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Some Advice for a Technical Leader

February 27th, 2009 · 3 Comments

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.

Students on Computer
Creative Commons License photo credit: Samantha Morra

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:

  1. Protecting the Public Interest and Maintaining Integrity;
  2. Demonstrating Competence and Quality of Service;
  3. Maintaining Confidential Information and Privacy;
  4. Avoiding Conflict of Interest; and
  5. 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.

Reading in progress
Creative Commons License photo credit: andyp uk

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.

Tags: educational technology · leadership · schools · technical support

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dan Maas // Mar 1, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    I agree with your commentary here. Colorado ranks in the bottom 5 among US states in per pupil investment meaning we are strapped to begin with… yet the demand from the community (and the ethical imperative) to move to the 21st Century in absolute.

    Your recommendations hit home for me. In the last bond, my predecessor had the wisdom and opportunity to partner with the local cable company to build out a fiber network to all schools and to link a 100Mbps Internet connection. When I took over, we added pervasive wireless in all campuses and built 2 virtual networks… one for district devices and one with no security settings to enable personally-owned devices to connect. Kids now routinely bring their own technology, most often the iPod touch. We moved the filter to an in-line position so no proxy settings would need to be configured. And we synched the filter’s user database with Active Directory enabling all teachers to use their PC login credentials to override the filter if they need to.

    After the deployment of PODNet (personally owned devices network) with it’s fully open, no configuration access, the ASUS EeePC rolled onto the market. We were positioned to instantly implement it and now have over 900 in the district… my department has only purchased 200 of them. The rest have come from school budgets, PTO fund-raising and grants. Our student access went up 32% with no new budget allocation. And since the EeePC (like other netbooks) is almost a zero-support device, we made no staffing changes for support either.

    Our direction now is to marry the netbook with a subject area… namely writing. In a pilot project with 5 elementary schools, we implemented classroom sets of EeePC netbooks in support of a Writer’s Workshop initiative happening at the schools. The 5th grades are reporting better interest, better quantity and better writing (especially among boys who traditionally lag) than our participating teachers have ever seen. Our assessment data will come this spring.

    Anyway, I can’t help but feel a sincere appreciation for your message and assert that it can be done. We have rolled out Fileway for web access to network server storage over the web at a the tiniest of cost (we said no thanks to Microsoft Sharepoint) and have a Google education domain. We have no choice but to do these things inexpensively and in a secured environment.

    You might like to see some of our publications on the efforts underway in LPS:

    http://yourit.littletonpublicschools.net

    This is our tech guidelines for schools. As a site-based decision-making district, our Principals have considerable control over spending and it is important to get them all on the same page. After last year’s release of YourIT, we went from 1 school with document cameras to 14 and 12 have them in every single classroom… all the same model, and the same training support… again without a new allocation of funds to my department.

    I also keep a blog which I linked to this post where I have tried to chronicle what we are up to. It is certainly nothing like yours, but it has been an important communication portal for us.

    Thank you for your post as it both validates some of our work and has added some more things for me to think about.

    -Dan Maas, CIO Littleton Public Schools

    [Reply]

  • 2 rdrunner // Mar 1, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Dan, thanks for your informative comment. You have done some great things in your district. I look forward to connecting for further conversation.

    [Reply]

  • 3 Hellen CLARK // Mar 21, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Good work on your blog, I love to see the effort and I am just saying keep up the good work.

    [Reply]

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