Basic Tech Safety

In developing a series of sessions on digital literacy I thought a good place to start would be that of basic computer safety including password management.    Ahead of this is an initial discussion with students in terms of identifying what the risks and implications of using technology where no consideration has been given for computer safety and security.

The areas which I consider to represent the basic elements of safety are:

  1. Password and account management
  2. Risk associated with website access
  3. Social media dangers
  4. The danger of the ubiquitous use of email
  5. Data loss from mobile devices, portable storage or storage failure.

In discussing each I use the CIA acronym as a structure for examining the risks and safety measures.    CIA refers to Confidentiality, Integrity and Accessibility.     In discussing password management confidentiality may lead us to consider how we keep usernames and password confidential such that our files remain confidential.   It may also leads us to discuss accessibility in that as users we want easy access to our data and therefore shorter easier to remember usernames and passwords seem preferable yet this run contrary to the need for confidentiality.    This conflict may leads to examine how password managers might assist in achieving both confidentiality and accessibility.

The main aim of the first session will be to get students to consider their technological safety in greater detail and depth than they may have done previously.     It is also hoped that this first session will allow for in group discussion and debate, which will set the tone for the discussion and debate which will be needed on some of the more moral or ethically related discussions in later sessions.

You can access the basic PowerPoint (yes, I know, a PowerPoint!   Have just used it to create a basic framework only and have no intention of death by PowerPoint) related to session one here.

I would welcome any thoughts or comments.



A digital literacy programme

I am currently in the process of preparing a programme of lessons for 6th form students focusing on preparing to live in an increasingly digital and technological world.     The first part of my planning is to decide on the specific topic areas which merit discussion.    Currently my thinking is to include the below:

Basic internet safety

The basics of internet safety including passwords, phishing, etc.

Cyber security and internet safety

Examination of some of the more technical aspects of cyber security including the devices we use at home and the increasing prevalence of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Privacy and public safety

Discussion of the paradox of privacy and online security versus public safety.

Digital Profiles

Why establishing an online profile might be important and things to consider in developing an online presence.

Disconnecting and the risks of addiction

Managing our technology so it doesn’t become additive and understanding how our technology use might shape our behaviours and habits.

Managing our data

Understanding our data and how it may be stored and used by others and the resulting implications.   Also consideration of machine learning and how it can impact on individuals.

Social Media as a collaboration tool

Discussion of how social media can be used for much more than sharing funny cat videos

Googling It

Discussion of the benefits of google as a source of info along with potential risks.

The Internet of Things

Examination of the internet of things, the potential benefits and risk

Other emerging technologies

Discussion of emerging technologies such as VR and AR


Now the above are just my initial rough ideas for topic areas.    Over the coming weeks I hope to flesh them out a little bit further and add some skin to the bones however in the meantime I would appreciate any thoughts or comments on the areas which you think need including.

My data?

pacemaker-1943662_640A recent BBC News article highlighted a US judges decision to allow data gathered from a defendants pacemaker to be admissible in court (You can read the article here).    The data in question was used by an expert witness to cast doubt on the defendants explanation as to the events surrounding the case in hand.   The issue here is the gathering of data for one purpose, to measure the defendants vital conditions in order to aid medical treatment and diagnosis, versus the eventual use of the data to prove what he was doing during a specific period in time in relation to criminal prosecution.   Surely data gathered from a device in my body would consistent “my data” and therefore be for me to decide or approve its use.

This incident seems to go against the basic rules of the data protection act and also the upcoming general data protection regulations due to come into effect in May 2018 in that the eventual usage of data did not relate to its original purpose.    The required permission for storage and usage of the data would have been limited to this purpose.    Now there are exceptions for law enforcement in relation to protecting society which may have come into play, plus the incident happened in the US and I don’t have any experience as the equivalent of the data protection act in the US however I would assume the similarities likely far outweigh the differences.

This case seems to suggest that it may be possible for data gathered to be used for purposes other than that for which it is intended or for which permission was obtained.     All that is required is some justification of need.    This seems vague and particularly concerning.

So what about the Amazon echo sitting in the front room recording every comment, discussion and noise occurring in my house?    What about the camera in a Smart TV equipped with gesture control or the Kinetic device attached to my sons Xbox One?      What about the engine management unit or GPS unit in my car, the data my smart watch gathers or info from my FitBit or other fitness tracking device?     We may be happy about these devices gathering data for their intended purposes but what about the purposes to which the data could be used, where we as yet can predict this?    I am sure the bloke with the pacemaker couldn’t have predicted he might be convicted based on data his pacemaker gathered.    How might a hacker or someone else with malicious intent use the data which available?

As we work with students to build them into digitally or technologically literate individuals we need to discuss the above.

Are we happy with so much data being gathered, stored and processed on is by third parties?   Do we truly understand how the data is or can be used?  


Technology Consumer or Technology User?

A student makes use of his iPad to access his email and to view the internet.  He uses it to access his social media accounts and to post updates.    He uses productivity apps to take notes in lessons and to create pieces of coursework which he then sends via email or shares via a cloud storage solution with his teachers.   You might describe the above as the student as a consumer use of technology.  Its consumer electronics much in the same way that we consume TV sets or satellite/cable boxes.   We purchase them, use them and replace them all for specific purposes.

Now lets consider the same student however this time before accessing his email he considers the security of his email account and the strength of his password.   He considers if email is the best method of communicating given its lack of security.      When looking at his social media accounts he considers the long term implications of posting comments.    He considers how the information might be used by for potentially malicious purposes and he considers his current privacy settings.      He considers how his posting could be combined with other data to form big data and the implications in relation to the use of this data for profiling.    He considers the security of the device he is creating documents on, including if encryption is enabled and also the strength of his passcode.    He considers how he shares his documents in terms of whether they are accessible by public URL link or just accessible via logged in users.     This student is a user of technology, in that he considers the implications of use.   He doesn’t just consume.

