My IT staff is better than yours

The general consensus among educators using technology is that IT are the enemies. Obviously this is a generalization but when you listen to teachers, read weblogs, this is a clear message.

Not for me. I’ve touched on this before and am currently working with our IT manager on a presentation at Tlt in a few weeks that deals with how we work together.

Today I was trying to access the chat portion in ustream. I had mentioned it casually with our IT staff and they said since it uses port 666 which is generally used for IRC, it could be potentially a threat. Makes sense. That’s their job, to protect and insure our network is stable and safe. But I persist. Since we all use Gtalk, it’s a quick IM conversation and here it is:

me: how hard is it to open port 666? Is it like a click of a button or some weirdly involved coding? temporarily I mean
stinndler: i have to log into the firewall console
find the right access-list then add the exception to it
all so you can use IRC
me: It’s part of Ustream…lots of online presenters use it.
stinndler: how many is lots?
me: I could join one everyday
me: yep
I’m watching this right now
It’s basically over but just curious to see if we can do it.
stinndler: so it allows you to ask questions of the presenter?
me: that and chat with participants
stinndler: checking my firewall logs it looks like it’s always going to the same server
i could potentially open up port 6667 to just that server
that would remove the risk
me: that would be cool
you rock….you knew that right?
stinndler is typing…

That’s all it took. Conversation, relationships and common sense. Unfortunately, there are not that many school districts that operate this way. We need more stories and examples of effective relationships. I’ll be sure to post our presentation and materials on May 15th.

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  • Good work Dean. That’s my point – let’s talk about the need and find a workable solution.

  • Dean, I absolutely agree with you! I had a great relationship with the IT staff at my last school. If one takes the time to show off to the IT staff the great stuff our students are doing because of their help, I have found they are more than willing to be open to my needs. They need to know they are appreciated. “Feed the techies”, that’s my motto! (I would bring in some of my famous cinnamon rolls and let them have first crack at it). Also, I made a point of bringing out IT director a google shirt from my trip to the Google Campus. We need to work together as a team!

  • Chris Bell

    Fantastic work. It’s really all about relationships with co-workers that enable these transactions to proceed smoothly and quickly.

  • Anne Van Meter

    Way to work together! It’s all about the education, if it serves the education process, then it should be a go. I think some of the more adversarial relationships are when the IT people are not conscious of who they should serve. They are divorced from the world of education/schools/teachers/students, whether they started “in the trenches” or not. Too many layers in the admin structure? Too much paperwork? Too many non-education tasks to complete?

  • Nice job working together. I think the key on both sides is empathy. The teachers sees this really neat technology that really would improve student learning, or acquisition of 21st century skills, or relevant professional development. But the tech person has to protect the district’s interests, too, which include potential misuse, liability, accessibility of inappropriate content, overuse of limited shared resources, etc.

    This is a case where a solution was found that works for everyone, and it’s exactly the same solution that we use in our district. But unfortunately, there are lots of situations where there isn’t a way to enable access to the technology while still protecting the network and its users.

    Keeping communication open, maintaining respect for the perspective of the other side, and recognizing that there isn’t always an easy solution go a long way toward improving the relationship.

    And yes, Sharon, food helps too 🙂

    John Schinkers last blog post..1

  • Dean,
    There are IT Directors who are educators who look at the educational first- and just want the people requesting access to know WHY they want it- and WHAT it will do for the kids, or the learning- Sometimes those 2 questions are hard to get answers to- Opportunities for learning is what I try to find when asked to open up access.

  • I have been the Technology Director for the past 23 years. Before that was a classroom teacher. We always try to do what is best for students and teachers. Of my tech staff, 8 others have teaching degrees, 2 have four year computer science degrees, 2 have 2 year electronics/CISCO degrees, one is working on a CS degree, + my secretary. My network guru’s mother was a classroom teacher, so he understands why we need to be doing everything we can for the teachers.

    Please take the time to read my blog post about how we work with teachers –

    Craig Nansens last blog post..1

  • @Craig and Connie,

    That’s partly my point, we need more stories of effective and positive environments. They need to be told. Craig, I think having been a teacher obviously is huge. Many/Most districts have IT managers/directors that have little or no educational background.

