The School Administrator, September 2005
Administrators, have you ever head comments like these from your staff?
Who decides what should be blocked by our Internet filter? Our technology director has been checking more little boxes on our filter. Just yesterday he decided to block all games, even educational ones. – LibrarianMany schools have not yet figured out how to create good policies about technology use and that results in complaints like the ones above. Unilaterally made and too often unofficial rules often create what seems like a new range war, not between the cattle ranchers and sheepherders, but between the educators and the technologists. The techies often win by default since they have, as the librarian above puts it, the know-how to check “the little box.” Their knowledge about technology makes the policies they make often difficult to dispute.
Come on, I do most of my grading in the evening. Why can’t I have access to the online grade book from home? - Teacher
Teachers are saving program files in their online storage area that was set up to be just for documents. Having programs on that server makes it extremely time consuming to search for viruses. I am just going to delete these kinds of files when I find them! - Network administrator
However, I have a mantra I often ask teachers, librarians and administrators to repeat in our district - “Technicians don’t make school policy.” It sinks in if people say it two or three times.
Technology use policy disagreements have at their heart two very different sets of priorities – one set held by the technical staff and one by educators.
Techies have the responsibility for data security, network bandwidth conservation, and the reliable operations for what are usually far too many machines for them to maintain. They wish to make rules that will decrease the likelihood of technical problems. Taken to the extreme, this results in a “if they can’t touch it, it won’t break” mentality.
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.
There is no simple resolution to this ongoing dilemma of conflicting priorities, but I can offer a couple ideas 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. These 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 raised are given a full hearing. (I often use Edward de Bono’s PMI tool, asking about a proposal “What’s Good, What’s Bad and What’s Interesting” to get a positive discussion flowing during meetings.) Collaborative policy-making can have multiple results – an agreement reached that everyone can live with; an agreement reached that some members don’t like but understand why it was made; or an agreement reached that lessens the responsibility of the technicians.
This has worked well for our district. On the difficult filtering issue, our district committee decided that as a result of CIPA, we would install a filter, but it would be set at its least restrictive setting. Any teacher or librarian can have a blocked site be unblocked by simply requesting it – no questions asked. Adults are required to continue to monitor student access to the Internet as if no filter were present. The technicians now know that it is the responsibility of the teaching staff to see that students do not access inappropriate materials, not theirs. This is a good policy decision that could not have been reached without a variety of voices heard during its making.
Administrators who have a deeper understanding of the technologies involved also tend to make better technology rules. My formal education was in English and librarianship – not technology. But to counteract this, I try to remember Denzel Washington’s great line in the movie Philadelphia, “Explain it to me like I was 6 years old.” My frustrated technicians sometimes work with me for a very long time - drawing pictures, forming analogies, and searching for ever shorter words - to describe functions and reasons for complex technologies. But developing such understandings is worth the investment in time and effort. You don’t need to know how to set up or administer a domain name server, but you ought to know what it does and why it is important.
Open dialogs and clear understandings about technology are essential for its successful use in schools – especially when it comes to policy-setting. No one will agree with every decision made, but at least everyone can have a better understanding of why it was made. Educational range wars aren’t healthy for anyone – especially the lambs we serve.