Tag Archives: innovation

The Importance of School Domains

With the every changing world of technology and education we all understand that nothing stands still. With more and more schools becoming Academies, buying a variety of services from a plethora of providers and having direct control of the funds to buy these, schools are generally more discerning about their presence on the World Wide Web.

This change of stance can result in websites which engage with parents and learners, improved communication systems and better marketing with the local community.

One of the frequent changes you see is around the choice of domain name a school will use. Traditionally, schools would use a domain based on their name, the geographical Local Authority they are in (but not always part of) and a tail of .sch.uk to identify them as a UK School, eg blogs-pri.dookland.sch.uk.  This domain is allocated to them by Nominet, is linked to the DfE number of the school and belongs to the school.

Sometimes you will hear that the domain belongs to the Council / LA and this is not altogether true. The domain belongs to the school, but might be controlled by the LA as part of delivery of services (eg over an RBC) or has previously been managed by the LA on behalf of the school, via the LA tech support team. Schools can ask for the domain to be transferred to a Registrar of their choice and can have someone manage the associated DNS.

Some schools chose not to use their .sch.uk domain. This could be because of the above myth meant they registered a new domain when leaving an LA service, they might not like the long URL or email addresses it can give, it can be down to a marketing / PR choice or it might simply be personal preference of a member of Senior Leadership / technical staff.

There are a few important things to remember about your choice of domain though. Firstly, the ends of domains, that is to say the generic Top Level Domains (gTLD) such as .com, .net, or country specific / country-code TLDs (ccTLD) such as .co.uk and .org.uk, have a specific purpose and identify the type of business or organisation you are. These domains are register for a period of time and have to be re-registered on a regular basis. They are open to dispute by other groups of the same name and you can even find conflicting domains ([schoolname].com and [schoolname].org) being used by different schools, or even by commercial or charitable organisations with a better claim to the domain than the school.

Some companies and organisations will try to capture all related domains so that this problem is dealt with, but schools often forget that they have the .sch.uk domain which they have left fallen by the wayside.

Your .sch.uk does not lapse, it is free, it can only be controlled by your school, it cannot be grabbed by a former student with an axe to grind and it doesn’t have to be your principle domain.

At the moment I recommend schools, which are choosing a different domain as their principle domain, to keep hold of their .sch.uk domain. If you are swapping email services then this extra domain can usually sit in the background so emails to the old addresses still reach their original recipients. Websites can have a CNAME record to redirect your .sch.uk domain to your preferred domain.

Generally, there is no excuse for not keeping the old domain other than wanting to have a ‘clean break’, or you make use of services which do not allow for other options. If this is the case then you need to consider the impact of lost emails, irregular communications which might get missed, etc.

A few hours of work now can save you days of trouble later on. Go on, be proud to let people know you are still a school … that is what .sch.uk is there for after all.

Internet Safety Talking Point 2

This is my latest blog post based on Scott McLeod’s 26 Internet Safety Talking Points.

Over the next few weeks I am looking at each point to tease apart the ideals behind them, to try to see both sides of the discussion and to share examples about who others have work on the issues. A lot of this will be from a UK-centric position but hopefully it will provide some insight into the similarities and differences with our friends in other countries.

Today’s point is about Decision Making

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.

To use technology you should have a reason, understand what you want it to do and also understand how you can measure whether it is achieving it or not.

Oh dear … this sound like we are going to talk about planning again.

In the past a number of choices about technology have been a little chicken and egg with what has been used. There have been pilot projects or innovative schools who have gone out and done something interesting with new or emerging technology. The technology has inspired them to try something new and when it has worked you then find research to look into it on a wider scale. This is where folk like Becta came in … as well as groups such as the Association of Learning Technology, NAACE, Besa and so on. They took the research to the next level, either as partnerships with schools, those doing the research, with suppliers or as the controller of funds (or any combination) … resulting in ring-fenced funds to allow schools and LAs to implement a given technology.

So the idea that the technology should be based on your choice has not always been the way it should have been, but it was usually instigated based on good practice and research. How will it was implemented is then debatable and how much that removed control and decision making from individual schools is another point some will raise.

