Howard Chan asked me to write about the role of the technology department in education. I have written implicitly about this on many occasions both on this blog and on Twitter. In fact, Howard, Keith Bockwoldt, and I started the #EduIt discussion on Twitter several months ago specifically to discuss ways to bridge the gap between education and traditional IT departments. We have since been joined by many qualified technology directors and teachers.
We believe this to be a great necessity in education. As technology becomes ever more vital to all aspects of education, such as infrastructure, administration, and teaching, the technology department is becoming much more necessary and more powerful. Policies made by the technology department effect every student and teacher in the school. The role of the technology department, as well as its limitations, need to be clearly delineated.
It is my vision that the technology department needs to enable students to learn and teachers to teach better than they already do. The issue is that many technology departments overstep these bounds and do not really understand education. Many technology directions come from a traditional IT background, complete with the assumptions and presuppositions of a corporate environment. Chief among these concerns is the need to control. We need to control employees so that they stay on task. My own technology director (His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to email him and let him know what you think of his policies.) explicitly told me that YouTube and Facebook would always be blocked because of the amount of bad content on those networks.
Technology departments cannot just block useful websites because students may find some bad content. Blocking Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, etc… does not protect students. It does not help students. It cripples them. The technology department needs to educate students on how to use these services wisely for self-directed learning and on how to react if they do come across inappropriate content. When students leave school, they will be tempted at home and at work. They will find inappropriate content. If the schools do not teach them how to handle these situations, then we have done our children a disservice.
We are further hurting our children when we allow the technology departments to limit our teachers. It is a sad state when I have to counsel my teachers on how to get around our Internet filter because they found excellent content online to use with students, and then find out that they cannot access it from school. By outlawing Twitter, my technology department is cutting off teachers from an amazing amount of professional development. If our teachers cannot improve as they should because of the technology department, then the technology is hurting our children.
Hadley Ferguson wrote an outstanding post recently entitled, “First Do No Harm.” We all, including technology departments, would be well served by adhering to this motto. Teachers and students do not need to be protected. To really thrive and prepare our students, we need freedom. The technology department should be supporting us in our goals and enabling them through infrastructure, training, teaching, professional development, and policies crafted involving all stakeholders. Our instructional and educational goals should not be determined or limited by what our technology departments deem appropriate.