Tag Archives: twitter

Naace Impact Awards pt 2

It was quite a lovely shock to find that I won an award today.

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Last year Naace took the brave step of introducing an award aimed at technical staff in schools. At the time, when speaking with some peers from the technical community, some expressed concern about how a “bunch of teachers and LA folk could every work out how hard technicians and NMs work” and considering how difficult that can be within schools I can understand that a minority had some scepticism about it.

The award is an Impact Award, designed to see what impact you make on learning, and it is up to you to sell yourself against the criteria of “how do you make a difference in schools and with learners”… and that can be a daunting task. You are asked to measure what a difference keeping servers running makes, asked about why it is important to communicate about the services you help the school provide and how it can be used to support / deliver the curriculum, asked about the lengths you have gone to when making sure that the child with a visual impairment is not simply “catered for” but truly feels included due to assistive technology you provide, asked about how you work with teachers and SLT to generate ideas about emerging technologies or simply better use of existing tools, asked about business tools, asked about extra-curricular groups ranging from coding clubs through to bee-keeping … I can go on but you get the idea.

This year I was lucky to be nominated by a friend (a teachmeet legend) and since I am not in a school anymore I fell back to thinking about what I really do.

I work with and support communities of people. All those things above? That is what they do … day in, day out … and I am lucky enough to help some of them flesh out those ideas, give encouragement so they will go to meetings with SLT about their ideas, work with them to help come up with standards in schools … but most of all I am a part of these communities. I am mere mortal without them.

Most of those short listed are regulars and contributors to these communities, whether via twitter or mainly via EduGeek.net. On the whole we should say that these communities have won the award for me (not false modesty but a true statement) …

So I dedicated my award to the communities … #ukedchat, TeachMeet, NetworkNorthants, NorthantsBLT … but most of all to EduGeek.net.

Next year I will be nominating someone from EduGeek.net … and this is not a challenge for folk to up their game, or any other manglement jargon, it is just to say that you all should keep doing what you at doing, hold your heads up high and be proud of the difference you make. It is recognised and I am thankful to Naace to recognising this.

Thank you all.

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.

Tweeting ideas at the #BETT_Show (#BETT12)

Looking at some of the tweets going on during the latest (and last) BETT Radio show (hashtag #bettradio) I saw a comment from @peteschneider about what is the best hashtag which can be used by tweeps who are visitors to share what they are finding at BETT.

When I asked if this was because he was concerned that other hashtags could end up as just broadcast / taken over by exhibitors he said that yes, this was the case.

I said I had a plan … and I do … I have several in fact and there are some good and bad points to all of them. Some of it depends on how you use twitter, how companies work with social media / social networks and also how much of a sense of fair play people can expect when using a free tool at a free event. There are some hashtags already in use so let us have a look at those first.

#BETT_Show This is the official hashtag (according to Mango Marketing) and I presume it will be used by Mango Marketing and EMAP in the lead up and during the show … it also likely to be used by all and sundry .. because that is how hashtags can be used.

#BETTRadio This is the hashtag used by @russellprue before and during the show for the Radio shows. Russell has done 5 shows prior to BETT (available to download as a podcast) and will be on Prof. Stephen Heppell’s stand during the show. Russell has already said he is happy for this to be used to help people share things too.

#bettchat This has been used as part of the Tuesday afternoon discussions to find out what people think about particular things that are likely to see at BETT. Loosely similar to the #edchat #ukedchat and #edchatie hashtags, it has been a core group who have shared things … and considering the time in the day it was on some of the discussions were good … but occasionally did end up being exhibitors broadcasting where they were and what they are planning … nothing really wrong with that, but it can put some people off.

#bett #bett12 #bett2012 have already been used by many as these are similar to what has already been picked up by many other in previous years … and like any crowd-sourced choice, it is led by those who are most active and so you might have to wait to see which one gets picked up by the twitterati.

There will be other hashtags in use … exhibitors might use their own … the Fringe events will have their own … notable individuals might have their own too … so you can even see the situation where tweets will be full of hashtags before you even get any content. I’ve been in similar situations before when replying to tweets and it has begone to include more and more people … resulting in only 1 character left in each tweet to use … it was fun, but now how I like to do things.

And so we get to part of the issue. Some people, like Pete, are worried that the signal to noise ratio will be poor. That the tweets will be full of broadcast messages from exhibitors and little sharing of what visitors are finding interesting. Now, don’t get me wrong … there are some exhibitors who understand the 2-way nature of twitter, are actively taking part in conversations about technology, pedagogy and general stuff without pushing their products … but there are some who are shouters … broadcasters … almost deaf to what others are saying because they are used to only talking about the next wonderful thing they are doing … and this can be a turn off for some, or at the least a distraction.

One thing which could be done is that visitors and exhibitors agree that one hashtag will only be used by visitors to share things, or by people reporting on behalf of visitors … the information points perhaps or people like Russell. Exhibitors could be politely asked to play fair (and I think most would) and those that don’t could be spoken with, and named and shamed. From personal experience a similar method is used on the EduGeek forum where commercial vendors (who are not sponsors) tend to play fair as they know that users are usually the best advocates for their products / services anyway.

