Category Archives: eSafety

Beyond eSafety

While exploring yesterday, I discovered a blog entry about what is generally termed eSafety, a subject I’ve been meaning to blog about. The editorial slant was not victim-oriented, but rather led with the potentially undesirable consequences of using the Internet in terms of privacy. In particular, it referenced MMS sexting by minors and the potential longevity of the personal consequences. The phrase that caught my attention was “permanent and public”. That is, everything and anything that one puts out into the aether (mobile or Net) may be, or become, permanent and public. For me, the key challenge is – if you’ll excuse the semantics – not so much eSafety as eSense; that is, an understanding of how to use technology in such a way as to avoid undesirable consequences, most of which have little to do with safety in the traditionally understood sense of the word.This is a subject that interests me because I believe that technology has a central role to play in facilitating learning and that means introducing young people to technology in an authentic but responsible manner. For simplicity, we can talk about three broad stages: primary (to age 11), secondary (11 to 18) and tertiary (18+). These stages broadly align with the same categories in the UK school system. I think there’s justifiable clarity about a zero tolerance approach to inappropriate content and contact in the primary stage. Equally, I think it’s clear that individuals over the age of eighteen take full responsibility for their actions.

The challenging category is the secondary stage as it represents the transition from child to adult with the associated dynamic boundaries and, inevitably, conflicting views. It is the stage during which schools are, at least in part, responsible for ensuring there’s a managed transition from complete technology regulation to free choice. At least it should be, but actually I think in many cases schools abrogate their responsibility by adopting a default position of full regulation, usually by blocking access to personal devices and undesirable Internet sites. A common refrain from frustrated students is that their technology experience outside of school is far richer than in school. This is a deplorable position but one which schools may justify using three broad categories of argumentation:

1. Legal – regulation justified by schools’ legal obligations
2. Protection – regulation justified by concern for general well-being
3. Education – regulation of technology justified by distraction

In my opinion, full regulation during this transitional period is unjustifiable, both in a purist educational sense, and in terms of schools’ more general social responsibilities. With regard to the former, schools must prepare young people for a digital world through engagement with the full Internet experience and all that it brings. This means a 21st Century digital curriculum that embraces technology and the experiences it facilitates across all subjects and stages. With regard to the latter, young people must be allowed to learn how to self-regulate their behaviour in the digital world as they would in any other environment.

There are two fundamental reasons I believe schools have, in the main, adopted an undifferentiated approach to the regulation of technology. One is that they do not understand the risks and fear the worst, for example a parent backlash, potential legal implications and/or adverse publicity. The second is that they do not think they can manage the undesirable behaviours such as texting while the teacher is speaking. It is simply easier to impose a blanket ban on mobile phones and all undesirable Internet sites and avoid a whole range of undesirable behaviours altogether. Of course, in so doing they also vastly diminish the educational experience of technology and the opportunities for learned self-regulation. My antidote to this approach begins by redefining the challenge as follows:

1. eLegality: ensuring the school organisation operates within the law
2. eSafety: ensuring young people understand how they might be harmed
3. eSense: ensuring young people learn how to use technology positively

The reason for the obsessive semantics is that this differentiation demands a strategic differentiation rather than a homogeneous approach. The protocol that describes a school’s response to eLegality issues such as data protection, freedom of speech, privacy, plagiarism and copyright is unambiguous. A breach of these protocols by any member of a school, staff and students alike, would carry appropriate consequences.

The eSafety protocol would reflect the more generally understood meaning of the word as intended by such organisations as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. It is focused on preventing young people from placing themselves in potentially harmful situations or indeed causing harm to others through their actions, for example by cyber-bullying. The key word in this context is “harm”. There is a process of education involved in recognising potentially harmful situations but it is quite clear-cut and well suited to being addressed through a protocol or code and delivered as a discrete eSafety module.

This leaves eSense as the purer educational strand of the three. I define eSense as learning how to make good judgements about the use of technology, fully cognisant of the consequences of one’s actions. In other words, the pursuit of self-regulation. It’s a set of skills that takes time to learn and although may be summarised in a protocol, is actually the substance of a 21st Century digital curriculum that is threaded through all subjects and stages. It also embraces a more values-oriented element in terms of acceptable behaviour. For example, young people generally know it’s not OK to text while the teacher is talking but the broader principle is: we demonstrate respect for educators by giving them our full attention when they request it. It doesn’t matter whether the distraction was a mobile phone or a magazine, it was a breach of a core organisational value.

