A new article from EdTech Magazine recently came across my desk entitled “Campus IT Leadership Must Break Down Traditional Silos.” Although the article dealt mainly with practices in Higher Ed, I think the sentiment can be extended to K-12. Through my Master’s research I have uncovered that in an age where access to educational technology is essential (look no further than the Ontario Ministry of Education’s $150 million commitment to school districts), the role of IT staff needs to shift.
Traditionally, the role of IT in large organizations (like Ontario’s publicly funded school districts) has been to maintain control, protect information, and assume responsibility for updating/repairing hardware and software. It was work that was primarily done in the shadows/background that went largely unnoticed by stakeholders. In fact, if I think back to my elementary school days I vaguely remember an IT technician coming in occasionally to work on the computer lab or on equipment throughout the school. They were merely the last second fix…an afterthought…an assumed safety net that was brought to the light to save the day and returned to the shadows when no longer needed. In 2015, that will need to change.
The integration of educational technology into the learning environment has not been a smooth transition. Blunders like compromises in private data and the acquisition of mismatched technologies are becoming increasingly common in K-12 education. Clearly effective technology implementation requires meaningful collaboration between IT and academic partners to occur. In my opinion, a large amount of the chaos that surrounds technology implementation has to deal with a lack of communication between IT and teaching/support staff. Both sides tend to ignore the roles one another plays in the educational environment. To bridge this gap, I have listed 3 ways in which school districts can foster constructive interactions between IT and educators.
1. Respect the challenges one another faces
A common complaint I hear from both sides is that the other “doesn’t understand what we need to do on our end.” In a lot of ways that is true.
Some teachers don’t consider the fact that the technology application they prefer to use in their class may compromise student data. Many don’t know the amount of resources wasted on IT staff having to handle password resets for staff email accounts is staggering. Certainly most don’t know the sheer number of attacks a school district’s wireless network receives on a daily basis and ways they leave the board susceptible. The list goes on and on…
However, the same can be said for IT. How many technicians understand that being able to use a technology proficiently and being able to teach a group of 30+ students with a technology are two different things? Some may not realize that the quality of professional development teachers receive is often times inadequate and does not leave them with a great grasp of how to use a particular device. Do IT staff understand that just because a particular technology may be easy to manage at a district-level and has high repairability/durability that it may not meet the pedagogical/student learning needs of a classroom?
Both groups are in a great state of transition and both IT and academics need to be cognizant that their actions have implications that ripple throughout the organization.
2. Create more opportunities for meaningful collaboration
Meaningful collaboration requires more than just having an IT staff member sit in on a meeting. IT technicians need to be both visible and approachable for academic staff. These individuals have a great deal of knowledge about technology, privacy, device functionality, etc. and that knowledge often stays within the confines of IT. Those kinds of silos need to be broken down so that academic decisions related to technology are always made with the input of the IT professionals needed to support them.
3. Remember both sides are working towards the same goal
Finally, at a time where the focus in education happens to be on technology, IT/academic staff need to remember that the ultimate goal of the organization is to improve student learning. I understand that an IT technician may not realize that when he/she arrives to work (and it does not help that with many of the school boards in Ontario being massive in size, the needs of the organization tend to outweigh the needs of the students)…but this needs to change. IT staff need to be empowered to assume a greater role in the educational environment and really see the impact they can have on K-12 education. Educators cannot do this alone. They require the skills, problem-solving, and tenacity that many IT staff members possess.
That is why 2015 needs to be the year of the IT leader in education.