Left to Their Own Devices

Marjorie Scroggy was grading student essay in her classroom during a free period, when Rita from the IT department showed up. “Hi Mrs. S.,” lilted Rita. “I’m here to upgrade your technology.”

“What is it now?” sighed Mrs. Scoggy. “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something? Can this wait until later? You always come at the most inopportune time. And it seems like we just had some of these so-called upgrades last semester, and I haven’t learned how to use those yet.”

“Sorry, Mrs. S. This is a required upgrade. Security-related, I’m told. It should just take a couple of minutes. But I will need to take your Faber 7.6 from you for  a sec.”

“But that’s what I’m using grade these papers, dear. Can’t you take my older Faber?”

“Sorry again, but this upgrade can only be installed on a version 7 system. All your other Fabers are 6.0 or older.”

“Well, if you say so, Rita” said Mrs. Scroggy. “But hold on. How about if you leave it to me? I can do a simple upgrade, I’m sure. I’ve seen you do it lots of time.”

“No can do, and you know that Mrs. S. We’ve had this conversation before. You don’t have the correct permissions to install updates. And it’s not just you. None of the teachers do. That’s IT policy.”

I know you’re only doing your job, dear,” said Mrs. Scroggy. “I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble for me. Okay. Go ahead.”

Mrs. Scoggy hands Rita her Faber 7.6. Rita took it from her and gently laid it on one of the student desks, knelt it front of it, carefully removed the synthetic rubber from the end of the barrel and placed it on the desk. She then tilted the barrel until a small, perfectly round piece of graphite slipped out, which she then set aside. Next, she produced a small, clear plastic shell labeled Faber8.0, took off its top, and removed a replacement piece of graphite which, to the untrained eye, looked identical to the one she had just had just removed. Rita then slipped the new graphite piece into the barrel, replaced the synthetic rubber stopper, and handed the instrument back to Mrs. Scroggy.”

“There you go, Mrs. S. Faber 8.0 at your service,” said Rita.

“Thanks, I guess” she replied. “Now I can get back to my papers. But what’s this upgrade supposed to do for me that the pervious version could not?”

“I’m not really sure, Mrs. S. I’m sure they’ll go over it with you and the other teachers at a meeting or something. But you know how it is, there’s never enough professional development time. I’ll see what I can find out. Maybe there’s some documentation back in the office. I’ll send you anything I find.”

Rita packed up her things and left classroom as Mrs. Scroggy turned to the next paper on her desk. She only got as far as the second sentence before she saw it: a split infinitive. She brings her Faber 8.0 to bear on the problem, and–nothing happens. She tries again;  still nothing. She puts her head in in her hands. She feels a headache coming on. Since she can’t write IT a note, she pushes back from her desk and starts a trek to their offices. It’s going to be a long day.

To hear some IT managers talk, you would think that their users, their constituents, their customers if you will can’t be trusted to even change the lead in s mechanical pencil, let alone take responsibility for maintaining a complicated device like a computer. Giving adults administrator privileges on their electronic devices would lead to chaos in the form of un-patched operating systems, out-of-date virus definitions, the installation of unapproved software applications, and disk space filled with personal photos, movies, and music. The road to IT hell is paved with good intentions and ridden upon by idiotic motorists who should have taken then bus. Responsible coffee drinkers trust professional baristas and not their sleep-deprived partners to brew their morning cup of joe.

Such IT departments fear based and control oriented, spinning worst possible scenarios as likely rather than exceptional; when the shit hits the fan, it will be their ass on the line, and all fingers will point at them. Like flight controllers who guide planes during take-off and landing they may not be piloting the craft, but they share a deep responsibility to see it liftoff and land safely. Given this, they want as much control as possible.

If K-12 schools were dealing with jets or national secrets I might forgive them such zeal, but thank goodness they are not. Yes, schools deal with sensitive and confidential information that should and must be kept secure, and networks and computers should be properly maintained. But schools are foremost places of learning and teaching and the role of IT is to facilitate rather than to encumber these ends. Given the role that technology plays in the lives of teachers and students it therefore makes sense that IT departments provide a safe haven in which its users to become self-sufficient, confident managers of digital devices. Yes, some users may screw up their computers. Some may inadvertently download a computer virus. And I can practically guarantee that many users will store personal data on their computers. But I also know that if you treat people with respect and given them responsibility that the vast majority will demonstrate that they deserve your trust , including Mrs. Scroggy.


Print Friendly

4 thoughts on “Left to Their Own Devices

  1. Doug Johnson

    Hi Steve,

    In general I am very sympathetic to your view of giving teachers as much responsibility and access to their “pencils” as possible. But allow me to play devil’s advocate here.

    - If replacing the lead only needs to be done once every 6 months, it is more efficient to have a tech do it that re-train every teacher every 6 months.

    - If a bad lead in one pencil could possibly cause not just that pencil to not work, but every pencil in the district to not work and start sending out random notes to all other teachers, you may not want teachers selecting and installing their own lead.

    - If a teacher might mis-install a lead so that the pencil breaks and needs to be repaired, you may not want teacher installing their own lead.

    Steve, I think a lot of uber-control over teacher machines is caused by a lack of support personnel. The more locked down the machine, the fewer “mistakes” that need to be corrected. It’s a survival technique for overwhelmed techs.

    Somebody once said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This is true in this case since often we know enough to break something, but not enough to fix it!

    With horns and tail,


  2. sjtaffee Post author

    Nice to hear from you, Doug.

    My experience is that teachers are, by and large, a rather conservative lot (when it comes to tech, anyway) and generally not prone to wild experimentation. They can, and do, make honest mistakes, but only the most hapless continue to make them. Perhaps it was because most of our faculty used Macs helped to mitigate problems with malware and configuration issues. I sympathize with overburdened tech staff, yet I think that bright people, such as teachers, can be part of the solution if they are given the training – and authority – to be more self-servicing.


  3. Doug Johnson

    Hi Steve,

    My teachers run the spectrum from try anything to do nothing. It’s kind of the old 80/20 rule – 80% of tech problems/misuse are caused by 20% of the staff. Unfortunately it’s those “trouble-makers” that get the attention from the IT department and for whom everyone’s rules are written.

    Maybe give the teacher total control after passing a competency test???

    Fun to talk about,


  4. Pingback: November’s Worthwhile Reads « A Teaching Life

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>