Are you the technical leader in your school district? Whether you are an educator or an information technology professional, you are faced with two distinct challenges – first to align the work of the technology department with the district learning goals and second to ensure that IT best practice is employed to deliver a reliable technology service.
When the role of technical leader rests with a single individual (most often in large school districts) that individual is usually an IT professional, and when it is part of a combined role it is usually staffed by an educator. In the latter case, the person will also most often have responsibility for teacher professional development in technology integration and specific accountabilities with respect to learning outcomes in the district. The educator’s set of experiences provides an easier path to alignment, while the IT professional will be well-versed in IT best practice. Finding the balance of the two challenges is key to the job.
In Canada, the information technology profession is supported by the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS). All CIPS members (including students) agree to abide by the Code of Ethics and its ethical principles/imperatives:
- Protecting the Public Interest and Maintaining Integrity;
- Demonstrating Competence and Quality of Service;
- Maintaining Confidential Information and Privacy;
- Avoiding Conflict of Interest; and
- Upholding Responsibility to the IT Profession.
Information technology professionals do their best work when they directly contribute to the goals of the organization. Alignment with the business, creating shareholder value and meeting service standards are often measures associated with critical success in an internal IT department. But what does this look like in a K-12 school district? How can we come to understand not only how our work aligns, but better yet how to communicate that alignment?
Simply put, what is the role of the Technical Leader in advancing student learning?
There are several components that are critical to the overall success of a school district when addressing technology, its value, and implementation. District technology leadership, professional development, sound technology design and student engagement all combine to create a rich environment for learning.
The technical leader must use his or her own knowledge and experience to define and action their contribution to district and learner success.
To do so, one must first understand the role of technology in advancing student learning.
Twenty-first century technologies (the new media) include all things digital – voice, video, data. They include the network that connects them, the storage media, the software applications, and the devices that allow you and me to access them.
We have already seen the impact of the new media in the marketplace. In his book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman interviewed Mitchell H. Caplan, the CEO of E*Trade who noted that technology has placed power in the hands of the consumer. Consumers can now customize the product, service, and even the price. Don Tapscott in his book, Wikinomics, provides further evidence about the changes that technology has enabled through mass collaboration. In fact, the final chapter is an invitation to collaborate in producing the definitive guide to twenty-first-century strategy at www.wikinomics.com.
Collectively, these technologies also shift the power to every learner. Learners are able to create their own paths to knowledge. They can:
- Access experts
- Access data
- Using software applications to build understanding
- Using software applications to demonstrate knowledge
What is even more powerful is the ability of all learners to participate in the creation of knowledge. Technology connects learners in communities local and global, where new knowledge is created. Wiki’s, chats, blogs – all are tools that allow learners to congregate, unfettered by geographical and often temporal distance. Critique, enhance, engage are all outcomes of these 21st century technologies.
So the role of the technical leader is both simple and complex. The simplistic view: to provide every learner with access to the needed technology. The complex view: do so in a cost-effective, reliable, secure and sustainable way. How does one balance these potentially competing viewpoints?
First and foremost, you need a strategic view. A compelling outcome to start with would be:
All learners will have access to the technology they need to participate and create knowledge in the 21st century.
The key word is access. Every learner needs a device to provide access. They need connectivity to join their communities. They need software applications to manipulate and create. They need online storage to house their creations.
What can you afford? Few districts can afford to provide a device for every learner (1:1 access) AND connectivity AND applications AND storage AND … You must design an architecture to deliver access. This will mean investing in networks for connectivity and seeking alternatives or low-cost strategies to the components.
You will meet the challenges of the technical leader if you:
- Design your network and security to allow learners to use their own devices to connect.
- Partner with others to create volume licensing and purchase opportunities. Smaller school districts do not have the clout in the marketplace to negotiate the price downward. But school districts joined in partnership, or through a government department can generate significant savings. Don’t be challenged by the barriers – they are many but none are insurmountable. Look for timing opportunities when another district is purchasing or at a similar point in their life cycle replacements. Seize the opportunity for small wins and the network of districts will grow accordingly.
- Be clear about your technology model. You may be able to leverage free online tools to deliver the services you need.
- Joint to build shared service models. Salesforce.com is a wonderful example of a subscription model. Small companies gain the benefit of world-class software delivered securely over the Internet.
- Be the quiet hero. Live the Code of Ethics. The technical leader in a school district rarely wins awards. The prime objective in school districts is advancing student learning, not building state of the art technologies. Providing access to technology does not provide the direct link to that prime objective. But with it, the objective in the 21st Century is achievable.
With technology, the power in the new learner is the very essence of the democratization of learning, and the bedrock of public education.