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IT News Thread, BECTA Technical Specification Working Group in Other News; This is going to be a long one I'm afraid folks ... a fair bit to cram into this thread ...
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    GrumbleDook's Avatar
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    BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    This is going to be a long one I'm afraid folks ... a fair bit to cram into this thread so I will break the posts down into seperate areas.

    Today was pretty much the first real get together of the Technical Specification Working Group.

    A little bit of background first.

    BECTA have the remit from the DfES for a host of things to do with technology in education. They are changing the processes they use to ensure that as many stakeholders as possible get some input into specifications they stick out. EduGeek have been invited to join in with this and I was happy to attend (and hassle Andy Gorton again ...).

    One of the key targets of BECTA is to ensure the setup and smooth running of the National Digital Infrastructure and making sure it meets the needs of its users.

    Those of you who have seen the diagram for the NDI (which can be found here) will probably have heard it called 'the frog diagram' or maybe even 'Kermit' ...

    But today started off with Paul Shoesmith giving a breakdown of the 4 areas and going through the series of steps; looking at functional specifications, procurement process, stakeholder engagement and adoption. I have outlined these below but the above link has a lot more indepth information on them.

    Connectivity Services
    Standards and Specifications.
    NEN design criteria (autumn 2004).
    Functional specs in final draft.
    Technical specification in final draft.
    Access management (authentication services) recommendations issued. Contractual arrangements.
    Super JANET 5 procurement completed.
    UKERNA to provide UK access management federation (sept 2008 … shibbohleth based?).
    ISP accreditation for ISP continues.
    Adoption.
    Peer review process under development.
    Content hosting and licensing strategy.
    Wimax feasibility.
    VoIP feasibility.

    Learning Services
    Standards and specifications.
    Functional specifications published.
    Technical specifications in draft.
    Contractual obligations.
    OJEU notice issued.
    PQQS under evaluation.
    Contract award (December 2006).
    Adoption
    RBC Roadshows.
    Discussions underway with 'early adopters'.
    Advice, guidance and support

    Data Services
    Standards and specifications.
    Functional specifications now commissioned.
    Technical specifications to follow.
    Interoperability – evaluation of options underway.
    Contractual obligations.
    Electronic Data Returns – MoU between suppliers and DfES in advanced draft.
    Consultation underway on contractual obligations.
    Adoption.
    Review of support arrangements (in consultation).
    Interoperability, proof of concept.
    Workshops with potential ‘early adopters’

    Infrastructure Service
    Standards and specification.
    Functional specifications published (Summer 2005)
    Technical specifications published (Autumn 2005)
    Review commencing May 2006.
    FITS published.
    Contractual obligations.
    OJEU notice issued.
    PQQ evaluation complete.
    ITT issued and tenders received.
    Contract awarded (July 2006)
    Adoption.
    Workshops being held with 'early adopters'.
    Support on KS3 online ICT test.
    FITS development programs.
    Advice, guidance and support.

    This is really to give you some idea of what stage the various sections of the NDI are at right now ... (please note thet the above information was taken down very quickly and one or two dates may be out)

    Then we got stuck into the meat of the session ... the functional and technical specifications of the infrastructure service.

    These are attached as pdf files but are also available on request as .doc or .odt
    Attached Files Attached Files

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    GrumbleDook's Avatar
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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Next followed Andy Gorton to actually discuss the above documents ...

    By jove, his presentation was fast and furious, and so my notes are a little juddery here ...

    The crux of the matter is that there are 2 specifications ... the Functional Specification tells us about what schools shall, should or may do ... this is really as non-technical as they could be as it is aimed at the leadership in a school or LA.

    The Technical Specification breaks down the technical requirements to meet the Functional Specification to a greater or lesser degree ... this is for the industry partners, and techies at LAs or schools.

