Comparing IT and Education

When framing a problem, we define what we believe its cause to be along with the conditions that will indicate the problem has been solved. When attempting to solve problems, we take actions to reduce its effects and to prevent it from returning. When working with IT in schools, it becomes obvious there are differences between how IT professionals and educators define and attempt to solve problems. These differences must be bridged if IT systems are to be appropriately designed, properly configured, and reasonably supported in schools. Notice my careful language. Many problems are not really solved for all stakeholders and in many cases one solution creates new problems.  

In the domain of information technology, all problems are solvable. We all know what IT systems are supposed to do, and we get frustrated when they do not. IT professionals know the function of each component; they adopt systematic troubleshooting steps, and most problems can be isolated and resolved in minutes or a few hours. (Yes, I have problems that extended much longer—all IT professionals have—but those tend to be rare.) IT professionals have knowledge of the systems and components they manage, and they have resources (from online communities, colleagues, vendors, and even user manuals) to help them resolve unfamiliar problems. IT problems rarely resolved without something happening; it is often a distant and unknown system being restarted, but some human or other computer must intervene. When IT problems are solved, all users can recognize the green lights that signal functioning connections, operational computers, and—in schools—smiling teachers. 

In the domain education, problems are not so easy to identify and resolve. Students and teachers are vastly more complicated than IT and their lives are affected by far more variables than even the most sophisticated IT systems. When looking carefully at problems in education, we discover they cannot be clearly stated, and the causes cannot be isolated. After considerable effort and expense to implement solutions, the original problem may remain, it may have been shifted to another part of the system, or the solution may have caused new and unanticipated problems. Some problems that affect educators and students also resolve spontaneously on occasion. Further, there may be disagreement that the problem even existed or that it has been solved.  

Because they solve different types of problems, IT professionals and educators rely on much different types of knowledge, skills, and habits to their work. They must have differences, otherwise, they would not be able to solve the problems they face every day.