Monday, April 02, 2007

Digital Who?

Is Web2.0 a threat to the Digital Taliban?

By now most of us have some idea who the "Taliban" are. They are the group that once ruled Afghanistan. They imposed strict laws and punishment upon their citizens, which resulted in the freedoms that we take for granted in the west being removed from the citizens of Afghanistan. Girls not being allowed to attend school is one of many examples of this.

The Taliban (and groups like them) see and understand the world through their own narrow understanding of “the way things are". They do not tolerate nor allow criticism. They are correct, and therefore no-one else can be. They become irrational and emotional in the face of evidence that contradicts their worldview.

They meet out punishment to dissenters (non believers). They destroy that which does not align with their view. They make claims that cannot be proven (God does not want us to fly kites, ride bikes, watch television etc).

So why do we need to understand the Taliban? Well in order to understand the term "Digital Taliban", a basic familiarity with the Taliban of Afghanistan is worthwhile.

So, who are the Digital Taliban?

I'm sure we have all come across them at various times. They are the ones who built "their" network within "our" organisation. They pushed cable through walls and ceilings, air conditioned the server room, created the user accounts, and set up passwords. They even setup the acceptable use policies. They allow whomever they want the network freedoms that they determine are appropriate, and yet deny those freedoms to others whom they deem not worthy/able/literate.

When a brave soul attempts to clarify a situation or ask a question (such as: Why can't I install this piece of educational software onto a machine, others schools are doing it?), the usual response is a barrage of baffling geek speak. This ensures the the questioner not only feels disempowered by their relative lack of network knowledge, but guarantees that a question will not be asked in future. Strategies like this (and worse, such as reduction of network permissions, resetting of passwords, deletion of accounts) are deliberately designed to maintain personal control of the communication technologies within the organisation.

The followers of the Afghanistan Taliban see their leaders as infallible, or the voice of their gods who can direct them infallibly in the interpretation of the sources of truth.

So too, the followers of the Digital Taliban, (various layers of executive within the organisation) see the Digital Taliban as the source of all solutions. They become reliant upon the goodwill (blessings) of the Digital Taliban in order to be productive through the day/week/year. The Digital Taliban can bestow favour upon the executive (followers) by granting them faster network access, the best printers, and priority in the help desk queue. In return, the executive (follower) rewards the Digital Taliban by faithfully upholding their lofty (and infallible) position within the organisation.

Now here are some questions.

How can inspired educators encourage the students to become critical and productive users of the technology when that technology is under the control of the Digital Taliban and their faithful followers?

Can the Digital Taliban be persuaded to relinquish their grip or do educators need to come up with a strategy to forcibly remove the Digital Taliban from power, and provide a realistic alternative to the followers?


Digital Taliban said...

I am a part of this "Digital Taliban", Mark Collinson of Mullumbimby Public School.

This kind of slander against DET would not sit well if it ended up in the hands of the Director of Information Services, Tim Anderson, or the Chief Information Officer, Stephen Wilson.

Did you use your work computer to post said article on this blog? I'm surprised that the digital taliban allowed it...

Mark said...

Other readers will be interested to note.

Here in a rare public display, is the insidious and pervasive arm of the Digital Taliban reaching out to intimidate and silence even the suggestion of criticism. Such tactics are typical, and commonplace (though rarely public).

Not a great way to let innovation flourish, but that was the point of my original post. The digital Taliban do not allow anything but their own view of the world to persist. Opposition will be "removed".

As for 21st century skills? We will not be intimidated by the irrational rantings and not so subtle threats of the Digital Taliban.

Thanks for the comment Digital Taliban. You have illustrated my point perfectly.

Anonymous said...

It may interest you to know that there is a slight difference between the suggestion of criticism and the comparison to organised terrorism.

In case you hadn't already figured it out, I was winding you up. I know that your blog is now very far reaching in e-mail circles and I look forward to reading more now that the anonymity of the freedom fighter has been exposed.

Mark said...

Thanks for the comment anon.

Yes, I suspecteed that digital taliban's comment (from was a windup. Hence the nature of my reply.

Re:"there is a slight difference between the suggestion of criticism and the comparison to organised terrorism."

Firstly: The suggestion of criticism was your interpretation of my original post. The post that you (in anonymity and quite incorrectly) called slanderous.
Secondly, The Taliban were the Govt of Afganistan, not organised terrorists.

