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. 

1 comment:

  1. What's my password????

    I'm currently working as an eLearning facilitator at a school which has introduced Google, iPads, Netbooks and Microsoft 8 - all at the same time!!! The staff are enthusiastic and incredibly resilient however I would estimate that more than half of their questions for me are technical ones - What is my password? How do I set up my email? How do I sync apps? How do I download xxx software - what's the password???

    The main issue is that the IT technician comes once per fortnight. If you have an issue you send in a request. Often on the day he is at the school he is so overloaded that he doesn't even get to your request, so you have to wait another fortnight. In the meantime staff get on with the teaching in other ways and enthusiasm for change and trying something new wanes as we fall back into the tried and true.

    I too am frustrated that teachers do not have administrator access to their own computers and therefore cannot download any software. I'm also frustrated that many IT technicians I have come across have very little knowledge of software used for teaching.

    So Leigh, I would like to add a few more points to your list of WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN:

    TIME: requests and IT support should be responded to 'just in time'. At a previous school I worked at they had two young IT guys - the school had trained them an was running this mini department on the smell of an oily rag - but they were fantastic at responded to requests 'that day'. It made the job of teaching so much easier. I also know of another school which, when they introduced BYOD, asked for an additional donation of $50 per student so they could provide onsite IT support for students and staff. While this may not be possible for all schools, I think many schools overlook the importance of investing in comprehensive IT support.

    EXPERT TECHNICIANS: If technicians really want to make themselves indispensable to schools they need to move beyond holding passwords hostage and educate themselves about software used for learning. Last year I had questions about Skype, Google Hangouts, myPortfolio, Screencasting software and my friendly technician had experience with none of them. His troubleshooting was no better than mine. I felt that he was good at the macro server stuff - but I as a teacher needed support with the micro - in my classroom, software stuff.