I hear my share of horror stories from educators all over the country about innovative things they’d like to try with their students, but are unable to because of overly restrictive policies from their IT departments. Whether it’s blocked URLs or an unwillingness to load a particular piece of software on a teacher’s computer, IT departments have a lot of power to “regulate” the educational environment.
The IT department is an easy target, but most of the IT directors I know are doing their best to provide a stable computing environment for all the students and staff. The districts I know tend to run pretty lean in the tech department without a lot of extra staff to experiment on new technologies themselves. But most isn’t the same as all. Some IT directors are lazy. They refuse to consider anything new as they trot out the same old excuses about lack of money and time, network security, and the risk of rusting their servers’ router belts if they run open source software. There are some dinosaurs out there, and I’m afraid there’s not much that can be done with them.
But I choose to be an enabler. I choose to find teachers who are excited about technology so I can give them cool tools and see what they do with them. I choose to collaborate with teachers to find ways to maintain a stable network while the teachers experiment with online video, podcasting, and who knows what Web 2.0-ish site they find. I choose to trust teachers to make good decisions about what constitutes an educationally appropriate web site. I don’t have time to do all of that myself, and I’m not willing to be a bottleneck.
Enabling innovation doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind. No one’s letting the inmates run the asylum around here. There has to be a wide open communication channel between IT and the teaching and learning department. (I meet regularly one-on-one with the Director of Teaching and Learning in my district so we can work in unison on initiatives.) Saying “yes” is so much more fun than saying “no,” so I don’t understand why any IT director wouldn’t want to be on the same side as the teachers and learners.
I write this less than a week after the voters in this community rejected three levy requests for additional school funding. Some nasty budget cuts lie ahead for us, and there won’t be nearly as much money in the tech budget as there would have been had the levies been approved. Now more than ever we’ll need to work together to set priorities and move the district forward. I want to be one of the ones moving forward, not holding us back. I’m more happy being an enabler.