Tech Talk: Technology Decisions

May 1, 2010
Who calls the shots?

In public education, a wide gap often exists between the people using technology and those providing technical support. Teachers and other staff members often are intimidated by the vocabulary of “techies,” known also as IT personnel, because of their focus on “the purely technical.” Classroom teachers, on the other hand, are focused on teaching content, applications and process.

A significant and correctable trend within K-12 schools relates to acquiring education technology. If “the dog” is instructional classroom goals and “the tail” is district IT staff, administrators or school board members, the question becomes: Is the tail wagging the dog in instructional technology? Are the right people calling those shots?

Who governs?

The education technology environment is divided into two basic camps: IT and teachers. The IT branch often focuses on issues removed from those of classroom teachers. IT personnel are concerned with infrastructure, platforms and making everything work. Teachers, on the other hand, are concerned with how to use technology to enhance and extend instructional opportunities for students. Classroom teachers and IT staff speak different languages and operate from different perspectives. Teachers often are intimidated by the technical vocabulary of IT staff and prefer to focus on the instructional applications rather than technical details.

Another issue: Relying on vendors to provide the most effective technology can leave schools vulnerable. Vendors have their own priorities when marketing their products, and they aren't necessarily concerned about whether a solution truly responds to a specific school's instructional needs. Rather than purchasing technology tools that will most benefit students and teachers, many education institutions have mistakenly chosen products recommended by a vendor without examining whether it meets the school's technology objectives.

What can be done?

Staff members, superintendents and technology directors need to re-evaluate the role of IT departments and business offices in purchases that affect classroom instruction. Where purchasing choices regarding education technology are concerned, the key consideration for institutions should be: “Which technology tools or systems can meet our instructional objectives, offer the best ease of use for our teachers and students, will be the easiest for our staff to support, and are the most cost-effective?” These questions should be asked in contrast to the single question now asked by many institutions: “Where can we buy the cheapest solution?”

With so many “experts” confusing and complicating the problem, education institutions may have difficulty discerning whom they should trust. Asking some key questions can assist schools with technology strategies — many technology consultants will answer your questions with a simple phone call.

Don't hesitate to vet multiple vendors. Can a potential vendor's product meet your needs, and what do past and present clients of those vendors have to say regarding the firm, their products and follow-up?

The number of education institutions who buy expensive technology tools that don't meet their instructional goals is staggering. This happens because administrators haven't defined clearly their technology needs with the instructional staff, IT department and business office. As a general rule, it isn't wise to have 100 percent of all technology decisions made by one interest group, while excluding other users.

Practicing participatory management long has been acknowledged as essential in the quest for better schools. Enabling teachers to take part in decisionmaking creates a sense of ownership for changes and eventually builds stronger support to realize the goals of the investments.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in education facilities and technology planning. [email protected]

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