LMSaaS

Over breakfast this weekend at a popular farmhouse two high school teachers sat next to me to discuss how their respective LMS solutions made teaching difficult. Both were from wealthy suburbs outside Milwaukee. What really peaked my interest was hearing how one spent over 45 minutes trying to add polling for in-class feedback.
LMSaaSI helped lead the adoption of a Moodle LMS at a private Wisconsin college in 2007 that is still in use today and also had the pleasure of attending a conference at UW-Madison with Martin Dougiamas the founder of Moodle.

Yet over that breakfast I was intrigued by their difficulty with all things LMS for the upcoming school year. Frustration ranged from how one teacher received no LMS training (poll example above) while the second teacher spoke about her district migrating to a new LMS vendor over the summer.

Of course no technology discussion can avoid a teacher mentioning K12 servers going offline for hours during the school day making their teaching even more difficult. Seems like teachers have a lot to confront on a daily basis in delivering education to a classroom of twenty plus students. A local LMS run from an empty closet is no longer acceptable.
Continue reading “LMSaaS”

YouTube, K12 web filtering and CIPA

I recently posted a tweet about YouTube, K12 web filtering and CIPA, the Children’s Internet Protection Act. I was very happy to receive a couple of DMs from Angela Maiers and Elizabeth Holmes, two educational professionals who I consider to be leaders in both knowledge sharing and teaching experiences.They share insights on Twitter as well. Follow Angela here and follow Elizabeth here — you will learn much about K12 education from them.

Apologies up front for this long post.  I sincerely hope by sharing my experiences more teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, technology coordinators and parents will have a better understanding regarding how internet filtering ultimately impacts learning.

Disclaimer:
1. This post will not address content found on YouTube.  This post will speak to the technologies behind filtering YouTube in K12 Districts and how solutions from 3rd party vendors permit access to rich media content websites including YouTube. School Districts, based upon an established technology policy have options when choosing their web filtering solution.
2. Michael Wesch was a keynote speaker at WiscNet’s 2007 Future Technologies Conference …and just off the enormous success of his own video on YouTube.  His presentation “Human Futures for Technology and Education” resulted in many attendees sharing his video at their schools helping fellow teachers and administrators better understand how students use the internet.
3. This post does not endorse any specific product or vendor.
4. This post draws upon my work with K12 technology coordinators, teachers and administrators along with vendor technical support and the excellent network support group at WiscNet.
5. This post addresses in a roundabout way the need for every district to have an established technology policy regarding filtering. Finally this post will address the critical issue of bandwidth necessary to deliver rich media content into the school.
–Wish this was an easy, short post.  The filtering process can become complex and frustrating. I have learned this isolates teachers who want to share compelling content with their students.  This started as an answer to questions regarding filtering in K12 outside the 140 limit of Twitter and then kinda steamrolled…


Overview
K12 school districts are required by federal law to implement content filtering to block adult, illegal or offensive content from minors. The law is known as the Children’s Internet Protection Act:

The 2001 Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the internet on school and library computers. CIPA imposes certain types of requirements on any school or library that receives funding for Internet access or internal connections from the E-rate program – a program that makes certain communications technology more affordable for eligible schools and libraries.

Many computing vendors sell dedicated hardware, software and network appliances (devices that combine filtering along with firewall, anti-spam and even anti-virus protection) that address CIPA requirements for K12 school districts or any Public Library. Their solutions integrate CIPA guidelines into filtering categories for technology coordinators. 8e6’s R3000 Enterprise Filter solution is shown below:

CIPA and K12 Web filtering

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CIPA solutions vary from district to district due to any vendor’s installed filtering solution AND by the adopted policy of the District or Library.  However technology coordinators can edit filtering settings.  Combined with Mudcrawlers (see below) a district or library can stay up-to-date and block the latest sites and webpages that conflict with CIPA guidelines.


Powerful video that moves/educates students

There are very compelling education-related videos on YouTube including Michael Wesch’s Web 2.0: The Machine is Us/ing us.  Michael has also shared some rather powerful statistics regarding YouTube here. His page was last updated in March of this year so consider those numbers even higher today.

And if you think those are powerful, consider the staggering numbers for FaceBook here.  Again parents, teachers and administrators need to understand how students already use the internet.

Just like other Web2.0 media driven websites that have popped up on the internet, YouTube gained traction and became a powerful location to upload videos for free. No thought was put into establishing an educational access point when YouTube was launched. YouTube’s founders were burning through credit cards just to keep the site live — and waiting for a company like Google to buy them for billions. So from the beginning YouTube was not built as a video warehouse for education. However with their overwhelming exposure and free access it has become a very popular resource. Test Michael’s video and your school’s filter at the same time:

1. The URL for his video is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlGopyXT_g
2. Copy/Paste this link into your browser.
3. Does your school district block access to this video?
4. Does the video play immediately?
5. Does the video take a long time to play?

