39 posts categorized "Security"

August 31, 2015

What it means to be visionary

I'm working on a project where we're trying to inspire engineers to think beyond improving the existing objects and services in our world, and invent what we don't even know we don't even know yet. We're getting them to bump into their own unknown unknowns

This Steve Jobs video, above, is from 1997, where he describes in anecdote how he has created, over the seven prior years, what we know today as cloud computing. And yet, even today, there are plenty of institutions that struggle with the notion of putting everything "up there", where it is faster to access and safe(r) from loss. 

So the question is this: do you want to be a visionary, or follow one for an exciting ride, or be around nearly twenty years later questioning the vision of those who went off and did it? 

March 29, 2013

Help! Missing: trust in young people

I'm currently attempting some "holiday" in France, but the downtime has had my brain whizzing with sights that are more or less unfamiliar, certainly not from the time when I lived here over a decade ago or from my wife's own upbringing.

One such thing is what you can observe in the photo I took in a book shop in a city centre mall. This was the third shop we'd been into where we observed the same pattern:

Children and teenagers, though never adults, would diligently and without having been told to, take their bags to the entrance and dump them in a pile before going about their shopping.

I remarked that in pretty much any other country, a) the bags would be stolen within minutes, or b) they'd be removed as a bomb threat, and almost certainly c) any young person asked on entering a store to leave their bag would cry foul, civil liberties and assumptions of innocent-until-caught-with-a-loot-of-school-supplies (this was a stationery and book shop; hardly the stuff of hardened crack heads or hungry desperadoes).

France is certainly struggling at the moment. Her economy is dying, her politicians panicking, her entrepreneurs leaving by their hundreds every week on the Eurostar.

But success might be more likely to appear some day soon if it can do one thing for the taxpayers, citizens and workers of tomorrow: trust them as equal citizens in a Republic built on liberté, égalité and fraternité.

Help! Missing: trust in young people

August 13, 2012

Using spam to learn about persuasive language

A genius lesson or two from Scottish colleagues who immerse students in real world spams in order to see what kinds of reply they might write:

I gave a class of twelve year olds a selection of genuine spam emails and asked them to write down what their replies to these would be. It mostly purported to be from a distressed Nigerian monarch living in exile looking for a friendly Briton to share a fortune with. Some of the kids quickly twigged and wrote sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek responses. But a few of them seemed genuinely intrigued and happy to enter into correspondence; others tried to negotiate the terms to make more money. It was this naivety and innocence that I wanted to address in the pupils. They had to become aware of dastardly tricks.

As an English teacher, it was important to zoom in on the persuasive language techniques used in spam emails. By the end of the unit pupils could tell you that spam emails use terms of endearment to hook in the recipient, include hyperlinks to news articles to make their stories more plausible, describe accidents or impending threats to generate sympathy, and specify tight deadlines to make the deal seem juicier.

Read more and get some resources for this on the Scottish Book Trust site. Hat tip on this one to my old colleague Bill Boyd.

Photo: Holley St Germain

January 05, 2012

Collaboration 7: Implementing the Wrong Solution

One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:

Implementing the Wrong Solution

Following on from misdiagnoses, is finding the wrong solution. Learning Management Systems, as described earlier, were the wrong solution to the wrong problem. IT managers were convinced that some IT, instead of some psychology, would help solve the problem of teachers not sharing their work and ideas.

The same's true of those trying to 'protect' young people by not allowing them or encouraging them to post to the open world wide web: the problem is not so much internet predators as the lack of media literacy skills to not put oneself at risk online. The right solution here is not internet filtering or setting school blog platform defaults to 'private', but to set school blog defaults to 'public' and initiate a superb media literacy programme for every student, parent and teacher.

Morten T Hansen's answer is that we need disciplined collaboration, where leaders i) evaluate what opportunities there are for collaboration (where an upside will be created), ii) spot the barriers to collaboration (not-invented-here, unwillingness to help and preference to hoard one's ideas, inability to seek out ideas, and an unwillingness to collaborate with people we don't know very well).

Picture from Noel C

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.