But where does the technology coordinator (NM, ICT Coordinator, LA Technology Manager) sit in this? To some extent they might have chosen the specific technology based on available funds, with a certain set of features, but the pedagogy behind it all should be pretty agnostic and be able to use whatever is provided. An IWB is an IWB … and whilst specific software might have benefits over other solutions the idea of it being used by learners is common … it is just the method which might change. The arguing point against this is around wireless tablets connected to projectors (removing the requirement for the learner to come to the front of the class … an important feature in some schools with learners who do not engage when in front of their peers) or the ‘add-on’ tools such as voting systems (actually a separate technology in their own right but can work well with IWBs).

The other arguing point around this is about policies and strategies. I hate to say it but there is a little thing called the law. In fact it is the Law. It deserves the capitalisation. And this varies across the world. There are many things which educationally would seem to be perfect decisions but are then put on hold or stopped because the NM / Tech coord / etc says no. This is not done lightly, nor is it done without consideration for what benefits will be lost and it is usually done with some attempt at compromise. Areas where there will be clashes ranging from safeguarding, copyright and intellectual property, data protection and information management, funding and classroom management. A good NM will educate you about these (if you are not up to speed) and will work with you to get the most out of tech … but they are frequently the gatekeeper as to what tech you can use because they have the knowledge about the bits which will cause problems. In the same way you have people to tell you not to try blowing up the science lab (in spite of how much fun it was when we were at school to see people do experiments that blackened the ceiling), or have people who tell you not to use certain classrooms due to them falling down … you have people who will say not to use certain technologies in certain ways. I’ll discuss the legal side of this in a later post … but just try to believe that a good NM is talking these into account and advising Senior Leaders, classroom teachers, office staff, parents, learners, local community and the random people who ring up the school because of things you post on the internet.

Yes, the Technology Coordinator works for you, but part of that job is choosing or helping to choose appropriate technology and keeping you safe. Don’t give them a job and then tell them they can’t do it!

On the other side, your NM should not keep things as a dark art and be the only person making choices. Any choices made should be clearly explained and, as per the last blog post, show where they are held accountable. Likewise the choice of technology should not force you down a particular educational route, but it can be an inspiration for doing something different. Be aware of the differences and look at the early adopters to see what they did and what worked / failed.

Internet Safety Talking Point 1

In my last blog post I republished Scott McLeod’s 26 Internet Safety Talking Points.

Over the next few weeks I am looking at each point to tease apart the ideals behind them, to try to see both sides of the discussion and to share examples about who others have work on the issues. A lot of this will be from a UK-centric position but hopefully it will provide some insight into the similarities and differences with our friends in other countries.

Today’s point is about responsibility and accountability.

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.

This raises an important point. With great power comes great responsibility, and there is a group in schools who have a lot of power. Whatever you might think of your Network Manager or Technician, of your LA Support Manager or even the Academy Technical Director (I will generically use the term NM to cover these and similar positions), how they have gained power / ownership / responsibility / control will be so varied it would take several posts to pinpoint which applies to your case. We would also end up talking about stereotypes and pigeon-holing people.

In reality it is rarely for it to be one reason as to why a single person might be making major decisions which affect a wide range of people, and it would be wrong to always assume malice, arrogance, superiority complexes on their part. It would also be wrong to assume the ignorance of senior managers in schools, apathy of staff, poor funding and poor communication. However, I am sure all of the above would sound familiar to many.

Instead, let us look at the idea of responsibility and accountability.

Yes, the NM is likely to be the expert in the field as to what technology can work, how it can work, how to support it and so on, but the requirements which set out what technology is needed should not be set out by a single person, but by a group of stakeholders working out what is best for the school (or schools if part of a larger group). This involves planning, communication, compromises, compliance (with laws, local and school policies, etc) and it will require targets / outcomes. This is where the oversight and accountability comes in … and it doesn’t just apply to the NM. It is needed … and should be in place.

And this is where we hit a number of problems.

Firstly you might be in a school where there is no communication, planning, team-working, etc and so someone has to effectively be a visionary, trying to guess what is needed or to lead on the choice of technology, almost in a single-minded way as nothing would happen without this. This can effectively place all the power and control with a single person with no oversight. This is not specifically their fault, and Scott’s point, in my eyes, appear to be a shout out to Senior Leaders in schools to wake up, stop relying on a single person and to make it more of a team effort … not a call to snatch back power from someone else.

