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Cloud Storage – update

This is still an ongoing discussion in several places and occasionally I get a prod to look at something and respond. In this case it was a thread on EduGeek (again) and so I responded.

Below is a version of what I posted (with typos / language corrections)

When considering the use of cloud storage there are a number of areas to consider. 

  1. Under the Data Protection Act the most relevant of the 8 principles is principle 7.

    Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data.

    In previous years the ICO has talked about reasonable steps, but they now make it clearer that it is ‘appropriate’ measures, and consideration of this has to be based on the type of data being stored / processes and the likely impact / damage should it be compromised.

    Translation? Before you decide where you can store things you have to consider what you are storing.

  2. When looking at cloud based storage you need to complete a risk assessment of what is being stored, where it is being stored (location of actually servers, company history, T&Cs, etc), what measures are being taken (technical and organisational) to protect it and what are the alternatives?In the past there has been lengthy discussion about the suitability of certain services. Google Apps, Microsoft’s Office365, Dropbox and so on. The principles above stay the same. The ICO talks about data being processed outside of the EEA, companies that have signed up the Safe Harbor agreement between US and EU, advice on cloud computing in general and so on. The important differences between private cloud, community cloud and public cloud (and the resulting hybrid model that is possible with some use of all 3) should be considered here.Translation? Putting things in the cloud is fine, but you have to plan what you are doing and take care to make sure about the partner / service you are working with.

Previous conversations about the use of dropbox can be summarised in the following points

  • Do we know where the data is? Yes, we now know they use Amazon storage based in the US.
  • If the Data is outside of EEA can we still use them? DropBox have now signed Safe Harbor so there is nothing there stopping you anymore.
  • Is it safe? Yes, for a given value of ‘safe’ … the data when stored it is not so much how the data is transferred, or how it is stored when it gets there … more a case of how is access controlled. This takes us back to the ‘appropriate technical and organisational measures’ part of theDPA.

Now let’s look at what considerations should be taken for *any* cloud based service. This is not a definitive check list, but it is a darned good place to start from chatting with most folk.

  • Check where and how the data is stored.
  • Consider if it is within EEA or in US and with Safe Harbor signed. If it is with a US company who has signed Safe Harbor but there is no guarantee the data is held in EEA or US then you have to consider the locations where it is stored and the impact any local laws there may have (e.g is it stored in Australia, Brazil, Thailand, etc and do any local laws mean data could be seized differently to if UK / EU / US laws were applied?) and how this affects you.
  • What are the guarantees around the company? Anyone can set up a service but do you trust the company? Have they passed any security audits? If they are a specific education company do you need to consider DRS checks?
  • Now the data is stored outside of the school what are the restrictions on access / processing? Technical? Organisational? What are your audit trails for this?

Bringing it back to DropBox again … the main concern here is how the data is accessed and cached on local drives. Is the account a ‘personal’ account that is being used? What guarantee that you can control the data should that personal account no longer have the right to access the data?

  • Scenario 1 – HoD needs data to be shared with teachers in her department. She has a DropBox account, as do others. She uploads a coursework logging spreadsheet into a shared folder and others access / complete it. A member of staff leaves so that access needs to be removed. Who removes it? As the service used is personal then it has to be the HoD? Is she aware of this?
  • Scenario 2 – HoD needs data to be shared with HoDs for other departments to target intervention children. The spreadsheet will contain reasons for intervention, including details of personal circumstances (which can include Sensitive, Personal Data). A member of staff is suspended due to allegations … how is that data then secured? The school has no oversight of the methods used to share the data and is reliant on all staff taking ownership of controlling data. The audit trail for this is horrendous!
  • Scenario 3 – The same data is being shared between HoDs. One HoD installs the client on their home computer which is used by all family members. At this point the school has not control over how the data is controlled. Guidance is needed to be provided (using organisational measures rather than technical measures) but again, the audit trail on this is horrendous.
  • Scenarion 4 – The same data is being shared between HoDs. One HoD installs the client on a personal mobile device. The device is then stolen. Is this a data breach? How was the device encrypted? Can it be remotely wiped?

The above scenarios would make most people shy away from using *any* cloud service … but actually, the ways of dealing and mitigating the risk is pretty much the same as if you are using school hosted services.

