65 posts categorized "Safety"

March 07, 2010

Clarifications: Glow, VLEs, School filtering

Whether through over-zealous editing, poor transferal of interview material from me, over compression of complex arguments or the fact that newspapers feel they can only put online what little will fit in the paper edition (and in the case of the TESS, put even less online than in the paper edition), After being misquoted in a national education newspaper, for which the journalist has apologised (thanks), I feel moved to clarify some of the remarks attributed to me.

I also feel obliged to point out the boon that Glow, the national schools intranet, offers, something that will not make as sexy a story as the journos might want but which, frankly, matters a damn site more than their headlines.

1. Is "Glow the modern equivalent of a worksheet"? Absolutely not.

The original quote was lifted and, I believe, altered for Friday's Times Education piece, originally from an interview which coasted onto the subject of Glow and its Virtual Learning Environment. Glow does have a traditional VLE element, but VLEs and Glow as a whole are different. Becta, the UK technology in education agency, has its own take on what VLEs can offer and it is largely based around the administrative advantages:

VLE can help teaching and support staff manage and deliver a variety of daily tasks, including:

  • general class administration and organisation
  • the creation of lesson plans using existing resources
  • assessment and monitoring of students
  • allocation and marking of on-line assignments
  • discussion and support with students on line.

The various interactive tools of VLEs can also support learners with both class work and homework, and can cater for individual learning styles. For example, students can:

  • submit and track their assignments on line via a personal home page
  • contribute to and participate in discussions with classmates and other schools via the various conferencing tools
  • work at their own pace within and out of school – this is particularly beneficial to learners with special educational needs, such as students in hospital or children unable to attend regular classes for health reasons.

In this respect, I feel that most VLEs on the market today are like virtual filing cabinets, places where one can store virtual worksheets, PowerPoints with which to kill even more learners and summative assessment tools to finish off a few more.

Glow offers a VLE, with the summative assessment element hugely stripped back, reflecting Scotland's world renowned work in Assessment for Learning, but it packs in a heck of a lot more.

Most of Glow's impressiveness comes from its participation tools. Take, for example, GlowMeet. It is a game-changer, technologically to some degree but more through the imagination of teachers, Local Authorities and the central education agency managing the project, Learning and Teaching Scotland. In the past few months we have seen conferences between over 600 students and a world-famous author (though virtual book-signing still hasn't caught on), 1000 pupils learning about the Scottish puffin, a circus virtually attending school, and a master printmaker sharing his skill with the next generation.

It is a game-changer in that video conferencing with, say, Skype is a relatively one-to-one experience between classes. Glow encourages one-to-many and many-to-many experiences within a context, and as a result it helps spawn new connections between participating schools with a shared vision, shared outcomes and share culture that would take, relatively speaking, ions on the open, social web.

Case in point: when I was developing 22 international connections a year through blogs, wikis and podcasts at Musselburgh Grammar School I thought I was living the dream. It was just a shame that while we courted enthusiasm and links with schools on six continents, we failed to convince the teachers down the corridor that sharing materials and ideas and conversations online was a worthwhile exercise. Making international connections between learners is actually quite easy. Finding those connections within your own country can be a lot harder.

2. Do people who use VLEs change their pedagogy for the worse? Can VLEs "de-skill" teachers and students?

It can happen - and there's research to support this. The research is from the Higher Education world, but much of the VLE instructivist stuctures of HE VLEs like Blackboard are shared by one of the UK school system's most popular VLE platforms, the Open Source Moodle. The main risk comes from people using the VLE as their only technological tool, mistaking it for a learning tool rather than an organisational one, and not a) being aware of other potentially better tools for certain jobs out on the open web and/or b) not having access to them because of web filtering policies in individual schools or school districts.

This risk of pedagogical down-skilling is therefore very real in any environment where heavy blocking or filtering of communication and learning tools online (e.g. Web 2.0 technologies) prevents their use or prevents students and teachers experimenting to see what their potential uses might be.

Even if web access is opened, there is then a requirement to provide ample training opportunities in the pedagogical changes one might make in the light of these ever-changing toolsets on offer, especially for those who are less comfortable online. Without this, the likelihood, says the research, is that teachers will fall back to the lower, organisational baseline of technology on offer through the VLE.

Again, in Glow, things are a bit different. There is a toolset that is a) already far more than simply organisational, b) opens up both experienced and less experienced web users in the teaching population to learning opportunities afforded by video conference, shared whiteboards and asynchronous discussion through forums, for example, c) actually designed for learning and collaboration, not organisation, and d) constantly developing (since autumn 2009, at least) to offer tools more akin ot those available on the wider web, but with the added value of a Scottish education community (through authentication) with shared values, goals and outcomes.

3. We're missing the real story: internet filtering is our biggest challenge

Glow will gain more power to its elbow, however, when the abilities of teachers and students to incorporate more of the freely available, but currently blocked, content to their learning journeys.

