Imagine you had a pickup truck that you used for work. One day the person in charge of company vehicles says to you “we’re going to replace your pickup truck with a Prius. We’ll be saving money on gas. Isn’t that great?” You of course reply with something like “But I need the room in the back of a pickup truck to carry things.” And they reply “well you’ll find a way to work it out.” Can you see that happening? Does it sound like a good idea? Of course not. One lays out the needs and starts from what meets the needs and then works in other factors. A Prius is a great car for what it is designed for but it was never intended as a pickup truck replacement.

How about this version? A true story. Several years ago a teacher I know came back from summer vacation to find that all of her Windows PCs had been replaced by Apple Macintoshes. With no warning to her. Now of course none of the applications she had been teaching worked and the textbooks she could not replace were all wrong. But hey, the tech support people said “you have new computers! Isn’t that great?” Crazy? Well it happened.

I hear these stories regularly. Someone decides that they are going to change the hardware and/or software platform for some reason that sounds good to them. But they don’t take the applications that are being used into account. They’ll leave fixing that to the user. Shouldn’t planning for computer use, in industry, at home and at schools, start with the user facing applications software? Select that and then go looking for an operating system and a hardware platform to run it on. Am I wrong?

Most recently I have heard this in the context of people looking for “replacements” for Visual Basic because their school is migrating to some OS other than Windows. Even if I were not heavily biased towards Windows and Visual Basic (you know I am) this would drive me crazy. As it is none of the Visual Basic alternatives I have looked at look anything like a sideways more. A big step backwards is how they look to my (admittedly biased) eyes. But teachers being presented with this situation never seem to push back. Why not? Tech support is there to support  the teacher aren’t they?

I was a high school technology coordinator for several years and I always viewed my job as being an enabler – someone who helped teachers teach. When ever evaluating operating systems, be it a change or an upgrade, the first thing we did was to get a list of all the applications in use. Then we tried to verify which ones worked and which ones didn’t work with the potential platform. I saw it as the technology department's role to make sure that either everything worked or their were viable replacements that the users approved of before making or even suggesting a change. Everything gets tested. Only when it all works is a change implemented.

Of course to me the role of technology support goes beyond just careful evaluation of platform changes. When a teacher wants to use some new software it is tech supports job to research how to make it work not the classroom teacher’s. It drives me crazy when tech support who will not even let a teacher download solutions tells the teacher that they (the teacher) have to present technical solutions for them (tech support) to implement when software doesn’t work right.

Who works for who in educational technology?


Note: see also Your technology coordinator works for you, not the other way around by Scott McLeod.

Comments (5)

  1. Anthony Tarlano says:

    You should for sure tell them to use Mono, the Mono VisualBasic compiler, and the MonoDevelop IDE.

  2. Sounds like corporate IT, although there it’s usually trying to replace a high-powered Unix workstation with business-class Windows desktop.

    Anyway…the details are beyond the point.

    The desire for cost effective support presses for homogeneity.

    The desire to enable users presses for heterogeneity.

    Cost effectiveness is easier to quantify, and can be done so at a fairly top-line budget level.  All the problems it creates are buried in low-level budgets, lost effort, and lost capabilities that have no quantified cost.  Thus cost effectiveness usually wins.

  3. When my school switched from Windows to Mac, it was me against the entire rest of the faculty. They perceived Mac as better meeting their needs due to ease-of-use and built-in applications like iMovie. In my school, I actually *do* have enough power that I could have stood in the way, but when it is one tiny department whose needs are being balanced against all the other big departments, why would administrators think CS should be more important? Not to mention the difference in cost between technical staff required for Mac vs. Windows. Finally there’s the perception that the CS people know computers and will be able to figure out other solutions.

    I told our system administrator that I would only switch if it was proved to me that my software would port. The response: ‘I’m sure there are other programs that do the same thing as the ones you’re using.’ Note: this was not actually an offer to FIND them for me, just certainty that I would have no problem finding them, learning them, and adjusting my curriculum to use them. Since I don’t have anything better to do.

  4. Dan says:

    Teaching students to program in such a way that they are handcuffed to a particular OS seems incredibly silly to me.  In any given CS class I teach, my students come from homes using Windows (XP, Vista, now 7), Mac (any number of OS versions) and Linux (mostly Ubuntu, but a few brave souls use other distros as well).  Now why on earth would I teach them in a language that cannot be run on any of these platforms?  After all, I’m teaching them the basics of comp sci, not how to do the latest iPhone App design.  So, I teach Python, PHP, Processing, Java, etc.  Portable languages make my students happy, and they make me much more flexible.  I can just as easily be scheduled into the Mac lab as the Windows lab, with no problems at all.  In fact, I try to make sure we get into both labs throughout the semester so the students KNOW that you can perform the same tasks on a variety of OS’s.

  5. David Jacobus says:

    The issue in schools is that the IT department (District) normally makes decisions based upon the needs of the school district business processes not the education department.  Often, there isn’t any correlation between what is needed in the classroom to what decisions are made.  The district I left bought software for the district employees for use on their workstations.  Teacher’s computers were treated equally when the needs  may be significantly different.  Some enlightened districts have an educational technology position that has equal status to the director of IT! Thus, when decisions are made on hardware or software the needs of teachers are taken into consideration..  

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