Support vs Service: Technology and Everything Else

keyboard and two persons on white background

keyboard and two persons on white background

Currently, my main leadership role is in technology. One thing I have begun to notice and understand is that there are two dominant perspectives among people with regard to the department of technology: Support and Service. In a school, the later can be devastating to teaching and learning, and the former can be empowering.

Support implies that the end-users know their jobs and can do their jobs most of the time. It also implies they know when to ask questions. Users wanting support often have ideas, and need help making those ideas into a reality. They need instruction and training, but they can see their own ideas through to the end.

Service implies, regardless of their role/title, the requesting employee will not do the work. Meaning, they might have an idea, but they cannot implement a solution. Service also implies that all phases of any problem, including the planning and resource allocation, will be provided by a third party.

Most schools have to prioritise their headcount to be heavy on those in the areas of teaching and learning. This means those focused on providing IT service (meaning they do not work in the curriculum), are small in number. Problems are often solved by people in multiple roles helping the community; and solutions come from small groups of specialists and often hobbyists.

A support model, and a community viewing those who are leading technology as support, is an excellent model for schools to follow and maintain their mission to focus on teaching and learning. However, if people start to see everyone who can help drive change as providing a service, then basic operations start to break down. Dependency by the many on the few creates the famed 80 20 Rule (Pareto Principle). This is not healthy in a school, and all school leadership should strive to drive the learning community away from the idea that certain people are a third-party, and at the campus to provide a service.

I am never shy to point out to people that –This is not TV. This is not Best-Buy. This is not Amazon. I am not here for service, I am here to support you.

Tony DePrato

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Jason Chaffetz, Better Than Watching Reality TV

Everyday I read, So when the IRS and Clinton E-mail debacles happened, the Slashdot community exploded. When the people involved had to speak in front of congress, I was able to have short videos of everything one should not do in the world of IT management and/or oversight. Because either there was no management or oversight, or it was beyond incompetent. I realize that the people in question probably deleted email in order to hide something, however, the IT systems were not designed to properly archive or prevent permanent deletion. I am an amateur compared to the people running these systems, and I make it very hard for people to delete data and/or access logs.

Get some snacks and a drink, and prepare to be entertained by Mr.Chaffetz.

Tony DePrato

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Episode 86 – On Tests!

Another week and another fantastic podcast. Check out the agenda below and as always you can subscribe to us on iTunes and Podomatic or listen right here! Check out the agenda below.

  1. The future of education in a world of automation – Tim’s topic 

    4. Universal Basic Income 
  2. Computers Do Not Improve Pupil Results 

    1. Who ever said they would? 
    2. Read the comments 
    3. Research First, Angry Email Later 
  3. Tony’s post about dealing with difficult situations 
  4. Top 10 Skills We Wish Were Taught in Schools but Usually Aren’t by Whitson Gordon 

    1. What do you think?  
  5. Why technological life in China is better than where you are right now – Tim’s Topic 

    1. Xiaomi – the poor mans Apple. 
    2. Taobao – The Silk Road without BitCoin and assassins.  
    3. Using a VPN is actually more practical than not. 
    4. Dear MPAA, I’ll torrent and seed as much as I want. 
    5. WeChat 4 Lyf 

Download the Podcast HERE!

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Contracts and the Reality of Using AUPs in an International School


Recently a friend of mine had a battle with a staff member over an Acceptable Use Policy(AUP). It is common to fight with students over these, but rarely with staff.

My friend was not asking for anything unrealistic in his well drafted AUP. He actually took the time to produce one AUP for the community, and it was not negative or aggressive.

The battle went on for weeks. The teacher refused to even take a school laptop. The teacher even launched an internal email campaign that involved telling the parents the AUP was disruptive to learning.

Here is the worst part of the AUP story, the AUP does not matter. It is a completely unenforceable document in an international school. Often, it is unenforceable for students as well. Here is why.

The Local Law Surrounds the School

International schools are bound by the laws around them. This includes human resource law, liability regulations, insurance practices, etc. Having an AUP say something is not permitted, when it is either permitted or not enforceable in the host country, is a waste of policy. Explaining to the community the local law surrounding the school is always a good idea, and using the law when needed is a good idea. Trying to create your own rules that are not aligned with the law is a bad idea.

Assuming the School is in a Sellers Market

A sellers market implies that demand is high, and supply is scarce, therefore businesses can charge whatever they want to consumers. AUP language often assumes that a school is in a sellers market, and therefore, can remove teachers and students from the community. Thus also assuming that these people can easily be replaced. The fact is, this is hardy ever the case. Once the staffing is done, and the year begins, schools do not want to try and deal with an HR problem unless it puts the children or community at risk.