  1. Make sure that your AUP for staff covers the use of cloud services and the personal responsibility that each member of staff has to ensure that they only share data by controllable means. The school needs to assess whether their staff have a good understanding of Data Protection and Information Management, and then they can chose appropriate training as well.
  2. Make sure staff understand what levels of data are being processed. DPA talks about two levels, Personal Data and Sensitive Personal Data. Becta also worked on the use of Business Impact Levels and the UK Govt still gives advice around this too. CESG has the specific information if needed.
  3. When using email make staff understand what sort of data can be shared on that service. Good practice is to store the data in a controlled location and email the link to it, rather than emailing the file around. This is also good practice for managing mailbox size too. win-win!
  4. Where cloud storage and email are accessed on a device then make sure it is encrypted, secure and wipeable. If desktops the physical security is taken into account, for laptops the device encryption, but for mobile devices (phone / tablets) there is a strong level of importance on device encryption, strong passphrase for access and the ability to remotely wipe. It might be that tablet devices need to have 3G access purely to allow them to be remotely wiped. The company position on how this is dealt with on personal devices (and the audit trail for verification too).

So, back to the question. Can you use DropBox?
Yes … but make sure you consider the above 4 points, factor in the cost (both technical and organisational) for implementing it (and yes, that includes training, checking staff personal devices, etc), the politics involved (not usually dealt with by NMs but by SLT …) and the timescales involved.

Make sure that SLT know and understand that this is to do with the application of a Law within the school … and that you are not being negative or trying to stop people doing things …

Look at alternatives. Remote access to school systems so that the data never leaves your walled garden are very good but can get very expensive.

Instead of using personal tool have a look at verified cloud based services. Some have not licence costs (O365) but you then get limitations on it being a free service, shared with others … and you have to factor in school staff time on it, and other have a cost but you then know that the service is backed up by SLAs, etc (declaration of interest … I do work for such a cloud-based service!).

I hope this covers off most of the areas you needed to look at, answered some of the questions that might arise within the school too.

Personal post with a smile

Sites and services like FB can allow people to take strength from each by sharing difficult times and happy times in their lives, so I thought I would add a happy one.

Having recently moved jobs, moved house with Martine Sheppard and our little J and dealing with the stress this can bring (and dealing with the fall out of possibly less than honest sellers!) I am also traveling 7+ hours a day at least twice a week to get into the office (essential at times when dealing with large scale projects) and my knee is giving me grief again. I know, I know … lose weight, light exercise, build up muscle strength and balance, etc … I am working on it.

This does mean that I am using my stick at times to get around. Partly to relieve the pressure on the leg and partly as protection to stop my leg getting bashed whilst crossing London.

And this is what restores a little bit more of my faith in human kind. A lot of us who have had to traverse London during rush hour have had good and bad journeys. The tube is busy and it is a fact of life. Yet, every time I get on the tube when using my stick there will be someone who offers me a seat. Since I only travel, at most, 4 stops before getting off and swapping to a different line there is actually little point in me sitting down but it really is appreciated. However, offerers always do it with a smile, usually a second look as if to say, “Are you sure?” and then another smile of acceptance. A smile in the morning or after a long day of work is a pleasure to experience.

I would consider making a log of how often this happens but I am terrible for things like that. I do think that it needs registering though, so all those who get a downer on human nature can think again.

Open to suggestions.

Anyway. I hope this also puts a smile on your face too … there are folk out there that are nice, helpful and for no apparent reason other than it is a good thing (TM).

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The Times They Are a-Changin’

avatar_fullTomorrow (well, in the morning actually) will see my last day at work at Northants County Council. It has been an interesting few years, with a number of interesting project and a chance to work with old friends and make plenty of new ones.

There has been good and bad along the way, and I am grateful for the opportunities I have had there, but with the direction things are taking it is only right that I move on (to bigger and better) and enjoy the future with my wife and our daughter as we move down south.

I only got involved with the LA because the school I was working at as Director of IT was a pretty vocal school. We had moved over the RBC for our internet connection as a political move to be closer to the inner workings of the LA to allow us to continue to bid for new buildings. We still ran most of our own services, we decided that the Standard Network Build was not a limiting bar but a platform to go well past (which we did on pretty much all occasions) and that we were happy to listen to the LA and RBC, but they had to listen to us too … and they did. Eventually we were told to put up or shut up … get involved with the changes or get what we were given. A working party for the procurement of the new RBC contract followed by similar for a Learning Platform, then a secondment for a day a week to help roll things out, then some extra days, then a year … and then a permanent post.

I was allowed a fair bit of freedom to continue to get involved in other groups and work with different communities so I got the best of all worlds.

We pump-primed many projects into schools and educational settings. The new RBC framework was designed to give flexibility and choice, and we helped schools by working with them on a decision-support toolkit … and whilst many moved away from the RBC they did so more informed … and they will make better decisions for it … and for some that will mean moving back to the RBC now they have realised what they had to start with and now they feel there is no political pressure about doing what the LA says. Some won’t but that is fine by me as long as they do what is in the best interests of their learners and other learners in the county.

We worked to roll-out a county-wide learning platform … and many schools have come to realise that a blog is a blog, a wiki is a wiki, a discussion is a discussion and a document repository is just that. It is how you join it together, support the use in the classroom and collaborate within the school and between schools that makes the difference. Working with people that can do this makes all the difference.

