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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 Several years ago a teacher I know came back from summer vacation to find that all of her Windows PCs had been replaced by Apple Macintoshes.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.
One interesting thing that happened to me this past week was that Twitter enabled the list function for my Twitter account (@AlfredTwo) Lists are a way to create lists or groups of the people you follow on Twitter. One can open up your lists ( or public lists created by others) and see the recent tweets by the people on the list. I’ve created a couple of lists of my own and I’ve been added to some lists created by others. Some of the list people are creating look pretty useful. For example, Doug Peterson (@dougpete) has created a list of educators from Ontario. I’m looking forward to more lists over time.
On the blog side of things, Scott McLeod (@mcleod) had a short but important post called Your technology coordinator works for you, not the other way around. In it he reports the sort of conversation he and I both seem to be having all too often. District or school technology people setting policy and overriding the educational needs as expressed by administrators who are supposed to be in charge. What’s it like in your school district?
Microsoft opened a couple of new web portals last week. First is the new Microsoft portal for computer/tech students. The other is the new Microsoft US Higher Education Faculty portal - www.microsoft.com/usfaculty. Both are well worth checking out if you are in the target demographic.
Clint Rutkas (@ClintRutkas) retweeted a link by @brandwe to a Cartoon history of Internet cryptography with an emphasis on how the AES standard came about. (A Stick Figure Guide to the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)) If you are doing a unit on cryptography this might be fun to include in the study/discussion.
Speaking of fun, Channel 9 ran a Halloween Special last week - Bug Killer – In it a programmer goes crazy killing "bugs." There is some blood and gore.
BTW, my good friend Randy Guthrie (@randyguthrie) was in Arizona last week and visited the new Microsoft store there. His visit to the Scottsdale Microsoft Store with pictures is on his blog.
I know that professional developers read my blog from time to time. For you all, please check out http://givecamp.org/ In the Give Camp program developers donate their time to create custom software for non-profit organizations. With the way the economy is these days donating time and talent can be easier than money. It can also be pretty valuable. Give it some thought if you are in one of the areas these “camps” are running. Thanks.