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Saturday
Aug182012

BFTP: From the tech department - and a response

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post, September 12, 2007 One of the tasks our department has this week is to help get our new staff members up to speed on technology-related expectations and opportunities in our district. It's really tempting to simply put our a list of "thou shalt not" pronouncements rather than build excitement. My goal is than any restriction we may put on a teacher's technology freedom is accompanied by a genuine reason for tha restriction. I never want technology services regarded as the "prevention of education department."

Dear Teacher,

The Technology Department has been hearing 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. Check the cables. 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,  PowerPoint, a million-and-one online programs, 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.)

 

rangewar.jpg

I was delighted to read Sherry Crofut's thoughtful reply:

 

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 your 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!

Sherry

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Reader Comments (2)

I understand what you are saying. Here are my problems

5. I am told, by the tech department to use an app that controls my computer/whiteboard. The app requires an install on the desktop. I don't have permissions to install. My Campus Instruction technology Specialist can install it but not so that it works under my log in. So I have to put in a work order that takes weeks.

5 and 10 I have IPADS, I am REQUIRED to set up my own account to download apps. I pay for the apps. I have to haul them home and use my bandwidth to update, back up and install apps sometimes because the filter gets cranky and won't let me get to the app store. Then I get yelled at for using amazon to look up a book I want for the classroom, or checking that my direct deposit actually got into my bank account - and wasn't delayed 3 days like it was a couple of months ago.

7. I put in a work order about a computer that the fan is making a loud wheezing sound and I specify that
A. I tried shutting it down making sure the air vents were clear.
B. That I timed it and the sound starts after the computer has been on for 45 min
C. That the case is hot to the touch so I'm turning it off. If they call me before the tech heads out I'll turn it on.

Tech comes in turns it on, boots it up, waits 5 minutes, and I kid you NOT pats me on the head (in front of students) and tells me he knows woomenn don't understand machines and it is fine. I registered my complaint with my principal, HR, and the help desk on that one. They had a different tech back at our school in about 30 minutes. He took it back and there was a blasted RECALL on that brand and model for over heating.

5. During an "emergency" (drill and kill software not working) I am given permissions to install some software and fix a bug. I' spend my conference period, and time before and after school fixing this and get yelled at for the time it takes. I know of 4 other people that could help, they volunteered, but I'm told no they can't help. (Some of these people hold degrees in computer science and switched over to teaching. My degree is in Poli Sci and I added on teaching)

10. I would add it is NOT your e-mail. Honestly this is the first election since I started teaching that I haven't had to tell multiple coworkers to stop e-mailing me political stuff - they put it on facebook. I don't have to see it. Win Win

Bonus - social networks - This one is on my principal not our tech department. Last year it was you are all fools for being on facebook, you can't friend any student not even your own kid or their friends until they are 18) (Turns out he was wrong if know the kid outside of school you can friend them.) If you post something negative about our school I can fire you.

This year it is you have to join facebook, you have to like our page, you have to vote so we get target gift cards, you have to let us post pictures of you and Tag them (I don't allow pictures of myself to be taken much lest posted), you have to friend parents. HELL NO - facebook is for me, my family, and my friends. I am not going to friend a student's parent and risk them coming unglued because my university aged relatives post something stupid. they did. I'm not going to defriend my niece or her cousins because of what they might post. I'm the sort of cool cousin/aunt. I will come pull you out of the fire, give you 24 hours to fess up your stupidity to your parents before I do. I'm not cutting that contact. What about my political friends and family. It is a political year what if the parents don't like family members' positions. As for parents they have edmodo, the class blog, school e-mail, school phone, and mobile phone* to contact me they don't need facebook.

*I have always given it out with guidelines. Never been abused. During a weather emergency I had parents from that year and the year before calling me because our IP phone system couldn't handle the volume.

August 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

Hi Kimberly,

Wow, this is a really powerful comment. May I use, with my own responses, as a regular blog post this week? I have no idea where you work, but your tech department needs a wake up call - or a new CIO.

Thanks for considering this,

Doug

August 19, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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