    Our IT manager does not have an educational background. Fortunately he’s married to a teacher and has better insights into the educational aspects of technology. In addition, he’s very much a team player as is all or most of our central office which is a culture we’ve been very deliberate in developing.

  • Ryan Stinn

    Speaking as the Network Analyst that opened the port for Dean, I have a question for some of you: What would having an education degree have done for me when making the decision to open a port that is commonly used by viruses and trojans?
    I think the IT Dept needs to, first and foremost, have a strong background in technology. The reason we have people like Dean is to “bridge the gap” between technology and education. He pushes us and sometimes we have to push back.
    It’s nice to have the insight from “the other side”, but why does that other side have to be inside the department? I think hiring teachers to do tech work is like hiring techs to do teachers work. It doesn’t make sense either way.

  • Doug Johnson’s book – Machines are the Easy Part: People are the Hard Part – which is now free – says it best – Basically, respect eachother’s respective domains and areas of expertise – and it’s all good from there..

    Amy Bowllans last blog post..1

  • Dean like you I have one of the best IT guys in the business. We talk find ways around the problem that allow safety of the system and for me to do the stuff I need to do in the classroom. When we communicate with them (I really like mine and we talk all the time) doors are opened instead of staying closed.

    Thanks for spreading the word


    Chris Harbecks last blog post..The Unprojects are coming

  • I am a little jealous and had written to to try to get it fixed. I have not approached our IT department about it and as a matter of fact, just dropped it all together! I need to go back and revisit and getting the chat to work on my laptop. Thanks for the good post. I may have to share this if I can’t get the chat to work.

    Mark Carlss last blog post..Two days of Tech Connect & interesting post from Will Richardson

  • My 2 cents:

    First of all I would like to echo many of the comments already made here by saying that building relationships and “bridges” are the way successful/innovative organizations (whether education, buisness, whatever) work day-in and day-out. I am the I.T. Manager that is lucky enough (I actually like to think that I have an eye for talented I.T. staff… my motto… “Hire Well!”) to have the kind of staff I do and to be involved with people like Dean on a daily basis. Leadership starts at the top and I have to give credit to our Board and senior administration that empower and support people like Dean, myself and the entire organization. I am NOT an educator (although my first year of university was in education) and after 26 years in the IT industry (health sector, government Crown Corporation and private sectors) consider myself to be an I.T. professional. I am also VERY frotunate (although at times I question this thought LOL) to have a wife that is a long time educator and whom now works as a consultant in our division to “ground” some of my thoughts when it comes to technology in education. I also agree with my Network Analyst, the infamous “stinndler” (aka Ryan Stinn) when he says that the IT Department should be run by IT professionals who have skill-sets that most educators simply don’t have. Please DON’T take this as a slight… my entire staff has huge respect for the work and challengesthat our education and curriculum support staff face on a daily basis… ever changing curriculum, diverse student needs, ever reducing funding, etc. trust me when I say that we know we could NOT do your job… we simply don’t have the education background or skill-sets that educators do. To have the technical education/skill set AND also an educational background would of couse, be ideal. I’ve posted my thoughts on some of Dean’s blogs before so to some of you this may sound like a broken record. There is more than one side to technology in education. There is the education/curriculum side which is our primary function as an organization and is what we get paid for, but there are also the business and government/legal (local, provincial/state and federal) sides that we cannot ignore. Here is a simple example I’ve used before to hopefully make my point:
    A teacher asks for a port/site to be opened for educational purposes. The port/site is a known security risk and this is communicated to the teacher. The teacher insists an eventually the port/site is opened up. A student within the school brings in a music CD that they want to use in a PowerPoint presentation. Unknown to the student, the CD contains a day-zero network virus which is undetectable by the virus software on the local system(s). The virus takes out a law firms network (could be a DOS/DDOS attack, whatever) for a period of time. Upon investigation the ISP and local athourities discover the attack came from within the school. The law firm launches a law suit nameing the school division, the school division Director, the school, the schools principal, the teacher, the IT staff (or whoever) that opened the port/site, the student and the student’s parents/legal guardian as defendents… basically the “shotgun” effect… sue everyone thus ensuring maximum return on the suit. This scenario HAS happened… who is ultimatley responsible? There are other scenarios that could occur if professional IT staff didn’t do their due-dillegaence in protecting their networks and associated systems. Anyways, it still comes back to respecting areas of expertise and the personal associated with those areas. I will admit however, that IT professionals have a well earned reputation (this is a bit of a generalization of course) for being a tad aloof and controlling when it comes to “their territory”. That does NOT work in an educational environment. If you have those people… they may need to be reminded who their primary clients are 🙂