Are your students consumers or users?

Do you agree with the suggested distinction between consumers and users?   Maybe you would use a different term; digitally literate?

One suite to rule them all?

GSuiteOffice365At a recent conference event I got into the discussion with a couple of other attendees in relation to what the best suite of apps for use in schools was.    The main options on the table were Google Apps for Education and Microsoft Office 365 however other platforms such as Firefly and Showbie were also mentioned.

The key here, in developing digital literacy, is do we focus on a single suite such as Google Apps for Education, or G-Suite as I believe it is now called, or should we make use of a variety of different apps with our students.

A singular suite presents the option of consistency.   Students experience the same apps used across all of their lessons within school, whether they are developing homework, viewing resources or undertaking in class learning activities.    They also experience a common user interface and experience across the different apps within the suite.   This can also be beneficial for staff in that all teachers are using the same apps and therefore can support each other and share ideas.   This has an equal benefit for students who are able to support and help each other given the common nature of the apps used across subjects and year groups.   The single suite develops depth of knowledge in students as they are able to explore the singular suite in detail, which should support them as they move to a another similar suite.

Using a multitude of different apps and possibly different suites, such as using Google Apps and Office 365, has the advantage of allowing teachers and students to pick the best app for each given purpose from all apps which are available.   The ability to pick from any app also has the advantage of being able to access a wider range of functionality than is available within any single suite.   It also allows for teachers and students to select according to their personal preference.    Use of multiple apps develops cross platform skills in students and also staff allowing them to more easily flit between apps as need.

My preference is to find a solution somewhere in the middle with a single core suite being used but with an allowance for other apps and suites to be used as need.     As such I use Office 365 as my core suite however often make use of Google Forms within the G-Suite due to its superior functionality and my greater familiarity over the Microsoft equivalence.

And if pushed to select between Office 365 and Google Apps, I would answer that I would pick both.    For schools heavily invested and attached to the traditional Microsoft Office suite I would go with Office 365 for its familiarity, as I have done in my current school, however in a new school or a school which isn’t attached to a particular office suite, I would go with G-Suite due to it being slightly further along in development as an educational tool.



Developing cross platform skills

OSsIt is important that we develop in students the ability to develop cross platform skills such that they are able to pick up and use new software and/or hardware given their previous experience across a range of similar solutions.    This covers different hardware, such as makes of laptop, and different software inclusive of both operating systems such as windows and apps software.    The example I will use in discussing how cross platform skills are developed is that of computer programming and my own personal experience.

When I was young I started dabbling a little with computer programming in the form of BASIC on a Commodore 64.    At this point I had had no formal instruction on programming instead learning from a magazine and by experimentation.   As I got a little older I started experimenting a little more but now in AMOS BASIC on the Amiga 500.   It was only a little after this that I received formal teaching on programming in the form of technological studies lessons looking at programming a basic robot using assembly and machine code.   By the time I reached university and came across Visual BASIC I was on my fourth programming language mainly from within the BASIC family of languages.

Moving to learning and then teaching C++ wasn’t a significant step for me having seen four languages already, having seen the commonalities in the basic principles of programming and having seen the differences in the syntax of each language.    I was quickly able to pick up C++.   I have since been quickly able to pick up PHP and dabble with python among other languages.

For me the key to cross platform skills is exposure to different systems.   Through experimenting with different systems the commonalities can be identified.    These commonalities can then help in adapting to a new system, while the differences in encountered systems can help in developing flexibility and adaptability needed to deal with new tools.   For me an interest in programming was also key as this spurred me on to experiment and try different approaches.   So in working with students getting them actively engaged in learning about different solutions will be key, such that they are interested and able to draw comparisons.

The challenge in relation to developing cross platform skills is one of depth.    I benefited from experimenting with each programming language due to spending some time working on it.   I reached some depth in my learning with each language before moving on to my next language.    This therefore requires time.

Do we cover enough breadth in the tools we look at in lessons?    With each tool do we achieve sufficient depth of study?

Every changing technology

FloppyDsk-MFPreparing our students to live in the technological world presents us with an immediate challenge in that tomorrows technologies, the technologies our current students may be presented with in the working world post the completion of their formal education may not as yet exist.

I remember the 3.5″ Floppy Disk.   I remember MySpace and Friends Re-United, sites which are now gone.   I consider myself reasonably familiar with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest however less familiar with Snapchat and Instagram.   These sites represent a tiny fraction of the networking and other social media sites which exist so I suspect there are many sites which our students are using that I am not aware of.

So does this lack of awareness of all current tools mean that I am not digitally literate?    Does the fact my son has no clue as to what MySpace impact on his digital literacy?

I have specifically listed social media sites in particular as I think the answer here is in the form of categorization, which my choice makes it easier to illustrate.   I am aware of social media as a category, and can use various social media tools dependent on my needs.   The fact I am making regular use of a couple of apps and also occasional use of a few others evidences this.    I also feel I could pick up and use new tools where there is a need.   This is therefore sufficient when looking at digital literacy as it unlikely that anyone would be be actively using all social media tools, including new tools as they arise.    New tools are being created too often and usage is based on need.     We also need to accept human habit, which results in preferred tools such as my preferred use of Twitter as my social media channel over other tools.

The questions that come from the above are therefore:

  • what are the current categories of tools and technologies which exist?
  • how can we develop the skills needed in students to be able to pick up and use new tools as needed?   
  • Should we provide shallow breadth of app/technology coverage or deeper coverage of a more limited set of apps/technologies?