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The Ignorant Bliss Of The Idealist

It seems a bit strange to say this, but I may have said some stuff that was wrong. Yes … me … saying I could have been wrong. Then again I could have been perfectly right and this is just a cunning plan to make people feel sorry for me and make them pay attention to what I have written.

On Wednesday 2nd February 2011 a thread started on around the fact that one of the respected regulars was happy to report that after some time they had been allowed to set up SIMS on staff laptops and then also allowed to remove full admin rights from Staff and lock them down. As a result they couldn’t install software, only change their background and add icons to their desktop.

Over the years this has been a continual battle for some members … to be able to take control and run their systems the way they should be run, with decent security, forcing staff to make use of the support team so that they can plan, stop viruses entering the network, and so on … I’ve been there myself and supported many others in similar positions. The problems that centre on Data Protection, security of files and data, prevention of network intrusion by non-school devices are real world problems …

But … and there is a big but … the simple fact was that I have a problem with people wanting to lock things down without due consideration for how it will affect the technology to be used for learning. I know that it might seem a bit strange for me to take this stance, but it is one born out of frustration.

My first point was that when software gets installed there is not time to test every single function, and quite often the first person to find these faults are teachers when planning lessons. By applying restrictions this can be made worse … from experience of macros in access and excel, templates in CAD/CAM software, preferences in Open Office, the ability to run embedded flash files. Now, you could argue that this is a good thing as they are likely to find the same flaws the students would do when they try the same activities during lessons, but that isn’t why it happens in most places. In fact, having talked about this with some people over the years this has even been put forward as an excuse to use to be able to force staff to accept lockdowns. Not in many places … but enough for me to worry about it.

The next worry raised was about license compliance. After all, if you give people the rights to install software then how will you know what is installed? How do you know they will not put on ‘dodgy’ software, possibly downloaded from interesting sites on the internet, possibly borrowed from a friend what they think is legitimate software they have purchased from the market but is, in reality, as black market as the movies we all get warned about in those wonderful “you wouldn’t steal a car” trailers we get on DVDs. They might even remove software the support team has spent ages getting set up. Turn off the automated software updates and the anti-virus. The risks are endless.

But these are adults we are talking about. Grown people who are capable of following instructions if they are explained to them. And so we hit the next barrier. The argument that SLT do not back up the support team when they explain to staff how stupid they are when they do any of the above. It goes into a downwards spiral of either blaming staff who follow this route or SLT with no backbone ….the only escape is to take control themselves … or convince others to allow them to do so.

Here is a key point. Read it carefully. If this is you, and you are doing it because you don’t having backing from SLT or you have far too much bitter experience of stupid staff … then you are only masking over the symptom. You are not fixing the problem.

Those of us who want to treat staff as knowledgeable users and ensure that SLT understand and accept the risks and benefits of technology feel your pain, we do, … you are not on your own. It happens in all aspects of a school. Go speak to your Bursar / Business Manager about why most staff are not allowed to do anything other than order items through them. Ask about why some departments get monthly financial reports, or even weekly at some points in the year. Ask pastoral staff about why they always have to deal with parents complaining about their child being sent out in a particular lesson but they are fine in others, by taking extreme control you ensure that the job is done.

But is it?
Who is it that thinks about how the kit and software will be used?
Most Support staff will shy away from giving educational advice to teachers. I know what the reaction would be from most teachers when a member of support or admin staff comes up to them and talks about T&L. Thankfully this is changing, but it is a two-way thing.

So, am I an idealist who thinks that Network Managers are being horrible to teachers or am I just trying to stop people ignoring the main problems?

I don’t think it is such a surprise that most people who reacted are from a secondary base. Talking to staff in primary schools or those who support primary schools there seems to be more trust, more freedom, both to make mistakes and to gain a lot more knowledge about how to use IT.

But … I know most people are not saying that I am wrong … just that in the real world it doesn’t work the way I think. I think it does and even if it doesn’t for you, then perhaps that this should be part of your targets … to look at how you can give staff more freedom and responsibility without creating too much work or putting IT systems at risk.