Within the UK there is a standard for IT Support (based on industry standards) called FITS. This clearly sets out how the NM, Senior Leaders and other stakeholders can establish the targets, hold people accountable for delivering on projects / work and set out the standards by which systems will work, how changes will be decided and managed, how choices of technology can be made and how this can be measured against the desired impact.

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.

—————–

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.

Early Adoption – do you plan?

It is wonderful to continue to hear about people eager to look at the latest technology and see what a difference it makes in schools … and as an avid early adopter I do have to urge a note of caution at times … even to myself.

It has been interesting to catch up with a few others who are trying out iOS 6 and also having some fun playing / learning about the Raspberry Pi … but the best thing I have seen recently has been around Windows 8, the next system from Microsoft. If you haven’t had a recent read of the Microsoft UK Schools Blog recently then I suggest you pop over to look through the last couple of posts.

With the release of Windows 8 all very imminent it is no surprise that this appears to be a hot topic but I’ll let you into a little secret … I am pretty sure that no-one is expected to have it all up and running for when schools start back in a few weeks. In spite of a lot of access to release previews, healthy discussions on technical sites, serious cogitation by hardware manufacturers … the main point for me has been about awareness raising about what the change to a new system might mean.

If we take the post about chances to learn about Windows 8 then we can see that there are plenty of chances to look at development on Windows 8 (good for those involved in Computing@School) as well as a chance to look at curriculum resources. There is a free eBook available about programming apps on Windows 8 and making your network ready for Windows 8, but the best blog post for me has been the report from IDC about why you should move on from Windows XP.

From an IT Management point of view it is always interesting to see someone stick down figures around how much effort goes into managing and maintaining IT systems. Any form of change, regardless of whether it is for IT or anything else, will also incur a cost. It could be in capital costs (in IT this could be licences, hardware, etc), training, expertise or simply staff time. Balancing out whether you continue with the status quo or invest in making a move is sometimes a difficult choice but the above report from IDC really does hammer out that if you are still using XP now then you need to plan what you are going to do in the near future. They are not saying that you should jump now, but it does give you ammunition to start planning.

In schools this is vital as, no matter how much IT Support plan, it has to go hand-in-hand with how the school will deliver the curriculum, how the school will make use of IT to run on a day to day basis and also how the children respond to the change.

A lot of people have been looking at tablets in education, primarily iPads, and this is another good reason to start looking at what you are doing with technology. The arrival of Windows 8 will allow for schools to consider using iOS, Android, Windows 8 or any combination of the above. Change is inevitable … and it is better to look at it and ride the wave than crash and burn when someone demands something that is not going to work!

And this is the point where the innovators and early adopters are hitting a brick wall. I can remember listening to Ewan McIntosh tweeting that project management stifles innovation … and I can agree with this, because it is hard to push the boundaries of what you can do with tech when you can’t get access to it.

And this is the point where the planners, budget holders and senior leaders raise their head and ask about making sure money invested is done so wisely, that people don’t buy a lot of white elephants (we could dedicate a website to the amount of tech which is bought but never really used) and that what is bought and used actually has an impact and isn’t just there because it is a toy, a plaything, something shiny or because everyone else is using them.

And so we have to get to a compromise.

Early adopters need to have access to tech and they need to try things out. Systems in schools need to allow for some of this to go on but also to hold people accountable for what they are doing.

The report from IDC say that schools need to look at change. It shows that cost of keeping to the status quo (which will rise) and it gives a chance for people to start having ideas about what they need to do in the future. From chatting with various sources working on Windows 8 in education it is clear that testing things with OEM tablet manufacturers will be a good thing to do, running pilots in collaboration with other schools to look at Windows 8 devices, iOS devices and Android devices, comparing the ideas against earlier research on Windows Tablet devices (remember that tablets in education is nothing new … perhaps just improved) and then deciding how to adapt what you do with technology.

With Windows 8 coming out soon and the raft of devices it will generate (including the Microsoft Surface), the ever changing flavours of Android and the upcoming release of iOS6 from Apple … there will be a lot to try and there will be a lot of cross-over between all the different option.

(image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/5018415361/)

Is Change Really That Hard?

I’m going to let you all into a little secret. Technologies changes.

Phew … thank goodness I was able to get that one off my chest. It has been eating me up ever since I got involved in technology in education all those years ago!

Ok, tongue firmly in cheek but you would be surprised the looks I get when I say that. People will start with tales of woe and regret from where they have seen schools to scared to change, failing to plan to change, or constantly changing for no discernible reason.

