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Take your outdated AUP and breathe life into it


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book

Ahh the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). It is the quintessential sugar pill for easing the fear of many-an-administrator about what students will abstain from doing after they read and sign it. Not!

Montesquieu said “Useless laws weaken necessary laws“. This is so true for our beloved AUP. Not because it is useless, but because it is consistently weak.

In the vast majority of schools I’ve visited throughout my career the AUP is usually found only in an obscure webpage hardly anyone ever reads; within the annoying pop-up presented when joining the wifi network; and/or in the student/family handbook. Until today, I had a hard time remembering how ours even started.

Still, it does not mean it is not an important document. Well, important because we need to cover our backs in case of abuse or someone breaking the law using the campus network/computer. After all, control/filtering/monitoring/laws are the usual drivers for the need of such a document.

Otherwise no one really cares.

…or do they?

As the adults working in schools are coming of age in this new interconnected and ever more tactile world, sadly, their administrative policies are still crawling far behind. Policies/laws are having such a hard time catching up, yet everyone recognizes the need to create common understanding and rules of decorum in this new dimension of life as we know it. Otherwise, it’s every wo/man for themselves.

As for many other things in the life of a school community, we must find a way to implement a living document that outlines common agreements of how we will behave when using and otherwise interacting with school-provided technology resources. And we must do it in such a way that engages and informs the student body.

Tell us how to do it sensei

The challenge with drafting an AUP is that it must be within a context students understand – if you want it to be relevant, that is. Drafting a three-page document full of legalize and far out technical concepts does not a good AUP make. Adding instructions as to how to install and uninstall something to a computer should not be done at the AUP level. A simple, straight-to-the-point, and short document is your best bet.

The other thing an AUP need not address are prohibitions that could otherwise be handled by education – you know, the thing we are all in schools to provide. For instance, forbidding YouTube simply because it will “distract” students from learning does not make sense. Online resources can be leveraged to teach, and to block access to the very tools students are utilizing is missing a great teaching opportunity. More on that in a future post…promise.

Get on with it already

In thinking of how I will frame this document for the 2014-2015 academic year, I’m also thinking of how I will make this document a living document. That is to say; how can I device ways to keep bringing the conversation of technology and life on campus back to the AUP signed at the start of the year? I’m not doing this so that the community recognizes my writing or because I want to be at the center. More than anything I’m doing it because I feel that there are so many layers of “policy” our students are affected by in any given day that are totally obscure to them. It’s not fair. They should know where things are coming from, understand why, and be able to participate in making policies more real to them.

My aim for the 2014’2015 academic year is to make our school’s AUP visible, interactive, and memorable.

Visible: Burying it in the school website and within the student/family handbook should not be the only strategy. One thing that I am doing starting next year is to begin promoting “Techie Tuesdays” on campus. We have a “morning meeting” 4 days out of the week during which announcements and performances are made. I will make it my routine to be up there every Tuesday morning to alert the community about impending virus/hacking dangers, provide tips as to how to do something online or using our resources, and to remind them about one part of our AUP. Whatever part of the AUP I remind them of will have to be connected to school life in some way. It’s not about badgering or endless repeats, but about connecting the dots for them so that they see what’s on paper and how it relates to life.

Interactive: Another project for me to work on during the summer is to create some sort of either Mindcraft or SecondLife game to lead the students through the various parts of our community expectations as these relate to technology. I’ve yet to work out the details and only have a framework at this time. As soon as I have a complete workup I will share it with you.

Memorable: If students see it modeled, hear the same message consistently, and have some fun interacting with the idea, they are bound to remember it. I am sure to come up with more ideas – perhaps using Aurasma media on our hallway walls – or having them create media around the AUP will surely keep the conversation alive. I’m excited about trying out an Aurasma project as it will make it interactive and memorable all at the same time.

If you are doing some great things with your school AUP, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to share with the community. Otherwise, feel free to take at my final draft here. I always appreciate comments and suggestions, so pay it forward by doing so before you leave.

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“Digital” is finally dying


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digitalisdead

For a while now terms/titles such as “21st Century Learning”, “Digital” this, “New Century” that, and others have really tugged at me. Every time I hear/read these tittles it reinforces my view that education is a decade behind when it comes to recognizing and accepting the reality in which our students’ lives unfold. We are way past the “new century”, and things digital are, well…most things our students come in contact with during a normal day – starting with that smartphone in their hands. Our students swim in this [digital] world every waking moment of their lives, so why do we have to separate technology/digital out of education every time we speak about what is happening in the classroom?

