Help! My IT director’s locked me down!

Here’s a message that I recently received from a middle school science teacher:

I am a technology-loving science educator. I need your help and here is the short version of my story. I have tried to be a front-end user of educational technology. However, I have lost the ability to effectively utilize technology due to the IT director’s philosophy of restricting all computers for all staff. Last week the IT people took my MacBook and removed administrative privileges – something I have always had. This has coincided with the loss of our curriculum director, who always empowered educators that wanted to be progressive. I was hoping to spend a few minutes talking on the phone in more detail, at your convenience. Please reach out and help a fellow educator! I look forward to your response.

I gave him some empathetic support when we chatted on the phone. I also asked some tough questions about his IT director’s need to restrict his privileges. It didn’t sound like he had abused his administrative privileges. Thoughts for this educator, anyone?

19 Responses to “Help! My IT director’s locked me down!”

  1. I don’t have admin rights for my school MacBook either. Everyone has to get the same privs (apparently it makes imaging easier for the IT staff?).

    It has been two weeks and I’m still waiting for the software that will allow me to save images from the document camera.

    Why is making life simple for the IT staff the most important consideration?

  2. Scott, I’m not sure I have an answer to the loss of administrative priv on the laptop, but I have been fairly successful at getting some sites that IT blocked unblocked.

    When I am collaborating with a teacher and we find a site we want available that is not, we work together to formulate our request to our IT Director We include goals, objectives, relationship to our standards, AND how students will benefit.

    Each time this complete packet of information has been provided the sites filtered out have been unblocked, some of them even permanently.

    I think if we make sure the powers that be can see the relationship to instruction and student learning they loosen up a bit. But more often than not the IT gets an indignant response and a seemingly pouty teacher when it comes to the argument about filtering or restrictions in general.

    There have been plenty of discussions of late about IT and their lack of understanding and their quick as lightening readiness to lock down everything and block the rest. Our knee-jerk blog commenting is not going to change that, and I have read many vicious responses both in defensive of IT and for less restrictions. (I may have even seen the same in my own blog, on my part and others.)

    The solution is education and communication with IT. Tell your friend to try thinking in terms of why having admin rights over the computer is best for the student and learning. Then perhaps those priviledges will be returned.

  3. This isn’t an uncommon situation in districts. The only way around this is to:

    1) Make a list of everything you can’t do and why it’s instructionally relevant that you accomplish it.

    2) Contact your campus principal and explain this to him/her. If your relationship with that person is lousy, then you’ll probably be better off just buying your own laptop and using it for your own purposes, just don’t let students use it…and many districts are implementing policies that PREVENT personal laptops on school networks, invoking CIPA, even though it doesn’t necessarily apply…or worse, writing it into the Acceptable Use Policy.

    3) Share your list with everyone and ask them to sign a petition for greater rights/access.

    4) Share that at least ONE person on the campus needs to have admin/install rights on campus computers to expedite the process, then volunteer to be that person. Keep track of what you do and make sure that your campus technology committee has a process in place for allowing new software installations.

    5) Remember that schools today aren’t about technology use, even when it impacts instruction, but rather, high-stakes test prep and tutoring. Why are you wasting instructional time using technology?
    ;->

    hoping one of these works for you,

    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the Corner-MGuhlin.net
    http://mguhlin.net

  4. This is one area where I feel very lucky to be working in my district. When we first began distributing laptops to teachers, we insisted that they be given administrative rights to their computers.

    The folks in IT put up a big fight against the move but our boss, the assistant superintendent for instruction, backed us up and we won the debate.

    Five years later, very few of the problems predicted by IT have come happened. Certainly there are teachers who have lost all the data on their laptops due to their own stupidity but those “teachable moments” have helped us educate them.

    I’m not sure my story is going to help this particular teacher. However, we (IT folks as well) need to remember that we are working with adults. We need to treat them as such, which means teaching them how to best use the equipment and then trusting them to do that.

  5. Been There, Experienced this many times! Back in 1999-2000 school year, after running the schools servers for years, I earned an MCSE, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer at my own $10,000.00 expense to see if I knew my “stuff.” Sure enough I passed 6 exams on the first try as I was taking the $2,000 MCSE courses from http://www.Drexel.edu

    I returned to my computer applications class in Sept, only to find that I was reduced from admin to a student level user by the network admin I had trained! No reason given. At the same time, I had my laptop taken, re-formatted and I was locked out of the laptop because I was using chat with a student on mine who was on career study. I was helping this student with ASP web programming at this school placement in another state. Chatting was against the school’s AUP.