Talking with many IT Support colleagues I tend to hear anecdotes where a school has failed to plan for change and set suitable targets for measuring the impact of the change. We all know that some change is inevitable and outside of our control, such as the demise of support for an operating system or the end of a period of warranty.

Recent changes from both Apple and Microsoft seem to be strongly discussed right now, whether when I visit schools, on twitter, blogs or EduGeek.net. Yet there is a lot of information out there to support schools with the changes which are coming in or are already available.

For Microsoft, the big change hitting schools right now is the advent of Office365. As well as the benefits you can get from the existing Live@Edu service there are other features including LyncOnline and SharepointOnline. The questions I tend to see at the moment are technical and operational so I usually point people to the UK Education Cloud blog or to people like James Marshall (@Jamesbmarshall on twitter and EduGeek.net), but I really wanted to highlight a set of training videos for those dealing with the technical setup more than anything else. If you haven’t been following the UK Education Cloud blog then have a look at this post.

Where Can I Get Office 365 For Education Deployment Training?

And then we get those facing the prospect of putting in more to their Apple ecosystem. The growth of iPads / iPods in schools has been a drive for this and rather than get involved in the argument about whether this is a good thing or bad thing, I want to be pragmatic with helping people realise that if the kit is being purchased then you have to get on a deal with it.

I tend to recommend that schools work with an Apple Solutions Expert as this can give access to best practice, links in with Apple Distinguished Educators to ensure that education is central to the project and also to think about getting the right level of expertise with the school support staff or from contractors you bring in. As part of this I want to point people to the range of seminars that Apple now run online..

https://edseminars.apple.com/seminars/ are a little US centric but can be invaluable for when working with partners to deploy Apple solutions.

There are plenty of good CPD events out there available for people looking to change how the technology is deployed or used within their school, both on a technical and educational level. These will range from weekly Google Hangout sessions with the likes of Leon Cych, the educational chats on twitter, course run via VITAL.AC.UK or simply spending time reading threads on EduGeek.net.

If change is going to happen … no … scrap that … *when* change is going to happen then you should be ready, have a plan and see how much it makes a difference.

And the winner is … iOS6

Today was another peak in the circus of an Apple Fanboi!

The Apple World Wide Developer Conference always has some interesting things to see and today’s keynote was no different. There will always be some hype, some disappointment, some pragmatism and some anger … and different people will feel it about different things, even within the realm of Apple Fandom.

To be honest, there was nothing which was too unexpected. We saw some hardware improvements in the Pro notebook range, tweaks in the consumer (albeit expensive consumer) notebook range and a some other hardware updates didn’t make it into the keynote but have come up on the Apple Store. Until we see the new kit in the hands of testers and real people it is hard to say what difference they will make but two key items on the top end MacBookPro are likely to be spoken about a bit … access to 2 Thunderbolt ports give you high speed I/O to a range of devices, from displays, external RAID enclosures, adapters for Gigabit Ethernet / Firewire 800 / fibre channel and a range of capture devices … and you still have a HDMI port for a second display and video output anyway. Couple that with the Retina Display and you have a device for video editors, photographers and so on … giving them one of the best graphics experiences for seeing their work. Of course, the debate goes on about whether some people can notice the difference with screens of this high calibre, and whether this is a marketing gimmick … and so we will have to wait to see what it is like when people start using the machines in anger.

We saw a raft of features spoken about with Mountain Lion, the next incarnation of OS X (no longer even called Mac OS X … a disappointment to those of us who paid for the original Mac OS X Beta). A number of these have been covered before as we are now on Preview Release 4. The strength which appeared to be taken from the new features seemed to be the accessibility tools (dictation, etc) and the portability of your personal settings to other devices. We have already seen the push for iCloud and how this links with Photostream between your devices … and this increase with iMessage, Notes, Reminders, Sharing and so on …

The key areas I am looking at with Mountain Lion are around AirPlay and Notification Centre. As someone who has a lot of inbound information streams there are some tools I use to manage this, but Notification Centre looks as if it could make a big difference for me.

And then we get onto the area that everyone was waiting for … iOS6.

