Reflections: One week down

So that’s the first week of term done so, having shared some start of term thoughts previously, I thought it might also be interesting to share some “1 week down” thoughts from the perspective of a Director of IT.

Manic

The first week of a new term is always rather manic with issues identified as students and staff return to classrooms, plus last minute requests.   I think my team saw around 130 calls raised on Monday alone and that doesn’t include student and staff walk ins.   The question I often find myself asking is how might we make this period less manic and make things smoother?   The problem as I see it is that I am not sure we can ever achieve this.   A new academic year brings with it new staff, lots of new students and a period of time where teaching staff and students have been away from school, where things have been forgotten but where technology changes, updates and upgrades have continued unabated.    I suppose the one consolation is things quickly calm down and recede towards a more normal level of busy.

Printing

The week started with an issue with our main high volume Multi-Function Device (MFD) at a time when there were lots of booklets and other items in need of printing.  Not a great start however was sods law that the unit would fail on day 1.   My hat goes off to my colleague in reprographics who ploughed on in the face of the challenge, using the slower units we had to get all that needed done, done.

But this got me thinking, in a world of technology and OneNote should we be seeing print volumes in schools declining.   Now my gut reaction to this is yes, clearly we should be seeing volumes declining but this reminded me of last academic year where I saw a massive spike in printing in the last term.    The problem with the concept of “paper-less” in schools is simply the fact that the key outcomes continues to be terminal exams conducted in the final term, with the vast majority of these exams being conducted on paper.   How can we expect students to go into these exams without having the experience working on paper in the months and years leading up to them?    When will the exam boards catch up with technology?

Third Party Software

And printing wasn’t the only challenge to hit on day one.   We had some software issues which appear to trace back to a third party changing some of how their platform operates specifically in relation to its Application Programmers Interface (API).   The API is the link point which allows us to integrate different solutions such that they work together and share data, etc.    In this case the vendor made changes with these changes lacking proper documentation plus being buried in release notes, with these release notes having to be sought out rather than being communicated.    The issue didn’t just catch us out, it also caught out at least one software provider who integrated with this vendor.

The challenge here is how much control we have over third party vendors when we might be a single voice in sea of voices, or where this is at least what the vendor uses as an excuse!   Additionally there is the risk that as we more tightly integrate a number of different solutions, which is a good thing, we build an over solution which is inherently more complex but therefore more fragile.   There is a balance to be reached here I suspect.   And as to control and third parties I noted reading something recently which suggests schools use of EdTech solutions puts the responsibility on the schools, however provides the school little power in terms of controlling or guiding the vendor, other than the ability to cease using them.

Cyber and Students

I have the opportunity to speak with our sixth form students across two presentation this week, discussing cyber security with them with particular reference to recent events.   My presentation has included mention of the recent Apple vulnerability as well as the alleged TikTok data breach.   In asking the students questions regarding cyber security it seems that students are getting better at updating their devices and applications however still continue to make use of common passwords across most internet services, plus don’t commonly enable MFA even when it is available.    My hope is that my presentations will have at least convinced some students to improve their cyber habits although this is something I want to work on throughout the year;  A single presentation will never do the cyber risk justice.

Running

I hadnt done any running during August having achieved 300km across the 3 months of May, June and July.   What I failed to consider as I got my running shoes on during this week was the negative impact that a one-month period, such a short period of time, would have had.   I really found myself struggling to manage 5km and I certainly wasn’t managing it at any great pace.    I quickly found myself having to adjust my expectations, ignoring my progress up to the end of July 2022, and focussing more on where I was now.    I suspect it will be a good few weeks or months before I can build back up to where I was including re-establishing the correct habits, etc.   This just goes to show how important habits, consistency and resilience can be.

TikTok

Am not sure how many times I have deleted TikTok but once again it has been deleted.   During the summer period I had re-installed it, and with each short video I was convinced the value in the video was worth it given the short length of the video.   But I failed to consider the cumulative time spent on flicking through the videos.   It was eating up time, with this time growing, and I hadnt noticed.    It was only with the manic nature of week one that I found myself at home evaluating the amount of time spent (or maybe lost?) on TikTok.   So once again I am TikTok free.  For now, at least!

