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David Anthony Colarusso - Sadly not Havoc Dinosaur
Intermittent musings on the law, science, education, technology, design, and life. Also, I build things: furniture, software, reasoned arguments... To learn more about that, click a persona below for my eponymous website.

Complications Blogging My Job: What Aren’t We Talking About?

by David Colarusso - May 24th, 2007

I started blogging about work back in January, and despite previous whole-school emails pointing to my website, yesterday’s triggered my first visit from senior management. It was an unfortunate case of differing interpretations, and I’ll get to that soon. First, some background. Feel free to skip ahead if you’re a subscriber.

Background: Several months ago, Edinburgh schools upgraded their IT infrastructure as part of a new contract with BT Synergy. This meant newer computers and faster networks. Unfortunately, it also came with some headaches. These served as the source for January’s “Refresh Rant.” I commended our internal tech gurus and bemoaned the fact that the new contract moved support off-site, placing it in a centralized pay-as-you-go-BT-run help center. I shared other teachers’ complaints, and I backed up my analysis with a few colorful examples of my own.

A few days later I started running into filtering problems. Namely, YouTube was blocked. This was problematic because I was using it in class. So I posted “The Firewall’s Chill” an argument for why we should allow access to such sites. Interestingly, this apparent change in policy was inadvertently caused by the afore mentioned upgrade. Our in-house staff hadn’t been given the permissions/training necessary to implement nuanced filtering. Consequently, we were left with a blunt instrument and teachers subject to the same filters as students.

Fast forward to March and two major IT incidents–a security breach and a downed network. Happening almost simultaneously and right before parents’ night, I blogged about these under the title, “When it rains.” The downed network seemed the more unfortunate of the two, as the school was left in the dark about it’s status far too long. Our management team followed protocol, reporting the problem to BT, only to go the better part of a day without reply. That’s right, BT wasn’t answering the phone.

It was that last posting which prompted yesterday’s visit. In it I describe the fallout from our downed network, explaining that “the business manager was running around like crazy” doing his best to address problems presented by the outage. Perhaps it’s an American v. Scottish thing, but from my vantage point when taken in context this reflected the general urgency of the situation… Not everyone saw it that way.

So let me be 100% clear. My central gripe is not with the capable and dedicated educators with whom I work, and I feel my reporting reflects this, focusing on the impossible task they face, bound by a poorly negotiated service agreement. My complaint is with the new BT service contract and the way in which the council has chosen to deal with it–namely failing to talk about it.

Despite the fact that I no longer have a working school email (a wrinkle I haven’t blogged)1, and the fact that I only got a proper school account today, I pretty much stopped blogging my problems because some friends across town were quietly told to stop making waves. They were even told they couldn’t complain to their councilors about problems stemming from the upgrade. As council employees, they were told they had to take it through their line manager. It didn’t matter if they already had. Their elected officials were off limits. Talking to a union rep, they later discovered they could complain as private citizens, but the insinuation was clear. Don’t talk or else. In the end, they chose not to make waves.

Taken in isolation, I was willing to let this go, but I get very touchy when a group doesn’t listen to its members’ concerns. If there are problems it’s best to talk about them. Otherwise you risk repeating them. Conversely, silencing complaints doesn’t do much to engender confidence. So this week when a colleague was almost silenced because of her attempts to improve the school’s recycling facilities, something clicked. That linked article was almost scuttled. According to a colleague directly involved, the communications office didn’t even think the petition should have happened. Apparently employees aren’t to speak ill of the council through such actions. I find this defensive stance worrisome. Why not embrace the issue and use the petition to push for better funding?

So let me be clear again. No one has tried to silence me. There may have been some hurt feelings over a misreading of my earlier blogs, but my school’s staff have been nothing but helpful. If anything, I get the feeling they’re just as frustrated. So I’d like to know, “What aren’t we talking about?”

Please email me with any refresh problems or general items you’ve felt “reluctant” to share. I don’t work for the council; I’m an exchange teacher about to leave the country. I’m curious, and I’ll post replies here as anonymous comments. You can also leave an anonymous comment below. I welcome posts from those who don’t think there is a problem and from council officials. Please tell me that I’ve missed something.

1 The email which got people looking at my blog yesterday was sent by a colleague who let me borrow his account. The subject line read “The ‘FROM’ line lies…” Ironically, it was about all the positive stuff going on in Scottish ICT. It was a link to my eLive postings.

Entry Filed under: General Observations

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mr Smith  |  May 31st, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    A couple of weeks ago I spent a couple of days installing software. Most of it was free stuff: Shockwave, Flash, Paint.Net, Google Earth, Google sketchup, Scratch, Visual Basic. The software that wasn’t free we had licences for but hadn’t installed since the refresh. In all I installed 13 applications on 20 computers.

    I discovered the price list today. It costs 36 to install an single application on a single machine. It would have cost 9360 to install all that software. That’s almost all of our annual budget, 10,366.

    I have since installed a couple of those applications in two other computer rooms, another 2160 that would have been spent. Today we also installed a CAD application on 20 machines which would have cost 1280, bringing the total for the last couple of weeks to 12,800, which is 2434 more than our entire annual IT budget.

    The McCrone Agreement was supposed to mean that teachers did not have to do administative tasks:

    This list of tasks should not routinely be carried out by teachers. The list is illustrative and not exhaustive. These tasks would generally be undertaken by support staff thereby allowing the particular skills and experience of the teacher to be deployed most effectively.
    …Repair and maintenance of IT and AV resources;”

    We have been told that we are responsible for installing curricular software, and the cost makes it prohibative. What teacher is going to choose software installation over, for example, buying almost 16 desktop computers (586 to supply and install a standard desktop PC)?

  • 2. Mrs Smith  |  June 10th, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    I have been faced with what I thought was a relatively simple problem, I cannot get access to a certain website.

    I emailed our IT manager and asked him for information about the problem. He took some time to get back to me, though I imagine that that is because his workload.

    When he finally did get back to me, I was told that the senior management team had to be consulted first. This I accepted, but it does seem odd to me that every single blocked website must be discussed by the entire Senior Management Team, perhaps this is a hangover from a period in the past when IT was so embedded in the curriculum, the SMT could be consulted about most things.

    Eventually, I was informed that the site had been unblocked, this turned out to not be the case. I cannot access the site I want to see. One other teacher in the school can access it but cannot see any images on it.

    I have now given up (following advice from colleagues).

    The school has responded to the problem of websites being blocked by producing a form that we can fill in to ask for the site to become available. I am dutifully filling in the form for all the sites that are increasingly becoming impossible to access.

    This only adds to the argument that schools cannot possibly block all “subversive” content, but instead we should educate the pupils to know what they should and shouldn’t do, as mentioned elsewhere on this blog.

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