Many schools have contracts that protect the employee (due to local regulations) and the only way to remove them (assuming they have not broken local laws) is to pay out their contract and/or wait and not renew their contract.

Students pay tuition. In most situations, a student gets a pro-rated reimbursement if they leave the school early. In many countries the law forbids the expulsion of students, and forces the school to cope with the problems. Removing students in places like the Middle East can even require numerous lobbying efforts to the ministry of education. Sometimes, legal services have to be paid just to get the paperwork done. Again, many schools will cope with the problem until a point where they are legally allowed to transfer the student out.

Schools need tuition to function, and if they are not-for-profit, they certainly do not want to reimburse fees (or pay fees) to have a student removed unless that student is breaking local laws and/or is a danger to themselves or the community.

Contracts and Equipment

When employees or students contract to join a school, they are usually told, “We will give you xyz.” Maybe that is a laptop. Maybe the school is BYOD and people get software. Regardless, most schools give teachers and students something, and that something is part of their contract. I have yet to see the initial agreement for new teachers to say, “Before you take this job you must agree that if you break the school’s AUP you will be financially responsible for xyz.”

Schools looking for staff are already vetting people as much as they can. They would never consider not hiring someone because that person had a philosophical disagreement with a liability clause on an item worth less than $2000.00. Not having a teacher, means not meeting the contractual obligation the school has with families, and the families are paying tuition.

Simply put, as with many things relating to IT, people just do not care. They only care that the majority of teachers work with IT well, and that 100% of the teachers work with children well. They will maintain their agreement to equip the teachers and students unless something very drastic occurred.

A Great Teacher Can Skip the AUP

Right or wrong, a school with a strong subject teacher or department head, is not going to strictly enforce policies that they see as trivial.

An adult, with an excellent track record and IT, proficiency should be allowed to manage their own computer. They most like manage far more complex things, and they should not need IT to install software. These are the expectations of most modern professional. Most AUPs cause conflict when they limit access or workflow. What have just written is the opinion of most administrators who are focused on finding good people, who are professional. Reflecting, many AUPs would now seem trivial.

Therefore, fighting over the AUP is not the answer to achieving what most Technology Directors want, which are standards that protect the network and equipment. Another approach is required.

Is this just Anarchy without Hope?

If I loan you (the reader who is not captivated by the heading) my car, and you damage it, you know there is an expectation that you will compensate me for the damage. We do not need a written agreement. Socially, the expectation is applied.

Teachers and students know what they own and what they do not own. Therefore, they are aware if they damage something, some compensation is required. The school may wave this compensation, but the expectation is there.

As far as network usage goes, if the school cannot afford a filter, then all users will have open internet access. Teachers, as a profession, have an expectation to not expose students to inappropriate content. Teachers breaking that expectation would fall into a different category than those violating IT procedures. An AUP is not where this type of policy should fit, as it connects to the concept of harming children.

So what should the AUP be? In a recent post by Roberto Baldizón , he argues that it should be visible, interactive, and memorable. This is what that means to me:

  • The AUP should be something people can easily refer to make decisions in gray areas. Such as:  How should I properly email parents?
  • The AUP should contain indicators or examples of behaviour that is consider inappropriate for the community. For example, the community might always insist that in group meetings all laptops are put away.
  • The AUP might list areas that will be evaluated in a end-of-year teacher evaluations.
  • The AUP needs to connect to the mission of the school and the vision of the Technology Department. The language should be consistent. This joins the policy to other policies.

What about MY AUP?

My Staff AUP is filled with liability jargon. It is not fun, and mainly it is used to notify people that they are responsible for breaking things. I do this out of habit and have a very hard time squeezing money out of staff for damage under $1000.00 USD.

The best tool I have for managing behaviour is my IT Ticket system. It has, in great detail, data that allows me to go to a senior administrative meeting and identify individuals who are abusing resources, not responsible for their classrooms, and who repeat the same cycle of break-it/fix-it. This is the data principals need to have conversations with staff, and use for end-of-year evaluations.

My Student AUP is not as bad. It is connected to the student disciplinary policy and was written by committee. At no point does my AUP indicate it has the power to remove a student from the academic program, it only allows for network management and/or banning of services, to be decided by the academic office. The AUP is actually to help the academic office make decisions.

Writing policy is important. Writing unenforceable policy is a waste of time. Find the balance, research your local laws and guidelines, align with other people, and use the community to manage the individual.

Tony DePrato

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Episode 85 – Welcome Tim!


Four weeks, four podcasts and this time we welcome Tim to the panel. As always, the show was fantastic. You can listen to it on iTunes and Podomatic or right here. Check out the agenda below.

