Inside The Sweeps
Nick Levey joins us from the UK to discuss the emerging trends in safeguarding technology space, topics like march to the cloud. I also get to pick his brain about topics such as the need for schools to use technology to improve student mental health in times of increasing uncertainty and added pressures of at-home working.
Host: Umair Ahmed (Product Marketing Specialist)
Guest: Nick Levey (UK Education Division Manager)
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[00:02:47] That is to say, there were people who had e-learning and at home learning systems already set up and were able to transition relatively easy. But those places were few and far between. And really a lot of people’s processes for education just hadn’t been designed around the idea that a teacher would not be in a classroom of a student, nor particularly should they have been with UK education budgets being what they are right now. Plenty of people would have argued for in a pre-2020 world it might have been quite irresponsible to spend tens of thousands of pounds on systems to do at home learning when students for the most part were in classrooms.
The pandemic came and it completely changed how education has to be delivered and it completely changed it overnight. Schools are now dealing with a whole bunch of complexity drama. It goes from the simple stuff. How do I deliver a lesson? What if we do have that technology? These are things that people just never considered because it never happened before, and no one ever really thought it would. It’s changed literally everything overnight.
Now we at Netsweeper perform a vital part of our infrastructure because if you’re trying to deliver safe lesson planning, well part of it has to be: can we keep children on task? If we’re supplying laptops out for students for lesson plans, how do we make sure that they’re only being used for educational materials? How do we make sure they’re not being used for cyber bullying? How do we make sure they’re not being used for sexual or racial harassment? For example, how do we make sure that the children using those who may be in some cases 9, 10, 11 years old, are being protected from all the things that are online when we are requiring them to be online, simply to be educated?
[00:05:09] So Netsweeper performs a big part of our infrastructure. However, we don’t follow all of that infrastructure. There are probably 10 or 15 technologies right now of which web filtering is one that you could say is very much of the zeitgeist. Right now, people are looking into what happened to change and make adoptions. It’s interesting, but it’s firefighting really.
People are responding to a current demand which has been placed on them by an external factor. And we’re going to have to deal with that demand, because the bottom line is, we don’t know if there’s going to be a second wave. We don’t know if there’s going to be a third wave or a fourth wave. We don’t know when there’s going to be a vaccine or if there’s going to be a vaccine. All we particularly know is that at least for the next half a decade, the way we educate our young people has to change and we have to have flexibility built into the system. Right here in the UK, any one of four national governments tomorrow could close every school within a particular region, but that would only close the school building. It wouldn’t discharge the responsibility of educators to educate children. So, the people who run these educational establishments and the senior leadership need to be making adaptions to the way that they plan for the future. And they have to be making those plans with uncertainty in mind, because we do not know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I promise that’s all they uncovered.
[00:06:56] You know, people are going to realize that you can deliver, especially at a more senior level, you can deliver world class lessons and education using technology that people had never previously utilized before and technology if it existed. Google classroom isn’t new, and Teams isn’t either. They can utilize these technologies to do the things we’ve always done but better. And that’s going to be a really interesting conversation even when we have a vaccine and God willing, we’ve seen the back of COVID. What do we do now? What is different? Because the world has changed. It’s just no one knows how it’s changed yet. So, I think that would be the first point to discuss.
We then have a whole bunch of what you might call longer term trends. So, things have been bubbling on the surface and things have been requiring change from within schools and school systems over a number years now. Look at things like the rise of the digital natives. Digital natives are a group of people who, broadly speaking, were brought up in the time that the Internet existed.
[00:08:10] So people who were brought up sort of year 2000 onwards and these group of individuals, their primary conversation strategies, their primary support mechanisms, their primary learning mechanisms are all digitally enabled.
