The changing role of technology departments in education

In a previous job, I worked for a few months in an advisory role to several executive members in a school district. I wasn’t a director, but we didn’t have one so I was really all they had at that time. I was still technically a systems administrator, so that’s the approach I took to most all purchasing decisions. My questions for them always revolved around whether a new system was to be hosted or in-house, what level of support they would need from me, and what the deployment considerations were from a technical perspective.

In my current role, I find those questions don’t matter as much any more. Most of the software applications we evaluate use a typical SaaS model and I don’t have any more to worry about, from a technical perspective, other than any firewall permissions might be needed and whether they will integrate with our authentication solutions. Instead, I find myself much more concerned with the educational value of the tool and how it can support student learning or student engagement.

There was a time when technical considerations deserved a great deal of attention. I think, for the most part, we’ve moved past that. Not everything meets standards yet, but it’s getting closer. One of our vendors is in the process of converting all of their content from Flash content to HTML5. Others are starting to follow suit, finally.

So now what? How do I, as an IT director, evaluate new tools? To be honest, I can’t do it alone. Instead of instructional services deciding we need ‘x’, the teachers demanding ‘y’, and the IT director telling both groups it won’t work, the decisions have to become more collaborative. I’m not a teacher, I don’t profess to understand how one application supports a learning goal and the other one doesn’t. What I can do is work with the other stakeholders to show them that it really doesn’t matter anymore what device is in someone’s hand.

This understanding is critical to building successful technology integration in our education system. More and more, I hear that students that can’t operate in a digital environment are at a disadvantage when they enter the career field – whether immediately or after four years of higher education. We owe it to them to teach the skills that will help them become successful. Curriculum is important, but the digital skills they use to engage and show their learning can be even more important in the long-term.

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