Difficulties with E-Safety

Those who know me or follow my blogs will know that I have more than a passing interest in e-safety.  The first event I helped organise for JISC RSC YH was our “Creative Connectivity” event, which challenged the idea that we should only think about safety in terms of the danger to young people, students and learners FROM the net.  We asked, with the help of Dave Briggs, who is now a local government consultant, what the risk was of NOT opening up social networks.

Last week, JISC RSC YH’s “Excellence in E-Learning” managers forum met to look at the rapidly growing theme of e-safety and I, with the help f of technical advisor Ken Scott and policy expert Kathy Boyer, presented the issues involved.

My approach was to look at the different issues in e-safety and then think how they could be grouped.  I grouped them as ones related to Personal Safety, Institutional Responsibility and Infrastructre/Technical safety.  Each of these strands, I argued, could be approached in three different ways – the “shut eye” approach (ignore it and hopes it goes away), the “ban it” (lockdown) approach, or the “knowledge” (proactive) approach.

After that we looked at some of the emerging issues – where do we stand if people are using their OWN decices while in our care?

Finally, Kathy summed up the fact that e-safety is now a key aspect for OFSTED. The slides from this presentation are included in this post.  A list of safety resources are available from http://delicious.com/tag/eielsafe – you can add you own by using the “eielsafe”  tag in delicious.

Today, I’ve been following the SOCITM conference for local authority ICT professionals.   E-Safety is a top theme with them too.

So, how do we move this forward?  What do you think the issues are for e-safety and ACL?  How locked down is your system?  Do you have issues through the NGfL?  We’re looking at putting on some e-safety events later in the year, or early in the new year – so let us know, what are your issues and where would you like our support.

Socitm See – Web security in Local Authorities

Soctim, The Society of Information Technology Management, are doing a survey of local authority web blocking policiesSoctim are the organisation representing the managers of ICT throughout the public sector but, in particular, local authorities.

For me, this is really good news.  Back in January 2008 me and Ken Scott (our technical e-learning adivser) organised the “Creative Connectivity” event in Leeds.  The aim was to get ICT Departments and learning practitioners talking.  The event went very well.  Among the speakers was Dave Briggs (here’s his blog about it), who raised, for me, the issue of the risk of NOT.  We’re all worried about what happens if our learners access something they shouldn’t. But what’s the risk of them not being able to access something they SHOULD?   What is the risk of our learners NOT being able to access social technology at all?

This has been an ongoing theme.  I raised the issues in my personal blog and youth work social media expert Tim Davies raised it in his.    It isn’t just the net-heads who think this.  The University of Illinois have carried out a study that suggests the same outcome.

However, we’re still faced with the dangers.  All too recently, Twitter in education  came under attack from the media when a Scottish teacher apparently misused it.  More often than not, however, these risks are as a result of unclear guidance on HOW to use it, rather than the technology itself.   It’s a matter not of danger, but of policy (as indicated by PR Guru Neville Hobson’s blog).

I’m talking about the dangers, rather the infrastructure issues here.  There’s still an argument around the intensive use of video sits such as YouTube, as they can have an effect on bandwidth.  However, there are ways of addressing this and that’s where organisations like ours (JISC RSC YH in case you’re not sure), come in.

Having worked in ACL for a number of years, I know that many council ICT departments don’t put education as their top priority, let alone adult community education.  However, when it comes to learning, it is so important that these resources are available.  There are lots of different approaches to maintaining security – from black lists (where certain sites are blocked) to white lists (where everything’s blocked except what has been deemed safe) to open access and self policing.  All have merits and case studies to back up their claims and all can be considered.  However, simply the consideration is the key here.

I’m going to be contacting Socitm to see if there is anything we can add to their survey, however, I urge any local authority ACL provider who has opinions on this to contact their ICT manager and let them know, so that when they complete the survey, they can see the case ofr technology in learning.  Please feel free to add your comments below too, with your ideas of security in local authorities.

Inspiring Day In Hull

Sometimes, when you work in an industry driven by change, life can get you down a bit.

Wherever you are and, however well you put across your message, you are always up against those who, on a good day, we call sceptics. That’s why it was really nice to hear that I was on the right track today from the most important person in my professional life – the learner.

I was in Hull, to speak at the council’s Adult Community and Work Based learning conference, where, for the first time, the staff of both sectors came together to talk about the future.

