Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Future's Virtually Secure... (but not pun free)

This week the dungeon’s present incumbents have been hard at work saving money and (we sincerely hope) making the network more efficient. This has been achieved by ‘virtualising’ our existing servers on two servers rather than the present five and using a storage area network to store all of the data on. This should mean that backup, maintenance etc… are simpler (and less time-consuming and so cheaper) and it means we only need to replace and maintain two physical servers rather than five. Over the coming months we will also be looking at how we can develop further the use of free apps and tools, as well as continue with the ‘cloud computing’ work last mentioned in April 2009. Sometimes adversity really can be the ‘mother of invention’. We’ll see.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

New Tech on the Block

The team have been hard at work throughout the summer trying to integrate the new server and storage into the network as smoothly as possible. This has left me with some time to get to grips with some new tech that may be of some value to us.

The first is a free App / Programme that has proved popular in recent months as it genuinely helps you to get more out of Twitter. Tweetdeck allows you to draw together all (well most) things of a Social Networking nature and is a great tool for managing Twitter feeds and accounts.

The big hardware release of the summer is the new Kindle 3. It is unbelievably small and light and great to read. If, like me, you find the glare of an IPad screen less of a joy after a while then this device may be for you. Forget browsing on it and focus on carrying 3000+ books for a price of £149 (£109 without the free 3G) and you have an affordable tool that has some real benefits when it comes to academic use.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Who Needs Information

We are about to travel in another new direction for us, particularly in terms of the way we share information within school. We have recently signed a new agreement with the Life Channel to provide content for our internal screens. As a part of this process we will also be adding LCD screens into Reception and the Dining Hall. Having screens in school to provide information is not new, but we are looking to ‘up the ante’ a little by primarily using high quality professionally produced content to effectively create our own internal television channel.

The Life Channel offers us the opportunity to access thousands of high quality programmes made especially for education. We can use that content to support initiatives in school such as anti-bullying week and healthy eating as well as show our own content. The timing of this project also fits nicely with the recent films we have made with the help of the BBC and Julian Richards, all of which will feature at our launch after Easter.

There is an argument that adopting this system will add a ‘vibrancy’ or a ‘buzz’ to the areas where screens are located. This is nice, but is not enough to justify our commitment to the project. This system will offer a high-quality platform for the content we produce in school. The planning and creation of media for the system is an excellent educational opportunity for our pupils. It is also important that the way we communicate some concepts and issues to all members of our community is of sufficient quality to ensure that people actually engage with it. Working with a professional production company will ensure that we are able to have the kind of production quality that convinces people that the issues are worth taking on board.

…and there are no adverts!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Still bouncing on clouds...and seeing the binary world in a different way.

Last year I wrote about cloud computing and how it seemed to us that the next few years would be dominated by the development of the 'cloud'. In just a few months since that time we have been able to make use of some of these tools in order to start to increase the flexibility of our school systems. Our recently installed wireless network is (after a few teething problems) allowing us to use a range of different types of hardware in order to develop a single 'product'. In the case of this blog for example, Google Docs has allowed me to use two different PCs and my mobile phone to draft and edit the entry before uploading it to Google Blogger. These tools allow me to collaborate with my colleagues on a variety of documents and resources and it's all free. How long this will remain the case I do not know, but the free to use model has a logic to it; build a community / followership and generate income through the provision of additional services and associated advertising.

These tools have really re-focused me on the importance of the software we use being productive above all else. The simple but effective tools found online or on my iPhone serve to remind me that I use these tools in order to 'get the job done'. In the last few years the huge and complex programmes that are dominant in market have started to get in the way of this simple principle. This is why some of the top commercial packages have been referred to as 'bloatware'. Are we now finally at that long predicted point where they will finally lose their grip?

The cloud 'revolution' has meant that we can supplement our website with Twitter, which enabled us to push our information more reliably and quickly during the recent poor weather. During that time we also made public our Facebook page. It is early days yet, but we believe that we can't ignore such technologies. We hope that we can be a positive influence within these arenas, including important advice and information in a way that may be more accessible to some people than more traditional methods.

The cloud may be the driver that leads to the development of more user-friendly devices that mean you don't need a good grasp of computing before you can get on with the job. Indeed, for the first time in many years I find myself seriously considering replacing a desktop with a non-Windows PC. This brings to mind my former colleague and friend, the late Paul Vigay. Paul was a RISC-OS programmer and disciple (who was moderately well known due to his involvement with crop circle research). Paul was my systems manager for 5 years in the 1990's and despaired as I oversaw the conversion of the school's Acorn network (RISC-OS) to a Windows system (Intel). To be fair this was the right choice at the time, but now? The truth is that I have had enough of those times when I have nearly finished a task when the dreaded 'blue screen of death' appears. So with the broader operating context changed, Mac OS10+ well established and my iPhone and iPod consistently delivering my next upgrade is likely to more radical than those in the past.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

To Tweet or not to Tweet

Well, it has been a while since we have posted from the depths of the Tech Dungeon. We have our reasons; the wireless network now appears to be working after what can be described as a 'difficult birth'. We are in the process of testing our netbooks on the network and that now seems to be progressing well. We are working on public access to our broadband connection, but need to be sure that our connection works seamlessly with our firewall and proxy server. So there has been a little to do and we have been busy trying to make things work properly.