    They are NOT to be treated as seperate documents ... they are a pair. There will be 2 additional documents, the supplementary advice to schools wishing to implement areas of the functional specification ... and the institutional infrastructure matrix tool. These 4 should give all parties a full rounding of the standards for infrastructures.

    At this point it is worth mentioning a much repeated theme throughout the day. These specifications are not about standards that are common and compatible ... not about telling people what to do. They are a base line to ensure all schools have an even playing field to start with.

    The language in the documents are based around shall (must be met), should (highly recommended) and may (wouldn't it be nice if you could do this too?).

    BECTA want people to view the documents, discuss them ... point out areas that are missing or need expanding ... look at areas that people think really could do with being 'shall' rather than 'should'.

    The specifications are NOT shopping lists, nor do they replace commercial functional specifications that may be around.

    There are some things that are out of the scope of these specifications ... things that are already covered or are part of other areas / working groups.
    Data management
    Technologies are not explicitly mentioned
    Curriculum specific areas
    Curriculum software
    Please be aware the FITS is a pre-requisite of each specification.

    The specifications apply to both primary and secondary (including BSF), and there is a bias towards central support systems ... in fact almost managed support but I will discuss this in the next section.

    After a run through of certain aspects of the specifications (primarily the technical specification) we had a chat about the way forward ....

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    The way forward consisted of talking about what the working group can do ... what can be discussed and the proccesses involved.

    BECTA are moving (actually they pretty much have moved) away from the process of; write the specifications, internal review, external review (8 weeks with limited audience) and then publish.

    They now prefer consultation with stakeholders (ie working groups), write specifications, internal review, external review (maybe still the 8 weeks), consultation with stakeholders (to see about what recommendations have been made to change things), rewrite, internal review, extarnal review (if needed) and then publish.

    Yes ... it takes longer but it means it is actually based on what people both need and want.

    Another repeat theme came back at this point ... all specifications are learner / educator specific. We are there for the students ... not to line our pockets or pay our bills ... whatever gets done in schools has to have an impact on the learner.

    Then Andy briefly spoke about the adoption ... and it was raised that the adoption process is hampered by poor communication from BECTA to schools, partly due to LAs not passing on information or by LAs setting the wrong agenda (Moodle in Leics was used as an example for this ... well, someone had to get it in!)

    Andy Gorton repeated that this is a base line ... not a definitive 'you can only do this' document.

    We then broke out into 3 groups to discuss the following questions.
    Q1 – what are your views on the specifications presented
    Q2 – in additional to those areas presented for the future consideration are there other areas that need consideration?
    Q3 – Are the current specifiactions suitable for both primary and secondary
    Q4 – Will Quickplace suffice or do we needregular meetings
    Q5 – What can Becta do to support you in their use?

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Ok ... final section now.

    Back to the questions. For some reason I ended up in a group which was primarily stocked with industry partners (Cisco, suppliers, etc). It was quite a lot of fun being the educationalist for a change.

    Q1 – what are your views on the specifications presented

    General consensus was that a lot of hard work had gone in and that they were a good start. Certain areas need to be reviewed but most appeared to be happy to be given the chance to look at things. It was raised that there might even be a case of raising the bar in certain areas ... eg although 100 meg to the desk is the minumum (shall) and Gigabit was recommended (should), perhaps gigabit should be the minimum ... this was very contentious and was actually raised in all 3 groups, splitting most of them. So perhaps BECTA have got the balance right on this ...

    Q2 – in additional to those areas presented for the future consideration are there other areas that need consideration?

    There are several areas that are very short and threadbare at the moment. More work needs to be done on areas like VoIP, PoE and ensuring commonality of management interfaces (so there is some tracking / linking between different areas ... eg server management and security and MIS management and security to name one of several examples)

    Q3 – Are the current specifiactions suitable for both primary and secondary

    The specifications should be a minimum and instead of looking at primary / secondary perhaps BECTA should look more at the size of an institute ... after all a small middle school may not have the same requirements that a large secondary / HE college might.

