Trust – do they make mice?

A conversation on the TES Forums got me annoyed today. It seems pupils have been bringing Flash games into school on their USB pens, much to the annoyance of some staff. Suggestions to combat the problem include disabling access to USB ports except through teachers or techies.

I may be in the minority, but why not allow the students at least a small amount of trust? We regularly use online Flash games, tutorials, videos, etc. – often in multiple suites simultaneously, and with no particular networking issues. If pupils want to bring Flash games in on USB drives then why not let them? They should never be left unsupervised for any length of time anyway (lest the great keyboard swapping epic should begin – “this one’s got a leg broken at the back”, “that one’s nicer”, etc.) so unless it’s something particularly inappropriate (a Flash remake of Leisure Suit Larry?) or being used during lessons then where is the harm? (And stopping pupils abusing the computers during lessons is basic classroom management).
At my school we positively encourage students to bring in USB pens, we even sell them in the school library. Pupils can bring work home to continue working on it, collect resources for lessons, share resources – all the things we want them to do, surely! A few do bring games on (nothing installable as they wouldn’t have admin access to the machines anyway) and I don’t mind KS4 pupils bringing some music to listen to during lessons.

Because of the Group Policies on the Windows machines the pupils need to create a shortcut in their home directory to the E: drive which teaches them something about the way the filesystems work – and how to create shortcuts. On the Macs they’re just plain accessible.

On that note the Macs are currently not locked down any more than they would be for a home user. Pupils would need the admin password to install software but otherwise they can do what they like – change backgrounds, screensavers, set up expose and the dashboard, install widgets, change the screen resolution, even change the speech settings if they really want to. They might spend a few minutes fiddling while I deal with the occasional technical problem or once they’ve completed a certain amount of work but that means that

  1. They get to see more about how to ‘use’ the computer
  2. They get to personalise their own workspace
  3. They’re using the computer when otherwise they might be distracting themselves and others
  4. If they do mess up the resolution or some other important setting then they suffer (and learn a lesson in how to fix it), but the next person to log on gets their own profile
  5. If someone decides to abuse the trust I put in them they can spend the lesson drawing what they would have done on the computers and can make up the work for homework/during detention

If pupils want to make use of USB drives to improve their understanding and motivation when it comes to ICT then I see no reason to stop them. Any half decent network manager can lock down the install privileges and any blatant disregard can be dealt with on an individual basis.

For example we recently found out that pupils had been using the websites and to bypass our content filtering system. It was a simple, and apparently enjoyable, job for the techies to block the sites and look through the logs, making a note of any mischevious pupils. Those in question now have the pleasure of using the BBC and Wikipedia websites only until Christmas. There’s no need to punish the rest of the pupils and news rapidly spread about the consequences of mistreating the school facilities.

Rant over πŸ™‚


5 thoughts on “Trust – do they make mice?

  1. Woah. What an excellent article.

    Ethos was a word I never really came across until I started teaching and your post sums up the ethos of ICT your school. Let me know if any jobs come up!

    I have been teaching for around 7 years and have seen the pupil novelty factor abuse with email, websites, forums, camer phones, image manipulation, youtube, USB drives, social networking sites and currently blogs. Shit, when I was doing my GCSEs circa late 80s I brought games in on 5 1/4 disks from home and look where it got me πŸ˜‰

    If they understand proxies to bypass filtering then don’t ban them – give them an f’ing admin account πŸ˜€

    Let them eat cake.


  2. We’ve had similar issues at work. MySpace got blocked because some students were using it in lesson time. I would have been asking why the teacher wasn’t keeping them on task, rather than blocking it for everyone.

    A secondary school I teach at occasionally has the most locked down net access I’ve ever seen; Wikipedia and Google images are both blocked, for example. Does this stop them accessing them? No; they use Google’s cache to view Wikipedia articles and the just use different Google sites to view images – they’ve gone from the Isle of Man version to Ethiopia to Malaysia in the time I’ve been there, switching every time the admins block one. How much staff and student time is being spent doing this? Just let them access Google images, but teach them to be sensible about searh terms.

    “If they understand proxies to bypass filtering then don’t ban them – give them an f’ing admin account” – one of our most ‘troublesome’ students is now working as Assistant Network Manager at a school in the area πŸ™‚

  3. HappyHippy says:

    In fairness, I think that the way Google images retrieves images leaves it open to exploitation with far too little effort. Catching a pupil playing a Flash game is one thing, having them quickly grab and collect inappropriate images while you’re helping someone on the other side of the room is far too tempting.

    I think it’s about balance – block the xxx sites but give them some freedom. With the advent of Web 2.0 and user-created content the site blockers are blocking all of the non-moderated sites. So if I want to explore an aspect of Web 2.0 with a class then I have to bypass the filter myself and show it on my laptop (I did this with Blogger last year and it just cuts out so many possibilities).

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