For those who worry about the broadcast traffic being too much, or if some people don’t honour the above (which is only an off-hand idea), then you could always create a second twitter account dedicated to BETT. Let people know you will be sharing your thoughts and hope others share theirs. Follow your regular folk and add in others throughout the day … and then if you find a shouter … then you can send a reply back pointing out that if you wanted their sales spin you would visit their stand (give them a chance first) but then you can block them and not have to worry about them any more. The downside is that people may not be following you so may not see some of your wonderful insights and you may miss some good stuff from others.

I’ve not seen any of the marketing infer this year (thankfully I don’t do any organising anymore) so I might be missing some guidance which has already gone to exhibitors … but I would be interested to see what people think of the ideas … whether it is just too much hassle … and even whether people think twitter is going to be the best tool? People might want to use Schmooze … or simply wait until the regulars who blog write up their own thoughts …

As always … open to ideas and feedback.

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.

SharePoint Saturday UK

It is lovely to be around folk who see the benefit of spending a bit of their own time being part of something larger, and SharePoint Saturday is a perfect example of this.

For those who have never been to this sort of user event before it generally consists of a combination of noted speakers for the beginning and end of the event, with a number of sessions from respected peers sharing their knowledge and ideas with delegates. And Saturday was no exception … This is a short summary and I will try to give a longer post when slide decks are available.

Starting of with a session from the excellent Todd Klindt talking about why IT Pros and Developers need to learn from one another, and swap skills … but the important thing was to try stepping out of your comfort zone. As an IT Pro he has a a fantastic podcast (which actually covers a good amount of his keynote) so I would heartily recommend you have a listen.

There were many streams I could have gone to, but I opted some more familiar things (in spite of what Todd suggested). As a Business User (my predominant role around SharePoint now) I am always interested in ways to encourage adoption. Kanwal Khipple gave a grounded session on how to drive up adoption of your SharePoint platform, ranging from ensuring project sponsors do more than just sign off the money through to using Sharepoint Heroes to be your evangelists on the ground.

Next was a visit to Alex Pearce‘s session about how to introduce Power Users to SharePoint. A whislte-stop tour around making the most of a SharePoint site around a particular function (in this case around managing invoices) it showed using creating lists, views, the importance of data in content types, using lists to fill in documents … and the best bit was making use of QuickParts in Word for filling in information into a document template.

After a short break I was in with Matt Hughes (the instigator of SP365.co.uk) where he talked about SharePoint branding and some of the tips and tricks around modifying your own master pages, what you should and shouldn’t touch (especially since some of the master pages will get replaced on patching / applying service packs … but those SysAdmins who have had to compile drivers themselves know of that problem anyway!) and where to find some good, free SharePoint Master Pages … including those from Kanwal Khipple from the earlier session.

After lunch (where there was a better chance to chat with some of the exhibitors / sponsors … many of which were a bit bemused about why a Business User / Power User would be interested in talking to them … especially one without a budget!) I opted to sit out the sessions for a chance to chat with a few of the other delegates … and some of the conversations where enlightening … whether they were around controlled assessment, the missing EduGeek site through to a good, long catch up with some friends.

A good portion of the afternoon was spent talking with Richard Willis of SalamaderSoft (aka @rpwillis), Sam Dolan (aka @pinkpetrol) and Alex Pearce (aka @alex_pearce) about developments in education, sharing war stories, etc …

Ok … it was a chance to just relax and chat, but you still pick up a heck of a lot in these conversations, from barriers to adoption or integration with other services, how to manage relationships with users and clients, changing trends or simply good, old-fashioned ways of making things work.

I did miss out on having a proper catch up with Dave Coleman (@davecoleman146) and Alan Richards (@arichards_saruk) and missed their sessions (which clashed as well …) but their blogs will have their slide decks shortly (if not up already) and they both regularly speak on webinars as well. For those in schools I would heartily recommend listening to Alan talk about the cost savings made through the strategic choices and use of technology. Those who have already read Dr Don Passey’s report on the Evaluation of the Implementation of the Learning Platform LP+ Across Wolverhampton will see many similar points. They’ll both be at BETT in January 2012 if people want to talk with them about many of the items in their blogs, or simply drop them a line if there is something you want to ask them.

Steve Fox’s session at the end looked at Windows Azure, integration with Sharepoint 2010 and some Windows Phone stuff … a fair bit around Business Intelligence really and showing how SharePoint Online is quite a powerful option … if you read some blogs about the session (or some of the tweets) you can see a number of folk questioning why people would use Google with this amount of options to hand.

Having started to come down with the lurgy, I decided to miss out on the SharePint and head home …

A fantastic day, well worth the early start and looking forward to watching some of the webinars which are coming up soon.

Well done to all involved with the organisation, the exhibitors / sponsors and to all those who presented.

Think … erm … Different (part 2)

Thanks to all for the positive response to part one of the report on the Apple Birmingham Leadership Event. I have tried to continue to be as open as I can about the day, and whilst there is still considerable criticism in some parts about Apple and their strategy on technology, I hope I am giving some insight into how their tools can be used within schools. It is not intended to be a sales pitch but to give people as much information as possible to make decent evaluations on their options. I know there may be some inaccuracies in here and it is an opinion piece. Apple staff are unable to comment on it formally so if anyone who was there spots anything, please let me know.

