Shiny Boxes, Part II: One Size Does Not Fit All

When we last left our hero I was trying to make an unwielding login model student friendly. Fast-forward three years, it’s the Spring of 2004, we had just ordered 16 new Gateway PCs and with nine previously purchased the year before I requested that the district install their image of Windows XP and install our applications. When I’d done this the summer before my first year the technican and I set up one PC to be the master with all the applications installed and all the menus setup up. Then using a Linux app the technician tied the master across the network to the other computers in the lab to that I wanted him to copy the master to. After ensuring that we had valid connections, it was just a matter to press a button then go read the newspaper while waiting for the image to be copied to their destinations. Apparently things were not going to be that simple this time around.

First hint that I had that things had changed was when another teacher had her newly installed PC set up by the IT guys and she discovered that she couldn’t use XP without using a password. When she told the technician that we have generic “rm” user logins that don’t require passwords she was told that the passwords are now required because Microsoft XP requires them. Hmmm, I’ve installed copies of XP dozens of times and I’ve never seen a situation where installing a password wasn’t optional. This line of “reasoning” made it clear to me that IT was going to use the conversion to XP and XP’s user profile features to make the network and computers more “secure.” From their point of view this was their responsibility, to protect the network, but in the process they were removing any motivation on the part of the end user to support and gain expertise with their own computers. Yes, the equipment would be more secure, but they were greatly lessen the computers usability and were openly not prepared to support the teachers’ needs should we get to the point where we really press our existing technology to it’s limits.

So, because I was asking to have more than 10 computers imaged my request was sent to a “project” group, who had a reputation at taking months to work through their backlog of job requests. Now, I know, from previous experience that, if done well, it takes about the same amount of time to imagine five computers or 25 computers, and if they gave me access to their boot disks and image disks I’m quite capable of doing the job myself. But that wasn’t the case. So my reimaging request which was issued before Spring Break was not acted on until after the school year ended in mid-June.

Just before Spring Break I had closed the lab, replaced the old computers with the new ones, found temporary storage for the old computers and dutifully set things up so that all IT had to do was pop in their CDs and two to four hours later we’d have a new lab. My sense of urgency was increased because nine of our new computers had been purchased by our PTA and I wanted to get them in service before that year’s 5th grade class left. But someone in IT decided that it’d be better to wait until the end of the school year in order to not interfer with the function of the lab, forgetting that the lab couldn’t function without their image because I’d already removed the old computers anticipating their assistance. It was frustrating. I found a work around in order to use the new computers, even though they had no access to our server or printers. And we limped to the end of the year.

Then during the summer, when I was gone, IT showed up to re-image the 27 PCs but balked at installing the software I’d requested as part of the re-imaging. Even though all the software that I had in my lab had been purchased through their purchasing department, they refused to act on the installation until I produced copies of the licenses for the software I was requesting. I think in three years I’ve only recieved two or maybe three copies of the licenses of the software that I’ve purchased. Everything was routed through the district’s warehouse before it reached me and I was just happy when I would get the installation CD much less anything else. So this was going to be a problem.

Actually it was more of a problem then I first assumed. I had bothered to request to have the software installed with the reimaging simply because it would be easier to run the installation routines on one computer and have that computer cloned across the network to the other computers versus installing the applications on each computer individually. But immediately upon logging into the newly installed XP computers I discovered that, even with my admin login rights, I could not install any applications and have those applications be accessible by any other user. Okay, now they’re getting me mad.

It has taken from June to November 30th for IT to show up and do their tricks. Of the nine applications I asked them to install they refused to install four which were CD-based (Oregon Trail, Math Blaster, Encarta & Compton’s Encyclopedia) because we couldn’t come up with licenses. Ugh. Of the remaining five, two refused to run because the district image’s of XP has the rights locked down so tightly that the program cannot access and write to it’s own files when run under another user login. Of course the two apps that won’t run is our network copy of Kid Pix and our upper grade keyboarding program, Type-to-Learn 3. When KidPix choked the lead technician commented, “I hope this program isn’t that important to your program.” I’ve been waiting been waiting for five months and all they can manage is deliver three of the nine apps that I need in my lab? Ugh.

Given that this district has to manage computers in places like unsupervised high school libraries where one would not want some random student to install their own apps or make changes to the computer like changing the wallpaper or browser homepage to something inappropriate. But this is a perfect example where safeguards which are completely appropriate in another venue are not necessary and can actually get in the way in another. Why is that so hard to understand? I am fighting to encourage my teachers to use their computers as a normal part of their normal routine. “Allowing” teachers to personalize their PCs with desktop images is completely appropriate and really does help buy-in, but district IT only sees the liability and has built their safeguards so strictly that we’re all being treated like naughty ten-year-olds (or more likely 15-year-olds… they’ve also blocked access to Google Images…. go figure). I understand their need for security,but they’re really making this job far more complicated than it really needs to be. JBB