Teaching, Technology and Tablet PCs…


Teaching, Technology and Tablet PCs…
Teaching, Technology and Tablet PCs…

#BETT 2011 – Web Filtering View Comments

Posted on January 16, 2011 by Andy Kemp

This year at BETT I had one area of particular interest which was looking at solutions for webfiltering. We have been using a very well known and popular product for a few year but having been having increasing problems with it recently overblocking (due to miscatergorising sites) and more frequent crashes. So I decided to see what had changed in the world of web filtering over the last few years…

There seems to have been a few changes in the market over the last few year, particularly with a move away from filtering based on calculated ‘scores’ to one based purely categorisation. Most products seem to now offer some form of real-time categorisation for sites not in their databases, and one or two have some other interesting features. Another area where web filtering seems to have improved over the last few years is with respect to reporting – this process seemed to be much simpler and more powerful then it was a few years ago…

For me the standout products at BETT this year for web filtering were:

BLOXXhttp://www.bloxx.com/ – This uses a service they call Tru-View which categorises the website (there are details of the way this works on their website). The also offer a MediaFilter which enables teachers to submit certain YouTube videos to create a personalised YouTube collection which can then be accessed by the students – this would be a really useful service for allowing schools to give controlled access to certain YouTube videos without having to open all of youtube up to the younger students.

Lightspeedhttp://www.lightspeedsystems.com/ – Lightspeed offers a wide range of services including web filtering as part of a service they call total traffic control. Their Web Access Manager operates in a similar way to the BLOXX one but also offers an installable client which will continue to monitor and filter traffic even when they are not going through out internet connection – this would be very beneficial for monitoring student access via 3G dongles etc. They also include a similar YouTube library service and a product called MyBigCampus which they are targeting as a controlled Facebook for schools – it’s not perfect but it certainly looked interesting!
Additionally their suite include a Security Manager and a Network traffic Manager which would monitor machines on the network and enable bandwidth limiting and prioritising as well as granular controls over application, computer and user network usage.

NetSweeperhttp://www.netsweeper.com/ – Netsweeper mostly work with LEAs rather than individual schools but offer a similar service to the others and are used by around 1/3rd of all pupils in England (so they claim due to having several LEAs including LgfL).

Another one that has caught my eye but wasn’t at BETT (at least I didn’t see it!) was:
ScanSafe - http://www.scansafe.com/ – Recently purchased by Cisco this content filtering service is entirely cloud based and requires no hardware at all on site, and again offers us the ability to filter and monitor the boarders when they are not connected via our internet connection.

Web filtering is an essential area in schools as we all try to manage to difficult path between protecting staff and students from the less pleasant parts of the web whilst ensuring they have access to everything they need… There are a few products here that look like they may help us walk that path a little more effectively.

Anyone seen/used any of these products or anything else they want to recommend?

How should I adjust my Teaching for different Learning Styles? View Comments

Posted on January 04, 2011 by Andy Kemp

This is the question posed by Daniel Willingham in Chapter 7 of his excellent book “Why don’t Students Like School?”

This is a very trendy and topical question which has been making its way through schools in various guises for the last 10 years.  Willingham however takes a very different approach to most by using his background as a cognitive scientist to look at what the evidence says about ‘Learning Styles’.  It turns out that research into Learning Styles provides no consistent evidence that students learning styles have any significant impact upon student learning…

He talks about studies looking at visual and auditory learners, where groups of students where some are ‘visual learners’ and others are ‘auditory learners’ are given two lists of words to learn – one is written down and the other is read out to them…  If the theory (as presented in most school) were true we would expect the visual students to do better on the words they had read and the auditory ones to do better on those they had heard, but this turns out not to be the case.

How can this be the case?  It is certainly true (and Willingham goes in to this) that some students have better visual or auditory memories, so surely if a student has a better auditory memory then they should better remember the list of words that was read to them.  But this misses the point completely!  When we test the students recollection of the words we are not testing how they ‘sound’ (i.e. the tone of voice used etc), what we are testing is the meaning presented, the same is true for the students that read the words, they are not being tested on the visual image (the font, size etc) they are being tested on the meaning they inferred from the text.

Willingham present a very compelling case for why no credence should be paid to the Learning Styles debates in schools (and even goes on to talk about why people believe they are true – Confirmation Bias), and is also equally condemning of Gardiner’s famous theory of Multiple Intelligences.