    Q4 – Will Quickplace suffice or do we need regular meetings

    Quickplace is the new online environment for discussion and collaboration for working parties. The idea of a collaborative area was well recieved but people do still prefer face to face discussions. Webcasts of meetings were suggested so people can look back and review ideas and regional meetings might be better than breaking the specifications down into smaller parts. The only concern with this is joingin everything up ... but that was also raised as a concern due to the number of other working parties (looking at the 3 other areas of the NDI as well as other things) that go on ... is someone actually making sure work is linked properly and not repeated? Are thoses areas of cross-over well documentd and published?

    Q5 – What can Becta do to support you in their use?

    Get the information out to people ... ensure that all stakeholders are involved and that things like LAs "telling" schools they have to do things a certain way is stopped. Also to make room in the specifications for innovation and to ensure that a drive to centralised services does not wipe out the good practice of schools across the country.

    [hr]

    There you have it ... the first meeting (although other meetings have taken place under the guise of industry partners, LAs, RBCs, etc).

    I had a good, long chat with Paul Shoesmith (Assistant Director of Technical Policy and Standards) about a number of things over lunch. He is keen for EduGeek members to feedback on the specifications ... including those lurkers and occasional posters.

    We spoke about developments with EduGeek and technical support in schools in general (based around the drive towards central support, BSF, reliance on LAs / RBCs, etc)

    One thing I would like to point people to is that BECTA have made a number of changes on their website. The search engine is now powered by a Google APIs (see ... they really do use Google now) and it should be easier to find things.

    Becta website has been developed around 5 areas.
    www.becta.org.uk
    schools.becta.org.uk
    industry.becta.org.uk
    partners.becta.org.uk
    learningandskills.becta.org.uk

    It is worth exploring.

    If you have taken the time to read through this whole thread then thank you ... I would strongly recommend people read through the specifications and comment on them, either here or directly via PM.

    Please remember that BECTA do lurk here (I really should have asked how many of them are members) and you never know ... we may get direct answers ... either way you can be sure they will get your views.

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Wow, quite a lot to wade through...

    I'd say that enforcing the use of FITS is likely to be very unpopular with some schools - look at how many(few) have fully implemented it so far and it's been around quite a while now. Some schools won't be willing to hire an extra helpdesk employee, which would cripple the school's FITS implementation somewhat.

    I couldn't work out what shall/should/may-status this sentence had: "In most cases, institutions will want to offer parents access to their child’s work [...]", but it looks an awful lot like I'm going to be supporting another 2,500-3,000 users (schools have more parents than pupils) and their password changes. There are umpteen different ways that could be approached, but it's not a small task however you do it.

    "Many ‘smart cards’/ID cards also allow for electronic registration, helping to keep track of learners" is daydream stuff. If learners don't want to be tracked, their friend will carry the card around and the system/teachers will be none the wiser. There are other benefits to them (as mentioned in the doc) and we use them here, but not for registration.

    "This requirement implies that an institution needs to strive for a service that can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that maintenance will be kept to a minimum and not scheduled to take place in the institution’s normal working hours." - how do they define normal working hours? Until end of lessons? Until end of clubs? Until support staff go home? Who is carrying out the maintenance if they've gone home? I try to keep maintenance after school and because I'm a kindly soul I work late (gratis) doing service packs on servers and the like. If they're telling me I "shall" do that, I shall need paying for it!

    I'll read the 69 page techspec when I've got a couple of weeks free!

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    I have just scanned through it and for small rural primary schools some of it with its "you must" type statements are not feasable! When schools have 8 year old PCs that need replacing and they get 9 to replace them, then need a bigger network hub/switch, I cannot see the point, or fancy informing the Head / Governors that oh yeah, the £40 16 port switch I used to recomend is no good under BECTA specs, you must have this £390 16 port Netgear L3 QOS Certified Switch with Fibre option upgrades etc.... So it is just not going to work in small schools, I think its clearly aimed at Secondary schools and very large primarys. Please BECTA go back to the drawing board and think of small rural schools with under 100 pupils.

