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#EduScotICT: The future has to change

Mike Russel’s announcement that we are now going to have a serious debate and discussion about Technologies for Learning in Scotland was very welcomed.  Today’s EduScotICT Summit was a very interesting, if brief, segment of current thinking.

“Make it open for us to connect”

And the most useful input of the whole day? From the pupils and they said what I (and many others) have been saying for a long time: allow open and free access to Wi-Fi for all devices, allow them to connect and allow learners the same freedom in school as they have at home, in McDonalds, in Cafe Nero etc. etc.  Why are local authorities terrified of this? It isn’t rocket science to configure a Wi-Fi network so that the corporate infrastructure is hidden from the person just connecting to access the web.  Maybe it’s because we need investment in the links between schools and the national Interconnect because LAs are concerned that the network can’t cope with the traffic levels?

Yes, we do need that investment, but I think the real problem is that those that run our networks have had 15 years of being conditioned about the “terrors” of the web and how vulnerable our learners are.  Yet, these are the same learners that, as soon as they leave our schools, are connected – on mobile, on laptops, on tablets – without our filtering to “protect” them.

This takes me back to when I worked in the IT industry (many) years ago.  When purchasing it was often said “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” – the same goes for our ICT support people, “No one is going to get fired for ensuring that the filtering protects learners”.  Everyone is worried about their liability – what happens if a parent brings a case where his/her child was exposed to inappropriate content or worse because of the access the child had to the web in school?   The solution to this issue needs political leadership, if we want to use the web in schools then we need a Scottish Government that will place the emphasis on responsible use and not on the network provider.

Internet Safety is vital but it goes hand in hand with responsible use.  99% of our learners will use the Internet responsibly – why should we lock it down so that it is almost useless because of a small number of users?  We need to educate our learners about how to protect themselves online AND make them very much aware of their responsibilities.  We should remove the burden of filtering from local authorities so that they can focus their efforts on improving bandwidth to schools.  A nationally procured reporting and monitoring system for Internet and Web use could work brilliantly, especially if parents could subscribe to be sent reports about what their children are accessing or even decide what their child can see or not see.

How serious are we about technology?

Nationally we don’t have a joined up plan for technologies for learning or for delivering the essential skills that our next generation of learners will need to survive in a creative, skills based economy. The uptake of our Computing courses at all levels, school, college and university is declining (http://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/3773.html – look at the trend from 2005 for computing presentations). The pattern in Scotland, which is mirrored in England, is a 30-33% drop in uptake in Computing/ICT. For 15 years our Computing curriculum has been fixated on Office applications and training – we’ve avoided creativity and programming for too long!

Greg Michaelson made an excellent point today and it’s one which I have spoken about a number of times.  There is an additional and pressing need for Computing skills in our economy – this is bigger than just using ICT creatively for learning in all areas of education – and it is a point that we cannot afford to ignore.  We need to significantly invest in retraining many of our computing teachers and we need to re-position computing as a core element of the curriculum.  We will not have the creative people who can drive our economy forward in the future without this.

Open Source, Open Content, Open Sharing, Open Development

I could always see the sense in developing Glow using a variety of OpenSource tools (the 2009+ refresh adding Blogs, Wikis, Forums etc. was a very welcomed addition).  I could never, and still don’t, see the sense in the way a big IT provider (in Glow’s case Research Machines) hobbles these services and removes some of their core functionality.  The big provider has never been agile…RM didn’t enable compression on Glow pages until I pointed out the 1.3 Mb download of stylesheets  and javascript which was accompanying most pages – compression on pages should have been implemented from the start of the project!  And there was the SharePoint Search Cache issue on hidden pages in Glow groups which meant that some hidden pages would take up to 30 seconds to load. And we have to ask why uploading of video is such a big problem in Glow…is it because of concerns about storage capacity or about the bandwidth used to stream this video?

I can sign-up for free at wordpress.com and have a video on my blog in seconds.  With Glow I have to jump through hoops. Not because it isn’t possible but because the provider has made it (almost) impossible. That makes no sense.

Times are tough and we know that there is a significantly smaller budget available than the previously mooted £5 million a year for the next 5 years.  We need solutions which will deliver value for money for the tax payer and provide a reliable platform for users.  When you look at it only Microsoft or Google can provide this kind of service at the reduced budget we now have.  Of these two offerings the Google one is supplied entirely free, is the more mature of the two and would allow us to develop additional services outwith and within the platform. Google Apps for Education has the Google App Engine for developing applications within the cloud, will provide each user with 25 Gb of storage and support whatever single sign-on we use.  Today at the ICT Summit, Peter Dickman from Google spent his time answering the questions that had been put on the EduScotICT Wiki – sure if you wanted to be cynical it was an advert for Google’s service but I’m not that cynical – he was answering genuine points raised and answering them very well indeed. I like the Google platform, and features like Google+, which will come to Apps for Education,  could allow teachers to construct their own class groups very easily.

Microsoft’s Steven Grier spoke about a school where the focus is on learning and not about technology – he is absolutely right.  We need to focus on making use of technologies for learning.  And we need to remember that teachers love content, I want stuff that will help me teach my classes.  Whatever the next Glow is we should ensure that all content to support new National Qualifications and to support our developing Curriculum for Excellence is hosted within it. I want resources I can remix, reuse and post back online for others.

