Note: It’s amazing, I actually wrote this back in 2001. It’s a piece that endures for me, although it was never published because the TCEA Executive Director (in 2001, mind you) thought it was a bit one-sided. Still, though unpublished, it provides some insight into my thinking at the time. I have to say my position hasn’t shifted all that much from this perspective!

Be aware that I’ve modified the copyright to Creative Commons SA-NC-Attrib, even though it was originally written before all that!

The Balance of Power: Does it really matter?
Creative Commons Copyright 2001 Miguel Guhlin

“We need to use Windows NT for your desktop.” the technician said to me, rocking back and forth on his feet. I began to sense his impatience with me.
“Why? The people I work with use Windows 95, 98, 2000, and,” I countered, “seldom do they use Windows NT. Isn’t it going to be obsolete soon? I even did a survey of districts and most use Windows 98 or 2000.”

“I can’t support your machine if you do install something other than Windows NT.” He sounded as if this were the final word.

“Thanks anyways,” I replied, not wanting to push the issue anymore. After all, he was just a network specialist. Or, did he represent something far more sinister? Later, as I began to consider the issues involved, I began to remember other occasions that my co-workers and I had found ourselves in. In pushing the envelope to support instructional initiatives–putting lesson plan databases on the web, publishing teacher-created instructional resources–we had found that network specialists had grown ever more protective of the network. The frightening thing was that administrators who lacked classroom background supported them, often blindly. But, does protecting the network mean that the balance has shifted too far? Does it really matter that we use Win 2000 or Win NT? This is the question I have grappled with over time. 

In our eagerness to make administration of the network and policy development simpler, have we virtually guaranteed that technology will not be used in the classroom?

Is it that the commitment I have as an educator to integrate technology into curriculum development is not matched by an equal commitment to support my efforts at integration, even when it might mean going the extra mile to learn Windows 2000? Though we recognize the power of technology, there are forces at work–whether you work at a regional education service center, a school district, or business-that try to contain the technology genie. The increased access to the World Wide Web has meant that each of us can be a knowledge worker.

Goals of Each Group

1.Policy Administrators:Protect the organization from embarrassment and threat using policy or social constraints.
2. Curriculum & Instruction:Share their work and publish student projects on the web. They are focused on the creation of knowledge products and facilitating product creation.
3. Network Services: Protect the network and minimize or lesson intrusions/disruptions of the network.

Irreverent and unafraid, the knowledge worker in the midst of web publishing technologies, encounters policy that seeks to protect the institutions of school power. Despite the fact that organizations have the most difficulty at learning when problems are embarrassing and threatening(Argryis, ), there does not seem to be a problem with people exerting pressure on knowledge workers–people who want to realize the potential of technology in education. In a time when teachers have been encouraged to be more constructivist, more of a facilitator of knowledge construction, the very organizations that should support them are becoming more rule-bound. Is it that we just don’t trust the end-user, the classroom teacher in Texas schools?

In this article, I hope that we can begin a dialogue of technology use in our schools–given professional development, time, and access, are the very power systems that encourage teachers to learn new instructional methods that integrate technology, afraid to let go of the wheel?

The mighty triumvirate in schools lies between policy administrators, curriculum and instruction, and network services. I’d like to examine these three in more detail, and, if you agree or disagree with these characterizations, please write to me.

The network services component is the controller. They claim network security to be important to the exclusion of all else, elevating network integrity to the level of policy. Teachers are unable to produce the knowledge product which is the fruit of constructivist problem-solving approaches. Some suggestions for dealing with this approach include:

  • Computer-based technology can be easily reloaded using disk imaging programs.
  • Provide training for campus facilitators–not network staff-so that they can actually fix the problems.
  • Also, data needs to be protected but not put on a pedastal. Do not separate network staff from instructional staff–pair them up. As one education service center network administrator suggested, “We farm out our techs and assign them districts.” In school districts, assign technicians different campuses and encourage them to work with faculty of that campus as a member of the staff, not a district technician who shows up only in response to teachers’ mistakes.

Technology is a tool–if it cannot be used in ways that are fundamental to the work of knowledge architects, it is simply not worth using. In school districts and campuses, the network services group must recognize that its function is subordinate–yet critical–to education. Failure to understand this means that they will assume dictatorial, authoritarian roles in the balance of power.

The role of policy administration is also critical, yet it is too easy for administrators to assume the top-down approach of many organizations in schools. As their primary concern is the protection of the organization from embarrassment and threats, we can see organizations that are afraid of dying, of recreating themselves and enhancing their viability as educating agencies. Policy administrators fall into 3 roles:

  1. They assume they know nothing about technology or its implementation, and allow network services to assume authoritative roles that are really a function of network security. In these districts, desktop computers are protected by security software that the teacher cannot disable to install educational software (after checking with the technology committee first and filing a copy of the software license), or worse yet, disk drives are locked with a key.
  2. They are frightened by technology, its swiftly changing nature and they work to have technology in schools but do not allow it to be used except in superficial ways. For example, technology is used primarily in computer labs but training is not provided for teachers in the integration of technology into the curriculum. Or, lip service is given to integration but the network services group holds the power as to what can be installed and used, all centering on the question, “Will network administrators have to yield power to the users, potentially setting up future network problems?”
  3. And, finally, policy administrators fall back on their experiences as educators and seek to develop policy that enhances the exploration and development of knowledge products rather than holding back because they are afraid a teacher might accidentally delete critical files on their desktop computer.

As teachers move their classrooms from teacher-centered to student-centered organizations that support teachers must provide opportunities that model how teachers need to be with their children. This does not mean lessening centralized support; it does mean working together to share expertise rather than mandates and policy. The use of policies in school organizations can result in environments that are too rule-bound. . .to the point that technology is no longer a worthwhile tool to use.
The chart below refers to the threats that each group faces and the ideal of how to integrate technology into the curriculum:

Policy Administrators
Over-regulation and lengthy approval processes that punish errors rather than support exploration and failure.
Flexible policy development and review that supports teachers’ efforts to create knowledge products.
Network Services
Constant fear that network integrity will be compromised and requests from users must be denied because they generate more work for the helpdesk.
Implement basic controls that are transparent as possible, yet allow teachers/students to share knowledge products.
Curriculum & Instruction
Irresponsible use of technology that is not linked to specific standards and results in knowledge products that reflect student grasp of the standards.
Develop activities that responsibly use technology to produce standards-based (local and national) knowledge products.

As we consider the power of policy administrators, network administrators, the classroom teacher also struggles beneath the weight of new policies, fighting to make technology work in her classroom. New educator competencies from the State Board of Educator Certification (SBEC) place increasing pressure on teachers to use technology in their classrooms.

The question is, as more and more teachers receive the needed professional development through TIE and TIF grants, what will the policy and network administrators do? Will they allow students to publish on the web, teachers to develop instructional resources and share them, work as professionals to review emails, and focus on lessons that integrate technology? I certainly hope so. As a professional developer, web designer, I find that my workshop participants carry the torch back to their campuses–only to have them extinguished. The balance of power matters–we must trust our teachers to integrate technology, our administrators to support the effort.
Are you ready?

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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