He concludes the chapter with the following statement that should be shared with all teachers:

“If you have felt nagging guilt that you have not evaluated each of your students to assess their cognitive style, or if you think you know what their styles are and have not adjusted your teaching to them – don’t worry about it.  There is no reason to think that doing so will help…” p166

Ultimately his point is that

Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn

I am really enjoying this thought provoking book, and would highly recommend it to anyone involved in teaching (in or out of schools!)

Why Don’t Students Like School? View Comments

Posted on January 03, 2011 by Andy Kemp

I’m just reading my way through this interesting book by Daniel T Willinham who explores how what is known about Cognitive Science coud/should impact what happens in the classroom… Some interesting ideas in here about the value of practice etc which cast some interesting light on why we do the things we do in the classroom…

Amplify Bookmarklet View Comments

Posted on January 03, 2011 by Andy Kemp

Just testing out the Amplify bookmarklet for my iPhone…

Amplify’d from amplify.com

Amplify for your iPhone

Read more at amplify.com


LittleGossip View Comments

Posted on January 02, 2011 by Andy Kemp

It is going to prove increasingly difficult for schools to manage these types of sites – I suspect the only reason they were able to tackle this one so easily is because it was all public and therefore it was all out in the open…

Taking this down however isn’t going to solve the problem that the internet allows anyone to say almost anything in an anonymous way (if they really want to!). In the end like most technological problems in schools this isn’t a technical issue but one of education. Students must be taught to understand the responsibilities that come with the freedom provided by the internet…

Amplify’d from blog.isc.co.uk

LittleGossip – “Facebook’s bitchy little sister”

Written by Melanie Strickland

Schools will be aware of this website – as it caused a storm last month within days of coming online.  LittleGossip described itself as a ‘social networking site’ – even though networking was impossible as the posts were made anonymously. Following a flurry of complaints about cyberbullying, the site owner suspended the site on 12 November, but kept the domain name and left a worrying message stating that ‘Version 2’ of LittleGossip was on its way.

LittleGossip did come back online almost exactly a month later. The site has been labelled by various online discussion groups as “Facebook’s bitchy little sister”. Indeed, Facebook seems ‘establishment’ next to LittleGossip. So, why all the fuss and what has ISC been doing about it?

The fuss is over the pernicious user generated content. Many of the comments are crude, with a sexual slant, and people are identified by their full name and school. A typical post reads ‘X is such a sket’ (young people do have an ingenious ability to invent strange new words). Your teenage years are hard enough anyway, what with all the hormones and usual social awkwardness, but now with this site pupils can be bombarded with vicious comments at any time, and the victims have no possibility of redress because the posts are anonymous.

As of 15.30 today, the site has been taken offline. Since the 11 November when ISC became aware of the site, we have worked with the relevant agencies, including CEOP, to get the site taken down or to get the site owner to put in place proper safeguards to prevent cyberbullying. We also gave our schools some practical guidance for tackling the issues raised by the site. Schools can access this when logged into ISC Member Zone > Legal Information > Hot topics > Cyber Issues/e-Safety.

What can schools do in future? Good question. Technology is evolving far more quickly than the ability of our democratic institutions to regulate, and censorship of the internet is a highly contentious issue in itself. Schools must be prepared to respond to these sorts of sites which are likely to become more common in future. As a start, make sure your AUP and anti bullying policies are up to date, and include provisions relating to e-safety. Make sure everyone in the school is aware of those policies, and the consequences of breach.

View our press release regarding this issue here.

Read more at blog.isc.co.uk


School eBook Library? View Comments

Posted on August 04, 2010 by Andy Kemp

At my school we are currently looking at how we can transform our school library in to something more akin to a university Learning Resource Centre, and one of the things we have been thinking about is how we can expand our library provision to include ebooks and easier access to audiobooks.

We thought about purchasing a few ebook readers and pre-loading them with a collection of key texts and lending out the devices themselves, and there is no easy way to lend ebooks!  But thought there must be a better system!

I noticed a growing trend with some public libraries offering ebook services, and whilst visiting my sister I discovered that Surrey library is one of the ones that now offers an ebook service (incidently if like me you don’t live in an area with a eLibrary service then you can sign up to the Surrey eLibrary service.

Surrey use a service provided by Overdrive.com, after some digging I discovered they provide a service for schools!

Overdrive’s School Download Library provides this same service as used for public libraries but for schools!

