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Sunday
Mar142010

The changing role of tech support

When the platform changes, the leaders change. - Seth Godin

Can technology workers be as reactionary as others in education?

Most of us, I believe, have the reputation for doing our best to push the envelope, to create change, to foment revolution in our schools. Ot at least reading educational technology writers and listening to popular speakers at technology conferences would certainly lead one to that conclusion.

But at heart, might we be actually deeply reluctant to change as well?

I get this feeling most strongly when I hear about technology departments raising barriers rather than creating possibilities about new resources -  especially when the objections seem rather spurious (security of GoogleApps, bandwidth for YouTube, predators on Facebook, licensing of Skype, etc.). Are the concerns real or just because the way of doing something is different?

Why, I suppose, should tech support people be any happier about new directions that may significantly change their jobs, their skills, their power, their usefulness than anyone else? What happens:

  • When individual workstations can maintained by restoring a common, simple image since settings and individual files will all be store online?
  • When security and backup becomes the responsibility of an application server provider not the district?
  • When voice and video become as (or more) important than data flowing through the networks?
  • When our filters can be easily bypassed or students get Internet access using their own accounts, not the school's?
  • When network reliability, adequacy and security become mission-critical for all staff and students?

I rather doubt the need for tech staff will decrease in the immediate future. It seems that just as the need for some tasks diminish, new tasks crop up. But some jobs will increase in value while others decrease. Anyone wish to suggest some job security strategies for techs?

I don't think blocking progress is one of them.

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Reader Comments (14)

Job security and progress in technology go hand-in-hand. If you want to stay relevant you need to be pushing the envelope constantly - trying new things and teaching other people about these new things. If we try to cling to old models/ideas, you'll be outsourced. There are plenty of technology companies that would be happy to manage things in a standardized way for a fraction of the cost of a full-time support person.

Personally, I see this all too often from our own staff - people who don't want to go wireless because of the boogey monsters that lurk in non-district computers, others who want to marry us to one operating system over another because a grading system we might not have next year "works better" with it. Insanity!

It isn't 2002 anymore...things are changing faster than we can replace workstations, we need to continually update our knowledge and skills every day. We need to be innovative and visible or we'll be replaced by some cheaper option.

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNathan

And this indeed is what it boils down too--job security. Sigh. Shh, used my proxy to get to this.

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

The day is here. When network reliability, adequacy and security become mission-critical for all staff and students. We have reached the point where, oh my gosh, the Internet is down means a mad scramble and what the heck am I going to do now. :)

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim McGuire

HI Nathan,

Yup, if it can be done by following a receipe, I am guessing the work will be outsourced or automated - even in tech!

Thanks for you comment,

Doug

Well, Cathy JO, let's call it "perceived" job security.

Doug

HI JIm,

I agree - and in how many schools is this job still left in the hands of those without the skills to keep things up and running? Seems we either pay competitive salaries with business or we outsource much of this. Pluses and minuses to both approaches, of course.

Doug

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

We make sure here that tech has plenty to do. For instance, staff computers won't automatically update for Daylight Savings Time and they don't have authority to change their own clock (think what that may lead to- controlling the clock?). So tech has to change the computer clocks 1 by 1. Then the server at another district school died once again and it will take a month to get everything back. And then every time there's an upgrade to the grading system, teachers can't get to the gradebooks. Then of course the firewall blocks everything else...

Busy busy "blocking progress."

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob

Hi Bob,

I've heard tech departments given the name "Prevention of Education Department." To be fair, though, my guess is that many IT dept are understaffed and undertrained. I find it hard to believe anyone wants to purposely be regarded as obstructionist. But I may be wrong.

Doug

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

What happens when,
-students continue to show up with cellular/wide area broadband devices like phones, 3G capable iPads, 3G capable netbooks, etc? What is the relevance of the school network and those who manage it at that point?
-there is even less of a need for LAN storage than there is now. Files that are small may be stored on dropbox, google docs, zoho, etc and accessible from any web enabled device. Large files like video continue to get larger (especially with HD capable camcorders) and are best saved on the local computer hard disk.

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermatt montagne

Hi Matt,

I predict we will see more students AND teachers bypass our networks all together, especially if we over block. Local file storage seems increasingly unnecessary as well, I'd agree.

Thanks for the note,

Doug

March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Basic rule of technology: control = stability. The key with control is balance. In today's arena there is no reason why you should not be able to maintain control while giving staff and students access to everything they need. If you are going to allow all your users to have admin access you need to get a clue about security as you have none (if you don't believe me invest some dollars and take a SANS course so you have a clue before you engage your fingers or mouth). Better yet give me 1 hour on your network with an admin level account and I will prove it to you. That being said this age old battle between tech departments and staff/students is going to go away in near future as Internet access is king/queen. Soon devices will simply be a gateway to the net with nothing stored locally. Again we are back to control of the infrastructure which is what school district technology departments provide. Beyond this and CIPA who cares what is accessed by staff and students, that is not a school technology department role.

