Monday, September 24, 2007

Tech Tip 9/24 - preventing spam

Since I have joined the 207 family I receive about 10 emails a week from staff members concerned about the amount of SPAM they receive. I would like to take a moment to explain the reasons why spam gets through, ways you can prevent it, and what we are doing to combat it.
What is SPAM?
  • A spicy canned meat...I mean - a Monty Python sketch...I mean - - Electronic SPAM - is defined as mail that is unsolicited and bulk.
  • It can come in many forms and include text, attachments, or photos
  • Up to 80% of all email sent each day is SPAM and spam involving images is on the rise. Up to 50% of all SPAM sent each day is in the form of image files. Spam as pdf's is the new trend with up to 8% of all daily SPAM as pdf files. The #1 type of SPAM is greeting card SPAM.
How do they get my email address?
The most common way is from posting it on message boards, using it to make purchases, or posting it on websites. The less often you use your school email for these purposes the less likely you are to get spam. Also, do not click on the spot in an email that says "click here to unsubscribe" this just confirms that you have an active email address and the messages can start pouring in.
How does it get through?
We use the top SPAM filter on the market, a barracuda spam filter. There are still ways to sneak by it. All spam filters sort by text. There are certain words that when are used in an email mean something to us, but are innocent to a computer. Also, spammers try to trick the spam filter. "There are millions of ways to write a word using punctuation, numbers, and other symbols. One mathematically minded blogger who looked into it found that there are 600,426,974,379,824,381,952 ways to spell Viagra" ( Pictures are not text, so they can get through easier - the same thing applies to pdfs.
What can you do to prevent it:
  • Don't post your email anywhere it isn't necessary
  • Use a personal free email account for purchases and sites like ebay. This is a list of free email providers:
  • Don't open suspicions emails and never click on a link you don't know where it is going to.
  • Be wary of online greeting cards
  • Never open an attachment from someone you don't know
  • Don't buy from spam or forward it on to others
  • Don't unsubscribe using links in a spammer's email
What is the tech staff doing to prevent it?
Our tech staff members have been attending seminars to become better at teaching our spam filter to block the spam we are getting. This is a never ending battle. Over 90% of the emails that arrive in the district is spam. For every 100 legitimate emails you receive over 900 are blocked. We are also going to be introducing a new way of listing emails on pages so that they cannot be stolen off of them.
I hope this gives you an idea of why and how spam gets through.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Two Sides of Tech

It has been an interesting few weeks. We are rolling out our new gradebook program and I have had a great chance to work 1 on 1 with a bunch of teachers of varied abilities. It is interesting how many times I am perceived as a helper and a hindrance. To be more precise - I am helping them through their hindrance. However, most teachers are very happy to work really hard at something difficult, because they care about their kids.

What has struck me strangely through this process - is how often one question has come up: "Have you ever been in the classroom?".

It usually comes up as we start discussing how the teacher grades. I get the feeling that if I say no that they will give up all hope of me bing able to help them through the sometimes difficult task of setting up the gradebook. I guess in some ways I am lucky that I can say - yes I was in a Science or Music classroom for the last 10 years.

It is weird having to say that to people. Where I am coming from I was a teacher first in the building. Because of that I rarely was accused of not understanding the classroom teachers. Sometimes my staff was - but that was never directed my way. It is strange to see it now.

Anyway - I have been going through this experience and then I stumbled upon this blog trail. Is that a term? If not I want full credit for inventing it.

Anyway follow the links to see the back and forth...

When Teachers Don't Get It: Myths, Misconceptions, and other Taradiddle

When Techies Don't Get It

The Teacher’s Technology Manifesto

My “teacher’s technology manifesto”

The Start of the School Year

Technically Instruction

From the Tech Department

I have the perspective from both of that as a teacher that pushed the envelope with technology and as a tech coordinator. I have made some of the arguments on both sides of this issue. It really concerns me that there are tech coordinators out there in the world that think that teachers are out there just trying not to get it. I also am stumped as to why there are teachers that think that the goal of technology coordinators is to make them miserable.

My professional life is now that of a Technology Director and there are many times that I feel that I am the referee in the match between those in technology and those in the classroom. I wish everyone could see the conversations that go back and forth between the "two sides".

As if there are two-sides. There should be one side - one goal.

The kids.

What do kids need?

Tools that will help them succeed and adults that will help them add those tools to their tool box and teach kids how to use those tools.

What is a tool?

Any skill that will help them do more in this life than they could have without it. (IMO anyway)

So tools could be computing skills, or writing skills, or how to tell a good joke in a social situation.

We all have something to offer and we each bring it in out own way. What one has to offer is not better than the other. Not one adult can give every kid the tools they need. Other adults (and kids) can give staff new tools they can use as well. As long as we are willing to learn from each other. To do so, please avoid the following:

Tech People: Don't assume that just because a teacher is slower at picking up technology, or has yet to see a way to integrate that skill in to the classroom they don't think at some time it will have its place.

Teacher People: Don't assume that tech people don't have skills to offer. They might just have something that can help in your classroom even though they may not have ever been in front of one.

Everyone - remember why we are here and together we can make any difficult change in our schools work - for our kids.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

TechTip 9/5 - Quintura

Good Evening,

Busy day today - so here is a short late night tip:

Here is a rather cool site that is in the ballpark of tagging, which is the theme we are on this week.

Quintura is a visual search engine. It extracts keywords from search results and builds a word cloud. By clicking words in the cloud, you refine your query.

It is really cool to see your search morph and change as you click on words. It is a great tool for visual learners. It is also helpful if you are searching "around" a topic and can't come up with the exact right term.

Check out the search for rubrics:

I am only showing you 1/2 of the screen. On the right is the listing of sites that changes as you click on terms in the cloud.

A real fun thing to search for when using quintura is pictures. The images will show on the right and also change as you maneuver through the cloud. Try it I think you will agree.

Quintura is just another search engine - but it does it visually. Kinda cool!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

TechTip 9/4 - Cool Tag Uses

I wanted to continue the theme of tagging and the possible uses. One of the neatest uses of tags is to create tag clouds. A tag cloud is a visual representation of the common words in a group of text - words that appear more frequently are larger and bolder. This text can be from any source and can be in any language.
Here is one for Act I of Romeo and Juliet (I'll show you how to do this later in this tip)

I am sure something like this could be a great discussion starter - or could be excellent in the review of a particular piece of text.

One of my favorites is a website that has taken many of the past Presidential speeches and has created clouds for each speech. It is really interesting to see what words (topics) have changed or remained over the years.

Here are other good clouds:
Flickr Photos - popular photos - popular bookmarks
Technorati - popular blogs

The coolest option is to have your students do it themselves. If you go to you can cut and paste in text or upload a document for it to analyze the text.
For my example I just found Act I from Romeo and Juliet online and then cut and paste it into tagcrowd.

Here are some ideas:
Compare and contrast similar authors and their use of grammar
Look at what words a student uses in their own writing
Use it to find common themes in a piece of text or in a group of written surveys
I'm sure there are lots of others that I haven't even brushed on...