Tag Archives: open source

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.

iBooks developments

After my recent blog post about the education announcement from Apple I mentioned that I had some questions about where this left the ownership of created resources. I did send some queries out to some folk who had done education work with Apple in US schools and found they had raised similar questions … and had the response of, “We can understand your concern and will get back to you.”

It was pleasing to see an email on 3rd to say to keep an eye out for the update of iBooks. Sure enough, an update was released and the major change has been captured by a number of sites but my favourite has to be from 9to5mac.com.

It clears up about the use of PDFs you export (i.e. do with them as you wish) and makes it clear that the iBook format is locked in to the iBooks Store for sales … but as I mentioned previously, if Apple are operating as your book publisher (vanity or otherwise) then you can expect them to take a cut of your money.

The questions not answered … in a school the EULA is likely to have been agreed on behalf of the end user by someone such as a Network Manager. What happens if the school haw one rule but the creator of works does something different? I know, I know … not Apple’s problem but that of the school and what they do for dealing with IP and who has the right to sell or resell work done by staff. I was asked why I had raised this previously as surely the idea that the school agrees the EULA for software on behalf of the user is common … but I still say that the direct link into a platform for selling work makes it different enough to worth special consideration. I think this is one I might ask Leon Cych about this as I think Apple have not caused an issue here … just highlighted it.

The other question I have is about ePub3 … I still like open formats for those who *want* choice (even if that choice is to go for a more locked in system) and for all the pushing that Apple did with HTML5 I just want them to use a bit of fair play here (and not use FairPlay). I’m happy to use iBooks Author and iTunes U, but don’t want to lose a good standard as things get fragmented.

The Open Source Threat

I commend Gary Clawson from the North West Grid for Learning for his recent report about how, in these stringent times, the use of Open Source and Open Content can saves schools and LAs significant amounts of money.
There are a number of good summaries and articles on the report already on the Tinterweb, most of which have many additional constructive comments so rather than re-hash the collective back patting which us going on I will instead talk about a series of points I raised about the report on a thread in Edugeek.

The title of this thread is The Open Source Threat because that is what it truly is. A threat … a threat to balanced judgement, a threat to looking at the educational needs and benefits certain software can bring and a threat to the finances of schools and LAs.

Here is where I started pull at the gaps in the report.

A very interesting read … but I would like to raise a few points. In fact I would like to raise a couple of dozen points but to do so in one post would be too much …

1 – I have only seen a few mentions on educational requirements in this paper. I don’t want to see a paper just about money if we are looking long-term (which the paper claims) … I want to see it tied in with what changes will also be needed to the curriculum, the staff training, etc. Otherwise it is as short-sighted as recent cuts from Central Govt, IMNSHO.

2 – There is no mention of the word training in the document at all. Do they think that people can just move from one system to another with no training?

3 – Like for like! I would expect, as at least a starting point, to see a like for like chart … doing a on x is the equivalent of b on y. Yet again I see this opinion that Dansguardian is a like for like replacement forBecta accredited filtering software / provision. It isn’t. Will we ever see like for like in this sort of discussion or are people scared they will fall short? You never know … you may come out on top. I’ve yet to see the full like for like alternative to CC3 or CC4 via open source solutions either.

4 – Figures … sorry Gary. I want to see your figures in a decent appendix so they can be verified and questions / validated / championed. At the moment it doesn’t look very OPEN to me.

5 – FREE!!!!! And there was me thinking that for years we were talking FOSS. FREE and OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE … but everytime I challenge anyone about free stuff (eg resources from Apple, Microsoft, Serif, etc) I get told that this is not free as it is pandering to the commercial nature of other products.

The ‘institutionalisation’ of licence free applications and digital resources in schools will enable seamless skills transition between Primary and Secondary sectors as well as with the free use of software applications and digital learning resources in the home.

Free applications … oh … you did remember … but why the insistence on the words open source? Are you worried that commercial companies might give away *all* their software to schools and thereby undermine your whole argument?

So … that is where I will be starting my points on this paper.

I must thank a few EduGeek regulars for playing Devil’s Advocate to my comments and those who made me clarify a bit more.

