Tag Archive for Network

Collectives, Not Communities

Viewing social networks as collectives rather than communities may help us make sense of their place in schools . How can a person have 1,000 friends? Why do students spend so much time on Facebook? What is the nature of membership in a social network?

From Community to Collective: Institution and Agency in the Age of Social Networks (PDF)

Douglas Thomas explores how social network websites act primarily as collectives, not communities. In a collective, the institution is organized to provide individual agency to its members.

In a community, the general motive for participation is belonging, principally, belonging to an institution greater than oneself or even the sum of its members. In a collective, the investment is in participating … without the immediate sense of reciprocity that community entails.

Facebook, Google, Ebay, Amazon are all large institutional structures that have the singular and sole purpose of affording an individual agency.

Sometimes, a collective contains several communities within it. This makes it easy to conflate the two. However, the collective does not depend on the communities within it for its continued existence.

A student may interact with a subset of her social network contacts as a community, exchanging direct messages and commenting on friends’ posts. The entirety of a student’s social network may act as a collective, providing the student with critical information that supports her sense of personal agency, whether or not she posts at all.

If alumni and parents join a school’s Facebook page for reasons of personal agency, not reciprocal interaction, then the purpose of posting to the Facebook page changes considerably. A school would want to consider what content it could provide that would support individual agency.

Viewing social networks as collectives instead of communities has the potential to advance our understanding of their useful purpose in schools.

Photo credit: “Face in a crowd” by vividbreeze

Where Is My Network Folder?

I designed this activity to make the idea of a network folder more concrete to our fourth grade students. Annually, students struggle each year to understand where to save their files. The operating system does not provide much help. Local and network folders practically look the same. Sometimes, they even have the same name (for example, a Mac local and network home folders)!

Students started in their classroom, the school’s computer lab. They traced the path of an Ethernet cable out of the back of a computer, into the wall, and to the building network closet. There, they observed how the network switch transfers the signal from a copper Ethernet cable to glass fiber optic cables. They then traced the path of these cables from one building to the next, overhead and underground, until they reached the server room.

Students observed the many servers, noted their names, and looked at their network folders on a display attached to the servers. They collected notes on the experience and answered several questions seeking to assess their understanding of the experience.

More photos from the field trip

Macs and the Enterprise Network

Credit: vitroid on Flickr

Configuring Mac laptops for our new 802.1x network is proving more difficult than expected. It appears that only OS 10.6 is compatible with WPA2 Enterprise networks, and even then, they don’t always connect all of the time. At the moment, we are looking at the following:

10.6 clients: 802.1x system profile with saved user credentials

10.5 and below: WEP with pre-shared key

On startup, the process that authenticates a user via 802.1x does not always launch at the right time, leaving the user in no man’s land. The user than has to turn wireless off and on to get it to try again. If the user brings the computer from home to school and wakes it from sleep, then the process is not running and then cannot auth to 802.1x. Fortunately, once connected, the system seems able to reconnect reliably when waking from sleep. We have provided a small, custom app for users to easily reset the wireless card.

Too bad that Apple has not yet got this right. It feels so 2001 to run WEP for some of our users, especially on our brand new wireless network. Our Windows client setup has been flawless.

Thinking Critically About Facebook Apps

What do middle school students need to know about Facebook? On January 13, middle school head Paul Andrichuk and Information Technology staff Daisy Steele and Richard Kassissieh led an afternoon workshop with middle students to encourage critical thought about personal information and the corporate entities behind the popular social network site.

Click on the links in this outline to see examples shared with the students.

What is a social network?

Facebook is the leader of social network sites, but many more exist. If we broaden our view to social media sites, in fact dozens exist. Social network sites represent a significant development, because:

1. Ordinary users contribute most of the content.
2. Companies have little control over site content.
3. They appeal to people’s sense of community.

Adoption is widespread. Alexa estimates that 30% of their users worldwide visit Facebook every day.

So much about social networks is new. People and organizations are less able to keep tight control over their website presence. Even giant companies are still figuring it out. Individuals have gained the possibility to use social media to gain unprecedented visibility.

How will the use of social networks change how people communicate? Facebook’s CEO thinks that it is changing social norms. Many disagree. How will students use social networks for good? What will Facebook do next? What will succeed Facebook?

The goal of today’s workshop is to apply our critical thinking skills to our use of social networks.

Students proceeded into three breakout groups by grade level. They then participated in three sessions led by Paul, Daisy, and Richard. Paul and two upper school students introduced sixth grade students to the process of setting up a new Facebook account. Daisy examined privacy settings with seventh and eighth graders. Richard investigated how Facebook applications access personal information. Below, please find notes from the apps workshop.

All About Apps (seventh and eighth grades)

A Facebook application ("app") is a piece of software that adds functionality to your Facebook page. Most are games or information-gathering devices (e.g., polls).

Most apps are built by companies other than Facebook. Installing an app shares your profile information with that other company.

To view your list of installed apps and uninstall one, go to the Applications link in the lower left-hand corner of the Facebook interface and click Edit Applications.

You may recognize status updates generated by applications from their nonstandard icons, the "via" text, and phrases like "Click here to help."

Though I am sure you are a very helpful person, clicking on that link will lead to the installation of a new app.

Note that Farmville will gain access to your profile information, photos, and freinds information, at the very least. Are you okay with this?

During the workshop, students completed a role play activity to learn more about the movement of personal information between a user, Facebook, and Zynga (the maker of Farmville). Download the handout.

After the role play, the group discussed the following questions.

