Sunday, 9 February 2014

Once more into the breach dear friends!

From thirteen years old in Air Cadets onward I've taken leadership courses.  I think I have a pretty good grasp of the mechanics, though its often hard to see my own shortcomings in the process.  One of those short comings is I tend to leap into the breach rather than direct the battle.  I'd rather be hands-on and leading by example, but this creates its own problems.

This past couple of years I've been working as Head of Computer Studies.  I inherited that job and the rather unique responsibilities that came with it, but rather than moan about it I stepped up and did everything I could to make it work.  While I was running one of the only remaining integrated computer studies departments in the board I was also managing an increasingly complicated IT budget (which I had suggested in the first place).

Ten years ago there was one kind of printer in our school and it was tightly integrated into a closed, wired board network.  In the past three years especially, our board (in a very forward thinking move) began to diversify technology beginning with wifi a couple of years ago.  This has peaked with the introduction of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative that has caused a diaspora of technology in our school.  Where once we had a single kind of printer, now we
You need to be wearing this shirt yourself
have dozens.  Where once everyone was on the same kind of desktop on the same operating system with access to the same applications, now we have hundreds if not thousands of combinations of hardware and software in the school.  I think this is a good thing, but it asks a lot of questions of teachers when they are expecting students, who aren't as digitally native as you might think, to get work done.  Many of those teachers aren't interested in being their own technology support either.

While all this has been happening, due to politics beyond their control, our IT budget has been slashed and the amount of support we get has dried up.  Where once we could expect our centralized board IT department to support a monolithic technology environment, we now have a diverse technology wilderness.

Into that wilderness I tried to maintain the level of support our staff and students had become accustomed to.  Being 'mixed' into a headship, our key computer teacher position was at best vague, and as the undercurrents in technology trends and support became clear, the job became heavier and heavier, to the point where I was taking days off from teaching to move labs around because IT couldn't manage it.

One of the reasons I'm good at this sort of thing is because I throw myself into it, body and soul.  With that emotional energy I get a lot done, and it stings when it isn't recognized or appreciated.  As the headship restructuring occurred it was hard not to take the dismissal of any role I had at the table personally.  That is one of the short comings of my approach to work, lots gets done, but I take it personally.

My main concern is successfully engaging staff and students with vital 21st Century digital fluencies that our graduates will need outside the walls of our school.  Perhaps plugging in network cables for people isn't the best way to achieve that goal.  One of the problems with being a go-get-em type problem solver is I tend to have a myopic view of the bigger picture, especially when circumstances conspire to bury me in tech support.

When I came into teaching in 2004 I was shocked at how far behind education was compared to the business environment I'd just been an IT coordinator in.  In 2003 we'd already moved most staff to one to one technology (laptops) and our ordering system was accessible online.  In 2004 teachers were still filling in bubble sheets for attendance and having a secretary run them through a card reader (like it was 1980).  What few labs there were old desktops running six year old versions of windows that barely had any network functionality.

I started a computer club at my first school in Brampton and we put a wireless router into the library - the first one in the board as far as I know.  Students immediately began using it and our librarian was overjoyed, he could suddenly supply internet to all sorts of students.  That would be BYOD and wifi, in 2004 in an Ontario public high school.

I've pushed and pushed to connect education to more current information technologies, and there has been constant if slow improvement.  We've now caught up with 2004, we're probably well into 2007 by now.  Of course, when students graduate they aren't going to be expected to have a firm knowledge of 2007 digital workflow, so I'll keep pushing.  

One of the reasons young people look so out of touch with business need is due to our outdated handling of technology in their education; it's tough keeping up with a revolution in a system as conservative as education.

... but not until you've done due diligence, check the plugs,
check Google - tech support starts with you!
This matter of technology support is something I've got to reconsider, especially if we aren't going to make a space for it locally.  The goal was never to do everything for everyone, the goal was to teach people how to perform basic troubleshooting themselves in order to make digital tools available when they need them; I'm not sure how that will happen in the future.  I don't think a strong central support role is something that will return.  We need to find a way to integrate digital fluencies, including a basic understanding of how to get computers working, across the curriculum so that all teachers and students feel responsible for their own tech-use.  The idea is to see an acceleration in how current educational technology compares to what happens outside of the walls of a school.  This disparity causes tensions in both graduates and students who strain at the differences between school-tech expectations and how they are experiencing technology in the rest of their lives.

I'd make the argument that if you're going to drive a car you should know how to change a tire and take care of basic maintenance, but many people can't be bothered (though they are quick to complain about how much it costs to have other people do these things for them).  The same thing happens with computers.  Not everyone needs to be able to rebuild a computer from the ground up, but if you want to use one you should be able to do basic troubleshooting in order to have the technology work when you need it to.  How to create that self sufficiency is the question.

I'm not sure how that's going to happen in the future, but I'm still determined to create an educational experience that produces digitally relevant graduates.  Rather than leaping into the breach and doing onsite technology support I have to find another way of getting more people technologically self sufficient.