I was challenged about the curriculum and I know for many people that just means the hoops learners jump through from Central Gov’t or from Exam Boards… But I mean it is the structure of how the school is set up for learning to take place, for innovation to grow. For *any* school to move to a different curriculum model takes significant planning and a change of ethos in some cases. I don’t just want a paper saying you can save money… I want a paper pointing out the educational reform that might (and probably will) need to go along side it! If a school makes this move it has to be for completely the right reasons, not purely the almighty pound!

I was castigated for dredging up FUD about training. I hate to say it folk but not all open source stuff is as easy as commercial products to use. Scribus is a lot more work than MS Publisher or Pages … Not as much as InDesign but that is a different level of application. If you move a ‘costly’ VLE to Moodle you will need to retrain staff and learners.
Change involves preparing people for it. I would be shocked to see a Network Manager swap from windows XP and Office 2003 to Windows 7 and Office 2010 without preparing people for it, giving staff a chance to rework resources, etc … So why is the introduction of, or move to, Open Source offerings any different? It isn’t! And there are costs associated with training, either in time or money (or both)!

I was challenged on comparing like for like as the incorrect way of assessing the needs if the school. I can accept some if that apart from the fact for a goodly number of schools the easiest way of seeing what they need is to look at what they already use and to try and understand why. It also has the beneficial result of making them realise that yes, they may be paying over the odds for features they are not using, or it could prod them into using those features at last.
I also raised the point again that some of the suggested Open Source tools are not comparing like for like. DansGuardian is *not* the same as a Becta Accredited Filtering Solution. Sorry folks … it just ain’t. If you took it to the closest model of SmoothWall and DansGuardian … there is significant difference in support, in functionality, of ease of use and of appropriateness in an educational environment. That is *why* they have it as a product. I will continue to shout down anyone who persistently pushes them as the same and I would ask them to stand up in front of a Local Safeguarding Children’s Board and justify themselves for all schools and educational settings.
I am not saying that the model some schools take with managing their safeguarding of learners might not include DansGuardian, and the examples I have seen use it in conjunction with other tools … commercial tools such as Securus and AB Tutor Control. So … Like for like please!

I was challenged about my comment about costs.

I know that it is hard to show … and whilst I may seem harsh to say that the figures are not that clear, but I would like to see the example given for secondary broken down further into specifics … how much for the OS, how much for CALs, how much for the office suite, how much for video / audio editing, how much for image editing, etc. We have already seen that by swapping to Windows 7 there are examples of how this can keep some hardware going a bit longer and this is before we talk about the famous (infamous) lifespan of some Apple Macs (some … yes I know some don’t have this reputation), so if I ask for more detailed comparisons it is understandable. Again … it also comes down to what technology has been chosen by the schools previously and whether we are talking about replacing it with stuff that will deliver the same.

And then we come to the recurring problem I have with some sections of the Open Source community in education. I have said at previous events that the selective ignoring of the word ‘free’ is hypocritical and I stand by that. If a school has already made an investment in commercial systems and they are then able to get free resources or tools which work with their existing investment then it is not costing them additional licenses and they deem it to be free, then what is your problem with it?. Will you all stop this stupid Microsoft and Apple bashing that goes on. What happens when Microsoft give their OS and applications to schools completely for free? No cost at all? Your petty arguments will fall down completely.

At least the reports talks about Open Content … even if it is through the gatekeeper model of the NDRB.

My problem with this is that there are quite a number of good commercial resources out there that people have put time and effort into, so I would expect them to be recommended for it. That might involve money but the Open Content model promotes the recompense as resources from others.
That is fine, but if my resources are better than yours I want more in return. It might be that I spent twice as long creating them …. and here we get to the hidden cost … time. Time costs. Whether you are talking about the time a school might give a teacher to create resources, the time in the evenings and weekends I work on materials or the time taking a teacher away from their classes to prepare materials. So, the Open Content model can work, but it will take time and is not an immediate cost saving. If anything it will cost more to get embedded in your school. And why use NDRB? Why not just share through twitter or contacts made at TeachMeets?

So, the report starts to raise questions but seriously fails to produce significant answers which stand up when prodded, in my opinion.

And this is before I talk about the idea of running both OSS based systems / applications and commercial stuff … side by side so you give the teachers and students choice. Why inflict a single system on them? This now goes into a conversation about transferable skills … and we go full circle to looking at the educational side of things… not just the money.

