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Schools don’t need ICT? Pull the other one.

This weekend I was directed towards an article entitled “Why schools don’t need ICT“, by Ian Yorston, the Head of Digital Strategy at Radley College. The earnest Twitterer who led me to the article enthusiastically commented “so true!” I was intrigued.

My intrigue didn’t last long. As I read the article, it seemed so packed with fallacies that at any moment I expected the author to leap out from behind a curtain, fell every one of his prior arguments with a single, bold, stroke and declare “Hah! Do you see? That’s what the naysayers would have you believe, and it’s all rubbish!”

Sadly, that moment never came. I’m left with only two possibilities: either the entire article is a clever devil’s advocate piece, or Yorston may be the worst Head of Digital Strategy I’ve ever heard of.

If you haven’t read the article yet, please go and read it now. Then come back when you’re as angry as I was when I wrote what follows.

Update: Ian Yorston responded in the comments section, explaining the sorely-missing context for his article; a problem not of his own doing. Things certainly made a lot more sense after hearing from him.

Read More…

Overpaid

The BBC reported this morning on the flagrant salary inflation that is occurring in schools.

Beware: what you are about to read may shock you.

Governors are reported to be offering five figure salaries to head teachers

FIVE FIGURE SALARIES?! HOW DARE THEY!

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.

Proofreading

A few years ago, I had to do some proofreading for the school.

The material was the sixth form tutor reports that were about to be issued from our electronic reporting system for the first time. You might ask why I was proofreading them, and well you might. The teachers writing them had been asked to proofread each others, but had refused as “proofreading was not part of their job”. The position was that their own reports were perfect, so why should they have their time wasted proofreading someone else’s?

Bond’s opinion, to this very day, is that reports should be issued mistakes and all, so that the individual teachers who make the mistakes will be exposed for the illiterate morons they are. My opinion was that management should have told the teachers concerned to shut up and do their jobs. However, the school’s management, and the Head in particular, were unwilling to issue a diktat, but keen for the school not to look like it was staffed by nincompoops. This little dispute happened quite close to the deadline, so, one evening, I found myself proofreading. Read More…

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.

Scamming

Bond asked me earlier this week if I had heard about the facilities manager’s new scamming plan.

At least, that’s what I thought he said. Turns out he actually said ‘scanning’. Remember the rubbish photocopier & telephone system supplier I’ve previously talked about? Turns out the school is thinking about buying some overpriced scanners from them now too.

I can laugh about these things now that I won’t be here when it happens. Oh, how I laughed. Some people just never learn.

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.

Not my job #2

I’ve talked before about the ‘not my job‘ effect and how it annoys me.

I try to avoid this approach whenever I can. If someone calls me for something that is technical related, even if it’s not my area of responsibility, I will try and help out. There are only two exceptions to this:

  1. if by doing so I would be stepping on the toes of someone else in the school who is better qualified to deal with the problem, or
  2. if the person who actually has responsibility for it is a lazy retard who we’ve been picking up the slack from the entire time I’ve worked here.

I don’t like abandoning problems that (with some effort) I could probably fix, even though it’s not my job to fix them. However, sooner or later, management have got to understand that there are people in the school who routinely fail to fulfil their job role, either through laziness, incompetence, or both.

Most of all, I’m tired of people who act like this and are a) still employed, and b) paid more than I am. Despite all the annoyances of my job I still have the decency to try and do it well, so when others can’t even be bothered with that, I don’t see why I should be covering for them. I’m not alone in this opinion. There are a lot of staff in the school who feel the same way, and right now there is a chronic morale problem brewing that stems from the fact that the few useless muppets on the staff are permitted to remain in post.