Teachers - is your school technology as locked down as ours?
September 15, 2012 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Teachers - is your school technology as locked down as ours?

Hi everyone. I'm a teacher in a middle school and I'm curious how open & useable your school's technology is. We are lucky to have great tools but they are almost unusable due to how badly they are locked down and how filtered the web is. For instance, there is a teacher & student 1 to 1 laptop program but nothing can be installed on them without first being vetted & checked by an tech department person who works on another campus - you ave to leave your machine with them for a few days. This includes browser plug-ins, software updates -anything. If you want to install your own software or make system changes, forget it. The web is filtered with no distinction for teachers or students: no you tube, social media, google docs, public radio sites, any games (including math games), applets, pod casts, etc. Computers are set up in such a way so that those sites are blocked even at home. Students have no email and we are forced to walk around with flash drives and dump files on their machines one at a time. Can't post things on google sits or docs cause...well, you get the picture. Coming from a much more open school, I feel like I've stepped into a digital Republic of Gilead.
I get that we're lucky to have good machines, first world problems and all, but what's the point of running around and touting "21 Century Skills blah blah blah," if you're so locked down? The new version of Scratch will be web-based and I anticipate nightmares in getting that unblocked. I'm doing what I can with them, but there's just so much more potential out there.
Anyway, sorry for the rant. Before I go on a charm offensive or to war or whatever with the tech department over this, I'm really curious if this level of control and lock down is the norm or if we're really on the fringe. I get that control is necessary, to some extent, but setting every boundary possible for ou kids (and teachers!) seems extreme. What do you think? Thanks
posted by CaptainCaseous to Education (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We're sort of similar in how the software and website access is limited. All that stuff is blocked, but if a teacher wants to install something, they can just as IT and it'll happen. There's no access for anyone to social media sites (except Instagram, I've noticed but I think that's just an oversight).
All students have email starting in Grade 5 (we're K-12) and its an important part of how we all communicate.

The flash drive thing seems unnecessary - our students can access things on the server, so often emailing a document or using that sort of routine that you do is not needed. Seems like your overall policy and process could use some refining, but its not totally out there.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:00 AM on September 15, 2012

You should change the conversation from having access to technology to having capabilities. The task for the IT department should not be to deploy WiFi (for example) it should be about ensuring mobile access to content. Force your IT department to satisfy use cases which you as the teachers devise (i.e. Student A needs to share a document with Student B) rather than just deploy the technology and assume it will meet the needs...

I know changing the conversation like this is easier said than done, but it's the only way you will get the IT department to look at the potential uses of the technology which are needed for the classroom and not just be reactive to the potential mis-uses of the technology...

Good Luck
posted by NoDef at 7:40 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

We're reasonably locked down but this year they (FINALLY) gave teachers the ability to e-mail someone to get a password that lets us bypass some of the filters (not all, but I can at least access YouTube now which is useful for school).

Your overall situations unfortunately sounds like high-average in terms of locked-down-ness to me but please fight the good fight!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:57 AM on September 15, 2012

You evidently work in the same middle school as my wife. Her experience is identical to yours, and they even put more restrictions on the students the start of this school year.

She refused to accept a district owned computer and bought her own to avoid many of the restrictions and constant screwed up reimaging that was happening.
posted by HuronBob at 8:21 AM on September 15, 2012

NoDef: You should change the conversation from having access to technology to having capabilities.

This is the correct answer. It's something that a lot of IT people don't make obvious as a way of communicating what you want. By default, IT people work on avoiding risks on the computer systems the school owns rather than preemptively improving service. They are generally obligated to do so as they are given the task of protecting the school's assets (ie, computer systems). The reaction to, "I need access to Scratch" will be "Scratch presents x danger, y cost, and z risk, which we aren't willing to bear", because you have not given them any reason to listen to you. In particular, they can perceive this sort of comment as you attempting to do their job by picking out a "safe" tool to use. Also, (to some people), a key IT fundamental is "least privilege possible", so without a reason, they have no inclination to move forward.

Presenting this as a requirement, "I need a way to introduce students to sequential programming, perhaps like Scratch", gives them both a suggested way to move forward, and tells them why you need such a tool. In addition, it allows them to do some problem-solving (which most IT folks enjoy), and doesn't suggest a solution without describing the problem. In cases where the IT department is being too strict, it also makes them justify why they are preventing any mechanism for what you are trying to do rather than just individual examples.