Conclusion

It’s been a busy week with a fair few challenges.   It has been great to see the campus buzzing again and great to once again be interacting with our students as they go about their school days.   Although very busy and a bit stressful as a result, I am confident that things will settle down into their more normal pattern of school life in the comings weeks.   As such, I look forward to what the rest of the 2022/23 academic year has to offer.

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Pledges for 2021

It’s time for the 2021 pledges!  And this year I have referenced some of the 5 ways for wellbeing.

Am not sure how much use there is in setting pledges for the year ahead when 2020 quite simply proved we have little control over what the future may bring.  That said, it is very useful to be able to look back on what I planned at the start of the year, what happened during the year and what I actually achieved.   So, on that note, here are my pledges for 2021.

Dry January and maybe at least 1 other month

Ok so its not quite going to be dry Jan, as the old firm game on the 2nd came with a few drinks; So maybe mildly moist January?     I do like a drink however want to try a bit of detox, first trying to go without for most of January, and then depending on how that goes I may repeat the process at least once during the course of the new year. 

Update: Ok so after first week of term, another national lockdown and switch to remote learning, and also a severed fibre optic cable following an incident with a digger, I think I may have to accept “dryer (than December)” January for now!

Reading / Keep Learning

This is now a regular target of reading at least 1 book per month throughout the year.   My books continue to be non-fiction and I can see this continuing in 2021.   In fact, I have already filled my bookshelves with books to read in 2021, with 14 books purchased, so am ready to begin this pledge right away.

Exercise / Be Active

2020 saw me manage 100km in a single month which was amazing progress for me.   In the year ahead I need to build on this and ideally achieve regular exercise across the whole year.   My thinking is to try and manage 3 runs per week albeit I may take the occasional week off.   As such maybe 100 active days with 5km each would see me achieved 500kms in the year.  This sounds like a reasonable challenge but achievable.

Holidays and Breaks

2020 didn’t feel as if it had a real break in it, as my long-planned holiday to the US was cancelled.   As such I think it will be important to break 2021 up and to have some breaks away and maybe a holiday, assuming Covid19 restrictions allow for it.    I think having some breaks away are critical as they help signify the various parts to the year and to separate them; 2020 lacked this so the year seemed to melt into a single period of time.    I don’t see the breaks or holiday being anything particularly adventurous but simply having some family time away, somewhere away from home and work, will be an important part of the year ahead hopefully.     Also, I think holidays or other breaks serve as an important reward for all the hardware work, both personally and professionally, throughout the year.

Connecting and Contributing / Connect

In 2021 I want to make sure I continue to connect with fellow colleagues across the world and I continue to contribute to discussion where possible and especially in relation to EdTech, esports and Cyber Security in particular, as three of my particular focus areas of interest.    Ideally, I want to identify new ways with which I contribute to these themes including once again considering video blogs or podcasting; two things I have often considered but never made any really progress on.  I also hope to get involved in some virtual conference events or roundtable events.  I forever find these both useful and interesting.

Take Notice

I intend to keep a journal in the year ahead;  This is something I started doing last year but at times I fell away from this habit.  This year I would like to try and keep to this process, focusing on the positives but also less on a “done this” / “didn’t do this” approach, akin to a to do list, but more on the emotional side of things and how I felt about things.   I suspect this will be quite difficult for me given I have become so very task focussed over the last few years.

It is also worth mentioning my wife’s third charity endeavour, again supporting Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.  This year she has swapped her usual 100km walk over 2 days for a longer 200km but over 50 days.    I will of course be supporting and encouraging her in this effort.   She has raised over £1000 in each of the last two years so I am hoping she manages at least the same this year.   For anyone interested her Just Giving page can be accessed here.

And Finally….

2021 is likely to start of challenging as we continue to wrestle with Covid19, however I am determined to make the year as successful as I can and to be able to look back in a years’ time, happy with what I have achieved.

And so, on with 2021.

Teams: Creating meetings via Outlook

Up until recently I have been scheduling my Teams meetings via the Calendar option in Teams however I came across the ability to do this from Outlook or from Outlooks web equivalent which therefore allows you to use any personal email contact groups which I have created.   This makes it much easier to setup meetings with groups of people where a distribution list doesn’t exist and where adding the users individually to the meetings invitee list would be time consuming.

