Thursday we held our Technology Boot Camp for teachers that are new to our district. Each year I’m ambivalent about this workshop – I wonder about it’s effectiveness, but afterwards I often get thanks from the participants for having offered it. This year was certainly no different. I got a couple of very complimentary comments from some of the attendees this year, but the written evaluations told a different story. I don’t know if it was the 100 degree + temperatures outside, the pressure of starting school, or what, but our overriding feedback was negative.
Most of the topics covered in this workshop fall into the "what you can and can’t do" category. As such, it’s never a popular subject. We cover our district’s Acceptable Use Policy, we go over e-mail, and we cover our Technology Proficiency program. One thing this Boot Camp really brought to mind is the fact that I’m constantly having to walk a thin line between enabling and controlling.
We do a fairly good job of the controlling side. We have various Internet filters in place. We have strict regulations in place for what types of equipment are allowed on our system. Then there’s that all-important AUP. Controls are necessary, and in some cases are even required by law. I’m not so sure, however, that we do as good a job on the enabling side.
In a sense, emphasizing control is easier. You come up with a list of restrictions and enact policies to enforce those. Enabling is much harder because it involves risk. It involves ideas that might be different from your own, or even run counter to those controls you might have in place. It involves more work to support new ideas and initiatives. It often involves more cost for equipment, etc, and those that push for new initiatives are often labeled as troublemakers.
This problem certainly isn’t restricted to our district. I think back to the various incidences over the past year where someone wanted something blocked rather than understand and embrace it. This includes my colleage in another district that wanted to block all blogs, the teacher in our district that wanted Google Maps blocked, and the ongoing battle regarding YouTube, Flickr, and other social websites.
I’m going to make it one of my goals this year to see what we can do to promote the enabling side of our business. I think there are ways to make this work without disrupting necessary controls. It might mean taking someone’s innovative idea and helping them to understand the effect it might have on our resources – bandwidth, memory, etc – and help them come up with alternatives, if necessary, that would accomplish the same thing. It might mean modifying or even discarding certain controls that no longer make sense.
Control is anathema to change, and technology is all about change. It we are going to truly enable our teachers to use technology, we have to learn to be flexible with our controls.