Is there a solution right before us?

Warning: somewhat of a tech bend to this post.

Last week, while I was on vacation we had a huge server meltdown.  While I am not an IT guy, I do understand some of the implications of what that means.  For example, our student information system (a great little product called Genesis), our wireless Internet radios, our Moodle courses, and many of our other essential services experienced outages that slowed workplace productivity to a crawl.  While it was a great week to be on vacation, it did bring to light some very glaring issues.

Jim Moulton, over at The Future of Education is Here, writes about a March article in eSchoolnews that cited:

Only 31 percent of respondents said their districts have enough IT staff to satisfy their needs; that’s up only marginally from 27 percent in last year’s survey. And 55 percent of those polled–the same percentage as last year–said they spend more than half their time reacting to technical problems, instead of working proactively on long-range planning and projects.

IT staffs in schools are traditionally understaffed.  In most districts I’ve been in, the ratios between number of IT staff and machines to service, not to mention servers and systems, is outrageous.  When issues like the one we ran into last week occur, an overworked staff becomes increasingly stressed.

Last October at TechForum Northeast, I was fortunate enough to sit on a panel with David Warlick in which we discussed some hurdles to implementation of new thinking in schools.  One teacher from the audience lamented, much as Jim did in his post, that the tech staff in his building are guarded and unwilling to allow for teachers to experiment with open-source technologies for fear of corruption to the network.  If, this audience member suggested, teachers are expected to push the limit on what they can have students achieving in the classroom, should they be constrained by an IT staff that does not have the best interest of the students in mind?

It’s an interesting dichotomy, the students v. IT staff one, isn’t it?  On the one hand we have students who are growing up in a world where 11-year olds make huge profits by designing iPhone apps, and on the other we have them working in school environments that can’t give them access to the types of tools that would let them create such apps.

At the tale end of Jim’s post, he presents a solution, one that I have heard via Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez in the past: give the students the ability to aid the IT department.  We are not talking giving them access to the firewall, or the major components of the infrastructure, but rather allow them to handle basic repairs, quick imaging and system setups so that the IT staff can begin doing some of their own imaginative work.

Be sure to check out her list of GenYes Schools where this solution is actually in place.

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3 thoughts on “Is there a solution right before us?

  1. Thank you for reinforcing that the solutions are often easier than we think. We put up so many obstacles, they obscure the possibilities. Our students are once again our most valuable (potential) resource.

  2. Karen,

    Thanks for dropping by. Every year, sometime around June when we are about to enter a new budget year we usually run into a time period where we find funds for special projects that we call “wish list” projects. This year, we were able to improve reading materials for the middle school through the introduction of some very focused non-fiction books. Next year, however, I am thinking of using the funds (if they are available) for the introduction of a student-led tech support team. Perhaps it will be through GenYes, or perhaps something more homegrown. Regardless, it’s time for us to really use students in capacities for which they are truly capable.

  3. Hi — I am a reporter from The Star-Ledger and am working on a story about teachers using Twitter or other similar tools in their classrooms. I found your blog and wanted to reach out. If you are doing anything in this area, or other tech efforts, or know of folks who are, I hope you’ll be in touch. I appreciate any help you can offer.

    Best regards,
    Kristen Alloway
    Education writer
    The Star-Ledger

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