Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An Open Letter to School IT People

According to eSchoolNews, school IT departments are in a bad way.
The figures pulled from his district's help-desk logs tell Charlie Reisiger that his technology team spends about 70 percent of its time fixing faulty machines or grappling with software questions from teachers and administrators. That doesn't leave much time for other activities, such as planning new projects or helping teachers weave technology into their instruction.
If you allow faculty to do stupid things and help them learn from their mistakes instead if treating them like children, then your faculty will grow into power-users who can train themselves and each other. I can't tell you how many times the IT staff at schools (I am involved with four) will tell the faculty - "You can't use youtube without prior permission for each video. For other websites, the IT staff will unblock any blocked website if you give them a 48 hour notice." No bottleneck there, huh? Some other favorites, "Faculty cannot change settings." "For confidentiality reasons, we cannot allow CMS or blogging software on the school's website." "School policy prevents us from allowing you access to email, wordpress, twitter, flickr ..." Any wonder I do more work from home and don't involve the kids as much?

Don't help teachers "weave technology into their lesson plans." Show them how to use the software and let them do their job. Accept the fact that some teachers actually do know what they are doing even if it means a low-tech answer. I can't stand writing on a SmartBoard -- it can't keep up with me. I use it a lot, but not for writing notes. A better use for me is to display notes, to annotate diagrams, to involve a student. An overhead projector is actually more useful and easier for students. A blackboard / whiteboard is the best but each tool has its purpose.

Train people correctly in the first place and don't label them as "LUsers." Consistency is also key. Don't change versions with every new release. Skip a generation or two. If you keep teachers off-balance by changing their desktop and menu bars and processes every year, they'll learn but much more slowly. If the software we use at home is v4 and you upgrade to v5 and then v6, then all of my habits must change daily. That's difficult for most users. Likewise. have the same grading program year after year and don't change it - this is software we must know well or we waste valuable time trying to do attendance and make the grades work out properly. Don't update Office for the hell of it - especially since they change formats every time. I can't keep updating my computer at home just because I want to write tests at home. Let's say categorically that Vista is not an improvement over XP.

Most faculty don't care about websites or blogs or on-line help tickets or Internet wizardry. They're just trying to teach. They really aren't going to submit a page to the tech coordinator to be placed on the school's website. Give them the ability to do it themselves and stand back. They will use odd moments to update one small thing. They won't tolerate a middleman, especially if that middleman is a non-teacher who only does the work every other Thursday. Faculty who care about these things will simply use Blogger or Wordpress "off the reservation."

Lastly, you are techie. DO NOT MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON WHAT YOU WOULD WANT TO DO IF YOU WERE A TEACHER. You're not. You are IT. When it comes to teachers, oh mighty IT staff people, you are morons. Take some time to sit down with a cup of coffee in the teachers' lounge and listen for an entire period. Fix every problem you hear about and show people how you did it. Give them the tools and warn them of the dangers of those tools' misuse.

And while you're at it, laugh with us - it will go a long way toward getting us on your side and you on our side. We hate it when we never meet you.

If you choose to ignore this list, then don't expect your teachers to help you. They've got a learned helplessness thing going -- a passive-aggressive bitch-at-the-tech-guy and laugh when we cause him pain. They're way ahead of you in the gripe session.

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