Who needs an IT department, anyway?

Chaos ensues when a school principal gives every student a laptop and admin rights, but no usage guidelines and no IT involvement

At the time of this story, I was working as a teacher at a small school of about 100 students, all of whom were given laptops. Our principal, "Sue," said the laptops "increased their educational opportunities" -- all well and good, but she failed to also recognize the importance of IT involvement.

At the beginning of the year, Sue handed out the laptops with great fanfare. But she gave no guidelines to staff or students on how to use them, aside from the basics that students should use them responsibly, pay a small insurance fee if they wanted to take them home, and that the faculty and staff would do "random checks."

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When we asked about IT involvement, she said the district's central IT staff would come out and set up the computers and that the school would get help from them as needed, but it was up to the faculty and staff to "keep an eye on things."

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It was mayhem from the beginning. The security software would not work properly, and was disabled on all computers. Students then had administrator accounts on the laptops -- and no restrictions. Having someone from IT come never happened for some reason.

We found ourselves not only expected to troubleshoot computer problems such as files not saving and printer issues, but also to figure out a way to monitor students' computer use. It was a nightmare.

Even with limited access to the Internet, students could simply log on to a proxy and go anywhere they wanted. They did anything and everything with the laptops.

The students routinely had computer problems, and when we'd take the computer to figure out the problem -- or sometimes even just walked past them in class and glance at the screen -- would discover all sorts of inappropriate and illegal things.

We found that many were posting personal information onto chat sites, accessing video streaming, and downloading porn onto the computers. We found wallpaper and screensavers with pornographic and drug-related themes, hard drives filled with illegally downloaded music and photos with random subjects non-related to instruction, and Web browsing histories that showed that they were playing games during class time or downloading pirated software. It seemed at times that the only thing keeping them in check at all was teachers looking over their shoulders as they worked in class.

In an attempt to keep the chaos under control even a little, I taught myself to write scripts and batch files that would automate the process of cleaning the computer somewhat when I received it.

It had gotten to the point were I was getting computers brought to my classroom twice a day, interrupting classroom instruction. Other teachers were having similar problems. Consequences for students who misused laptops were few and far between. All we could really do was warn them to stop doing it -- not a very effective method.

The faculty and staff would meet often, trying to figure out how to fix the latest computer problem or how to limit access to inappropriate material.

It was absolute mayhem and, to make it worse, the principal didn't seem to care. All of our fears and recommendations fell on deaf ears. As far as she was concerned, no parents or students had complained and our school looked good because we were giving our students technology opportunities. She still failed to recognize the importance of IT oversight and involvement and never called for assistance because she didn't want to "bother" them.

I ended up leaving the school for a new job, as did others. It's still amazing that no public scandal or other fallout arose.

Sue is still there and, for some reason, still in charge. I've heard rumors that they have new computers now, and the students do not have admin rights. One can only hope the situation got better.

I wonder, how many horror stories like this are out there, and just how pervasive are these kinds of situations?

This story, "Who needs an IT department, anyway?" was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com.

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