That is why I still look on with wonder at the work for Tom Rees and Peter Ford … their able recruits … because the work of NorthantsBLT is integral to this ethos and has improved so much of what goes on in our schools. The Mobile Tech Toolkit was an interesting way of getting schools sharing ideas and resources.

However, working with the technical folk across the county has been my biggest pleasure. I am a geek at heart … even if I have gone to the dark side and become manglement … and then onto project management. Seeing schools getting staff trained in FITS, helping schools appoint new Network Managers, seeing the profile of support staff in schools grow  so that they are recognised as valuable contributors to the school … that has been a pleasure. Working with them on Security Analysis of their systems, seeing the local NetworkNorthants community be taken over by the schools themselves … wonderful.

Being able to ring a few up and point out that they have made stupid change requests is also fun, and I promise not to mention anyone by name when doing any after-dinner speaking later on in life. Most of you know who you are and have also laughed when I have told you the silly things I used to do when working in a school too. Thank you for your patience when dealing with someone who *isn’t* a hands-on techie anymore.

I leave a team at the LA which is slowly going. LAs restructure all the time and they have to do so to reflect the needs of customers, the direction for central Govt and the available funds, no matter where they come from. I am sad to see such a thriving hive of ideas and expertise diminish … and have enjoyed working with pretty much everyone at the LA.

Good luck to those still in LAs, who work closely with LAs and those who still rely on the essential services many LAs can (and do) give.

I will be working for LearningPossibilities as of 1st April (no … don’t laugh), primarily on the Hwb project in Wales. It is another exciting project and the work I have done on it so far fills me with hope that people still see the benefit of collaboration, planning, thinking of others and actually considering tech as a tool to plan for, make use of and not as a magic bullet, getting all starry-eyed about the shiny!!!

My blogging has been slow recently anyway and that is unlikely to change in the future. I will still talk about things that fill me with passion, and hopefully people will still read with equal interest.

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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.

You say Computing, I say ICT…

It was interesting to see some of the education twitterverse today. From elation and smugness with the reversal and changes to proposals around GCSEs, to frustration and annoyance about the opening of the consultation on the draft National Curriculum … and then you hit the screams of joy or unbelief after ICT is slapped for a rename to Computing.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. The delivery of ICT goes from the wonderfully creative and engaging to the inane box ticking … and there can be a place for box ticking actually, but not how some folk do it within education.

Poor teaching is poor teaching. The idea that an important element of working with computers, including deep changes to knowledge and skills, was needed to be put back in had very few people disagreeing.

There has been some frustration about how some of this has been managed though, and how the interests of some groups seem to have pushed others out … a little bit of politics and a bit of Politics really. The agendas of some groups have ended up with a consultation that has, at times, excluded others … and if we consider that Naace (The ICT Subject association) members that have been leading the way on this … then it should not surprise anyone when Naace members get annoyed. I know I am. I am also a member of the BCS and yet they have done little for recognising the career and progression of my profession, those working in IT in education. It is a shame when the agendas of some stamp all over others … and the really sad thing is that most of the folk involved in those groups are not doing it intentionally … they are fighting for the same goals, but things get twisted around, certain businesses have their say and you just get that sinking feeling that we will be having similar conversations in 5, 10 and 15 years.

I put out a series of tweets earlier to express my initial feelings and to try to pass a message to others.

The name change from ICT is part curriculum need, part branding / marketing / spin and part politics (at both Gov’t and interest group level)

Considering the amount of cross-over with some of the interest groups I have a feeling a number of friendships are getting strained

For those doing great things under the umbrella of ICT, keep going. The snobbery against it will disappear over time … and we will all win

If you do poor things under the umbrella of ICT then this is a wake up call … and we hope things improve

But a Plato those enthusing about Computing … please don’t deride those doing great things as ICT, or allow others to do so!

Politics is a fickle thing … you never know when those in power will turn against you.

I hope this sums everything up for you …

Play nicely, play fairly, share and don’t let others tell your friends that they are not good teachers / educators / techies when you know they are!

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Naace ICT Impact Awards

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It felt very strange on Thursday whilst down at BETT … I was nervous, excited, pensive and lots of other things which generally mean I was not too sure how to feel.

I had been put forward for an award and was waiting to hear about being shortlisted.

