General ramblings

Thoughts as as when they come.


There is at once a sensibility and futility of Bring Your Own Technology for schools.

The practical sensibility is that it would end the increasingly difficult situation of supporting the costs of maintaining organisation sized collections of technology. Particularly within the rapidly changing computing world, maintaining it, keeping it trouble free and doing so while most users have possibly more powerful equipment at home or certainly more personalised and learner oriented.

The futility is that we can’t use them properly. Schools simply use computers are replacements for text books, school worksheets, library or encyclopedias. That doesn’t need personalisation, it certainly doesn’t need the most powerful. What it does need is to keep the status quo of schools who are under the demands of external assessment systems, which have no way of recogising or allocating a number grade to student work.

If we were to start allowing students to be creative in their responses to assignments and projects, if we were to give creative options to students in how they approached their learning, then the traditional way of recognising achievement of syllabus content would be next to impossible. Teachers are not trained or experienced in this area, they haven’t encountered the capacities of technology when applied to learning.

How would they allocate a grade to student work? How would they condense an entire semester’s work into a pithy sentence or two in the end of term report? How would they be able to successfully designate dux through a mark with an accuracy of 2 or 3 decimal places?

The pipe dream of students bringing and being responsible for their own technology would be extraordinary. We’d have to change assessment schemes. We’d have to find some way of recognising individuality. We’d have to find some way of coping with students who learn differently from the ‘norm’. We’d have to make provision for teaching them applications skills on programs that class teachers may not have even seen. We’d have to hand over some power and not assume teachers have all the answers.  Ludicrous!

BYOT, pftttt!

Moving away from printed books

Disregarding all the usual issues with publishers dragging the chain on making their school text books available in various soft copies…

We often find introducing a different option is a slow process – a bit like introducing Broccoli to kids.  This article reifies for me some of the issues I bump into.

It explains a little why kids think the way they do.‎ The myth of digital native is long proven to be nonsense.‎ Their outlook is determined directly by those who show them the possibilities.‎ Our influence as teachers – even as supposed digital migrants is huge.‎ They will take their lead (sometimes unconsciously) from how we model things.‎ Our reliance on text books will influence them.‎ Our limited use of ICT will limit them.‎ Our extensive use and ‘have a try’ approach gives them a belief that there are alternative ways, new ‎ways options and even if we try and fail, it’s a good thing.

We are where they find things out.‎ I wonder if the idea that alpha males taking to e-book formats more readily than girls is because ‎teachers consciously or otherwise treat them differently.‎ There’s a PhD in there somewhere…‎

So? What is a domain name?

When you surf to a website, you can get there two ways.  In your browser (Firefox or Internet Explorer) you can type in the real address:  This looks like  Or, you can use the name attached to that address, something like This is the domain name.

We have ownership of the domain name this means that if anyone surfs to that address they will see content that we put there. Names on the internet are only leased (you pay for them for a time period and if you stop paying then they are available to someone else to purchase.

What might this mean to you?

Have you ever tried ego surfing? That’s where you type your name into Google and see if you turn up. Or just type in your name in the browser and see if there’s a web site on you. Not surprisingly there is unlikely to be a web site about you unless you make it. Yet, this is what a potential employer is going to do. When you apply for a job, your potential employer is likely to look for you on the web to see if they can find some information about you. This is an opportunity for you to improve your chances of reaching the interview stage. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if they found a web site about you – listing all your achievements, your skills, your suitability to the job, your value to the organisation and with links to your hobbies or sporting interests?  Remember though this should be balancing the fine line of introducing you without publishing personal data like your address or other details you wouldn’t want to make public. This also shows an employer how responsible you can be and smart in managing your won information.

If this sounds like a smart move – purchasing your own domain name before someone else gets it is a good thing; populating it with your research papers from Uni, listing achievements and so on, you might give yourself a head start when looking for a job.

Go to one of the web sites that let you purchase domain names, search to see if your name is available and maybe ask someone for the name as a birthday present.

Viruses = lots : us = not so many…

One of the advantages of working in a computing environment where someone else is managing the infrastructure is that computing becomes relatively clean and simple. This can lead you to thinking all the world is that way. It’s not so. While virus and malware is a little considered thing around the College, in your own home environment, these things are real and ever present threats to your computers. In fact, the threat is growing exponentially.

For example, Symantec’s security response group say “We’re identifying 20,000 or more signatures every day”.  (“Signatures”, are identifying footprints of a newly discovered malware.) This is an increasingly large pool of malware and infected web sites.

This means you must likewise keep up and be constant in your protection of your computer and online information.

Spending money on a good security suite is generally a good investment, but if you’re on a budget, or simply don’t like the idea of forking over yet more money on another piece of software, there are free security programs that do a good job detecting and isolating computer viruses and malware.

Companies such as Avast, AVG, McAfee, and Microsoft offer very good, free software protection against viruses, spyware, Trojan horses and the other kinds of malicious programs that are just waiting to infect your computer as soon as you connect to the internet.

Computer magazines regularly compare and evaluate these applications and while the top contender position changes hands occasionally, most of the free products perform well. They are each capable of detecting most malware and viruses and dealing with them appropriately. Providing, of course, you keep them up to date.

Short of spending considerable money on yet another application, such free protection is so much better than none at all. Remember that the paid for market leaders such as Symantec, Kaspersky McAfee and such, generally offer a larger suite of capabilities including spam filtering and parental internet control.  Occasionally these features make them well worth the cost.

Cutomers don't seem to matter; except for their money.

It’s no secret that the Rudd government is about to issue thousands and thousands of netbook like devices to all Year 9 students.  There is much consternation on who will support them and how they are used in the classroom and so on. All the usual whinging that happens with anything that isn’t routine.


