Online Safety

Having spent three days in the last week doing various aspects of child protection training, it is a subject that has been on my mind a lot during the last week. I completed my CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) Ambassador training yesterday which allows me to deliver the excellent ThinkUKnow materials to both staff and students. To coincide with Safer Internet Day 2009 on 10 February , CEOP will also be releasing some excellent new training materials for parents, designed to be used to make parents more aware of new technologies and how their children may be putting themselves at risk if they are unaware of the potential risks and dangers of using these technologies. The video below is one of the resources that CEOP will be using to raise parental awareness of how to ensure children do not put themselves at risk on the internet;

One of the questions raised yesterday during my training was the issue of filtering. Being a government organisation and because of the potentially damaging situation that would arise if there was ever a problem, CEOP do not recommend a filtering package to schools. I am not an advocate of the way in which filtering systems are often used in schools, although I do understand why many schools use filters to ensure that the most inappropriate content is not accessible from school computers. I think that this is sensible precaution to prevent the most inappropriate content being accessible. However, as anybody involved in this aspect of ICT management in a secondary school will know, students often see school filtering systems as a challenge to be overcome using proxy anonmisers or other means. The issue of filtering can also hinder teaching and learning as sites like You Tube often fall foul of filtering systems and are blocked due to inappropriate content. It is largely for these reasons that I am an advocate of education over blocking. I’m pretty sure we all do things at home on the internet that we would not dream of doing at work – booking holidays, buying clothes, downloading music, watching videos on You Tube, the weekly shop, the list goes on….

Some of the Grids for Learning can provide schools with forensic software to allow tracing of inappropriate use, and this software can either overtly or covertly send screenshots and log user details sending it to a system administrator. Educating students about appropriate use and having safeguards like this in place is certainly an alternative to filtering out large parts of the internet because they match a particular keyword.

Another point that was raised was the fact that many students have mobile phones in school capable of and probably also connected to the internet during the school day. This means that many secondary students particularly will have access to unfiltered internet in school anyway, and there is no way to police or track where students are going on these devices – so surely this is a battle that cannot be won purely by placing filters to block anything students can misuse.

There are so many issues surrounding online safety that I cannot possibly hope to cover everything here, and the view from CEOP is that children and students are becoming much more internet savvy than they were just 2 years ago. Apparently child sex offenders are finding it harder to make contact and develop online relationships, but were also quick to point out that this just means that they try harder. Some worrying trends were highlighted concerning the amount of information that young people make freely available on social networking sites – it is not uncommon for teenagers to give full address, mobile phone number, photos of friends and themselves, the school they attend and the names of family members. One demonstration using a social networking site showed that from three pieces of information, first name and sister’s first name, and parents first names that by finding her sister’s page on the same site by clicking on her photo it was possible to get a bit more information. A quick trip to the government census website and the officer had a home address and then by searching for local schools had identified the girl’s school from the school badge in some of the photos from the social networking site. Google Maps provided photos of the house and school, and the officer had a pretty complete profile. Whilst this is obviously a slightly scary example, and the officer knew what he was doing, it was also obvious how easy it is to build a profile of a person from information freely available on the internet. In the wrong hands, the consequences could be very serious!

I work with young people everyday, and I am a keen advocate of the benefits that using technology in the classroom can have on achievement, enagagement and learning. The internet also has a powerful part to play, as many web 2.0 technologies are now delivering the kinds of engagement and opportunities that a few years ago people could only dream about. Personally, I cannot imagine my life without the internet and nor would I want to. As educators though, I do feel we have an important role to play in helping young people and their parents to engage with technology safely. How many children have a computer in their room with open access to the internet and parents who do not fully understand what their children do on the internet for hours on end? Advice from CEOP included making sure computers are in public areas of the home, that children do not have full admin rights on the computer, up to date anti virus software is installed, and that perhaps parents use one of the many products designed to limit access to the internet of which K9 ( is just one. Clearly the most important thing though is that parents know what children are doing on the internet, who they are talking to online, and which sites they are visiting.