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The afternoon also contained the Hands-on workshops and I opted for the technical strand, ably hosted and run by Chris Jinks from Apple. Out of my 5 Questions, a number of them were linked to the technical strand … not because I am a Geek, but because this seems to be one of the major areas which is a barrier to adoption of new tech. Lack of information and advice can be a key reason for failure of using any technology in an educational environment. it detracts from the benefits of the tools and the reason they are there in the first place. This is true no matter where the technology is from and is in no way Apple specific as a problem. However, the approach which Apple has taken in the past has sometimes been open for question. At a previous BETT show, Russell Dyas and myself were at the press briefing from Apple and when asked about giving more advice to schools on the technical side we were told that schools shouldn’t need to use in-house staff but buy the expertise in from ASEs and partners. That obviously went down well.

However, there is more information available to schools … if you know where to find it and who to ask. ASEs, ADEs and AASPs are still the first point of call for many areas but events like today are starting to fill in the gaps.

The session was a two-hour version of what is usually a full day training event. We knew it would be a tad sparse in some areas and Chris apologised about that, but there is a lot to squeeze in. Again, Apple like to breakdown the areas covered and look at it in the following blocks.

  • Mobility with Apple
  • Creating Content
  • Distributing Content
  • Managing Devices
  • Infrastructure for Learning

What is mobility? It is about my content. Anytime. Anywhere. Video, Audio, text, applications … things I create and consume (I was feeling like I was listening to Graham Brown-Martin from Learning Without Frontiers actually). This is about whether in a lab, at home, on the move, etc … important to remember the difference between 3G, WiFi, LAN. We looked at having to consider the broadest audience … desktops, laptops, mobile … think of who you are reaching and how. Consider the delivery mechanisms, work to standards and understand why some are moving away from certain tools. This is where the Flash-bashing started. Earlier in the day I had raised about the issues with the lack of Flash in education since there are many resources in Flash (with few plans to change from talking with some vendors) and the push is very much that Flash might have been very good once, but now is just not suitable because things like killing battery life, CPU overhead, etc. Likewise, when conversation go onto standards HTML5 was up there are the way to go … and I had to point out that it isn’t ratified, that there is the risk that it might go down a route Apple don’t want and that time / money could be wasted. However, Chris did ask what the alternative would be then … and after you rule out the use of Flash (and we can have a long discussion about Flash and open standards) there is little left to go for. As an aside, I have been party to a number of rants about how bad Flash is, especially for updating, things breaking and not being open, yet when someone decides to drop it (such as Apple or Microsoft for the Metro interface of Windows 8 ) you get an outcry of the masses … sometimes I think you just can’t win!

Back to the session though, and we looked at what were the building blocks (Text, Audio, Video) and the construction areas (podcasts, web, apps). Again, stressing the use of open formats, text comes in 2 forms – PDF and ePub. I did query (via Twitter) about whether Open Document format (ODF) should be included in there and after some research it is indeed a standard for office documents along with OOXML and even the UK Govt has previously stressed ODF and open standards should be used as a standard for sharing documents … and it has support from Apple but iWork still does not support ODF. We already know that PDF is fine when used in it’s simplest form but as soon as you start adding other objects into it (video, etc) then you are relying on additional code to make it work … and there in lies a problem. In schools it is so frustrating to receive materials as PDF from an exam board only to find you need a particular version of Adobe Reader to open it and that it will not open in any other PDF reader. This is where ePub comes into its own. It gives a greater user experience, allows for more user control such as changing font, text, colour, flexible orientation, etc. Personally I like to use Scrivener or Calibre to create ePub files. When looking at audio we talked about the importance of compression vs quality. MP3 still wins out as a format for many. For video we looked at the difference between Codecs and Containers, H.264, MPEG-4, MPEG-2 : m4v, mp4, 3gp, mov, avi, etc … and looked the simplicity of selection within the Apple toolset. Assembling all these parts together is the construction bit … and this is what makes the difference.

The Web is standards based … HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. At least these are where Apple technology is centred … mainly because it works and keeps things simple. We looked at the use of apps v web and a hybrid approach, but Chris was keen to say that Web Apps give the best method of dealing with a broad audience. We looked at using Pages to create ePubs and it does work extremely well …

Distributing content is an important factor in education still. As much as we might love the idea of user created content and co-creation as an approach within the pedagogy of your curriculum, you are pretty much guaranteed to have some content to distribute to the users / pupils / students. There are 2 ways to get content onto devices, via cable or via WiFi. Cable requires plugging in and using iTunes. This is suitable for personal or 1:1 devices but is a pig for class sets. Even setting up the small technology toolkits we have had going out to schools takes up time and I was glad that Peter Ford was doing it rather than me! I have to admit that iOS5 and Sync over WiFi has been very handy for me on my own devices … but again, that comes down to personal responsibility. When it comes to WiFi there are a number of tools for hosted shares for accessing WebDAV style solutions … WebDAV Navigator can be a handy app and many apps have tools to allow you to save to WebDAV too. I did ask about the use of iCloud and the Data Protection Act and at the moment there is no direct guidance / advice. As always with these things, if you have concerns or cannot confirm you are not covered then you should not use such services. On a personal note I think iCloud to a local server would be a good option … but I doubt we will see Apple do that for a variety of reasons, including security. The methods of ensuring that published apps are done via Apple’s services are also part of the locked down environment and I’ll leave it to iOS App Developers to give better explanations of how and why this works. As far as those deploying solutions in schools go … you are not bundling your own apps and pushing them out GPO style.

