doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

Fix the Right Thing

On Thursday, Gary Stager shared this post:

LA officials may delay school iPad rollout after students hack them in a week

That brought a smile to my face.  As long as there have been students and computers and IT Departments, there has been this sense of good cop / bad cop.

The good cop spends lots of money and time trying to lock down devices and it’s the role of the bad cop to work their way around the locks to be able to have full access to the computer to do what it was originally intended – be a personal computing device.  The good cop is deeply offended when this happens and will spare no money, time or effort in tracking down the offender and might even invoke new laws to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.


The good cop recognizes the attempts of the bad cop to keep their fingers out of sensitive areas of the computers so that they’re reliably available whenever the teacher wants.  The good cop feels this challenge to be able to apply their abilities to making the world free and open.  The really good cops, once “caught” or voluntarily, will tell the bad cop where they missed the opportunity to do the job properly and explain that no matter what, they’ll never make them perfect for their purposes.

Whichever scenario (or perhaps one of your own), it’s hard to not acknowledge that this battle plays out every day.

In most classrooms.

In the ones where it doesn’t play out, by my experience, it’s because there’s an understanding that there are tasks to perform and the computer is the tool there to assist in the task.  The tasks are genuine and of interest to everyone.  The teacher is an active participant in the classroom, visiting each student as they work.  There really isn’t time or interest to be off task.  Should someone complete the task ahead of time, there’s a culture of working ahead to the next big thing or an opportunity to share expertise with classmates.  There’s a culture of respect for others – and the technology.

So, what can be done to fix things?

You could spend more money on security the computers – but that just increases the challenge and I would suggest will never be completely successful.  All you’re going to do is buy and own a bigger and better club.

Instead – fix the right thing.  You could spend the money on professional learning.  In education, that’s the answer to most things – improve the craft of teaching.  I believe that’s the case here.  But, it’s not the goofy “click here and this happens” type of learning.  It’s time spent working through and creating a project using the tools and making it directly applicable to the classroom.  It’s identifying the skills and abilities needed to engage all of the learners who will have varying computer skills.  The opportunities need to be ongoing and consistent.  You can’t expect that, by installing 100 applications onto an image, a two hour summer workshop will suffice.  Educators need to be connected to each other and those with success stories need to share them far and wide.

And, about those kids…don’t we trust them to get on the bus in the morning?  Don’t we trust them to deliver things from one class to the next?  Don’t we trust them with pens and pencils?  Heck, we even trust them working with machinery in manufacturing classes after proper training.  Why is such a departure in trust in order here?

Back to the original story.  Hopefully, the powers that be find some way to get those devices into the hands of students.  It’s only there that they realize their potential.  Warehousing them until they’re “secure” just doesn’t make sense.  Besides, despite the best attempts, there will always be a good cop (or bad cop) who can defeat it.  It’s only a matter of moments until the technique is shared via social media and everyone who wants to know will know.

Late today, the original story had this followup “Why L.A. Students Hacked Into iPads: District Is ‘Locking Us Out’”  In this case, the going rate for the hack is $2.

p.s. Gary Stager fans in Ontario should mark the calendar for the Western RCAC Symposium.  Gary will deliver the keynote address.

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2 responses to “Fix the Right Thing”

  1. Many years ago I tried to lock down the computers in my school’s computer lab. The students found all sorts of ways around it and delighted in doing forbidden things to demonstrate who smart they were. My work load increased as it took longer and longer to put things back the more I locked down the systems. Finally I removed the locks and asked the students to respect me and their equipment. I showed them some trust and (for the most part) they reciprocated. One of those students is now responsible for network security at a major university. 🙂


  2. It reinforces the notion that the thrill is in the chase. I think the mindset belongs to another time and place when computers were uniquely school things. Now, students are accustomed to technology whenever they elect to have it. They know the power and what it’s capable of and I think frustrated when they can do what they need. I think you’ve nailed the topic, Alfred. Respect can be given and usually reciprocated.


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