Filtering options
School districts have implemented filtering solutions from vendors including 8e6, Barracuda, Fortinet and others.  WiscNet, the educational and research StateNet in Wisconsin partnered with 8e6 Technologies to provide Wisconsin school districts and libraries with two options addressing filtering:

1. Offsite filtering: Central

Central hosting permits schools and libraries to connect via proxy servers to WiscNet’s centralized filtering server.  Each district’s technology coordinator(s) work with WiscNet to configure DNS and also configure all web browsers used by students, teachers and staff to redirect every requested URL to the central filter for analysis.  The district’s technology coordinator is authorized to log into their district profile and add or block additional pages on demand.

2. Onsite filtering: Local
The second option places a filtering server onsite inside a district’s server room.  There are advantages to installing a local content filtering box.  In addition to the features in the central server, a local filter has the ability (if it matches the district’s technology policy) to block IM traffic and even streaming media.  Local filtering can also leverage a district’s LDAP server and link filtering rules to the district’s network directories (students, faculty, staff and administrators) thereby syncing the filtering solutions to user groups at elementary, middle and high school facilities including any administrative buildings connected to the districts’ network.  This has also been extended to laptops used at schools and libraries.

Reporting Tools
8e6’s servers have reporting tools that permit logging URLs requested by a single laptop or an entire classroom of computers. If a teacher feels a student may be veering away from online class assignments a realtime tool can be configured to probe and log all requested URLs from a student’s computer for specific periods of time.  The results can be analyzed to determine the stated course of action outlined in the District’s technology policy:

CIPA and K12 Web filtering
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Warning and Timed Quotas
8e6 provides options to place a customized URL warnings regarding access by groups: students, teachers, staff/admin and event parents or guests.  For example a district may recommend teachers, staff and administrators not visit eBay during the school day. The software permits a technology coordinator to attach a custom message to any web browser used by teachers, staff and administrators that requests any eBay URL. The message will remind the user that eBay is not approved under district policy, but does permit the browser to access eBay.
Consider this a gentle hint hint – wink wink – nudge nudge reminder.

A feature added recently by 8e6 is “Timed Quotas” which permits a district to implement time limits for a website.  District policy (again eBay for example) can dictate access to eBay not to exceed three hours a day.

CIPA and K12 Web filtering

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After a predetermined time limit or quota has been reached regarding eBay the site becomes blocked for the rest of the day. The quota resets at midnight.

Tech Support’s cool factor:
Filter vendors and StateNet support teams who work in partnership with districts can login directly to a district’s filter (central or local) to address questions.  The software permits tech support teams to configure their own browser (via proxy) to point to the school’s IP filtering address, permitting them to “drop” their browser inside a district LAN. This allows tech support to access any URL in question (deny or pass) just as any computer connected to the district’s network.  Reporting tools can generate Excel formatted spreadsheets or send an email providing excellent data to troubleshoot URLs that are not “playing well” by the filter configurations.

A word about big video websites
Heavily trafficked websites including YouTube have multiple servers to handle large numbers of visitors.  When you need to block a popular site today you must use a filter’s ability to search for all addresses that answer to “www.youtube.com” because Google has established additional servers to handle heavy requests.  If those are not included the videos will continue to be accessible:

YouTube ip addresses

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Mudcrawler
How does a school district keep up-to-date with all the new content uploaded to the internet outlined by CIPA?  Vendors work with Mudcrawlers. What a job title eh? Mudcrawlers identify, locate and verify new content and proxy hacks in conflict with CIPA guidelines and upload those new URLs daily to vendors who then push updates daily to their machines at schools and libraries.

Achilles Heel:  Bandwidth
There are very important bandwidth considerations for accessing rich media content on the internet including YouTube from a classroom, teacher’s laptop or even “high-tech” teaching labs.  This all revolves around bandwidth.

The video’s file size does not matter since a teacher’s goal is to play the video online and not to download it. The video’s data rate (data transferred over the internet/per second) is very important for consistent playback. Depending upon the amount of bandwidth the school district has available “choppy” playback may occur due to bandwidth constraints.

Please remember a district’s total bandwidth can be divided between elementary, middle school, high school and district administrative offices.  If a district has a 5 megabit bandwidth connection between buildings listed above, that means each building basically receives a single (1) megabit connection if configured by the technology coordinator or network administrator.  Here is the data rate of Michael’s video: 466.9 Kbits/second – just under 470K of bandwidth per second.

video datarate
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If a school district has a total bandwidth of just 3 Megabits/second it means that just six different computers (at the same time) begin watching Micheal’s video — the entire bandwidth for the school reaches saturation.  In other words the network crawls.

