Guest blogger: @mswanson Mike Swanson is a Director of Technology for a school district in Northern Illinois and a valuable contributor to #EduIT.
I was honored when Howard Chan invited me to guest blog about “What is the role of the tech dept in K12?” This is a topic that has interested me more over the past couple years than ever before. I have been bothered by the gap between Instructional Technology (teaching) and Informational Technology (support or management) so, this is a great opportunity for me to share my thoughts.
Since I started working in education as a Technology Director in 1993, I have been the “man behind the curtain” to instructional technology and classroom teachers. I think I have finally learned through my own maturation to be visible rather than simply support the technology from the control room. Over the past couple years I see a trend that seems to be widening the gap between educational technology and the support, informational technology. Many IT people have decided to use what a friend and colleague called the FUD card (marketing term for Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) to control students’ and teachers’ use of technology. I believe my fellow IT may be using the word caution as a synonym for control. Just this week I read a comment on a list from a colleague worried about “giving away the keys to the castle” for control of users’ (that’s tech for students and staff) files and accounts. IT in education is not a castle or kingdom and we are not the rulers over the technology. Our role is to support the use of the technology however the teachers and administrators want to use it. I am concerned that IT (me) believes that they can control the safety of students better than a teacher. Who is better equipped at keeping students safe than educators? If they are not equipped to keep students safe on the technology then we as Educational IT have the responsibility to educate and equip them, not restrict. Who are we as IT to decide what tool is to be used in a classroom or for research? Just today, I read of a school district that has blocked Yahoo because the Technology Director does “not see the need to use Yahoo during the school day”. YouTube is blocked in many school districts because of potential dangerous video or the fear of bandwidth overload. YouTube is here to stay and it needs to be open and left to the staff to use. Teachers can use it as a “teachable moment” if a harmful video is accessed. How will our students know what to do if they come on harmful sites if we just block everything? Isn’t that teaching, as well? YouTube is just an example of the many media-rich sites and tools that are on the web that need to be kept open for teachers to explore and learn to use in their classrooms.
So, what is the role of the technology department in K-12? The roles of the technology department as I see it are to support existing technologies, train on existing and emerging technologies, lead and explore using new technologies.
Support Existing Technologies
The obvious is repair for what is broken but, it is more than that. When I worked in a much larger school district, I used to tell technicians, “It is not fixed until the user says it’s fixed.” It’s something I learned in the 1980’s while working for a large computer company. Often the repair is easy or there is no repair at all however, if the teacher can’t get the technology to work for them, it’s still broken and won’t be used. What is simple to us IT people is not simple to someone that is a digital immigrant. Today’s technology is much more efficient and easy to repair; software problems can be resolved by simply a re-image that will take minutes. Also, in support of educational technology, if the network does not have enough bandwidth to handle the need, it is our responsibility to seek alternatives, add more bandwidth or whatever it takes to support the students and staff. It is not our responsibility to just block its usage.
Most of the help desk tickets I get are training issues. The most important role of the technology department is to train the staff. Working with the staff and administration on the best way to train them is important. Being available for those simple questions or large projects is also important. It can be difficult to be available but that is our job and why we are here. Just like the teachers have to do with their students, we have to learn to differentiate with the staff as they are different kind of learners, as well. The greatest tool in my arsenal for training is another teacher. For me, finding a teacher that can learn something new and show peers works great. Screencasts, videos and small groups for hands on training in computer labs work, as well.
Explore New Technologies
This is where my PLN comes in handy with people like Howard Chan. Following the right people in twitter, blogs, and wikis are a key to keeping up with the latest trends in technology for education as well as technology in general. My role is to pass on these new technologies to the staff and administration so they can implement them. This is the most exciting time in my career in technology. Web 2.0, future Web 3.0, Google Apps For Education, handhelds, tablets, netbooks and cloud computing are all things that we need to learn more about, use, and share with our staff. My school district has an Emerging Technology Committee we use to share new discoveries.
A good Technology Department is one that is invisible to the staff and the classrooms. If everything is working as it should and networks and tools are open for use, the technology will be as much a part of the classroom as the desks or pencils. Here is a link to a Mac vs PC commercial in the UK that I think can apply more to Instructional Technology vs Education IT http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROaBCZdx45Q (Of course you have to have YouTube open to watch).
Guest Blogger: @franze98 Chris Franzen is one of the valuable contributers to #EduIT and an “education minded” technology administrator.