My gig went pretty well. I’ve put some of the slides below but, to explain, I was focussing on the learner being the classroom of the future. Many learners of all ages now spend a lot of time online, using tools like facebook to collect, evaluate, aggregate and disseminate information. Isn’t that learning?

They are Tweeting, Fscebooking, MSNing and SMSing from every conceivable location from home to hospital. Every conceivable location apart from their official place of learning.

Think about it.

They can and learn, using technology, until they get to school. There, we still think of technology as being the PC and the interactive white board. Even then, we limit the PC to a set of pre-installed and maintained software, often commercially licensed.

To really engage the modern learner, or indeed the modern person, we don’t just need to think of how we use modern tools, we need to change our mindset from thinking of technology as hardware we supply, and digital methods of delivering the same content we delivered before.

So, back in Hull, I returned to my seat and listened to three different learners talk about their experience. Naomi, a work based learning student, explained how patience, nurture and support had got her through. What stuck in my mind, however, was her point that “being stuck inside a classroom wasn’t for her”. Why do we still put such focus on the physical? Why do adult learners, or indeed anyone, need to access this model of education to get anywhere? Surly, in a personalised world, students should be given the choice of learning approaches, and one of those should be beyond the classroom. This choice is what, ultimately, meant Naomi came through.
Next, we heard from Melanie, who inspired me a great deal. As as carer of an autistic son, she had became agoraphobic before an ACL literacy course lifted her up. Not only could she now speak to a room of crowed people, she had also gone on to have the confidence to attend weight watchers, loosing six stone. Now, she was looking at becoming a volunteer to help others. We also heard from Sandra, also an inspiring influence, on how ACL had “completely changed her life”. It reminded me that I never stop learning either. These stories of overcoming barriers are not just inspiring…they motivate me on as well.

What was wonderful , though, was in the break. Melanie approached me and said: “You were quite right about us using facebook to learn. I’d never thought about how we are always learning on facebook, and I can really see how we could use that, and things like that, in our lessons”.
To me, that was inspiring. That someone who had learned so much and embraced so much challenging change, could still see the need for more inspired me no end.

So, to the sceptics, what’s really important here? Not the technology. Not the barriers. It’s the learners. They take, embrace and build on change. So, like me, are you a learner too?

Informal Learning – Transformed?

My working days are filling up nicely, thanks to a great input from this region to the Learning Transformation Fund

I thought I’d use this blog just to put forward some observations from the meetings and conversations I’ve had already, as it might prove useful to those doing bids.  It should be noted at this point that I’ve only read what you’ve read and these are just my observations – if you want specific advice from the bid team, you should contact BIS directly.

There are a lot of bids going on, certainly in this region, so I think it could end up being quite competitive.

There are some points to think about though:

  • The bid is called The Learning TRANSFORMATION fund – how does your bid actually TRANSFORM learning?  Are you using a new type of teaching and learning, some new technology or engaging a group that haven’t been engaged before
  • Public Buildings/Spaces:  The prospectus suggests making use of existing public spaces – but I get the impression it means ones that are not already used for learning or already have a large audience.  Empty shops, under-utilised community facilities etc are all options, though when it comes to empty community centres, you need to ask whether having good activities is the hook to get people in – or whether a different facility would do better
  • Sustainability:  There are far too many good ideas coming forth here and in previous bids that haven’t examined this issue enough – it’s easy to say “we’ll the group will just continue to sustain itself”, but you have only got six months to develop this project.  I think technology plays a big part in this, even in non technological projects.  If you can use technology to record the learning, create resources and share ideas, then you can present them using the internet, for future learners to enjoy – and you have your sustainability.
  • Environmental: When you’re looking at technology in environmental projects, remember that less can be more – by using online applications and cheap netbooks or reconditioned computers, you can cut down not just on software costs, but you can use computers that use less energy and, in the case or re-conditioned, re-cycle.

Keep your eyes on this blog and, if I come across other issues I think could be added, I’ll let you know.

Come the Revolution…

It’s been a while since my last blog post and since then we’ve had a revolution!

I’m talking, of course, about “The Learning Revolution” white paper from DIUS on Informal Learning.  Most of you will have read it and formed your own opinions on it, so this isn’t the place for me to pass comment on the paper itself.  However, this is the place for me to examine how this affects your future plans, with particular reference to technology.

