Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Technology Tumult

A former student emailed me tonight and asked how things are going at school. I told him that things are going fairly smoothly--and then it hit me. I haven't been writing any lengthy posts about my opinions lately; I've mostly been providing links and a little bit of commentary. But you know what? There is something that's really ticking me off at school, and I'm going to tell you about it.

Last week, my computer died. It wouldn't even boot up. Fortunately, though, we have a volunteer at school who is a techno-god. He determined that the boot sector of my hard drive was shot, so he slaved that hard drive (with all my data) into another computer as a second hard drive. He also made it so that I can log into our district network without having to jump through some stupid hoops, and also allowed me to access the information on my hard drive without being logged into the district network (something I couldn't do before). All of this sounds great, right?

Well, it is. But it creates problems.

See, this computer I'm now using is kind of a "loaner" computer. That should be OK because I'm supposed to get a new computer soon, and I know that the new computers are already at the district office being checked out and having software installed.

But this loaner computer doesn't have the right kind of name and internal serial number to identify it on the network as an "official" teacher computer. As a result, I still have access to district email and to my teacher web page but cannot access the internet at all. I called the district's Tech Services folks today, and they told me that I must have an official teacher computer in order to get to the internet. But I can't get an official teacher computer because there are no others available--except for the brand new ones, one of which I'm supposed to receive anyway, being checked out and having software installed at Tech Services.

You may wonder, why do I need to get to the internet? Well, I'm piloting a new algebra textbook, one our district may very well purchase next year. One of its selling points is its technology component, some of which is available online. As of now, I cannot access any of these publisher materials online--and we have to make a decision (to adopt or not to adopt) by January, which means I need access at school.

Oh, and another part of the technology component of this textbook adoption is the vast quantity of materials available on DVD-ROM. Did I mention that neither my former computer nor my loaner computer has a DVD drive?

But that new computer sitting in the district office sure does! So, I should just get one of those sent to me right away, right? After all, this textbook adoption is serious business, and I'm supposed to get one of those computers anyway. It all makes sense.

So I play squeaky wheel to my vice principal, who plays squeaky wheel to someone at the district. At the same time I email our district math coordinator, who's also running the math textbook adoption program, and ask her to apply some pressure as well to get me one of those computers. You know what her response was? That it's really not her job! Jeez, it's not like I'm asking for a blood transfusion or something, I'm asking her to make a phone call--or to get her boss, the one with the real pull, to make a phone call so that I can get one--ONE!--of those hundreds of computers, one I'm supposed to get anyway, one that's already at the district office, sent to me now so that I can properly evaluate this textbook (in addition to having access to all the web sites I draw from on any given day).

Honestly, is there no one that can make this happen? Is everyone dulled to sleep by the inertia of the bureaucracy?

Update, 11/8/07: Apparently, there is someone who can make this happen. My vice principal played squeaky wheel for me but to no avail. After I told him the above story about the district math coordinator, he took it upon himself to get me an operational computer. Yesterday he made some phone calls, and today he went to the district office, picked up a computer, and hand-delivered it to me. Now that is going above and beyond the call of duty, and getting something done.

I will be delivering a a package of Ferrero Rocher to him tomorrow.


David said...

People who use the phrase "not my job" more than once or twice need to be assigned to low-level clerical positions, with salaries to match.

allen said...

I've zeroed in on the school district as being the central reason for the gradual decline of the public education system. The district's grown not in service of education but at the expense of education and there's nothing that can be done at an institutional level to fix it.

The district simply serves no educational service, not that it ever did, but like all centralized bureaucracies funding kicks off the need for more funding a gradually increasing percentage of which ends up supporting the bureaucracy.

When per student funding was a fraction of what it now is the bureaucracy was tamed by starvation. Now that the money's rolling in there's no way to satisfy the need for more funding. It's a positive feedback loop and some of the substantive changes like NCLB, charters and vouchers are a result of the excesses of that feedback.

Ellen K said...

It's a vicious cycle. Our district requires acquisition and use of computer skills, including programs that we will never ever use in order to be considered "performing" at acceptable evaluation levels. But the big problem is that having become reliant on technology, when that same technology stops working, or isn't maintained, the classroom ends up in worse shape than if they had had no computer access at all. Witness my classroom. Our network drop has NEVER worked well. Even my wireless connection is iffy. The student computers-we have the oldest in the building because we aren't "core" classes-can take upwards of 30 minutes to go through the opening and filtering programs to actually allow students access. With only 90 minutes in the class, that means that at the very best, only six students will even get online, much less be able to do any meaningful research. Yet our district insists on technology components and plans for all class disciplines. I like technology, I use technology and I would allow my students to absorb everything they could via technology, but they have to make it where I can use it, simply having computers in the classroom gathering dust isn't meaningful use in my opinion.

BTW. Back in the day before I really returned to teaching, I was a paraprofessional in charge of the newly acquired computers for the district. After yet another breech of the server caused the entire math lab to go belly up, the Algebra teacher confided in me that she would gladly give up every computer, even her own, if it meant there would be money to have fewer than 20 students per class. And she wasn't an inexperienced teacher, she was a department head.

Polski3 said...

Buy that AP a coffee ! And send a dead rat to your district math weenie, I mean coordinator. I would also seriously delay anything she asks of me. Isn't "Wally" of Dilbert fame, also a role model for some of us in Education ?

Darren said...

At least I don't work for Ratbert.