[00:08:26] These people, when they want to speak to their friends, they don’t send text messages, they don’t some phone calls. They use messenger or they use TikTok or they use Snapchat. When they want to learn, they are looking at Wikipedia and they are working via online learning resources by using modules. They’re not using books anymore. They’re not even particularly using laptops anymore because a lot of these people don’t own laptops. A lot of these people own iPads and tablets, something of that nature. So we have a fundamental problem in UK education that when we want to support our students, whether that’s in a pastoral sense or whether that’s in a learning sense, we have a generation of young people who communicate fundamentally differently to the people who are trying to educate them. The people who are trying to educate them are going to have to adapt to that. And we’re going to have to adapt communication strategies that fit how an incredibly talented generation of young people speak. That’s going to include new technology. That’s going to include how do we lesson plans to encompass these new technologies of the digital world. My generation of students were probably the last generation for whom if we wanted to know something, we couldn’t just Google the answer. Is there much of a point going for rigid factual learning of things when anyone with an iPhone can find that in less than three seconds? Educators are now trying to build strategies not for what we teach people, but how people find information and how people interpret that information and how we assess the validity of competing claims.
If we’re trying to support people, it’s not about name calling in playgrounds anymore. It’s about online trolling. It’s about people leaving comments on TikTok. How are we dealing with that? If we have problems, for example, can we use in school machines, remove the ability to leave Facebook comments because we know bullying and harassment is happening on there. Can we try and protect our students and our staff from some of the some of the worst excesses that happen on those platforms. Then sort of hand-in-hand with the point about the rise of a digital natives is the rise of mental health problems in the UK.
About one in four people every year will now suffer from a mental health condition if you go to Scotland.
[00:11:19] Nine hundred and two thousand people were prescribed anti-depressants last year alone. Scotland has a population of about 5.2 million. It is about 16 percent of the country who are prescribed antidepressants every year and there’s a whole lot of people in the scientific sphere who think how we relate to technologies plays a huge impact on our mental health. It shouldn’t surprise anyone. But people who are trolled on Facebook end up with mental health problems and people whose relationship with social media is poor end up with mental health problems. We as people involved in educational technology will play a huge role in mitigating that impact. The technology sphere over the last 20 years has worked to interconnect everyone and to allow anyone to say anything at any time. And that has real positive sides. But it also has negative sides. We know young people interacting with social media get hits of dopamine.
[00:12:58] But when you link those two things — the rise of a digital native and the rise of mental health problems in the UK, that’s a real problem for schools because these are young people who are growing up in environments for most educators, didn’t grow up in that same environment. You’ve now got some of the next generation who were, but we don’t massively understand it. This isn’t how we were brought up.
[00:13:22] This isn’t how we communicate. This technology didn’t exist. We don’t understand the mechanisms and we don’t understand the pathways. And we’re all being asked to adapt and we’re going to have to adapt. And 90 percent of the way that we’re going to have to adapt is via technology, because technology creates half the problems and technology must fix them too. So you’re going to need technical solutions to a technical problem and that cross borders pretty much everything else you can do with going to school, you’re going to have to build strategies but represent these facts and help people cope in a completely new type of environment.
[00:14:05] Cloud infrastructure barely existed in 2010. A little bit maybe, but not everything from your telephones to storage. If you want to make a phone call into a school now, it’s probably going through a VoIP system. It’s online. Many people don’t have physical phone lines anymore. When a student wants to upload his or her homework, it probably goes into a cloud system, something like that. Web filtering now frequently is in the cloud for firewall and is in the cloud for all these services. But we have to deliver. People aren’t putting physical things in a school anymore. People are doing it in the cloud, and it works better that way. And this is a very good change that’s happening in the marketplace. But I guarantee you, it isn’t stopping. This will happen for the next 10 years.
[00:15:01] The annexation of traditional services onto cloud will probably be near complete. It will probably be over. Anything that you can take in the cloud, you will. And that’s going to be a big one as opposed to the last one is for widening role of educational establishments.