Education and adequate training for all adults involved in the care of children, and responsible education for children are important factors in a successful approach to e-safety. This remains one of the key priorities for both BECTA and CEOP and, as internet usage looks set to continue to rise in our schools, is clearly a key aspect of ensuring children are able to interact with technology in the classroom in an appropriate manner. I read a fabulous blog post yesterday regarding duty of care and online safety ( which reasoned that responsible professionals should be allowed to make professional judgements about the suitability of online resources. If teachers and students are adequately educated with regard to online safety and parents have been made aware of the schools’ acceptable usage policy with regard to use of the internet, why should a teacher not be allowed to use resources from a site like you tube if in their professional judgement those resources will enhance the understanding of their students. Mrs. W put it like this “Would education authorities deny a PE teacher access to trampolines citing “duty of care”? Would they deny a Chemistry teacher access to sulphuric acid citing “duty of care”? Would they deny a Modern Studies teacher access to (often) harrowing material on human rights abuses citing “duty of care”? Of course not, so why should these same professionals be deemed incapable of making a professional judgement  when it comes to accessing online resources?”. I think that argument is a very persuasive one.

My personal feeling is that many schools would rather err on the side of caution, and have a restrictive internet service rather than risk any potentially difficult situations, but I feel this is rather like burying your head in the sand and hoping the issues will resolve themselves. As discussed earlier, many students are far more technically able than teachers and sometimes even school technical staff, and see filtering as a challenge to be overcome or get frustrated as sites are blocked and their internet experience is far more limited than they are used to at home. Maybe it is time the government laid down clear guidelines, and ensured that all teachers are given adequate training in these areas. Perhaps it could be built into the child protection which is mandatory.

I am certain of some things however;

  • The internet is not going to go away!
  • Filtering in schools alone will not deal with all the issues around keeping children safe online.
  • Responsible professionals should be allowed to make their own judgements about resources most suitable to help their students learn.
  • Online safety is the responsible of teachers, schools, local authorities and PARENTS.
  • People responsible for children working with technology should be given adequate training to educate children about staying safe online and responsible use of the internet.


CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre)

BECTA E-Safety guidance

Thinkuknow website

I’m singing to my laptop…..

As a kind of post script to my last post, I have been playing more with Microsoft Songsmith and a colleague also sent me links to various classic songs “reinterpreted” by Songsmith from You Tube. During the last week, I have been in two minds about this software, on the one hand the fact that technology that makes a process like music production easier will undoubtedly encourage more people to have a go, and in turn this may lead to more people having the opportunity to create music. On the other hand, as Mark Wherry reasoned in Sound on Sound in January 2009 “if you subscribe to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s view that a person will have their most useful creative moments when faced with a situation that offers a level of challenge equal to their skills, it’s impossible for an easy process to yield meaningful results.” However, in the same article he also argues that it is actually a wonderful thing to give everyone the opportunity to create music. Whilst more of it may be mediocre, according to the infinite monkey theorem it might also result in a masterpiece that would not otherwise have been written.

I have yet to be convinced that Microsoft Songsmith allows the possibility to create a masterpiece (none of my efforts so far are even worthy of public consumption!), but I do urge you to give it a try (it’s free to try click here to go to download page) and maybe you can create the masterpiece that has so far eluded me! The future of music creation – I hope not, but maybe it will help a few people find their way into music that would not have otherwise have done so. And I guess if it helps spark a flash of creativity in some people then so much the better.

Microsoft Songsmith – the future of music creation?

As a Garageband devotee and fan of accessible music technology software, I am always interested in any new software claiming to be Garageband for the PC. I am a realist and recognise that while Garageband is perfect for music creation from primary right the way through to Key Stage 4 and beyond, not all schools and teachers are lucky enough to have access to a suite of macs for music technology lessons. While there are some very good products out there, M-Audio make a good piece of software called Session which has an interface similar to Garageband. The limitation of this software is it only works with a specific audio interface, not a practical option for many schools. I recently came across Mixcraft by Acoustica ( This is an excellent product that is similar to Garageband in many ways, is easy to learn how to use and also comes bundled with hundreds of loops and some effects and virtual instruments. All this for just $64.95 and discounts are available for bulk purchases. I have included a short video overview of Mixcraft below;

Anyway this leads me to a new piece of software that I came across via twitter earlier this week. Songsmith from Microsoft Research. The article on the macenstein website was entitled “Move over Garageband, Songsmith is here!”. The advertorial for Songsmith had me crying with laughter (see below) and left me convinced it must be an elaborate hoax. A quick trip to the microsoft website confirmed it is for sale for $29.95.

