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Doug Johnson's Tech Proof

Who Is They?

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I often hear comments like these from teachers who are upset about the technology policies in their district:

  • "They" are blocking school access to YouTube.
  • "They" make us use PCs when Id rather have a Mac.
  • "They" wont let me access my grade book from home.
  • They wont let me use my personal laptop computer on the schools network.
  • They insist we have long and complicated passwords and make us change them all the time.

The question I have when I hear statements like those is: Just who the devil is this mysterious they?

Can you actually name "them?" Or are "they" just a convenient scapegoat for poor policy-making procedures? Can you as a single teacher influence "them"? And are you personally working to change such decisions from being made by a faceless "they" to being made by a known "we?

If not, you should be. It's your professional obligation.

By its very nature, policy and rule making is influenced by human values. Nowhere in schools is this more evident than when it comes establishing appropriate policies for the relatively new and often confusing field of educational technology.

Larry Cuban suggests in his book How Can I Fix It?: Finding Solutions and Managing Dilemmas (Teachers College Press, 2001) that such value conflicts present not solvable problems, but a dilemma that needs ongoing management. In other words, policy-making is an area in which there always will be conflict, no matter how hard we work to resolve issues. Technology-use disagreements have at their heart two very different set of values, resulting in two sets of priorities -- one set held by the technical staff and one by the classroom educators.

Technical people have the responsibility for data security, network bandwidth conservation, and the reliable operations of what are usually far too many machines for them to maintain. Techs desire rules that will decrease the likelihood of technical problems. Taken to the extreme, that results in an if they cant touch it, it wont break mentality. Limited access, over-blocking, and long-passwords are the byproduct of prioritizing security, reliability and adequacy.

Educators want as much access and convenience as possible. Security systems requiring multiple log-ins eat into class time and restrictions on what is accessible and from where can discourage technology use and innovative practices. Home access, simple passwords, private computer use, and minimal blocking often are sought by those for whom access, convenience, and ease of use are the primary concerns.

Both parties -- techs and educators -- have legitimate points of view. And both parties are interdependent. Teachers wont use the technology unless it works. Technicians are irrelevant if educators dont use technology.

There is no simple resolution to this ongoing dilemma of conflicting priorities, but I know this about making better policy decisions: the best rules and guidelines are those developed collaboratively.

Both our district technology advisory committee and building technology committees have policy development as a major task. Those small groups that meet a few times each year are comprised of a variety of stakeholders -- teachers, librarians, administrators, students, parents, and community members with our technology personnel serving as ex-officio members.

Technology-use issues are given a full hearing. I often use Edward de Bonos PMI (Plus/Minus/Interesting) tool, asking about each proposal, Whats Good? Whats Bad? Whats Interesting? to get a constructive discussion flowing during meetings. Its a simple activity in which a statement is made -- The district should allow personal computers to access our wireless network -- and then small groups list the positive (+), negative (-), and interesting (?) potential consequences of the proposal, with each group required to enter at least one item in each column.

Collaborative policy-making can have two results -- an agreement is reached that everyone can live with; or an agreement is reached that some members dont like, but understand why it was made. Either way, such decisions are better than those made unilaterally by a faceless they.

Dont let they make technology use less productive than it can be for you as an educator. Find the policy decision-makers in your school and district. If there is a technology committee in place, get on it and contribute. If not, lobby your administrators for the creation of one.

Turn the they into we.


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So what applications will I need to keep on my computer or find on a temporary machine as either a stand-alone or browser add-on? A PDF reader, movie player, de-compression program, anti-virus and spyware programs, iTunes to manage my iPod apps, SecondLife, and.Skype. I think thats about it.

So whats the downside to this approach of providing computer resources to oneself and one's staff and students? Why shouldnt everyone fly to the cloud? Some questions need serious consideration.

What happens when there is no Internet access? GoogleMail and GoogleDocs now can be used off-line in conjunction with GoogleGears. Work off-line and your documents will be synced when the next Internet connection is made. Bandwidth limitations might be a challenge for some districts with a small pipe to the Internet.

Am I abetting Google's world domination? Might there be a charge for these now "free" services someday? Yes, on world domination. If you feel uncomfortable using Google (like many have felt uncomfortable using Microsoft in the past), there are alternatives like Zoho. The revenue model is anybody's guess. Advertisements and selling more fully-featured versions of applications or larger storage spaces are the likely models.

Are my files secure and private? That probably is the deal-breaker for many skeptics of the trend. As a devout belt and suspender user, I encourage keeping local backup copies of all important files stored as online documents. I certainly would study the privacy settings of any program I use -- who gets access to what is getting more granular all the time. Can we trust Google and others not to peek at our stuff? Who knows? My insurance against unwarranted data access is living a completely sin-free life. But I know that won't work for everyone.

Are there some things just too cumbersome to do online? I recognize that were I ever to try to edit video, I'd need a full blown computer. I can't play or make CDs or DVDs. (When are they going to start selling movies on flash drives do you suppose?) Any big data crunching/data processing tasks still will need big computing power.

So what am I forgetting, readers more techie than I? Is my plan practical? Can one's virtual life be spent in the cloud?

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Article by Doug Johnson
Education World®
Copyright © 2009 Education World

05/15/2009


 

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