Where the Rationale for School IT Breaks Down

  1. We know schools depend on IT systems: Much (but certainly not all) teaching can be facilitated by technology. We store data on servers, and school operations are facilitated by technology.
  2. Schools have lots of users and lots of devices; so secure, reliable, and robust IT operations depend on enterprise systems which require expertise and skill to manage.
  3. The expertise and skill needed to keep enterprise IT networks operational is something that educators are very unlikely to have. Further, the work of keeping enterprise IT operational is a full-time job. For these reasons, schools hire IT professionals to keep the IT available to users.
  4. IT professionals often arrive in schools knowing how to configure IT: They manage identities and authorizations, they configure firewalls, they configure DHCP servers, upgrade systems, monitor the health of devices, and troubleshoot and repair both network and end user devices.
  5. Much of the work of managing networks is organizational agnostic. It does not matter if you are configuring a firewall for a business or for a school, the work is the same.

In my experience, that last point is where school IT decision-making breaks down. Organizations have different strategic goals, and they accomplish those goals by setting different priorities and adopting different strategies. IT professionals who have learned their craft in organizations other than schools are often unfamiliar with the urgency of malfunctioning academic systems.

During my career, I have encountered several IT professionals working in educational organizations who seemed to misunderstand technology in education:

  • When asked about the difference between business and education users, they said, “In business we try to upsell customers, so we generate more income. We should treat teachers just like we treat customers. Upsell them to get more out of them.”
  • Six months into their role they finally asked, “So, how do we get into the LMS?” (This was at a school that had prioritized supporting online learners.)
  • Citing the need to update operating systems, the desktop support team reimages classroom computers the day before classes start. This deleted all the files added to desktops and other configurations teachers had set to prepare for classes to begin.
  • When asked to change some configurations after teachers started using a computer lab with students. The IT coordinator responded, “I did what they asked, it they needed something else, they should have asked for it.”

I understand the need for having clearly bounded areas of responsibility when it comes to technology in schools. Nothing good happens when we allow educators or leaders to manage IT. Nothing good happens when we allow IT professionals to determine what educators can do.

Effective school technology depends on educators leading technology decision-making. This is a field outside their area of expertise, however, so they are too often reluctant to take this lead. While it is reasonable that educators recognize they are not prepared to do the work of managing the IT, they must be prepared to understand how IT decisions affect their schools and the students who attend.