Last week, while I was on vacation we had a huge server meltdown. While I am not an IT guy, I do understand some of the implications of what that means. For example, our student information system (a great little product called Genesis), our wireless Internet radios, our Moodle courses, and many of our other essential services experienced outages that slowed workplace productivity to a crawl. While it was a great week to be on vacation, it did bring to light some very glaring issues. Jim Moulton, over at The Future of Education is Here, writes about a March article in eSchoolnews that cited:
Only 31 percent of respondents said their districts have enough IT staff to satisfy their needs; that's up only marginally from 27 percent in last year's survey. And 55 percent of those polled--the same percentage as last year--said they spend more than half their time reacting to technical problems, instead of working proactively on long-range planning and projects.
IT staffs in schools are traditionally understaffed. In most districts I've been in, the ratios between number of IT staff and machines to service, not to mention servers and systems, is outrageous. When issues like the one we ran into last week occur, an overworked staff becomes increasingly stressed.Last October at TechForum Northeast, I was fortunate enough to sit on a panel with David Warlick in which we discussed some hurdles to implementation of new thinking in schools. One teacher from the audience lamented, much as Jim did in his post, that the tech staff in his building are guarded and unwilling to allow for teachers to experiment with open-source technologies for fear of corruption to the network. If, this audience member suggested, teachers are expected to push the limit on what they can have students achieving in the classroom, should they be constrained by an IT staff that does not have the best interest of the students in mind? It's an interesting dichotomy, the students v. IT staff one, isn't it? On the one hand we have students who are growing up in a world where 11-year olds make huge profits by designing iPhone apps, and on the other we have them working in school environments that can't give them access to the types of tools that would let them create such apps. At the tale end of Jim's post, he presents a solution, one that I have heard via Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez in the past: give the students the ability to aid the IT department. We are not talking giving them access to the firewall, or the major components of the infrastructure, but rather allow them to handle basic repairs, quick imaging and system setups so that the IT staff can begin doing some of their own imaginative work. Be sure to check out her list of GenYes Schools where this solution is actually in place.