The way the service works is you pay a set amount (determined by the number of pupils – for up to 2000 pupils you pay $4K), and they provide you with a custom branded website that you can link to your current library provision.

For this $4K you get $2K to spend on building up your school’s custom eLibrary.  Some books are available as ‘Always Available’ meaning that as many students as you like can take the book out at the same time, whereas others behave more like traditional books in that once someone has borrowed the book, the next person can reserve the book once it is returned.

eBooks can be read on PCs or Macs, or any compatible eBook reader (i.e. one that can ready ePub files encrypted with Adobe DRM – this includes the Sony eBook readers, but excludes devices like Amazon’s Kindle and at present the iPad).

Audiobooks are available on a wider range of platforms and can be listened to on PCs, Macs, iPods, Zunes, and Android devices.

From what I can tell (although their website isn’t very clear) you continue to pay $4K every year and can add a further $2K of books (audio or ebook) to your virtual library.  The nice thing about a virtual library is that as the books take up no space you never need to throw out the old ones!

This isn’t a cheap option, as clearly you could just buy twice as many books (as half the money goes to pay for the service), but it may appeal to a different group of students who are less likely to use a traditional library.  I particularly think that the audiobooks (downloaded to their personal ipods etc) may well appeal to a different group of students.

The school could also purchase 2-3 Sony eBook readers (and lend these out as well, although this might be more or less practical depending on your students…  They could be used for reference within the library, if lending for home use wasn’t appropriate).

This is certainly an area that will grow in schools, as ebooks become more mainstream.  Overdrive have said they are working on adding the ebook reading to their iPod/iPhone client which would certainly open it up to a wider market.  I would be nice if it worked with Kindles, but you can’t have everything and Amazon have chosen to only support their own DRM.

What about your schools?  Are you doing anything with eBooks or do you have plans to?

Wolfram Alpha Widgets View Comments

Posted on August 01, 2010 by Andy Kemp

Very impressed with the ability to create widgets from Wolfram Alpha.

I threw this step by step integration wizard together in about 3-4mins! Can’t wait to see what people manage to do with this!!

GApps for Edu View Comments

Posted on July 30, 2010 by Andy Kemp

I have very much enjoyed reading the tweets over the last few days from the first UK Google Teacher Academy (#GTAUK), which has caused me to stop and think again about the value of the Google Apps package…

There is much to like about GApps, and many excellent reasons why you might want to adopt it in your school, particularly for Gmail and the excellent real-time collaborative editing facilities.

I am also really excited about the platform agnostic (well apart from mobile devices) perspective which allows students to work from whatever device they like.

However the flip side to all these awesome features is that the actual office apps themselves are quite limited.

In the word processing part of GDocs for example you are limited to a very small subset of fonts, and an even more restricted set of font sizes. This is a pain for me as I use a custom font to represent the keys on the TI-Nspire calculator that we use in school, so this means I can’t do this in GDocs… I’m sure I can be the only one who needs occasional access to extra fonts…

One of the areas we have recently started using at school is a plagiarism checking service (turnitin.com) which allows us top check that students work is original and has reduced the amount of work that is just copy and pasted from websites like wikipedia! I’ve had a look and can’t see how this could integrate with GDocs… I guess we could get students to save their work as PDFs and submit thoughs, but I need to look more carefully into this…

Another area that causes me some concern is the limited ability to include multimedia in the PowerPoint-esq editor. Here you seem only to be able to insert YouTube videos (admittedly this is a great service) which makes it difficult to include your own video content or clips from copyright material (covered by the schools copyright agreement). There also appears to be no way to add in audio content… Something which has finally become easy in PowerPoint 2010.

I really like that you can now store any documents in your GDocs, and there are some interesting services that will sync your local files to GDocs (memeo and syncpacity) but they are quite expensive.

I like the idea of Google sites, but find it quite limited as your can only embed GDocs, not PDF documents (which is the format that most exam papers etc come in).

I also find it really odd that GApps doesn’t include any blogging or wiki systems, and all the other great things that google offer which are not integrated (reader, picasa etc)…

There is a lot to like about the GApps system, and many excellent and exciting features, and I certainly agree with those who say that this type of web based systems are the future, but I am not sure they are there yet…

I suspect many (most?) schools would find they still needed to keep a desktop version of office (whether MS or OO) for those occasions where GDocs isn’t up to the task yet…

I would love to hear from schools who use GDocs as to whether you still use MS office (or OO), particularly for use with the MIS. And how you manage having some local office docs and some cloud GDocs…

I’d love to know if others have had similar issues, and more importantly if anyone has found good solutions for these problems…

The other question that keep going through my mind whilst reading the #GTAUK tweets was: does a school with GApps still need a VLE, and if so which ones offer the best integration with GApps?