  • Fred Delventhal

    Awesome way to lead by example. Now I just need them to buy in to this way of conversation. Our IT people seem to always ask “what educational purpose is it?” like they have any current justification or training period to pass judgment. I can understand to the infinite power if something exposes the network to a risk, bandwidth issue etc. It is in my experience and training. Don’t try to make me justify a learning opportunity to a network person that has never taught or been in a classroom setting in less than 3 years that a site might have educational benefits.

  • That’s how I have tried to approach some things. usually, IT comes through for me which is handy as a principal.

    I am also looking to use Skype and Ustream for some group meetings possibly. We will have to see if that works out.

    Dave Birchers last blog post..1

  • Fred,

    Exactly!!! That’s why we have the structure we currently have in Prairie South… an expert from the curriculum/education side in Dean (others are VERY innovative as well, but Dean is a leader in this area… not only in our division but in North America and beyond!!! Boy his head is going to swell LOL) and experts in th IT Department. The trick is working together and not against each other… being open and honest enough so that the entire organization benefits. I find it hard to beleive that your IT Department can even question educators on tghe value of software hardware??!!?? There are no endless budgets either, but I wouold assume any project/innitiative would have to go through an approval process/sign-off by someone in senior administration. I also assume that the process would include consultation with the IT Department (and perhaps other stakeholders) to get feedback/input as far as TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) and/or a cost/benefit analysis on costs, tech support required, etc. Anyways, great thread here everyone!!

  • That’s it?

    No papers to fill out?

    No justifications as to whether it’s educationally sound?

    No business cases to prepare?

    No red tape?

    Your IT department does rock!

    Scott Eliass last blog post..Sabbatical

  • We here at Ustream are thrilled with the acceptance of Ustream by the Educational community, we have many tips and techniques available for educators to help them broadcast on Ustream, including ways to help protect the kiddo’s and will solve most every problem you are liable to run into. So feel free to contact ustream in the manner that best suits you or your veiwers. Besides email you may also post in the forums or stop in and visit one of our live community channels or
    p.s. some exciting educational changes are on the horizon at Ustream, stay tuned!! Shh

  • Here is my chance to gloat! I work alongside the Teacher Friendly Tech – you’ll find him at and he is THE BEST … he even knows when I need coffee!! 🙂 TFT has the pulse of us teachers and what we want to do in our classrooms – will even fill out that blasted paperwork when we are snowed under with other tasks. And no question is too dumb and he doesn’t answer it in techy-speak…yes he is real and no you cannot have him. 🙂

    Lisa-Gayes last blog post..10, 9, 8, 7, 6 ……

  • Sorry Lisa… I’m biased but I have to vote with Dean on this one… his tech department IS the best 🙂 LOL

  • TFT

    @Lisa-Gaye: Shucks 😳

    But in reality, if you are a Techie in an Educational Institution you responsibility is to assist your Teachers to use the Technology to teach with. Yes we need to protect our networks, but what is the point of having them if they are not usable by the end users.

    When working in a school, the stake-holders, the people we need to care most about, are the students. This therefore includes supporting the Teachers in their role. It’s as simple as that. And yes, I go in to bat with our Director of ICT Services, on behalf of our K-12 ICT Learning Coordinator when she needs something done. Unfortunately, we don’t always win, and that is sad considering all I’ve talked of previously.

    TFTs last blog post..Middle School Technology

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