With no formal announcement of an iPhone5 we are all looking to see what the new OS will do on existing hardware. Although we were told it would work on legacy devices back to iPhone 3GS, 4th gen iPod Touch, the iPad 2 and the new iPad (and yes, that is how Apple term it on their site) we do not know how much of the functionality will work. Siri will work on the new iPad we are now told, but will it work on the iPad 2? I doubt it … in the same way it doesn’t work on an iPhone4. A lot of the updates make more sense for the iPhone and iPod touch than the iPad. Moving from Google to Apple’s own Map service, Passbook for holding electronics tickets for cinema, flights, etc (possibly a lead into Near Field Communications [NFC] for using an iPhone for payment services?), improvements in how you manage incoming phone calls and notifications (it has only taken them a few years) … but the accessibility improvements have also seen me amazed that Apple appear to have really understood a need on the iPad. Enabling a parent / carer / teacher to only allow one app on a device as well as restricting touch input on particular parts of the screen seem to be encouraging using iOS devices with children. Engaging them whilst not overloading them.

An area of concern is the increasing integration with Facebook … as much as I generally trust Apple we are now in the situation where the ever changing preferences on Facebook will also have to deal with how that is applied with iOS too.

There is a lot to take on board with it all and I would recommend people watch Tim Cook take the keynote, if nothing else to see the difference between him and Steve Jobs, as well as a lengthier demonstration of all of the above.

As for what it all means for schools and education …

Hardware – Apple personal computers (desktop / laptop) are expensive. They can work out good value if you buy the one which is right for your requirements and you know how to get the most out of them, but in the present times of austerity this is more and more difficult. It seems to be that more schools are going down the mobile device (iOS or Android … and eventually Windows 8 !) and this is understandable. The lack of a decent server in the Apple hardware range does show that management of any Apple Device is not taken that seriously (IMHO) by the folk at Cupertino. A disappointing comment to make, but one many experienced Mac Sysadmins would agree with.

Mountain Lion – Again, the lack of mention of how the Server tools will work means that it will be interesting to see how the devices fit into a school environment. The increased emphasis on a personalised device, with settings and information following you around via Apple’s iCloud, means that there could be clashes in an education environment. The major bonuses for me come in the way of Airplay as a means of ditching the Interactive Whiteboard (until you are ready to make the most of them) and tools such as Dictation.

iOS – Again, the emphasis on a personalised device does work well with BYOD, but the increasing number of schools I speak with who only see the shiny nature of it or the cost cutting side … iOS6 will do little to improve or support the use of BYOD over iOS5. Until we look at the management tools and what settings can be applied to encourage best use of the devices … then we should still plan on making the most of iOS5. Siri is a major improvement, but like all information services (google search, wikipedia) information on its own does not give you understanding and knowledge … so we have to understand the most appropriate use (teachers before technology folks). Accessibility will be an interesting area to work on and develop, and how we make the most of personal devices as a tool and not as a cheap (or expensive) gimmick to generate engagement for the sake of it.

I am trailing Mountain Lion on my work MacBookPro (starting to get on a bit but should be serviceable) and will put my thoughts on this blog as I discover things I like or loathe, or if I spot things that could be fun in the classroom, or things which could help a teacher or SLT change / improve their working life.

I will also be testing iOS6 on an iPad2 (my own one) to see what apps do and don’t work, to try to see if we can lock it down and tweak settings, and to see if there are restrictions on some functionality … hopefully helping people work out whether they need to go for the new iPad or if they can get away with a cheaper iPad 2.

If you have any particular areas you want me to test or try out then let me know. You lot are going to be more inventive than I am for a lot of this because you are pushing the limits in class already.

Opening up your options…

In these days of strain budgets, restricted investment and and tough decisions we have a bit of a bidding war to get the attention of schools. With Google Apps for Education being heavily pushed through grass roots and national projects we now see some of the counter-blow from Microsoft.

It was interesting to see today the report on the Microsoft UK Schools Blog, about the announcement from Kirk Koenigsbauer – Microsoft Office Division, which looks at changes to the price plan and offerings with Office365. In the UK we tend to still view it as Live@Edu  as the changes to Office365 had not really hit us here. The price plans have been a concern to some schools in various countries, especially when they start comparing them to other offerings out there which come out as no licence / subscription cost. It appears that Microsoft have listened to this.

