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Readers Fire Back at Stager’s IT Column

I haven't seen so much arrogance and misinformation in one place (Why Teachers Don’t Use Computers, By Gary Stager, December 2002, p. 47) since the last Al Gore interview. Because I am one of the “non-educators/information technology staff run amok” Mr. Stager is carping about, I feel compelled to reply. I’ll skip over the gross generalizations and whining and address Mr. Stager’s specific complaints.

“Non-educators implemented policies prohibiting teachers from downloading and uploading files, regardless of their content.”

Many large information system administrators restrict the ability of users to upload or download files from corporate servers for good reasons, none of which Mr. Stager apparently went to the trouble to discover. Perhaps he’d like to hold my teachers’ hands while we explain that one of them has deleted the entire subdirectory containing their grades for the semester. He may prefer to spend his evenings disinfecting and removing virus-infected files from the student information server; files that were uploaded by a teacher.

“Shouldn’t professional educators be competent computer users after a generation of bribing, begging, cajoling, tricking, threatening, inservicing and coercing?”

One would think so. One would probably be disabused of this assumption by a few weeks in our “non-educator” shoes. Mr. Stager, for instance, is much less sophisticated in the operation of a corporate information infrastructure than he evidently thinks he is. We have nearly 1,000 teachers in our corporation, and a very wide range of competence in computers and in IT generally. While a handful of teachers seem comfortable about using their computers, most seem barely competent, and a significant fraction are appallingly ignorant. What are we to think of a veteran educator who blanches at the use of the phrase, “right click,” and accuses us of falling into computer jargon?

“Why do we have so many support personnel employed by schools? How much do they cost? When will they be unnecessary?”

I don’t know what the IT staffing situation is in Mr. Stager’s private universe, but elsewhere, including here, there is no surplus of people to do our job. We have over 6,000 computers in our K-12 corporation, 21 networked buildings, and a WAN that connects those buildings through us to the Internet. Many buildings have labs in excess of 50 student computers. Each secondary teacher has a desktop computer, and we are well on the way to furnishing one to each elementary teacher. We maintain about 50 servers in our center and scattered among the other buildings. To support this infrastructure, we have 10 full-time employees, counting an administrative assistant. [The number of expected personnel, using a thorough Web site intelligent about school setups, would be four times that number.]

While he has every right to express his uninformed opinion, we in the education IT support industry reserve the right (from a position of knowledge and experience) to point out how wrong he is. He owes us an apology, but as we are predominantly “non-educators,” he probably does not agree. I am not holding my breath.

—Tom Cox, Assistant Director

Center for Information Technology in Education, Anderson Community School Corp. Anderson, Indiana

Shame on you for allowing such an under-researched and overaggressive personal attack to represent your magazine on such an important issue. The fact is, I agree that IT staff members are often operating far beyond their level of expertise and making decisions that should be made by the instructional staff. The poor coordination between these two important departments is the root of many problems in school districts. What a golden opportunity you have missed not seeing the true story.

Too often it is technology rather than curriculum that drives the policy and money trains. It’s a real danger and needs real coverage. Just think how much more benefit an article that stresses the need for this cooperation and provides positive examples of what can be achieved as a result of such a union would be to your readership.

—Ed Morrison

Director, Information Technology Services, Barrow County Schools, Georgia

The complete text of Mr. Stager’s article would appear to indicate that he had a very bad day. Certainly something must justify such global generalizations and categorizations of IT staff. The tone of the article was that of a tirade that slammed lots of people who just don’t fit his description of IT staff.

In Maine, one of the things that have made a huge difference is the belief in many of our schools that the technology support staff should have a background in education. Many of our IT leaders hold master’s degrees in educational technology, not computer science or electrical engineering. The best of them are excellent communicators with their colleagues, and many are paid on the teacher scale.

As for any mushrooming growth in IT staff, that is not the case in Maine. In my system, for example, we will have fewer than 3 full time positions to oversee over 650 computers next year, a staffing level that hasn't changed in over five years.

I was offended by the implication that the situation he experienced for a week justified a total denigration of people in IT positions. I would surely like to know if his comments were based upon a wide base of experience in classrooms around the country or from a local experience.

—John S. Lunt

Technology Coordinator, Freeport Middle School, Freeport, Maine

I take some exception to Mr. Stager’s column. Sure, with an unlimited budget and teachers with even a quarter of the computer experience he has, I could open our entire network and probably even resign. Unfortunately, in our case, only about 1 percent of our teaching staff could come close to effectively using technology at the level he expects (downloading files, changing IP’s).

The few times our network has been open to that extent, chaos ensued. I have to provide a very stable environment for our professional educators or they freak at any unfamiliar prompt or message. I can only hope for a day when our educators take the personal initiative you have to learn and use the technology we provide.

—Brian M. Mowrer

Network administrator/technician, Mishicot School District, Mishicot, Wisconsin

Mr. Stage complains about filters that restrict downloads “regardless of their content.” I wonder how he proposes evaluating that content to ensure that it truly has educational merit. Leave it up to the professional educator because they know best? My experience tells me otherwise. Until I began working in education I had never seen such disregard for basic computer security practices and copyright laws.

—Matthew D. McCarty

executive director, Technology Services, Clarkston Community Schools Clarkston, Michigan

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