Internet safety talking points: IT pushback


A lot of people found value in my Internet safety talking points for school leaders, including Cory Doctorow, Bruce Schneier, and Tim Cushing. The post now has been tweeted, liked, pinned, and shared over 1,000 times. I shared a PDF version with superintendents earlier this week. But a school IT employee in Eastern Iowa thought it was ‘adversarial’ and ‘hateful.’

I spoke with her yesterday on the phone for about 30 minutes. She was extremely offended by B, spoke vociferously against Google and Facebook (although her school system is not blocking them), couldn’t wrap her head around E or F, thought G and H were untrue (and didn’t want to hear about the research done by danah boyd and the Berkman Center that is behind those statements), and stated that the Bonus was insulting. Needless to say, our conversation didn’t result in a meeting of the minds. I encouraged her to voice her concerns in the comment area so that we all could have a dialogue but she didn’t think that school IT people read my blog and believed that she would not get a fair shake. Her final statement to me was that she was now worried that her school administrator would be breathing down her neck and asking her more questions about the decisions that she’s making. I responded that I thought that was a good thing since we all need to be regularly reconsidering and reexamining our policies and decision-making in light of both learning and teaching considerations and the rapid changes that are occurring in our information landscape. That’s when she thanked me for the call and decided it was time for us to be done.

The transcript of her voice mail message is below. Any thoughts or reactions to this?

Dr. McLeod, I had hoped I could speak with you directly. You don’t know me but I just read your article on administrators and how they should think about Internet safety and, as a 25-year veteran of IT, I want to say that I’m completely offended. This is just sad that you’re setting up this adversarial relationship between administrators and IT with the tone of your letter here and if you think that’s going to help the situation by getting IT departments angry, because that’s what this article will do. Obviously you’ve got some issues there with filtering. I would be surprised if the University of Kentucky is blocking. We don’t block any of the sites you mention but you’re leaving out a lot of very important things regarding the CIPA law with K-12, regarding E-Rate funding, regarding attacks of viruses, malware – it’s just a really simplistic approach when I look at this. I’m really disappointed in that but I don’t think my voice mail’s probably going to change your idea, I just think that you’d be doing everyone a service to not be having such an angry, resentful type of article like that which does nothing more than put a divide between two departments that, by the way, don’t work for each other, they partner with each other. So I would say you might want to rethink that and maybe even present a different article that’s a little less hateful. Thanks.

11 Responses to “Internet safety talking points: IT pushback”

  1. Where you may be seeing pushback is with what I would perceive as the writer’s assumptions after the first couple of points.

    I would read the first couple and assume the writer is of the opinion that (for right or for wrong)…

    If filtering is not opened up in the school, it is the technology coordinator (and perhaps by extension the IT department’s) fault, that it is wrong, and it is because of either poor superintendent oversight or because the inmates (IT) are running the asylum.

    While it may be true in many schools that poor decision making structures exist for these decisions, I know it is not always the technology coordinator who is too tight on filtering.

    While I personally didn’t stop reading after A and B, I can imagine how some might – and I actually can understand why someone felt wronged by the post (although I am not feeling the same way). Most of the points are pretty reasonable statements for me.

    The same way teachers feel when nobody listens to them is the same way an IT person would feel if their concerns were dismissed as inferior on a consistent basis.

    The truly dysfunctional systems are the ones that deem that one opinion must win over while drowning out the voices of other stakeholders or __________ (fill in the blank that something bad will happen).

    … and it doesn’t matter which side (IT -vs- Educators) is given the deemed stronger voice, it just changes who wins and who loses.

    I think the more functional systems are the ones that have figured out a solid decision making process that will consider needs from a variety of angles (and obviously with learning goals in mind).

  2. Hi Scott,

    I reaction is similar to Joel’s above. My sense is that this tech director feels (or has been made to feel) that the responsibility for keeping kids safe falls completely up to her. A kid gets to a bad place, it’s the tech department’s fault.

    Districts with more progressive filtering policies understand that helping insure appropriate online behavior is the responsibility of the entire staff – not just the IT folks. Careful monitoring of student use, computers placed where easily viewed, and teacher articulation of good online decision-making, along with the judicious use of a filter works better than a lock down.

