Jul 31, 2011

Call for an Education Technology Manifesto

I have been an IT Director of 6 years for a large school District in Arizona, and have been in Information Technology for over 15 years. I chartered my career path and skills based on best practices that you find in all the magazines and books. I went from obtaining certifications in my technical trade such as Microsoft certifications to Cisco.  I improved my IT management skills by obtaining training and certifications in ITIL, Project Management Professional, and Support Center Director.  Pretty much, copying the track that of any Director or manager of IT systems in a corporation would have.  Afterall, were not schools supposed to be run like a business? Indeed, I improved the department and our services dramatically by doing so. All of the staff were also certified as Support Center Analysts to understand best practices for support processes and customer service. We instilled those metrics you were supposed to have, like, Service Levels, Average Time to Resolution, First Contact Resolution, Mean Time Between Failure, etc.  We implemented ITIL best practices like Incident Management, Problem Management, Change Management, and  Release Management.

These all helped, our systems were more stable with deep 9's, our ticketing system and service desk personnel were cranking through tickets and solving end user issues. Yet, the staff we supported still were unhappy with us. They saw us as many times slowing down progress, or, disconnected from education. We were doing everything we were "supposed" to be doing, and we could prove it. Teachers and admin staff, and I am sure students, were not seeing value being added. To make it worse, our superintendant would jokingly state that IT (and another student serving department I will not name) was a Black Hole, since we sucked so much money in, but not much back out to add to the core mission of education.  Why? We were working so hard with such dedication, only to be called a Black Hole.

I realized after much soul searching, after getting into the classrooms and talking with teachers and students, that we were operating from a wrong paradigm. We were working from a value system of a corporation, like a bank or insurance company. Afterall, many of the IT books were based around how to manage IT in banks and insurance companies.  Not from the value system of education. Values such as security, compliance, standardization, minimize costs, certainty, and control.  This causes frustrations in an education organization, where the values are creativity, exploration, differentiation, uncertainty, and freedom are needed to have an effective learning environment.

Our approach on IT in schools reminds me of an excerpt from the book by Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat and Crowded, where the author described a new post 9/11 U.S. embassy in Istanbul that was made so secure that people said that "even birds don't fly there". Well, it also made it so secure that it blocked relationships between the 2 countries. Building  relationships is the main purpose of an embassy, isn't it? The author describes the security of the embassy this way,

"They are also strong enough to deter most visitors, friends, and allies. In fact, when I first set eyes on the new consulate in 2005, what struck me most was how much it looked like a maximum-security prison - without the charm. All that was missing was a moat filled with alligators and a sign that said in big red letters: "Attention! You are now approaching the U.S. consulate in Istanbul. Any sudden movements and you will be shot without warning. all visitors welcome."

Many Information Technology departments in education do the Istanbul embassy equivalent, we make it so secure and strive for reliability and performance, that, we lose sight of what we are there in the first place. We spend so much time implementing projects to maximize compliance of external and internal regulations.  Do we resemble a maximum security prison, also?
It is as if we have our own analogous sign as described by Friedman:
"Attention! You are now approaching the IT Department. Yeah, we undersatnd you want us to add or change something to help differentiate your students learning, but our systems are working now, you'll only mess it all up. Thank you for your request."

Our values are backwards, it should be about education value first. We are not the only one's facing this dilemma. Software developers were frustrated by a similar issue, being constrained by having to use a development process borrowed from other industries, such as construction. It was a wrong fit, with different values, than what software development really needed. Software developers were unhappy and customers were unhappy as a result. So, a group got together to develop a new paradigm that actualized the values of what customers and software developers really needed. This was called the Agile Manifesto, and created a revolution is software development that improved success of software projects, empowered developers, and increased customer satisfaction with software products.

Information Technology Departments need a similar revolution. We need to discover our primary values and principles to add value to the core mission of educators. I propose we develop an Education Technology Manifesto, inspired by the Agile Manifesto.  I submit for your consideration, to gather education technology leaders and build our own, and reinvent ourselves, our departments, and our services. Here is my first shot at it, but these are just my immediate and rough thoughts just to get ideas rolling, for people to affirm, and for people to remove. Here we go:

We are innovating learning, building  and improving the student and educator experience by developing and implementing technology.

Innovate Learning over Business Best Practices
Student Centered over Administration Centered
Classroom over the Server Room
Differentation over Standardization
Learning Value over Compliance

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the let more.

So, what do you think?
Do you agree we need a change? A value realignment? Would you want to be one of the drafters and signatories of an Education Technology Manifesto?