Educate not Eliminate (by Jennifer Wagner)

For the past three years, I have worn the hat of Help Desk & IT at a private K12 school. It is my sincere belief that every IT department needs a help desk. Someone who is willing to explain the "why's", sometimes the "no's", etc. It is also my belief that every IT department needs at least one educator on board to balance out thoughts and usages and opportunities on the network and, if nothing else, to be the ambassador for the school in network and computer use.

The easiest way for the network to stay safe is to write scripts (you might call them protocols) that control use and also to enforce strong filtering or to let their filtering company dictate site usage. To eliminate any chance of the network possibly being compromised, they just say "NO". That is the easy way.

A better way is to start educating your staff (who will then educate your students) on certain things to know about the network. When I worked at my old job, the IT almost always kept me an arms length from understanding. At times condescending, at other times protective....but by keeping me ignorant, he kept me uneducated. However, one of the first things I learned at my new job was that it really wasn't all this "magical ultimate power" that only a few were privy too.

Therefore, when I started my new position, I realized that "yes, there are some things on the network that need to be on a need to know basis" but there are some easy to follow rules and understanding that gives more power and more education to your staff and helps you run the network as a team rather than just "IT".

I believe.......

1. Everyone on your staff needs to know what virus protection software your campus uses. So, if a pop-up shows up saying "you have a virus and need "insert false name here" to remove it, they will be able to say, "Wait, that is not our virus program" and not click on a button that will probably put a virus or trojan horse onto their computer.

2. Everyone on your staff needs to treat pop-ups like unwelcome guests at your house and click on the X in the upper right to close it. If it was a pop-up update, most likely your IT will push those updates to all computers. If in question, call to ask.

3. Everyone on your staff needs know what their opening page on the browser is (ours is our school page) and what tool bars are visible. So, if either of those ever changes without them making the change, it is a warning to them that something might not be just right.

4. Everyone on your staff needs to have a simple understanding of what bandwidth is. Luckily, we live by a very busy freeway interchange. The 15 to the 91 overpass often can take 30 minutes and the 91 freeway west can often be compared to a parking lot. When I explain bandwidth with the freeway analogy -- when all of us are trying to drive the same way at the same time, it will get congested and slow -- they understand. For Obama's inauguration, we moved everyone on campus into the auditorium to stream it in one location. So instead of 25 computers hitting a very busy site, we had 1. Bandwidth simplified, bandwidth understood.

5. Everyone on your staff needs to have a better vocabulary and understanding of their computer. Windows is NOT a browser and windows is not Word. Google is not a browser but Chrome is. It is Firefox and not foxfire. Memory and computer speed are not the same. It is a monitor not a tv screen. How to use Google advanced search. This list could continue for a long time.

6. Everyone on your staff needs to understand how their documents are saved and where!!! Everyone on our staff saves to their network document folder which is backed-up nightly. Anything on your desktop, however, is NOT part of that backup.

7. Everyone on your staff needs to understand that the school maintains licensing for software and if you want a certain software on your computer, we must have licensing for it. Just because you have it at home does not mean you can have it at work.

8. Everyone on your staff needs to have an understanding of copyright and that the correct use of it is not only essential for you as a teacher/admin but also a representative of the school's integrity and digital ethics.

9. Everyone on your staff needs to understand how to use a online bookmarking service (such as diigo or delicious) so that their bookmarks are not tied only to their computer in their classroom.

10. Everyone on your staff needs to have an understanding of how your web filter works. We often use time quotas (not total blockages) on certain sites. Staff needs to be look carefully to see if it is a blocked site and why or if they can continue on quota time. Our web filter does not have a staff-opted site override....if yours does, staff needs to understand how/when to use it.

Perhaps this is over-simplified but it is my belief that the more we educate staff on certain network/computer uses the more we (IT and school) can work together. If we continue to just eliminate, we teach nothing but frustration.

I also know that this post might get some feedback from IT people who will disagree with much that I have written and that is fine as well. I enjoy push back on my thoughts. However, I will stand firm on my belief that "IT" does not need to be an "of what we do not speak" all-powerful entity on campus.

A friend of mine, Jon Orech pretty much summed up what I feel my role is at work, when he twittered this out on May 18, 2009......"The best thing about asking tech ed people "dumb questions" is that the "tech" knows what to do and the "ed" is patient enough to answer." (

It is in our best interest to continue to educate and enlighten as much as we possibly can.

I welcome your comments.....feel free to extend my thoughts.

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