An important consequence of a more granular and differentiated approach is that risks and consequences are more clearly defined and placed in perspective. There is risk in every action and it is the responsibility of leaders to put in place protection proportionate to the risk. I take the safety of young people very seriously, especially as a parent of a 14 year old daughter. However, I also know that the statistical risk of her coming to harm as a result of her behaviour online is a fraction of the risk I allow her to take when she rides her bicycle on the road. As a parent I must balance the risk with the rewards. This is the very same judgement education leaders must make and, in my view, a lack of understanding is leading to a significant over-reaction to the potential risk, the consequence of which diminishes the educational experience.

In developing differentiated, granular and clear protocols, schools support learned self-regulation, thereby managing the transition through the secondary stage in a constructive and progressive manner. Understanding the nature of the digital environment through feedback of this sort is also more likely to lead to the generalisation of appropriate behaviour beyond the school gates in partnership with parents. For example, part of eSense is the recognition that the fingerprint we create in the digital world through our behaviour is very persistent. Ask Eric Schmidt about his Google fingerprint! Even he couldn’t get Google to erase his tracks. “Public and permanent”.

In order to be successful, the learned self-regulation approach needs two key ingredients:

1. A system to monitor behaviour
2. Consistent consequences for inappropriate behaviour

N.B. The positive reinforcement is unregulated access to a rich digital experience

Well, seeing as we’re talking about technology, you won’t be surprised to learn that there’re a variety of audit systems available which can record both Internet and local network activity down to individual users and devices. These systems often integrate a rules-based alerting system that will ensure there is timely feedback of inappropriate behaviour. Most young people quickly learn to modify their behaviour through consistent and rational feedback. As with most systems of this type, there is an initial investment of time to re-set expectations, but the reward is well worth the investment.

So rather than ban the technology, why not embrace it using learned self-regulation as the core approach?Take the opportunity to thread an eSense strand through your existing curriculum, focusing on using technology to enrich and extend the entire learning experience. Use this as the basis for creating a 21st Century digital curriculum.

2012 and beyond (part 3)

“With a yo ho ho and a bottle of rum I bring you…” No, wait… I mean “Yo ho ho. Merrrrrry Christmas!” Yep, it’s almost here and Santa (minus the rum, honest) has another sacklet of goodies for you. This is part three of my ‘education-speak’ version of Techmarketview‘s 2012 predictions. My comments in blue. Enjoy!

1.  More SaaS vendors will lose money – Lack of consistent profitability is a telling sign that the commercial aspect of SaaS [Software as a Service] has not been mastered by SaaS pure plays. Higher prices and better cost control are one approach to addressing the problem but few will get the opportunity because acquisition activity will ramp up in 2012..

To make sense of this prediction, I think it’d be handy to understand what exactly “pure play SaaS” is. Helpfully, the September 12th 2008 Gartner report, “Market Trends: Software as a Service, Worldwide, 2007-2012,” states: “Gartner defines SaaS as software that is owned, delivered and managed remotely by one or more providers. The provider delivers an application based on a single set of common code and data definitions, which are consumed in a one-to-many model by all contracted customers anytime on a pay-for-use basis, or as a subscription based on use metrics.” Vendors that strictly adhere to this definition, and whose software is only available by SaaS, are often referred to as ‘pure plays’.

For some organisations, SaaS is the right answer. For example, if the organisation does not have sufficient capital budget to make the initial investment for an on-premise solution then a predictable monthly cost and payment out of a revenue budget might be attractive. Also, if the organisation does not have in-house technical expertise, a SaaS deployment managed remotely by the vendor might be the best option. Sound familiar? If you’re in education you’ll recognise these constraints. But what about the downside? Well, it is not necessarily cheap and it’s difficult (or impossible) to integrate with other systems. The May 29th 2009 Gartner report, “Dataquest Insight: SaaS Adoption Trends in the U.S. and U.K.” pointed out these issues with the top two barriers to purchase being high cost of services (42% of respondents) and difficulty with integration (38% of respondents).

With these points in mind, I think the SaaS vendors, and indeed the markets, are still working out where it really delivers value and 2012 will inevitably bring a distillation of vendors. As we know, education and particularly K12, suffer from the twin challenges of limited on-premise technical support and tight capital budgets. For this reason, I think there is a significant and largely untapped market in that sector. As is often the case, education is a little behind the curve in technology adoption. I would predict that through 2012 and beyond, schools in particular will begin to recognise the value in SaaS and that Management Information Systems will be a particular target. 

2. Social platforms will challenge enterprise platforms – Relentless pressure from employees and customers will ensure enterprises get the social and collaboration bug despite the negative pull of rigid and hierarchical organisational structures and traditional software.