To the theme for this month then. The clue is in the obvious title; should Rodborough School tweet? Tweeting is by it's nature short, immediate, to the point and, largely superficial. Or...well one of the criticisms of secondary schools is the lack of day to say communication. This is a fair point, but one that is not easy to solve. We do not have the same daily contact with parents or the the 'playground' culture that can be found in many primary schools. Perhaps a tool such as Twitter will allow us to distribute information that is considered 'low level' and 'low grade' but is, none the less, part of the fabric of any community. We'll give it a go and see if it works.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


We always moan about it, but it can be a problem! Time, or rather lack of it, has prevented me from updating the blog for the last month. This month the theme is 'have look at the new website' which can be found at We are grateful to Spherics Multimedia for the fantastic job that they have done, despite the fact that we have not been the best of clients.

Down in the dungeon we have been busy laying the foundations for the wireless networking that is being installed during the summer. We have taken delivery of our netbooks and are working out how to get the best out of them on the network before letting them loose in the classroom. Over the summer we will be dusting down the servers and clearing out the hard drives ready for the start of another year. Have a great summer.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Parents, Children and the one-eyed monster

This used to mean watching too much television. Too much Blue Peter and Grange Hill was going to turn us all into as much part of the lounge furniture as the rather natty new velour sofa our parents had recently purchased. Now this may have come to pass, but I suspect there may be other factors that lead many of us to collapse into the sofa staring vacantly at the corner of the sitting room.

The number of devices in our homes with screens has increased dramatically since the advent of home computing and computer gaming in the 1980s. Today's children are offered a range of choices; DSI, XBOX, Playstations, PSPs, Wiis, iPods, PCs, a whole host of media streaming devices. The popular view (perhaps supported by some qualified evidence) is that this creates a temptation for young people to spend too much time in a virtual world and not enough in the real one.

The 'truth' is that the way children play and communicate is changing. This presents challenges and generates (understandable) concerns, but it also allows them to develop new skills and exchange ideas in a way that was not even conceived of, let alone possible, just a few years ago. On a recent coach trip I was impressed by the way a group of pupils were exchanging video clips that they had made at home using a variety of devices including mobile phones and PSPs. The quality of the videos was impressive and showed a high degree of creativity, tenacity (to create some of the more complex elements must have taken time) and good humour. It occurred to me that most of what they had done had grown out of their own desire to explore new technologies and to share their work with each other - surely an excellent learning experience?

But a young person's computer is not the same as having a TV in the bedroom. PCs allow people to enter and become part of your world. In any human communication there are those skilled at manipulating and exploiting others and this is where there is a lot of current concern.

This entry was supposed to just be about safe use of the Internet and offer a few useful links to some software parents could download in order to safely manage their child's Internet use at home. This has proved more difficult than I first thought it would be (hence the delay to May's blog). There are features in Vista that allow parents to set up separate accounts for their children and these can be limited. There are options within browsers to limit access to websites. These could be used to some good effect, if passwords are kept secret, but the problem is they tend to be quite crude and block perfectly legitimate browsing. There are other firewalls and Internet security packages that allow some control over access to the Internet. These often use 'whitelists' to identify acceptable sites or banned sites can be added to a 'blacklist'. The trouble is that they all take a bit of work to administer and keep up to date.

At school we use a combination of systems that draws on an Internet database of inappropriate websites and allows us to add preferred sites. Our system allows us to enable different levels of access to each room or, if necessary, each PC on the network. All of this requires management and some quite expensive hardware as well as the software.

Those that advise on 'e-Safety' place an emphasis on the way behaviours when using Internet enabled resources at home. Adults are reminded that children and young people are emotionally immature (no matter how grown up they declare themselves to be) and, as such, are vulnerable when it comes to certain online situations. We try to raise awareness of these situations at school through assemblies and social studies and, from September, will formally introduce an 'e-safety' module into the Year 7 ICT induction programme. At home parents are advised to be pro-active about what their children are using their computers for and to be aware of signs such as excessive time spent online or a sudden withdrawal from family life and increase in secretive behaviour (i.e. being a teenager). We already have links to the 'Think You Know' site from the main site, but I have added a link to this site at the end of the blog. It is worth looking at whether you have a concern or not - lots of parents who found out that their child had been manipulated by someone into doing something out of character say they had no idea anything was going on.

I have not touched on 'cyber-bullying' in this entry. That is dealt with elsewhere, but many of the issues associated with this type of online misuse are covered very well through the 'Think You Know' website.

The reality is that the benefits of the Internet and many of the devices that use it outweigh the costs, but we must not be naive about the real harm some young people can come to through the virtual environment.