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Wednesday
Sep122007

From the tech department

I feel like I’ve been beating up on techs a bit lately. Time for another POV.

Dear Teacher,

The Technology Department has been hearing a good deal of grumbling lately from the teaching staff regarding what it sees as overly restrictive policies regarding technology use in the district. Yes, we have limited teachers’ administrative rights to school computers. Yes, we do require one to log on to school networks. Yes, we do have an Internet filter in place. And yes, we do have a limited set of software titles that we support.

But if I might offer just a few observations:

  1. We, teachers and techs, are interdependent. There is no reason for our department if technology is not recognized as a vital tool and used by a majority of the teaching staff. Without good tech support, you will be unable to do your job as effectively as you could.  It is in both our best interests that we work together.
  2. Your individual actions can effect many people. Downloading a virus, using a high-bandwidth resource, or leaving a network open to a security breach may put everyone in the district at risk of losing data or time. Unless you unplug from the network and stay unplugged, your actions always have potential consequences for everyone – staff and students alike.
  3. Making technology reliable, adequate, and secure is my goal. The technology resources of the district, like all its resources, are finite. It is my job to see that technology resources get the most bang for the buck. Without technology that is reliable, you won’t use it – and shouldn’t be expected to. Without technology that is adequate, you won’t use it – and shouldn’t be expected to. Without technology that is secure, you won’t use it – and shouldn’t be expected to. Every policy that comes from our department is written to help insure a positive experience with technology. Believe it or not, we do prefer happy people to angry ones.
  4. There are truly bad people out there. Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware and malware can easily infect your computer. Hackers exist both outside and inside school networks. Spammers, phishers, and hucksters abound. Nothing personal, but the bulk of educators are pretty darned naïve when it comes to the very real dangers – to equipment, data and persons – of poor computer security use.
  5. Security will always mean some degree of inconvenience. Yes, it a problem and time-consuming to need a password to get into your computer, on to the network and into applications. But it’s a bother to carry a house key and remember your ATM card’s PIN number too. Seat belts, bike helmets and smoke detectors are all pains in the butt. But the consequence of not using them is worse. So too with technology security protocols.
  6. Technology is imperfect (as are technicians).  Filters overblock and underblock. Spell checkers don’t catch everything. A single misplaced digit can keep a program from running or a person from getting access to a resource. Computer problems (like car problems) can be difficult to diagnose and repair the first time.  And yes, technology is at its most unreliable when the need for it is the most urgent. There is an old tech saying,  “Computers sense fear.”
  7. You need to at least try. Give it a chance. Next time you are experiencing a computer problem, try restarting your computer before calling us.  Thank you.
  8. We standardize for a reason. OK, you like program X. I respect that. But the district has the resources to purchase, support and teach others how to use a single word processing program, just one e-mail client, and only one photo-editing program. And they may be program Z, not program X. You teach using English although there are kids in your class that would rather use Spanish, Urdu or Mandarin.
  9. Creativity doesn’t require access to everything. You can still be a creative person even if you can’t install software on your computer or change your computer background. Really. Try Photoshop, Flash, PowerPoint, or write poems with your text editor. You want to try a new program, let us know and we can make sure you aren’t getting spyware and a virus along with your new tool.
  10. It’s not your computer. I know it’s harsh, but the computer was purchased to help you fulfill the mission of the school – not for self-actualization. If you use it to shop, to play solitaire, or write Christmas letters, I will gladly turn a blind eye, but we need to maintain the machine for its intended use – to help you educate children. Sorry about that. You can buy a computer for home that shouldn't put much of a dent even in a teacher’s salary and do with it anything you wish.
Two pieces of advice:
  1. Make sure a committee made up of a wide-range of stakeholders develops technology plans, budgets and policies. If you want usable technology, give everyone, including technicians, a say in how it is used, deployed and controlled.
  2. Remember that I, too, consider myself first a child-advocate, second as an educator, and only third a tech. You might consider thinking of yourself in those terms as well.

(Teacher’s Technology Manifesto on which this is a riff.)


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Reader Comments (2)

Dear Tech Coordinator,

First let me thank you for all you do. Even though it may not always sound like it, I do know how hard working you are. May I reply to your comments:
1. It IS in our best interest to work together. As long as you treat me and my ideas with respect, I am most happy to do the same cwith you.
2. I try very hard not to put our network at risk. My computer is set to run all the virus updates regularly and I truly appreciate the warnings you send out about new and vicious viruses.
3. I totally appreciate that you have a huge job to keep everything safe and secure for our students. When making sure it is adequate for all, do you think you could look at things with a collaborative effort with staff members from each level? It is true that you have a better idea what works best with the equipment we have, but since you do not usually have education degrees/experience, you may not be the best to decide what is best for each grade level. Also, one product may not work for every grade level. High school is vastly different from elementary school.
4. I totally understand your point of view on this one. I work to educate the teachers in my building as well as the students. Not all teachers have the knowledge to really understand this. We might want to look at more teacher training though!
5. I agree!
6. Yes, security systems are not perfect. Our new one is a perfect example. But it has a great way to re-rate some websites. At the state level, the response level is within 4 hours. I can live with that. I struggle with what is being blocked at the district level. Please keep our networks safe, but don't block sites just because YOU don't think it has educational value. If it isn't dangerous or pornographic, perhaps teachers have a real reason for using it. Game sites do have value. They are great reward tools, plus games like TyperShark have great educational value.
7. This one made me laugh because I have told teachers this one 100 times myself. Good luck!
8. While I understand this one and it still doesn't always make me happy, I struggle more when it ventures into things that don't cost money. Why should it be determined that everyone has to use one blog site within the district? There is a better one for my middle-schoolers. I have shown you why it is more effective and safe. I want to work with you, but I really don't understand the issue on a free site.
9. You're right. Even though I want everything in the name of creativity, there are things I can use. Just please don't send me nasty emails when I ask. I asked nicely.
10. For the most part, I am fine with this, but really, when I am still working at 9 PM, does it really upset anything if I buy a dress for the next parent/teacher conferences? Alright, I will go home to do it. I need to get home anyway! :)

I love you advice. I have begged for committees to make these decisions. There are a number of people that have valuable suggestions to add. I am a parent in my district and I am all about kids first. Generally, my passion is borne out of my desire to have the 21st century tools for my kids.

Thanks again!

September 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSherry

Sherry,

These are wonderful and thank you for responding.

As you can tell, I hear both sides (or should I say ALL sides) of tech planning, policy-making and implementation. While I would like to believe there is a "happy medium" for most issues, I am afraid I strive for a "least unhappy medium."

Anyway, the chance of people being satisfied on either the educational or technology side of the church goes up immeasurably when conversation leads to understanding, if not agreement.

Hope you find a means to have your voice heard in your district.

All the very best,

Doug

September 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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