School district IT staff can be very closed-minded when it comes to alternative computing platforms. To be fair, however, as HUMAN BEINGS we can all be closed-minded when someone suggests changing fundamental aspects of our daily lives or worldview.


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I frequently visit with teachers who say things like the following:

Our IT staff would never support Macs. We have to use Windows systems.

or

Our district would never consider using Linux. Our technicians just know Windows.

or

We would never allow students to bring their own computers to school and use them on our network. Our IT department has trouble already managing all our district-purchased computers.

Last Saturday Kevin Honeycutt penned the post, “Intruders? Can powerful, new devices work on your network?” In the post, Kevin quotes Texas technology director Tim Holt reflecting on these questions of alternative operating systems and BYOT (bring your own technology) student learning initiatives. Tim says:

Many of the issues about network security, in my experience, are often brought up by technical people that have little or no training outside of the Windows world. Many networking people in education today received their training in the 90’s when essentially, Windows was the only game in town. Since then, of course, the world has moved towards more common standards and the same rules for Windows work on Macs and other devices as well. Innovative school districts realize that the flood of devices hitting their networks are coming from all types of manufacturers. Cell phones, iPads and iPhones have forced us to look at how we can embrace student use of technology. There actually is a movement by many districts called BYOT, or bring your own technology, where schools are welcoming student’s personal technology because schools cannot afford it for everyone. The FUD that is often spouted by these network administrators, when you really get down to it, is because they have not kept themselves up-to-date on the bigger pictures of networking. And that, in the long run, is a training issue more than anything else.

In case you’re wondering, in this context “FUD” refers to “fear, uncertainty, and doubt.”

Are leaders in your school district taking a serious look at Linux as a viable operating system for student computers? How about proposals for using other mobile computing platforms, like iPod Touches? Do administrators in your school understand the source of “IT department FUD” could be “training issues,” as Tim asserts? Certainly attitude issues can play into these responses as well, and it may be difficult to separate and identify the two.

Whenever people are completely unwilling to consider a reasonable idea or alternative viewpoint, it’s often a sign of trouble. Few people relish the idea of having their world turned upside down by needing to learn an entirely different set of skills to be successful. Being willing to LEARN and RE-LEARN is a hallmark for success and effective work in 2010, however. This is not only true for students and teachers, it’s also true for IT staff members. Alvin Toffler said it this way:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

We need highly literate servants not only leading our classrooms, but also staffing our school district IT departments. The same is true for vendors who perform IT roles for many schools. For that reason, I agree with Kevin’s concluding remarks:

What I hope is that people in Tim’s position will be as open minded as he and his team are and will really explore the possibilities of incorporating these engaging, useful and potentially world changing devices. What is clear is that without vision from tech directors and administration, as well as teachers, none of these new tools will be much more than toys. I predict that many people will resist even the idea of allowing these tools to live organically on their networks and will see them as intruders. What I hope is that tech leaders find ways to embrace them because the world we’re preparing kids to be successful in already has.

How is the vision of your school’s leadership team?

You don't always see what you're looking at
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If leaders are focused on students and student learning, it’s likely the FUD felt and reflected by school constituents at all levels in these times of rapid change can dissipated and transformed. If the focus is on something else, it’s likely FUD will rule the day.

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4 Responses to Do District IT Staff Spout FUD at Macs, Linux, or BYOT Proposals?

  1. John Rundag says:

    No FUD here. We have 60 computers running Ubuntu. We have some Macs as well. Some teachers have incorporated iPod Touches in the classroom and many students are buying their own and bringing them to school. They can access the wireless network using their network login and password. Some students are buying netbooks too. We have about 30 district-owned netbooks and the number is increasing. We had one school purchase 2 iPads. We have not received them yet, so I cannot comment on them.

    In my opinion, if these devices can help them deliver their lessons or help a student to learn, why can’t they use them?

  2. Our district has around 2,000 computers (11% Linux, 19% Windows, 70% Macintosh). As the IT Director I was not given a choice of OS. Every school (11 of them) got to use their favorite flavor. Sound crazy? It has been. We started as a predominately Windows shop but have eased our way over to the Mac side. The Linux destops/netbooks have come in the last year and a half. It is no mystery why we have increased our Macintosh inventory… it has more to offer our students in a single package and is easier to manage. I have taken every opportunity to make that case among our stakeholders. Add to that, I have an Apple technician on staff.

    All this diversity has made my staff very flexible. For my part, standardization (on any Operating System) would make things much easier to manage. We’ve found that Macs don’t require expensive and/or complicated imaging tools required for Windows (we haven’t found the holy grail for Linux yet either). Apple Remote Desktop is an amazing management tool. We could have standardized on Windows and geared up with Windows tools. If we had we would be too busy to do anything else.

    I sympathize with IT Directors who are asked to support any and everything. The most sustainable model would be to have a limited number of options that are supported. At a minimum, before people adopt something, they need to describe how it will be supported (by the IT Department, the grade level team, or the school). Cool technology is only cool when it works. Unless teachers are very self sustaining they won’t use technology that mis-behaves. My small staff simply can’t keep up with all the variations of hardware and software.

    As much as I try to standardize, I have to be receptive to the next thing. Speaking of that… Here come the iPods, iPads, clickers and mobis. You gotta love it!

  3. Dave Winter says:

    FUD is a challenge. What we are seeing in our school is the need to provide an open network for all sorts of devices. It is a little bit like the administrators deciding the ipad is not suitable for education. We need to remain open to new learning. We are slowly realising that mobile technologies are a tide that must be stemmed. We have tried all the platforms but in the end the users will decide. They will leave school and choose a platform.

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