Why Your School Needs a Sandbox

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Check out the desks of your IT department.

I'll bet there are more gadgets per square inch than Best Buy, and likely more screens than your local movie theater.

Why all this technology?

The "official" reason is that we are doing research, and have to know how to support all of these new upcoming devices and operating systems.  The "real" reason is that we like gadgets, but don't tell anyone I told you or I'll lose my membership in the IT nerd club.

Once we are no longer enamored by the BSO (Bright Shiny Object), it finds its way into a cupboard or desk drawer never to see the light of day again.

And we go on to the next gadget.

Do you think I'm making this up?

This may not be true in 100% of IT departments, but my experience bears me out.  If you want to know about the latest in gadgets, someone in IT will likely have played with it, if not be able to pull one out of their pocket.

Do you see something wrong with this?

If you don't may I suggest you go back to my first post in this blog and start reading?

Who is missing from the equation?

The people that are likely going to be using technology in the classroom, that's who.

Am I saying that IT should not be current with the latest tools and technology?


What I am saying is that we have been rather myopic over the years... evaluating technology without involving the people who will use it.

Our user community have responded to this by bringing their own devices to work and school and leaving you to decide how to have them coexist on your network.  We can't turn back the trend of consumerization of IT any more than we can tell young girls not to like Beiber, but we certainly could have approached the adoption of new technology differently, and in doing so be in the position of partner rather than seen as a gatekeeper.

But there is a small issue.

Our user community consists of very busy people.  If you are supporting teachers, their schedule is typically packed to the hilt with activities.  But that doesn't mean they won't take time to learn something that would make their time in the classroom better.

The challenge is that standing in front of a class of students is not the best place for them to tackle something new.

What they need is a place that is safe. A way to experiment.  A place to try new tools.

In the software development world, we call this a "sandbox".

Now this requires two things... the tools (software or gadgets) and time to use them.

You are likely in a position to address one of these - providing the tools to experiment with. You may not be in a position to grant them the time, but if innovation in the classroom is a core value for your school, this is a discussion your administration needs to address.

In our school, the administration took a bold move and shifted classes on Wednesdays to allow faculty time for a number of things.. including PD and training in technology.  So now it was up to me to find a creative way to get them the tools.

In the past, when someone came up with a great idea for software or a tool to try, and it had great merit, my team would look for extra money derived from aggressive negotiation of contracts.  But that was a hard way to fund innovation.

So this year we took a different tack.  I asked for a "sandbox" budget.

We are like most schools in that I haven't been able to find bags of money hidden in closets and under desks.  Budgets are tight, so every dollar spent must be justified.

But a sandbox was worth pursuing. The actual dollar value wasn't much, but it would do a couple of things.

It would allow us to have the funds to run pilots for these great ideas (vetted by the academic administration) to actually have a chance of happening.

It will also send a great message to the teachers.  Innovation and experimentation is important.

At the project review meeting, it was apparent I was not alone in seeing the value of allocating money for a sandbox.  It looks like it will be approved.

It's a good thing.

After all, why should IT be the only ones who get to play?

How are you funding innovation?


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