On Outlook assuming you have teams installed the Teams Meeting option should appear automatically in the ribbon when you are viewing you are viewing you calendar:

NewTeamsMeeting

If it doesn’t you should be able to add it by customising your ribbon, plus if you want it to appear on your home page, when viewing your email, you can also do this.

In Web Outlook (e.g. via http://www.office.com) it is simply a case of going to your calendar and clicking where you want your meeting to occur.   Once the meeting details window appears click More Options in the bottom right of the window.

Outlook - Teams1

Now in the resulting window select the Add Online meeting option to the right of the Location section.   Here you can select Teams Meeting.

Outlook - Teams2

You have now created a Teams meeting which, once saved, all those invited will get an email invite for.   The only limitation I can see currently is I cant see a way to add the meeting to a channel if you need to do this.

For me this saves time as you can easily create personal email contact groups for those groups of people you frequently have meetings with then use this when you create the meeting so no longer need to type in the user names of each individual user.

 

Automation in Office 365

I spent the other day playing around with PowerAutomate, formerly called Flow, to create a simple Automation to manage staff leave requests.   It was a simple project to automate the approvals and sending of confirmation emails for info and for record.    Following completion of the project I thought I would share a guide for the steps I took.

First create a form.  I am not going to provide a guide for this as it is reasonably straight forward and there are other guides online for this.

Now www.office.com and select All Apps

1 - All Apps

Now select the Power Automate option

2 - Automate

In Power Automate in the search box you can search for a template.   Automate comes with a wide variety of different templates for you to use plus, where there isn’t a template appropriate to your needs,  you can take any existing template and simply modify it.

SearchforTemplate

For this example I want to start with a MS Form which a user will submit which then requires an approval before resulting in an email to the approver and user submitting the form.    For this I searched for Form Approval.    The “Start an approval process and send an email on Microsoft Form submission” template appeared to be closest to what I was looking for.

Pickyoutemplate

On the resulting screen which looks like below, scroll to the bottom and click the Continue button

StartApproval

You will now be presented with the Power Automate editor where you can customise your Automation including any emails involved.

5 - Configure Step 1

Now lets start with some of the customisation:

  1. Give your Automation a name so that it will be easy for you to identify it.
  2. Select the Form which you wish to use with this automation. This sets the From which will trigger this automation.
  3. Again, select the Form which you wish to use this time to get the info from the Form to use in your automation.
  4. Select how the automation will work where multiple approvers are selected. The automation can require all to approve, one person to respond or allows for other custom settings.   In this case I will use First to respond as anyone in the approval list should be able to approve a request.
  5. Give your approval a title. This will be the text which appears in the approval email received by those you set as the approvers for this automation.
  6. Add here the list of users who will approve a submitted request. Simply enter their email addresses here separated by a semicolon where multiple approvers are to be listed.

The next stage is to customise the approval email which will be received.   We do this in the Details section.

6 - Configure Step 2 Details

In the Dynamic content window a list of variables and other functions will be available.  This will automatically include the fields you setup in the form you created for use with this automation.   Click in the details section then click on a variable such as Date (From) above to add it.

I note that there is very little formatting available in the approval emails.  I also recommend leaving an extra line space between elements as I found the formatting to a little on the picky side.   As such a details section like the below:

DetailsApproval

Would results in an email which would look like below:

SampleApprovaleMail

The last part of the setup process is to configure the emails which will be received for an Approved or a Declined request.    Below I will cover setting up the email for an Approved or Yes condition however the process is identical for configuring the email corresponding to a Declined or No condition.

The first thing I would do is turn on HTML support within you email.  This provides you with significantly more control over the formatting and look of your emails.

To do this first access the advanced options via the Show Advanced options link.

8 - Configire - Advanced email

Now change the Is HTML option to Yes.  Having done this you now have the ability to use HTML in your emails.

9 - Set HTML

We can now go about configuring this email.