We then started to make use of a locally deployed Lion Server. This was key to how the workshop continued but with a bit of careful thinking a number of the features can be delivered via other options. We started by accessing the Wiki Server, an easy way of getting resources made available by the class teacher, in this case it was hosted on a local MacMini Server. Interestingly I was discussing the use of Wikis with Tom Rees (@trees2066) and we both agree that this is one of the best co-creation tools out there. Unfortunately, as far as I have been able to find out, Wiki access is a bit clunky still in Lion Server. If anyone has a good guide to allowing student control of the Wiki I would appreciate it.

Then we get onto controlling the devices. Yes … I know most are thinking the same I was … about time, but it really did make sense why the session followed the structure it does. You need to understand what type of resources may need to be used and how they are accessed first.

The session talked about the 3 options … the personal device (in a 1-to-1 situation), the institute owned device assigned to an individual (still 1-to-1) and the shared device. With a shared device it is a fixed setup, only admins make changes … and you have to return to base (i.e. the SysAdmins) to reset, update or redeploy.

With any 1-to-1 setup you are going to get a mix of institutional and private data. Apps could be owned by the institute (gifted?), provide updates one recovery capabilities … but there is a massive amount of user responsibility. The User is in charge, can do pretty much anything and chooses to accept the configuration to be part of the educational environment … but more on that later.

All new devices (or when devices get redeployed) have to go through 4 steps. Activate, update, configure and sync. Who will do these steps really depends on the model used. Mobile Device Management tools are key. It seems that Apple’s MDM tool actually uses the same provided sub-set of controls as the larger commercial offerings out there. There is a difference in the UI and when you buy in a commercial package you get told how it will work … I suppose this could be viewed as the same as using parts of RM’s CC3/4, which bolts on / controls aspects of Microsoft’s Active Directory.

A key aspect of using MDM though is the Certificate Signing Request. No matter what you use, this is a must (again, going back to the security mentioned earlier) and is needed as part of the Apple Push Notification Service … Security of updates of configurations is carefully thought out here … and yes, it needs to be thought out and planned, the central server / controller needs to be available … and at this point you realise that if you don’t have a central machine then you are going to struggle. If you already have an OSX Server to control any desktop / laptops from Apple … then this is where to start.

Centralised configuration can do a lot … sort out wireless settings, proxy settings, email, calendar … and much more. A number of these can also be provided on OSX Server, but you can also use other providers too. Exchange is big one in many schools now, but I have recently seen a setup accessing a hosted Sharepoint / Exchange solution from a VLE provider too. But back to the configuration … One important thing to remember … you cannot stop people removing apps via the central configuration, it is a setting you have to do on the local machine (Settings > General > Restrictions … then Enable Restrictions and turn Deleting Apps off).

The main config tool you will come across is the iPhone Configuration Utility to create Profiles of how devices will be configured. These are then initially pushed to connected devices (via cable) or pulled by the user. This is where OSX Server comes into play. The same box running the Wiki Server also enables devices to connect to a configuration service. Pretty simple really. Set up a guest wifi in your school which only gives you access to the config server. Connect to the server via a web page. Pull down the config (if you are allowed too … security starts with User Authentication) by authenticating, install the provided certificate and then the encrypted config comes down over the air. The details of what can be controlled via the iPhone Config Utility are covered in detail in Apple’s documentation and there is quite a bit covered there. This new config can then have the *real* WiFi network settings in it.

Those of you who have experience of dealing with .plist files for controlling Apple OSX devices via WGM or .adm files for GPOs will not be surprised that the settings are just XML strings … but the config tools do all the work for you.

The session showed some examples of over the air changes. We had YouTube running … and then it was gone. The app closed and was then gone from the device. Access to particular WebApps / resources pushed out as weblinks. Device access to OSX Server provided WebDAV used to show uploading of pictures and documents created in Apple apps such as Pages.

The session really did only touch the tip of the iceberg, and I think that even doing a full day would not cover all the questions many of us would have. Like many things, it would only be after a few weeks of hands-on testing of a deployment that we would have a good idea about the full extent of what can and can’t be done, the different places you have to go to to make changes, the extent to which Apple security controls so many things … and so we come onto the positives and limitations of central deployment.

I’m not going to strictly put them in order, because so many are linked.

The ability to have some control is needed and what you get is kept as simple as possible. This keeps the background load on the device pretty low, which has the positive affect of longer battery life, etc … let’s face it, we have all moaned at some point about the load AV software or certain middleware applies to devices … and it also means that there is less chance of conflicts of settings. The limitation is that you have to operate within boundaries of the tools and settings you have … you can’t suddenly think of a new tool or setting. If the option is to turn YouTube off then that is what you have … not just limit it to particular sections. For that you have to use another tool such as a proxy server / filtering solution. You can’t stick remote monitoring tools on there such as you might have on desktops (Impero, NetOp, AB Tutor Control) or the security key loggers (Securus, Policy Central) as this is not what it is designed for.