Windows 7 month

You know how it is … you get a reputation for being a fanboi! (ok … I own a few few Apple gadgets) or there are folk who are convinced you are an open source hippy … and then you get those who think you are a Microsoft drone (all descriptions of me from the last 3 months from various online groups / networks).

I’ve always been pretty up front about how I will work with pretty much anything I have access to and through personal choice over the years I have tended to find Apple kit / OS just makes me that bit more productive. I do continue to use a fair bit of open source software and MS software though so feel I have a good balance, but after reading how people are constantly pushing themselves to try different ways of working I have opted to dedicate more time to different systems.

From 1st September I will be working purely on Windows 7 for a month. This will be on a MacBookPro as that is the hardware I have available (I do like running MS OSes on Mac hardware though … I had an install of Vista on one machine that ran like a dream … made me wonder if we were all so wrong about Vista!) but unless I have a very real need to access something on the Mac side then BootCamp will be my friend. Over the coming week I will be looking at a variety of pieces of software to make sure I am as tooled up as I can be, that my files are somewhere secure and my access through various networks is enabled.

From 1st October I will be going down the open source route. I’ll probably set up a VM of Redhat or Ubuntu and using that unless I can dig out another laptop (not enough space to triple boot this machine but can easily run a VM off an external drive). So I will spend that last week in September looking for all the suitable OSS I need.

And then from 1st November I will run solely MacOS and associated software.

Most of my requirements will be for office, web 2 and social network access. I may have to dig into some video / audio editing and perhaps some graphics work, but most of the stuff planned is based around boring work I’m afraid, but I hope to take a bit of time out to try to look at a range of different tools that I may not have touched before and even try my hand at some of the activities I see the software being used for (screen recording them for the general amusement of others).

I haven’t really been bothered enough to this before … when I did my month without Google I ended up discovering that I can do it, it is a bit of a nuisance and that the non-Google stuff I was already doing was what worked well. I am trying to be open-minded about doing the same with this … so if people think I am slipping them please let me know.

I am also happy to read and digest anything that people have from others who have done similar (or if you have done it yourself already) so that I can compare experiences.

Open Source Schools Seminar on Innoviation for LA Staff

On 15th October 2009 Open Source Schools held a seminar on Innovation for LA Staff.

A fantastic day with many wonderful sessions but I thought I would point out my own one first. Tasked with talking about how IT Support teams are making a difference with Open Source I chose to talk about a number of core facts by which I work with schools and projects I have asked IT Managers in Northants to complete.

The presentation can be found here

And twitcam stream for the afternoon session is here and I am the first speaker so no need to scrub through. The morning session can be found at http://twitcam.com/3xoh and http://twitcam.com/3xpf

Further information about the day, discussions about open source in schools and access to other information is available at Open Source Schools.

Standing in the shoulders of giants

There are times when you just know that a day is going to be a wonderful one, that no matter how nervous you are about presenting, no matter how tired you may or how much work you have to do for the next day… You just get a tingle.
And that is what I had this morning as I drove down to the Open Source Schools seminar on innovation for LA Staff.
In fact I felt so excited that I started to rethink my presentation and I mentally rewrote it… And then spent some time in the intro reworking the presentation.

A wonderful set of speakers made the event wonderful and rather than do a breakdown of each one I would strongly suggest you visit the streams that were kindly set up an run by Leon Cych (links on the Open Source Schools website).

I’ll make a specific blog post about my session later but I would just like to thank all those who were good sports by joining in, by answering questions and for the positive feedback at the end.

But the thing I really want to blog about is the wonderful tour we were given of Bletchley Park, slightly whistlestop due to the time the seminar finished, but wonderful nonetheless.

We went round in awe and with a sense of reverence, and we are talking about the great and the good of OSS and innovation in education. The feeling that what we do, to help kids and teachers, has a direct line from the work done by the secret many in those huts.

OSS folk (in particular Moodle) have been called men in sheds, fiddling around … And as was said at the beginning of the day, it was the men in these sheds that made a difference.

It gives you hope and gives you the drive to do the best you can.

You don’t get many days like today… and I am glad it was shared with many other like minded people.