I am now into the second semester of my MSc in eLearning. As I have mentioned before, I am writing a private weblog as part of the MSc assessment, so I thought it was about time i shared some of these thoughts here
Throughout this semester I have found myself becoming involved in a number of discussions that involve technical issues. As you may know I am currently managing an elearning project in Scotland (eLATES: eLearning and Traveller Education). This involves working with Education Authority’s Corporate IT Departments. There are a lot of important considerations that must be made by those involved in the development, management and coordination of such a project or virtual learning environment. One of the most important considerations is that of the procurement process.
Most Schools throughout Scotland now have at least one computer with Internet access per classroom. Laptops are now more commonly used as oppose to desktops and this is increasing with the move towards One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). As part of the eLATES pilot, Education Authorities (EAs) are deploying hardware to mobile children and their families. Families will use the hardware (likely to be Laptops etc) to access school work via the Internet and the Glow portal (VLE).
Hardware is purchased by Education Authorities for use in and outwith schools and to the best of my knowledge this is a common process. EAs are required to purchase hardware through what is know as the procurement process. Council IT Departments have an agreed build and specification of hardware i.e. Laptops. This build may vary between Councils. They will also have an agreed user administration rights. When hardware is purchased through procurement the EA’s IT Department will ensure that the machines meet the agreed specification and this will also mean that user restrictions are in place. This is fundamental for the actual functioning of the machines and in the case of education, the health and safety of the children concerned and the accountabilty of the teacher.
Hardware that is purchased outwith the procurement process presents two main areas of concern:
- Support: If there are no restrictions on administration rights, the machines will be open to modification, alterations and viruses. This ultimately means that the machines are liable to breakage or malfunctioning. In this event, the machine would require some sort of maintenance. The problem then arises with who will be responsible for providing and carrying out this maintenance? It is the norm that machines not purchased via the EA procurement process are unlikely to be supported by EA IT Departments. This is because they are not insured or ‘covered’ as such to deal with non-uniform equipment.
- Internet Safety: When machines are purchased through procurement, restrictions are placed on what websites can be accessed. This is done using a firewall on the Internet connection. If machines are not supported by IT, it is likely that there will be no firewalls in place. This ultimately leaves youngsters vulnerable.
Though initially bypassing the procurement process may be seen as a means of saving money, later complications would be inevitable.
Anyway, this was just a brief thought on one of the challenges I have faced recently.
I would welcome your thoughts and questions
Image by: Andrew* (under Creative Commons)