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

July 01, 2009

Help map our Western World censorship

So, the kind of censorship we've been hearing about most this past few weeks has been of the Iranian type. However, while it may be fashionable to carry your green Twitter avatar in support of free speech halfway around the world, we are all too quick to forget that on our own doorsteps public sector internet service providers regularly block free speech and tools that make this possible with their firewall policies. It's not any cleaner or more reasonable than Iran blocking Facebook or Twitter for their purposes, serving only to control what the public hear about their public services.

Join The Guardian's global challenge to crowdsource internet censorship of all sorts right now, and show how much of Britain's and North America's public sector ISPs are just as unreasonably restrictive of adults' web rights as Mr Ahmadinejad's Government.

June 09, 2008

Buy your domain name: you're not so vain

Domain_name Have you bought your own name dot com? It's not a question of vanity, but a fundamental issue about owning your online identity, and potentially grabbing that of your children's, now.

This weekend I made a tentative start at creating a website for potential clients and those wanting to get just a few free highlights from this 4000 post behemoth of a blog. It's under ewanmcintosh.com and isn't quite finished.

But buying your own domain name is what most educators, with our non-business heads on, would frown upon, or at least look incredulously upon as something only the self-obsessed and ego-centric would do. Wrong. Your dot com is you in the 21st century, and there are two tales to make you think seriously about this.

First, the case of Shel Israel, a dear friend and someone who has helped in his own way to expand the eduBuzz ethos in East Lothian along with the inimitable Rick Segal when they visited us 18 months or so back now. Shel has had his name stolen. Imagine that you arrive at school and, after a few years there, someone comes in wearing a pastiche of you and what you believe in, but their passport says... yup, they are definitely you. YOU don't exist any more. Shel made a big mistake, but one which I was making for two years until I bought my own domain (www.ewanmcintosh.com and .co.uk) in 2006. The difference is, his reputation on being an expert on the web has been dented. Even Robert Scoble's not bought his.

Now, though, comes the other phenomenon of the social web. When you see one of those increasingly annoying posts about the latest app that you must have or your life will be meaningless, what do you do? Ignore it? Sign up? Use it? Well, you'd be well advised to sign up, get your username and then, if you wish, ignore to your heart's content. Loic Le Meur, another leader in the social media domain, has been caught out not because of any obvious errors but due to something a little more suspect. When a new web service was launched it didn't grab him straight away. But it did grab an anonymous net user who, through a grudge to Loic or "just to have a bit of fun" started to slander his reputation virtually by sending inappropriate material to 117 of his contacts who had already 'befriended' their pal Loic. Thankfully, the company in question resolved this, Loic being a headfigure of the new web probably helping a tad. I doubt I would have that priviledge should the same happen to me.

So the lesson, people: buy it now. I use LCN.com, just because I do. Buy your name with dot com, dot co uk (and maybe dot org) from any company you feel is worthwhile, and feel free to say where you think works best in the comments.

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.

May 12, 2008

Facebook's safety oxymoron: Facebook Connect

 Facebook is appealing to the education community with its raft of proposed measures against morally ill-fitting content for its teenage audiences, but is simultaneously introducing Facebook Connect, a background service that will propagate your social networking identity far across the web, as you surf it.

With so few social network users understanding how to personalise the privacy of their profile, this seems a digital breadcrumb nightmare for unsuspecting teens leaving their digital trace all over the place.

Trusted authentification sounds great, but is only as good as the user's knowledge of the security and privacy of the third-party site in question. The same issues that arose around the security of third-party applications - could they be replicated here?

Real identity, rather than pseudonyms, certainly helps Facebook follow up on misuses of the site, as per the reasoning given in their new ramping up of safety, but regularly changing pseudonyms have helped to some degree in making youngsters less searchable, and less connectable with their real-life locations.

Friends access will help propagate even more return traffic to the Facebook site, and more conversations between users based on the shared interest they had in site x, y or z, but it also means that, without my wanting to, friends and family can see where I've been. This is what Beacon was slammed for - is it not sneaking in here, too?

I'm not sure about any of this - portability sounds great, as long as you're in control of it. However, if this is introduced as an opt-out then most Facebook users won't find the privacy changing settings to do that. Facebook need to make their privacy control not only easier to use, but they need to help users learn the consequences of keeping certain elements private, and moving others into the public sphere.

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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