    To top it all off, my own student, who I also introduced to server management in his senior year, returned from college and landed a network admin job, only to side with our IT staff, and continues to this day, to restrict educator’s access and power on the network.

    Schools, and leading edge faculty have lost their creativity and forward thinking digital applications and integration due to poor network admins who take on way too much power and control in the district. The school administration bows down to these network admins who give them FULL CONTROL and anything they want, while on the other hand they smack down the teaching staff. When a teacher goes to a school admin they simply do not see the same problems and they think the teacher is out of line. So the problem goes un-resolved, and the teacher is at a dead end.

    This will continue until school districts across the nation place their network administrators on the proper level BELOW the administrative and curriculum levels so that the educational leaders can once again lead. Until them, network admins will run the schools, and they have no clue what they are doing educationally.

    One last idea….a dream solution:
    OUTSOURCE ALL NETWORK SERVICES….yes….outsource 100% of the IT network, storage, email service, and web hosting in a school district to a remote service like GODADDY.com and Google.com. Then FIRE the network team and simply have a small team that repairs and installs hardware. Then let the teachers manage their own labs and it would be far better, cheaper!

    29 years in education
    1986, I installed the 1st PC in my school
    Hayden

  6. In our district, we do have a lot of issues with blocking sites and restricting technologies that some teachers want. However, we are making real progress toward a process that gives teachers and instructional supervisors the responsibility to review and approve proposed “creative” uses of technology. IT then opens up what is blocked or installs what is needed to make that happen. If the instructional supervisor does not support it, it does not happen…if they do, it does happen.

    I don’t expect we will ever get to a point where everything is opened up without some type of approval process, but having instructional experts (teachers and instructional supervisors) make the decisions is much better than IT making these decisions.

    Also, we do have at least one person at each school site with admin access to assist in situations where an immediate response is needed. It works well, but we need to do more.

  7. Teachers who are on the leading edge of technology integration often overlook the politics of school systems. They need to learn that it is critical to spend time building relationships with the people that actually have the power to grant or deny them the freedom necessary to be creative. IT people worry about a whole different set of issues than teachers and curriculum is the furthest thing from their minds. Serving on district technology committees and making friends in high places is an important part of the solution.

  8. I have worked in both higher ed and most recently in K-12 as an education technology specialist and grant writer. Now….with that said, I was the person that “understood” education and the need for valuable resources to be unblocked. The Network Administrator in our District had way too much power……and few people challenged him. I was upset with this because why in the world would he be the end all to deciding what was “appropriate” and what was not. Now, a given, such as blatantly sites such as porno, facebook, myspace….ok…..but blocking sites such as united streaming, educational BLOGS, and many other RESOURCES that teachers and students could USE?

    Even though my position consisted of working very closely with our Network Administrator, we were often at odds with each other because his degree in computer science did not allow him the ability to KNOW what educators need and when they needed it. I have always contended that had he been an educator in the classroom first, he would be very conscientious of what he blocked and what he didn’t and honestly, it became a game of “power” which I have seen to some extent in many districts.

    Ways around this…if speaking directly to that person will not unlock your needs, document, document, document your MANY failed attempts at trying to reason with this person. I would work my way up and next speak to your building principal as MANY times they are not aware of all of these roadblocks and I know that for a fact. Show your documentation and then build a case on how valuable it is for you/students to be able to utilize something that is blocked. This will typically get you with an administrator on your side that is fully capable of building a case FOR YOU.

    It is really sad that this game must be played but on the other hand, I do know that in order to protect our students we had to block certain sites which is very controversial…..do we BLOCK BLOCK BLOCK or do we educate our students and NOT punish the entire student body for an infraction that a handful of students may try and take advantage of.

    We had a technology advisory team with community members, technology people in the district, teachers, several administrators and even a student (most important person on that team IMO) and so it got better as our Network Admin could not just BLOCK something before emailing out to about 5 of us to gain OUR opinion and in MANY instances, once a teacher explained to our group it was NOT blocked……

    Good Luck my friend!

