Wikipedia Hijack

A member of our IT team brought the following article to my attention this morning – Wikipedia Hijacked. I thought it was probably worth posting it here as a lot of those reading the various Exc-el blogs are active users of Wickipedia. The article refers specifically to German users who have been targeted with emails pointing them to the “fix” but it will only be a matter of time before something similar starts happening in the UK.

Genghis Khan is Alive and Well! Or Posting Anonymously to Blogs

This particular post has been prompted by the following comment posted on my blog by someone calling themselves ‘A Slacker’ (Read it here). They are unhappy at what they feel is censorship in another blog also accessed under the auspices of the Exc-el.org portal run by our Education division.

I don’t really want to go into the rights and wrongs of blog owners deleting comments posted against their entries other than to give my opinion. If you allow people to comment on your posts (as Exc-el.org encourages its contributors to do) then unless the posting is rude, offensive, derogatory or way off topic then I don’t think it should be deleted.
 
What I really want to comment on though is the idea of the post being deleted because it came from an anonymous contributor. This seems to me to be an utterly ludicrous argument as from what I have seen  (and please feel free to correct me here as I might be missing something very obvious) anyone can post comments to my blog and claim to be anyone they want to be. I assume this holds true for other peoples blogs as well.
 
To post a comment on my blog all you need do is supply a name, an email address and hey presto you are suddenly Genghis Khan contributing your views on all matters ICT in East Lothian Schools. I’m not even sure old Genghis actually needs a valid email address but given how easy it would be for him to get one anyway this is a bit of an irrelevance.
 
Now whether Genghis would actually be able to contribute meaningfully to any ICT debate is in itself debatable but I’m sure he would have had an interesting slant on allowing teachers to install software.
 
My point is why should Genghis’ contribution be deleted just because I don’t know who he is. As my blog is available to the World via the Internet the reality is that many of the people reading my blog won’t know who the contributors actually are either (no matter whether they use an alias or even their real name)– does this make their contribution any less valid?
 
I choose to use Alan C as I’m too boring to think up something more original but think how interesting things could get (in our community at least) if I chose to use something like Alan Blackie or R Jones!
 

Internet Security

One constant criticism we in IT receive is that we always refuse to do things in the way users want because of security.  I’ve heard the comment that IT use security as the argument to trump all others when we don’t want to do something. I really do take exception to this. Most users of IT and a lot of IT professionals for that matter simply do not appreciate how real and present the threats to our networks and data are.
 
Those IT professionals who are responsible for the infrastructure generally have a good understanding of the threats they face and the steps that need to be taken to mitigate them. They are also only too aware of the inconvenience, cost, time and hassle it is to clean up the results of security breaches and that it is far better for everyone to stop them from happening in the first place.
 
Even although the majority of these threats may not be malicious in themselves the consequences can be at best inconvenient and at worst disastrous.
 
This week the BBC News website has been running a series of articles about the threats users are exposed to when they use the Internet. As you are reading my blog I assume you have at least a passing interest in IT, so please take the time to read them as I think you will find them interesting and hopefully gain a further insight into some of the threats we all face when we use the Internet.
 
Tracking Down Hi Tech Crime sets the scene and describes how the BBC set-up their honey pot computer.
Trapping Hackers demonstrates how ridiculously easy it is for a user to unwittingly infect their own PC when they actually believe they are taking steps to protect it.
Attacked from Cyberspace covers the numbers of attacks their honey pot PC was subjected to.
Money Talks describes one way in which the hackers meet and do business with those that can use the information they obtain through their activities.
Dissecting Spam explains ways in which you can determine whether an email is genuine or not.
 

Schools Wide Area Network

Ross Nicol, the project manager of the Schools Wide Area Network project, has given me permission to post the following email that he has sent out to all schools. 

As most of you will be aware, back in February Education and IT began a project to upgrade the network links to all East Lothian schools during the 2006/07 school year. Following a tendering exercise BT were selected to deliver the new network. The new network will provide 100Mb circuits to each of the secondary schools. Each primary school will then connect to their nearest (geographic not cluster) secondary school with a circuit capable of running at up to 10Mb. 

Things have progressed over the last month and we now have dates for the installation of the secondary school circuits. 

The completion dates for these BT circuits are as follows: 

Knox Academy 22nd November 2006 

Dunbar Grammar 22nd November 2006 

Musselburgh Grammar 22nd November 2006 

Ross High School 29th November 2006 

Preston Lodge High School 29th November 2006 

North Berwick High School 29th November 2006 

While these are the completion dates BT have supplied we would anticipate one or more visits to each school by BT personnel prior to this date. 

Once the circuits have been installed IT will need to change the network addresses of every device in the school. We are currently working on the plans for this and will be in touch with individual schools to agree dates for this change over when the plans are ready. All the secondary schools will be converted to use the new network by Christmas 2006. 

