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Cross-blogged from my personal blog - Hynessight

Principals, Schools and Communities Held to Ransom

What is the problem? As I go into a lot of schools across the country, it is evident that there is a real problem holding up progress for the successful implementation of digital technologies into classroom practice for learning. This problem is the source of a mountain of barriers that educators come to when they find they they don't have access to all the resources that they need in the short time that they have for preparation or learning how to use a new bit of software.
These barriers have been put in face by their "friendly" technical staff. 
Now I must make it clear from the outset that not all technicians are tarred with the same brushes.  There are some fabulous technicians out there whose businesses are booming because they make digital technologies so easy for teachers and principals.
But there are too many who do not. They might be school based or they might be local or distance companies who hold the passwords and keys that the educators and their learners need.  I am not talking about firewalls which are absolutely necessary to protect students. I am talking about the holding of the balance of power in the school when it comes to using digital technologies for learning.

Some examples I have personally encountered in schools are:
  • Technicians advising schools which devices to buy, often whole sets of tablets, or only certain platforms that they can configure and maintain, and sometimes devices which are just not suited to learning.  Schools are at the mercy of these sales-oriented people pushing their own products and planning their future business around ongoing maintenance issues.
  • Technicians advising which software to use for learning including one who said that Myportfolio should not be used as it was too difficult to set up in the school.
  • Technicians preventing teachers from being administrators of the TELA laptops that they use. (And sometimes advising principals that this is the right thing to do.) Then teachers are unable to download software for their printers at home or any programme that they would like to investigate for use in the classroom. And, what a coincidence, the technician can charge for the time to install these programmes for the teachers. If you sense a touch of cynicism there, you are on the right track.
  • Technicians being the only people administering passwords for teachers and students so that no one can get on the system unless they are around AND technicians not providing passwords unless personally advised by the principal. 
  • Technicians locking up servers and software with passwords that they fail to release to principals, and then leave, when they fall out with the school personnel, leaving all systems locked up and tied up so tightly that they school has to spend even more $$$ on new technicians to untangle the unholy mess.

Why it is wrong. For a start technicians are not teachers for the most part - why would they feel they should choose the right products for learning? The teaching professionals are the ones who should be allowed to do this.  Sure, show them how things work, but give them the opportunity to compare and contrast before they make their decisions.
I just don't get it.  There is a relationship of trust between a school and a technician or tech company to do the right thing when you are paying for their services.  Its like paying for a painter to paint your bathroom.  You trust that the painter will use his expertise to allow you to choose the right paint, also the right colour of paint, offer to you to include a fungicide with the paint and recommend to seal the bathroom beforehand to prevent water damage so that down the track you don't find that the paint peels off in the humidity or gets covered in unsightly mould.  You don't invite that same painter back to do other rooms in your house if you find he stuffed up first time, just went ahead and painted the bathroom his favourite colour and didn't put fungicide in it because you didn't ask for it.
What should happen.
Principals:  Trust your teachers. Ask around other principals and teachers outside your schools about the effectiveness of certain devices.  Don't jump on the local bandwagon of getting a certain device without some thorough research on alternatives.  Get a variety of devices - that is what students will come across when they go into the workplace.  Join the VLN or twitter and start asking questions across New Zealand.
Teachers: Ask for (and demand) full access to all software you want to use for learning (You wouldn't accept a textbook in your class that had some of the pages bound up so you couldn't even see them let alone judge if they were suitable for your students.)  Form networks with other teachers from other schools to see what they use and what barriers there are.  Join the VLN.  Start tweeting and asking questions.
Technicians:  Build your business around making things work for teachers and schools, not tying them up so you are the resident "expert" who must be consulted at all times.
I am not saying all technicians are the same.  I am not saying they even do these things knowingly and  deliberately in some cases.  What I am saying is that technicians are the key people in making systems workable for schools, principals, and teachers, and they should be doing their utmost to make access to technology for education a piece of cake, not an ongoing source of income for their own ends.
I am really interested to know if you have come across this problem. 

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Comment by Hazel Owen on March 2, 2014 at 10:31
I hear your frustration here, Leigh...and, I'm not sure if it's much consolation, but the things you have observed and experienced are not new, not isolated to New Zealand, and not not only found in the school sector...or only in education come to that :-)

Much of the research I have schools as well as in the tertiary sector have identified similar findings as you. I've included an excerpt from a paper from 2012 that echoes some of what you say. I'm not sure what the answers are, but feel there are certainly things that can be influenced and others that, as you identify, require shifts in institutional culture and roles...and this can be incredibly frustrating on many levels, especially as the search indicates that there are consequent negative impacts on learning for both students and educators.

"Previous studies acknowledged that external factors have an extensive impact on access to and satisfaction with learning experiences (Owen, 2010). Therefore the design of online VPLD provision needs to acknowledge that while participants' ICT skills and experience can be augmented, some negative factors are technical and cannot be resolved by the provider/facilitator. Furthermore, while online and blended professional development may have an efficacious influence on teaching practice, technical support is a crucial element in the success of effective learning (effective here referring to improving outcomes for learners and/or practitioners) (Lovvorn, Barth, Morris, & Timmerman, 2009; Grant & Thornton, 2007; Hutti, 2007).

In an online CoP members’ skills, access to and abilities with tools is crucial to the community success. When asked about access to technology and connectivity for participating 100% of respondents indicated that they had access to a computer, ranging from a school desktop computer with no microphone or webcam (and "full of filters"), to a laptop with camera and microphone. Fifty percent of respondents had no issues with Internet connectivity at their institution or at home. Twenty percent of respondents had intermittent issues with connectivity at the school, and 10% at home, and 20% had ongoing issues with both. Bandwidth was only a problem initially for 10% of respondents".

Reference: Ayling, D., Owen, H. & Flagg, E. (2012). Thinking, researching and living in virtual professional development community of practice. In M. Brown, M. Hartnett & T. Stewart (Eds.), Future challenges, sustainable futures. In Proceedings ascilite Wellington 2012. (pp. 67-74).

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