ConfigureEmail

To configure the emails follow the below steps:

1. Enter the email addresses of those who receive the approval/decline email. This can be multiple email addresses using a semi colon to separate them.   You can also use the Add Dynamic content to gain access to variables such as the Approvers email variable and the Responders email variable.   This means the automation could be made to send the confirmation email automatically to the person who submitted the form, the Responder, and to the person who approved the automation email, the Approve

Set email recipients

2. Next give the email a subject line.

3. Finally create the body of the email. Again you can use dynamic content to add variables such as the various pieces of data which a user has filled in on the form along with some other variables such as the approvers email, etc.   As we have selected HTML formatting you can also use HTML tags such as <br> to force a line break, <p> for a new paragraph, etc.  This gives us a lot more control over the email design including fonts, colour, sizes and even including images.     Looking at a very simple email it might look like the below:

email-details

And this would result in an email like below:

SampleFinaleMail-Approved

Having configured the Approved email make sure to go and repeat this for the rejected/declined email.

With everything now setup the final step is to make sure and save your automation using the Save button in the top right.  You can then Test your automation to make sure it works.  Simply click Test.

SaveAndTest

In a separate browser window visit the form which you linked to this automation and either preview it and complete or visit the sharing link and complete it.   Having clicked Submit on the form the automation should run and your approvers should now receive their approval emails ready to approve.   Having approved the relevant confirmation emails should be received.

Congratulations you have completed you first Automation.    This first automation highlights a limited amount of the power of PowerAutomate.  Go ahead and start exploring!

JISC DigiFest: Thoughts from Day 1

JiscD1I thought I would share some initial thoughts following day one of JISC DigiFest.  The event was launched with a very polished and professional pre-prepared video displayed on screens scattered around the events main hall, focussing on the rate of change in relation to technology and some of the technological implications of technology on the world we live in.   The launch session also included a room height “virtual” event guide introducing the sessions and pointing you in the direction of the appropriate hall.    In terms of the launch of a conference this was the most polished and inspiring launch I have seen albeit on reflection there wasn’t much particularly innovative or technically complex about it.

JiscD1-1The keynote speaker addressed the changing viewpoints of different generations of people focussing particularly on Generation Z, the generation which currently are in our sixth forms, colleges and universities.   I took away two key points from the presentation.   The first was how each generations views were shaped by their experiences particularly between the ages of 12 and 20 year old.   Jonah Stillman used thoughts on space as an example showing how Generation X might have positive views focussing on the successes of the moon landing whereas Millennials may have a more cynical view following the Challenger disaster.   Additionally, Jonah mentioned movies as a social influencer and how those in the Harry Potter generation may view cooperation and trying hard, even where unsuccessful, in a positive manner.  Those born later than this may draw on another series of films, in the hunger games, resulting in a greater tendency towards competition and the need to succeed in line with the movies storyline of everyone for themselves and failure results in death.     The second take away point from the session resulted from the questioning at the end of the session around what some saw as the absoluteness of the boundaries between generations.    I think Jonah’s use of the word “tendency” addressed this concern in that the purpose of the labels was for simplicity and to indicate a general trend and tendency rather than to suggest that all people born on certain dates exhibited a certain trait.  It increasing concerns me that this argument keeps coming up when surely it is clear that there is a need to use simplistic models to help clarity of explanation and that no model, not matter how complex will ever truly capture the real complexity of the world we live in.

My 2nd session was actually the delivery of my own session.   I will be sharing some thoughts in relation to my presentation along with my resources in the near future.   For now I will simply say that the session was not one of my best.   I do however hope that my main message, in the need for greater and broader discussion in relation to citizenship within the now digital world we find ourselves living in was clear.

The third session of the day focussed on  digital literacy programme one particular university had developed.   I found it interesting in this and a later presentation, how digital literacy or digital citizenship appeared to often fall to the library in universities in terms of developing and delivering a programme.    In schools I feel the same topics tend to fall on the IT teaching department rather than libraries however it is interesting that something which should be permissive would find itself localised in educational institutions in a single department rather than being supported across the institution.   It was interesting how the programme the university developed had evolved over time, which seems to me to be the correct approach given how quick technology is changing.  I also found it interesting in that student voice suggested needs which then later students indicated they did not find useful.  In other words students themselves were not an accurate judge of their own wants and needs.     Session five followed a similar topic again looking at digital literacy however the presenters made use of a fairy tales as a vehicle to deliver their message of the pros and cons of the digital world we live in.   I must admit I enjoyed this presentation in its novel approach to delivering the concept in hand.