    Have a good weekend,


  3. I agree with both of you. She was very defensive and angry. Superintendents and others can provide political and public ‘cover’ for tech support personnel. But they have to be involved in the discussion. This was the point I think that she was trying to make regarding ‘partnerships’ and I’m in full agreement with her. I see many of these talking points as conversation items between administrators and IT support and ways for leaders to engage in the learning and technology conversation. Far too many school administrators are too hands-off, which often leads to IT lenses trumping education lenses. She refused to believe that IT considerations often trump educational considerations in many school systems, even though that’s probably the #1 complaint I hear from educators.

  4. Yep. I’ve been the Tech coordinator at both the college and K-12 level for ten years. I’ve seen IT folks try to “make their jobs easier” by blocking, not allowing faculty to use certain things or install anything on their computers, etc. i understand that there’s always the one or two people who are constantly calling them for help or who, left to their own devices, make poor tech decisions (like downloading viruses), but as you say, you can’t punish everyone else for others’ lack of knowledge/discretion.

    I’ve always served as an advocate for teachers and students, translating the IT folks tech speak for everyone, and constantly asking why. We have to keep moving forward and restrictive tech policies prevent us from doing that. I think sometimes IT people believe they know best because they know more. And they use their greater knowledge to scare people into doing it their way. And teachers or administrators don’t educate themselves and just leave it up to the IT folks. It’s not about lacking trust. It’s about not leaving decisions entirely up to someone else because you think they know better. We educate ourselves about financial decisions, building decisions, curriculum decisions. Why not tech decisions?

  5. Scott, I appreciated your list. You are definitely a forward thinker. I have been a tech coordinator, and now serve as an administrator. I think for the longest time, we have been in this mode of “lock it down,” because of concerns about security, inappropriate content, etc. Funny thing is, I always had students that could figure a way around the filter–they should probably be on the student tech team. IT people in schools are stretched thin, and perhaps this would help.

    IT folks and administrators need to get on the same page of what they want for the district. Administrators, including this one, have freaked out about increasing access for students. I believe it is important to listen to the concerns on the IT side. Currently, the school I serve has things blocked because of a lack of bandwidth, not necessarily that we will view inappropriate content. Hopefully, that will be resolved.

    Thanks for bringing the discussion forward!

  6. Christine Eaves-lorenz Reply September 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Scott, though I agree with most of your list, I have to say that it bothered me a lot that you exposed the woman who contacted you in such a negative light. She clearly contacted you privately by phone….did she give you permission to post a transcript of her message here and to mention the area (though broad) where she lives/works? She very specifically didn’t comment on your public forum. That didn’t seem very collegial or respectful of you. Personally, after reading that, I would never feel comfortable reaching out to you privately to discuss anything, for fear that you would take liberties to expose me in a negative way, simply because I disagreed and you seek confirmation from others that you are right. I think you should respect your readers, whether they agree with you or not.

    • Hi Christine,

      Thank you for pushing back on this. Please know that I thought long and hard about this before I posted it. I do try very hard to be respectful to my readers. That takes a variety of forms, including doing my best to be open-minded to feedback/pushback, being civil, honoring difference, and honoring their thoughts, comments, and conversations as meaningful contributions. It was in furtherance of that last idea that I decided to include this voice mail and a description of what we discussed. I thought it would be a way to check my own beliefs about what I wrote and to see if other people agreed/disagreed with her assertion that I appeared hostile to IT support folks. I tried to do so in a way that merely reported on what she said and what we discussed rather than inserting my own feelings into it. That doesn’t mean I got it right, obviously, because you still thought it was negative, but that was at least my intent.

      When I decided to post this, it felt to me like when I visit a school and see something I feel is worth writing up for the blog. I keep those situations anonymous and try to thoughtfully critique rather than flippantly engage in shame-and-blame. That’s what I was trying to achieve here, again perhaps not to best effect. I recognize that you probably would have made a different choice and I appreciate you telling me. You’ve given me something to think about…

      • Christine Eaves-lorenz Reply September 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm

        Dear Scott,

        Thank you so much for taking time to not only respond to my comment, but to consider it. I was especially glad that you let me know that you had really thought a lot about that entry before posting it. I was going to write you back anyway, to let you know that I spent a good amount of time talking to a respected colleague of mine about your blog entry because I valued his opinion. He was totally with you. He felt I was being overly sensitive and seeing things that weren’t there and that you had every right to say everything you said. We had a heated discussion about it, which I thought was healthy, as I think it helped me see where you are coming from and think hard about what was bothering me.
        Though I wish you hadn’t vaguely indicated where the woman was from (I felt it was irrelevant and might expose her after she had made an effort to keep her opinions private), my colleague felt it was important. I wished you had chosen to use excerpts from her voicemail instead of the entire transcript, but he pointed out that paraphrasing it would have affected the authenticity. I get that. So, why was I feeling bothered and uneasy reading your blog a good 20 seconds into it? So bothered and uneasy, that I felt the need to let you, (someone I’ve met, seen speak, and respected for many years), know that?

