptop used for chatting on IRC, tweeting about what they got up to last night or on facebook poking their mate in the class next door? The same way that it used to be notes on pieces of paper, or ‘interesting’ magazines shared by some of the boys (actually, both of those still happen too) now there is a new range of things to distract the learner …

One way of dealing with this is by using the student wireless network to force the student to log into the school terminal server system (various solutions are available to do this via a website) and so that they can use their own device in the school but with some element of control by the teacher / techie / school.

There is still another way … the idea of privilege, of use versus abuse. And this is where we talk to the learner. They can make some of the best and worst suggestions and decisions you can come across. It might be that they want the system to allow them to do nearly everything, but on the understanding that if it is abused that they get locked down. Hmm … that might even work in conjunction with other polices the school has? Wow … revolutionary concept?

It might be that the desktops are set to be rebuilt each night … so that if the students do mess things up then it is not a problem. It might be that you have systems that go back to a baseline after each log-off. you can do almost anything … but there has to be a reason to do it, it has to be a balance between what is possible, what is practical and what delivers some sort of benefit.

So … there we go … a start … I’ve already prodded a few of the detractors to techies locking things down or wanting to drop working systems to go to Open Source based purely on ethical principle rather than education need or practicality … if they want to change then I want to see a range of options and some sort of roadmap about how to adopt it, both technically and pedagogically. “Just because…” is not a suitable answer. I might want to put studded tyres on my little Smart car just because … you never know, we might get heavy snow tonight … it might become fashionable … it might mean I can drive over an ice rink to drop off James Bond to do a bit of bomb disposal and save the world … or it might tear up a recently resurfaced road … cost me a fortune to buy and get fitted the new tyres.

So … a start … let us see how it goes from here.

Sharepoint Articles

This week will see a few blog posts go up.

First will be one already writte, exploring a bit more about sharepoint and web 2.0, next will be talking about why we filter emails and what impact the management of it can have, then finally I will be asking around about how different people feel about the different between hosted and local solutions for sharepoint.

It should be a busy week of meetings as well (when is it not) but I hope to squeeze all three items in.

BETT 2010

It isn’t that long until BETT 2010 and I am in the fairly novel position for me of having some time on my hands. In previous years I have been running the EduGeek Technical Help Point, been assisting on stand such as the ICT Register or Lapsafe … or had a steady stream of suppliers to catch up with in a limited period of time because I am only down for a single day.

This year I am down 3 of the 4 days, and all of the evening events, and am still pretty open for catching up with people. So I have decided to plan out my days and evenings here … and perhaps people who would like to catch up with me (or me with them) can at least arrange it via this blog or check on whether I am around when *they* are free.

Wednesday

Time Location Activity People
Pre-10.30 Press Launch Finding out what is happening at BETT 2010
10.30-12 Grand Hall Looking at stands for ideas
12-1 Grand Hall – G89 : EduGeek Technical Help Point Eating Pizza
1-3 National Hall Looking at stands for ideas
3-5 Grand Hall Looking at stands for ideas
5-late Apex Room TEDxOrenda

Thursday

Time Location Activity People
9-5 Northampton Training Course
7-late Apex Room Amplified

Friday

Time Location Activity People
Pre-10.30 Outside Olympia Meeting those coming down on LP+ sponsored coaches
10.30-12 E46 – Learning Possibilities Talking with people about the uses of Sharepoint in education
12-1 Grand Hall – G89 : EduGeek Technical Help Point Eating Pizza
1-2 Microsoft Stand Heckling Ray Fleming
2-3 Grand Hall Cafe Catch up with people Ray Fleming

Mike Herrity

Tony Parkin

3-4 E46 – Learning Possibilities Talking with people about the uses of Sharepoint in education
4-5 E46 – Learning Possibilities Talking with people about the uses of Sharepoint in education
5-late Apex Room TeachMeet / Teach Eat / Share Pint

Saturday

Time Location Activity People
Pre-10.30 EduGeek Breakfast Gossipping
10.30-12 Grand Hall Freebie hunting
12-1 Grand Hall – G89 : EduGeek Technical Help Point Eating Pizza
1-5 G89 – Technical Help Point Saturday Giveaway
5-late Local Curry House EduGeek wind down