Online Blogucation

No Internet Allowed

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

Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Spoken like someone who doesn’t understand security or why controls are put in place. Educate yourself before making such brash statements.

  2. AMEN Jeff! I am a director of IT for a large college in the northeast. I go to conferences every year where my colleagues gripe and complain about the unreasonable desires of faculty – it makes me angry! You would think that these professionals were government agents protecting national secrets – I liked your reference!

    Access is extremely simple if you want it to be. And it doesn’t cost a bunch of money. Our department feels it is our duty to SUPPORT the school, including faculty and students in whatever technology needs they have. That means Internet access from anywhere, anytime. And what’s great is that we’ve never been hacked and we handle viruses with no problem.

    Anyone who tells you this is difficult is either ignorant of what technology can do or trying to create power through miscommunication. I don’t usually read academic newsletters like this, but I’m so glad one of my faculty forwarded this to me. Keep up the good work and hold everyone accountable! Education is too important to make difficult.

  3. Mr Borden – while I can see that your comments created some angst with some IT professional out there, I must admit I understand your frustration. Like my other colleague who has posted here, I attend IT conferences for education and I am disgusted at the animosity from my peers toward faculty.

    I also agree that security does NOT have to be like it is at most schools. I consulted with a for-profit university who has over 80,000 students per year. We created campus access for all students, faculty, guests, etc. In fact, the connection at some schools had to be wired. But we figured out how to do it so that there were no virus concerns. I know that some IT professionals don’t realize this is possible, but I would challenge them to look at it as a game…a game they can win!

    It doesn’t have to be such a struggle and it doesn’t have to be so closed off. Technology is so powerful that education MUST use it but it can be open and accessible to anyone, anytime. Best of luck friends!

  4. This is a ridiculous discussion. The reason IT staff can’t work well with faculty is because they want things that don’t make sense. They want to play youtube vids which we all know is not educational. They want to assign student’s websites that require downloads when that practice is the easiest way to get a network virus. Faculty need to just teach and leave the technology to professionals. We have a hard enough time keeping students from hacking our system on a regular basis we actually lose that battle regularly. This conversation is coming from people who don’t get technology and the dangers it holds.

  5. The internal support people at my school seem like they are against us teachers. They refuse to help us find ways to reach our students with software, the internet, or anything. It’s all very disturbing and is truly an us vs them environment much like you describe here. The problem is that nobody holds them accountable. Even the President of the college is afraid to tell the VP of IS what to do because he doesn’t understand exactly what IS does. It seems that all they have to do is say something technical as the excuse for why the suggestion can’t happen and at that point the discussion is over. It’s all very very sad.

  6. Frankly, I think a teacher is in a better position to determine what is educational content.

    As an educator, the internet has allowed students access to materials that are a. current, b. interesting to them c. enabling (online classes – hello)…

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