This is not a Glow issue, though, and it's a mistake to blend the issue of filtering with the use of a VLE or communications and learning platform like Glow.

However, Glow's infrastructure offers an enviable world first in terms of reach and depth: not only is there a technical infrastructure, but there is a human one, one that can help set up those lessons of how to navigate the big, wide, wild web out there. To do it, though, we need the courage of Local Authorities to open up their access more and more, and empower this glowing network of trainers, students, teachers and enthusiasts to take the lessons we all must learn on web literacy and pass them on.

The way things are going, though, it looks like Scotland will be the envy of the world for its national intranet and the ugly duckling for its 20th Century approach to modern literacy. While England and Wales take the issue of opening up networks from blocked to managed to student/teacher-managed web access, Scotland's policy document doesn't even mention it - in fact, it copies the English statement word for word and strips out mention of how filtering should be approached.

This is the story. This is the sexy headline. This is the issue that we need to tackle much more aggressively.

I hope this is clear. I hope that it makes enough sense for people, should they wish, to challenge it or support it. I, frankly, want to move on, to explore and challenge this filtering issue. And, no, you can't quote me on that.

November 09, 2009

"People act different behind cameras": strangely disturbing cartoon

Via Graham Linehan's blog and Techcrunch is This American Life examining our attitudes to censorship, citizen journalism and how people change when they're behind a camera.

August 31, 2009

Time for a jerk of the knee: reasons to ban mobiles #54


"Fighting between Millwall and West Ham football fans was planned weeks before the match, the BBC understands.

"A Millwall supporter who organised some of the violence said rival fans arranged to meet via mobile phones."

The same situation within a school: what would the school do?

Pic: Millwall/West Ham

August 30, 2009

Children See. Children Do.

Children see. Children do. All teachers are aware of this as a concept, many parents, too. If you're a loud, stressed out, unhappy teacher then you'll generally have loud, stressed out and unhappy students in your class.

I put this video on my Facebook profile and it's had a good few comments along the lines of "everyone should see this". It's powerful and uncomfortable, but gives us all food for thought.

The question is, how many schools would show this to parents to remind of their role in the education of their youngsters? How many would drop a link into the next school newsletter? Go on. I dare you. As for forgiveness on this one, rather than permission.

Produced by Australian Child Protection Agency, NAPCAM.

August 14, 2009

Are you in charge of filtering websites? Then you have some explaining to do.


Common sense will never, it seems sometimes, win the argument over allowing our youngsters access to their tools in a school environment, with most education establishments the world over insisting on blocking and filtering YouTube, Facebook, Bebo and other social networks du jour.

Henry Jenkins outlines how the leader of the Free World came to power thanks to a resurgent interest in politics amongst a generation that we haven't seen since Vietnam. Young people didn't think they could create a change, especially not by voting, but in the end the devices that pushed them to the vote were the very tools that the State currently bans within the State's institutions:

"54.5 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 voted last November, constituting a larger proportion of the total electorate -- 18 percent -- then Putnam's bowlers, people 65-years-and-older (16 percent). The youth vote was a decisive factor in Obama's victories in several states, including Indiana, North Carolina, and possibly Florida...

"The Obama campaign was able to create an ongoing relationship with these new voters, connecting across every available media platform. Log onto YouTube and Obama was there in political advertisements, news clips, comedy sketches, and music videos, some created by the campaign, some generated by his supporters. Pick up your mobile phone and Obama was there with text messages updating young voters daily. Go to Facebook and Obama was there, creating multiple ways for voters to affiliate with the campaign and each other. Pick up a video game controller and Obama was there, taking out advertisement space inside several popular games. Turn on your Tivo to watch a late night comedy news show and Obama and his people are there, recognizing that The Daily Show or Colbert are the places where young people go to learn more about current events. This new approach to politics came naturally to a candidate who has fought to be able to use his Blackberry and text-messaging as he enters the White House, who regularly listens to his iPod, who knows how to give a Vulcan salute, brags about reading Harry Potter books to his daughters, and who casually talks about catching up on news online. The Obama campaign asked young people to participate, gave them chances to express themselves, enabled them to connect with each other, and allowed them to feel some sense of emotional ownership over the political process.

What has all of this to do with schools? Alas, frequently, very little."

Considering that most countries employ somewhere between 30-50% of the workforce within the public sector this means that Governments, that's politics and not the dry common sense of people living and breathing reality, are regularly doing little more than those working The Great Firewall: blocking the truly sole means of voter engagement and therefore democracy for those that will carry their countries forward into the future.

It's just appalling. Shameful. And while I would understand if this were a new issue on which decision-makers needed some time I'd be more inclined to be supportive and wait out a more sensible response than the existing one of blocking and filtering ad nauseum. But network admins and their managers have had nigh-on four years now to react to the changes around them.

Would anyone making that decision in a Local Authority or Administration care to explain it?

