By John Wick
Traditional approaches, The Noose
I often write about technologies that can help educators be more effective in the classroom. However, I’ve rarely taken the opportunity to speak directly to my compatriots in the Information Technology [IT] field of education. Tonight, I woke from a sound sleep and felt compelled to let loose some thoughts. It is my hope that they encourage constructive dialogue and intellectual reflection. I tend to have strong opinions when it comes to technology and how best to implement it in education. I believe in empowering educators to make the most of the technology at their fingertips. Few would argue that a teacher should be restricted in their ability to make the most of their resources to help students learn. Yet, I find that the traditional IT approach has been to lock down computers, restrict installation of new software, and to block URLs behind firewalls that treat our teachers as if they were incapable of making good decisions about their use of technology.
I was born in an interesting time. I remember learning to type on a typewriter, yes with those hard-to-push keys that made your little fingers ache for hours. I also remember the first time computers were brought into the classroom… Oregon Trail any one? I grew up, not playing sports, but attending night classes with my father to learn how to program in GW BASIC on our commodore 64. I lived during the time of the BBS (bulletin board systems) when a 300BPS modem could take an entire night to download a game or photo. I remember resisting the Internet and thinking that the BBS system would hold its own and my slow conversion to embracing the Internet. Self-taught HTML was a fun pastime. I offer you these memories, because I want you to know where I come from. I don’t believe there is a digital native or a digital immigrant. There are simply those willing to try to learn technology and those who aren’t. With the rate of technological advances, wouldn’t we all be considered immigrants anyway?
My background has afforded me the opportunity to work with many people in IT (not just in the education field). I’ve been known to bypass networks, crack a WEP key or two in order to test the security of my home network, I know the reasons for security in technology (especially in education). However, the traditional business world approach to IT has been to lock down systems so tight that the IT person can easily diagnose problems, solve them, and put little effort into tracking down what may have gone wrong. This approach may work well for the business world, however, in education, it tightens the noose around teachers’ necks. The ubiquitous image of the IT professional (portrayed well on Saturday Night Live) as a person in a white shirt who looks at a screen and tells the person having difficulty to “MOVE” so that he may quickly enter two commands that fixes the problem is prevalent among most business IT professionals. How then do we (IT professionals in education) make a difference?
Turning IT Upside Down
I argue that we need to turn IT on its head. That means we don’t lock down our teachers’ computers so tight that they cannot pull up a useful video from YouTube that would enhance their students’ learning. We shouldn’t lock down their systems so that they can’t install new software that may, in fact, make them more productive. I know the arguments… If a teacher installs software it may compromise their system… Blocking sites like YouTube is important so that teachers don’t waste time with useless videos… These arguments may work for the traditional IT person who wants to maintain strict control over all technology within his or her domain, however in the realm of education it only tightens the noose and, just like the way the cell phone companies have throttled their bandwidth, we too essentially restrict our fellow educators’ ability to teach. I also argue that sites like YouTube can be extremely useful to students as long as policies and monitoring is put in place to ensure the protection of our students and that the work they perform is of educational value.
The key is to ensure that we empower our teachers. Will they make mistakes? I’m sure of it; after all, we do as well. However, these mistakes are valuable learning experiences and training our teachers in the use and implementation of technology can mitigate mistakes. Taking the time to work with our teachers instead of pushing them aside and solving the problems for them like a magician in an ivory tower will help them to make wise decisions. I challenge my fellow education IT colleagues to cut the noose from around our teachers’ necks. Yes, this may mean you’ll have to format someone’s hard drive at some point and reinstall the OS etc. There will be headaches; there will be challenges. However, I believe that the true spirit of the IT professional is one that loves a challenge. Those of us who have the knowledge to bypass firewalls and utilize systems despite the noose that others attempted to place around our necks know that there is liberation in being able to make our own decisions about how to improve our productivity. We owe it to our teachers to do the same. After all, the end result is that our students will improve their learning because we took a chance on helping our educators understand and responsibly use the technology we give them
As always I welcome your comments and thoughts…