Naace has no doubt about the impact that ICT can have on learning and teaching when used well by skilled and creative professionals. ICT makes a real difference to learner’s achievement and engagement; it offers access to resources that would otherwise be beyond the reach of any school or college, it allows communication and collaboration beyond the physical and temporal limits of the classroom; it allows learners to think more clearly and see the world from another perspective. Naace has a long standing history of supporting those working in education to use ICT to achieve the greatest possible impact, and now seeks to provide some formal recognition of outstanding work in this area. (taken from [url=http://www.naace.co.uk/events/conference2013/naaceimpactawards2013]Naace: Naace Impact Awards 2013[/url])

I was put forward for the following award

Technical Support Service Impact – Sponsored by Meru NetworksExcellent customer service and technical competence are assumed by this award, but to win it, it will be essential to demonstrate the key differences that the service has made to the learning opportunities and outcomes of young people.

And have been shortlisted against the following.

  • Tony Sheppard, Edugeek For tirelessly supporting colleagues around the country, providing guidance on suitable technology and facilitating the sharing of information and expertise
  • Joskos Solutions Limited For providing a consistently reliable ICT support service, with the flexibility to incorporate special projects and events, and enabling teachers to use ICT in their lessons with complete confidence
  • Phil Jones, Pool Academy For his enthusiasm and commitment to making ICT as accessible and enjoyable as possible, removing barriers to learning
  • Simon Sloan, Bedford Drive Primary School For his hands-on approach to supporting staff and students with their use of ICT in the curriculum and for introducing a range of opportunities to further the students’ experiences of ICT
  • Sahib Chana, Platinum IT For leading a range of technical changes and providing bespoke solutions across the curriculum that have accelerated and broadened the Academy’s use of ICT

I am amazed that a) I was initially nominated by someone who I respect for the amount of work he has done to enthuse his school, his fellow teachers, the education community and folk in general … and b) that folk are seeing the benefits you get from keeping technical folk involved, the impact that we can have on learning and also that we are thoroughly nice and helpful. As far as I am concerned, this shortlisting could have gone to numerous members of EduGeek (and it deserves too) and I am pretty sure that most of the above are members / lurkers anyway.

Good luck to all involved (and in the other categories as well) and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the NAACE conference.

New Kit? Stay safe!

“Oh the weather outside is frightful

But the fire is so delightful

And since we’ve no place to go,

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow”

(Cahn and Styne, 1945)

And whilst we enjoy our yuletide celebrations, marvel at the wonderous new gadgetry which has appear from underneath that tree and giggle at all the silly photos we take of people with fake moustaches from crackers, children in costumes and cousins who are a little worse for wear … we pause for breath and think about the mountain of old gadgets that have been building up in the cupboard under the stairs, in the loft, etc … and thoughts go to flogging them off, passing them on to family and friends or donating them to worthy causes.

Today I am asking you to spare a thought about your personal life and personal tech … not about where you are posting the above mentioned pictures (you should be thinking about that already) but more about what you do with the old equipment.

When new computers, tablets, phones, etc arrive in your life it is often because the old ones have kicked the bucket or because of the demand for the latest gadgetry. When you are in school and equipment is disposed of there are WEEE, security and data protection considerations which need to be thought about. In the same way you don’t just throw out old bank statements at home, you should also consider what is happening with your old equipment.

Phones can be wiped and rest back to factory settings, old SIM cards get cut up the same your old credit card does, hard drives from computers should be wiped before passing on for sale or donation (it is you responsibility … if you pay someone else then you are taking a risk … manage it the risk, don’t just deal with it by passing it on without consideration) and those USB sticks and SD cards from cameras need securely wiping and/or destroying.

I’ve found a few interesting things this year by running very simple undelete software on devices and have had to have some difficult conversations with friends.

There are plenty of guides on the various manufacturers’ websites about how to wipe devices, or you can search EduGeek.net for ideas … but make sure you protect you personal devices.

Just think about what sort of pictures are on your phones (which will often location tag them too so people know exactly where you have been with your children) and then think of people you know who work with vulnerable families … are they aware of this risk too?

Think of the emails and notes you have with your bank details or other personal information … identity fraud it a real and terrible issue.

Think of the work you may have done on your home device, saving sensitive data about children on it but you know that the device is safe in your home … except now it is sat at the household waste recycling centre about to be picked up by someone for a tenner!

I’m part way through my annual check of old kit, securely wiping hard drives, crushing USB sticks beyond repair and working out where to drop off my old kit (some of it *very* old now) so I’d be interested to hear the lengths that some of you go to when making sure you are disposing of old tech properly. Please note, the video below is not my suggestion, but I know that there are some fans around of “Will it blend?”

http://youtu.be/5MMmLQlrBws

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The Importance of School Domains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet Safety Talking Point 2

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

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

Today’s point is about Decision Making

The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet Safety Talking Point 1

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

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

Today’s point is about responsibility and accountability.

Even though they may use fancy terms and know more than you do about their domain, you never would allow your business manager or special education coordinator to operate without oversight. So stop doing so with your technology coordinator.

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

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

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

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

And this is where we hit a number of problems.

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

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