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Why technology doesn’t detract from education

We recently read an inspiring article about the work of the Turing Trust, set up to honour the incomparable Alan Turing by providing computers and IT training to over 100 schools in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. The work they are doing in refurbishing PCs no longer needed by schools and businesses, as well as developing technology which supports these communities is very impressive and shows the difference that digital inclusion can make to a child’s education.

In the UK, we can take our technology for granted. The challenge for parents is often how to limit time on the internet or playing on an iPad, and this leads to a perception that technology can get in the way of education. This doesn’t have to be the case. As the work of the Turing Trust shows, computers can present educational opportunities to children and make the learning process more inclusive and engaging. When we work with schools on providing tools such as tablets for the classroom, we also provide advice on the best software and applications which support the national curriculum.

As well as providing new ways to teach traditional subjects such as literacy and maths, it’s important for children to understand and be comfortable with the latest technology as these will be essential skills in later life. Most careers require a level of IT literacy and more and more aspects of our lives, from the weekly shop and last-minute holidays to banking and paying for a parking space, are facilitated by technology. Also, it’s worth remembering that computers connect the whole world, and allows children to view images and footage from incredible sights across the globe, including images from space during Tim Peake’s recent mission or perhaps linking to a class in Ghana.

Technology is, of course, just one of the tools in a teacher’s extensive toolbox. The work of the Turing Trust underlines how vital this tool can be, and how much of an impact technology can have when put to good use. We work with schools on everything from ensuring that their network and broadband is secure and reliable to providing the latest hardware for classrooms. Technology doesn’t have to distract from education; if it’s implemented correctly as part of a clear strategy then it can be a tool that provides new possibilities for schools and pupils alike.

When it comes to IT, you never stop learning

Plans are well under way for the next JSPC roadshow on 24th November and with so many IT issues underpinning key news stories and organisational challenges, we’re expecting it to be a busy one. We’re focusing on the issues of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and safeguarding. These are two of the hottest topics in IT and, together with the recent spate of cyber attacks on organisations of all sizes, make up some of the key concerns of our clients.

The three issues are interlinked. Good data protection practices form the foundation for cyber security and an awareness of safeguarding techniques and precautions are invaluable for ensuring that both children and sensitive data about them is maintained properly. Used correctly, the right information can help to protect children and allow information to be shared between professionals but it needs to be secure and well managed to be of value. Many people are focused on the new rules for the GDPR, but in areas such as safeguarding and cyber attacks, it is not so much government rulings but an evolving threat that needs to be addressed. This is why it is important to stay up to date; legislation, technology and the environment are changing all the time and it can be hard to keep up. That’s why we created this interactive event, with plenty of time for question and answer sessions and hands-on demonstrations.

We’re also lining up some brilliant guest speakers and gathering information to present some helpful case studies which may help you apply some of the latest developments in hardware, wireless and single-server solutions to your organisation. We appreciate that you’re taking time out of your work day and so we’re intent on making it great value – and given the expertise on show, we’re looking forward to learning something new ourselves. The only way to keep up in the world of IT is to always keep learning. We look forward to seeing you in November.

Is your school ready for the new General Data Protection Regulation?

Next year, the current Data Protection Act (DPA) will be replaced by new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The changes take effect on 25th May 2018 and at this point there will be an even greater emphasis placed on data protection that will change the way information is managed within your school.

The tighter regulations will place additional responsibility on schools to safeguard the information they hold. The rules are related to what information is stored, and how it is stored, similar to the original DPA although the new rules are more stringent. Depending on your current infrastructure, the changes may require investment in software but it may be possible to achieve compliance without a major outlay.

We recommend a full information audit which will help you understand what actions you need to take to ensure that you don’t breach the rules. Along with providing some stricter guidelines, the GDPR also carries some significant penalties for any organisation that breaches the new rules so it’s worth making sure you meet the requirements. You may find that you’re already operating within the guidelines, or some minor adjustments can bring the school in line.

