Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Who's Responsibility Is It?

As I contemplate and discuss the Agreements that guide our schools in the selection, implementation, maintenance and support of technology, the question arises, "Who's responsibility is it to make everything work?". In our district we have a distributed system of decision making but we don't always have a distributed sense of responsibility to purchase and support sustainable technology. Staff members are given the money to choose the technology they want to implement in their building. In the past, they provided a significant share of the support in the building as well. But as the demands have grown, we have hired district staff to increase tech support. Some schools continue to provide a fair amount of support by building staff. This gives them some internal support when something goes wrong and gives them a set of eyes within their staff for looking ahead. More and more schools are abandoning this, devoting their FTEs (staff hours basically) to other instructional purposes; direct instruction of technology for the most part.

There has been a see-saw debate in our district as to who should choose the hardware and software, who should pay for tech support and who should provide the support. Alongside this debate is the idea that schools are in the best position to decide and spend money to implement technology. Despite the fact everyone feels very constrained with the small budget they have, some schools have done an excellent job of providing access to their students and teachers.

My concern with this mix of responsibility is that we aren't clear about who insures that everything is implemented and working effectively. More important, we aren't clear that everything that is implemented is sustainable, not only from a building to building perspective but from a district perspective. If I purchase something that is unusual or unique, should I be responsible to make it work? or If I purchase it, can I assume that someone will rush in and figure out how it works, show me how to use it, and keep it running? If my school chooses to adopt some software that no one else is using, should our staff have the expectation of support? Is this sustainable in the big picture? Some schools have this expectation - some schools do not. Most important:

  • teachers want technology for their students,
  • they want it to work in their instruction,
  • they want support when it breaks.

To reach this goal we all need to take some responsibility for the technology we are using. While it would be ideal if someone was on hand to provide instruction and solve problems when the need arises, we don't have the resources to meet this desire. I understand and agree that teachers should not be expected to do this on their own. They deserve training and support. There is a limit to the amount of support that can be given when there is an infinite number of software and devices to learn and fix. The following would move us in the right direction.

  • Support a limited the number of applications and hardware.
  • Empower building, community and district support staff to say no to support on unsupported hardware and software.
  • Prioritize training on applications that we want to support.
  • Provide training on supported applications and hardware.
  • Encourage teachers to help one another with day to day fixes.
  • Prioritize the response for support to instructional applications - as we have done for business applications.