I just finished reading John Mikton’s The Death of “Digital” and it goes right to the heart of what I have been trying to contextualize for a long time. I do believe the word “digital” should be taken out of the conversation, and that we should refer to hardware as appliances.

Language is powerful, and it will serve to get me closer or to separate me from the learning in a classroom.

Give it a read and tell me what you think.

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Get rid of your server room before it’s too late


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BWclock

The campus server room is changing. If yours is not, it should be.

Gone are the days of multi-server email systems; multi-layer collaboration environments; redundant databases; tape-library backup platforms, and so many other resource-sinking reasons to keep the server room ice cold. If anything, the server room should be disappearing altogether.

Let me break it down piece by piece.

E-mail

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past decade, you certainly know of the impact Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is having. Not to be outdone, Microsoft has followed suit with its own offering to K12. There are others, but these two are the major players offering outsourced e-mail and collaboration.

There is no major reason you should not already be using a cloud-based email/collaboration system. There are places where bandwidth and/or politics make it impossible to go this route. Listen to the podcast interview with Joseph Christie from Alexandria, Egypt, and you’ll hear firsthand one of those scenarios where it is not possible to go that route yet. Everywhere else, though, I have yet to find a reason that makes me think different about this topic. I have heard some great excuses, though, and those don’t count. The schools that can and instead opt not to go this route usually have someone with control issues at the helm of the IT decision-making process, or even worse, an ill informed leadership structure.

If leadership is worried about losing connectivity, you can always configure the solution such that email is stored offline. For archiving purposes you can go with a service such as Google Vault or https://www.backupify.com/.

Network files/shares

Read what I’ve written above a second time. The same companies offering cloud-based email usually offer storage and the ability to share files as well. Why keep all of that data on server disks that need to be replaced every 18-24 months? Worse, you don’t know when those spinning disks will stop spinning without warning.

Check my previous post for a quickie on how to create your own DropBox or GoogleDrive service for NO MONEY.

It should not be the responsibility of the school to fund the systems used to store and backup personal photos/music/videos of staff, faculty and/or students. Each user should be responsible for his/her own data. Show them the way.

Applications

Most data-driven systems have a cloud-based option and/or equivalent. SIS’s such as PowerSchool, AdminPlus, Senior Systems and others have hosted options. There are companies like WhippleHill who are already web-based-only. Database services such as https://www.knackhq.com/ or http://www.zoho.com/ or even Salesforce.com can take the place of your campus-based systems. If you refuse to let go of your FileMaker application, you can move it to a service such as http://worldcloud.com/. IT helpdesk solutions such as freshdesk.com are all over the place. Many of those solutions also offer asset tracking as part of their services.

I could go on for a very long time with this, so I’ll just stop it here.

School website

This is actually one of the easier ones to get done. If you have no budget to get this done, go over to GoDaddy or any of a thousand hosts and install WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Moodle or any other open source platform for your site. I have come to like WordPress as it is a very flexible platform for which you do not need a Masters to get going. Either as a static site, or a blogging platform, WordPress will get you there.

If you are on the budget-heavy side and can afford some additional features such power windows and a convertible top, check out FinalSite, WhippleHill or SchoolWires. Any of these platforms will relieve you of both your money and a headache. Though they are a bit of work to get going, it is well worth the investment as faculty/staff and you have full control of communication features, publishing, and some even offer additional features such as an SIS, a full Admissions component and more.

Backup

Well, with nothing to backup, what’s the point? If you must, there is CrashPlan.com and backupify.com to name just two.

Onsite network authentication

For your campus-based computers, you could set up a small MacMini or a Microsoft domain controller to get your users on and off computers. Networking printing can be on the same box given the light load of those services.

Wifi

Meraki is the clear winner here. If you want to do away with pricey controllers for your AP’s; and have the flexibility and freedom to get things done quick and easy, go with Meraki. There’s a good reason why Cisco bought the company. There are other players out there, but be sure they have a web-based management system instead of an onsite appliance.

