Two recent posts of mine included Return to Windows and‘Is Microsoft planning to upgrade ICT in our schools for free? Both were (as many will have guessed) phishing trips hoping to get a clue about what is planned for ICT in our schools.
The latter blog struck gold in as much as the school-based ICT community responded with fury at suggestions that their Windows XP networks were getting rather obsolete. This kind of reaction has only happened to me twice before; once when I suggested that Linux was especially thriving amongst the young in Islamic nations and once when I suggested that Darwinian principles governed the evolution of software (MS were Dinosaurs).
Obviously the reactions above are not linked except in that the respondents were, where such a judgement could be made, Microsoft supporters. Additionally, in common, what I had regarded as a witty swipe was to them not funny at all.
So how am I to interpret the massive response to the recent posts? It would be wrong to suppose that school ICT technicians are humourless nutters (which deals with the other blogs), so something must be niggling them.
Rock and Hard Places
My analysis is the techs are caught between a rock and a hard place. They know, as I suggested, that the existing setup will be ludicrously old in three years time but they also know that the traditional upgrade route (i.e. to Windows 7 and Office 10) will take extraordinary skill, time, effort and money.
Why? Because school networks have the most heterogeneous and complex suites of software imaginable that’s why...and what’s more if an application used by Teacher A suddenly becomes unavailable under W7 there will be hell to pay.
Thus, the techs know that reform is needed, many can see the future only too well, but know the task is near hopeless and find themselves cast as the Presidential Guard to a despotic gerontocracy known as the XP-Network.
This situation can make one touchy and open to revolution.
The Way Out
I was repeatedly challenged in the offending blog to suggest what should be done. I have given this a lot of thought and as one of the teachers who carried the first PCs bodily into school thirty years ago I have a responsibility to do just that.
None of us in the early days had any inkling that PCs used for teaching would be used to form the core of school business administration. However it came about that is exactly what happened and the PC became a management tool and thus mission critical. Ownership passed from the teacher to the manager and the PC became the Network.
Basically all else followed.
What we have now in schools are two incompatible models welded together. One is a business administration facility that maps to any other in other organisations. That is, it has security, reliability, support and maintenance at its heart.
The other is a pedagogical resource. This means it is idiosyncratic, used occasionally (or often), it’s diverse and sometimes even whimsical. No wonder the two worlds collide.
So Edugeekers et al: business-admin ICT must be separated completely from pedagogical ICT.
Now, we must take the next step...
Stop giving teachers what they (say) they want
Buying software for teaching is like buying pure pain. It will often be low volume therefore OS and version specific, it will fall into disuse when the individual leaves the school or it will be locked into a scheme of work. All bad scenes.
The principle is simple. Teaching should only use FREE software and ideally it should be web-based. Currently Google on its own provides for free, enough web software to deliver any ICT course and meet the demands of all office work-place scenarios, so you will have already a clear conscience, then...
...let them buy from their budgets web-delivered resources like e-books or whatever, but with minimal impact on the technological overhead required to support it. In other words, take them out of the loop and free their way for the introduction of new computing devices of any kind (if they can afford them) simply to access the above.
Your job? Keep that wireless link up, secure and fast.
Finally, stop storing stuff
Keeping teachers' and students' materials on your servers is silly. Either one day you will lose it or get sued for some breach of something or another. How ludicrous would it have been to have been held responsible for a teacher to lose a mark book or a student their exercise book? There is now plenty of web space to store their own files for free.
In summary today's woes are an historical accident of mixing business with teaching. Divorce now, stop paying maintenance and avoid a popular uprising from the masses ... easy.