It’s hard to argue with the mind-boggling adoption metrics of Facebook and Twitter, let alone fly in the face of millions of years of evolution. Homo sapiens is a social species. Who’d have guessed, eh? OK, so it’s easy to be wise after the event, but I think social platforms are leading the charge towards the general socialisation of software rather than displacing enterprise platforms as such. That is to say, pure play social (yep, even I’m doing it now) platforms offer the full social experience (like going to a Christmas party) whereas I think we will see the evolution of social features in enterprise software (like facilitating corridor meetings). Social features such as rating, reward, reputation etc will be integrated into enterprise platforms and converge the social with productivity, leveraging the benefits that we already know and love in the physical work place. For education, the convergence will be ‘social’ and ‘learning’ and here I believe there’s massive as yet untapped potential. Young people are exceptionally good at ‘social’ and harnessing this to support learning is going to be transformational. Which makes it all the more amazing that social platforms are usually non grata in schools. 

3. MEAPs will prove more ‘mobile’ than incumbents – Software suppliers will not have the mobile opportunity to themselves. They will be challenged by nimble Mobile Enterprise Application Providers (MEAPs) looking to claim a portion of the revenue software suppliers are eyeing up to help maintain growth.

Just one word: Darwinism. In a previous blog entry (Open or closed) I explored the role of natural selection in the technology ecosystem so I will not labour the points here. Suffice to say, the barriers for entry to development on mobile platforms are relatively low and so this market is wide open to massive competition. Massive competition generates rapid evolution (innovation) and so will continue to put pressure on even the big players, in some cases rendering them irrelevant because they simply take too long to bring their products to market. Small is beautiful (and mobile).

4. Big Data will move from hype to reality – Large data volumes are a fact, unstructured (and structured) data is a fact. They have to be managed and interrogated and this real need will convert hype to reality in a shorter period of time than is usual.

I’ve been listening to (thanks again Audible) ‘In The Plex’ by Steven Levy. This is the story of Googol (doh, my spelling is dreadful). And my memory… Where was I? Oh yes, so Google basically knows everything and I no longer need a memory. Well not quite everything, but you know what I mean. They know enough to be scary. One of the elements of Google I hadn’t appreciated was the centrality of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to their vision. The reason the dynamic duo of Page and Brin were so excited by large datasets is that massive amounts of data were required to enable their machines to learn meaningful things. And it’s still the case. Their view is: “If it moves, measure it.” And then they work out how to use the data. Clearly it works for them. We’re definitely in the age of ‘Big Data’ but the key will be how to convert that data into information, and that information into knowledge. Turning knowledge into wisdom may be a step too far although the idea of ‘Google Wisdom’ as our new deity is not entirely implausible.

From an education perspective, I’d say this is a largely untapped well. Culturally many education organisations find that data capture and analytics are too difficult. If you’re a parent of a child in school, you’ll certainly be aware that your child’s report is fairly one dimensional and more or less unchanged from your childhood. This is a massive missed opportunity and given that technology in schools is pretty ubiquitous, there are really exciting opportunities for capturing enormous amounts of data about learning pathways and using this data to understand what learning looks like, bringing incremental improvements in efficiency and effectiveness. I will probably blog on this specific subject in 2012, but meantime I think analytics is a significant trend to watch out for in education. 

5. Security will take centre stage – End-point security and data loss prevention will be hotbeds of activity as more businesses ramp up their use of the cloud and mobile platforms. It is not just data that is at stake, but reputations that once lost are hard to win back.

Data security and eSafety are significant concerns for education organisations too. Why? Because they hold potentially sensitive information about individuals and, for minors, they have a duty of care, acting in loco parentis. For this reason, issues of identity and security will continue to grow in importance through 2012 and beyond. Of the two issues, in education I think eSafety will be the greater concern.

While it’s easy to condemn schools for trying to control the experience of their young people while using technology, schools in particular are very vulnerable to accusations of carelessness and even negligence. As a consequence they over-compensate and ban platforms that might expose their young people to bullying, manipulation, grooming and so on. It is the reason why education so often tries to create walled gardens and why the issue of identity is particularly important for schools. Arguably this may indeed be appropriate in primary schools, but by the time young people reach secondary school, and indeed beyond, we should be supporting them to understand the risks and manage their own eSafety. The alternative – banning significant portions of the Internet experience – is ineffective (because they will usually access this experience outside of the school) and counter-productive for learning (because higher order skills required in the digital world need to be taught). Once again, this is a topic all on its own and I may come back to it in 2012.