Session four focussed on partnerships between a university, a local council and a number of corporate organisations focusing in particular on data analysis and business intelligence.  I think schools have some way to go in this area as they regularly gather huge amounts of data however little is actually done with it beyond reporting it to school leaders, parents, etc.   I think the challenge is that schools often lack the resources which a college or university may have at their disposal, such as having data scientists as part of the staff body.   That said, the sessions seemed to indicate the potential for schools to leverage partnerships to fill this gap with minimal to no outlay on their own resources.

My final session of day one focussed on digital transformation, and like the key notes was insightful and inspiring.    Lindsay Herbert discussed the bear in the room, which is similar to the elephant in the room but more dangerous.     I particularly like the way Lindsay stated early on that the world was a “terrible place” citing issues such as the corona virus, fires in Australia, storms across the UK and ongoing technological change.   She then quickly moved on to the fact that we are inherently brave in our attempt to not only exist but to strive to flourish in this world, before then going on to identify various success stories where the bear in the room was tackled.    She left us with 3 main tips, all of which struck a cord with me, in that transformation starts with a worthy cause, requires lots of people and needs to be learned and earned rather than purchased.   The third tip in particular strikes a cord for me as I have encountered change where it has not gone as smoothly as I would have liked, and where significantly more effort was expended than had originally been attended;  In retrospect this may have been the change being earned, plus certainly involved a lot of learning.

Day 1 was useful with the keynote and closing session of the day being my highlights.    Have plenty of notes to digest when I get back home.  Roll on day 2.

 

 

 

My decade in pictures

I am planning to write a reflection on the last decade however recently while sorting out some photo libraries the idea of sharing a photo log of my last decade came to me.  Now I note I dont have photos for everything which may have been worthy of inclusion but I think there is enough to make it worthwhile.    Have included only a caption for each photo and no other explanation.

2010:

2011:

2011 - National Day
UAE National Day, 2011

2013:

2014:

2015:

2016:

2016 - Xmas Elves
Santa and some Christmas elves

2017:

2017 - New House
A new home

2018:

2018 - Starting Couch25K
The views on my first attempts at Couch to 5K

2019:

 

 

 

Safeguarding: A need for a broader focus

girls-3481791_640Cyber security has very much adopted a “not if, but when” mentality to signify the need for a risk management approach in relation to cyber security risks as opposed to the older compliance driven approach.    It is my belief that we also need to take a similar approach when it comes to online safeguarding of students.

There was a time when having internet filtering on school computers and an acceptable usage policy was enough to check the safeguarding compliance boxes and be satisfied that a schools had sufficiently met its safeguarding needs.   I remember these days when I would check the schools net history on a weekly basis to adjust the filtering and restrict student access to game sites in particular.

Today we find students have phones and other mobile devices which they bring to school, some due to a school BYOD policy and some due simply to the fact that having a smart phone is now part of normal everyday life.   These devices all come complete with internet access, including access to social media.   Where a school might employ monitoring technologies students can make use of proxy servers, VPNs or an onion browser among other methods to attempt to bypass such technologies.   I recently came across a site which would allow anonymous hosting via the Tor network with little to no technical knowledge required.   Student might even simply revert to 4G or even 5G to totally circumvent the schools network and any precautions which may the school may have put in place.     In the near future, DNS over HTTPS may become the norm which would further make it difficult to block and filter.

In this world we need to accept that no matter what technical measures a school puts in place, students will be able to find a way around such measures.    The resultant cat and mouse game between staff and students, with students finding work arounds and then staff seeking to negate them serves no-one, only consuming time and energy on both sides.   It is also unlikely to be successful, so we need to accept that in attempting to safeguard students, preventing their access to certain sites and services is likely to be ineffective.   Given this the safeguarding focus needs to significantly shift towards awareness and education.      We need to seriously look at the discussions in relation to safeguarding which are happening in schools.   The opportunities already exist in various subject areas to discuss the implications of big data, cyber security, artificial intelligence, fake news and data profiling to name but a few.    We need to ensure that such opportunities are taken and that all schools are confident that they have addressed safeguarding and that thorough discussion with students has taken place.   The current political campaigning for example represents a great opportunity to discuss how social media may both report the news but also shape and create it, even influencing peoples decision making.