We are working with BT at the moment to get dates for the primary school circuits. They will be carried out on the basis of circuits connecting back to the secondary schools and will be done in the following provisional order: 

Dunbar Grammar 

Musselburgh Grammar 

Ross High School 

Knox Academy 

Preston Lodge 

North Berwick. 

This is based on the number of schools attaching to each school, the number with dire connectivity and the number with ISDN lines at present. Dates for these will be circulated when we have them. The project is still on target for all schools will be connected to the new network by Easter 2007. 

  

Ross Nicol 

Project Manager 

SWAN Project 

ICT Support For Schools – Part 4

In my fourth and (for now) final post about support for schools I’d like to tout for some ideas on how we can further improve ICT support for schools. If anyone is willing to share their ideas I’d like to hear them. Brian Cunningham, a science technician at Musselburgh Grammar, has already touched on this in his blog.
 
Here are a few starters for 10 from IT all around the theme of how we can help schools to help themselves more.
 

  • Have a nominated contact for IT communication within schools. From time to time IT need to get messages out to all staff within schools. An example would be when we are going to re-image computers during a school holiday and need to get staff to ensure they have saved all the files on to the server or other devices. Invariably the message doesn’t filter down to all staff or they have forgotten and lose some of their work. If schools had a nominated contact it would be their role to ensure that the message was relayed to all staff. It would also give school staff easy access to someone local to ask any questions of.

 

  • Production of a template for schools to be used when raising helpdesk calls. This would help ensure that the key information is present on each job helping IT to fix the problem sooner.

 

  • Have nominated people in each school responsible for placing helpdesk calls. The quality of helpdesk calls we receive varies greatly and can have a big impact on the service we deliver. Having nominated people in each school would mean that each member of staff does not need to know how to report a call, only who they need to speak to within a school. It would also make it easier for ICT support staff to leave meaningful information about work they have carried out in schools.

 

  • Schools already have a lot of excellent staff at all levels with ICT skills, but who knows who they are and what their skills are?  Now that we have a central file store accessible by all schools would a central skills/projects register be useful?

 

  • Formalise the role of ICT coordinator and ensure each school has one. There appeared to be broad support for this when Alistair Campbell and myself tabled the idea during the ICT Strategy day back in December. However I understand there are potential problems around his relating to the McCrone agreement.

 

  • There are staff who are keen to help with ICT matters in the schools – how can we get them involved in at least a semi-structured way without jeopardising their main role – i.e. teaching and learning?

 

  • IT could run short training sessions to show staff how to deal with the common problems that could easily be fixed by staff themselves allowing them to stay operational and avoid having to wait for a week or so until IT can get someone out to fix the problem.

If you have any thoughts on the above or ideas of your own, please share them with us as Karen Robertson and I are actively looking at ways we can improve support for schools.

ICT Support For Schools – Part 3

I mentioned in my 2nd post on this subject that we use the same helpdesk tool for schools as we do for corporate IT within the Council and that the classifications for jobs are constrained by the corporate settings. I thought it would be interesting to contrast the resources available to corporate and curricular ICT.
 
Currently supporting curricular ICT we have 4 school based ICT Officers, augmented by 2 IT Officers from John Muir House who are supposed to spend 50% of their time working in schools. There is further support for approximately 3 months of work from each of our 2 placement students. This amounts to 5½ FTE ICT support staff. They are supporting approximately 3900 curricular Apple Macs, PCs and laptops. This works out to approximately 709 computers per officer. With the two new posts this will reduce to about 520 computers per officer
 
Corporately the IT Division has 20 staff whose role includes providing desktop support to the corporate users. They are supporting approximately 2000 PCs and laptops. This works out to approximately 100 computers per officer.
 
It must be pointed out that this is a crude comparison as the exact roles and responsibilities of the two sets of staff are different. It does however highlight the resourcing differences and associated expectations between the corporate and curricular education sectors.
 
This differences between corporate and curricular ICT are not unique to East Lothian. Although the exact ratio of computers to support specialists may vary, all other authorities I am aware of have a similar difference. I would be interested to hear from anyone from other local authorities about their experiences in this area.
 
Corporately, East Lothian Council has taken part in the User Satisfaction Survey of Local Government IT departments run by SOCITM. These surveys are run every two years and get users to grade the importance and performance of a wide range of factors involved in the delivery of the IT service. The most recent one, completed in July of this year was the third East Lothian’s IT Division have undertaken and the results were good. The department’s overall score put them into the top 10% of authorities that have ever taken part in the survey. Despite the good overall score there is still room for improvement and we will be addressing this over the coming months.
 
SOCITM have recently announced that they are to run a similar survey focusing specifically on ICT for Education.  We have signed up to take part and hopefully this will provide meaningful feedback from our users that will assist both Education and IT in developing the service for the future.
 

ICT Support For Schools – Part 2

Another statistic from our help desk is the percentage of jobs that we have managed to complete within the service levels that we measure ourselves against.
 
