Censorship

A few years ago during the early stages of the MoLeNET programme, when many projects were contemplating their first widespread installation of WiFi, I came across quite a few naysayers. In the case of WiFi installations, most naysayers were techies! For my purposes a techie is someone who maintains an institution’s IT services and/or web presence. Their role is essentially support – not front line.

I therefore had to arrange a meeting where those same naysayers were presented with WiFi information, advice and guidance from another (but this time pedagogically enlightened and well renowned) techie. He did his best, and managed to convince most of the audience of the benefits for WiFi as well as how to make it as safe as necessary/possible. We’d been faced with worries (really!) such as – “what if someone hacks our WiFi and uses it to undertake a terrorist attack – how will I explain that to my Principal?” – so given that attitude, the ultimate success of all MoLeNET WiFi installations came as a great relief.

I mention this only because techies are quite often responsible for decisions about web access which affect the entire institution. See https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/ipds/ and https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/ipd-2/. I recently came across another mindless piece of Web 2.0 censorship. It would be crass of me to mention the institution or how I found out the details. However, I do think that it’s important that the matter is discussed.

A practitioner had asked for Dropbox to be unblocked by the techie helpdesk so he/she could access their stored files. The lecturer’s older files are on a series of unlabelled USB sticks, but Dropbox is now being used for ease of access and better file management.  Having asked to have it unblocked in the workplace, the request was denied thus:

Unfortunately dropbox.com is banned due to concerns over storage of the information and security issues. This ban was implemented at the start of term in line with the new web access policy, therefore we are unable to allow it for any users without a review of the policy.

First of all – who writes web access policies and why are they so restrictive? Are teachers or learners ever (EVER) consulted? Or, as I suspect (but have no proof of) are they bought blindly ‘off the shelf’?  Dropbox is a fabulous way of storing files of all type, unlike YouTube which is video only – and not banned at this institution. Neither is Facebook by the way! Unlike YouTube or Facebook, a Dropbox can only be accessed by its registered user – although that person may choose share specific files or folders. See http://www.moletv.org.uk/watch.aspx?v=B5GG2 and http://www.moletv.org.uk/watch.aspx?v=XQCEB for examples of an F.E. College using Dropbox for the benefit of its learners.

However, I must still challenge the institutional ruling on the grounds of its content:

  • storage of information‘ – does this mean that they will also ban USB sticks and users from saving ANY emails records
  • security issues‘ – what does this mean? Can employees still send emails to people outside the institution? Are they allowed to use institutionally franked mail when sending ‘stuff’ to non-institutional friends or colleagues?
  • review of the policy‘ – how often does it happen? who carries out the review? how do they (he/she) reach their decision?

And so on. As we get ever closer to colleges and universities realising that they could save money by using the cloud for storage, sharing, collaboration and communication, will the current policies need review. Urgent review.

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File storage and e-Portfolios

One of today’s topics of discussion was file sharing and the use of various facilities to create personal e-Portfolios. The e-Portfolio aspect of this discussion is certainly something that has taxed me for a long time and one that I have had a few goes at creating.I used to use e-Snips (http://www.esnips.com) http://grab.by/57O0 (Screen shot) and to promote it as “my own VLE” but over the years it has become unsuitable for use due to the way it has evolved. It now has a tremendous amount of adverts http://grab.by/57Oo (Screen shot) not all of which are appropriate for use in an education setting. So, although it is there and although it offers up to 5 gigabytes of free storage (with sharing options), I choose not to use it. This is a real shame because it used to be the way I easily shared files with colleagues and people who had attended sessions I’d delivered.

Instead, I now use Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com/) for storing most of my files. The benefit of Dropbox, is that I can access my files from any computer I use, provided it is connected to the internet. Where one has the software downloaded and installed on computers (I have mine on my Mac, my XP machine and my Vista machine) even the internet isn’t needed. Files altered or added to the offline version are synchronised between all machines as and when they do go online. If we like, we can share individual folders on Dropbox (which I have done on several occasions) for all sorts of reason. I have a folder I share with my wife, because it’s easier for us to share particular documents that way (easier than email or saving to external media); I have a folder I share with colleagues when working on collaborative projects and an further folder I share with my iTQ assessor. Furthermore, I have the Dropbox App on my iPhone – which allows me to view most of my documents pretty much anywhere T-Mobile allow me to have a connection! This is my real portfolio now.

To make the portfolio have more value and to stop filling up the 2 gigabyte free space, I also use YouTube http://www.youtube.com; to store video and http://www.flickr.com to store images. This saves room because each of these services provide embed and share codes which direct the viewer back to the hosting site – meaning that the portfolio document need only contain the code (URL).

Other facilities I’ve used are Scribd (see in use https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/building-vles/) for presenting word processed files online and Tiny Grab (see http://grab.by/57S7 for example) for sharing screen shots.

Use of these facilities makes my working life, my social life and my learning life much easier, whenever I have a need to share or access any form of digital documentation. They could easily be put to effective educational use if only institutions were able to agree on an acceptable use policy.