However, that initial audit goes, it’s worth knowing what you need to do before you’re at the point of incurring penalties. We can help you look at your current practices, policies and software and help you develop a plan of action – and if required, a budget for technical investment – to ensure that when the GDPR comes into force in May next year, your school will already be meeting the new standards.

Who is responsible for e-safety?

Can IT companies protect children?

We’ve always taken e-safety very seriously. We offer schools sophisticated content filtering systems which provide control over what can be seen online and can tailor this to suit classes of different ages. Of course, it’s not always easy to know in advance what you want to filter out and the threats online keep evolving. No filter can be 100% effective because new sites are popping up all the time. That is why we also offer a content monitoring system that detects inappropriate content being viewed and flags it up for teachers to take any required action. These systems are effective tools to protect children online, but they are not the only thing in the e-safety toolbox.

Can teachers help children to protect themselves?

Education plays a significant role in the success of e-safety programmes. This means educating children about what actions they can take in to stay safe online, but also reinforcing the idea that the online landscape changes rapidly. It is not effective to simply test children once on issues of e-safety and assume that they’re sticking to the rules. Some will forget, others will be looking for ways around the safety checks and meanwhile new threats will be evolving online. Education in this sense means keeping the conversation open about issues such as cyber-bullying and incorporating regular updates and discussions on the topic throughout the year.

How can parents get involved in e-safety?

Education doesn’t stop with the pupils; teachers and parents also have a role to play in helping children stay safe online. We also offer a range of training courses online and in schools with our partners Safety Net for teachers and parents as well as students, which help to inform them of the possible threats and behaviours to look out for. This is important because although content filtering and monitoring systems are very effective, it’s unlikely that children are encountering similarly sophisticated protections at home. That’s why it’s as important to know how to work with children on e-safety, and the right training can help parents and teachers spot signs that a child may be encountering something upsetting online.

So, who IS responsible for e-safety?

IT companies can offer tools to protect children from online threats but that’s only part of the story. Teachers, parents and the children themselves all have a role to play and training and ongoing education ensure this takes place. The more knowledge they have, the easier it is to exercise a measure of judgement on the issue -you may want to supervise very young children online, but with teenagers you can provide a measure of independence but make sure you understand, for example, the signs of potential cyber-bullying and what can be done to combat it. In both cases, the technology may play a vital role in protecting children and young people online but often education is the most powerful layer of protection.

Protecting children from bad news doesn’t mean shutting out all information

It’s hard to know where to start regarding the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. One of the aspects which appears to have horrified so many people regarding the Manchester bombing in particular, is that pop star Ariana Grande has a young fanbase and that means it’s impossible for children to remain innocent to the threat of terrorism. So many young people were killed and injured. Many have lost friends and family members, many more will be afraid to discover the pleasure of live music, or indeed of exploring any new experience for fear of being harmed. As adults, we understand at least that such a senseless attack can’t ever truly make sense but for children, the thoughts and feelings regarding this event may be overwhelming.

The online, 24-hour news cycle of updates on these attacks doesn’t help. It becomes almost impossible for children to avoid the bewildering and upsetting images and information from almost every corner of the Internet. The solution isn’t to shut down the information flow, however. The chances are that children will discover this information somehow, and second-hand accounts may be more damaging and isolating in the long run. Teachers and parents have a duty to make sure that children are protected from the worst of the news, but are given a forum to discuss and come to terms with what has happened.

The BBC programme Newsround has been praised for its coverage of the Manchester attack, which presented the information in a clear way without dwelling too long on the horror and stressing its rarity. The Childline website provides some excellent resources for how to support and discuss these events with children and young people. These examples demonstrate that there are suitable resources available online and while nothing can undo the horror of events like these, it is possible to use the information on the Internet to help children come to terms with it. Given the sensational nature of some news channels, it may seem right to shut down all platforms, but it is possible to tailor access within a school to prevent specific media from being seen, even providing different levels of access to classes of different ages.

Protecting children from the worst aspects of the world is about more than hiding the truth from them. The right resources could help young people move past their initial feelings of shock and fear, as long as they are made available in a safe environment. Many of our schools have stated that they will strive to support children who are experiencing concern or anxiety following these events. Further advice on ways to discuss these difficult issues with young people can be found on the NSPCC website.