As a device which can be personalised you also have to accept that the user can choose to turn of your centralised controls. If they do then they loose access to all those settings you have loaded onto the device … the wireless, the email, weblinks, etc. Now, I know many will be screaming at the screen right now about that being useless in class environment … the disruption as yet another student needs to go to see IT Support to get things fixed … but surely this is just another bit of classroom management. If a child doesn’t turn up with the right PE kit, or damages equipment in Design Technology … then surely it is a discipline issue, not the problem of the equipment / technology. And yes, it does go back to what has been mentioned before about carefully thinking about which model you are going to use.

Personally, I can see a class set of iPads only really being usable if there is an OSX Server device in the same room and accessed by the class teacher. There will be some admin tasks around this and I can see that being a problem due to some restrictions about how much tech support / admin teachers should be doing. I think you do need this personal access to the OSX Server too as this will be a key tool for providing access to resources and pushing things to the devices. I do also worry about how files / resources on a class set of devices would be tidied up / cleaned out. This needs a bit more thought and planning really. In a 1-to-1 scheme this is the responsibility of the user, and you could say that tidying up the device could be seen as an activity by the child in the same way they would tidy up the classroom before leaving a lesson … but we all know things get missed. All it would take would be for one naughty child to find a dodgy picture or, probably even worse, take an unsuitable picture and maliciously leave it for someone else (another child) to find. This is not just a concern I have about Apple devices … far from it, I worry about the misuse of any handheld device … and the lack of pretty much any control on Android devices worry me even more. We’ll have to just see what happens when Windows 8 comes out too, but based on previous experience of working with Microsoft tools … I think this will be a bit more thought out.

So, a summary.

iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads can be centrally controlled in an educational environment. It is best designed for a 1-to-1 scheme rather than class sets, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work and work well. No matter what model you choose you will have to think carefully about how you want to deliver the curriculum, how you will push out access to resources, how you will change some of the school procedures to take into account the growing use of handheld devices and this really does mean thinking about how classroom management will deal with things rather than relying on technology to fix things for you. You need to look at how you deploy and control your wireless networks.

I would honestly recommend anyone looking at either class-sets or 1-to-1 schemes to talk with other schools already doing it. You must also talk with at least one Apple Solutions Expert or AASP. They will help you with access to Apple Distinguished Educators who can work with you to think about your curriculum to make the most of the investment made in the kit. It is not just about the cost of the equipment alone.

ASEs will also help you access other things too … including things like information / support from Apple Financial Services. If you are serious about going to a 1-to-1 scheme then the finances need to be carefully thought about. I have seen too many 1-to-1 schemes fail on that aspect or fail on the curriculum design.

There are plenty of good resources on the Apple site to go through (some already linked) and the case studies make interesting reading … and with enough time in-house staff will be able to deliver good, workable and stable solutions … but I would still like to see a comprehensive guide as to how to deliver this. However, we have already covered how Apple tend to deliver things … and, being honest, the expertise of ASEs is usually worth the investment in time and money.

Think … erm … Different?

The following article takes a look at the use of iPads as mobile devices in schools and is based on attending the Apple Birmingham Leadership Summit at Birmingham Science Park on 19th October, the pre-event discussions on EduGeek.net about questions which should be asked, discussions on Dr Brian Bandey’s eSafety Law in Education group on LinkedIn and from talking with colleagues in a range of schools across the UK.

For reference, this article is not intended to spark any pro- / anti-Apple discussions and where possible I will make reference to where models translate across multiple systems or where they differ. This is not meant to produce a definitive answer for any school about what to do with mobile technology.

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I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to the latest in a series of Apple Education events a few weeks ago. An invite-only event too. After a relatively quiet spell, where Apple relied on Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs), Apple Solutions Experts (ASEs) and Apple Authorised Service Providers (AASPs) did all the work and interaction with schools, this year saw a veritable plethora of events supported and run by Apple, almost like a young butterfly coming out of the chrysalis … or was it a badger coming out of hibernation!

The event was to be run twice, on 18th and 19th October, and so I was happy to accept the invite. It would give me a chance to bring up a number of questions I had myself as well as many others I had been fielding from others … some from people not as supportive of Apple as I am. And before we go any further I should explain that most people regard me as an Apple Fanboi! … except when attending Microsoft events where I am often viewed as an Open Source Evangelist … or when attending Open Source events where I am sometimes looked upon as a Microsoft diehard. Sometimes you just can’t win!

Back to the preparation for the event. I know I had a series of question, but I knew that it would only be fair to allow others who couldn’t make it or weren’t invited to be able to take part. And so I started a thread on EduGeek.net to formulate the 5 important questions.

1) What are the plans for making integration of OSX.7 and AD actually happen and stay as something reliable?

2) Can Apple give examples, case studies and instructions about how to employ iOS Devices in a multi-device, multi-user environment … taking into consideration accessing and saving files, security, patch management, application deployment and configurations settings for accessing the network infrastructure? This includes working with educational networks where there are specific filters, proxies, firewalls, etc.

3) Can Apple be clear about how Apps are now to be licensed on iOS and LionOS devices, taking into account that this is for devices that are multi-user and users who will access multiple devices, especially in the light of recent changes to the iTunes ToS in the UK.

