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May 6, 2011


Computer Deployment – A Loss of the Locus of Control

by Peter Skillen
Apple lle

Apple lle by brownpau

The Medium IS the Message

And the message we received is – you are no longer able, or entitled, to manage information technology in your classroom.

We were empowered.

You know, back in the day – when microcomputers first started entering schools (1978 thru the late 80s), we used to set them up ourselves. We’d order brand spanking new Apple lls or Macs. How excited we all were when the boxes would arrive. Two or three of us would set time aside somehow, or we would engage kids in the process, and we’d unpack the boxes carefully – setting the manuals smartly to one side, keeping the cables organized, managing the disks or cds. We’d decide where they were going to go and we’d somehow run power to them!

We were empowered, passionate, and able to exercise our professional wisdom.

Then we’d turn one of them on and regale at the success of it booting properly. The passion was tangible as we would install any new software and configure them the way we wanted – the way that would suit our needs.

Was it more work that we resented? Most definitely not.

We were empowered, passionate, and able to exercise our professional wisdom.

What happened?


CC BY SA opensourceway

During this early phase, standard information technology (IT) departments really had no cause to bother with us. Computers were standalone and really didn’t impact IT’s work or their networks which typically served the school offices for word processing and other ‘data’ functions.

However, then the WWW arrived. There have been many unintended second-order effects of that! Schools had to be networked. This fell under the purview of the IT department. With all due respect, IT departments share a different culture to the ‘learning’ culture of teachers, classrooms and schools. It is much less organic, messy and nimble. It is much more top-down, structured, planned and controlled.

At this point, the purchase and deployment of computers for the classrooms moved under their watch. Ownership of the computers shifted from the kids and teachers to the IT department. Controls were implemented to ensure ‘the integrity of the network’.

Any software that was not on the ‘image’ had to be requested through a very long process. Want to convert an image file or video file? Ooops. Can’t install it. No administrator privileges. Must ask. In fact, must often plead a case!

Please do not misunderstand. I respect and appreciate the need for security of data and the network. I truly do. But it has tipped.

The locus of control shifted from the user to a remote disconnected decision maker.

The medium is the message

Marshall McLuhan had it right. The medium is the message. How so?

The message inherent in the medium of that IT deployment model was huge. It was a patronizing message of disempowerment, shift of ownership, lack of control over our own tools and media.

So although we still got the computers, we got the message loud and clear.

Thank goodness for personal smart devices that aren’t institutionally governed.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 9 2011

    Hi Peter,
    I agree. At some point computers became too “complicated” (networking) for the general practitioner to manage. Experts were required to facilitate our use. Something was lost in that and we bred a culture of helplessness and dependency opposed to empowerment through the use of technology. I do see a shift happening back to a place where teachers can make choices about what materials and tools are used in their classrooms through wifi networks available to personal devices and smart devices on the cellular networks.
    I also believe there is definitely a huge need for the IT experts in education. Without the infrastructure, networks and security, teachers would not be able to access the tools they need in ways that are fairly simple and straightforward (manageable for the average joe like myself).

    • May 9 2011

      Hi Peter,
      Having not been a member of the ‘DIY’ of computers in the classroom club, I know nothing of the thrill of control about which you speak! LOL I agree with Jaclyn though…times are changing!

      I do see a shift in what teachers are wanting in classrooms toward more flexible mobile devices that are off of the school network…for just the reasons you mention. They want to empower their students with technology that works for what they need and when they need it! It’s not an effective resource unless it’s there for the teachable moments (rather than Tuesday at 9:37 lab time).

      Hopefully IT departments can channel their expertise into the secure data that they need to protect and the teachers can be free to do their jobs with the learning beings that they need to protect and nurture! 🙂


  2. May 10 2011

    Hey Jaclyn and Brenda,

    Thank you for your comments. It is so nice that you are able to witness the shift that ‘allows’ students and staff to use the media in ways you decide.

    It, to this point, has been a long, hard road.

    Yes, freedom to do your jobs as professionals is critical.



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