Efficacious educational technology supports, enables, and facilitates students as they are become full participants in the computer and network-rich communication landscape of society. Differences between how IT is provided and managed in other organizations compared to educational organizations can pose challenges for school leaders and the IT professional they hire from other industries. It is through the collaborative efforts of educators, information technology professionals, and school leaders that educational technology becomes efficacious.
In 1993, Seymour Papert imagined two time-traveling professionals from 100 years earlier; he speculated the physician would be flummoxed by the activity and the technology in the 20th century medical clinic, but the teacher would find the activity and the technology in a 20th century classroom very familiar. Papert based his speculations on the degree to which medical practitioners had adopted and adapted to technological innovations compared to educational practitioners. In the decades since, we who work in educational technology have made some progress in creating schools that would flummox the teacher in Papert’s tale, but the work is far from complete.
The technicians among us have deployed computers that connect to servers, switches, routers, and other network devices so the Internet is available from nearly every corner of nearly every classroom in nearly every one of our schools. We use sophisticated software to manage those networks; our networks store and protect all varieties of data about of students, our curriculum, and our operations. Further, our networks provide robust and reliable access to vast information and global interaction through devices that our schools own and that students, faculty, and staff own and bring to school. That information technology (IT) infrastructure has not, however, transformed teaching and learning in a manner that has been promised by so many advocates. The observation that much teaching and learning remains as it was prior to the arrival of digital tools continues to be made by scholars who study teaching and learning (Luckin, Bligh, Manches, Ainsworth, Crook, & Noss, 2012; OECD, 2015; Tondeur, van Braak, Ertmer, & Ottenbreit- Leftwich, 2017).
The laggardly rate at which technology has changed what happens in classrooms may not be surprising, however. Larry Cuban, a well-known scholar from Stanford University, studied the effects of electronic media (radio, television, and movies) on education earlier in the 20th century and found them to be inconsequential. He noted, “Claims predicting extraordinary changes in teacher practice and students’ learning, mixed with promotional tactics, dominated the literature in the initial wave of enthusiasm for each new technology” (Cuban, 1986, p. 4), but observation proved these tools were no better than teachers using other information technology at conveying information. Something appears different, however, about the computers and digital networks we have today compared to earlier media. For the most part, earlier electronic media did not become as widely used for official purposes in the way that digital technology has become the default for legal and governmental communication. Nor did it become so widely adopted for interaction, nor did it become widely used for people to create information in the way that digital technologies have. Previous generations of American citizens listened to the radio for entertainment as they completed paper copies of their income tax returns which were mailed to the Internal Revenue Service. Now, we listen to streaming media and carry on conversations over text messaging as we complete and file our tax returns via the Internet. In those areas where IT infrastructure has been installed it has come to dominate all aspects of economic, political, social, and cultural life.
The leaders of almost every school face the same challenging situation: They must create schools that reflect the dominant role of digital IT in society and they must prepare students for that world; but the changing landscape of teaching, inadequate technical expertise, and limited resources are genuine barriers to this work. What we know, how we know it, and what we know about learning is advancing at a rate that fast outpaces teachers’ capacity to respond to it. Operating and maintaining the IT systems in schools requires expertise that is far beyond that of the “tech-savvy” teachers who managed the first IT systems installed in schools. IT professionals who are “imported” into education from other businesses and industries often find the practices, assumptions, and expectations that served them well in other settings do not transfer into education. Teachers and students are different from other workers, and the IT (including the hardware, the software configurations, and the personnel) they rely on for their work must accommodate those differences. IT is also a capital-intensive aspect of operating schools. Devices and network upgrades can consume years’ worth of technology budgets in a short time, and the total cost of ownership of devices places on-going demands on budgets. Further, technology introduces new and rapidly evolving regulatory and policy issues into school management.
The situation regarding IT management in many schools is well-captured by the hypothetical (and sarcastic) Putt’s Law. According to Archibald Putt, “Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand” (Putt, 2006, p. 7). Further, Putt articulated a corollary, “Every technical hierarchy, in time, develops a competence inversion” (p. 7). While these words are intended to be humorously cynical observations, they do describe the current state of IT management in schools:
• Technology professionals configure IT systems for students and teachers, but they are unfamiliar with emerging technology-rich pedagogy. In Putt’s terms, IT professionals are managing devices for purposes they do not understand.
• Educators complain about the IT systems in schools, but they don’t understand the complexity of managing IT systems, the potential conflicts and threats to the operation of enterprise IT, and general chaos that can result when enterprise networks are not tightly controlled. In Putt’s terms, educators seek to manage IT they do not understand.
• School leaders make budget and personnel decisions that impose unrealistic limits on IT professionals and they advocate for practices beyond the capacity of the available IT or are contrary to the professional tendencies of the teachers.
The schools in which students participate in the digital world are places in which IT infrastructure is available and functioning; the existence of this infrastructure is absolutely dependent on skilled IT professionals to operate and maintain it. These schools are also absolutely dependent upon skilled educators who plan and facilitate learning experiences in which all students access, manipulate, analyze, create, and disseminate information using the IT. To improve efficacy in these schools, teachers’ critiques of the of the IT they use as well as their requests for new features must be accommodated by IT professionals because educators best understand how the IT effects students. Further, these are schools are absolutely dependent upon school administrators understand the demands of maintaining IT in an operational state as well as the emerging needs of teachers. Together; educators, IT professionals, and school administrators must collaborate for efficacious technology management in schools.