Enforce school rules via the community, not software

I recently was involved in an effort with some exceptional colleagues in re-launching our Activities program. Some of it involved rebranding, which was their side, whereas my side was coming up with software that had to do one thing and one thing only: (A) Produce a definitive list of which students have signed up to what activities.

Since we use Moodle for our LMS, this is naturally where I had to figure it out. I figured that the best way to do this was to use the self-enrollment feature of Moodle, where students just had to go in there and click a few buttons and they could enroll themselves into a course, thereby indicating to the system, “I have joined this activity.”

Pity that Moodle doesn’t provide many front-end tools to access enrollment information, but five minutes at the SQL command line prompt and, voila, we got our list.

So far, so good. This is my can-do attitude. Focus on the problem and solve it. No complications. Naturally, however, the Activities program grew, and demands were put on it.

Students shouldn’t be able to join more than two activities, especially if they are in high school.

Students shouldn’t be able to join an activity after XYZ date.

Teachers should be able to remove them from the activity forcibly.

And, sure enough, I could definitely figure out a way to “make it so.” Except for one thing: I thought that was a poor use of technology.

There is always that one kid who wasn’t at school that week, and the exception should be made for him or her. Naturally. There is always that homeroom teacher who points out that this kid has been really shy and suddenly is finding himself with friends so can’t we please just let him join that Cross Country activity? That’s good stuff right there.

Those are examples of the community at work, and that’s something that the software should stay out of the way of. So, in the end, I ensured that the software did one thing and one thing only: Make sure that kids could easily sign up, make it easy for the managers to see and get that information, unpack it for the community. Put the power on the kids side to be able to manage it all, and not have adults overrule them. Make sure the system didn’t place a strain on the community that resulted in DBE (death by email) syndrome.

Computers are terrible at solving people problems.

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