The paper has been widely publicised in terms of joined up working  between the Thrid Sector and Local Authorities and the £20million “Learning Transformation Fund”.  A good example is John Denham MP’s piece in MJ about the paper.

What’s been less well circulated is the use of innovation and technology in the paper.  There’s a whole chapter on it and there are constant references to “finding new ways” of teaching and learning.  What’s more, there are grants of £100,000 available to drive this change, with even more of offer for exceptionally innovative projects.

There is a definite government agenda here, and technology is clearly in it.  But what for the traditional ACL projects – is there anything there for them?

A friend of mine remarked that this would be an excellent opportunity for local authorities to demonstrate their ability to work as a cohesive and inter-agency organisation – and the bid can fund them to do so.

I’m working closeley with DIUS at the moment to get the latest information and, for providers in the Yorkshire & Humber area, there is a webinar coming up, the results of which I’ll blog here.  But in the meantime, ensure you read the paper, the bid paper and, when thinking of innovative projects, think outside the box.   Sir Ken Robinson’s TED TALK on innovation and creativity in leanring may be an inspiration for it.

Happy bidding!

The Ins & Outs of Social Media

Today, I was doing a workshop for the NIACE CaMEL Clinic in Leeds, looking at how we can use social media to work together, collaboratively.  Some interesting issues were raised.  One particular one was around whether organisations should use social media to increase efficiency, if they already have systems in place.

Yesterday, I was chatting with a colleague about the use of a particular tool, delicious.  She had emailed me a link and I asked her, in future, whether she could use delicious instead.  You see, for me, email is no longer my choice of tool for everything.  There was a time when it was, when I relished the fact that organisations could email me everything.  But now, with around 100 emails a day + spam, it’s all too easy to overlook that important link, or decide to do it later.  However, I normally sort out my day so that I can have some time to look at links, so, if someone send me one on delicious I can look at it later then store it, all on the same system.

The problem comes when other people want to use other tools.  For example, some of my colleagues use other tools, like Twine or Digg.  How do they share with me?

The answer comes in RSS feeds (I’ve covered these previously).  By subscribing to the feeds that almost all social media sites put out, I can use my tool of choice and they can use their tool of choice and we can all come together.

That’s not the end of the post though – what if people are happy with the pen and paper or email method in the office?  What if they want to use the ‘back to basics’ tools and feel that these meet their needs already?  The question in education for a long time has been, “If the tutor dopes a good chalk and talk, what value is added by them writing on an interactive whiteboard.”

My answer is one of accessibility.  There are no doubt many people who don’t really like email.  They would much prefer to write letters and make phone calls.  However, the culture has changed and email is now important.  It is important, partly, because everyone else uses it.  If we are going to work across organisations and, more importantly, with failed to engage groups in the community, it is essential that we open up and use these tools.  Why?  Well, let’s look at that tutor with a chalk and talk or interactive whiteboard.  The difference between the old and the new is a training course on how to switch on the computer, the board, how to use the basic tools and how to ask for further support.  This could be done in a matter of a few hours.  In terms of the other staff in the organisation ,it would mean that they could load the chalk and talk sessions he’d done and understand more of his teaching.  They could provide evidence of it to OFSTED.  They could use it to share good practice or provide him with feedback.  The students could download the chalk and talk boards after the session.  If someone showed them, or another member of staff, how to do it, those chalk and talks could be converted into an accessible document for students with various special educational needs.  In short, for the benefit or a few hours tuition, the internal and external communication could be enhanced.  But not if the tutor refuses to take that course.

New tools often seem a great deal more complex and many require a greater culture change than the one described above.  However, the benefits to the internal and external communications are often far greater than the complications of the ins and outs of the new media.  What’s more, when they’re using it, many users who were previously skeptical often turn out to find it efficient, easy and, above all, effective.

Over the next few weeks I hope to find some short case studies of people who were previously skeptical about social technology who have changed their mind.  If you know of any, please email me at k.l.campbellwright@rsc-yh.ac.uk

Facing work with social networking

While self-contained social networks like NING are becoming fairly well trusted in education, there are examples of people wanting to use major online networks like Facebook.  While these don’t automatically endear themselves to education, their massive uptake means that, as a tool of communication, promotion and accessibility they have an important role to play.  If you have a class, you may well set up a nING network.  But for finding new students, sharing best practice etc, it seems like a bad idea to have yet another network to join when everyone is already using facebook, myspace or one of the other major social networking players.  Having to check through countless networks can be tedious enough to render them ineffective.

