Jun 26, 2008

Prevention as a Policy

Every once in a while, something comes my way that just drives me batty. Such was the case today when the following message came across my desk from a tech director's mailing list. For those of you who feel like IT is your adversary, this will surely offer some valuable insight into the mindset of many of today's education IT managers:

I want to first say I do not hate Apple, they make a great PC. I just don't know how to support them, I have never worked on one for any length of time past 1994.

With that said, I really need some help stopping my district from buying Apple PC's. There are 2 techs for the entire district and we have been a Dell PC district for some time. Neither me or the other techs here know anything about Apples OS and are really busy and don't have a lot of time to learn all the ins and outs of it.

We thought we had successfully stopped anyone from buying Apples a few months with the argument that we just didn't have the trained staff to support it. That and having two PC platforms with only two techs is a really bad idea.

Well someone has found away to convince the Superintendent to buy Apple laptops in a lab. Now everyone in the district who thought we were oppressing them has sent us e-mails saying they all want one also.

I need good solid technical reasons why this would be very bad for a network that is running strictly Microsoft products (till now). We run Windows Server 2003 R2 (mostly) and Windows 2000 to Windows XP SP3.

Your help is greatly appericated.

This kind of thing is all too common in the world of ed tech. In response to this sort of thinking, I would offer a few brief observations:

As employees of a school district, we work at the pleasure of the superintendent. Therefore, if the superintendent wants a technology, it is our job to find a way to support it. This one's pretty hard to argue.

As technology directors, our job is to support the classroom, not the other way around. If there is a valid reason why a school wants to implement a technology and there are recognizable, achievable academic gains to be had, it is completely unreasonable to argue against it for no other reason than that we are unwilling to take any steps to support it. I understand that resources are limited, but evaluating the viability of a technology solely based on the technology departments ability to "manage" it (ie destroy all hope of doing anything but the mundane with it) is simply wrong.

In addition, I believe our approach to technology support should not be based on "prevention." We should not be like "Mordac, preventer of information services" (for you Dilbert fans), making every effort to prevent problems purely for efficiency's sake. Security IS NOT more important than usability, and preventing our users from exploring and discovering new things in the name of "security" is the wrong approach. Instead, why not focus on "recovery". Rather than insisting that we be able to "support" every little thing, why don't we instead say, "we will guarantee support for the following things" and leave the rest to them. If they screw their machines up, empower them by teaching them to reimage their own machine. This is not hard, will minimize down time, and will give people a sense of freedom and self-sufficiency.

Lastly, we do not operate in a "corporate" environment. As school districts, we are really the opposite of what you see in the corporate world. In a typical corporation, the majority of people are there to perform specific tasks. A standard machine works well, because the needs are relatively limited. Yet, visit any corporation's R & D department, and you will find that they are using what they want, how they want, are not heavily supported by the IT department, and are thriving in a relatively "control free" environment. Our schools should be viewed as R & D departments for the mind, where creativity and inventiveness reign. This is a space where skills, and not software, are most important. The ability to work through problems, find solutions, gather resources, collect, and construct are far more valuable than some mundane task in Microsoft Word. The opportunity to try new things, to make mistakes and, more importantly, learn from them is one of the greatest educational opportunities we can offer, and restricting that means taking something away from our kids that they cannot afford to lose.

Rather than looking "out" at issues such as this, I would suggest we look "in", and try to figure out how we, as innovative IT departments, might be able to change our processes, our perspectives, and our practice to create the flexible learning environments our schools and children need as we help them prepare for their future.


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  1. Yeah. We've got those gate keeper types in Texas as well. It is aggravating that they have not intention of serving the students. It is all about how much it affects them. Fortunately, my chief of technology is one who hates Macs but was willing to let me get one anyway. His final comment tome was, "If you end up filling my network with these things, I quit." Well, now he has a MacBook Pro of his own and said he has not interest in switching back to Windows for his personal work. He loves the OSX. So fear of the unknown or just pure ignorance on the part of the gate keeper crews can be overcome. I got my first Mac because it was the best tool for the job with my students, and my tech guy agreed as well. What is best for the students should override any personal bias or laziness within a division.

  2. Ah, so he's finally experienced the beauty and ease of use of a Mac. I have one at home and loathe having to come to work to use a Dell! Great article. Jan Clark

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