A new platform must make sharing easier.  The hierarchical local authority based structure of Glow doesn’t work.  It’s difficult to find people and even more difficult to set up documents or other resources on which to actively collaborate.  Solutions, such as Google Docs, make collaboration easy and we can use custom tags in user profiles to allow users to provide additional information about themselves which will help others, within the platform, to find them.

And anyone can develop additional tools for the platform.  Imagine the opportunities for developers, where we have a national platform on which to offer additional services? A school/local authority MIS written in Google App Engine?  Language learning tools written to make use of Google Talk.  The list of possibilities is endless.

With the content and services in the cloud and devices which allow access anywhere at anytime we can reduce our spend on desktop ICT, software licences, school servers, backup, corporate email services and the IT support that goes with them.  Apart from a few specialist subject areas such as Art&Design, Computing, Music and Design & Technology there is very little need to fill schools with computers when the alternative of giving every learner a tablet or similar device results in a personalized learning experience, develops responsibility and facilitates anytime, anyplace learning. Imaging the first paper-free school?

We need to completely rethink the experience we offer our learners. We need to invest in the infrastructure to allow the connectivity. We  need to provide our learners, parents and teachers with a set of tools which add value to the Glow experience. A set of tools that work for them.

 

4 comments
  1. Robert Drummond

    Great post Charlie.
    I agree with many of your points.

    I find it incredibly frustrating that Glow ‘hobbles’ services. I’m currently working on re-creating our school website part of which is in Glow and the front-end which is out of Glow.

    Why is the front-end out of Glow? Well we want features like drop down menus, instant updates via wordpress apps, and a choice of themes, (oh and a web-address that isn’t like something out of Star-Trek logs).

    When we look at blogging with children in Glow, someone who already blogs will ask about a feature that’s on wordpress but not in Glow, and the morale in class sags.

    Kids know when they’re getting second best (in my day it was whether your football shirt was genuine, nowadays it’s more likely to be the OS on your phone!)and want (and deserve) the best. Your comment about wifi in McDonald’s and Nero’s but not in school is excellent Again kids see that their views and custom are sought by these places, but in school.? Yes you can have a school council, but…

    We need to Glow (or Glow-alike) to make the kids buzz, like FB does or iphones do (because often these are the tools which they currently use to discuss homework anyway).

    I think there is the talent and enthusiasm to do this in Scotland and we owe our youngsters our best efforts to create it.

    Gee, sounding a bit pompous now!
    Anyway, great post IMO and thanks for sharing.

  2. James Batchelor

    Hi,

    Brilliant! I agree with all that you have said. We are being hamstrung by technology miss applied, not being aided. Thanks.

    (I spent the last twenty years before becoming a teacher in IT of various flavours. I was not allowed to become a computing teacher because the amount of computing content in my first degree (Queen Mary, London, Engineering 1977) so I teach technology. We use PCs by the bucket load but are hamstrung by licensing issues except in Engineering Science. Here everything we use is free of issues like that. In fact if Education Scotland and the SQA do what they say they do we will use platforms like Arduino, completely open source. We have an opportunity to use this platform across computing, art and design and CDT. you can interface with wifi, 3G, tcp and udp ip, bluetooth etc. The basic Arduino Uno can be bought from Hong Kong for about £14 delivered to your door. Some of my pupils have bought their own and are becoming quite proficient in C. End of rant!) James

  3. Gareth Surgey

    Hi Charlie
    I whole-heartedly agree with your sentiments and assertions in this piece and those of the other two responses. The McDs analogy is very true and frustrating and your discussion on liability is apposite.
    As a (very) recent convert to twitter (and other social media) I stumbled on to your blog whilst using said to researching my case (to my SMT) for more access to social media for learning. I believe my school has a forward thinking SMT – they’ve permitted me (or should I say the pupils in my care) to produce the following and out with the control of our LA!!
    http://evoke.qahs.org.uk/ and http://s1.qahs.org.uk/
    Okay it’s not much but it is a start and has woken me up to the possibilities that exist and the hurdles to jump. What’s more encouraging is the realisation that I’m not alone in being frustrated with the current set-up and that there appears to be a ground swell of ‘activists’ prepared to engage with Government to this end. More power to your elbow! Will follow this one closely… if only to stop me going gaga!

  4. Ian Simpson

    Hi Charlie,
    TOTALLY and utterly agree. The ‘terrors’ of the Internet are putting a stranglehold on development of a sensible national solution and these have been perpetuated via rumour and sales-talk to people who have little knowledge of the technologies they are blindly signing the cheques for. I think that there should be a common framework to the system but that it should have reasonably open APIs to allow schools and >> PUPILS << to access areas using programming languages – now would that not be joined up thinking? Any innovative or clever scripts could then be shared with other users / schools in a similar way to Chrome extensions.
    Funny that you were mentioning the open wifi – I wrote a blog post on that very topic at the start of the holidays. Can't wait to get back to school to keep that plan going and get my classes outside of the school (once in a while anyway!)

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