4) Can Apple be clear about what work they are doing with suppliers of educational resources and tools to help them provide stuff that will work across the range of Apple devices? If you can get Flash to work it would be a start!

5) When will Apple start giving information to people in schools instead of just saying “Go ask an ASE” … who are wonderful, but people in schools also want to learn and deploy things themselves (or have to, depending on the budgets).
(Sorry if it seems that I want to do ASEs out of some business …)

Reserve questions (in case anyone else asks one of the above or if there is a clear demonstration of it at the event)

6) Any chance of knocking another 20% off the price for schools?
7) When are you coming back to BETT instead of just being done by ASEs? (who are wonderful people … yada, yada, yada)
8) When can we stick OSX on kit other than Apple kit? We’ll pay! Honest!

 

The day started well, handed an iPad2 when I arrived … only to find I had to give it back at the end of the day. Still, there was WiFi available to use with my own kit to save having to setup / personalise another device.

We started with a breakdown of where Apple are in the education arena. About their trip in working with schools over the years, and where they saw themselves fitting today. Apple’s approach is based around 4 levels of literacy. Basic Literacy, Information Literacy, Media Literacy and ICT Literacy. This was very much a case of looking how you teak their tech and use it … There were some interesting samples about how the world has changed … the 5 months / years to change Article published in hard copy for Encyclopaedia Britannica compared to 5 minutes on Wikipedia. On a personal note I tweeted about how this doesn’t take into consideration the weeks to argue with editors / mods about structure, verifying references and the in-fighting which goes on behind the scenes …

When talking with students Apple clearly see that in student desires they want … learning that provides the equivalent functionality as their social environment, learning that accommodates a mobile lifestyle, learning that adapts to individual learning style, and learning that encourages collaboration and teamwork.

To be honest, there were lots of stats about how the various markets Apple are involved in have grown and changed … and this is not meant to be a sales pitch so there is little point in me including them here … but I have to admit I do take all such stats with a pinch of salt, and that is with all companies. Talking about the iPhone having the first proper browser on a mobile device is spin … especially when I was using my P800 for it a while ago and I even had a tweet back talking about the Newton being the first circa 1994 and then Mobile Explorer in 2002-ish (@waltatek). So … stats … pinch of salt. No offence intended. A key comment though was that when you look at the adoption curve, for iPads we are still in the early adoption phase … so it is important to speak to the visionaries and those who have already been there. Frasier Speirs was highlighted as an example with the quote “It’s not the technology, it’s the content” and that ran true throughout the day.

Some time was spent looking at iTunes U but there was a more comprehensive session later so I’ll cover it further down the report. Likewise iBooks and the use of ePub as a format was raised. The iBook Store is very novel-centric, but that is where the funds come in to do other stuff. Again, ePub covered in more detail later. Good examples of Apps given, dissection of a frog for science reminded me of Operation! but growing examples of good tools, many are free. I’ll try to set up a dedicated page to link to others who have better lists of these sorts of resources. VLE / LP providers are also making iOS friendly front-ends … Blackboard given as an example but I have also used the one from FirstClass too. Some opting for iOS friendly web front-ends instead. More about standards later!

And so we get to the first question I could ask. 4) Can Apple be clear about what work they are doing with suppliers of educational resources and tools to help them provide stuff that will work across the range of Apple devices? If you can get Flash to work it would be a start!

Apple are working with publishers to help them find easy ways to convert materials / resources. They are also linking them with iOS-using schools to try to help show the need to change, but the focus is on the drive from the education market as well as when resources need to change. A lot of video is now accessible via HTML5, but Adobe now also have tools to convert from Flash content. It was noted later on in a replied tweet that the output from this can sometimes be as resource hungry (if not even mores) than Flash itself. Time will tell.

Apple tends to separate things into 3 areas. Technology (which they do and they like to say they do it well … It tend to agree, other might not), Content (which they also do, or enable, or support) and Pedagogy (which they don’t do, but rely on us to provide that bit … but will support and help link people together in this area). As part of this Essa Academy was used as an example. The change in the school through introducing iPod Touches was immense. Improved parental engagement just the tip, but it was important to spend time looking at changing to take in all 3 areas above. Tech alone is not a fix! Also looked at examples of tech to save money … printing used as an example once more. I would be interested to see financial comparisons against saving through other changes in tech such as the case studies provided by MS when people move to Sharepoint … Don Passey’s research also key here. I am sure similar could be done via Open Source options too … cost savings through tech is almost tech-agnostic.

I did get a chance to ask about licensing and was told it was not explicitly being covered today but to ask again later.

The Primary school case study was interesting to here. An almost complete meltdown in tech (no explanation why) resulted in no engagement with tech, not enough time or resources to get it running properly and general frustration due to the impact on learning. Significant work was needed so research started. BETT was instrumental in looking at options and after consideration (and quotes, plans, etc) Apple was decided as the way to go. Initially it has been about rolling out iBooks but they are now planning stage 2 with iPads. The audit of software on PCs showed 75% of software not used. What remained was replaced with Mac equivalent or other options. Sometimes the publisher did a Mac version anyway. A fair bit of training is needed for new staff but pupils are fine. They even had to get more tech in due to rising demand. I have to note at this point that they could have done the same change through other options … either sticking with a Windows based solution or even tried open source but it is good to see the lengths they went through to evaluate the need and the reasons to change, including impact. I did note that there were frequent mentions about PCs being a barrier and Mac versions of software was simpler to use. Having used some of the programs which are cross platform and having spent time working with schools looking at transference of skills between programmes and platforms, I do tend to feel that some of this is a psychological barrier, but there is no denying that such a change can motivate people to be engaged with tech again. I just worry about moving from a school based on only one system … to it being based solely on another system. Most of the examples of programs used had their Windows-based equivalent (including Comic Life) but the key targets they set of engagement with tech, embedding ICT in learning (a lot of learner centric stuff shown …) and confident use of multimedia, were met easily.