Online safeguarding used to be a more simplistic compliance exercise, and to some extent these requirements still exist (and the safeguarding guidance certainly still points towards this approach), however we need to take a more holistic view and broader focus.   Simply filtering or monitoring specific keywords or categories or banning devices is not enough.

 

Exams: Why should 1/3 of students fail?

criminalatt from freedigitalphotosNot so long ago I read of a discussion in relation to whether the GCSE English Language should be scrapped.   Part of the reasoning behind this is identified as being due to the subject identifying a third of students as having failed.    As a headline I think it is difficult to disagree with.  How can identifying a third of students as having failed be an acceptable thing to do.    On reflection my view is that this issue is less about English Language subject and more about the educational system as it is now and as it has been for over one hundred years.

I remember when I worked within an FE college and I was involved in enrolment following the release of the GCSE results.   A-Level and Level 3 BTec courses had clear admissions requirements in terms of the minimum number of B’s or C’s required to gain entry to each course.   This often included the need for a minimum of a C in Maths or English.    I also remember working with students on their university applications, post A-Levels, where once again universities have entry requirements which students must achieve to gain entry.    Once again there might be a need for three C’s to get on their preferred university course.

The issue with the above is that a certain set of grades will gain entry and other lower grades will not result in entry.    It is easy to therefore perceive some grades as being passes and as a result the other remaining grades must be fails.     The education system as we know it is built on the ability to group students in terms of their ability, as described by their grades, and through this identify the opportunities which will be available.     As a result of this, independent of the U, or ungraded option, there will always be a perception as to some grades, those that easily permit entrance to the next level of education, being perceived as being passes and the remainder as being fails.

An alternative is to have qualifications which allow all students to pass.   From the headline point of view, improving from only two thirds of students passing to one hundred percent of students passing sounds logical and a success worth celebrating.   The issue is that it is unlikely to result in any real change.     FE colleges will still need to set requirements, meaning some passing grades will permit entry while others will not.    Universities will also set their requirements and again some grades will allow students to pass onto the next level whereas others will see their application fail to get them in.

The above alternative continues to be based on an education system where students pass through the system based on their age.    Given this there is a need to differentiate the students hence assigning grades to students based on their exams and coursework.

If we are to consider a system where all students are to achieve, we need to acknowledge the students learn at different rates.   We therefore need to allow students to progress through education at different rates.    The different rates of progress can therefore be used to differentiate students and identify when they are ready to progress to the next educational level.   Again this seems like an enviable solution in that students either complete or can be considered as having not yet completed or achieved.   They haven’t failed as the opportunity to complete always exists, being available for them at a time that suits their learning and rate of progressions.     The issue here is once again perception in that quickly there will become a view as to what the expected rate of progression will be.   This might be that by the age of 18 students will progress to university.   Instantly with this perception the media will be able to quote the percentage of students who proceed on or ahead of this target and therefore the percentage which do not.    Again we have those that progress as normally expected, those which pass, and those who progress at a slower rate, and therefore have not passed;  those which are perceived to have failed.

I don’t like the idea of one third of students failing.  It simply doesn’t feel right.   That said it is difficult to find an alternative solution that wont simply see us back in the same position a couple of years in the future.

 

Social media is bad.

girls-3481791_640We have all heard the negative headlines in relation to social media and children however as with most stories there are two sides to the coin, and as much as there are negative implications there are also positive ones.   I therefore thought it was appropriate to share my views on the benefits which our children may find in social media.

We have all read about how social media, and related screen time, impact on the sleep patterns of children, how it may result in greater occurrences of mental health issues, that it reduces students ability to concentrate and that it may reduce achievement levels but what about the other side of things.