As a result I am setting myself a task to speak with as many people who do give more freedom to staff and find out about the journey how to get there. I will try to coach it in such a way that it will help SLT, IT Support and teachers speak a common language and try to develop an agreed goal. I am not saying there is any magic button that can be pressed … the Strategic Leadership of ICT course is sorely missed as a tool helping the process of change, often a long and sometimes stressful time, needing support, understanding and compromise on all sides.

Failing that it will also include a few hints and tricks about how you can work from the inside to make changes.

4 replies on “The Ignorant Bliss Of The Idealist”

Wow, a great post Tony, most of which I do agree with, the trouble in my place is that the staff do not listen much to what I say, even when they are at the mandatory training sessions held by myself once a term. They mostly seem too interested in talking in their “clicks”.

When problems arise, I now have the backing from SLT that I can state “I covered that in the training session and it was handed out with the notes” as an appropriate response if they ask something which has been covered in a previous session.

I know who does pay attention as they are the ones I never have problems with, and they are the ones who fully support the laptops being locked down.

Now its not massively locked down, just no installing programs without admin access (EG me doing it for them or one of my techs) and they still have access to everything they have had on prior to the lock down (less the stuff we dont have a licence for).

The staff were fully aware it was going to happen and signed a document saying they were happy for it to go ahead – although in this instance it was a case of you sign it or lose your laptop, not something I wanted to happen, nor did I request it – and we have worked over the last 2 weeks to get it as best as we can under the circumstances.

I am just happy that I was allowed to lock them down, as since doing so, we have already reduced virus and trojan alerts by over 80% (and we are not even half way through the laptops).

“Those of us who want to treat staff as knowledgeable users and ensure that SLT understand and accept the risks and benefits of technology”

In that single sentence it shows why your viewpoint is idealistic and unworkable. Staff are quite simply NOT knowledgeable, and SLT don’t want to understand and accept risks. Staff are often no better than children when it comes to their demands or skills, and SLT don’t want responsibility so instead ignore things so that they can delegate by absence.

I’m sorry Tony but that post doesn’t cover the matter properly, it focusses on T&L, like SYNACK says, as if it is some holy grail when it is simply one aspect of school life. You talk of child protection at times, quite passionately I might add, but you seem not to mention this within the scope of locking down computers. You also talk about data protection sometimes, and the legal responsibilities of a school and its staff, yet you don’t include it here.

As I’ve said before, my contract says I should keep the IT systems running so that T&L can go on, but it also says that I have the responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of our network and data. This aspect is a legal one, and if it is not done properly, the school would be breaking laws. If a child doesn’t get to use a certain feature of a website because of a locked down environment then we aren’t breaking the law. That’s simply how it is.

I’ll give you an example of showing how staff don’t want to shoulder any responsibility and just don’t care about others.

On our stage we used to have a PA amp/mixer which was plugged into a couple of unpowered speakers. This system was basic at best but was relatively simple – basically you turned it on and turned a knob to change volume. It was permanently set up at the side of the stage on a wheeled rack unit so it could be moved should it be needed.

Now, that system was destroyed by teachers. They constantly moved it when they didn’t need to, leading to broken cables, and leading to cables being yanked out of the back. This destroyed the amp, and lead to it needing being replaced. However, during its time in use, there was a never ending stream of requests for help because the teachers refuse to learn anything. I mean, its a couple of knobs to turn!

So, when we replaced this system we decided to put an end to this insanity. We split the system in 2 – amp and graphic equaliser are locked into a cabinet out back and the mixer is now in a fixed rack attached to a wall with sliders for volume – each one labelled. The rack on the stage is also locked when not in use, or at least, this was the plan.

The idea here was the same as locking down a computer – it prevents stupidity and mistakes. Yet, because our head and SLT dont’ support me (well one of them does but isn’t willing to rock the boat), the system is starting to show signs of abuse just like before. The door doesn’t get locked ‘teachers don’t have time to go and get a key’, the inputs get unplugged when there is no need to which has lead to one of the XLR cables being broken, and I am once again getting requests for help every day even though it is more simple than a tv to use.

In your ideal world, that system would never have had any issues. Staff would use it as they were trained to (yes, we even did a training session on it), they wouldn’t need help every day etc… But because of SLT passing the buck, and because of staff NOT being knowledgeable, it isn’t going to happen.

So whilst your ideal is good, like all utopian visions (I’m a fan of a Star Trek like future myself), it just isn’t realistic.

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