  9. I agree with all of the comments made here. Unfortunately this is symptomatic of a bigger picture and that is that many people in large organizations are not willing to support other OS’s due to an ultimate matter of convenience and lack of knowledge.

    I have a specific recommendation that, in my district but would DEFINITELY start a conversation going at the highest levels. Taking item #1 from Miguel Guhlin’s suggestion and bring it up the chain appropriately in your school asking for a timeline of a response. Be concrete with what you are asking for and provide data. Personally, I don’t agree with petitions. They seem a little whiney. If you can provide data (like 51% percent of all college students will be bringing a mac to college with them), that will carry a lot of weight. The next step when you get a response, (assuming the response is negative)is to contact the people in your district who get elected. In my district they are the members of the school board. There is a member for each area of my county. So that would be the person I would contact. Not sure how your schools work, but in my position as a district tech specialist, I see the power these people carry first hand. When a question comes to them (from whoever.. a parent, teacher, principal… doesn’t matter) they start to ask questions because they want to provide you with an educated response! And when THEY say JUMP, well you know the rest.

    Now be careful… do not get your students involved and be aware that your principal might be embarrassed. However you “might” ask a close friend, who happens to be a parent, to call this board member to ask these questions (with ammunition from you, of course).

    That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

  10. Here’s an approach that I used, and I don’t believe it was controversial in any way. As a building principal, I have a belief that teachers need certain access to effectively teach students. I also have a belief that my teachers (and those across the district) are responsible and understand what is appropriate and inappropriate. Given that, I simply asked (then asked again, then all but insisted) that we open the gates to teachers. I met with my faculty and drove home the importance of our appropriate use and the fact that students were in NO WAY to have access to our accounts. Teachers that are able to effectively identify sites that have been blocked will also add to the support of the need. Teachers in art, social studies, and language arts are areas that I have found frequently are blocked and yet have good content. With these actual testimonies and adult responsibility, you have good reference to justify opening the filters.

    I have to admit that I’m not that impressed with the concepts put out by Linda and Lee to work “behind the scenes” to influence board members with “friends” using “ammunition” you provide. I do, however, agree that having the building principal on board is very much a necessity. Although my IT person was opposed, once I basically said that it needed to happen, she did so. Now remember one of the joys of administration is that I am now responsible for making that decision, and the first teacher that messes up will create a nice little mess for my credibility with IT, the superintendent, and the school board. It’s not always as nice and tidy as we make it out to be. We do have people in the educational community that violate both written rules and common expectations. That is where most IT and administrators hesitate as it becomes their necks, not the teachers that become knife-ready.

  11. Admittedly, I am coming at this from the other side of the discussion as a system / network admin. It is understandable to be frustrated when you feel like you don’t get the support you need to do your job. I am interested to hear why you need to have admin access to your school owned laptop or desktop to accomplish your goal of educating your students? I can think of some arguments for both giving and not giving admin access to teachers. I am sure that I will miss points on both sides.

    On the side of giving admin access to teachers there is:

    – The ability to install and try new applications. Being able to try new applications is definitely a good thing. I think we can all agree that it is important to be able to experiment with new tools and see how they can improve the educational process, differentiate learning and engage students.

    On the side of not giving admin access to teachers there is:

    – System stability: If software is tested before it is installed there is less chance of an unstable system which means that it will work for you when you need it the most.

    – Software licensing: If users can install their own software the district may not have a license for it and when audited be fined.

    – District policies that are set by the board of education and the administration.

    In my district teachers do not have admin accounts. That is not to say that I am inherently opposed to the idea. I think that we have a process that works without the need for local admin accounts for teachers though. When a teacher finds a tool that they want to use in the classroom or just learn more about we test it to make sure that it will not interfere with any of our other software. If it doesn’t cause any issues we install it on their system. If it does cause some instability we work to find an alternative that has the same features. This enables us to ensure a quality user experience as well as having the proper licenses for installed software.

    As for content filtering, we have to filter “some” content because of board policy, law (CIPA) and common sense. The filter that we have in my district (and I would guess many other districts) automatically updates its list of websites in the categories that we block. If a site that a teacher needs inadvertently gets blocked they send us an email and we white list it. In the time I have worked in the district we have had more requests from teachers to block sites then unblock them. This process can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours (depending on how fast we can get to the request).

