I am currently without prospective teacher clients at an annual World Language conference in Lansing, Michigan and reeling from an interchange I had with a client/language colleague/friend who is newly retired from the teaching profession. She created quite a surprise when she suddenly announced last summer her intention to transition to the next stage of her life.
I have spent a lot of time working with her in her suburban Michigan school system as they dismantled the language lab that they had come to love as a valued part of their curriculum and replaced their cabled Dinosaur with a new VOIP software lab. My experience with software labs tells me that they are great in theory but are often victimized by interaction with the network within which they are newly housed. What this means to the novice is that once the glitch-less software is installed, it might be compromised by interactions with its network’s software components and varying permissions’ issues. IT departments within the schools have their own inherent problems: overwork of their employees, lack of knowledge of software issues (in some cases) and/or a lack of concern or care for World Language teachers and their lesson plans, frustrations, and time commitments. Add into this mix that those of us who count ourselves as language educators generally realize that we are eccentric (usually in a good way) and truly a breed apart (I can say that because I am a French teacher by trade and preparation)!
One might ask where I am going with this. My suburban colleagues had their software installed only to find what they deemed to be an inferior language learning situation component in their midsts! Glitches occurred as they normally do. The more the software is used to capacity, the better, issues flow forth and if documented and treated, easily dealt with. However, given the nature of in school IT departments and the idiosyncrasies of World Language teachers, success is not always quickly reached. Teachers don’t always have the time within their busy days to document issues, IT people may not have the time or the wherewithal to handle the problems. Teachers get frustrated at the need to incessantly change lesson plans. They are already under intense pressure to give their students all the information to reach a pre-specified level of learning. This frustration leads to not using the seemingly “damaged” lab and thus they neither test nor document the issues. Software companies don’t get called and tempers flare. Sometimes things take a long time to gestate and by the time the customer service end of the companies hear about the problems, they are like the Little Prince’s baobabs and have grown totally out of proportion! Add to this recipe the reaction of the software companies’ IT/Customer Service personnel who are often ill-prepared to deal with the firestorm of frustration that ensues. Being IT people sometimes means that verbal and written communications from them will often be extremely direct and may appear to be accompanied by tone and/or attitude. This is what happened in this scenario. One year later, the software company hasn’t heard much from the school and assumes (incorrectly) that all is well. Teachers there think the new lab software is one huge fiasco and, as my friend put it, a whole year was lost and the whole scenario hastened her decision to retire!
So, how might better communications have avoided the misunderstandings about good language software that works and its interface with a network?
A. Establish consistent “check ins” by company IT people with clients to make sure everything is okay
B. Assign “point” people at the schools (someone in IT and on the teaching faculty); my pre-retirement high school had the luxury and intelligence to listen to me and my colleagues over twenty years ago and put someone in charge of the facility!
C. Make sure that company IT people have the skills and attitudes for a good working relationship, there is no substitute for good interpersonal skills and we don’t all have them!
Companies must realize that just because the software works doesn’t mean it will work flawlessly in the new system. They need to communicate this at the time of purchase and double their efforts to make sure the “new” network where the software is being introduced is not setting roadblocks to its success.
My friend and her colleagues have suffered and still suffer from the results of this installation mess. My question: “Is this rocket science?”