        I’ve spent a lot of time since yesterday examining why I was so affected and I’ve come to some conclusions. Firstly, let’s just say that I AM very sensitive…I’m a mother and a teacher and I am quick to defend a kid that I think is getting singled out or picked on….probably to a fault. I suppose this carries over to adults as well. As a technology educator, it’s one of my responsibilities to make sure kids are using the best and most modern tools while being more than just civil…but kind, considerate, respectful and responsible. For the sake of their own reputations, but more importantly, because of the impact our online words can have on others. This is important to me. And I know it’s important to you too. Secondly, I believe that you are correct about everything you were writing in your blog, but I can’t help but feel badly for the woman who contacted you privately, though I don’t know her and don’t agree with her. If she had written on your blog openly for all to see, then I wouldn’t have minded any of the things you wrote in response or that you asked your readers to comment. She chose not to write on your blog, however…and I think that is because she’s afraid of backlash from others who would disagree with her.If one of my students took a personal conversation they’d had with a classmate, then posted that private conversation on their blog, and asked all their classmates for their opinions (while also pointing out how many people have tweeted and agreed in support already), I think I’d have a problem with that. I’d fear for the child whose private conversation was made public without their permission. It would make that child afraid to communicate with others in any forum. In saying that however, I see that the point you were trying to make is really important and that you are simply trying to bring it to the table as a discussion topic. I have issues with how you did that, but I don’t think you were trying to hurt anyone and I judged too quickly. If I over-reacted, I apologize to you.
        I see that you will be at the ISTE conference in San Antonio. I am planning to be there as well and I’m hoping to bump into you. I really do appreciate that you wrote me back in such a thoughtful way and cared about my point of view. Once again, I respect your work in our field and think very highly of you and all your contributions.

  7. Scott,
    I am the Director of Information Technology at an independent school and I agreed with most of what you stated in your original post. You’ll find the negative attitude you encountered common among “old school” IT staffers in all industries, not just education. For years, IT departments were all about control, not about collaborating with or supporting internal or external customers. They emergence of social media, Web 2.0 technologies and mobile computing devices has shifted to locus of control to the user, and that is hard for a lot of “old school” IT staffers to accept. Do they have legitimate concerns about protecting networks from viruses and malware, and about protecting children from inappropriate content online? Of course! Is draconian blocking and filtering, without taking into account the needs of students and educators and the changing world we live in, the right answer? I don’t think so…but I recognize that in my profession I am the exception, not the rule.

    It is worth noting that these same tensions and disagreements occur between IT departments and business units in other industries. Education is not unique in this regard.

    I wrote a blog post several months ago about the conflict between educators and their IT departments in which I described my view of the IT department as a support organization: Educators and technology professionals should be partners, not adversaries. That means working together to find solutions that balance the sometimes conflicting needs of both parties, not clinging to an outdated vision of how things “used to be.”

    Thanks for starting the discussion!

  8. Great post series. I direct the #ampedadmin classes for the Wisconsin superintendents’ and principals’ associations. One of the primary discussions we have is regarding IT directors, who are overly fanatical in network security, program management, and access to bandwidth. In one instance, an IT director all-out refused to load Chrome onto a laptop for a superintendent. In another, an IT director refused to open up widely-accepted Web 2.0 applications, such as Voicethread and Wordle.

    On one hand, I understand some defensiveness since most have job descriptions to excess and are in charge of everything in the school district that “has an electrical cord or holds a charge,” but stubbornness and entrenchment is unacceptable. This may be a brick in your “big fricking wall.”

    Like you have said over and over, school administrators need to get it so that they can better lead it. Should we easily allow IT directors to assume full authority over tech integration just by withholding bandwidth or denial of access to applications, we are also sacrificing huge opportunities for powerful instruction and meaningful learning. This is the tragedy.

  9. It’s sad that some find your message offensive, you are pointing-out issues that need to be addressed and can’t be ignored. You and I disagree on the importance of the nitty-gritty details, but we agree on the importance of communicating and educating people on what is going on.

    I’ll give you and the post a thumbs up even though I can’t find the voting mechanism beyond FB, G+, etc.

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