Recently, I tweeted an article entitled, “10 steps technology directors can take to stay relevant” (the article moved from the original time it was posted) , which had some ideas on how to ensure that an IT department stays relevant in the way they serve schools. With that being said, there was a really strong message being sent regarding IT departments and how many are seeing their work by the author:
“The role of the typical school district technology director has become obsolete. Speak with your average teacher in many school districts in America, and you’ll find the technology department is better known for getting in the way than for serving the educational needs of both staff and students. Many technology departments, led by obsolete tech directors, are inadvertently inhibiting learning. The mantra of ‘lock it and block it’ no longer works in a 21st century digital learning environment.”
The author of the article is a technology director so I feel more comfortable where the message is coming from, yet my concern would be simply shooting the link off in an email to an IT department without any type of discussion. Having worked with both teachers and an IT department, it is important that we have conversations to work together and understand how we can work together to serve our schools. Daniel Pink sums it up nicely in his new book:
“Perspective-taking is at the heart of our first essential quality in moving others today.”
So to create a culture where we are supportive and serving of one another, I really believe that it starts by asking questions as opposed to simply making statements. Here are some ideas of questions that can start the conversation:
1. What is best for kids? – This is a question that should not just be asked of our IT departments but should be the question that guides all of our work. For example, the mindset about blocking many social media sites is that we keep the kids safe from doing this work, but in the long term, what seems to be best for kids is to educate them to navigate a really confusing and fast-paced world, as opposed to leaving them to do this at home. If you decide to open these sites, we have to ask what work is happening in the classrooms to ensure that students have an understanding of digital citizenship and their footprint. It is easy to say, “open the site”, but it is more important that if sites are open, that we work with kids to ensure that they are safe online. This question helps us to understand what we can do to help each other.
2. How does this improve learning? In the past, I have seen software programs that have been pushed out that have a business focus and then pushed as a great thing for schools. Companies can get very pushy with software and it makes good business sense to take a software and show how it can have multiple purposes. At any point though, if either educators or the IT department cannot articulate how any new program or software will improve student learning, why is it being pushed to all computers? IT departments should be able to ask this of educators as well. If a teacher just went to a conference and saw some cool software that they now think should be pushed to all computers, they should be able to articulate why it is essential for learing to their IT department. I believe that there is an opportunity to test some programs out in small cases, but when you think it is something that all students should have, we will need to articulate how it serves learning. If neither side can answer this question, we are wasting time and resources.
(See “Our Digital Portfolio Project” to see how it was articulated that we would be using WordPress for student portfolios and how it would give opportunities for learning. This was needed before we even went ahead with the project.)
3. If we were to do _________, what is the balance of risk vs. reward? Many IT departments look at risk assessment and they want the risk to be either low or preferably zero. But with that being said, how often do we look at the possible reward that is associated with doing something? For example, many schools block Twitter for all in a school as there seemingly is a risk of opening social media sites, but when you open up sites and you say to your community,
“we trust you”, there is a HUGE reward that can come out of this. If you also looked at the learning opportunities for opening up sites like YouTube, we have to look at not only the learning opportunities that are available with the second most used search engine, but also what we may lose. In my opinion there is a much higher reward with opening the site if you are to work with your students, but we should have to articulate what that reward could be instead of just saying, “Why isn’t YouTube open?”
4. Is this serving the few or the majority? This question is something that is essential when we make any policies on anything, but for some reason, we seem to go overboard when it comes to technology. If a kid stabs someone with a pencil, they might be writing with it by the end of the school day, yet if we have a cyberbullying issue with one student, some schools block social media altogether. It seems like quite the overreaction.
So anytime a new policy or procedure happens for an entire school, we have to ensure that we are not punishing everyone for the mistakes of a few. Innovative environments should be built on trust, not the lack of it.
(This is a great video talking about this exact idea and it is a great view for all staff.)
Empathy is something that is essential to the work that we do, and I realized when I went to central office is that there is a ton of work that our IT Departments do that I do not have the ability or skill set to do. They do amazing work. What I would suggest though is that you invite your IT team to observe in your classroom (not necessarily help) what you do on an everyday basis. If your Internet is slow, computers do not work, and students are having trouble logging into things, they want to know that but it is important that they see this, not just hear about it after the fact. On the other hand, invite IT teams to conferences on education (not only educational technology) and have conversations on how to get to the next level for student learning.
The success of the school is more likely to happen if your IT team and educators are working together, not apart. What are you doing to facilitate this?