If only schools could change

Right now, many schools’ technology systems are corrupt, but not necessarily for the right reason.  It seems like schools are completely locked in to Microsoft, not only as a platform, but also as a curriculum.  A great example of this is the description for the “Using Tech – Accelerated” class in my school.  The prerequisite for going into the advanced “Using Tech” class is “experience using most Microsoft products”.  This just shows that schools today aspire to teach kids how to use Microsoft, not how to use computers.  The excuse is that “Microsoft is what is used in the business world”.  Make of this statement what you wish, but I don’t believe for a second that that is the only reason.  I am making these generalizations based on my school district and other school districts I have seen.  I speak with my district’s technology coordinators regularly, so I understand the attempt to make the perfect technology system, but it isn’t really happening.  The reason is society in general.  My school is already completely based on Microsoft.  The experience of other school districts, and common sense, tells us that staff members will not allow something like this.  In other districts, attempts to make even the tiniest changes repeatedly fail due to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude.  I overhead a conversation a little while ago.  For the most part, this is how it went:

Teacher: “It’s almost time to go, so save your work and email it home if you aren’t done.”
Student: “Can I use Google Documents?”
Teacher: “Why?”
Student: “It is a lot easier than emailing it home.  I learned about it in ‘Using Tech’ class.”
Teacher: “Well, you could, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Student: “Why not?”
Teacher: “Because there is no need to use it.  Emailing it works just fine.  Plus it doesn’t sound very reliable, and if something goes wrong, no one will know how to help you.  Just email it home.”
Student: “Okay”
A great technology wasted because the teacher doesn’t know how to use it.  The student knew perfectly well how to use it, but the teacher was clueless.  This is a perfect example of how schools want to change, but can’t.  This situation is kind of like a school district switching to GNU/Linux.  In the teacher’s eyes, Google Documents did the same thing that emailing it home did.  Teachers (and even most people in general) don’t want to learn a new technology if it doesn’t offer immediate significant advantages.  They are willing to put in the time to learn other technologies, like LCD projectors in the classroom, because it is obvious that there will be instant bennefit.  To them, GNU/Linux is just another headache. In addition, there is no cost effective way to switch immediately, especially in larger school districts.  GNU/Linux turns out to be far more expensive than Windows, after staff training and migration costs.  Now, my district is trying to adopt Moodle.  This is a giant leap in the right direction, but in a marathon, a giant leap means nothing.  It takes a sustained effort of steps to win a marathon.  A sustained effort is the only way for any school district to switch.  The problem is that there are too many other resistant people and other issues (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2002/05/13/schools-microsoft.htm) for something like that to happen.  The only way to push this forward is for community support.  If there are more people pushing for FOSS adoption than against it, we can make something happen.  I STRONGLY encourage you to write a letter to your district’s schoolboard, superintendent, principal(s), administrator(s), technology coordinator(s), or anyone else that may or may not listen.  A battle of this magnitude must be done Bazaar style: with numerous people doing their part.

Published in: on June 16, 2008 at 1:32 pm  Comments (4)  
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  1. Schools have either knowingly or unknowingly taken the approach that the computing world runs as is dictated by Microsoft. While I sometimes subconsciously fall victiim to the same thinking, its not right and I applaud the efforts of anyone who is willing to correct this

  2. What!? Schools – a place for learning? What’s more, teachers actually learning from their students?

    Seems very sensible to me, not radical at all!

    I’m a beginner in the FOSS field. I work in the Third Sector (what in the US you refer to as the ‘Not for profits’ sector). As a community activist I embrace the whole ethos of community inspired, community driven software. I have my own mission to roll out FOSS in the Blackpool, UK area. As such I’m glad to have discovered your Blog and learned from your observations and experience. Thanks!

  3. You may be interested that elementary schools in a municipality of the Canadian province of British Columbia are replacing their 1000 obsolete Mac computers with Linux:

    http://tinyurl.com/5oacwv which is a shorter link to

    While the writer referred only to the new computers being more “economical”, I am inclined to agree with you that any increased use of GNU/Linux (whatever the motivation) will bring with it other benefits. Those may include — if not freedom from harassment — harassment from weaker positions than currently experienced.

  4. I think it’s interesting how you use Google Documents as the example, since it’s very un-free software. However, you’re point is still beautifully valid, and I feel for you.

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