Test Michael’s video and maybe your technology coordinator’s nerves:
1. Learn how much bandwidth your school has established across the entire district: how much for each building linked to the school’s LAN.
2. The URL for his video is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLlGopyXT_g
3. Copy/Paste this link into your browser.
4. If the video plays, does the rest of the district’s network slow to a crawl?
5. What happens in a classroom with 20 computers on a 10MB/second requirement?

Attention Technology Coordinators: Get your geek on
Wesch’s video is not a RTSP stream but rather a static clip that gets pushed over TCP/IP. In a low bandwidth situation TCP will automatically rebroadcast dropped packets. YouTube is going to be flooding your pipe re-broadcasting those dropped packets and causing your network to slow down.

Low Bandwidth = High Shapers
Clearly school districts have insufficient bandwidth to view YouTube content on a large scale.  Againbandwidth can be saturated quickly by the demands of rich media.  For example – Grab NASA’s video stream of a live shuttle launch.  The raw feed could require 8Mb/second connection which would kill a district’s entire bandwidth to the internet.

Short term solution?
A option would be for a K12 district or Library to install a packetshaper if the bandwidth is under 10Mb/second.  Packetshapers permit a district technology coordinator to limit the amount of bandwidth specific protocols can access.  For example a science teacher wants to permit students to watch the shuttle launch and listen to NASA commentary.  A Tech Coodinator can limit RTSP (the protocol passing the live video) to just 100K/second for every computer on the network – district wide.  However this packetshaping configuration will kill the video in two ways: first the limit on bandwidth would result in a stop-start-stop-wait-start-stop effect, second it would take a very long time to download the video to a students computer to watch the launch.

Long term solution
Get more bandwidth.  If your K12 District resides in Wisconsin contact WiscNet, Wisconsin’s StateNetwork.  WiscNet helped a K12 District increase their bandwidth from 3MB/sec to 100MB/sec for just $75.00 more a year via GrowSmart.  Check out this article.

HD video lectures from Museums and Colleges have been available to K12s on the Research Channel and Internet2 via your respective StateNet across the country. Love the fact Missouri K12s have been video conferencing with Museums in London for four years! Powerful content awaits both teachers and students.

Real World challenges: We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan
Regardless of filtering solution, frequent “fire drills” revolve around allowing blocked sites to be unblocked for a teacher’s request, class assignment or guest speaker.  Yet due to the workloads of almost every high school technology coordinator, requests arrive less than 10 minutes before class (or a guest speaker) is scheduled.  Fire drills often frustrates everyone in the process.

Q & A:
Q: I’m frustrated when YouTube’s webpage is still not showing the video.
You and me both.  There are multiple answers:

Answer #1:
Google pushes many URL resources into a single YouTube page.
Those embedded URLs may be blocked by CIPA categories. If just one of those pushed URLs from Google is blocked, the entire page AND the video will not play:

CIPA and K12 Web filtering
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The interesting and troublesome issue is that most YouTube pages do not carry the same embedded links and URLs — so trying to write a generic allow (or bypass) rule will be very difficult.

Answer #2:
Copyright infringement.
The video is pulled by YouTube due to a threat of legal action. No technology workaround is going to show a copyright video if the copyright holder contacts Google.  Google statement regarding copyright killing video here.

CIPA and K12 Web filtering
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Answer #3:
Bandwidth
Spinning cursor loading selected video never stops.  See Achilles Heel (above)

CIPA and K12 Web filtering
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Answer #4:
The user deleted the file.
There is no magic like having someone delete a video from their account after its been talked about.  Bummer.

Q: Is YouTube automatically blocked by CIPA ?
A: Yes and No.  YouTube has videos that definitely fall outside CIPA guidelines forcing filters to block access to YouTube.  Districts can permit access to areas of YouTube by adjusting the settings in their filters or allowing custom bypass rules:

CIPA and K12 Web filtering
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Q: What does a blocked page look like ?
A: For a filter than BLOCKS videos from YouTube based upon a CIPA category of R Rated, the filter pulls this report which spells out the category and URL upfront:

CIPA and K12 Web filteringClick thumbnail to view image

Q: Can YouTube flag videos for K12?
A: Today citizens around the world upload over 150,000 videos every day to YouTube.  Trying to hire someone to flag videos for K12 would be an overwhelming task.  Consider this: ABC Television has been broadcasting for 60 years. The first television broadcast was in April 1948 and if you added all the video ever broadcast since 1948 it would total over 500,000 hours. YouTube has produced more hours of content in just the past 5 months.

Q: Does all YouTube video playback at the same rate ?
A: No.  Depends upon how much the person who uploaded the video knows about video codecs (compression/decompression) that can help reduce the video’s file size.  So the data rate can be small or really big.