The secondary school presentation gave a rounded snapshot of how the school was working and what they already did well. Some key points in the ethos of the school included making sure students understood that learning can be hard, a struggle, but effort is rewarded … perhaps not immediately, but it does come in time. There is nothing wrong with hard work. The school made good use of R&D time for staff to look at school needs. After some investigation the issues the schools had in the curriculum centred from it being a teacher-led model … and that suffered when there was a change of staff or illnesses. The change was needed to move to learner-centric. This also created the need for a device to be personal as learning is personal. The ‘Airplane’ scenario was mentioned again … this is where students describe lessons as being on a airplane. You face the front, are strapped in, have to turn all tech off for a few hours and just hope it gets you where you need to go! I did ask what comparisons had been done with other similar schemes (remember folks … 1 to 1 schemes are nothing new and some have had the same impact as the iPod Touch / iPad schemes … it is not about worrying that we are re-inventing the wheel … just that it is the exact same wheel instead of an improved model with better traction, less wear, etc) but the R&D had shown them what had worked well elsewhere. The finance around this is covered later on in the report … but yes, it costs a money, but the reduction in other costs (replacing labs, etc) helps. It was interesting to hear Prof. Stephen Heppell’s name come up in the discussion about the research for the right device too … and it is important to note that although the full scheme has only been running since Sept it had a pilot last year and has been 2 years in the planning. From personal experience I know that this is important!

Looking at the management of the devices (I’ll also cover some of this later) it is important to remember that these are regarded as personal devices and so the students and their parents look after them. Apps recommended by the school are free and anything that gets paid for is via the parents.  As for the other part of management mentioned, the importance of a good WiFi solution was key to it working. Out of the various offerings they had there were some very cheap solutions … but it was doubtful that they would deliver … as mentioned before in other articles / blogs, cheap does not mean best value. You ned to select a solution which is fit for purpose and plan around the true needs … not allow it to be a limiting factor. I know other 1 to 1 schemes that have struggled due to this, including one school that has improved their wireless 5 times over the last 10 years … partly due to changing tech, but also due to needing to makes changes to get it just right!

The talk on Finance of iPad/iPod schemes came directly from Apple Financial Services, where there is an Education team. iStudent covers the kit and the soft costs around it (within limits specified by financial regulations … IIRC it is 20% of a lease scheme can be soft costs but I’d need to check that again). So the cost covers the lease arrangement, the insurance, the warranty, case, support with parental contributions. It is possible to add work from ASEs / AASPs onto another deal but you would have to speak with Apple and their resellers for more details … but in comparison to other similar schemes I have seen for 1 to 1 offerings it is very comparable. Some of the value-added comes in the extent of the support and insurance … world-wide cover, the offering can be tailored into a range of options. The important thing is that there is a good option here which schools can make use of, but like all lease arrangements … plan how you are going to exit from it, how you plan to deal with the last 2 years in school for KS4 students, etc …

And then there was lunch. For someone on a diet … the Black Forest Gateaux was very nice. Oh well … more time on the Wii Fit to burn it off methinks.

We resumed the afternoon with Worcestershire County Council talking about their move to delivering resources via iTunes U. For those who have not come across it iTunes U is a section of the iTunes Store where you can freely access education videos and audio clips. These will range from MIT courses (wonderful examples for Physics), all the OU materials right through the the more recently acclaimed Khan Academy. Worcestershire County Council looked to take the existing resources they already had on video and which they already published to DVD. After work to encourage all staff to make materials public they hit a brick wall … permission. Although the existing permission slip allowed for publishing of materials to DVD and online, it was deemed that putting the materials into a system which could allow for them to be downloaded to an off-line device automatically was not covered. This was taken all the way to the ICO and had a lot of legal work done on it. A new permission form was agreed and now being used. Unfortunately this form is not in the public domain due to the legal specifics in it, but it might be an idea for a number of us to approach the ICO about a template which could be used. A job for another day perhaps … any volunteers? It is also important to remember that the materials are not stored with Apple … but on your servers. From personal experience of podcasts I know that it is key to understand RSS. It might even be worth looking at www.archive.org as an option for online storage. A question was raised from the floor about LA blocking the use of iTunes U. After a bit more digging it is not a technical issue but a permission issue … so I will be working out what exactly is entailed in giving permission for a school … I have a feeling a request might be coming my way soon!

The final session was the hands-on workshop. There was too much choice here and i could have gone to them all. Dave Baugh, Joe Moretti and Oscar Stringer (all from CrunchEd Productions) ran 3 of the sessions and I will link to any reports / blogs from those attending when I get them. I went to the session looking at the technical strand. I still had 3 questions to ask (4 if you include asking about licensing again).

