Facilitate, not Frustrate

At a teacher conference in Austin today I had the opportunity to speak to a group of educators from Region 7 about the importance of technology use in the classroom and keeping our legislators informed about what we are doing. Part of my conversation was based on Miguel‘s notes from the CTO session with Hochberg, Strama, and Eisler. Having our students tech literate has always been important, but now that Texas is requiring school districts to PROVE that proficiency there is a whole new focus being placed on it. And the biggest step we need to make here is to educate our legislators on the fact that the state standardized content area tests have nothing to do with whether computer use is valid. But that is for another post.

Well, that conversation led to two teachers from a Region 7 school district (one high school and one intermediate) sharing how they cannot use technology in their district. Obviously, there was some hyperbole involved in the comment, so I asked for clarficiation. They shared two things that drive the tech boycott by the staff in the district:

1. The filter is so clamped down that the students cannot do legitimate research. The teachers are equally as frustrated, so they don’t use it for lesson preparation or even as part of the course work. Basically, the Internet is useless. I have heard this complaint before, and it is definitely a frustrating situation to be in. I always wonder what higher power gives these tech directors the authority to lock down the network so tightly. This is a continual debate on the TCEA TEC-SIG list serve, and there are no winners in the debate but plenty of losers: students. I’m fortunate enough to not have this issue in White Oak.

2. Two teachers witnessed a major student incident in the hall. In the midst of the teachers emailing each other notes on the incident to make sure they had evertyhing noted to present to the campus administrator, the superintendent shows up to talk to the two of them. The superintedent wants to know why these two teachers are conspiring against a student like they are. Now remember, all of the conversation was done via email. They later find out that the tech director is reading EVERY email going through the district’s system and decided that he/she (a non-educator) knew enough about the situation to report the two teachers to the district administrator for ganging up on this student.

So I have a few take aways from this conversation:

– If there is a job in a school system that offers a person that much time to just make teachers’ lives miserable, then it is a waste of tax payer dollars.

– If there is a position created in a school district that does not have student learning as the MAIN focus attached to it, then it is also a waste of tax payer dollars.

– Why do campus administrators continue to let someone so obviously out of touch with teacher and student needs control such a large part of what happens (or should happen) on their campuses? One would assume that there is at least one person willing to step up and share the importance of access and use with this individual and eventually that person’s boss if needed. These anal controllers of the DISTRICT’s network have no business in education since they only work to hinder it. There have to be some limitations to protect data, access to inappropriate sites, cyber-bullying, etc., I know. But when it gets to the point where staff and students give up using any technology, then there is a major issue.

– Those of us in the tech side of the school district need to remember that curriculum drives the technology and not the other way around. Our job is to facilitate technology use, not to frustrate it.

4 thoughts on “Facilitate, not Frustrate

  1. Scott,

    I’m an educator and I empathize with those in Region 7 who feel hindered and spied upon in their use of technology. It certainly sounds like a serious complaint. And I agree with most of your “take aways” from the conversation.

    But please bear with me while I stand up for the “anal controllers of the DISTRICT’s network” who “have no business in education since they only work to hinder it.”

    Draconian filters are often implemented in response to abuse of the network. There is a segment of the workforce who would Facebook and Pr0n all day if it were possible. Teachers and students are no exception.

    Is it possible that there is some underlying reason why the network is so crippled? Maybe there was a severe case of impropriety or bandwidth hogging? Perhaps the district has done a poor job of communicating their internet usage policies?

    Teachers who have specific requests should submit a proposal to their administrator. There must be some rational admins & tech directors who could resolve the issue through education and communication.

    Even a superintendent will change her mind if it helps students succeed.


  2. Andrew,

    Those are valid points, but unfortunately in this case it is just an anal controller of the network. This district gets bandwidth from a consortium that provides reasonably priced connections with lots of speed.

    And, for the record, I did not mention hardware because I know those things exist. It is the gatekeeper/keymaster folks I was addressing. I know of another one just a few miles up the road that is so bad he only hands out the wireless access password to a few people he decides on. Sadly enough, the curriculum director is not even one of them, and she is listed as the assistant superintendent. It is to the point there that they fear firing him because he is the only one who knows all of the passwords and his personality is such that he would leave with them.

    I appreciate you extending the conversation here. If what I said sounded like a broad swipe of the brush, I did not intend for it to be. My chief of technology who controls everything in our district feels just like I do. He has gone toe to toe with other tech coordinators over the same topic only to end up where they started. It is a trait in some people that will never change, and the kids/teachers pay the price for it.

    PS – We only think we control things. Kids know the proxy sites and how to get around whatever we put in place. Shame they have to break the rules, though.

  3. Scott,
    I have more to say about this topic than than you can imagine. The tech coordinator and I go head to head at least once a week about different sites that I need access to. I have clearance to use an override to get around the filter, but if I want a site unblocked I have to submit a request. Fair enough, but there is no place for me to justify why I want the site unblocked. He has had the nerve to tell me, on several occassions, that he does not see the educational value in the sites to which I am requesting access. The biggest blow up we had was back in the fall when my students were in the middle of a research project. He was ticked at me for something so he decided to put a filter on Yahoo. He is the keeper of the keys and he knows it. He loves the power that he has and he uses it in the most punitive ways.

    If schools are so worried about their teachers spending all day on Facebook then they have bigger issues to worry about than a students getting onto a naughty website. Teachers who engage in such behavior need to be fired and their names should be shared in a public wiki….ok…I’m sure that is not legal, but it would probably help keep teachers focused!

    Scott- my school is going through some major changes this summer. We are launching a virtual high school this fall. If you would be willing to share examples of AUP’s I’d appreciate it. If they are on your school site I can find them.

    I wish we could have met up at NECC. Maybe in DC next year??? I have enjoyed following you on Twitter…..loved how you talked about your wife interviewing on Skype. I have used Skype for over a year now and I am a huge fan!

  4. I know, Beth. I really thought about whether I should post this or not because it is a touchy subject and I figured I would receive some backlash from it. But the main thing is that we are here for the students, and when teachers and students cannot access the content they need to be successful, then we have a problem. Too many districts are facing that problem and no one is doing a thing about it. Is it fear of technology? If I go in and use a bunch of buzzwords with my superintendent just to try and scare him into a certain decision, he would stop me cold and say, “I don’t care about all of that. Just make it work.” It is a shame there are not more out there like him.

    We are looking forward to being in DC next year. We’ll see how it turns out as it gets closer.

    My wife loved having the interview that way. The entire committee had never done anything like that before, so it shows just how positive a thing can be that they would normally stay away from. I’m glad, for obvious reasons, that they chose to try it out this time. We were five hours of driving away if she had to be there in person.

    As for the AUP’s, I would utilize David Warlick’s AUP 2.0 wiki. He has some great resources there that might just fit your needs: http://landmark-project.com/aup20/pmwiki.php

    Our AUP is pretty standard with the only specifics changed recently is to clarify the use of proxies to access restricted sites. Our administration and staff does a great job of sorting through student use of our network, and we rarely see anything that requires major discipline. Our teachers just do a great job of monitoring.

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