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Bad Marketing

Yesterday, BBC News were giving some prominence to an alarmist story with the headline “School computers fail to filter“, all about how schools are failing to protect children from the rampant dangers of using the Internet. The story was questionably sourced, poorly researched, and anonymously written – so generally on a par with much of BBC News’ usual output. This created some annoyance in the educational IT community.

The article was clearly not only prompted by, but entirely based on, a press release from a company trying to sell web filtering and endpoint protection software. There’s much to dislike about their approach, but I’d like to focus on a hint for the marketing team at said company.

If you want to sell technology to a school, criticising the work of the school’s IT support team in the national media is not a good start. These people tend to have some say in the decision-making process. Annoying them with trite headlines is a sure-fire way to get them to back a competitor’s product instead.

I recall dealing with a sales call from one of these sorts of companies before; the sort of company that believes that their software can monitor and catch any and every unwanted act on a computer that a child might deign to perform. Here, for your pleasure, is a true and unembellished excerpt from the conversation:

“Do you currently use any systems to stop students accessing prohibited sites online?”

“Yes, we use ISA Server to do some web filtering.”

“OK, and do you use anything to monitor computer usage and detect when students work around the filtering?”

“Oh yes, we have a number of advanced monitoring systems that use adaptive heuristics and image processing to monitor the students’ computer use.”

“Oh really, what systems are you using?”

“We call them ‘teachers’.”

Let’s solve everything with Technology #6

IT professionals, especially in schools, are frequently asked to address problems that are not technical in nature, but that management have decided are best handled with a technical solution.

Our problem today may at first seem similar to #4, but it has a subtle difference…

“Can we change everybody’s default font in Word to Arial? We need to keep communications from the school looking consistent.”

This might look like the problem here is really that you need to just tell people that they must use the correct font, but that’s not the real problem here. The real problem is that the person who asked me to do this is a control freak. This is unfortunately a problem that is only exacerbated by technology. I lied and told him it wasn’t possible.

Let’s solve everything with Technology #5

IT professionals, especially in schools, are frequently asked to address problems that are not technical in nature, but that someone has decided is best handled with a technical solution.

Our latest example comes from a staff member who has trouble distinguishing fiction from reality:

“Two laptops were borrowed from our department last week and were not returned. We have no idea where they are and would like you to put a trace on them.”

Sure. I’ll “put a trace on them”.

At least, I would, if that were not something that could only be done in movies. Here’s a better idea. Find out who took them, and ask that person where exactly they decided would be a good idea to leave them.

Let’s solve everything with Technology #4

IT professionals, especially in schools, are frequently asked to address problems that are not technical in nature, but that management have decided are best handled with a technical solution.

Our most recent tale is of a headmaster driven to distraction by staff who can’t follow instructions:

“Some staff keep using the old version of the school logo on letters. Can you delete all copies of the old version from the network?”

Sure I could, in theory. However, I would have to search through the files of more than 150 staff, the entire shared departmental folders, and then also examine every single Word document on the network since I know a lot of staff will simply copy & paste the school logo from an old document they have.

Instead, may I suggest telling these staff that if they continue to ignore the clear instructions that have already been circulated, you will simply discipline them for being bad at their job?

Let’s solve everything with Technology #3

IT professionals, especially in schools, are frequently asked to address problems that are not technical in nature, but that management have decided are best handled with a technical solution.

Our most recent instalment is one of the more myopic examples I’ve encountered:

“Students are writing abuse on the Wikipedia page about the school. We should block Wikipedia in school.”

What, so they instead wait until they get home and write abuse on it there, where I can’t track the edit back to their school account? That’s a fantastic idea, genius.

Let’s solve everything with Technology #2

IT professionals, especially in schools, are frequently asked to address problems that are not technical in nature, but that management have decided are best handled with a technical solution.

Today’s instalment is one of my favourite examples of this:

“Students are playing games on the internet during my lesson! Why don’t you block all the games sites?”

Why indeed. Well, you see, its because as fast as we block them, new ones appear. Forgive me if I don’t want to get into a never-ending game of cat and mouse. How about you exercise some classroom control instead? Didn’t you do teacher training to learn this stuff? You wouldn’t ask me to stop them playing cards at the back of the room, would you?

Let’s solve everything with Technology #1

IT professionals, especially in schools, are frequently asked to address problems that are not technical in nature, but that management have decided are best handled with a technical solution.

The first in a few new series, here’s a recently-encountered instance of this:

“Students are copying photos from the school’s online prospectus and defacing them. I want you to protect the PDF so they can’t copy & paste.”

I’ve got a better idea. How about you find the student and discipline them instead? Not to mention the fact that protecting the PDF will never disable the Print Screen button on the keyboard, so will actually have no effect on this AT ALL.

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