If teachers and parents are empowered to discuss these events and related issues such as bullying, perhaps eventually this tragic cycle can be broken. In reaching some understanding, perhaps our children can – as another pop star favourite Harry Styles urged after the attack – choose love, even in these difficult times.

Our hearts are with all the families who lost someone in the recent Manchester and London attacks.

Planning a technology makeover for your school this summer?

The summer holidays can be the ideal time to implement an upgrade of the IT equipment in your school because you can make sure everything is installed and thoroughly tested without any interruptions for students and teachers. Before you book in a technology makeover for your school, it’s worth considering what your issues and requirements are. Understanding these two key areas will ensure that you deliver improvements where they are needed without unnecessary spending of the IT budget.

Pinpoint the issues

It’s worth examining what exactly is behind any issues that you may be facing. When teachers and pupils complain that machines are slow, it’s worth taking a deeper look before simply purchasing new computers. For example, is it that the machine is slow or is it the internet connection? Are the computers cluttered with files or unnecessary software? An IT provider isn’t just there to sell you shiny new kit, a specialist can audit your current hardware and infrastructure and advise on changes which could have a big impact on your IT performance.

Understand your requirements

We pride ourselves on building positive relationships with our client schools because the more we understand about the requirements, the more we can help. If you take the time to understand what is needed – better availability at peak times, updated software or applications, remote connections for teachers, legally compliant data storage or disaster recovery are just a few examples – then you can choose from a range of options for each requirement.

For example, you might need faster internet. If your internet connection is throttled at peak times, you might be able to redistribute some functions such as routine backups or other administrative functions to occur outside those times and ease the burden. However, if you simply have a slow connection regardless of the workload, it probably is time to look for a new provider. Understanding just what is needed can guide your decisions so that you’re managing your IT budget effectively.

Make smart choices

Once you’ve highlighted the pain points within your IT infrastructure and understood the gap between your requirements and your current provision, it makes it much easier to develop a clear plan for the upgrade process. We always work with our clients to ensure that we’re helping them to deliver against any objectives and directives they may need to follow and can provide input into a related IT strategy. We understand that it’s not just about the equipment you may need to buy, but how to make the most of the equipment you already have, provide the best possible technology to support the education process – and of course, have it all upgraded and ready to go before you welcome students back from the summer holiday.

 

Don’t be held to ransom by your IT security

It is rare that IT news hits the headlines, but you can’t have missed the news about the Ransomware attacks that happened across the globe at the end of last week. The attack, which exploited a flaw in Microsoft software, led to cyber-attacks on 200,000 computers across the globe. Victims of the attack included 48 NHS Trusts in England as well as Germany’s rail network Deutcsche Bahn and the global FedEx network. The spread was limited in part by 22-year-old Marcus Hutchins, a researcher who ended up being an accidental hero as his tracking the spread of the virus helped to prevent it. There are concerns that systems remain vulnerable, however, and it’s important to keep this type of security at the top of your mind when managing your IT.

What is ransomware?

Ransonware is the name for a specific attack which prevents access to files and demands a payment – essentially a ransom – for their return. Often the demands start small and if they are ignored, increase over time or threaten the destruction or sharing of valuable or sensitive files.

How can you prevent attacks?

The extent of the spread of this attack demonstrates that you can’t entirely prevent attacks. A determined hacker will at some point find a loophole in security and exploit it. However, there are measures you can take to limit the likelihood of an attack and the impact if it does occur. Firstly, this might be a good time to have an audit of your current security precautions. This includes not only looking at whether your firewalls and virus trackers are up to date and effective, but also looking at practices which may be making your network vulnerable. This includes considering how data is stored and shared across your organisation. In many cases, staff training is as important as the technology.

