...a problem is a situation in which a gap is found between what is and what ought to be. ... How a problem is framed depends on who is doing the defining.
...Dilemmas are messy, complicated, and conflict-filled situations that require undesirable choices between highly prized values that cannot be simultaneosly or fully-solved.
Larry Cuban, How Can I Fix It: Finding Solutions and Managing Dilemmas. Teachers College Press, 2001
Dr. Cuban's definitions come back to me fairly often when educators talk about tech issues. In short, he says problems can be solved, but dilemmas only managed. Here are just a few examples:
Our media specialists want access to a management program (ARD) so that they can take control of computers in the labs during instruction (look at student screens, freeze monitors, share the instructor's screen, etc.) Our techs see this as huge drain on network bandwidth, slowing the network for the rest of the building's users.
A classroom teacher wants to video, digitize and then upload as a videocast his classes so students who are absent or want to review can download and watch the lesson. The tech director is concerned that students' privacy rights (and board policy) will be violated if students can be recognized in the videocast.
The building techs are upset because another program has been adopted by a curriculum area without any involvement by the technology department. Not having new computer applications vetted by the department for compatibility and need for maintenance has been a long-standing source of frustration, no matter how many reminders are sent to department chairs and administrators.
I would categorize each of the above scenarios as dilemmas - conditions that can only be managed, not solved because they involve conflicts in values. Because of individual priorities and "problem frames," it is impossible to deal with these issues so that everyone gets what she/he desires.
So how are these situations best dealt with? Personally, I like using my advisory committee (or a task force) comprised of all stakeholders effected to fully air the issue, suggest actions, and make a recommendation. Does everyone always like the result? No. But everyone knows why it has been made and has had a chance to have had their concerns heard. (See also, Ending the Range War handouts in .pdf.)
Sorry folks, that's about the best we can do - other than putting tranquilizers in the school's drinking water. Get Cuban's little book. You'll gain from it.
Yes, the set of handouts you have all been breathlessly waiting for! Available now (just in time for holiday giving) at:
Remember - all my writing has been approved by the FDA as a non-addictive sleep aid.