A theme I have addressed several times in this blog is the difference between information technology users in schools and technology users in other organizations. In this post, I focus specifically on the characteristics of student user that be unfamiliar to IT managers who learned their craft in businesses and industries. When IT professionals understand these characteristics of students, they tend to create systems that are easier to use for student sand more effective for teaching and learning.
Compulsory users: In other organizations, users of IT self-select (they apply for the role), they are selected for the role (they were hired by others who assessed their ability to fulfill the role), and they can be removed if they cannot fulfill the role. This is not an option in schools. Except for extraordinary circumstances, IT professionals must support all users.
Access is a right: A corollary to compulsory users is the fact that (at least in the United States) children and some adults to aged 21 have a right to a free and appropriate education. Decisions that deny access to IT in public schools are subject to legal action.
Emerging competence: When configuring IT for business users, we can assume users can read and understand directions, their role, and can use the systems we design. Especially in the younger grades, students are just learning to read and write and they are just developing the physical abilities to type; in addition, their understanding of the tasks they are performing is emerging. The IT systems in schools must reflect the capacity of students to use them.
Periodic and changing need: In must businesses, IT users need a known and consistent collection of applications and data. We know what the accounting professionals in our organization need; we can configure those systems and they are unlikely to ask for others for the foreseeable future. In schools, productivity tools are consistently needed, but other systems may be needed only once or twice per year when specific units are studied, and some needs may not be known when the school year starts. This characteristic of school users is less disruptive than it was before Internet-only notebooks and cloud-based tools came to dominate educational computing, but it still affects some IT configuration decisions.
Testing before deployment must be incomplete: Because users have predictable and consistent needs and the users are well-known, IT systems can be reliably tested before being deployed; if the systems work in testing, they will work when deployed. We cannot be certain what will happen when systems are deployed “in the wild” of classrooms.