Quite aside from the production qualities of the advert, the script etc, etc ( and the fact for any Apple geeks that the main laptop featured is a Macbook Pro – does this mean even Microsoft accept that the best computer for running windows is a Mac??), it got me thinking about where Microsoft are hoping this will lead. Anyone that has ever used Garageband that will know that while dragging and dropping a few loops has a kind of instant gratification and makes you feel quite creative, you know that you are not really creating music more arranging someone else’s. Students generally enjoy this for a while but then want to develop skills to enable them to craft their own sounds and create their own sequences. I suspect Microsoft would probably argue that Songsmith allows anyone to create their own music without any musical knowledge but the more I think about this the more I think this may not be a good thing. Surely the whole point of technology is that it is a tool to help with the creative process, not take all but one aspect of that away from you. I am sure there are probably a few sliders and dials that allow you to vary the generated music but I am not sure this is the point. If you are going to make the process of making music that easy, why not just generate the vocal too, so that all the user has to do is click a few buttons on their laptop and the music is made.

I feel there is also a danger that we further devalue music too. In these times when we are surrounded by technology we need to instill in children the value of creativity, and as educators we should be facilitating them to be able to express themselves. I have downloaded Songsmith from the Microsoft website and will post some of my songs when I have had a chance to explore it in more detail. One thing though I am certain of is that advert will always cheer me up when I have a had a bad day!

Vokis, Voicethreads and Blogs

Welcome to my edublogs blog. As part of a training session that we are running at the city learning centre for MFL advisor, Bernadette Clinton, I have embedded some examples of the ICT tools that we have been discussing for people to have a look at. Hopefully they will give the inspiration for you to go and create your own with students!

Blogs A blog or a weblog is usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. This is an ideal way to create a running commentary of the learning journey that you and your pupils undertake throughout the year. Some teachers are using them with their classes to keep parents, governors etc of what is going on in their classroom, while some older students use them as a way of reflecting on their personal learning journey. However you use them with your students, they give a purpose for writing, and provide students with an audience. Students can be encouraged to post comments about posts made by other students. There are a huge variety of places that you can set up a blog for free. Blogger, wordpress and typepad are some of the biggeest providers of free blogs. All of these blogs are freely viewable by anyone with an internet connection, so an awareness of this is important in an educational context. Edublogs ( provide free blogging accounts for teachers and educators. The advantage of edublogs is that a teacher can create accounts for students whilst retaining a kind of administrator role, moderating comments etc before they go live.

Some examples of blogs;

A really good use of a school using blogs with each class

Vokis ( Vokis are talking avatars!  You choose your avatar – could be an animal, anime, alien etc and background, then either record or upload sound (or you can type and the site turns it into speech!) Press Ok and you have a talking avatar that can be downloaded or just kept on the site. In MFL could be used for recording and assessing speaking in a fun way – and as it’s saved online,  it can be reviewed later, allowing teacher to work with some whilst others record.  Voki avoid the issue of videoing children and saving.

An example of a voki

There are some good vokis at the following sites;

Voicethread ( A collaborative online tool that enable you to make slideshows (can be kept private or made public) and then invite comments in text, sound or video from collaborators.  Examples of use – eTwinning projects, practicing vocabulary, creative writing.

A great example of how voicethread can be used in MFL especially at key stage 2.

Stop Motion Animation Stop Motion Animation is a great way of developing literacy and writing skills. To make good quality animation, it is important to build the project around a unit of work. Storyboarding and planning the story is the first stage, and is extremely important to help younger students especially to break a story down into the key points. Also at this stage, especially in MFL, vocab and stucture of sentences can also be worked on. Digital Blue cameras are ideal for use with primary school students, although older Key Stage 2 students may wish to explore more professional DV cameras and software such as icananimate (MAC) or stopmotionpro (PC) ( There are some excellent tutorials for using the digital blue cameras and I have included a very thorough one from Teacher Tube by Jason Dilling.

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Excellent Digital Blue guides for both video and plasticene animation.

Simply click the link below and download the two pdf files.

Digital Blue Video and Animation Guides

Oscar Stringer, Apple ADE and Director of Animation for Education has also created a fantastic slideshow to help teachers to explain to students how to create models for plasticene animation. It can be found here;

Link to slideshow of how to create plasticene models for animation