  • What information does Zynga now have about you and your friend?
  • Did Zynga need this information for the game to work?
  • What else might Zynga do with your personal information?
  • What would prevent Zynga from doing something unethical with your information?
  • What could Facebook do to ensure that application developers keep your information safe?

The presenter then provided the group with more information about Zynga.

Clicking Allow indicates that you agree to the Farmville Terms of Service, which would should read and understand! Just one part of the TOS is fairly illuminating.

Section 4c

You grant to Zynga the unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual fully-paid and royalty-free right and license to host, use, copy, distribute, reproduce, disclose, sell, resell, sublicense, display, perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, modify, make derivative works from, retitle, reformat, translate, archive, store, cache or otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content [emphasis added] to which you have contributed, for any purpose whatsoever, in any and all formats; on or through any and all media, software, formula or medium now known or hereafter known; and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed and to advertise, market and promote same.

Can you trust Zynga with your personal information? Foudner and CEO Mark Pincus speaks in the following video about the measures he took to raise money for the company. The video sheds some light on the character of Zynga, its founder, and its reasons for existence. This may help you make an informed decisions about whether to share your personal information with this company.

Other companies have come under scrutiny for their security practices. RockYou improperly handled and inadvertently exposed 32 million usernames, passwords, and email address. Another company produced a "Secret Crush" application that didn’t actually reveal a secret crush but instead installed unwanted advertising on their computer.

We encourage student to think critically about Facebook apps and understand how personal information is handled when you play one of these games.

Network Access Control

Our IT team has been meeting regularly to determine new infrastructure projects for the year. The list includes network access control and wireless access controller systems. Our discussions reveal a common theme: how many of the components of an enterprise computer network should we acquire and maintain, considering their benefits and costs?

Network access control is currently up for consideration. Three years ago, we installed our first network access control system to bring the following benefits to our school.

Limit the campus network to known computers and users
If computers not known to the IT department get on the LAN, they may be infected with viruses or running a spambot or other malicious software. Network access control software ensures that only computers that IT manages can get on the network. They do this through different methods, including client login and MAC address filter.

Offer guests an open wireless network for Internet access
If we limit the campus LAN to known users, then we should provide an open network for parents, vendors, guests, and users’ personal wireless devices so that they may still get online. The guest network presents a welcome page (captive portal) to the user that includes terms and conditions. The guest network only provides Internet access, protecting the school’s file server, print server, and other network resources. Guests may still access the school’s websites.

Track network activity by user
Increasingly, division heads have asked us to identify one student who has bulled another student through the campus network. If users are required to log in to access the campus network, then it becomes easier to trace network activity to a specific user. We have also implemented DHCP reservations so that the IP address on record is a reliable indicator of what computer was used for each network activity. This works well for a computer with only one user and less well in shared facilities. Since client login lasts an entire day (to avoid bugging users with multiple daily login requests), users of shared computers are not required to logi in often enough to positively identify each user.

Check computers for minimum system requirements
Even computers that we manage may become infected or compromised over the course of the year. We would ideally like to keep such computers off the network in order to protect the school’s systems and to stop an infected computer from spamming the world. One method is to block computers that do not meet minimum system requirements and then provide the user with links to the necessary software updates.

Current status
We currently run a Cisco Clean Access system to provide network access control and a public wireless network. We also gained the ability to track network activity by user, except for shared computer carts and labs. Despite lots of consultant help, we had great difficulty setting it up properly to perform these two functions. On account of the effort it took to get this far, we never did implement requirements checking beyond a small test group. Now, we are required to either upgrade to a new server software version (at great expense) or move to a different system.

Requiring users to log into client software to access the wireless network has been pretty intrusive. Ideally, this would be integrated with operating system login, but we hear that this is difficult to configure in our current NAC system with Windows and not possible for our Macs. Our users do not much like the additional login window that pops up, especially when it misbehaves, and they cannot access the wireless network.

Lower-cost options
Could RADIUS meet our needs? It’s a bit more do-it-yourself than buying a NAC product, it probably would not require user login, and it would not check systems for minumum system requirements. However, it would limit the network to known computers, which would take us part of the way toward our goal.

Setting our target appropriately
How much network sophistication can a school like ours afford to purchase and maintain? In a recent survey we conducted, only one of 26 peer schools was running NAC client software to check computers for minimum system requirements. The cost and effort required may not be worth the promise of reduced workstation maintenance and a safer network. We may have discovered that enterprise-level network access control is really

We will continue our investigation of different combinations of systems that could meet our needs and stay within budget.

Kids, do you know what an IP address does?

When it comes to student behavior on the Web, adolescents behave in a manner that suggests a lack of awareness that anyone could find out what they are doing online. I try to combat this with a simple lesson about IP addressing.

Kids, you are not anonymous on the Internet, because there’s this identifier called an IP address. On some networks, it positively identifies you (we assign IP reservations on our wireless network). On others, it provides a temporary identifier that can be used to track one’s network activity, the pattern of which may identify you. Our wireless network, web sites, and email system automatically track user activity in this way. I’m not even getting into browser cookies and corporate tracking of user click patterns.

When unsupervised, children may behave poorly, unaware that they could be held accountable for their actions. This is akin to the parents going away for the weekend and leaving the child at home, perhaps with the car keys! An awareness of system logs and IP addresses may encourage children to behave better. Alternately, it could encourage them to become more skilled at hiding their identity on the Internet. I like to think that behavior would improve for most students.

Can anyone point me toward an empirical study that would help me more deeply understand this psychological dynamic in children?