2003/04                   96.9%
2004/05                   90.9%
2005/06                   67.0%
 
What are the service levels we manage ourselves against I hear you ask?
Well, the helpdesk system we use was set-up for use with corporate IT and curricular calls are limited by the categories corporate support uses. This gives us 3 categories of call:
Urgent where we endeavor to fix the problem within 1 day
Normal where we endeavor to fix the problem within 3 days
Low where we endeavor to fix the problem within 2 weeks.
 
By default all curricular calls start off as low priority and are managed by the Desktop Services Team Leader (DSTL). The DSTL allocates them to specific ICT Officers and amends the priority as appropriate.
 
Last year saw a startling difference in the percentage of calls that we managed to complete within the targets we set ourselves. There are a number of reasons for this. The main ones are:
a) 2005/06 saw the largest volume of equipment leases that had to be carried out during term time. Whilst this was happening helpdesk jobs were second in our priorities.
b) 2005/06 saw across the board updates of the Apple Mac OS. Whilst IT staff were visiting all of our Apple Macs to upgrade them helpdesk jobs were again relegated to second in the priority list.
c) Many more Primary school jobs which generally take longer and involve more traveling.
d) Primary school infrastructure is more complex than secondary with much greater reliance on mobile technology.
e) In 2004/05 when the service was beginning to creak IT were able to finance a contractor to work with the team for 6 months. Budgets didn’t allow this to happen in 2005/6.

ICT Support For Schools – Part 1

Good news – On Tuesday of this week the Education IT Group approved two new Schools Based ICT Officer posts. This will bring the IT team supporting ICT in the schools up to six (the initial number requested 3 years ago!). Given the elongated recruitment processes of the Council I would hope we would have people in post sometime around Christmas.
 
At the same meeting I tabled an update report on ICT support for schools. In my next few blog entries I thought it might be of interest to share some of the statistics contained in that report (and a few others besides). What I’d like to do is to stimulate some debate about how ICT support for schools in East Lothian could be provided in the future. All ideas are welcome.
 
The first table below shows the number of helpdesk calls placed by schools that were dealt with by the Desktop Services Team in each of the last 3 school years. The second breaks these down by sector. In each case they cover the period 1st August – 31st July.
 
Total number of jobs raised
2003/04 school year = 2257
2004/05 school year = 3268
2005/06 school year = 3036
 
                                Secondary            Primary                   Nursery
2003/04                   1483                        737                          37
2004/05                   2084                        1127                        57           
2005/06                   1496                        1472                        68
 
The first point to note is that overall the number of jobs dealt with by our desktop services team was down by 200 on the previous year – it certainly didn’t feel like this during the year!
Most strikingly jobs raised by secondary schools were down by almost 600. This figure really surprised us but when we investigated further it transpired that almost 500 of these “missing” jobs were in the periods either side of the term breaks when schools when schools were preparing to undergo extensive PPP works or had come back to the results of the works.
 
Whilst the loss of the PPP related jobs has been excellent news for us (and the schools concerned), it has been offset by a huge increase in jobs raised by Primary Schools (a 30% increase from 1127 to 1472). Neither ourselves in IT nor Karen and her team in Education are surprised at this rise.  The number of staff in Primary schools actively using ICT in the classroom has really taken off in the last year and is something that Karen and her team should feel justifiably proud of.
 
Jobs in the Primary schools invariably take longer to deal with owing to the number of schools (35 primary compared to 6 secondary) and the traveling involved between jobs. Added to this the infrastructure in the primary schools is more complex with greater use of mobile technology and all the issues that this brings.

Searching The Internet

With the new school year now underway I thought it would be worth sharing a link that gives 10 excellent tips for using search engines such as Google, MSN etc to search the Internet.
 
http://www.microsoft.com/athome/moredone/searchenginetips.mspx
 
I would especially like to draw teachers attention to tip number 8 that tells you how to stop your searches returning inappropriate content.
 
I’ve lost count of the number of teachers over the years who have complained that their searches have returned inappropriate web sites / pictures etc and expect IT to wave a magic wand to make them disappear. Whilst we can block sites from being accessed we can’t actually stop them being returned in searches – the power is with the person doing the search and this tip explains how! Whilst it will never stop 100% of the inappropriate content it will reduce it greatly.

Schools Wide Area Network Upgrade

Yesterday was a red letter day. We had our first project meeting with BT who won the contract for the supply of the new schools wide area network. It’s these network connections that link individual schools to John Muir House and then out to the Internet through the SSDN connection. 

For those who are interested in the technical bits, the solution we have purchased will have a series of 100Mb backbone circuits running from John Muir House to each secondary school. From the secondary school the network will fan out with 10Mb circuits connecting to each primary school, nursery school and a few other educational establishments. 

New firewalls will be installed in every secondary school and a new security device will be installed in other locations. 

The first phase, to be completed by Christmas, will see the 100Mb backbone circuits installed in the secondary schools. This will be followed by the 10Mb circuits to the other schools which are scheduled for completion by the Easter Holidays 2007.