    As for outsourcing network and other services. In my humble opinion you will always receive better support and a quicker response from dedicated professionals who have explicit knowledge of your needs and issues. This is true for any environment, not just in education. To that end we try to host as many services as possible in-house. We host wikis, podcasts, discussion groups, blogs and a instant message service in addition to the typical services of email, web space and file services. We try to ensure the services we offer are better than those that can be found elsewhere. Not to mention that all of the data is backed up and can quickly restore it when needed.

    Now I am not saying this is how it needs to (or does) work in every district. Just sharing how it works in mine. The teachers that I interact with everyday seem to be happy with how things are progressing. I would also like to say that not every educational IT department is disinterested in pedagogy. Knowing what the trends in educational practices and specifically education technology are important for us to understand how best to support our staff and students. This is incidentally why I subscribe to almost as many educational feeds as technology ones. As system and network admins the easier we can make your life as a teacher makes our jobs more satisfying and ultimately easier. Please remember at the end of the day we are colleagues, not an adversary.

  12. In response to Marshall I did not ELUDE nor did I STATE that I was by any means suggesting or implying that teachers should be working behind the scene. From what part of what I posted did you derive such a thing? Do you think DOCUMENTING the facts eludes to this?

    This is what you stated: “I have to admit that I’m not that impressed with the concepts put out by Linda and Lee to work “behind the scenes” to influence board members with “friends” using “ammunition” you provide.”

    I worked in the trenches for THREE years and was responsible for working throughout ALL the buildings in our entire district. I know from speaking to other people in my role that this pretty much happens across the board (being blocked, rights taken away, etc) I know this for a FACT because I have worked in this position.

    As a BUILDING principal, you see a very narrow scope of what actually happens in your district. Because my job entailed that I move from building to building on a daily basis, I saw what happened and the problems that different people in different buildings faced…….different but not all THAT different.

    Now, I do appreciate Barrett’s point of view. He is being very honest in how things on HIS end operate…..however, what I was experiencing was a Network Administrator that had power issues and liked the power his position elicited! But, I do agree with why some things are blocked and the reason behind that.

    I in NO WAY advocate going behind ANYONE’s back. In fact, I said START with the Network Administrator and confront them to give the reason WHY sites are blocked, etc. AND ONLY IF this does not work, then, if you feel you are requesting something that does NOT seem unreasonable….move your way up…..with the next logical person being the building principal. Wouldn’t you agree Marshall that this is the correct protocol?

    We want our teachers to model technology so that students can not only experience it from their teachers in the classroom but also so they are using technology at school as well.

    Marshall, might I suggest you read either of Marc Prensky’s new books….that would seem to me, to enlighten you on the skills that these students need to function and survive in the 21st century. If we continually put up road blocks for our teachers will our teachers or ultimately our students be using technology in school? NO……because teachers give up the fight because it is TOO much work……continually trying to overturn the Network Administrator’s veto. Are ALL network administrators like this? Of course not, but sadly, all too often, this is a familiar story!

  13. @Marshall
    I would like to point out that my first recommendation was to bubble the issue up through the appropriate protocol. I do not believe in rolling over all that easily. My NEXT-step recommendation is an effort to start a conversation at the highest levels.

    The reason for the behind-the-scenes action is because many principals would see this as a threat and therefore, many teachers would rather not bother. This is sad and too often, important battles are not fought for fear of retribution. Yet, I understand! People have bills to pay and children to feed, and they aren’t going to risk their jobs so they can have administrative rights on a macbook. Still, it’s a fight worth fighting because its about students working in a seamless world where OS doesn’t matter. Who cares where the conversation starts? If you can nudge it in a particular direction, however it gets there, I say do it. Just sayin’…

  14. I am the MIS for our School Division and also an educator. I tend to side with Barret on this issue as there has to be some realization by both “camps” that there is a happy medium. While there are IT policies that may inhibit “progress,” realize that those policies are checks and balances that are designed to protect. It is protection for the teacher who feels that it is necessary to crack every other piece of software and install it as well as protection for the School Division that could “pay” in fines for unlicensed software. We do conduct audits in each school to keep the staff on the up and up.