I think I will leave the report there for the moment and cover the Hands-on workshop in a separate article … it will be lengthy enough on its own.

Have really asked all the questions you need to about online storage?

File System by iBjorn

Because I have a background of being involved in discussions around data protection I sometimes get a prod about online storage and web 2.0 tools. Over the last 6 months I have had quite a few over online storage options, but I have never really stuck down on (electronic) paper what my concerns are and why I have them.
There are a few concerns I have, some centre around ownership of files and data, some around data protection and some around management of the tools.

Online storage often comes under attack over IPR of images, concerns about control, heated rants about how company x is making use of *our* files / photos to generate revenue on a free service, etc … and we only have ourselves to blame for not reading the T&Cs fully, for not keeping abreast of changes to the T&Cs (though some companies make life extremely difficult to find the changes or contribute to those changes) and for not accepting that if we take part in a free service then there are likely to be limitations and issues. We take on that risk ourselves and we need to accept some responsibility for that. Whether we are talking about LinkedIn using profile photos of members in their marketing by default, changes to FaceBook privacy options, changes in security / ownership when companies merge products … there have been so many times when the masses rise up indignantly to protest and then rush around making changes and, in the worse cases, swap services … and yes, I have been there, expressing my frustration too.

This is increasingly important if we are asking children to make use of these tools as we are being trusted in our judgement and selection of these tools … after all not all children, across the broad age range we have using these tools, are emotionally, intellectually or perhaps even legally in a position to make some of these choices on their own … but that is a discussion for another time probably.

But discussions today centred around online storage, and in particular the growing use of DropBox to remove the need for USB memory devices. For those who have not come across DropBox.com, it is a an online storage system which will synchronise selected folders from one or multiple devices to an online repository. Folders or sub-folders can be shared for automated synching with other users, making it a fantastic tool for collaborative sharing of files and materials. There are a number of other tools like this ranging from Microsoft’s SkyDrive, shared document libraries in Sharepoint, Moxy, Box.net, ADrive and many more. DropBox and SkyDrive are both free so that is why you will see them in heavy use … especially in education. Free comes with limits though and sometimes that can be the amount of space, sometimes the SLA doesn’t really exist and sometimes there is a lack of control over certain aspects of functionality or how it changes.

When it comes to DropBox though, my main concern is that users are significantly at risk of breaching the Data Protection Act and they don’t even know it. This is especially important right now as it is being recommended to NQTs who might not know any better … let’s face it, there is not that much about Copyright law, Data Protection and IPR within teacher training and, from what I have seen and been told, there is a presumption that this is covered within schools by school policies … and we all know how wonderful many schools are for having decent Data Protection policies and explaining them to *all* staff.

I know that my blog is read by a wide range of people so I just need to go back a little to cover an aspect or two of the Data Protection Act. The DPA has 8 principles, which are pretty self explanatory and the 2 most important principles to look at for this conversation are 7 & 8.

If we start with DPA Principle 8 first … this about where data can be stored, moved through, processed, accessed, etc. And this is the first place we fall down with DrpoBox. There is an ongoing query that has never been fully answered about whether DropBox.com is compliant with this.

Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the EEA unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data.

Now, what this means is that if you use your online storage and sharing to move about or access anything that can be deemed ‘personal data’ (which for teachers can range from pictures of children, their personal details, information about their progress, medical information and so on) then you have to do it within the European Economic Area or other countries where we have set agreements. With the US this is called the U.S. – EU Safe Harbor and there is a list of companies who have been certified with this and across what aspects. It is important to remember that being certified is only part of this … the specifics of what has been agreed is equally as important and that will differ from company to company. I have previously commented about iCloud and Apple before to reflect this.

When you look at the list you will spot that DropBox.com is not there. When you dig through the T&Cs for DropBox you will find that they use Amazon for their storage facilities … which is good … Amazon *are* on the Safe Harbor list so that seems to tick the boxes … apart from they don’t say that they will only ever use Amazon and they don’t say how they use them, and what agreements they have in place. Ah … so we are back to square one then.

I have asked the question twice now of DropBox.com and not even had tickets opened. There is a discussion at the moment about this on the forums and still no definitive answer.

To deal with this I know some users of DropBox will make use of other security solutions to bolster how they deal with DropBox. This involves using an encryption tool to create a secure folder / file which is then synchronised via the only service. A common tool for this is TrueCrypt and that works fine at a technical level … meeting the criteria of DPA Principle 7, where you are taking suitable technical measures to ensure the security of data … but the principles are not pic and mix … you have to meet them all. Right now I use an encrypted folder on Dropbox for my non-sensitive files (so only I and others I trust can access them) and do not use it at all for sensitive items.

For sharing pictures for stimulus with others (teachers / children), for sharing videos, etc, especially cross-platform and when using apps on mobile devices, then I can see that it will be fine for use in UK schools … but for staff to share in general … no … not yet.

SkyDrive does meet the criteria as the data centre used is in Ireland, but it is still worth thinking carefully about what you are sharing with others and how.

Article published on EduGeek.net and copyright to EduGeek.net and Tony Sheppard

Image : File System by iBjorn (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Can you ever have too much of a good thing?

Well, it looks like you can.

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

IMG_0934

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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