Incorporate cyber-attacks into your disaster recovery strategy

This latest threat may have been stopped for the most part, but in time, it is likely that another threat will arise from so-called “black hat” hackers. This is why it’s important that alongside protective measures to prevent an attack, you also prepare for the worst. A disaster recovery plan should include details of how to prevent the spread across the network, backup storage and data encryption. We track the trends in cyber security to help our clients protect themselves. Not all of them hit the headlines as this high profile ransomware attack has done because often they can be stopped before they do too much damage. If you want to make sure you don’t hit the headlines as a victim of ransomware or other malware, give us a call and we can audit your current set up and advise how you can protect yourself.

 

 

Content filtering needs an intelligent approach to match up to the evolving world online

A report by the House of Lords published earlier this year called Growing up with the Internet called on the industry to do more in the field of content filtering to protect children online. Although it is clear that there needs to be action, some IT leaders feel that a blanket approach may be heavy-handed. The report does highlight that the responsibility does not lie with the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) alone but is shared by a group of stakeholders, including the Government, schools, parents, children and the voluntary sector.

Although we agree that protecting children online requires a broad approach and includes education and input from a number of stakeholders, schools can’t wait around for all the disparate groups to agree on a new standard. This is a priority for any school looking to provide online access because they have a duty of care to the children. That’s why we offer a range of safeguarding tools which includes intelligent content filtering to schools so that they can open up the best parts of the internet to pupils using it as a learning tool and protect them from the worst aspects of the world-wide web.

One thing that is clear from the current debate is that one size will not fit all, and for this reason we provide flexible solutions that allow, for example, different levels of access for staff and pupils. It is also worth remembering that it’s not just children that may need protection, and similar requirements may apply in a business, where some departments may have their internet access more strictly filtered than others. For example, you may not want your team to have access to social networks during work hours, but some teams like customer services or marketing may need access to perform their roles.

The internet continues to grow and change in nature and that’s why the best approach isn’t to apply strict rules. Our content filtering uses an intelligent system that continues to evolve and adapt with your requirements. For example, a school may eliminate most issues and then new sites or subjects may pose a threat. We can alert staff so that they are aware of what’s happening on the network and can take appropriate action.

Content filtering isn’t something you can implement once and forget about. It requires an intelligent solution which is constantly evolving to respond to new threats as they arise. Even if ISPs are held to stricter standards in the future, it’s important to bear in mind that there will always be something new around the corner and a specialist system can be more finely-tuned to detect and neutralise any problematic content.

 

Five reasons why iPads and tablet computers are an asset in the classroom

There are a lot of considerations for schools looking to make use of tablet computers in the classroom. It requires the proper training of teaching staff to make the most of the resource and a high-speed, secure wireless network to support any activity. Is it worth the effort? We look at some of the key reasons why tablet computers can assist learning for a number of different age groups.

1. Breadth of information – there are over 65,000 education apps covering just about every possible subject for every age group. These apps can also accommodate different learning styles and provide a range of content from videos and slides to quizzes that can be used to check understanding and informally measure progress.

2. Appeal – iPads and tablet computers are popular and familiar to students. Many students claim they can study more efficiently with a tablet and whether or not that can be proved, the interest and familiarity with the technology will increase motivation and interest in the classroom when compared with traditional slides and printed handouts

3. Saving time – speaking of those handouts, all resources can be sent directly to pupils’ devices, meaning there’s no need for teachers to spend time photocopying information, worksheets or quizzes. There’s also the added bonus that it saves school resources and less paper is good for the environment, too.

4. Reducing costs – most textbooks are available on tablets, and not only are they cheaper per item than printed books, but they’re not subject to wear and tear, damage or losses which means that the cost of replacements will be drastically reduced too. The latest versions also include interactive elements, 3D graphics and videos to support learning.

5. Personalised lesson plans – the iPad allows teachers to tailor the information and tasks sent to each child in relation to a lesson depending on their needs. This can be particularly valuable in creating an inclusive environment for pupils with special needs or disabilities as it means they can remain with the class and work at their own pace on their own related tasks.

If you’re interested in supplying iPads or other tablets to pupils in your school, we can help not only with great value technology but also develop a mobile computing strategy to meet your school’s needs and your budget.