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Entries tagged "det".

A Response to the DET Student Laptop Plan after reading the Tender
20th February 2009

I recently wrote an article about the Government’s Draft Consultation Paper on “Digital Economy Future Directions”. The paper brought up the concept of "media literacy". Well as I said this comes with experience and interacting with media. Today (actually a week ago because I took so long to write this post) I have myself learnt something about media literacy. You see there had been a lot of talk about the Government's plan for laptops in schools in the media. I even commented on this in a post here. What I failed to do was investigate and make judgements properly. I read the news web sites and that was it. But now once I've read the governments media release and the actual tender (zip) I get a totally different view of the situation that makes a lot of my previous arguments invalid.

The tender document goes into a lot of detail and explains things a lot better that the other media outlets that I originally got my information from. The document states,

"Typically, DET takes responsibility for the lifecycle of the standard access computers in its system, rather than assigning the machines to individual users. Inevitably, this leads to higher costs, as users feel no particular responsibility for any specific machine. This cannot work for the learning device – the machine will be the responsibility of the student or teacher to whom it is provided, and therefore attractiveness and a sense of ownership are important. In turn, this will only work if the machine provides a compelling ICT experience."

I find it hard to see how the machine can provide a compelling ICT experience when it is a) locked down in its functionality and ability to install other software (as noted in the tender), and b) DET's internet access is severely over-regulated. The tender also says,

"For example, it is likely that the machines will need to be turned on and off many times during the school day – so “near instant on” will be a requirement. A student cannot afford to wait several minutes for the device to prepare itself for use – that is to say, DET will require a device that returns itself to a “ready state” within five seconds."

And then it talks about user security,

"It is very important that possession of the device does not put children or other users at hazard of being a target of theft. To mitigate this risk, the device needs to be locked to the DET network, only allowing access to internet services via DET's network infrastructure (either from within the school or from any other location). The machine will not work unless the user has a DET username and password. Vendors are invited to propose additional features that would improve the security of the device, either in hardware or software. These might include, but not be restricted to:
  • reporting the device's identity and use to the DET network when it connects to any network
  • the device may be programmed to be unusable after a certain number of off-network sessions (that is, the device needs to authenticate to a DET directory once in every, say, five sessions, with the ability to adjust the grace period for holidays or special cases)"

In my original argument this was one of my main criticisms. But I should understand that there is nothing they can do to prevent theft entirely, and even then some things do fall outside their scope. The above extract from the tender details that low risk can be possible if these measures are built into the hardware, because if not then wiping the hard drive would remove any software protection measures. However it only just occured to me that they may use solid state drives (in fact latter on in the tender it says "The device must have no removable parts, other than the battery", and then "...DET wishes to move to a fully solid state design...") which I'm guessing would be difficult to "flash" with new data. This will not eliminate the value of these items to criminals but it would probably decrease enough not to be a big issue.

At the end of the day they will need to provide some backdoor to flash the device. If you secure the machine so much that other operating systems cannot be installed, what if there is a virus or whatnot that renders them useless. They would be foolish to provide no means to flash the machines.

All extracts and quotes have been used in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) for the purposes of criticism, review and the reporting of news.

Tags: det.
Good Things May Soon Come: Government Considering Open Access to Public Sector Information
6th February 2009
I was only just made aware of the Government's Draft Consultation Paper on "Digital Economy Future Directions" recently. The first consultation topic is "Open Access to Public Sector Information". At least they have expressed interest. So I went over to see what EFA had drafted for their submission,
"The Commonwealth should endorse a default set of licensing conditions for intellectual property which it owns that foster re-use of information. The standard licences provided by the Creative Commons project provide an example of how this can be done in a manner which is both (relatively) simple and clear. Standardising these licenses across government not only makes clear that a liberal attitude towards intellectual property re-use is encouraged, it also lowers transaction costs incurred by consumers of the information in understanding the licensing conditions. The Commonwealth is not a business - it should not be producing information which does not have an intrinsic public benefit, and so there is no imperative to recoup the cost of production of the information (although recouping the marginal costs of sharing the information, which will almost always be very low, may be justifiable). Allowing Australian companies and individuals to further develop intellectual property produced in the public sector can help to stimulate innovation in Australia's digital economy." --Electronic Frontiers Australia. http://wiki.efa.org.au/doku.php?id=digital_economy:2009-digital_economy_future_directions_consultation&rev=1233789400, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 (Australia) licence.
I could not agree more. I particularly agree with a set of (or even just one) government licenses named appropriately. This would simplify things greatly both for the government and the consumers of the material that would be licensed under the licenses terms. I can't say I completely agree with the the whole of the consultation paper, but at least they are looking the right direction for open access to public sector information. Lets hope they go along the lines of EFA's suggestions (as per the wiki). I'm particularly concerned about their plans for ISP filtering, but that's another story. The consultation paper also talks about so called "media literacy" which it defines; "Media literacy is a step beyond digital literacy and refers to the ability to critically consume, comprehend and create media in all its modern forms...Media literacy equips school children with the skills to effectively research online ... and gives people the capabilities to create their own diverse content and contribute to online communities such as forums and social networking sites". I have my own interpretation of "media literacy" but its hard to explain, but I think its something you can only get better at by experience. It says that "media literacy equips school children with the skills to effectively research online", but this notion conflicts with the systems that are currently in place in NSW. A public school student in NSW using the Internet at their school will never be able to effectively research online. This is because the DET filters the Internet so vigorously that you can no longer research, and when you can find some relevant information you are only getting one side or opinion because the other side is likely blocked (eg. blogger.com & wordpress.com are blocked). The other contradiction is that, at least for NSW public school students they will find it extremely difficult to "create their own diverse content and contribute to online communities such as forums and social networking sites" simply because most forums and social networking sites out there are (or were when I was at school) blocked (MySpace, Facebook, Youtube, along with many other similar sites are all blocked). What makes this worse is that the DET does not publish a list of blocked web sites, there goes accountability and transparency. So the federal government needs to work with the state governments, and then the state governments need to work with school systems such as the DET. The paper states, "The Digital Education Revolution, a major part of the Australian Government’s Education Revolution, is a vital step in developing the digital literacy of Australian students." which if I've interpreted it right, they are heading in the right direction, they just need to get the DET on the same side. EFA's draft submission on their wiki emphasises that current Australian copyright law is stifling innovation, something that I very much agree with. Hopefully the government will not ignore the EFA's submission.
Tags: det, education, politics.

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