Photo from Joi

March 19, 2009

Jeff Jarvis on institutions' fear of the net

A beauty from Jeff's What Would Google Do, currently accompanying my commutes:

"Industries and institutions, in their most messianic moments, tend to view the internet in their own image: Retailers thin of the internet as a store... Marketers see it as their means to deliver a brand message. Media companies see it as a medium, assuming that online is about content and distribution...

"The internet explodes [this notion that industries and institutions have some point of control over people]. It abhors centralization. It loves sea level and tears down barriers to entry. It despises secrecy and rewards openness. It favors collaboration over ownership. The once-powerful approach the internet with dread when they realize they cannot control it."

With 4iP we're attempting to amplify a few of those distributed gems rather than trying to ensnare them to channel4.com, better traffic and eyeballs or not. We're insisting, much to the distaste of some, on collaboration over ownership of stuff. Jeff thinks it's the right way forward. I think it's the right way forward.

What about you? What about your institutions? A few on which I'd love a discussion: BBC (especially its news), Glow (Scotland's national intranet), Scottish Government services... any more?

March 17, 2009

Who's blocked where? Two minutes research engine

I'd hate to bore the fine readers in this establishment with yet more astonishment at the incompetence and laziness of some public sector institutions in their web filtering policies, but on the back of a comment from Peter in my last tirade, I'm encouraging as many of my British public sector chums to take part in Steph's Filtering Test Suite. It takes about 2 minutes to do and will help contribute to an overall picture of where we're at in the UK with filtering in our public institutions.

Arguably, if Steph were up for it, we could take that information regardless of where people were coming from and parse it into a beautiful open format for the likes of, well, me, to pop into glorious shaming technicolour on a Google Map. Anyone up for doing some heavy-lifting?

February 20, 2009

Exclusive: Some education authorities are truly incompetent

Thinkuknow Blocked
I'm angry. I'm bemused. This is the sight from the school-based computer of one teenager in a Scottish Local Authority as they try to access what is, arguably, one of the best web safety and media literacy sites in the UK, Government and European Union supported and funded. An Education Authority (District) has the site blacklisted as being part of a cult. Uhuh...

The Education Authority hasn't taken the proactive step to make sure this site is free and open to use on its computers, a site that is included in nearly every Government-issued piece of guidance on web safety and media literacy. It's February, more than halfway through the school year, and the issue has only just been noticed. Sites like this form part of an education authority's statutory duties of care to students. Being safe online and being able to access information online is not just an added extra in 2009.

Update: I'm reminded, also, that a summary of reports that was intended to be shared with Local Authorities (I don't know if it ever was), which I produced in my previous employment, included a recommendation from Tanya Byron's report to Government that filtering no longer be done with a top-down approach. It must be collaborative with children, empowering them to take responsibility for their online behaviours (paraphrase).

As such, I'd say this is, or borders on, incompetence. At the very least it's lazy. This is the kind of mistake that shows a systemic lapse in our education establishment's ability to encourage informed and proactive actions from those in educational and technology management. At the very least, I'd like to see that someone, somewhere in the strata of Scottish education management cares enough to make this a rather more public case study of how not to operate. It's only from errors like this that others can learn, after all.

September 05, 2008

Do I look like a dating website?

Is this for real, or is it some blogging pals having a belated April's fool?

Hi Ewan

I really was impressed with your blog. I have a high quality free dating service and was wondering if you would be interested in doing a review? We target mainly the U.S. , but also Canada, England, Australia and Scotland.

Not sure if you have done any dating site reviews but it does make for interesting reading. It could possibly be the implications of dating sites on relationships and if they really survive.

Look forward to hearing from you!

Dede Watson

Dede. I think not. However, you've got me thinking I really should plug Channel 4's excellent Sexperience season, starting tonight.

May 30, 2008

Video: Cyberbullying is bullying

Bullying happens to most schoolkids at some point in their school careers, not a minority, and cyberbullying makes it easier, quicker, more 24/7 than it has been in the past. But it also makes it potentially more visible and traceable for us to do something about.

I say 'potentially', since most schools still attempt to filter, ban or block the social networks and mobile phones where cyberbullying takes place, making it more difficult for the bullies to bully during school time, for sure, but not really helping teachers and students get to grips 'first person' with the issues at stake. I've even heard Head Teachers and Local Authority managers claim that it "isn't their problem" since the bullying itself isn't happening during school hours, thanks to their filtering. Fireable offense, surely?

This superb clip from Childnet, via Mediasnackers, helps address the impact cyberbullying - well, no, bullying in general - has on teens, and shows the bullies what should happen when they take bullying online or mobile.  It provides the "what would happen if..." scenario that always seems so unclear to the bullied, and therefore so unlikely to the bully. A great discussion starter for a school assembly, film or English class, you can view it on YouTube (and use Zamzar to convert into something more acceptable for school) or request a DVD copy if you're in the UK.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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