We live in a more stressful world than ever before.   When I did my standard grades and the odd O-level I wanted to achieve the best results possible but looking back I don’t feel there was any significant pressure.   I don’t remember discussions of leagues tables or comparisons of countries against other countries or even wide scale coverage of the headline results or subject by subject analysis.    These are all common theses days.   Our children are constantly having the narrative reinforced, that exams will shape their future and that they are therefore of massive importance.   This adds stress but where can students go to share their feelings of stress, to vent, to express and to get support and advice?    They could go to their parents, teachers or other adults but our children often find this difficult due to concerns about being judged or about the resulting impact of sharing.  Sharing with a teacher may result in being “put” in extra lessons or being seen to be “less able” whereas sharing with parents may result in having some of their liberties taken away in order to help them “focus” or “put in more effort”.     They must also consider that adults views on things will be based on their experiences which happened some years in the past and therefore do not fully have a bearing on the current world context and on the environment that the students find themselves in.   Social media provides a better option as students can share with their peers and get advice and support from people going through the same situation, in the same, current, context.   A quick look at social media heading up to A-Level and GCSE results day showed plenty of examples of students expressing their stress and worry over the impending results envelope, and/or text message.    This shows a concerning trend but may also have positive implications in that the students can use social media to vent their concerns and frustrations.   Social media also has plenty examples of students sharing words of support, comfort and advice with one another.

We now live in a world where students movements are more closely controlled and monitored.   Gone are the days of the lone instruction being to be “back before the street lights come on”.   Now parents seek to know where children are.    Parents may also ban students from some locales on the basis of perceived risk.  You also have shops banning groups of youths loitering and in some cases even installing devices to make such loitering painful.     There are less opportunities for our children to be social with each other.   Once again social media steps in.    Social media spans the gap allowing children to be social, to discuss and share their thoughts and feelings, even when the adults in their life and society in general is continuing to further curtail the opportunities they have for being social, for fulfilling a basic human instinct which I suspect is all the stronger in a youths teenage years.

I am not saying social media is all good nor am I willing to accept it is all bad.    In the world we now live in it simply “IS”.   What we therefore have to be mindful of is considering the positives and negatives and doing our best to maximise the positive opportunities while reducing as much as is reasonably possible the negatives.

 

 

Backups: Do you test?

isolated-316392_640A little bit of a technology post today:  Backups including redundant solutions are increasingly important in organisations as we seek to keep our IT services up and running for our own internal users and also for external users or clients/customers.   This might be taking backup copies of data to tapes, having a redundant firewall or internet connection or having a cloud-based service available to replicate on-premise services in the event of a disaster.   My concern however is that we can feel better for having these solutions in place happy in the knowledge that we are better off and more protected than if we don’t have them.     The issue is that this sense of additional protection is false.   Just by having a backup solution of one type of another doesn’t mean that it will work when things go wrong.    We also need to be cognisant of the fact that when things do go wrong the result is often one of stress and urgency as we seek to restore services while under pressure from users, business leaders and process owners among others.   We need to adopt a scientific mindset and test the backup solution to make sure it works as intended.    It is much better to test our backup solutions to a timetabled plan than having the first test of a solution being a full blown real life incident where failure of the system could result in difficulties for the organisation.   We also need to bear in mind that just because it works on the day the solution was put in place, or even works today doesn’t mean it will work in a weeks or months’ time, or in a years’ time when we truly need it.    We need to have a robust programme of testing our backup solutions to ensure that they work, that we are aware of how they work and any implications and that those who need to use them are comfortable with their use.   Only by doing this can we be more comfortable in the knowledge that, when something does go wrong, we have a solution in place and are ready to put it to use.

fail-1714367_640The perfect example of the above, for me, was a recent test of our own backup solutions which included a service which indicated that recovery to a redundant system would be complete in 4 hours plus would be based on data backup taken regularly.    Upon testing the solution we found that the 4 hours recovery period was exceeded due to issues with the backup and the data was 3 days old.   We also found that there were implications for other systems when the test failure occurred.

It might be tempting to look on the above in a wholly negative fashion focussing on why the solution didn’t work however I want to avoid this and intend to focus more on the positive side of things.    We now at least know the solution didn’t perform as anticipated, we know more about the implications of the tested failure area, we are basically now more knowledgeable than we were before the test.    We will therefore now work internally and with the backup solution vendor to arrive at solutions that better meet our needs and are hopefully more robust and reliable.

The moral of the story;  Nothing works until you test it to confirm so test your backup provision and test it often.

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