My point in making the post was that there are strong similarities between *some* network admin/computer coordinators in schools (and beyond) and the Taliban. Both have been guilty of activity to thwart the common good in order to uphold their own narrow/blinkered view of *the way things ought to be*.

There can only be losers in such a situation...losers and casualties.

Glad to see you taking an interest. As far as I'm concerned my anonymity is irrelevant to achieving quality outcomes for the class of 2020.

Respecting Your Anonymity


Stu said...

As a reluctant member of the "digital taliban" you refer to, I can see and understand your frustrations. The mantra behind the digital taliban is "for the greater good". Any large public education system consisting of more than 2,000 schools is always going to have a hard time moving forward (progressing) as one cohesive entity. Teacher ICT skills and in particular, availability of local (nearby) support are widely varied in each region.

Equity infers that every school will receive ICT resources (computers, ICT funding, software and internet connections) based on common criteria such as enrolment - and they do. But skills and remoteness cannot be equitably distributed. We can't ensure every teacher is sufficiently skilled because that depends on each individual teacher. We can't ensure every school gets same day on-site support when the nearest support office is 300km away.

So, the Digital Taliban work for the "greater good", working within the limitiations of their own situation. What seems like a "closed" solution to some more progressive teachers and schools is actually a very structured and efficient solution for many schools that have limited technical abilities. They just want their systems to work. They don't want to reinvent the wheel or be trailblazers.

I belive the Digital Taliban will be a standard part of public education for many years to come. Perhaps the "progressive schools and teachers" should learn to accept this situation and work within the limitations applied to develop solutions that other schools may follow. There are still many unexplored paths within this walled garden.

Sorry for the long comment. :)

Mark said...


I would not have classified you as part of the Digital Taliban at all. I had in mind a different sort of person altogether.

The Digital Taliban is the one who deliberately disrupts and destroys any attempt to move forward; someone who thwarts any attempt at the common good because it threatens their network/empire. I’m sure you must have seen them?

Picture a computer coordinator who has built a network (non standard) and set the school up to run a particular way. Systems are in place to capitalize upon this network, and as long as no-one asks any hard questions of the Taliban, work moves along smoothly.

Then, after a long time of doing things in the way the Taliban decrees, an offer comes along of standardisation and support, at the cost of dismantling some of the existing methods and ways of doing things. (disruption/heresy)
To counter this the Taliban let a virus loose onto the network, reset some passwords, disable some key switches, and blame everyone else, (in a technical way that no one even tries to understand) especially the people offering the support. The principal and deputy believe him because, hey, he has looked after them before. They don’t understand all this talk about firewalls, proxies, packets, and latency, but it sounds believable. So they continue to offer him support.

Not only is this person not acting for the greater good, but he is not even acting for the good of the school. It could be argued that he is not even acting in his own self interest. He is acting/reacting to threats to his narrow definition of “network truth”, and when a bigger picture emerges, bunkers down to defend his misguided belief.

Now, the equity argument. Not really what I was referring to in the Taliban post, but may as well add to it. I thought equity was about the promotion of harmony and prosperity in society as a whole, whilst pursuing fairness and equality for individuals. Equity is not the even distribution of funding. If my nearest support office is 300km away, (its closer to 500) then more money/staff/training needs to go to that office to ensure equality of outcomes. Not the same amount of money that an office in the city gets when it only has to service a 20km radius (or less.) That would be fair.

No, head office works for the greater good. Digital Taliban by definition thwart the greater good by their insistence on keeping their narrowed and blinkered view, and by punishing any that attempt to move forward. The Digital Taliban says “If you try and give me machines and systems that threaten the dominance of myself as sole controller of my network, then I will sabotage that network, and force a greater allocation of resources for you to fix it up” You must have met plenty yourself.

Long comments are welcome however they do require a more thoughtful, and not so timely response.

Stu said...

I'm pleased you took the time to respond thoughtfully. Yes, I do know who you are talking about now through your clarification. Unfortunately, although I disagree with the methods and restrictions of the Digital Taliban, I still have to work within and around their influence. By working more closely with those one level up from schools in terms of technology management, I can put my own influence on the teams that work directly with schools to promote and more open vision which is aimed squarely at providing the students an teachers with educational tools to enhance teaching and learning. Ultimately, that's what it's all about.

By guiding the local support teams effectively, your vision can be delivered reliably. But sadly, someimes that vision is skewed and it gets imparted on the support team which then appears to individual schools as an authoritative force. Those groups with skewed visions are always more interested in making their own jobs easier.

Great blog. Keep it up.