Users: The Reasons IT in School is Different from IT in Business

Many IT professional find the strategies that made them successful in business and industry do not transfer into educational institutions. What used to keep users of IT and their leaders and manager content does not produce the same results. The differences between IT users in other organizations and IT user in school can be summarized in five characteristics:  

  1. Business user tend to be competent in basic skills such as literacy. When building systems for business users, IT professionals can assume the users have some basic digital literacy and can operate a computer, they can read the screen and directions, and interact with the graphical user interfaces to so they can accomplish their tasks. When referring to school-aged learners, it seems inaccurate to suggest they lack these basic competences. I like to use the term “emerging competence” to characterize students. As they become more competent readers and writers, they will become more competent users of IT as well.  
  1. When designing systems for business users, the IT professionals have quite clear requirements and the users will need certain software, hardware, to function and they will need access to the specific data needed for their work, but little else. Even in schools that supply computers to students (even if it is an Internet-only devices such as a Chromebook), the hardware, software, and data needs of students which use specific devices may be very different. This means school IT users require more flexible systems. Flexible systems have the potential to be less reliable, robust, and secure than single-purpose systems.  
  1. In business and industry, users are selected for the role.  Employees selected themselves for the work by applying) and were selected for the position (by being hired). Both of these gateways ensure those who use computers for their work have the necessary skills or the ability to gain them and are motivated to learn and use the systems. If this proves to be not true, there are options for the employer and the employee. If training or other support does not resolve the problems using the computers, they can be removed from the position. This is generally not an option for students. Attendance is compulsory and schools are obligated to provide education to all students. For these reasons, IT professionals in schools must accommodate to a wide range of users and denying access to some users may violate those individual’s right to an education.  
  1. Most employees in business have very specific, limited, and well-known IT and data needs. These are associated with the job they perform. This makes it easy for IT to deploy reliable, robust, and secure systems. Compared to this function-driven need, the IT in schools must be sufficiently flexible to allow interest-driven uses. With the increasing installation of Internet-only devices (Chromebooks) in schools, the need to installation and manage applications has been reduced.  
  1. A final fundamental difference is the relative stability of business users compared to school users. As curriculum changes, the IT needs are likely to change. In addition, users’ skills change over time in a periodic way. The students who struggle to use keyboards early in the school year, become more facile as they gain experience. When the next school year begins, those students are replaced with others who lack the experience.   

It is an unfortunate reality that many IT leaders in schools are quick to blame users or dismiss their complaints. It is and equally unfortunate reality that school leaders often observe the difficulties between IT professionals and educational professions, but they fail to address it.

We have strategies for bridging those gaps. We can gather data to support the reality of the difficulties and that suggests actions to address them. Until school and technology leaders recognize and get help to resolve these difficulties, the money paid for technology and the professionals who “manage it is wasted.