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    I Agree with John, I work for a LA and I directly manage all the PRU's and Medical Units. These are no bigger than the average primary school. there will be no way i can have fantastic managed switches, there isn't a requirement for it. At present I use 3Com Baseline switches these perform just as well as the 3Com 4400 that I used in Big High Schools. perhaps a banded table ie 10-30 pupils spec A, 30 - 100 spec B etc, etc. Yes I can see the need to spec stuff but in has to be graded to meet the schools provision.

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Quote Originally Posted by sahmeepee

    I couldn't work out what shall/should/may-status this sentence had: "In most cases, institutions will want to offer parents access to their child’s work [...]", but it looks an awful lot like I'm going to be supporting another 2,500-3,000 users (schools have more parents than pupils) and their password changes. There are umpteen different ways that could be approached, but it's not a small task however you do it.

    That will come over time as it will be required as part of home link stuff but that will come when mis systems catch up.

    [quote]

    "This requirement implies that an institution needs to strive for a service that can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that maintenance will be kept to a minimum and not scheduled to take place in the institution’s normal working hours." - how do they define normal working hours? Until end of lessons? Until end of clubs? Until support staff go home? Who is carrying out the maintenance if they've gone home? I try to keep maintenance after school and because I'm a kindly soul I work late (gratis) doing service packs on servers and the like. If they're telling me I "shall" do that, I shall need paying for it!
    [/qutoe]


    Again dfes will wont 24 service soon aka students can login from home to there files, vle logins etc etc

    Out of hours depends on the school thats for your school to decide and yes you will need to be paid for it or time off in leu for it..

    Russell

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Am I right in reading the bits about open document standards, seems they are saying MS is NOT an option [as s/w SHALL [:P] save in opd format??

    And if so should I keep quiet about it?!

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    sahmeepee's Avatar
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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Looks to me like they've sidestepped it by allowing HTML as an export option for powerpoint. Notice as well that it says your software has to be capable of saving in open formats, not that you should necessarily use that capability.

    The current wording allows for the MS Office, .doc, .ppt etc. status quo.

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    But MS saves in it's own proprietary open format as I understand it, at this point in time - not open standard. It OPENS .odf fine.

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    The ODF Alliance has a Office addon that'll allow MS Office to use ODF natively.

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Quote Originally Posted by mark
    But MS saves in it's own proprietary open format as I understand it, at this point in time - not open standard.
    By default, not exclusively! (file>save as>pick your open format!) You might be able to argue that the html office makes isn't real html, but I doubt you'd get far.

    Word:
    Text documents:

    Plain text as (.txt) files
    or Plain/Formatted text as Rich Text Format (.rtf) files
    CHECK!

    Excel:
    Spreadsheet documents:

    Comma Separated Variable (.csv) format
    CHECK!

    Access:
    Database documents:

    Comma Separated Variable (.csv) format
    (yuck!)
    CHECK!

    Powerpoint:
    Presentation files:

    Hypertext documents (.html) files
    CHECK! (just about)

    Note that the wording is:

    "shall provide the functionality to create, edit, save and print [...] files"

    Provide the functionality, not necessarily as default. This has obviously been done this way to satisfy Microsoft - nobody in their right mind would try to save a database of any complexity as a csv would they?

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    If they're going to keep doing things like this just to please the monopoly then we aren't going to get very far :cry: I wouldn't be surprised if MS gave them a sizeable "donation" of sorts

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    Re: BECTA Technical Specification Working Group

    Thanks for the information Tony. I'll have a read of the documents over the weekend and may/may not comment. I am wary of "you need to implement FITS first", because I'm having a rough enough time convincing people that problem-management processes are actually *worth* looking at let alone asking them to hire a service-desk bod!

    Paul

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