Filtering? View Comments

Posted on July 19, 2010 by Andy Kemp

Filling on from a very interesting chat with @IanYorston a few weeks back I have been giving a lot of thought to what the best way of controlling the Internet access in a school is.

Amongst those who take child protection issues seriously (and who can afford not to these days!) there seem to be two major camps.

  • Filtering
  • Monitoring

Historically it seems schools (or LEAs) have taken the the line that the best way TI ensure the safety of those under their care is to implement a strike filtering scheme to block access to anything that might possibly be interpreted as inappropriate or disruptive. The problem with this is that often completely innocent and often potentially useful resources become blocked by the heuristic used to identify inappropriate material (I can’t begin to count the number of Maths related resources I have tried to look at on our school system which have been blocked as Swedish Pornography’!!)

The other problem is often that the control of these systems (and the associated responsibility for when things go wrong) tends to live in the domain of the technical ICT department. Because they are often held to account if and when things go wrong the net result tends be a very cautious filtering, which gives students a fairly small walled garden at school.

The problem with this is that these students then go home, and all we have done is tell students that there are scary things on the Internet, and not prepared them for the realities of the wide open Internet they often experience at home (or these days on their smartphone in their pocket!)

This has gotten me thinking that a much better approach would be to mirror the approach that is often suggested to parents that we give them freedom to explore but do so in a safe environment where they know there is someone there to help if things go wrong and like a most parents we keep an eye on their activities online to make sure they are not getting themselves involved in anything they shouldn’t…

Many might argue that this approach is more risky in that it allows students the possibility of accessing inappropriate material, I would argue that the risk is small compared to the potential gains, both in terms of providing wider access to valid and educationally beneficial resources. But also in providing an environment where the responsibility for appropriate use is put much more in the realm of teaching appropriate behaviour (or in short education a something schools are supposed to be good at!) and less dependent on making sure we have appropriate blocks in place.

I fail to see how this is issue is really any different then any risk assessment activity. There are risks in every Science Laboratory lesson, but we don’t say students may only observe experiments (which would clearly be safer) but instead give them the freedom (with appropriate oversight) to make have a go for themselves and occasionally make mistakes… The net result of this is that students learn a lot more about what they need to to do to be safe.

It seems to be that the technological equivalent to a science teacher in the lab checking that everyone is doing roughly what they should be is some form of monitoring (whether software based or people based). There are several software based solutions which are designed top identify inappropriate activities (including cases where students may be getting themselves involved in bullying or grooming). When these issues are identified they should then fall to the pastoral team to deal with, as whether these things happen online or offline dealing with the fallout is a pastoral concern not a technical one…

The problem is that these types of systems require more man power then a simple filtering scheme, as someone has to be responsible for checking the logs of flagged up issues on a daily basis.

Many of these systems involve installing a small piece of software on the client computer. This has the advantage that if students are required to install the software to gain access to the network, then they cannot circumvent the system by using a 3G dongle. This is especially important in boarding school environments where it is almost impossible to monitor or control access when a student is in their dorm room.

This solution is not without its problems (for example how to do you monitor access via a smart device?) and it is probably best to combine this monitoring with at least some low level filtering to prevent access to those most undesirable areas of the Internet (racist material, pornography, etc). However hopefully with some low level filtering combined with a more careful monitoring of student access we can more from a scenario where the Internet is something to be feared in schools, to one where the Internet is something to be embraced and students are encouraged to explore its many amazing features safe in the knowledge that someone is watching over them to make sure they don’t get themselves into too much trouble…

This seems to be the direction that Ofsted are favouring… But what do you think, am I being too idealist or am I missing something?

Related Reading:

Image CC BY-NC-SA by Sally06

Disqus! View Comments

Posted on July 07, 2010 by Andy Kemp

I have now updated the comment system to use the disqus system which hopefully will make it easier for me to moderate and for you to reply!!

Let me know if you have any problems!

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    Andy Kemp is a husband, father, teacher, head of mathematics and all round tech enthusiast...
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