K-12 education has a culture of teacher independence in the classroom meaning that as long as the teachers are covering their curriculum, they have the freedom to use the materials and methods they choose to augment the textbook and curriculum. In today’s technology-focused classrooms, this freedom comes with more risk than ever before. That is why it’s critical school districts balance the need for educational freedom with their responsibility of keeping students and teachers safe while accessing online educational services.
Early Adopters in the Classroom
Sometimes, when teachers deem a website important they will intentionally circumvent IT restrictions or become very vocal about having the right to use digital assets that improve instruction. Going beyond the merits of educational value, many teachers are paid based on performance and will view restrictions on educational content as a threat to their salary.
Technology-minded teachers are typically early adopters of new education technology. These are the people most critical to district-level IT teams, they provide valuable feedback and recommendations for district-wide technology deployments. However, they are also the most likely people to circumvent IT and deploy rogue software if they are unhappy with the approved (and supported) solutions.
Early adopters were the first people who started using freeware and classroom management software such as Dojo, Edmodo, and Google Works, many times without IT knowing. In an ideal world, IT would meet with these teachers ahead of time, deploy test solutions in a controlled environment, work through the kinks and then deploy the software at an enterprise level so every teacher could access the solution safely and efficiently.
While it is with good intentions, when teachers circumvent IT and choose their own software management tools, they tend to overlook many potential issues. Typically, when they deploy their own software, they don’t have the benefit of single sign-on and class rosters. This means that teachers must manage access themselves as students enter and leave throughout the year. Oftentimes, teachers overlook security concerns, potential issues with device operating systems, or even the origins of the software if they see a benefit for the students. While their heart is in the right place, this is why teachers are not given administrative access.
How to Strike a Balance
This is where a balance needs to be found between IT and teachers. Should school districts only allow teachers to use district prescribed software? Or should they allow them to continue testing and using these new solutions?
It is important to recognize the incredibly fast pace of classroom technology adoption over the past 30 years. Think about how fast education technology can become outdated? Just a few years ago classrooms with one shared computer were considered advanced but today many districts have devices for every student.
This pace puts tremendous pressure on school districts to stay current and adopt new solutions quickly. When I was the CIO of Miami Dade County Schools, I wanted to know what teachers were using outside of IT’s management in order to stay ahead of the trends. Grassroots adoption and word of mouth promotion can happen very quickly. Once a teacher promotes curriculum or classroom management software, other teachers will most likely follow. It’s critical that IT administrators do everything they can to work with teachers at a reasonable pace.
Like many large school districts around the country, our IT teams and teachers at Miami-Dade County Schools were constantly challenged by high mobility and turnover of staff and students. This could often lead to professional development and security concerns if we changed software solutions quickly. Situations like this are where allowing teachers to select their own solutions can become important.
One way for school districts to strike a balance is to get teachers more involved in technology decisions. Many successful districts have created committees made up of teachers, information technology, instructional technology, and curriculum experts who are tasked with quickly vetting a solution and deciding if it should be allowed or denied based on pre-established criteria.
The district requirements can be updated regularly and should be formatted into simple yes or no questions, so all committee members can easily evaluate. Keeping the number of evaluation criteria to 10 or less would make the process quick and easy. Once vetted and approved technicians would be able to download the software to teacher and student devices or network security would open the software to the teachers and or students.
To learn more about cybersecurity in K-12 schools read our latest whitepaper: K-12 Cybersecurity Involves More Than Just CIPA Compliance