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Bury a Computer Coordinator Today.


This document examines issues relating to management of computer resources in schools - it is personal opinion and therefore probably biassed. Think before flaming me please, all discussion is good discussion.

The status quo is that most schools independently operate a medium to large corporate network. Their networks typically have hundreds of users, store vast quantites of data, consist of many (in some cases hundreds) workstations and servers delivering many applications to clients who have limited time to get critical tasks done, who all want to log on at the same time and log off similarly in sync (periodic timetables can do that). In addition, most school networks provide access to and manage Internet connections, web services, Intranet applications and e-mail.

The proliferation and indeed very existence of such corporate networks is a tribute to the many Computer Coordinators that work tirelessly in our schools to ensure continuity of service, professional delivery of resources on time, often on a shoestring budget. Said coordinators can often be seen on site during holidays, weekends and late into the night. The same coordinators justify to themselves that this is a good idea for many reasons:

Please do not think I am putting down any of these reasons - they are all noble BUT are they necessarily right, and more importantly are our educational systems justified in allowing this state of affairs to continue?

Each term I am horrified to read the pleas that go out onto mailing lists that I am subscribed, advertising for temporary (or permanent) positions in schools because the coordinator is going on long-service leave, holidays or sadly moving on.

"I look after 120 computers, 4 servers, edit the school website, budget, plan and have 2 IPT classes and teach year 8 computer applications".

What is even more deplorable IWHO is that schools actively sanction such positions and teachers apply for them. Computer Coordinators are a breed apart given the workload they willingly shoulder until they have had enough and move on embittered and feeling undervalued, unsuccessful at being able to juggle it all and lamenting not being paid their worth.

Schools are notorious for taking advantage of the good nature of teachers. If you are not a teacher, your impression would possibly be that we have it pretty easy - holidays and all. In my experience this is not so. Teachers are remarkably resilient - they shoulder burdens that few in the business world would even consider (without a car, raise, secretary and christmas bonus). Due to the ludicrous situation where teachers cannot apply for overtime, huge amounts of tangible work happens outside the 'working day' (whatever that is for a teacher). It is my experience that a teacher cannot be effective and 'work to rule'.

Managing IT infrastructure in this day and age is the job of a trained IT systems professional. More than that, to ensure continuity of service, scalability and sustainable management practices it takes a professional from the IT Industry. With ever bloated operating systems and complex application interactions, planning for any roll-over or expansion is a very complicated business (for large schools, akin to landing a manned probe on Mars). Liasing with businesses, resellers and other venders is an art that constantly has schools ending up as the victims. Resellers sell the "cheaper bang for buck" model when spruiking 'clone' machines and it is a real skill to even appreciate the total cost of ownership of their infrastructure - particularly when so much of it was established and is maintained 'out of normal hours' (whatever normal hours mean for a teacher).

Rolling in new gear and out old requires time outside class time (and usually term time), with much planning, scheduling of deliveries and a coordinated inventory management process. Repairs and replacements are always urgent (the client does not usually understand when you have to explain that 2 of the 3 machines in the room does not work because the mouse-balls were stolen). Schools are hostile places for computer equipment - boys schools quadrupily so.

Where does the educator fit in this technological jumble? Is it right to ask them to do the 'hardware' in a school - I would maintain it is not easy to justify in any way (both from an economic personnel deployment standpoint and more importantly a sustainable/extensible infrastructure viewpoint)!

Educators should be users of the technology. Teachers are ideally placed to identifying WHAT they want to be able to do to best enrich and enhance learning outcomes. I would argue they are NOT ideally placed (nor adequately experienced) to plan and maintain the HOW, nor should they be required to do so.

The HOW of modern corporate networks is a complex system of interrelated components and services and it deserves full time technical support to keep it running and to plan for future service expansion. R&D is timeconsuming and cannot adequately be explored in parts of spares amongst the hustle and bustle of what is a 'normal' teaching day. More importantly is to BEYOND the scope of a teachers job specification to be expected to do this.

We are our own worst enemies - when times were simpler, we volunteered out time, it was a hobby of sorts, and stand-alone computers are manageable when there were not many of them. These days to be called out of class put out fires (localised or site-wise IT crises) is as inexcusable as being called out of class to re-stock the printer tray in the staff room, or put another filter paper in the coffee machine yet it happens to Computer Coordinators daily.

The "what" you want to do to support educational outcomes should not be predicated on the "how the heck am I going to get it to do that" concern - they are separate universes but many coordinators have to deal with both and often times the "don't know how" squashes the "what I want to do" and this is far from ideal as well.

My point? How do we get technical managers looking after the hardware so we as educators can be users of it? Some schools have finally realised the wisdom of such a move, others are constrained by many things and are prevented from doing it, still others are bleeding staff dry because they can get away with it - doesn't seem right does it?

more coming ... how am I doing so far?

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