MY-SCHOOL from #c2k

This is the brochure for the new C2K: C2k My School Network 30 March 2012

I have a few reservations. And that’s just based on a quick glance through the brochure.

MY-SCHOOL is ground breaking and unique, as it can be accessed from a range of devices, with any operating system using any supported browser.

It’s unclear what is a “supported browser”. Does this mean Internet Explorer 9? Firefox? Safari? Opera? Skyfire? What about Internet Explorer 6? Safari Mobile? iCab? Dolphin? Camino?

LearningNI will be replaced by Fronter, an e-learning platform which is being used by schools globally.

The new service will provide a fully searchable content repository called Equella

They’re offering a centralised VLE and searchable content system. Which will be accessed by any computers running supported browsers and…running SECURUS. What’s SECURUS?

An application called Securus will be introduced which logs key strokes on managed and users own devices (with Windows and OSX operating systems) connected to the managed network. On detection of inappropriate words or phrases, an alert is sent to nominated individuals to allow immediate intervention and action.

I would be extremely sceptical and critical of any keystroke-logging software that a third party IT company would install on a computer that my sons or daughter brought to school. This is designed to limit access to inappropriate material, it won’t work on an iPad and it’s going to be installed on my computers, running my software; computers that may be shared with other members of the family to check banks, Facebook accounts? Absolutely preposterous.

And if I don’t install it? I’m not allowed to access the internet? That seems to be the implication.

Under the new solution, schools will benefit from substantial increases in bandwidth by moving away from the traditional contended broadband provision. This new service has been designed to give all schools a direct connection to the network giving better performance across the whole service.

You mean the contended broadband networks which schools installed to get around the frankly daft restrictions imposed by C2K? Or the contended broadband networks installed by C2K the first time round?

SIMS Discover is a powerful tool that enables the teacher to analyse and present SIMS data in a variety of ways, including Venn diagrams, bar charts, pie charts and line graphs.

Oh! Pictures! That’s all right then!

In short, this short brochure document leaves me a little cold. There are elements I welcome, such as faster broadband (though claiming to offer an un-contended broadband service seems to me to be a marketing lie) and better access to learning resources outside the school network but I am left chilled by some of the developments which are intended to increase security.

Schools are for education and an important point about educating students is to arm them with the knowledge of what is appropriate and what is not. If a child wants to look up inappropriate content then they will find a way – whether that’s by turning off the School WiFi and relying on their own home-bought 3G chip or by connecting their device to any third party wireless network. You can’t stop this using technology, you have to solve it using relationships, education and communication.

I was told this new contract was great but I see it very much like the original C2K vision. It says some of the right things but the detail is missing, there is an onerous undercurrent of IT administration gone mad and, if past behaviour is to be judged, the delivery of this will be loathed by student and teacher alike.

Use of the application SECURUS on computers that are not owned by the school is not only a ridiculous concept but also extremely dangerous. Do you trust the IT delivery company who won the tender? Enough to install a key logger? I’m certain I do not. The question is whether or not SECURUS is a condition of access. If it is, this is a preposterous concept. If not, why are they bothering?

 

Matt Johnston

"The" Mac geek in Northern Ireland. Also iPhonista, iPadista, Gamer, Writer, Technologist, Futurist, Humanist

 

24 thoughts on “MY-SCHOOL from #c2k

  1. Due to insufficient funding of schools, some of the teachers I know use their own hardware (not connected to C2K at present).

    There’s absolutely no way that they’ll be connecting them to this new network either. Installing a keylogger is plain dumb.

    The more I read about the new education IT contract, the more it sounds like a £170m mistake. Given the price, I’d assume that they are going to drop all the fees for connecting school equipment to the network? No?

    1. Hi Stephen,
      I have no problem with the contract value, nor the delivery company. They have some really bright people there who care passionately about education technology provision.

      I’m more concerned about who at C2K thinks that keyloggers are appropriate in any circumstance on user-owned machines or where personal information may be concerned. It’s C2K who will have set the terms of reference.

  2. a typically hyped and onesided blog without any facts or clarity on what the new solution will provide.
    usual form from my (sur)name sake…

    Those who can do
    Those who can’t blog about it.