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTekJournal

Maybe you should change your signature for this blog to "Leaving yourself confused at a higher level since 2006".
I find your article to be chocked full of utopian beliefs, contradictory statements and a truly mistaken impression of what tech support is at other schools. You want to make people believe that security falls in line behind teacher wants, along with full control of all by all and believe that they can have a stable and secure environment. Well this is wrong on so many levels, where would one begin with explaining this to you. I believe that poster "tek journal" was right, you may be in dire need of a class to maybe give you some understanding of what tech departments should be in control of, because at this time you seem to have no clue.

If you were to put a prelude to your post that stated "If I lived in a utopian society, I would purport the following", then I might take your post tongue and cheek (as I hope you meant it). As long as there are underfunded mandates, underfunded/understaffed tech departments, federal/state regulations for data privacy, "wolves" at your door trying their best to glean any data they can from your recourses (remember, YOU are in charge of protecting your company's private and confidential data. It is hard to fathom the many ways that schools violate best practices for security, federal/state rules and regulations on a daily basis all in the name of "it's better and easier for teachers",. Give any good hacker any time in your buildings on your computers and you will see the troubles your cavalier attitude will cause.

It is always so simple from a non-technical (which I have to assume you are after your post) integration staff to explain away teacher non-performance on some ill-conceived notion. Well I couldn't do this because of this; I couldn't do this, because of that. Those that are true innovators, integrators and leaders in their fields are never derailed from performing to the best of their abilities by some minor inconveniences put in for the sake of security and stability. They understand both sides of the issue and move forward. But your post just seems to lend credence and provide the crutch necessary for teachers to still ignore and put aside what is good for students and education.

As far as talking about "tech support" "raising barriers"; maybe some, but I do believe they are in the minority these days. The concern for security and stability is justified -----IT IS THEIR JOB!!! For you to make such generalizations about a group of people in an industry you are supposedly part of is both dismissive and ineffective achieving the real goal, That being, a secure and stabile environment in which both teacher and student can achieve to the best of their abilities. You seem to want to lay blame needlessly at the feet of tech support. Please do the rest of us (leaders of our districts) a favor, take some classes, and gain the education necessary to lead a district in professional and secure manner. Then come back and start blogging again.

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe wolf at your door

Mr. Montage, a question for you??

Your statement; "What happens when,
-students continue to show up with cellular/wide area broadband devices like phones, 3G capable iPads, 3G capable netbooks, etc? What is the relevance of the school network and those who manage it at that point?"

Do you want to fully ignore the large segment of your student/parent population that can not afford to feed their families, let alone provide their kids with 3G devices. I still believe it is still a requirement of all school districts to provide equitable access and education to all of its students. Not just the ones that can afford it. So to say that this is the direction of education seems to be an ill-concieved notion. Until the constituants of a district and the federal/state governments are ready to fully fund such an initiative, the role of tech departments in a school district will still exist, they aren't going anywhere, because your dream world is not coming true any time soon.

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe wolf at your door

Sorry about the grammer in the last post. It seems the longer intervals I have in conversing with my teenage kids, the less likely it is for me to type a coherent sentence.

March 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe wolf at your door

Doug, based on what I've seen you do and heard you do and talked with you about (I met you a number of years ago for some tech discussions with a small group), I walked away from reading this post with some disbelief that you would feel that "Techs" are responsible for blocking progress in schools. Being a "Tech" in schools for the past 13 years, and talking and working with other school "Techs" I haven't run across any that feel they are blocking progress, or try to. You and I both know how much of a balance is played in school technology - finding the proper common ground between security and convienience. If a "Tech" can be blamed for anything, it might be that a "Techs" view of where that balance is located is probably going to be different from a teacher's view. It's a matter of perspective. Even so, most of the factors that make up what the school "Techs" have to do in order to perform their jobs have little to do with what that "Techs" opinion might be. Much of what seems to be a "Tech" issue really might be more of a societal one (filters and district policy that comes about for the AUP for example), or a money one (some schools have infrastructure in place to allow some things to be done more efficiently, while others haven't been able to do so, or certain software can't be purchased, etc). Money also plays a big role in what you mentioned about training/competencies. Would I like to see ourTech staff to get all sorts of certifications? You bet! Can we afford that? No way. Besides, if you could do that and have a tech trained the way you'd like them to be, you can't afford to pay them what they now find out they're worth, and they leave! Would I like to train the teachers more regularly? You bet! Can the school afford to do it? No! Dollars really become a limiting factor that "Techs" have to work under, and sometimes it looks like "Tech" is to blame (because it's easy to point that finger) when there are far too many other circumstances out there that play into something that looks like "Tech" is blocking progress.

That being said, every "Tech" I know and have discussions with are constantly dealing with changes. New this, new that. New things all the time. We are constantly evolving and changing. It's in the very nature of what we do. We perhaps wish for the equivalent of what Mr. Incredible pines for in the opening of that Pixar movie, when he wishes that the "world would just stay saved!" Instead, we wish sometimes that the world would, "just stay the same!" for just a little while so we had a moment to catch up! But we know that's not the case. New tools are coming out all of the time. We want our teachers to use tools that work for them, but we have to keep that balance of security/convienience because that's what we're expected to do. Heck, would I like to just hand out computers to everyone and say, "Here you go! Do what you wish!" You bet! But because of testing requirements, eRate and CIPA, and all the other things that we're responsible for, that's just not possible.

