One of my favorite Librivox recordings is a sermon entitled “Absolute Surrender.” I listened to it one summer as I was driving to and from work. While I don’t remember much, I suppose I was captivated by the title of “absolute surrender.” It is an attractive concept of surrendering to a higher power…and the idea of just letting go can be liberating. I like this example of absolute surrender:

I have a pen in my pocket, and that pen is absolutely surrendered to the one work of writing, and that pen must be absolutely surrendered to my hand if I am to write properly with it. If another holds it partly, I cannot write properly.

Is the technology in today’s schools “absolutely surrendered” to the work of teaching and learning? The problem we have is that technology in schools isn’t absolutely surrendered to us for the purposes of teaching and learning. We have to deal with the consequences of preventing inappropriate use so that technology isn’t used because others have control over it…in truth, technology is absolutely surrendered to whomever controls access to the computer and what you can do with it, right? But even then, technology directors don’t really have control…only the illusion.

The illusion of control is hard to dis-spell, isn’t it? It’s a problem technology directors face every day when they have to make a decision, “Should we rely on a third party vendor who will host our content, or should I put in a server farm to support it?” Whichever choice is made, it is fraught with peril. You simply can’t know everything. If you choose the server farm, you’ve just overcommitted yourself one more time, pushing your people beyond the limit to get a new server setup–even if it’s virtualized–and deploy another solution that includes data synchronization with a third party vendor.

Often, the decision is made to host district content on internal servers rather than mess with placing “confidential” content outside of the District’s literal control. That’s why it’s fascinating to read, like marooned men lustily trading stories of mainland mayhem, of people who have surrendered or let go.

Mike Gras (White Oak ISD) is almost belligerently optimistic about his decision to surrender to the cloud and stop trying to ride herd on servers gone wild. He writes the following:

My District (White Oak ISD), when compared to other districts in Texas is always in the bottom 10% in funding and always in the top 20% in student achievement as measured by the state.  We were heavily invested in servers and software.  That is no longer the case.   

In fact I told my superintendent last week that my department is in better shape this year financially than ever before.  Consider doing what we have done -get rid of your servers.  See if your administrators will allow the opening of your network to the world at large (Filtered goes without saying, I hope).  The online academic world is richer than any number of “worlds” districts can build.  The services a district needs are out there.

Mike goes on to write:

…the question is really what do we have left.  One BCIS course, Plato, and Follett, which is going online soon (read off site).   

Our mail and document storage, calendars etc are done by a staff far more dedicated than I could ever be, Google.  Students and teachers are responsible for their own file storage.  Many of the stored files are available online through teacher and student blogs.  Cooperative projects abound because of Google’s ability to share all sorts of files, from videos to spread sheets.   When Google goes down I’ll be out of luck but I won’t be alone.  

Our Web site and lots of our Moodles are hosted off-site for less than $5.00 a month.  I have near total control there but don’t need it   We do e-portfolios and blogging, using WP-MU that costs thousands but what a value. See http://edublogs.org/    

No single human can keep up with our teacher’s accomplishments in those blogs and our students are developing positive identities on the cloud . Out there control is not the issue it is more an issue of trust.  Parents of every student can know what is happening tomorrow in every class at White Oak and reviews are being attached to every item in each teacher’s syllabus (we just started this)  All this is often done with the personal flair that is hard to believe.   As I’m writing this I’m attending a meeting with teachers and administrators via Skype about how we use and will use our network  The enthusiasm for teaching and the excitement about the resources delivered is hard to communicate.

In this meeting a  teacher of 25 years just said she is more excited than ever about teaching and the resources we delivered has produced a new spark in her life and her classroom.  She added that the network is it is a blessing in the classroom.   A Blessing…Let that sink in.  I’m not bragging,  I’m trying to share.  A Blessing, I can hardly believ it myself.  I don’t need to control more and I don’t need to trust less.   

Hard times are easier to bare [sic] if the teachers are excited about what they can do with what they have at their disposal.  We have an agreement among many at White Oak that less is more when it comes to control.  I must say this meeting with the teachers that attended TCEA sharing with administrators abut their successes has me on cloud 9.  One teacher said the network is so much better than it was 3 years ago..  And the big difference between now and then…  we use other peoples servers.

It may be that some are reading Mike’s comments with a healthy dose of skepticism, shock, and who knows what else. It may be that some who read his words are wondering, “How does he get away with being so irresponsible?”
But to be honest, the only thought that comes to mind now is, “How long before tech directors and school districts broken by economic realities look to Mike Gras as the white-bearded prophet calling for absolute surrender?”


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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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