To answer your other questions, a while ago, I came to realize that IT policy is so variant organization-to-organization is because it is done by combining the most restrictive inclinations of all parties involved rather than being dominated by just one party. It is likely that your principal doesn't care too much about a lot of the things mentioned. Perhaps, though, he hates the idea of YouTube. So, he tells IT to ban YouTube. IT then does so, but realizes that if they are going to ban YouTube (which they probably don't care about), they might as well ban all Flash apps (because it's easier and because Flash constantly has security issues). Similarly, your principal might not care about installing applications (and might actually want to!), but IT doesn't want to open the network to unknown applications. The end result is a solution that is unacceptable to everyone, but oddly enough, fulfills everyone's requirements. To get back to the beginning of my answer, that further explains why you need to talk to IT in the form of requirements - because that's how they work.
posted by saeculorum at 8:28 AM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

No, we are not locked down that much at all at my school.
Our tech guy isn't all that great (boo for nepotism), but he does give access to installing programs only to those teachers who are tech savvy and really know what they are doing. There are still a lot of (older) teachers out there who are resistant to technology and have learned things on a "need to know" basis, so they have many gaps in their understanding of how computers/the internet work and need to be stopped from downloading and installing programs that could harm their computers. Schools spend a lot of money on computers and need to protect their investment.

The adults in the building have different access to the internet than students - mainly we can get to YouTube and they can't. I share some of your frustrations in that any kind of site that is a discussion board where you would post and share lesson ideas is blocked by the filter for everyone. We have an option to submit a site for review, but that is usually a dead end. Facebook and other social media is obviously blocked, but recently they allowed students to access Google and Yahoo mail so students can send emails.

I couldn't imagine handing my work laptop over to the tech guy for a few days to have something installed - how am I going to take attendance or enter grades? That is a really long turn around time just to install or update a program. We use a helpdesk system and when there is a problem or request, we submit a ticket and the tech guy either comes to us to fix it or he uses a free program called "Team Viewer" which allows him to access our computers and make changes. Because your tech guy is on a another campus, your school should look into something like that where he could access your computer from his desk; you wouldn't have to leave it with him for days to have something installed. He could just log into Team Viewer, access your machine and make the change you want. Its a band-aid, but it could mean less downtime for your computer.

The challenge in changing policy is partly what I said above - there is still some ignorance about how computers work and people fear what they do not know - so lock it down! :-( And there are always some control freaks (in any organization) who want things their way just because they do and they don't see the educational value in changing things and using new technology. Good luck!
posted by NoraCharles at 8:39 AM on September 15, 2012

Teacher here....we have filtering, but staff has full access to YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest and the like. We can access most sites that would be useful personally and in the classroom. Students are filtered, but at varying levels. My first graders cannot access social media, for example, but older students are allowed to override the filtering under supervision on certain occasions (ie, in my high school aged son's computer class, they can access the web fully on Fridays. I don't know how.)
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 11:00 AM on September 15, 2012

There is absolutely no web filtering done at our school (well, it is possible that there is, but I have never encountered it nor have any of my students).

Desktop computers are fairly locked down as far as installing applications but teachers were just given laptops and we have full admin rights.

We are deploying 1:1 laptops for students and they will presumably have admin access and be expected to manage their machines as well.
posted by davey_darling at 5:49 PM on September 15, 2012

Former IT director at a private middle school here, seven or eight years ago. No web filtering, and we weren't locked down at all; if you mangled your machine we'd re-image it to a standard configuration, but you could install what you liked.

(Mind you, all the kids took classes in information literacy and CS, and our parent demographics were probably roughly 85% geek.)
posted by tangerine at 12:29 AM on September 16, 2012

Davey_Darling, are you at a middle or elementary?
posted by CaptainCaseous at 6:16 AM on September 16, 2012

I'm a high school teacher, and the only things that are really blocked at my site (for students - not for teachers) are twitter and facebook. Youtube, anything google, etc. fine.

Last year, I worked at a school where it was much more restrictive. But it was a fun game:

me: I want to try x website! It's awesome! It can teach us y about z subject we're studying!
students: It's blocked.
me: Oh, my entire lesson was on there.
students: *noises of frustration*

I can also install updates on my current school computer (I could last year, but not on student computers), but we have a free (unlocked) WiFi network too, so I use my own devices as well.

What you're describing is typical of most places (I'm in the liberal Bay Area in a high performing school). But there has to be someone in charge of IT at the district (like an Educational Technology or Instructional Technology person) who could talk to you about solutions to whatever issue you have. I think presenting it as saeculorum presents above is the best choice.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:20 PM on September 16, 2012

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