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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IPD – 2

Many thanks to those of you that read my previous IPD post and special thanks to those of you that took the trouble to comment. The time and effort you took to respond is much appreciated.

Each comment is blog-worthy in itself.

I did say, at the end of that post that I might do a part-two to IPD and so here it is.  After those thoughtful and constructive comments made by technical experts in the field, I will try to be more conciliatory than I might otherwise have been.

Throughout, I use the word ‘I’ as a composite of personal experience and those experiences related to me by various teaching practitioners up and down the land.

What is it about ‘builds’, or ‘disk images’ that is so hard to manage? I’m sure there’s a reason, but it’s not clear to me what it is. As Col said in his comment: “[we] … don’t always have a realistic insight into the roles of other departments”.

I know that this is a contentious subject – I used to have frequent discussions with colleagues about it but I’m not a systems guy and therefore find it hard to understand. “We can’t add that piece of software because we’ve finished that build now” or “sorry, it’s not part of the disk image”. Another favourite is “oo – you’ll have to wait until half term for that”. I understand the words, I hear the sounds – but not the reason and it just doesn’t translate. Why can’t I have Audacity downloaded and installed on my computer for next week? Really – why?

Somewhere on the institution’s VLE or IntRAnet there will be a software policy. I wonder when was this last updated in collaboration with people who teach or (whoa – what are you about to say??) people who learn? When was there any actual discussion about the policy?

We send our teacher colleagues out on staff development (CPD – maybe eCPD) sessions, often at great expense and during these sessions they become enthused by new tools and techniques they see and become aware of the potential for them and their learners. They then return to base where “no” is the first answer and “not until blah blah blah” is the last one.

De-motivated, the teacher resorts to chalk and talk or worse.

Management, often advised by ill informed IPDs, frequently issue diktats that result in sites being banned – I know I touched on this before but how do we move forward from the stalemate?

I was at a college recently, where Facebook had been banned. The safety of learners and teachers was the reason (in a nutshell). This seems to fly in the face of informed opinion. E.g. “Pupils given a greater degree of freedom to surf the internet at school are less vulnerable to online dangers in the long-term, [ofsted] inspectors say.”http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8505914.stm

The thing that is missing from all of the scenarios on both IPD and IPD-2 is discussion, mediation and decision. The three parties involved should be teachers (informed by and in collaboration maybe, with learners), technicians imbued with the remit for systems safety and management. No one or two of these parties should be able to make unilateral (or bi-lateral?) decisions. This needn’t be an arduous or long winded procedure.

It would seem that Louise http://loujak78.wordpress.com/ and Col http://mindmug.wordpress.com/ have this cracked in their institutions and that Ben http://homepage.ntlworld.com/armaitus/work.htm would be a welcome (if underpaid) leader of any institutional systems team.

So – are you prepared to talk?

IPDs

I’ve waited a while to post this. To protect the guilty I suppose, but even so – I think the issue needs raising. Perhaps even debating: my views might be wrong – who knows?

IPD’s? Innovation prevention departments: a term coined by a colleague in Scotland. What are they, why do they exist and how do they function?

Well, all institutions need someone, often a large team of someones, to look after their various networks and their technological kit. This, in many cases (but before you shout at me – not all, by any means) is the IPD.

These are the girls and boys who make sure the bulb in your projector is working. They ensure that your Interactive Whiteboard is aligned with the projector and that the PC running both is connected to both. They install the necessary software and keep it updated (they even ensure that all necessary plug-ins are installed and updated). Don’t they?

These are the people that make sure no one can get onto the institution’s ‘systems’ without a proper security clearance, but who also ensure that learners and visitors can easily access the internet from the institution’s premises. Don’t they?

They work with learning and teaching professionals, and management to decide which, if any, web sites should be banned or black listed following carefully considered reasoning. Often, when asked they move certain sites for certain courses onto course specific white lists. Don’t they?

Well – no: not all. Not by any means! In many establishments, several of which I have visited over recent weeks, getting onto the Internet is nigh on impossible unless you work or study there. As a visitor, an invited visitor at that, it is often a real chore to deliver the work I’m invited to deliver. Whilst I’ve yet to hear ‘not on your nellie’ I have had many similar responses when asking for access to the Internet via an institutional network. Let me clarify that – I don’t want to go onto the network itself, just to use it to access the Internet. Now – I can hear the clatter of keyboards rushing to tell me that the security of blah blah blah, is their role and to let me onto their blah blah blah is a breach of that security but surely – having someone in the room log me into ‘their’ (the staff member’s) little bit of the college network is far more dangerous. Yet it happens all the time.

Why can’t these unenlightened IPD professionals realise that all I (and others like me) want is Internet access? Like I would get in Starbucks (I think Mick Mullane, who is a [learner orientated] techie and who advocates this progressive sort of approach, calls it the Starbucks approach). I would have to log in of course, but the login I’m given would not allow me onto the institutional network, only the Internet (and by logging in I would be deemed to have accepted the institutional AUP). What’s hard about that?

Then – what about the bulb in the projector? Do these ever get changed? Several places I’ve visited lately don’t seem to have changed the bulb (or cleaned the lens) at all: ever. This leads to an unsatisfactory learning experience. One recently, was so bad that we had to borrow another projector and project that on the ceiling to get anything like a clear image. That was partly because the blinds on the sunshine side of the building didn’t function well – meaning that the poor bulb had to struggle even more in the (in other circumstances, welcome) daylight. [This would of course be a lack of communication between ‘estates’ and ‘IPD’ – but I won’t go there] Bulbs cost money I know – but so do disengaged learners that leave the course. And don’t get me started on disengaged teachers who have to put up with it every day.

So may I pose a few questions to the IPD (I’ll provide my own answers but welcome others)

What’s your role? To support the business of the institution.

What’s the business of the institution? Teaching and learning.

Who is at the core of teaching and learning? Teachers and Learners?

What’s your role?

Part two – software, updates and web sites – maybe coming soon …