Friday, 28 February 2014

Principals, Schools and Communities Held to Ransom

What is the problem? As I go into a lot of schools across the country, it is evident that there is a real problem holding up progress for the successful implementation of digital technologies into classroom practice for learning. This problem is the source of a mountain of barriers that educators come to when they find they they don't have access to all the resources that they need in the short time that they have for preparation or learning how to use a new bit of software.
These barriers have been put in face by their "friendly" technical staff. 
Now I must make it clear from the outset that not all technicians are tarred with the same brushes.  There are some fabulous technicians out there whose businesses are booming because they make digital technologies so easy for teachers and principals.
But there are too many who do not. They might be school based or they might be local or distance companies who hold the passwords and keys that the educators and their learners need.  I am not talking about firewalls which are absolutely necessary to protect students. I am talking about the holding of the balance of power in the school when it comes to using digital technologies for learning.

Some examples I have personally encountered in schools are:
  • Technicians advising and pushing schools which devices to buy, often whole sets of tablets, or only certain platforms that they can configure and maintain, and sometimes devices which are just not suited to learning.  Schools are at the mercy of these sales-oriented people pushing their own products and planning their future business around ongoing maintenance issues.
  • Technicians advising which software to use for learning including one who said that Myportfolio should not be used as it was too difficult to set up in the school.
  • Technicians preventing teachers from being administrators of the TELA laptops that they use. (And sometimes advising principals that this is the right thing to do.) Then teachers are unable to download software for their printers at home or any programme that they would like to investigate for use in the classroom. And, what a coincidence, the technician can charge for the time to install these programmes for the teachers. If you sense a touch of cynicism there, you are on the right track.
  • Technicians being the only people administering passwords for teachers and students so that no one can get on the system unless they are around AND technicians not providing passwords unless personally advised by the principal. 
  • Technicians locking up servers and software with passwords that they fail to release to principals, and then leave, when they fall out with the school personnel, leaving all systems locked up and tied up so tightly that they school has to spend even more $$$ on new technicians to untangle the unholy mess.

Why it is wrong. For a start technicians are not teachers for the most part - why would they feel they should choose the right products for learning? The teaching professionals are the ones who should be allowed to do this.  Sure, show them how things work, but give them the opportunity to compare and contrast before they make their decisions.
I just don't get it.  There is a relationship of trust between a school and a technician or tech company to do the right thing when you are paying for their services.  Its like paying for a painter to paint your bathroom.  You trust that the painter will use his expertise to allow you to choose the right paint, also the right colour of paint, offer to you to include a fungicide with the paint and recommend to seal the bathroom beforehand to prevent water damage so that down the track you don't find that the paint peels off in the humidity or gets covered in unsightly mould.  You don't invite that same painter back to do other rooms in your house if you find he stuffed up first time, just went ahead and painted the bathroom his favourite colour and didn't put fungicide in it because you didn't ask for it.

What should happen.
Principals:  Trust your teachers. Ask around other principals and teachers outside your schools about the effectiveness of certain devices.  Don't jump on the local bandwagon of getting a certain device without some thorough research on alternatives.  Get a variety of devices - that is what students will come across when they go into the workplace.  Join the VLN or twitter and start asking questions across New Zealand.
Teachers: Ask for (and demand) full access to all software you want to use for learning (You wouldn't accept a textbook in your class that had some of the pages bound up so you couldn't even see them let alone judge if they were suitable for your students.)  Form networks with other teachers from other schools to see what they use and what barriers there are.  Join the VLN.  Start tweeting and asking questions.
Technicians:  Build your business around making things work for teachers and schools, not tying them up so you are the resident "expert" who must be consulted at all times.
I am not saying all technicians are the same.  I am not saying they even do these things knowingly and  deliberately in some cases.  What I am saying is that technicians are the key people in making systems workable for schools, principals, and teachers, and they should be doing their utmost to make access to technology for education a piece of cake, not an ongoing source of income for their own ends.
I am really interested to know if you have come across this problem. 

Sunday, 2 February 2014


There's a new round of interesting challenges flooding Facebook at the moment.  It involves sharing an artist's name and the recipient (or liker of your post) has to find a work on Google by that artist and put it up on facebook and the first person who likes that artwork, receives another artist's name to continue the game. I guess its kind of like a chain letter.
I like lots of different art, so was tempted to join in, and then realised the difficulty in getting permission to use the images so pulled out.  What a plonker they probably think I am.  But it really is a dilemma.  How can I go round espousing the responsibilities of digital citizens if I don't play by the same rules?
The images on facebook are sometimes directly from the artist and usually require specific permission.  Sometimes they have been copied - and then who owns the rights?  Is it the original artist who may or may not have given permission or is it the copier who may have used it and adjusted it in some way?
And then there is the issue of all the shared jokes and stories.  Are we allowed to share them?  What a can of worms!
Creative Commons, I hear you all saying.  But these copyright-free or otherwise images do not often contain the very art that you desire.  I also need to learn a lot more about how long after death copyright is still an issue.
A hint that I can give about searching for suitable images: Make sure you search images using google Search Tools that give you appropriate permissions.
And when you find an image that suits you, check again on the image details, by visiting the page the image is sourced from.  You may find that all rights are reserved, like in this one.
It is not as straight forward as you would hope.  Dammit!