Are some of those technologies/scenarios coming that are mentioned? Some are already here. We've already had to start adapting and changing and begin rethinking how best to keep that security/convienience balance in place. How best to give our teachers access to all these wonderful tools, yet also make sure that their computers will work when they want them to, and that the software won't cause an issue. Some issues may seem spurious. But behind that are some legitamate reasons for it, because we have to find that balance, or we still have to learn about something that we haven't encountered yet. You can't tell me that there aren't legitimate concerns about online safety when there's still stings taking place in our backyards that are catching online predators. Does that mean Facebook gets blocked? That's a question for the district and the community, not the techs. So why are they blamed? The Skype example is a perfect example of Techs keeping up, or maybe understanding more about a piece of software or a tool than meets the eye. Is Skype free? Yep...well...as long as you don't want to do certain things. What's being asked? What did the teachers want to do? Forward text to their cell phone? Sorry, Skype isn't free anymore if you want to do that. GoogleApps security can and should be questioned, especially with recent events when Google admitted to hacks on their systems. Techs know that it probably doesn't effect Google Apps, but can we say with absolute conviction to our SpEd staffs that they can safely save and work on their documents that way? Many had a hard time with SpEd forms and believing that would be secure. So there is some legitimacy to questioning that. And what about bandwidth for YouTube? Here's the money issue. Unlimited bandwidth? Go ahead stream all the video you want! But what if you have limits, and what if you're hitting those limits and a school can't afford more bandwidth? "Knock it off" becomes a legitimate response so that the lesson plans that need that bandwidth can take place without problems. So, what seems like "just an excuse" might be...but it might not be, and probably isn't until some changes are made.

Will technologies eventually replace what some of us do? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I hope schools and teachers will continue to see big value in having good tech people in-house, but I was saying 13 years ago that we might actually be working to put ourselves out of a job! But there will always be a "Tech" somewhere to make things work, either outsourced or in the building for any of those scenarios. And that's my point behind why calling "Techs" on the carpet seems to be a really big over-generalization, and what makes this whole thought very ironic. We're in schools to begin with to help make things work!. We're often the ones who got the Technology-Tool-Use ball rolling to begin with (which you alluded to at the beginning of this posting)! We want our teachers to do great things and our students to do great things, but it's also our job to keep things running. Sometimes that slows down progress a bit, but it isn't some intentional or devious desire to keep the Tech to ourselves. It's us making sure that this new tool will play nice with what we already have in place.

And - in response to some of the postings here - problems with technology don't mean that "Tech" is trying to block progress. They may need help fixing something, yes, but my goodness, lets not take some frustrations with tech-related issues and turn it into some over-generalized statement that "techs" are purposely trying to block progress. Nor is it a "job security" issue. To insinuate that "techs" do things just to keep their jobs is poor judgement, at best. We've got plenty enough to do than create new issues for ourselves! Techs that do that must be few and far between, because I've never met one. And I've met a lot of them. Stories are just that - stories - until more can be learned about why they were told in the first place.

I'd like to respond to the "What If" question scenarios, and I'll do that in separate posts. Those are good mind exercises to be sure.

But, please, let's be a little careful of what we start blaming "Techs" for. There are far bigger reasons for why Technology Progress - and progress in general - gets inhibited, and "Techs" are not a big slice of that pie chart. Lets stay professional, keep the communication lines open and and walk in other's shoes a bit. That'll help us get past whatever barriers are in the way. We're here to help however we can.

March 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBryan Berg

Hi Tek,

Thanks for your response. I agree 100% that the security issue will be almost not existant when most apps move to the cloud. But my point was that this lessening of local responsibilty by the technicians may be perceived as a lessing of power/usefullness/job security as well, and some (NOT ALL) technicans will therefore attempt to block this move.

All the best and thanks for the comment,

Doug

Hello Wolf,

Ah, I plead guilty to a great deal of confusion - the older I get, the less I find I am sure of.

Both your tone and your generalized statements, I believe, are a case-in-point why the best technolgy policy decisions are made by a group with a variety of voices being heard. UCLA coach John Wooden used to say that two most important words in the English language are love and balance. Not a bad thing to think about when it comes to making educational policy decisions.

All the best,

Doug

Hi Bryan,

I hope you did notice that I did not say "all techs" attempt to block change. I am merely asking all of us (including myself) to seriously ask ourselves what our motivations might be when we argue against a change of any sort. I've been finding many of the arguements about moving to GoogleDocs specious at best and wonder why people make them.

Quite honestly, I was surprised by how emotional and personal readers of this post seemed to take it. I can't say I disagree with a thing you say, but little of it is to the original point I made.

Thanks for your comments. I always learn from my readers.

All the best,

Doug

March 26, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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