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 EduGeek.net 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.