My Role-Playing as a Technology Coordinator in Pre-k – 12 School District
I see three parts to the equation in interacting with teachers. These parts all play equal importance for successful technology integration. With my role as a sole Technology Coordinator, I have to be able to manage my time wisely to cover all the bases.
Learning a new technology takes time whether that is new software or hardware. Part of my job is to teach teachers how to use the technology provided for them in their classrooms. Without my guidance some wouldn’t have the time or initiative to learn a new piece of technology. In playing this trainer role, one has to be able to connect with the audience. I try to do so at the personal level and then connect the “material” to terminology that they can understand.
Not only do I provide my staff with knowledge on how to use technology, but I also provide the equipment to them. Sometimes this becomes the hardest part of my job as I must constrain purchases to a budget and thus not everyone gets what they would like to have. It’s a fine tightrope to walk in being fair, but also considering how to get the most bang for the district’s buck. Also taken into to consideration is how much use that item will get in that classroom. In my district I have a wide token of users so some are towards the top of the technology knowledge pole while others are towards the bottom. This is very comparable to a general student population and we don’t want to leave anyone behind. The connection to the trainer role is very clear in a situation for those towards the bottom of the tech ability scale. If the desire to learn more is there it is very important to push them to the next level. Otherwise their frustrations will easily mount and they could turn new technology into a negative.
Whether its user error or a broken electronic part, it’s my responsibility as the technology department to fix it. If it is broken it was probably used and thus now a teaching plan is out of whack and my teachers rely on me to get things up and running efficiently. These day to day fixes also give great opportunities for personal interaction with the staff. Striving to schedule fixes at a time least convenient to them is also a priority if possible.
Some key points that I try to remember for all of these parts is to keep an open mind. Not everyone will see things eye to eye with you. It’s those times of struggle where we can all shine in finding a compromise. Thanks to Howard Chan, @socratech on twitter for inviting me to participate in this guest blog.
Since I wrote about the concept of #EduIT back in January, it has definitely sparked interest from both the information technology folks and teachers/edtech specialists who integrate technology in their instruction. With the growing role of technology in both the operations and instructional side of schools, the communication between IT & teachers has become more important than ever. I want to thank the following people (http://tweepml.org/23EduIT/) for being part of this conversation and I hope we continue to get more teachers and technology administrators to join the discussion.
Blog posts that formed my thoughts on #EduIT:
Guest Blogger: @jasontbedell Jason Bedell is a valuable part of my PLN and his blog series on Diffusion of Innovations has sparked a guest series topic that I wanted on my blog: “What is the role of the technology department at K12 schools?” Here is his insightful post:
Howard Chan asked me to write about the role of the technology department in education. I have written implicitly about this on many occasions both on this blog and on Twitter. In fact, Howard, Keith Bockwoldt, and I started the #EduIt discussion on Twitter several months ago specifically to discuss ways to bridge the gap between education and traditional IT departments. We have since been joined by many qualified technology directors and teachers.
We believe this to be a great necessity in education. As technology becomes ever more vital to all aspects of education, such as infrastructure, administration, and teaching, the technology department is becoming much more necessary and more powerful. Policies made by the technology department effect every student and teacher in the school. The role of the technology department, as well as its limitations, need to be clearly delineated.
It is my vision that the technology department needs to enable students to learn and teachers to teach better than they already do. The issue is that many technology departments overstep these bounds and do not really understand education. Many technology directions come from a traditional IT background, complete with the assumptions and presuppositions of a corporate environment. Chief among these concerns is the need to control. We need to control employees so that they stay on task. My own technology director explicitly told me that YouTube and Facebook would always be blocked because of the amount of bad content on those networks.
Technology departments cannot just block useful websites because students may find some bad content. Blocking Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, etc… does not protect students. It does not help students. It cripples them. The technology department needs to educate students on how to use these services wisely for self-directed learning and on how to react if they do come across inappropriate content. When students leave school, they will be tempted at home and at work. They will find inappropriate content. If the schools do not teach them how to handle these situations, then we have done our children a disservice.
We are further hurting our children when we allow the technology departments to limit our teachers. It is a sad state when I have to counsel my teachers on how to get around our Internet filter because they found excellent content online to use with students, and then find out that they cannot access it from school. By outlawing Twitter, my technology department is cutting off teachers from an amazing amount of professional development. If our teachers cannot improve as they should because of the technology department, then the technology is hurting our children.
Hadley Ferguson wrote an outstanding post recently entitled, “First Do No Harm.” We all, including technology departments, would be well served by adhering to this motto. Teachers and students do not need to be protected. To really thrive and prepare our students, we need freedom. The technology department should be supporting us in our goals and enabling them through infrastructure, training, teaching, professional development, and policies crafted involving all stakeholders. Our instructional and educational goals should not be determined or limited by what our technology departments deem appropriate.
