The changing role of technology departments in education

In a previous job, I worked for a few months in an advisory role to several executive members in a school district. I wasn’t a director, but we didn’t have one so I was really all they had at that time. I was still technically a systems administrator, so that’s the approach I took to most all purchasing decisions. My questions for them always revolved around whether a new system was to be hosted or in-house, what level of support they would need from me, and what the deployment considerations were from a technical perspective.

In my current role, I find those questions don’t matter as much any more. Most of the software applications we evaluate use a typical SaaS model and I don’t have any more to worry about, from a technical perspective, other than any firewall permissions might be needed and whether they will integrate with our authentication solutions. Instead, I find myself much more concerned with the educational value of the tool and how it can support student learning or student engagement.

There was a time when technical considerations deserved a great deal of attention. I think, for the most part, we’ve moved past that. Not everything meets standards yet, but it’s getting closer. One of our vendors is in the process of converting all of their content from Flash content to HTML5. Others are starting to follow suit, finally.

So now what? How do I, as an IT director, evaluate new tools? To be honest, I can’t do it alone. Instead of instructional services deciding we need ‘x’, the teachers demanding ‘y’, and the IT director telling both groups it won’t work, the decisions have to become more collaborative. I’m not a teacher, I don’t profess to understand how one application supports a learning goal and the other one doesn’t. What I can do is work with the other stakeholders to show them that it really doesn’t matter anymore what device is in someone’s hand.

This understanding is critical to building successful technology integration in our education system. More and more, I hear that students that can’t operate in a digital environment are at a disadvantage when they enter the career field – whether immediately or after four years of higher education. We owe it to them to teach the skills that will help them become successful. Curriculum is important, but the digital skills they use to engage and show their learning can be even more important in the long-term.

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No more silence

No more silence

I’ve been reflecting on the events in Charlottesville and UVA for the past few days. I’ve been reflecting on how I should respond, or if I can do so and get my points across. I feel the need to write about it, regardless of any one else’s personal views or beliefs. I’d like to think we all fall on the same side of this argument, but based on what’s happened, I know that’s simply wishful thinking. So I’ll do my best to distill my thoughts into a coherent message.

The actions of “the other side” don’t matter

There is a quite a bit of controversy now because President Trump denounced “both sides” as committing heinous, violent acts. While I believe Antifa has been violent in the past, hurting people because they disagree with them, that’s irrelevant here. I understand what the President is saying, I really do. But it doesn’t matter. Had a bunch of white supremacists shown up and been violently attacked and then not retaliated, it would be a different story.

That’s not what happened though. In this case, a bunch of people on both sides starting fighting and then someone from only one side decided to escalate the violence by running through a crowd of people with a vehicle. That’s when the actions of Antifa, counter-protesters, or anyone else from “the other side” stop mattering. Two groups were willing to commit violence to be heard or to prevent someone from being heard – only one side resorted to murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

I believe that’s why President Trump has been, and deserves to be, criticized for his remarks. Understanding why he feels the way he does doesn’t mean that I agree with him. This escalating violence needs to be dealt with, certainly. However, the time to claim that both sides are out of line is not when one side has escalated far beyond what the other side has done.

White supremacy must be stamped out

White supremacy should be stamped out, make no mistake about that. I welcome counter-protests against hateful rhetoric. People should be shamed when they publicly advocate for white supremacy. If they feel that way, let’s make the social consequences so severe that they’re unwilling to speak out publicly. Let white supremacy be killed in the court of public discourse. Let employers decide whether to continue employing people that advocate for such a position, I think most of them would find it abhorrent and that, once coworkers find out another employee’s position on the matter, the employer would have a pretty simple case against the employee for creating a hostile work environment.

Church groups, PTA’s, and other social groups – ostracize and exclude those that advocate for white supremacy. Make such misguided beliefs painful. Churches and congregations have a special responsibility to teach and preach against hatred of any kind. If you don’t, you are tacitly endorsing those attitudes. We often hear demands from the public for Muslims to denounce terrorists and turn them in whenever they learn of them. Should we not expect the same churches outside of the Muslim faith? If I’m a pastor (I’m not) that finds out one of my congregants has participated in white supremacy marches, you better believe we’re having a sermon about rejecting white supremacy on Sunday. I would absolutely be proclaiming to the community and the congregation that there is no place for that in a church that values human life and follows the teachings of Christ.

Call it what it is…

As I’ve seen on other blogs over the last few days, let’s stop tiptoeing around what the white supremacy movement is. It’s not “alt-right” or nationalist, it’s racist. Those involved, outside of the very extreme, probably take offense to that. Good. If they didn’t take offense to it, they’d stop calling themselves alt-right, nationalists, pro-European heritage, or other similar terms and just acknowledge what they are. We can’t let them hide behind kinder, gentler words any longer. They are racists, pure and simple.

Fight back

We can no longer abide hatred of other people simply because they don’t look like us, talk like us, come from the same place we do, or love people we think they’re not supposed to. Be vocal. Be loud. Don’t be violent. If they want to be violent, as we saw in Charlottesville, they lose the fight. Nobody is going to join them if they’re violently opposing peaceful protesters.

Don’t give people a reason to say both sides are guilty of terrible things. Take that argument away entirely. If you’re beating someone with a stick because of something they said or something they believe, you’ve lost any moral high ground you might have had.

Free speech is still free speech

Regardless of how vile or disturbing the things that someone says, they still have a right to say it. Yes, I understand quite well the limitations of the first amendment. No need to comment that you can’t yell fire in a theater, etc. Hate speech is still protected under the first amendment, it has been affirmed and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court on multiple occasions. We don’t have to like it, we don’t have to approve of it, we can actively shout it down. There’s nothing in the constitution that says free speech does not have consequences. That goes back to employers and social groups exacting consequences for it.

However, that doesn’t mean that it is illegal or that people should be arrested for the things they say out loud. If you become so offended that you need to use violence against someone for the words that they have used, find a counselor to deal with your anger issues. The very thing that protects their right to speak hate is the same thing that prevents the government from deciding that what you say should be regulated. Their right to be hateful protects your right to speak out against it. The protection of their speech guarantees that the government cannot decide that speaking out against government policy is detrimental to the public good.

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