ICT Strategy for Independent schools

Recently I managed to miss what was clearly a seriously useful conference in ICT strategy for independent schools.  My excuse was I only came across information about the conference the day before! Oh well …

Through the twitter account of the chair of the ISC ICT strategy group Mark Steed I have been catching up on some of the presentation notes from the conference.  After posting an initial tweet containing my first response to the notes i’ve had some time (and the assistance of a really good ale) to consider some further responses to some of the issues raised in these presentations.

Although i’m only seeing a small subset of the information presented and discussed on the day my initial thought is that a lot of what is covered in the notes focusses on broad, ‘meta-ideas’ which although are part of possible future ICT plans for schools may still be unattainable for many of these same schools.

Take as an example cloud computing.  I am a google fanatic and have been quite happy to entrust large swathes of my personal data to the tender care of Eric Schmidt and co.  I would personally love to see our school move our legacy MS Exchange email system as well as ancient sharepoint installation onto Google apps.  However working with against an institutional aversion to advanced ICT systems is tricky.  Technical issues for a small school are also something which have to be considered, especially the reliance on the Internet connection for software services.  This was mooted before in a meeting and the response was lukewarm.

So moving a school away from legacy client side installations is a tough task.  MS Office installed on your computer feels a lot more comfy and reassuring then having to login to a Google Docs account.  For a small school which enjoys being able to do things in a way which enhances that feeling of comfort makes it difficult to move to what a school onto systems which will seem to most staff like a risky proposition.  Teachers on a whole don’t like their comfort zones being pushed and despite the fact that educational IT professionals know that the ‘risky’ option is actually the better option still may not be enough.

The other issue I picked up on was Web 2.0 services.  One of the presentations asked whether students should be using services like Facebook to share information.  I would love to have my students using web 2.0 stuff like facebook or twitter but this certainly would not be possible at the moment with Child Protection legislation in place.  Now make no mistake, I am a full supporter of legislation which protects children from any threat to their safety.  However what SMT in general may not be realising is that this legislation is potentially stonewalling the usage of fantastic online collaboration and communication services like facebook or twitter.

As I have also hit a legal barrier in the past to creating both a blog and a twitter account linked to the school (both providing assistance to parents in supporting their children at home with ICT) I think what is needed alongside the excellent advice given by the ISC strategy on how to protect against the dangers of social networking is also how to incorporate social networking into a school’s ecosystem in a way which is educationally relevant and safe.

My final thought tonight is that the ISC ICT strategy group sounds like an excellent way of encapsulating policy and guidelines for Indepent Schools and ICT.  Almost like a private BECTA! In order for it to do this though I think it needs to take a far more proactive approach.  Trying to push ICT policy forwards in my school I kind of feel at times like i’m operating within a bubble.  I can take leads from the state sector but lacking the resources that the state sector has makes this difficult to convince SMT.  Giving the ICT strategy group a lot more ‘presence’ as well as tailoring the advice it gives towards providing solutions to more immediate concerns may enable some of these issues to become a little bit more important to those who need to make the decisions.

Parents and the Scary Internet

Parents blasted for ignoring online threats to children

I’ve been reading today about a music teacher sentenced to jail for an affair with a female pupil of hers.  What struck me was not just how much therapy both are going to need but that the girl was able to tell her parents she was spending a weekend with her sister in Paris when instead she was enjoying a tryst with her teacher. As a commenter on timesonline noted – how were the parents not able to check up on the girl whilst she was in Paris?  Did they not check with the sister?  This to me is an anecdotal yet slightly worrying example of how switched off some parents are from their children’s lives at time.

Not all parents are like this – many I have met through my job are sensible and knowledgeable about what their children are up to on the Internet.  These are the sort of parents who generally take the view that their children should be allowed freedom on the internet so long as trust is established.  Commonsense approaches are needed and the ostrich head in the sand view of the internet which is still prevalent does not help.  Whichever way parents think about it their children will leave home one day and be using the Internet on their own terms.  Schools should be teaching parents and students how to best approach internet security but ultimately I think it is at home that children and teenagers learn the most about how to use the internet properly.

So how should parents go about ensuring good security at home for themselves and their children?  The following is my own personal set of guidelines.  Some of these like decent security software parents should be following whereas others are more optional.  Please remember that these guidelines are my own recommendations:

  • Put the computers in the house in a general family area (more suitable for younger children)
  • Buy decent internet security software (Norton or Mcafee)
  • Use a website blocking service like OpenDNS to block categories of websites – especially sites which pose a security risk to your computer and which could be unwittingly accessed by your children
  • For parents of kids under 13 who are using social networks it is a) essentially illegal for them to be doing so and b) they are almost certainly lying about their age
  • If your teenager is on a social networking site like Facebook join it yourself and even if they don’t want to accept you as a friend if you use the site yourself you will begin to understand how it works
  • Use even tougher Internet safety software such as Cyberpatrol or Netnanny to lock down the internet after a certain time
  • Use family family web browsers such as Glubble to provide a whitelist for very young children to use the Internet
  • Always be a sceptic about anything you see for the first time on the Internet
  • Talk

These should be a good starting point for getting that security under control.  The most important one though I think is talking.  Get started early on chatting with your kids about what they get up to on the internet.  Hopefully you will end up reaping the benefits of a secure and well used internet connection at home.

all the best