21 February 2013

My School has a Fantastic IT Department


Do they work with you or against you?

Networked computers are a fact of life in the modern classroom. However, many schools put barriers in the way of a teacher who wants to try new software or add new features. Most schools I know of have a "locked-down" policy for their school issued computers. Any new software or modifications of features requires official permission. Some schools will process requests with glacial speed and others schools will  so in a few days. One district in my area erases and then completely re-images the hard-drives each evening. I know of one teacher who was almost fired because, in his enthusiasm to share with his students the neat things that could be done with an iPad and Vernier's Video Physics software, downloaded a $3 app without prior approval (fortunately his principal came to bat for him, but I am sure that there is a "letter in his file").

Each time I hear about another school's restrictive policies, I am grateful for my school's IT staff.

Trust the Teachers

I have just finished installing Linux on my newly-issued MacBook. This is the third school-issued computer that I have done this on. Each time I have asked permission from the IT head, expecting a polite refusal, but the only restriction I have received is that they would not be able to give me support for it. It does help that the IT head is something of a penguin-head himself and knows that there is a world beyond the Win-Mac duopoly. 

Geek Hero Comic – A webcomic for geeks: FOSS Windows

Why Linux?

As someone brought up with the Unix ethos of hack-able software (in the original sense), I have valued FOSS (free and open-source software). Linux is built on that ethos. I try to show my classes that philosophy also. When we do linearization of data using spreadsheets, I demonstrate with Gnumeric. When we study sound, I show them what Audacity can do. If I have enough time, I like to use Audacity to show how to rebuild a sound using only sine-waves (a reverse FFT). To do that, I had to take the source code and make a minor modification. Had that code not been available, I would be at the mercy of what the programming team thought I wanted to do. Here is the ethos at work; here is my work, use it, improve upon it if you want. 

graph displaying the relationship between Freedom and Responsibility

With Freedom comes Responsibility

Since I am trusted by my school's IT head, I do not want to betray that trust. So there are certain things that I could do that I will not do with school computers. I would love to jail-break my iPad to circumvent Apple's "do it our way or no way" mentality, but that might expose our school to legal problems. The same with using "abandonware". OK, once I used some cracking software on my laptop to recover a forgotten administrator password, but it was with an unofficial blessing, otherwise my computer would have to have been completely re-imaged, wiping out all the added programs and customizations.

It is more work for them

I am sure that a totally locked-down approach to school-issued technology would make my school's IT department's job much easier. But they have adopted the philosophy of letting the teachers deciding how they want to use their technology. We are then able to show what we have discovered with not only our students but also with fellow teachers. This policy lets us be more spontaneous and innovative teachers. For that freedom, I am thankful.

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