#edtech I.T. Management

Welcome to 2010, kindof…

We’re back in school again and it’s been a bit of a #edtech mess.  Over the summer our board upgraded to Windows 7 (so now we’re only one iteration behind the most current operating system).  In the process the entire network was rejigged to fit this new desktop O.S..

Because doing a massive O.S. install wasn’t enough, we also had a major hardware update, moving both models and manufacturers from several years old MDG Intel core two duos to Dell Intel i3s.  If you don’t know the nomenclature don’t sweat it, the long and the short is that our school technology is basically completely different from what we were running last year; and it isn’t working very well.

Managing I.T. is tricky at the best of times.  Managing it in an education environment is more so due to the privacy concerns and complexity of trying to serve people ranging in age from five to sixty five and in computer skill from caveman to cyborg.  To top it off they are all going after radically different uses from physical education to theoretical physics and from pre-university to kindegarten.  Pitching to the middle of this group causes frustration at either end, it’s not like running an office where everyone has similar backgrounds, ages and a common focus.

With that much difficulty it’s not surprising that our board I.T. seems to often lose sight of what their function is.  Supporting effective use of technology in learning shouldn’t be far from anyone’s mind, but it often feels like the reason for being there gets lost in the complexity.  On top of that, board I.T. often seems strongly coloured by business thinking, which it isn’t.  One of our networks is called UGDSBcorp.  I’m not sure at what point our public school board became a corporation, but the naming says a lot about the thinking.

We’re in a transitional time in information technology.  What used to be closed systems meant to connect employees internally are migrating to web based services that are meant to offer greater communication, efficiency and utility.  Clinging to the old way of delivering I.T. results in a lot of unnecessary overhead.  An example is our email.  We cling to Firstclass as an internal client but are also running UGcloud (google apps for education which includes gmail).  We’re told to check our email each day.  Which one?  Both?  I know which one I can connect to more consistently, and it isn’t the internal board one.

With the migration of apps and systems to the cloud it might be wise to push aside the intranet 1990s thinking and consider a resilient network that simply allows easy access to the internet.  Privacy can still be protected on secure web-servers.  If you can do your banking on them, you can certainly store student records on them.  But our board clings to intranet thinking, keeping the vast majority of functionality on local servers and increasing their management work load to such a degree that they can’t keep up with basic operations.

I’ve long held that students (and staff) don’t learn responsible use of technology if you hand them hobbled technology.  No one ever got on the tour de France with training wheels.  The internet they see at home or on their phones isn’t the training-wheels internet they see at school, and this isn’t helpful.  Instead of using the internet as a babysitter in class, teachers need to be in the middle of it, calling attention to misuse and showing best practices.  A school system with less fetters would aid this and make management easier for the people who are constantly short staffed and given too little time to keep it running.

Until we have internet and technology access that rivals the up-time of what we see outside of school we have an uphill struggle convincing reticent educators and poorly trained students to learn best practices, which is supposed to be the whole point.