  1. Welcome Tim!
  2. Google Expeditions
    1. Overview –
    2. YouTube promo –
    3. Get Cardboard –
    4. The Odyssey is now on sale
    5. How does this work?
    6. How can schools use this?
    7. Good idea?
  3. Google coming back to China? Not so fast a. An article in USA Today by Jessica Guynn
    1. Android only
    2. Pave the way for Google apps?
  4. Building for Other People
    1. Building technology someone else can maintain
    2. Examples
  5. Hard conversations with Jennifer Abrams
  6. iPad Pro
    1. Suitable for schools
    2. Keyboard and stylus
    3. MS Office but no Pages, Numbers or Keynote
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Research First, Angry Email Later


Despite the title, I am not in favor of sending angry emails. I use to be known for my emails, sent out of frustration, and also justified in content. However, in hindsight, I regret all of them that could have been communicated face-to-face, or after the frustration had faded.

I received an email such as this, this week. I received it after 9:oo PM, and late night bad emails are the worst. I attempt to not read email after 7 PM, because I know in an emergency people will call me, and I know late night emails are often full of stress and regret.

After reading the email, I did have to reply. I knew this person might start being aggressive with my staff the next morning, and I would not be there based-on my work plan (I cover two campuses in different areas of my city). So I asked that they give me time to research the problem, and reminded them that even though the fault seemed to fall on the IT support people, in fact, those same people had been dependable in the past. And that those people also have been working overtime to accommodate jobs that are not part of their employment contract. These are people who are mindful enough to call me when they know they have made a mistake or forgotten something.

Do Your Research

There is data everywhere. School administrators and heads of department need to start paying attention to where data comes from and where it is stored. Card swipe systems, cctv footage, security guards walking around(with smartkeys), email time-stamps, network access logs (when someone logs in and out), etc. The first step in any “he said she said” should be accessing data and not the anecdotal kind.

I always take time to look at the environment, the people, and the systems surrounding them to determine if an impartial data source exists.

Separate and Report

Often when people collect data, they get the pieces they need and make a report. The people reading the report do not see all the data (Sounds like a congressional trial transcript to me).

The best practice is to make a copy of the raw data, and archive it. I think a zip archive is an excellent way to do this, as it creates metadata. It will be clear if there was any manipulation in the data file used in the report.

Then, instead of deleting, highlight the data points that are valid for the argument.
It is ok to sort them to the top of a list, but try not to remove the other pieces. If you argument is sound, and/or, the best of the worst based on what is known (also very congressional), then the extra data is not going to hurt the report. In fact, someone may find something useful that was missed.

Then make the report, and do not use the words feel, believe, or think. State the facts that the data supports first. Then add verbal accounts of the event. Using emails as data works best if you print them as PDF files and then highlight the time-stamp and key details. Do not copy and paste emails, even forwarded emails can seem bogative.

How Did It End?

My department was not at fault. The event in question ran outside of the contractual working hours, so the space was prepared by the IT support before they left. Their two points of contact failed to respond to communication, but the room was ready. However. the event organizers did not inform security. Security walked into a large room, saw that everything was left on, and in a moment of global awareness, they shut-off the power.

After pulling the data from the door swipe system, I found that security went into the room 20 minutes after the IT support people. This room is the only place power can be accessed.

A simple call to the person overseeing the building revealed no event has been logged for that evening, so basically, no one knew what was happening. Security wanted to save the school a few dollars in energy bills, and that was the end of the story.

I have taken the opportunity to allow the person who sent the email to ponder the data.
I am hoping they do the correct thing and inform everyone what really happened, as I suspect I was not the only email recipient that evening.

Right or Wrong, Let It Go

The wrong move in situations like this is to alert everyone that you are, in fact, awesome.
The wrong move is to make everyone angry when you are correct, ensuring that they skewer you the minute you are wrong. You will be wrong. Your team will make mistakes. You will make a plan that ruins someone’s day. This is going to happen. If you want forgiveness, be prepared to be forgiving, and give people a chance to correct their mistakes.

Data is like The Force, it cannot be welded in the presence of anger or it will turn you to the Darkside.

Tony DePrato

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Episode 84 – Subscription Bloat

Here is your weekly IT Babble podcast. Another fantastic episode with Tony and myself. Next week we will have a larger panel for a more diverse discussion, but in the mean time sink your teeth into some great topics. Check out the agenda below, subscribe to us on iTunes, Podomatic or listen to us right here on IT Babble. I love choices!