Ideas for Apple and Google:
1. Google: set up K12.youtube.com so filters can automatically pass educational videos to schools and libraries. This would take some work on the backend, but boy it sure would help out K12s.

2. Apple
: strengthen iTunesU‘s existing K12 category by opening compelling video content clips for K12s.
See K12s own category within iTunesU here

Although I have read a number of tweets regarding educational YouTube-like websites all of them fail to scale to the demands of having industrial strength servers and network bandwidth capacity compared to YouTube or iTunesU.

Read More About It
Library.org: content filtering review here
PC Magzaine: content filtering review here
TopTen: home filtering review here
CIPA information via the FCC here

So why did it take so long to register that a blog post could benefit others by stepping outside the 140 character limit of Twitter?  If you think this is a good knowledge sharing post, then please follow me here on Twitter.

Will be more than happy to answer additional questions.  Let me know your thoughts.

BoreasNet now 200GBs


The Boreas Network in the Midwest connecting Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been upgraded to a 200GB network capacity.

This Regional Optical Network (RON) will be advancing the research opportunities in the upper midwest by enhancing the established optical network with new links installed by member institutions and the WiscNet NOC.

Tags: ANML, optical network, Midwest, Boreas, globalization, network, Milwaukee, economic development, trends

WiscNet FTC Day 2 Keynote

Joel Mambretti presented an overview of projects underway in Chicago’s Starlight network during his address: Creating Communications for the 21st Century: Applications, Architecture, Technology and Facilities.

Starlight is really one of the true keys of internet research and development. At the high end he presented the incredible work utilizing bandwidth coming out of Chicago and how Starlight has repositioned the globe regarding fiber points spanning the globe.

Tags: Internet2, WiscNet, Joel Mambretti, Starlight, globalization, network, trends

The net is running out of IP addresses

At this morning’s Internet2 Spring member meeting John Curran, Chairman of The American Registry of Internet Numbers (ARIN) actually stated THIS WILL OCCUR within three years if the internet stays at IPv4. Time to plan your migration to IPv6.

I2 spring meetingBut will this upgrade be the next great Y2K project? Probably. And consider all those IPv4 consumer gadgets that are connecting to the internet today… Yikes! But fear not: Many companies are already moving to IPv6 .Google is already set. And while Apple’s OS X Leopard is already IPv6 capable, oh how Windows XP is not….and I’m not upgrading to Vista based on IPv6 alone.

This session was moderated by Internet2 CEO Doug Van Houwling who is speaking in Madison at WiscNet’s Future Technologies Conference May 13th & 14 at Monona Terrace.

Another strong presentation was John Windhausen‘s “National Broadband Policy” presentation. The goal: an 8 billion dollar investment to provide 100MB broadband service to every school, home and business by 2012.

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WiscNet FTC 2008 – Internet2

WiscNet‘s 2008 Future Technologies Conference at Monona Terrace will feature two keynotes regarding Internet2.

Tuesday May 13th Doug Van Houweling, President of Internet2 will keynote the first day of the conference. Joel Mambretti, Director of the International Center for Advanced Internet Research at Northwestern will be addressing the FTC on Wednesday.

You can register here for the 2 day conference in Madison.

Tags: Internet2, WiscNet, Doug Van Houweling, Joel Mambretti, Madison, global education, trends

Latest read: Death to PowerPoint

At WiscNet’s 2007 Future Technology Conference I presented an Internet2 end-of-year review as Co-Chair of their Internet2 K20 Workgroup. My presentation was modeled after Edward Tufte’s approach to PowerPoint called The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. The New York Times calls Tufte “The Leonardo da Vinci of data” and even NASA has asked for his assistance with visual analysis of space shuttle data from both Columbia and Challenger.
cognitive style of powerpointHis research is really amazing. While re-reading his excellent 2005 brief The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint I wanted to make sure my presentation was right on the mark and tuned for the best possible visual reception.

As we are all aware, PowerPoint emerged (okay it was bundled with Word and Excel in the Office suite back in the day) as the most used slideware program regardless of location: conference room, classroom, gallery or boardroom. We all use this tool yet many presenters do not realize how PowerPoint actually kills your messages.

Can you imagine The Gettysburg Address as a PowerPoint presentation? Click here for an example of how a powerful message gets lost in a bad slideware program. So how is PowerPoint killing your messages?

If you care how you communicate, this is simply a must read. Tufte’s lessons are so important to learn and implement. He challenges you to communicate as effectively as possible while living in a dull, boring slideware world. For the most part our messages miss the mark and our audiences are bored … could there be anything worse?

Continue reading “Latest read: Death to PowerPoint”