Other network services

DNS, DHCP, L3 Routing, QoS and all of those services can run off an appliance such as your firewall and/or router. If you don’t have an onsite appliance capable of running these services, you can always configure these on your authentication box(es).

Proof

It is possible, and I have done it, to have a server room with only two servers in it. I had them configured as primary and secondary Active Directory as well as print server and a couple of other light services for logging printing and connectivity monitoring. In another school it was the same scenario, except I was using Apple servers hardware – when it was still being made and sold. Otherwise the network was very light on the administrative end, and the onus was placed on the end-user to manage their own environment.

Letting go of control was no easy feat for me, but once I was over the hump it was great to have my evenings and weekends back.

What got me thinking different was visiting one of those cloud companies a long time ago in NY. This was even before Google Apps for Education hit beta.

These large cloud companies hire the best and brightest computer scientists to secure data and manage all the necessary systems to get the service to you. I cannot compete with them; not on securing data, not on data transmission knowledge, not on creating backup platforms, and never on SLA’s. If my servers at school fail, I’m the only one that can get them going again. If a server in one of thousands of racks these companies have fails, they have entire engineering teams at the ready to keep things humming. They seldom skip a beat.

If you are proud of your server room, and are always showing it off to whoever will pay attention; enjoy it while it lasts.

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Create your private DropBox or GoogleDrive with NO MONEY


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owncloud

What better way to get your attention that by putting NO MONEY in the title, right? After all if you’re in a small independent school with a small tech budget, these words bring a sweet sound to the ear. Even if you’re in a big-budget situation, this is a great way to try it out before committing money to the idea.

Here’s how I have managed to create my own DropBox-like environment at my school. I must first clarify that using DropBox was not an option given the cost. Though we use GoogleDrive for our faculty/students, there are administrative needs that need way more storage and flexibility than GoogleDrive offers at this time. At the time I started using the service Google’s storage prices had yet to drop, so budgeting played a role in my decision to deploy this service to our administrators and administrative support staff.

We now enjoy nearly unlimited storage, automatic sync, and reliable service. I get the added benefit of being in control, and having ample backup and archiving capabilities. Win win!

Here’s my recipe if you’re looking to get started without paying a dime:

  1. Go to arvixe.com to setup your own trial account for free. As long as you keep your storage within the Arvixe hosting service under the 1Gb size, you’re free to go. I use arvixe.com to maintain my OwnCloud environment since I don’t want to install it on my own servers, nor do I want to take care of yet one more thing on our network. They are good at hosting, they know OwnCloud pretty well, so why not let them tend to it? OwnCloud then connects to S3 for data storage ….keep reading.
  2. Got to Amazon Web Service and create a free S3 account. You get 5Gbs of free storage. Not bad if you’re just getting started. Once you have created your account, create a bucket in the region you want to store your data. This is important if you’re in Europe or other heavily regulated regions. In my case I’ve created my bucket in Northern California such that it is fast to access from here. Frankly, though, anywhere you decide to create your bucket you will have good access speeds to your data. Where data is stored has more of an impact if you’re creating apps to access such data, or if you’re going to distribute video/audio content in a website or app.
  3. Once you’ve created these two free accounts, it’s time to get them talking to each other. Primarily you want to set up your OwnCloud service to talk to and store data to your S3 bucket. Here’s a good online help doc that goes through the process step-by-step.
  4. Create your users within OwnCloud, and manage their profiles. This is such that each user has appropriate rights to view/edit/create data within a given bucket/folder. Check out this doc to get a better idea of what that means.
  5. Deploy the OwnCloud client for Mac/Win, iOS/Android. Use each user’s credentials to get them connected and sharing.

Once you’ve done this, the user simply needs to keep their data within a folder that is used to sync with the cloud service and into the S3 bucket. All syncing is done behind-the-scenes, so the users don’t need to worry about a thing. Best of all, if their machines takes a dive or they drop their laptop in the toilet – trust me, it’s happened – then all you need to do is give them a new device and get them connected to their account and sync. Also, there is an option to get to your data via a website just like Box, DropBox and GoogleDrive.

OwnCloud is not a magic pill. There are some things that will need a bit of getting used to, like getting the file-sharing link, for instance. Overall, though, for the price and for what it does, it is a great example of open-source software applied to a real-world need.

Resource links for your sharing pleasure:

Happy sharing!