Alex J. Podchaski, Director of Technology, Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child
In a popular series of commercials between rival cellular phone manufacturers a few years ago, end users get all caught up in the specific features, options, and accessories of their particular devices. At the end of the commercials, the community finally realizes it’s not about what the device has as a feature, but how you can apply those features to affect an outcome in your life. For those who implement educational technology into our school communities, we can sometimes get distracted in the devices or software and all of the neat things they have or can do, and we forget that there are real people on the other side of the devices that need our advice and support in achieving their goals. The role of technology in education is to enhance, optimize, and engage a learner in the process of learning, without overwhelming them with the technology. The CIO and the Technology Department need to focus more on the people who are part of the learning environment than the devices and system that they maintain.
"Technology is not about the devices, or the latest app, or the network that connects it all together"
The Technology Department holds a unique position with respect to the mission and operation in the K-12 environment. It must adapt to the unique aspects of the learning and business environment, while providing a baseline of services to the community. It is involved in every aspect of the school, yet is not the primary driving force behind many initiatives, nor should it be. Technology might play a central role in certain aspects of our lives, but it should not be the driving force of a learning community. Education is about developing relationships and gaining knowledge from those relationships. The role of the technology department is to curate the tools and systems needed to help the learning community build relationships in support of the mission and vision of the school.
The Chief Information Officer (CIO) and their technology leadership team needs to be able to express the mission and vision in the implementation of devices, tools, systems, and processes to allow the faculty, staff, students, parents, and local residents to build the unique balance of relationships that is a school community. Missing this opportunity to align the infrastructure, instructional, and operational aspects of technology with the fundamental elements of the community relegates technology to an add-on or after-thought, which diminishes the potential impact of the tools and techniques that are attempting to be implemented. Working toward this vision requires the CIO to lead the technology department as a unified team. While each member may have their specific expertise and unique skills, they are most valuable when functioning with others in support of the community. I have been fortunate to work on and lead both successful teams and teams that had difficulty achieving their goals. The best teams have great relationships, and leverage those relationships to accomplish their goals. They know and understand which team members have the best skills and talents to attack a problem. They share their lives with each other, help each other when needed, celebrate their successes, and rally around challenges. A team cannot have these characteristics unless their leader is invested in their relationships. Like they say in a famous quote, a leader without followers is just a guy on a walk.While the technology department needs to function as a team on its own, it must also realize that it is part of a larger community with the same goals. Functional silos might work for a single process, but when trying to integrate a community, they become an impediment. The CIO must help bridge the gap between the technology department and other areas of the school. They must be a visible part of the planning from the highest levels of strategy to the details of specific projects. Along with members of the technology team, the CIO must help forge relationships between those using the technology and those providing it. From the systems used for learning in the classroom, to parent communications, to accounts payable, to the environmental controls for the campus, the technology department needs to be a partner in providing solutions to the community. The CIO must spend time with the members of the community to determine which technologies will best provide the school with an opportunity to succeed.
By building the relationships necessary to be a community, the CIO has the opportunity to drive experimentation and innovation in direct support of the goals of the school. There are many technology initiatives, such as STEM, makerspaces, being a Future Ready school, and flipping classrooms that can enhance a school, but unless the CIO knows what the specific needs are of the various constituencies, implementing a large scale project such as these may not accomplish the intended goal. It is only by understanding the needs of the classroom teacher, the comptroller, the facilities staff, students, parents, and other members of the community, the CIO and the technology department can create the set of tools that will best take advantage of the situations those community members face.
Technology is not about the devices, or the latest app, or the network that connects it all together. Yes, a technology leader just said that the shiny gadgets, the latest toys, and cool apps are not the center of the universe. Any person or school can try to keep up with the constant release of new things, trying to show the world that they are current with the technology, all the while never understanding how that device or app really can contribute to their ability to learn, do their job, or enhance their life. CIOs should be encouraging the use of technology to help us become lifelong learners and find better, more efficient and effective ways of interacting with the world around us. Alex J. Podchaski serves as the Director of Technology at Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child in Summit, NJ. He was the first in New Jersey to earn the Certified Educational Technology Leader (CETL) designation from CoSN, which is based on a framework of essential skills for a K-12 CTO. With over 20 years of higher education and K-12 experience in technology planning and implementation, Alex brings a unique perspective in bringing technology into the world of learning. Alex co-founded and moderates #edtechchat, a Twitter chat on educational technology. Connect with him on Twitter @ajpodchaski.