My Twitter PLN is a valuable part of my professional growth. What better way to pay tribute then to highlight the people I learn from everyday? Thank you for helping me evolve my profession. Here are some great blog posts!
@edtechsandyk Educators & Technical Folks Should Play Nice
@cmt1 A Day in the Life of 2.0
@kylepace Do we claim tech to be a cure all?
@jasontbedell How TeachMeetNashville Started and How to Start Your Own
@peoplegogy Educational Philosophy Part 2
@MZimmer557 Do You Tweet? As An Educator…You Should!
@Oh_the_Places Technology – It’s About the Teachers, Not the Tools
@dmantz7 My Passion for Education
@DoremiGirl A Simple Song, Skype, & Warm Sunshine
For me, this has to be my personal favorite blog post because this is the foundation to which I am building my profession from: Education Information Technology Part 1
Here is my guest blogger post on Jason Bedell’s Blog:
“One topic that has been on my mind lately: specifically, how do you go about trying to implement change or spread innovative ideas in your building? There is sometimes a disconnect between our discussions on Twitter and the practical application of our ideas, so I would like to see what others are thinking on this issue.”
To implement change, there has to be a sense of urgency; and to spread innovation, there has to be inspiration…
Changing a culture, especially in schools, is a daunting task for anyone. Even a school administrator who implements change from a top down approach may not be well received by staff and never fully embraced. Trying to change culture from the bottom up approach is equally difficult when colleagues and administrators may feel threatened or ambivalent by one’s ideas. We cannot deny that teachers and administrators are passionate about education, but with varying pedagogies, learning styles, and philosophies, how does a staff move forward with a school culture that everyone buys into?
Changing culture in regards to technology infusion…
There are a myriad of factors that need to occur in order for real technology infusion, but if I were to point to a unifying factor, it would have to be a sense of urgency amongst all the staff. Although there are many profound discussions on Twitter that is valuable about tech integration, there is no real sense of urgency for teachers to not only be part of a personal learning community, but to actually execute the practice of technology integration. I always refer to my blog post about The Boiling Frog Syndrome when trying to infuse technology with our wide spectrum of teachers. However, when faced with adversity such as a school in program improvement status and putting teachers on the firing block, a change in the way we operate is essential. It may not be an extreme scenario as being a program improvement school, but if a staff does not feel an urgency to infuse technology, tech integration specialists will continue to struggle getting everyone on board. The staff has to see technology as a catalyst and foundation to solve the urgency for the school. They have to see that technology can efficiently reform the way procedures and communications operate for the school (information technology), as well as differentiate, drive data assessments, and enrich the curriculum for our classrooms (educational technology).
There is hope however…the ability to inspire through innovation.
I have seen school culture change because of the brilliance of staff members who continue to innovate and inspire using technology in the classroom. It is rare to change everyone on staff (there is always a couple), but I have seen teachers who inspire many others to change the way they operate and teach their classroom. I believe patience and sales skills are two qualities I would add to any technology integration specialist position.
As we continue to preach the use of technology in schools, technology specialists will need to create a sense of urgency amongst the staff and model innovation that sparks motivation. And patience goes a long way…
I understand the technical concepts behind desktop virtualization, however, I am a relatively “newbie” in implementing the solution for entire organizations. In the past few months, I have been actively researching and learning about desktop virtualization and how it can be the ideal solution for K12 schools. I have been learning about VMWare and now going to take this online training provided by Citrix on XenDesktop 4. I am also learning about thin clients and going to be building some test labs using our WebDT LX166 devices. All these solutions and products will require a learning curve on my technical skills, but I am committed to getting trained because I am that confident it will be in the future of K12 computing.
As part of the learning curve, I finally beta tested the NComputing U170 Desktop Virtualization product. I used one of my desktop workstations and used two of the following: monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I connected the first monitor, keyboard and mouse normally to the desktop, while the second set was connected to the U170 device. The U170 device then connects via USB to the desktop workstation. Once the software is loaded with a couple USB port setting changes, the two monitors will boot as two virtual workstations. The configuration was simple and it worked instantly. I was able to load test the virtual desktops with video streaming and it handled it well. In my opinion, I think this is a practical budget solution to put into classrooms as technology centers. I could envision a quad core desktop in a six monitor virtual workstation setup. It will give teachers the ability to load and maintain software on just one desktop and be able to give access to six simultaneous users.