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Chipping Away at the IT Barriers

A few months ago I ranted about how our IT department is adamant about not wanting Chromebooks to be used in our schools. If a technology is not blessed by Microsoft, they really don’t want to talk about it.

Now, however, things may be changing – a little – whether IT likes it or not.

A small group of principals here in the overly-large school district decided to bypass the usual bureaucratic channels, along with all the IT denials, and took their case for Chromebooks to directly our Deputy Superintendent (with a great deal of support and encouragement from our little cheering section).

To our surprise, he approved their proposal to purchase a limited number of the Google-based devices to test in their schools. The initiative only involves a few classrooms in five six schools so we certainly aren’t talking about any major shifts in thinking. But potentially it does represents a big crack in the IT barriers.

Of course, nothing is ever simple in our world. As you might imagine, our CIO1 is not happy.

The “Nonstandard Computer Exception Request” she signed (required by regulations) includes this pissy little declaration: “No requests for hardware or software support associated with these devices will be made to IT personnel.” It also forbids the schools from using the standard Google administrative dashboard to manage the Chromebooks, conveying the message: this is our sandbox, keep your crappy toys out.

So, IT is essentially treating these as BYOD devices2 and clearly trying to set up this project for failure. We on the instructional side, are doing our subversive best to make this initiative a success, with a big assist from our Google Education rep. More to come as we see how things play out.

One more thing about Chromebooks.

I’m not going to tell you that they are the ideal instructional device or that they will magically transform learning in our schools. They have plenty of flaws as a classroom tool3. Same with the iPad, another popular choice by schools over the past couple of years and also hobbled for effective use by the barriers erected by IT.

No computing device by itself is going to change public education. The technology must be accompanied by a whole new approach to pedagogy and curriculum, along with huge shifts in thinking from teachers, administrators, parents, and kids.

And, at least in our district, a major alteration in IT attitude – from obstruction to support.

1 Comment

  1. Joel VerDuin

    It seems your district may share a problem with a lot of schools that I have come in contact with (and hopefully people would not say that about mine – but I suppose they might).

    There is a pretty wide chasm of understanding between the departments leading to both an, “us or them” language, and what looks like assumptions about motivation that may or may not be correct (wanting nothing but Microsoft blessed devices, motivated by job preservation, …).

    I can probably guess decently how the story will continue to play out since it is a well-traveled road (unfortunately).

    IT departments gravitate towards standardization and that is really at odds with today’s consumer-driven technology economy. The ideals can coexist, but I’d suggest some give and take in the conversation and at least some attempts to understand both sides of the issue.

    Why standardization? The very real reason is that for every new decision that diversifies the device, it will really cost somebody in real time and/or money – more to run the operation. Sometimes it is small (Chromebook overhead is not too bad), and sometimes it is massive (iPad overhead is, quite frankly, a lot of work). It is nice to say that they can just manage themselves, but not very realistic. Aside from the very real issue of increased costs to the organization, there could always be other motivation – such as resistance to change, concerns about what the change means, …

    On understanding the education side of the issue, teachers are generally starved for access (in schools that are less than 1:1) and we work in an industry that is constantly looking for new ways to do things – and would like to spread the dollars out if it means more access for more students.

    But, there are a lot of red flags in the post. The “educators” -vs- the tech department… What seems to be no visible process for this decision to be made other than, try… hear no… get frustrate, …. go up the chain of command for a different answer, …. get a different answer. The details of the post position what happened as a victory for teachers and that the IT department perceives it as a loss (at least from what I am reading).

    It should never have been a battle in the first place because the victory (or loss) is completely dependent on the whims of who is sitting in the Deputy Superintendent chair (and before it reached his/her level), the whims of CTO’s chair. That is nice when it works in one’s favor and sucks to be you if it doesn’t. However, wouldn’t it seem better to have a visible process with participation from stakeholders that can make smart educational and fiscally sound choices?

    It would take a lot of work to turn this into a better process and unfortunately, I think some damaged feelings are not going to be easy to overcome to move in the right direction. For the recent winners – why would you change (and the answer should be because this really isn’t a great way to do this, and the current model runs the risk of poor decision making by alienating those who need to help make it work). For the recently stung technology department, they may have aversions based upon what just happened and as evidenced in the response you copied/pasted that shows signs of resource withholding.

    Best of luck!


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