There is a prior level of detail that is at issue – getting that many devices delivered. I have dealt with many a company and bought items from all of them at one point or another. Once the signature is on the purchase order, then the commitment of the company to education (or customers in general) becomes clear.  Given the expectation is that you walk into a shop make a purchase and leave the shop with goods is normal – facing anything longer than a few days delivery time isn’t acceptable.  To be told it is weeks and weeks is simply taking the mickey. Any company that take months to make a delivery has to be questioned as to their capacity to be considered worthy of dealing with.

Computers in education is a now issue – having them on mass is a very soon issue.  I’m astonished by the arrogance of a company that can produce a machine that’s simply average then offer a delivery time of months, yet still consider itself worthy of being on the gov tender list.  Go figure!

So why is filtering a pointless exercise?

Filtered, sensibly restricted internet access via cable and wireless should be available in all schools. It should be an attractive option within school grounds based on: ubiquitous access, high access speeds, uncapped capacity, extremely high reliability, large file storage capacity, reliable backup and support from sound educational software.  This isn’t generally the case. Over zealous wowser appeasing and plain old arse covering fear usually dictates what is and isn’t allowed. Make it attractive and there’s no reason to look outside the boundaries. Filter sensibly and not punitively and no one will be unhappy. Make it so restrictive that it’s failing – everyone will instantly look for a way around. If filtering means that educational activities become impossible in school – the minute a kid has to say “I had to do {insert educational activity here} at home because I couldn’t do it at school” filtering has gone too far.

It’s nearly impossible to get perfect – I’ll list why in a minute, but the option of block everything – just in case – doesn’t work.

It’s never possible to get it right to suit everybody but trying to account for everyone means no one wins…
Consider granularity – this refers to the level of detail to which content can be filtered. This cannot be based on age or year grouping. Children reach different stages of maturity at different ages. School work crosses many class or form boundaries and sometimes includes non-school study, and filters cannot differentiate. The better solution – parental and teacher supervision plays a large role in the success of filters that cannot “think” so recognise this and let it be the criteria.
Current filtering technologies rely heavily on the accuracy of text-based descriptors to classify content – text entries are being superseded by multimedia graphics, video, podcasts, audio files, etc. It is not possible to automate the classification of these, and human intervention is not feasible and could be too subjective. Another reason technical filtering is not a good solution.
Filters cannot be changed on an ad hoc basis so can never be pitched perfectly. Another reason to look for an alternative to blanket blocking.  Don’t forget the issues of living in a multicultural society; what is appropriate to Australian culture may not suit others. For example, the internet doesn’t “understand” irony, colloquialisms or slang.
All these reasons point to teaching kids how to have their own filters, a level of sensibility that carries with them no matter where they are; prohibition doesn’t work (ask the American tea cup parties) but developing sensible coping mechanisms and appropriate behaviour does.
Besides, filters are easily bypassed; hundreds of new proxy servers appear every day and the jungle tom toms quickly spread the word. Put a TOR application on your home PC, access your home PC from school (all perfectly legit looking) but have access to the world.
The majority of filters work on meta data or text descriptors. Use the IP rather than the URL and filters are confused. Don’t forget instructions for VPNs are readily available with a few Google searches, they are free, simple and very effective at hiding activities even from ISPs and filters.
Filtering should also be considered in the context that a significant and growing portion of the student (and staff) population has 3G mobile devices (mostly phones) with independent internet access. Tethering is becoming easier and easier. Monthly access fees are coming down in price and bandwidth increasingly cheap.

Don’t forget there are multiple leaked wireless signals from local dwellings around all schools mostly with unfiltered and unprotected access. A quick scan with a NetStumbler reveals enough to cover you. Illegal, certainly, easy, just as certainly. These sources provide limitless access to all internet content. They are controlled by the subscriber and not by the school authorities. Schools cannot stop this – short of a giant Tesla coil around the school of course. Like that’s going to happen.

Students are inventive, curious have heaps of time, determination and a technical support community worthy of an IBM. Hide something and they’re sure to want to find it. Remove internet access and they will go looking for it. And it’s all too easy…

Does filtering encourage independent learning?
It is no longer desirable or feasible for teachers alone to cater to the diverse needs of a class in their journey from knowledge and recollection to achieve the necessary deep understanding and creative application that are required for success in the world of their future. More than ever before schools need to prepare students to become effective and independent, life-long learners who can respond to the ever growing knowledge landscape, the dynamism inherent in 21st century learning, the consequent shortening use-by dates of all qualifications and the expectation of multiple career directions, that will mark their lives.

The advent of the internet has enabled rich, targeted learning experiences to take place unbounded by institutions or geographical boundaries or timetables, and which compliment and go beyond classroom activities. These may be delivered by school directed On-line Learning Environments or by various independent internet communication tools, sourced by either students or teachers. The most effective 21st century learners will be those who are “connected” to diverse resources comprising their Personal Learning Network (PLN) and who have developed the digital literacy and academic and ethical skills to apply their learning with creativity and wisdom.

Schools therefore need to take up the challenge of helping our students to develop these necessary life-long education skills and to model learning as the building of rich personal learning networks.

Modern teachers should be able to model appropriate use of information technologies and their content and to provide guidance to students as part of their normal professional duties.

Schools need to develop independent, self-disciplined, digital citizens – capable of being self-protecting, sensible and responsible users of digital internet-based content.  Rather than blanket ban internet access and not only allow inadequate white lists, they should foster age-appropriate knowledge and skills necessary to develop self-protecting, sensible on-line behaviours.