The previous price plan meant there a was some cost for staff and if you wanted the extra tools then there was a cost for staff and students. Now, the A2 plan is free. This gives you the email and calendars, online storage, online share point, online web apps, IM and presence … and with it you now get Lync for video conferencing. Yes, there are still other add-ons which will have a cost, such as integration with your PBX, voicemail and so on.

This now puts it back into real contention with schools and I can even see a variety of specialists now offering to help deliver this into schools in a similar manner you get certified teachers / trainers with Google. Add branding, integration with your school Directory Services, pre-designed SharePoint templates … all of which you can do yourself, of course … and it becomes an interesting prospect.

So, what could be the downside. There are still questions about integration with your AD, as there is a cost for FIM I believe, and from a DM I had on twitter I am not sure about where it fits with EES. For many schools these will be moot points, but it could be a swing factor for a small number.

Overall … a good thing, but be prepared for fans of both Office365 and Google Apps to swing into action with why their preferred solution is the best thing. The key is to look at the differences and see which is most important to you.

The Dark Arts of Twitter

There is a strange means of communication which has arisen over time, drawing from the days of yore where the cackle and banter of the gossip competed with the holler of the Town Crier, when word of mouth was the key to the support or demise of whatever plan happened in the village … except we are now a global village and word of mouth is as fast as you can type. Within education circles it has meant people have been able to connect, discuss and share with a wider range of contacts than ever before. In political movement we see the support for uprisings in the Middle East, within modern culture we see new artists and musicians hitting a wider audience and for the news agencies … they rarely beat twitter to the story, even if they do usually get more of the facts right (back to gossip again, I’m afraid). Most of this is with the aid of other aspects of Web 2.0 and social media … whether it is blogs or youtube, uStream or Instagram.

But where does this leave me and twitter? Well, I have said it is a dark art … and whilst for many they would read that as the art of making an impact, for me it is simply the art of managing followers, conversations and ideas.

I am lucky enough to be following over 2900 people. I am, in turn, followed back by 2635 followers. And this is where we hit the first problem. Twitter, for very valid reasons, limit the amount of people you can follow. If they didn’t you could hog their lines and follow unlimited numbers … and so you have to earn the right to follow a lot of people. Twitter set a limit of 2000 followers and explain why in detail and to follow more you have to be followed in return. There also seems to be some formula (it used to be mentioned in the twitter help) which also looks at the number of replies you get, times you are RTed, RTs you make and so on … which leaves me in the position that whilst I have a significant following (I am no @stephenfry admittedly) I also follow a heck of a lot of people … and I frequently hit the limit when trying to follow back others.

I was asked why I would follow someone one who doesn’t follow me back, because surely that would solve the problem. That is fine, except I also follow a number of ‘broadcast’ tweeters. automated tweets from blogs in schools (I would not expect them to follow back as they do not need to), big name tweeters (@stephenfry and @mrsstephenfry are a fantastic partnership), company twitter accounts, noted folk from within education (I’m just grateful they allow me to see what is sometimes protected accounts) and also some people who, whilst I might like to see their tweets, have no real interest in my tweets … which can be a tad varied as to what they cover and I do tend to RT a fair bit … which some view as spam.

So, I am always going to follow more people that I have followers … and I will always hit a limit as to how many I can follow as a result. The simple answer has been to have a 2nd account, a ‘read-only’ account, where I can follow those broadcast tweeters and generally just keep up to date on what they are doing or search the stuff they have been tweeting. I have moved more over today and if these accounts do follow me I have sent a DM to explain why the swap … and have asked them to keep following my main twitter account too. I still can’t follow all the people I want to, even from those who follow me, but I am getting there. When I do hit my limit I then suffer from the problem that should one of my followers decide to drop me then I do not fit into the formula … and twitter seems to drop one of the people I am following … but it is a random person … I have no control and it most appear that I am bizarrely snubbing them (in fact I have had a few people who it has happened to use those exact words) and something which is a surprise to them as it is not in what they think is my nature … and they are right.

I will continue to plough through those I am following over the next week and cull or move a few. I don’t like to remove them completely as you never know when one of them might have an idea or spark one in me … I realised a long time ago that I can’t follow *every* twitter conversation but I hate to remove the chance I will come across a good one.

So if you suddenly see me unfollow you then it is unlikely it is intentional, check to see if I am following you on @grumbledookfeed instead and feel free to give me a nudge and I will follow back as soon as I can … limits permitting.

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.