    1. Actually, Davy, I’m writing this from what they HAVE said in their brochure. Yes, there’s not enough detail but that’s not my fault – its their brochure. So, if anything, it’s not my hype – it’s theirs

      I suppose you think a key logger is appropriate?

      And I’m just a blogger? Really?

      I’m a taxpayer.
      I’m a local business owner.
      I’m an employer.
      I’m a member of the voting electorate.
      I’m a parent of children who will be directly affected by this.

      None of the above is remotely related to what I do ‘for a living’ but this also affects the companies I work with who supply software to the education sector.

  3. As a former teacher (Head of IT in @carrickcollege) I am sort of out of the loop now but still am interested. Thanks for posting this pdf and your comments I agree with.

    Just to mention installing their software is nothing new. They used to allow access to your My Documents folder from home and for a while you had to download a custom Java package i believe to make it work (if my memory serves me right!). but having them install key logging software on my Macbook that I bought and paid for and brought into work probably because the School laptops are 5 years old and rubbish is ridiculous!).

    Will be interesting to ask a few teachers 12 months from how how they find the new system……

  4. Hi Matt,

    I do have a problem with the contract value. I’m not arguing that there isn’t smart people in Northgate, nor that some of them are passionate about technology in education. I am arguing that at a time when classroom budgets are being cut (think less than £20 per year per pupil to buy all the resources for that child, and the classroom), that the money could have been better spent. Even for that amount of money, they still charge schools for some services.

    Absolutely keyloggers should not be used. Installing what is effectively malware onto machines is unacceptable, regardless of whether they are privately owned, or owned by the school themselves. It would also make me have concerns about who is winning inside Northgate, those passionate about technology in education, or those that are looking for a way to minimise the amount of effort (i.e. just whack a 3rd party tool in there, it’ll do the job).

  5. Hi Matt

    Do you know if the Keylogger will be installed onto a local (teacher owned) machine? Or will it be installed on the C2K server that I assume will be accessed by a remote desktop connection? I guess if the later it is not as big a concern as it would not actually be installed on the local machine and would only be used when the person was using the actual C2K Server…

    Just thinking when I would be working…!

  6. Completely agree with your opposition to this walled-garden approach, never mind it’s implementation. Kids will learn much more doing the “wrong” thing than if they never have the opportunity to do something wrong. To quote Neil deGrasse Tyson:

    Kids are born scientists. They’re born probing the natural world that surrounds them. They’ll lift up a rock. They’ll pick up a bug. They’ll pull petals off a flower. They’ll ask you why the grass is green and the sky is blue, and they’ll experiment with breakable things in your house. I think the best thing a parent can do, when raising a child, is simply get out of their way.
    It might mean they break a dish someday, because they’re experimenting with how dishes roll down the corridor. But they’ll learn something about how fragile something as brittle as glass can be. There’s a lesson there.
    Yeah, you’ll break a dish. So you buy as new dish. And you say, “Well, that can be costly.” But, as Derek Bok, who was president of Harvard, once said, “If you think education is costly, look at the cost of ignorance.”
    That exploration can become a fundamental part of what a growing child requires to become a thinking member of society.

  7. Unless the system is VERY inteliggent it will produce lots of false logs, which the teachers will have to look at.

    Take the following sentences a child may innocently write.

    When I was a child, I liked Dick Whittington as a bedtime story.

    My mummy said her favourite video is of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

    My Grandad liked Faggots when he was a boy.

    Then the child who enters in to google “Pictures of Dutch dykes” for his school project about Holland.

    and the list goes on….

    I can see that some of the pupils will be challenging each other to see who can activate the system the most by legitimately keeping the words in relevant context as above.

    Too many false entries in the log could put some teachers off checking them thoroughly, allowing the real ones to pass by.

  8. I’d also be curious to see how it handles different languages (swearing in another language perhaps), different encoding (what if we just wrote the unicode numbers for the characters of the words), and yes as Andrew has said, its unlikely to be context aware.

    Not to mention that it’ll have to keep up with the language that kids actually use. Good luck with that.

  9. Stephen – Great comment! I remember in 2007 back in my schoolteacher days before I saw the light! a Polish student being able to access Polish Porn websites as the C2K filter could not cope with other languages…

    And the comment from Andrew about the logs and kids trying to see how far they can get away with things is so true as well! They will come up with all sorts of variations on inappropriate words I bet to see if they can get around it..