  1. Subscription bloat?
    1. What are they
    2. Do we need them
    3. How many is too much
    4. What else can we do with the money?
    5. Who makes that call
  2. Facebook in Education
    1. Article by Casey Newton Inside Facebook’s plan to build a better school
    2. Summit Denali (public charter school in Sunnyvale, CA)
    3. 99% go to college
    4. Their program that lets students work at their own pace
    5. The PLP and Chromebooks
    6. We’re only talking about 700 students though
  3. IT Standards for everyone
    1. ISTE Nets Standards
    2. SAMR
  4. 17-Year-Old American Sentenced to Eleven Years In Prison For Tweets Supporting ISIS
    1. Article in Gizmodo by Matt Novak
    2. Cautionary tale
    3. Nothing is private
    4. Right or wrong?

Download it HERE!


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Podcast Episode 83 – A Dude Named Ben


 Two weeks in a row! One has to ask oneself – is this the end of the world? Will Omar post on Facebook next? Only time will tell. It was another great episode even though it was only Tony and I.  Check out the agenda below and be sure to find us on iTunes and Podomatic.

  1. Tony’s Post – How to Help Your Dude Named Ben
  2. Should this be discussed in schools
    1. CBS Reporter killed in Virginia
    2. photos, videos (even first person video) all over the Internet c. Gawker’s take on it –
  3. Shorter work week? How about a shorter school week? a. Gizmodo article by Matt Novak
    1. What would a shorter work look like for schools?
    2. Are we going there already?
    3. Less teachers/buildings more schools and more common area?
  4. The Inverted U – Tony’s Mistake

Find us on iTunes or Podomatic or listen below!

Download it HERE!

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A Dude Name Ben – The Clip

Tony referenced a YouTube clip in his last post. Here is the clip! Enjoy!

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How to Help Your Dude Named Ben

If you are not aware, “A Dude Named Ben” refers to the generic and often ignored systems administrators who work at/in organizations.

When the IRS lost all their emails, they claimed total ignorance, and had no idea who their tech people were. This video is entertaining and can explain the origin or the term, but has very little bearing on this post. Enough background! Let’s get into it.

Every school has at least one “Dude Named Ben”. I often find in times of crisis, such as massive hardware failures, Technology Directors and School Administrators do not know how to support the process and procedures needed to literally save critical technology infrastructure.

In many situations, the school administration and the head of technology do not have the professional experience required to deeply understand infrastructure, therefore, they avoid managing or being directly involved in situations related to critical infrastructure.

The fact is a good manager or leader can always help a person who is working on a tight timeline and is highly stressed, and often feeling totally isolated with the problem. Here are some simple steps to take to assist any Dude Named Ben, without getting in the way.

Make the Timeline and Targets

Unless the situation is dangerous or hazardous, the first thing that should be done after the briefing is to set the timeline and targets. Many people want to just start working, this is not a good idea. People need to talk out problems. Most people relate well to time and urgency.

  • Start by asking what steps have to be taken to get the status quo back.
  • Then ask what needs to be done to determine what caused the problem and prevent it from happening again.
  • Then start inquiring how long each step should take, in a normal situation.

Now there is a set of goals and a general understanding of how long it should take to complete them all. If time is actually lacking, then start asking the tough questions such as, “Which of these steps could we skip, and be operation but not perfectly operational by our deadline?”

This is where leadership matters. This is where ownership of the consequence can shift, and the system administrator(s) can work and feel supported. There is always a chance of failure, and people working in fear are not going to work as well as someone who is being supported by leadership. Also, this process builds confidence. When administrators take time to listen and understand, the barriers come down and an honest explanation and list of issues will surface.

Set Some Rules for Health

Yes, I know how it sounds, but it is important. If you have a team that must pull a 12 hour plus shift, or work in some adverse conditions, then make a plan to keep people healthy. Provide food, drinks, and mandatory breaks. Set points where everyone steps away from the problem, reviews the targets and timeline and reflect on the work. This is a great time to make adjustments and reconsider some priorities.

A manager or leader can control and manage all of these things for the team that is handling the problem(s). It is one less thing the team has to worry about, and they will appreciate it. Odds are, the problem will be more complex than it seemed initially. So having a team that is willing to go that extra mile without being asked will make all the difference.

This is an Opportunity, so Seize it

When things break, and have to be rebuilt, it is an opportunity to make improvements.
It is critical to know why the failure happened, and to mandate that steps be taken to prevent it, not to fix it. Fixing can imply that the old system needs to be patched and kickstarted back to life, only to once again fail.

Seizing the opportunity could cost some more time, but the benefits often outweigh the loss of time. Identify those who will suffer the most for the lack of the resource(s). Explain the problem, and that the idea is not to fix but to expand and improve. Use the word opportunity often, and get the stakeholders to agree.

Your Dude Named Ben is a person. Remember that. If you can form and manage teams, you can help in times of crisis. Trust me, it is not fun being that guy -sitting alone- and knowing everyone is waiting for you to pull-off a miracle.


Tony DePrato


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