My IT Department Will Not Let Me

Today on Facebook Gary Stager posted a rant of a status update:

Here's a novel idea. Don't send teachers to computing PD with laptops on which they are banned from installing software.
Teachers are neither imbeciles or felons and they do not work for the IT staff. The IT staff works for the teachers.

This is a sentiment I can relate to very well. And yes I have blogged about it before but I see so little progress on this. I talk to teachers pretty regularly. I’m also on a number of industry advisory boards for programming and web development programs at career/technical high schools. It amazes me how often the answer to the question “Why don’t you use/do …” is “IT will not let me.” It is as if someone said “students are only allowed to read books that the librarian selects and the English department doesn’t have any input.” Can you see that happening? Of course not! A good librarian gets the books that teachers ask for and makes them available.

I highlighted “The IT staff works for the teachers. ” up above for a reason. That is the way is should be but all to often that is not the way it works in reality. I’ve even heard superintendents of schools say “The IT department will not let me.” Can you imagine the CEO of a publicly operated company saying that? Not likely! Oh the IT department may recommend alternative paths but in the end their job will be to find a way for the CEO to get the results that he wants. Why doesn’t this happen in schools? One word – fear.

Schools are afraid of so many technology related things. They are afraid that their students will go places on the Internet that are inappropriate and the school will be blamed. And they are not all wrong! Schools are afraid that students will mess up the computers so that the IT department (chronically understaffed usually) will have to do extra unnecessary work. And this does happen. Schools are afraid that students will hack into the school’s databases and change grades. Just ask the IT department and they will tell you that students are evil malicious hackers. Let’s ignore the fact that a well-trained IT department could easily prevent that without the sorts of lock downs that most resort to because, well for what schools pay, it’s hard to get really top notch IT people in the first place. They do exist in some schools and some are truly outstanding. They, like teachers, make a lifestyle decision and have a commitment to education.

Why IT departments don’t trust computer science teachers I don’t really understand. Seriously many of the CS teachers I run into know more than their IT departments about system and network management. Even the ones who don’t know more at least know more than enough about how to select and install software safely. They are also past masters at managing a room full of kids using technology. SIGH It’s just so frustrating sometimes.

I think we need to find a way to make a sort of meeting of the minds between school IT people, teachers in general and especially computer science teachers. Perhaps if the IT departments had a bit more time and resources to train more teachers they’d have more faith in them. Perhaps if more school IT people spent more time talking to CS teachers and really trying to understand what they were trying to accomplish in their classrooms and how much the CS teachers actually knew there would be more of a partnership.

But failing all of that I just wish more school administrators (especially superintendents) would make sure that school IT people know that their job in the school was to empower teachers to teach and not just to make system management as easy as possible.