Losing Control (But That’s Not Bad)

For our little group here in the overly-large school district, it’s been an unusually busy first month of the school year, due in large part to a flood of technology-related changes, some of which I’ve ranted about recently in this space.  Of course, we’re only at the starting point when it comes to students bringing their own devices to school, using Google Apps, figuring out if and how tablets might work in the classroom, online textbooks, and there’s more to come.

However, it’s also been been interesting, and somewhat amusing, to be in the middle of the planning for all these new pieces.  We are fortunate in our system to have plenty of support (both people and infrastructure), but it’s very clear that there are many concerns and doubts about these changes we’re trying to make.

While people offer a variety of reasons for their trepidation, I think almost all of it can be boiled down to one simple explanation: fear of losing control. Or at least concern over transferring some control to other people, especially the kids.

Take, for example, the team that’s responsible for implementing our use of Google Apps for Education this year.  Sitting in these meetings, it’s not hard to see that many in the group are somewhat uncertain about moving forward as they try to create a “standard support plan”, one that looks and acts the same as those from past experiences with the deployment of new software and services.

Much of that uncertainty, especially among the IT folks (who are in the majority in this group), stems from our district’s do-it-ourselves mindset when it comes to technology services. Our IT department builds and hosts just about every internal web service, and, if that’s not possible, they want complete control over the products. Outsourcing is a dirty word around here and suggestions of using “open source” (or anything not blessed by Microsoft) is practically grounds for firing.

However, when it comes to Google Apps, most of our “standard” processes don’t apply.  Although our district logo appears on every page, that’s about all the customization. The software itself belongs to Google. They make changes when they feel like it, without bothering to ask permission of our IT department, and often without notice.  Google controls 90% of this particular project.

Since, as I said, we’re just beginning, it remains to be seen how these tools and the rest are going to play in the schools. How much control are principals willing to allow their teachers? And more importantly, can teachers share control and responsibility with their kids?

I’m still confident about the possibilities, especially for the long run. It’s going to be fun watching this play out.

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