[00:15:15] So specifically here in the UK, we have seen legislation come in that has effectively widened the area of control of schools into what you may consider more traditionally the domain of the parents and the domain of society. So, we have things like Keeping Children Safe in Education. We have things like the Prevent Guidance. Educators and educational establishments are not just meant to teach our children their ABCs. They are meant to keep them safe, to bring to them into well-rounded human beings, they’re meant to provide care and support to young people and to provide early detection to society. There is a debate in the UK about whether or not that’s a particularly good thing that that’s happened. But it is what it is, and it does exist. These responsibilities are there, and schools, and educational groupings such as Multi Academy Trust and Councils, they’re going to have to adapt. The world exists as it is and we’re going to have to find technological solutions for that. Again, when we taught people to be teachers and when we taught people to be head teachers, none of these things existed. So, we didn’t necessarily teach them how to do these things. We need to find technological advances that are going to aid them in those roles if we expect them to do that.
[00:17:15] You have to have to have a digital strategy to engage that. So, I’m going to assume I’m a little bit older than you. So, when I used to submit my homework in school, it used to be on a three-and-a-half-inch floppy disk. I’ll be handing the day back in the day. But if you hadn’t done your homework and you used to use a fridge magnet and you’d put it on the magnetic strip, and when you put the three and a half inch up into a machine, it wouldn’t load. And the problem was the teacher didn’t know because they didn’t know why a floppy disk failed so you used to get away with it. The same thing happens now because the 17 year olds who sat in my classroom were brought up with this technology and the people in their 40s and 50s teaching them were not necessarily. There are tricks and there are loopholes that they can exploit and that’s absolutely no shame on the educators. You can’t blame people for not understanding the technology that was made 50 years after your birth and you’ve never really interacted with. But schools do need to have strategies in place. The one on homework is a cheeky one, it’s an anecdote, but some of these have real implications. What if someone is able to slip VoIP on a safeguarding system, for example, what if a digital young person is allowed to find gaps that exist within an inferior web filtering or monitoring system? If you find those gaps, what happens? Whose responsibility is it if then something bad happens? Because legally it’s the school’s responsibility. You know, there’s a real balance to be struck here.
[00:19:26] Netsweeper is a cloud native technology, it was designed in the cloud for use in the cloud. Now what that tends to mean is when we talk about cloud technologies, what a lot of people do is take existing technologies and put them on someone else’s servers, and we call that the cloud. Now in the strictest sense of the word, that is the cloud. However, the technology was never really designed to use the cloud, and therefore the technology doesn’t perform notably better than onsite equipment. That’s pretty common in the web filtering and security industry. Netsweeper is a cloud native technology. It has always been designed to work this way. You can tell from its architecture, Netsweeper is vastly different. What it does is it relies on in the cloud categorization and it allows for incredibly fast and incredibly accurate results to be produced from a web filtering viewpoint across huge amounts of categories. So, a number of competitive products will do dynamic content analysis for example but will only do on a certain number of categories. Netsweeper does on everything we do. The proof of us is in the pudding. If you look at some of our educational accounts in the UK, you’re getting multiple thousands of schools for a single cloud platform. That scalability is more or less unrivaled in this industry. It’s definitely unrivaled if you’re talking about people who can do advanced web filtering technologies. So that’s something to be considered. And the other thing you have there is when we talk about scalability, we’ve got to talk about things like performance. So, if you go to some of our customers, it won’t be uncommon to have 100000 users, maybe more, going through a web filtering platform at any one time.
[00:21:25] And even if you can support the throughput, what happens then when a teacher comes to the service desk and says, I have concerns that something bad was happening at 11 o’clock last Tuesday, I need you to pull up those reports? It’s not uncommon for competitors of ours for that report to take a week or two weeks.
How do you how do you respond to that as an educator and as a pastoral staff member? Netsweeper doesn’t have any of those inherent problems. When we talk about scalability, it’s talking about talking about the actual throughput. How much can we get through it? Can we cope with a 50 GB network? Can we cope with 100 GB network because internet lines are only getting faster? They’re not going to get slower. They never will. So, can we deal with all that? And then can we deal with actually delivering the service and the service in a meaningful way at that level? Because if we can filter but we can’t before report, it’s useless. You are doing half of what you need to do.