However, when you start talking about using facebook for work there are all kinds of worries about privacy.  We don’t all want our data available to everyone, especially colleagues, managers and even, in some cases, students.

One way round this is to use a facebook group or page, which keeps a distinctive distance between your profile and the other facebook user.  This might work well for interacting with students – you can’t see their profiles, but can message them or provide information.  MySpace also has groups for this purpose.

However, where a more social network is required, say to share best practice between peers, adding people as “friends” becomes inevitable.  However, privacy need not be so much of a concern.

This page gives a great run-down on facebook privacy and the many settings available to you to control who sees (and more importantly doesn’t see) what.  It is well worth a read.

Twitter-Who?

Twitter is a tool I’m now using a lot myself that is being increasingly referred to in innovation circles, including learning circles.

It’s what we call a microblog.  Basically, it allows you to text or complete online a 140 character blog which your friends then receive in their browser, email or website.

Why on earth would you want that?  Well, firstly, it provides a more appropriate service than blogging.  For example, if I go to Whitby and nothing much happens, it would be a lot of effort and boredom to write a blog about it.  However, for friends in Whitby or people who might want to say: “Oh, while you’re there go and see…” it interesting to know.  Now I can Twitter (or Tweet as it’s called “Going to Whitby today, will be there at 12) and friends could tweet back with their advice.

So how does this work in learning?  Well, Tweets can be used to inform.  For example, I may say : “Interesting article about teaching here (http://link.com) as I’m rerading it, and friends can then go there.  Or, it can be used as a reflective tool and imported into a google-folio or any other portfolio that accepts RSS feeds.  So I could tweet “Really good session today”.  Tweets can also be tagged, to allow you to group things.  So, I could tweet “Teaching conference is great #teachconf”.  As long as everyone at the conference used the same tag, you could then search out #teachconf as a way of getting feedback and evaluation.

The problem with Tweets is they also have a social side.  Now, for me, this isn’t a problem because I find it interesting if you say: “Am on the train to Doncaster” however you may not care.  In that case, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the “pointless” tweets, especially when you get started.

To this end, I’ve set up a Twitter account for Adult Community Learning providers in Yorkshire & Humber.  It will only contain tweets related directly to the sharing of resources for work.  You can find it here (www.twitter.com/rscyhacl).  If you’re interested in social tweeting, look through the friends list, and you’ll find plenty.

Information Feeds & Yahoo! Pipes

Yahoo! Pipes are not anything new, they’ve been out as beta for over a year now, but they are one of the more under-utilised tools available.  Someone recently asked me about them, so I thought I’d do a quick blog entry on how to use them. To do this, I need to try and explain information feeds too.  This may be a bit more tecchie than some blog entries, but it’s a useful tool so I thought I’d give it a go.

The web is made up of various types of information.  The first, blandest, format is text, sometimes enhanced slightly through HTML.  Most webpages you see are written in a form of HTML.  HTML allows a web designers to change the way the page looks to a human eye (the format), by making text bold, larger, smaller or in different colours.  However, it still needs a human mind to understand it.  If you send the information to someone with the HTML taken out, it just becomes plain old boring text.  That’s where XML comes in.  XML marks out the content of the page rather than the format, meaning that when the information is sent, another web page can process it in it’s own way.  If that’s a bit confusing, think of it like this.  This blog entry is made up of various content items.  There’s the title (Using Yahoo! Pipes…) and there’s the image, then there’s the actual text.    If you’re reading this on the site, the title is green, the image is flushed to the left and the text is grey.  This is set by ADCOLOG’s HTML code.  However, if you wanted this on your website, the colours might not match.  So, you’d want to get the XML feed from this page, put it on your page and tell it that the TITLE should be orange, the text blue and you don’t want the image.  Because the XML says which bit of the text is the title, your web page could process this.

Another advantage of XML is that you can use it to keep track of changing websites.  If you have an RSS Reader (I use Google Reader) you can subscribe to an XML feed and every time I put a new post on here it will show up in your reader.  If you do this with all the websites you want to check, it means that ratherr than having to spend hours having to check lots of sites, you can see “headlines” of  all the new posts and changes, read the ones you want and disregard the rest.  Dave Briggs has some good tips on organising this.

