Are You Locking-Down Your Devices or Locking-Out Your Students?

I often joke that I am a “recovering IT guy” and in fact have been for most of my career. While I may have come from the old-school IT era, my graduate school CIO program taught me to think differently about customer service and to understand the needs of the users (students, teachers, staff, administrators, parents, etc.). Unfortunately, it is all too easy to think that something you are doing in the best interest of students, for example, is actually getting in their way.

This was brought to mind recently when I had two very different conversations about “managing devices.” The IT staff of a school told me that their top priority was to make sure that the devices were ready to be used when students needed them. They sincerely believed that by locking-down the devices, thus preventing malware, unauthorized applications, and untested system updates, etc, that they were creating the most reliable environment and that was in the best interest of students and student learning.

During meetings later in the day with teachers and education technology specialists they complained about student devices being locked down. One teacher said, “I want to teach [students] how to use and manage these tools themselves, not just teach them how to use them for learning.” What a brilliant point! 

For as long as I can remember we’ve referred to computers and other education technologies as “just tools.” It never quite sat right with me, but that didn’t stop me from repeating it. They may be “just tools,” but they are very powerful tools. But there is another dimension to using ed-tech tools that isn’t often part of the conversation. That is, that no matter what the tools, you have to maintain, take care of and look after your tools. Tech tools are no different. Think about how many hours each year we spend updating software, installing and uninstalling apps, managing virus protections, and on and on it goes.  If we are going to use high-tech devices for our work and play, we need to know how to take care of them. Those are essential skills.

Fortunately for our students, school IT departments can’t control how students use their personal devices while away from the schools so students do get some hands-on experience with managing and taking care of their own devices. For the most part though, as soon as the kids enter school, they are in lock-down mode. (I recognize that there are exceptions, and if your school is one, great!) Increasingly, this is a disservice to student learning. School technology leaders should be asking how they can provide more and more freedom to students and teachers. The more heavily students and teachers rely on technology, the more that locking down devices is really locking out learning.

Are You locking-down your devices or locking-out your students?

Bob Moore has enjoyed a career of 26 years in education technology. His work has included more than two decades as a CIO in K12 schools and several years as lead strategist for a multi-billion dollar global ed-tech business, as well many years of active leadership in organizations such as CoSN. In 2012 Bob founded RJM Strategies LLC and works with schools and ed-tech business clients as a strategist, advisor and subject matter expert. His life’s work is grounded in his tenacious commitment to vision, innovation, integrity and practicality. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobMEdTech. See Bob's Profile and Connect on LinkedIn at

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