    As I said earlier will be interesting to speak to some teachers 12 months from now to see how they see the implementation in practice

  10. Stephen – wait, its only just dawned on me. Teachers are able to access the logs from the key logger? That would be a major invasion of privacy, especially since they’d be running it on equipment they don’t own. I’m sure there’s bound some EU regulation against that.

    And does the teacher have access to the logs or only the violations? Does anyone actually have access to the full logs? What if the child types something highly personal in an email (or similar) to a parent or other family member? What if the child admits to a “crime”/breaking school rules and the keylogger catches it? Would anyone know? Worse, what if someone does know.

    Given the invasion of privacy, and that this is going to be snooping on children, and that there’s a mass of laws protecting both, this has got to be one of the most ill-thought out ideas in the entire proposal.

    Whoever agreed to this needs to explain their reasoning. If this was part of the contract then some education is needed for all those involved.

    There’s absolutely no way that any child of mine will be using this system other than for the bare minimum they need to use it to function in the school. If its required to be installed on a non-school system then it will be inside a VM, pointed at a proxy, where its network activities will be monitor and blocked where appropriate.

    You will not have unguarded access to my child.

  11. The principal shouldn’t have access to it either!


    Children deserve specific protection of their personal data, as they may be less aware of risks, consequences, safeguards and their rights in relation to the processing of personal data. To determine when an individual is a child, this Regulation should take over the definition laid down by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.


    Where processing is based on the data subject’s consent, the controller should have the burden of proving that the data subject has given the consent to the processing operation. In particular in the context of a written declaration on another matter, safeguards should ensure that the data subject is aware that and to what extent consent is given.

    In order to ensure free consent, it should be clarified that consent does not provide a valid legal ground where the individual has no genuine and free choice and is subsequently not able to refuse or withdraw consent without detriment.

    http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/document/review2012/com_2012_11_en.pdf

    Think someone in Northgate needs to read the directive, though I’d admit that I need to spend more time reading it too…

    If I remove, or don’t give, the right to install the keylogger on my own equipment, then my child should not be prevented from using the system, otherwise its not a free choice for me to give this data.

  12. Interesting post

    Whilst I largely support why they are trying to do and I do think it is very different to what we have had in schools to date, I have to admit that the Securus thing is of concern to me as a senior teacher n a post primary school. It is too difficult to manage and prove misuse. Though I do understand and respect some measure of security might be nice whist students are logging into school networks.

  13. I though I’d add a few points of information about Securus gleaned from the presentation I listened to last week:

    – It works by detecting words and phrases which are given a severity value.
    – Once a trigger word or phrase is typed it takes a screenshot and records who was logged on to the machine at that time.
    – The system’s sensitivity can be adjusted to ignore certain things and flag up others.
    – School’s make the decision on what action to take in line with their own AUP.
    – Schools can add their own trigger words and phrases to the word bank including foreign language words and phrases.
    – It is being sold to us as a pastoral tool to help detect incidents of bullying and/or attempts to access websites on topics such as suicide and anorexia.
    – At the moment it wont work on iPad but there will be no restriction to using iPads within MySchool.
    – The wifi network in schools will have two levels of access; ‘guest’ and ‘managed’ but the user experience will be the same.

  14. Also, if they only support “some browsers”, instead of browser standards, and they only support computers with certain software, then they are deliberately excluding support for blind user’s terminals, users of unix (which is the traditional operating system for academic use, and much more secure, I’ll wager than their “securus” solution), etc.

  15. I am an Enginner on the delivery of the Project and I can confirm that at this time Securus NOT being installed.. I have not seen it in action but to my understanding calling Securus a keylogger is technically incorrect. What it does is monitor keystrokes for trigger phrases anyone who does not trigger will not have their keystrokes logged. Kind of similar to where some companies have CCTV cameras installed that can only be viewed by the Police when a crime has been reported.

    1. Hi Ryan,
      This may be an exercise in semantics but how is a “keylogger” different from software that “monitors keystrokes”?

      From another point of view, c2K nor the tendered delivery agent are not the Police. Also the video recorded by a shop CCTV system is unlikely to compromise the email content of a private individual.

      You may be an Enginner (sic) but this does not inspire me with confidence.

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