Friday 29 January 2010

Getting IT right and getting IT wrong

Interesting e-learning forum meeting at Broxbourne today. Wandering around the brand new college it was great to see plenty of spaces that students, or anyone else for that matter, could use with pcs and wireless access available across the building for those with the log-in details. They claim to have 'the fastest network speeds of any educational establishment in Europe' which wasn't something I could test although web pages certainly did snap at you, loading as fast as you could enter an address. In a funny way, I quite missed the small delay!

What I did particularly like, though, were the myriad facebook pages evident and the fact that the equipment was scattered and not limited to strict rows in a workshop. There were even comfy seats, sofas and I could well imagine students happily staying on there after the last timetabled session as opposed to rushing to get away as most tend to do in most places I'm aware of. Well done, all involved in planning there.

Sure, the small matter of £zillions being available so that one could start from scratch will have helped but I am certain these kind of areas could be created at other institutions, and the less restrictive attitude to where students go in their own time wouldn't cost anything except a few slices of humble pie to be eaten by those who keep maintaining that they have to block all blogs and social networking to, er, protect students. They do have filters in place for the nasty stuff but generally tutors are trusted to control where they visit in classrooms and the use of proxy browsers appears to be as close to nil as it'll ever get.

That cheered me which I did rather need as a lunchtime discussion was worrying. Another member of the forum was explaining how yet another compliance word now being spelled with a capital letter, safeguarding, had affected her day-to-day life at another college. Apparently she could not have students as 'friends' on social networking sites, she couldn't send e-mails from a private account, nor text from her own phone. Basically, she was told she mustn't communicate in any way with a student other than via an 'official' route and that included offering lifts as well, incidentally, and not for reasons that had anything to do with insurance. I presumed that it was OK to talk to them about something not directly associated with college but not so sure she wouldn't have had restrictions on that too!

The person in question was not some dodgy old bloke with a history of complaints from 16 year olds. It was a bright and cheery young lady dealing with students not a great deal younger than herself. Whatever the age or gender, though, this sort of misinterpretation of initially well-intended guidlines is dreadful. Clearly her institutional managers have decided to bolt down the hatches and have attempted to regulate themselves out of any possible issue but just what does that say about their trust in the decency of their staff? It says they have none, or worse: they presume that their staff will behave despicably unless controlled somehow.

It is so difficult to argue against this sort of thing. You get all sorts of looks and tut-tutting but someone has to. I am beginning to wonder if I might need safeguarding myself - against misguided policy-makers and the aspersions they'll be casting before long.