OK, so we’ve got all these feeds of information going about the web.  Sometimes, you may want to bring them together.  For example, we’re about to launch a new feed for our E-Guides.  As an E-Guide (which is an ACL or WBL E-Champion) you don’t often have time to check lots of feeds.  That’s a job us E-Learning Advisers can take on.  But, there are a number of feeds involved.  Firstly, there is the feed from this blog.  Then there is the feed from the WBL advisor’s blog.  Then there are resources that I’ve spotted, marked on my del.icio.us account, and ones that the WBL advisor has spotted too.  To get every E-Guide to subscribe to all four feeds would be an unrealistic exercise.  Which is where Yahoo! Pipes comes in.  First, you need a Yahoo! account.  After that, go to Yahoo! Pipes and click on ‘Create A Pipe’.  Now, you have a whole list of different options down the left hand side and an empty workspace to the right.  Expand the ‘Sources’ tab and drag the ‘Fetch a Feed’ into the workspace.  Enter the first feed URL into it.  Now do the same again for as Pipes! in actionmany feeds as you want to get.  Next, expand the ‘operators’ tab on the left.  Select the ‘Union’ Module and drag it onto the workspace.  Now, draw a line (click and hold the mouse) from the white circle at the bottom of each ‘fetch feed’ module to the white circle on the ‘Union’ module.  Then draw a line from the ‘Union’ Module to the ‘Pipe Output’.  In the diagram shown, I’ve also added a ‘Sort’ module, which arranges the feed in order of date.  There’s lots of different things you can play with here to sort and alter feeds, if you’re slightly more technically minded.

The result is a pipe that combines these feeds.  By saving the pipe and clicking “Run Pipe” you can then get this as a feed in itself or as a widget to go on your website.  We’ve put it on our E-Guide forum.

It may seem very complicated but it’s actually relatively straightforward. What’s more, it means that the “front end” information the E-Guides get (either by RSS or Email) will be clear and relevant, saving them time in the long run.

It’s worth getting to know these tools, as information flows are becoming more and more important as a tool for learning on the Web.  Information flows are an essential part of the semantic web which we’ll be hearing a lot more about over the coming months and years.  RSS Readers and Yahoo! Pipes are just the start of managing and manipuulating the huge amouunts of information we receive into something useful to help us with our teaching and learning.

Just the Wordle

I came across Wordle.Org a few months ago and found it very entertaining.  It let’s you input text, either directly or from a feed or API, and then makes a tag cloud out of it, the most important word is largest.

Obviously there are all kinds of fun to be had with this, but I actually found a very useful function;  copy and past the content of websites or government reports and see which word stands out.

For a presentation I did, I put the Leitch Review through.  Unsurprisingly, the word SKILLS is largest, but it’s interesting to pick out other JISC RSC YH - Our Wordlewords that feature high on the government agenda.  I’ve put our website through Wordle too and, once I’ve taken JISC RSC YH out of the equation, I’m pleased to see that ‘Learning’, ‘Support’ and ‘E-Learning’ are the big words in our cloud.

There are two ways i can see this being used:

  • As a research tool by learners or staff – by putting,say, a Wikipedia entry, through Wordle, it’s easy to draw out the apparent key themes of a piece.  Obviously this isn’t a fool proof method, but it could be a good way for learners who are unable to read large pieces of text sand want a visual representation of them.
  • As a display tool – in my recent presentation, I found Word Clouds a great way of explaining statistical and text based trends.  On a website, you can show the message being transmitted.  For statistics, simply put in a word for each % and see the result (ie if 25% of learners are from Leeds and 75% from Halifax, type Leeds 25 times and Halifax 75 times….obviously the more option the better, but it’s a refreshing change from the pie chart).

If you want to use this idea interactively, you can do that too.

Use Google Docs to create a Spereadsheet then click on form.  On the form, type a question (eg: What’s your favourite colour).  Share the form with learners, and the results are input automatically into your spreadsheet.

Select the column with the results in by clicking on the letter at the top, then right click over the selexcted area, selecting “Add Gadget” from the list that appears.  A variety of gadgets are displayed,  select “Wordcloud” from the list.  A Word Cloud appears in your document. As the learners fill in your form, the word cloud will populate itself.  If you click on the setting box for this gadget, you can also add it to iGoogle page, for easy reference.

This gives you a great way to collect feedback and display it in a readily accessible way.