The IT tail wagging the pedagogical dog

I was recently talking to a teacher who attended a PD day I ran in Melbourne, when he expressed an all-too-common frustration. He returns to school after such a day, inspired to implement his new ideas – but finds his efforts thwarted by roadblocks at every turn. Roadblocks erected by his school’s computer technician who has unbending views about which web services, sites and devices are ‘best’. Teaching staff have no say in the matter.

On his school’s network YouTube is blocked. iTunes is blocked. Dropbox is blocked. One teacher wanted to bring in his own AppleTV and connect it to the projector in his classroom, but the technician wouldn’t allow it. Staff are not permitted to install software on their school-issued laptop and if a teacher brings in his own laptop to school, he is not able to connect it to the school network.

I hear teachers lamenting this situation often (more often than you probably imagine). I’ve even known a few teachers who, having started out inspired to reform their teaching, have eventually given up trying because their IT department wouldn’t support any of their initiatives.

It’s wrong.

I’m not saying some sites shouldn’t be blocked at school and I absolutely appreciate the instrumental role that a technician plays in a school (great technicians are worth their weight in gold! — this I know from my own school experience). Neither am I saying that technicians shouldn’t offer advice and guidance about technology choices. They obviously have invaluable experience, insights and knowledge. But a technician’s primary focus is necessarily on technology, whereas a teacher’s is on pedagogy. We need to remember the primary purpose of schools and keep those two foci prioritised accordingly.

If an application or service poses a real threat to the security of the network (Bit Torrent, P2P), then I think it’s the technician’s place to make that call. But in many schools, something is disallowed because the technician thinks students will waste time on it (YouTube, Twitter) or they just don’t like it (Macs, Weebly), or it side-steps a system they have spent time setting up for the school (DropBox, Schoology). In such cases it’s not an issue of network integrity but classroom management — making it an educational decision that should be decided by teachers.

Great technicians are enablers – reducing the friction of implementing new teaching ideas.  Alas, in some schools the technicians are the source of the friction.  Teachers (and principals) shouldn’t put up with that.

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11 thoughts on “The IT tail wagging the pedagogical dog

  1. I once worked at a school with two people in the IT dept. One was the son of two teachers, and the other was not. The attitude of the former was the more helpful and team-minded, I think because he wanted the same things the teacher did, enabling the learning. The other guy was nice, he just didn’t get the ped picture. Maybe that’s part of the solution, a specialized detach IT training.

  2. I work at a school that has an outstanding IT technician. He is only young but listens to what teachers want and finds ways to make it happen. We are also fortunate to have a principal who pushes the use of IT in the classroom. We are indeed lucky!

  3. Hey Douchy,

    I attended your PD with Critical Agendas and unfortunately we fall in the “blocked” category. Educanon cannot be used because YouTube is blocked. Any suggestions on how to work “together” with the IT team?

    • Of course you can still use EduCanon (and youtube for that matter) outside of school. In other words you can assign youtube videos for home-viewing (which is consistent with a flipped learning approach, anyway). Though having said that, it’s kind of sad if students are learning despite the school, rather than because of it.

      I’m not sure what the answer is – but I think arguing with the IT techs is probably not the most effective strategy. I think if you can convince your principal, you’ll likely get further – and in my experience principals are more likely to be convinced because at heart, most principals are themselves teachers.

      Sometimes being a change agent in a school is hard work. Best of luck with it Marco!

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