Like every just about every week for the past 7 years, I was at a college talking to faculty about how to effectively use education just a few days ago. I’ve become quite the e-vangelist in my time and I enjoy it immensely. It’s especially satisfying when I get to speak to instructors who have very little experience with the Internet and who don’t seem to see the tidal wave of technology coming. Showing them things they have literally never dreamed about is fun. I truly get to blow their minds!
But as enjoyable as my time was with these teachers, I came face to face with what I’m starting to consider my own personal Newman. (Sorry if the Seinfeld reference isn’t obvious…) While setting up for a 3 hour stint showing teachers how to make interaction a legitimate component of their online courses, I ran across the local I.T. guy. You know, the teacher / technology “support” specialist. The conversation went something like this:
ME: “Hi, I need to switch out your desktop for my laptop. I’ll be projecting it to the participants in the lab today.”
IT Guy: “Uh, no you won’t.”
ME: “Excuse me? I don’t think I heard you right.”
IT Guy: “Yeah, we don’t let people do that here. You’ll have to use our machine.”
ME: “But I have software on my machine that I need to show your instructors. Stuff that will let them create audio files, screen recordings, movies, and mind maps. I looked at your machine and it has none of that.”
IT Guy: “Sorry, you’ll just need to make due.”
ME: “What about wireless?”
IT Guy: “Yeah, you won’t get that in here.”
ME: “In the computer lab? I won’t get wireless in the computer lab?”
IT Guy: “Right.”
ME: (Frustration mounting) “OK, can I at least download that stuff to your machine so I can show it?”
IT Guy: “No way – not sure what kind of viruses might be associated. Besides, you can’t download anything unless you’re a system admin.”
ME: “Ok, so can’t you do it?”
IT Guy: “Nope.”
And with that he walked away. I stood there dumbfounded as I tried to scramble my presentation in my head.
It was about that time a teacher approached me. She explained that the lab was actually her typical classroom and that she could show me how to get around the system. We could pull a few wires from various machines and get me onto their network with her password, then I could do what I needed to do.
We were 30 seconds into our clandestine operation when he returned to the room. Caught red handed, the teacher simply said, “We’ve done this before…” The techie was obviously put out. He walked straight to my computer and asked to see my virus detection software. He pulled it up and found that I’d had 3 virus attempts in the past year. He looked at me like I was carrying ebola and gave a little smirk. “See…”
Wow. Here’s the worst part. This story is consistent campus after campus. You’d think I was trying to get onto the Pentagon’s network with my laptop based on how I’m treated by some IT groups.
Now you may be asking what the big deal is. Perhaps you’ve drunk the Kool-aid here and believe your IT department's who treat your campus network like a magical black box. You know, the kind of system that raises far more questions than creates solutions. The kind of system that only an elite few can access, only after lengthy assessments of software, hardware, dna, and possibly a urinalysis. The kind of system that enlightened IT Directors realize is silly...
But here’s the rub. I speak all over the world. I’ve spoken to our government – in a government building – in DC. I’ve spoken in hotels, businesses, high schools, universities, and even a court building. And in every case, I connected to their Internet.
Forget about me for a minute. Let’s focus on the real crime here. How do students connect? I was at a prestigious California university a few months back and I had some time to kill before I was to meet my contact. I sat down in a commons area and fired up my laptop. There were 2 students sitting there with me.
Me: “I’m trying to get on the Internet, is there a guest login for the campus?”
Student 1: “Are you kidding? They don’t give access to students, let alone guests.”
Student 2: “I’m taking 3 online classes this semester and I have to go to Barnes & Noble to do my stuff every day because I don’t have Internet at home.”
Yep. Barnes & Noble. Of course, if they wanted to, students could go to Starbucks or several McDonalds these days. They can find Internet access almost anywhere but their own school. These students can find Internet at airports during Spring Break, at Kinko’s for X cents per minute, or by going to the public library, but they can’t access the world wide web, including their online classes from school. Ugh.
So it is with all sincerity and seriousness that I say, “It’s time to figure it out.” It’s time to get with the program and offer Internet access on our campuses and to our students. How is it that the digital divide actually exists on our campuses? That’s crazy. And while we’re at it, let’s make it a quality experience. I was at an airport the other day with Wireless G – for free – which actually came into my wireless card at 300 mbps! Blazing fast!
Oh, and while we’re at it, knock it off with the super safe guards – you’re preventing students from learning. It’s one thing in a K-12 environment, but these are adults we’re talking about. I was recently at a school where I recommended a YouTube video by an amazing educator (Ken Robinson) and the faculty told me they couldn’t watch that from campus – YouTube was blocked. GOOD GRIEF!
It’s time for our schools to figure out what everyone else seems to have figured out already. “Safe” web access is a smokescreen. If you can’t figure out how to protect your campus while at the same time giving appropriate access to all of your students, teachers, and even to guests, then it’s time to find an IT director who is capable of that. I’ve talked to some of those executives at BIG institutions. The kind of institutions where they have million dollar budgets and a staff of 100 people and they get it. Like they get how important it is to outsource their LMS needs, they understand that access and permission is just as important. It’s not about building an empire and it’s not about holding the campus hostage with technology – it’s about giving an amazing educational experience to their students…their customers…who need it.
To those of you who really get it, I salute you. To those who do their best to help technology and education blend seamlessly, I applaud your efforts. You are more important than you realize in the educational culture. However, to those who use technology to control, manipulate, and scare…well, let’s say I don’t salute you. You are impeding progress and education at a school. Much like impeding reading at a library or stopping the sale of gas at a fuel station.
By the way, the harder it is to get onto your site…the more enticing it seems to be for hackers to try. So Google transparency, accessibility, and academic technology, and step aside. Education is trying to happen.
Jeff D. Borden
Senior Director of Teaching & Learning