    As well, there is something to be said for planning. If you want a new piece of software tested and installed and you know it will take “X” amount of days to complete the process, then plan ahead. Work with the IT Staff, not against them. It is the same principle that you ask your students to abide by. This is a teachable moment.

    As for outsourcing, I cannot see any School Division moving to such an extreme. It would be far too costly to make such a move. Remember, not every teacher is a tech expert such as yourselves and they do require and lean on IT Support.

  15. This original post is really too low on detail to make an accurate judgment. Without substance, it becomes fun to play an us -vs- them game; an unhealthy game for any organization.

    If someone stated that they cannot effectively teach unless s/he had a master key to every building, would we be so quick to judge that it is teachers -vs- the maintenance department? My guess is no, and that we would probably want more detail. There may be merit to hearing both sides of the argument.

    While the conversation started by this blog post is quite useful, making judgment on the situation is pointless. Taken out of any instructional or organizational context of what it means to have -vs- not have administrative rights, it really is too difficult to tell how to respond to this scenario.

  16. His IT director should resign. Simple as that.

  17. This is a tough issue that comes up in every district I work with. There seems to be a few issues at work here. First, in many districts the IT person often has nearly omnipotent control of all things tech. Why is this? In many cases I think the district leadership looks to this person as some kind of wizard because they have knowledge of things they do not understand. In other districts, with more tech savvy leadership, I don’t see IT role being given such dictatorial power.

    I have been on both sides of this issue. When I was a classroom teacher I was the teacher who was constantly bumping up against the firewall and pushing limits on what I could do and what I could let my students do with the computer. Now that I am a technology integration specialist working with an IT guy to train staff both on how to use the technology but also on how to effectively use it to improve learning, I have a slightly different understanding of this issue.

    It seems there are three distinct categories of proficiency and use that teachers tend to fall:

    1. The techie teacher who pushes the boundaries
    2. The tech literate teacher who is satisfied not pushing the boundaries
    3. The teacher who has little or no understanding of how the computer works.

    When an IT director has to make sweeping decisions about system security I suspect they have to do this with Teacher #3 in mind. Otherwise, they would be driven mad with issues related to missing files, crashed hard drives, viruses, etc. Not to mention what could happen if a deceptive student with greater tech knowledge took advantage of their teacher’s lack of understanding. Oh, the horrors! These restrictions probably are not for you, they are for them.

    This said, maybe a good solution for schools is to have some kind of access ladder. If a teacher shows sufficient competencies in tech related and district policy related issues then they could be granted greater control or access. This could keep things locked down tight for Teacher #3 who needs it and give Teacher #1 the flexibility to do what they want/need in their classroom.

  18. I think Carl’s posting(10/07/08 at 10:37) is accurate. To many times the IT people implement a “one size fits all” user policy. In education we hear terms like differentiated instruction for students. That needs to be adopted by districts–how about “differentiated instructors” in allowing levels of access!

  19. It’s interesting to hear both sides weighing in on this. Officially, I work half time as a teacher and half time as a liaison between the teachers and Administrators in my building and the county-level “Techies,” seemingly bent to moderate down our staff members’ souls.

    Teachers preceive that their privledges have been revoked, but really–as noted by Barrett and others–IT and System Admins have a whole other set of priorities. Bandwidth is expensive, student data must be kept private and secure–would you really want to be responsible for your gradebook and all of your students’ ID#s (which in some archaic systems are still their SS#s) getting leaked because the magical toolbar you thought would save your lesson plan accidentally let an outsider access your files?

    Even though we have LCD projectors, laptop carts and access to wikispaces and Edline, I see teachers at the copy machine making dittos 2-3 weeks in advance. Is it too much to ask that they pre-plan their internet lesson? Flash video is great, but it’s also bandwidth intensive. On the one hand, teachers complain because their students can’t access a fantastic model of the universe. On the other, teachers don’t want students to play video games during class.

    When a teacher leaves the building at 2:30-3:00, frustrated because their computer is not working properly, they expect their machine to be up and running when they return at 7:00 a.m. the following morning. Who should stay late to make that happen? The tech-saavy teacher? Fantastic. Sign here, please.

    There always has to be a balance. As teachers, we should know that. I hear so much about “the Adult learner,” but sometimes I think that in scrambling for more cheerios, we’ve forgotten that the key to that phrase is “Adult.”

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