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The Changing Role of IT in Schools
When disaster strikes, there are those who stand out in ways that we never noticed before. Their ability to perform under crisis, and their drive to make things happen for the greater good makes us all feel proud to belong to the same organization. Such are the impacts of this global pandemic on education, which resulted in traditional roles being repurposed and new ones created to meet our needs. Future thinking at K-12 institutions became less about the hardware side of technology, and more about the changing roles of the people harnessing and using those technologies.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 89% of U.S. schools identify as public or charter schools and almost 11% of U.S. schools are non-public. About five million students attend 35,000 non-public schools in the U.S., according to the best available data. The IT support between these schools and districts varies greatly. In the case of a large public school district, the level of support for technology implementation depends upon the size and capacity of the IT team, but is, in general, more accessible. For private or parochial schools (or small schools in general), IT support is the responsibility of a few individuals rather than a large team.
In a normal year, an IT job might include rolling out devices, planning and implementing technology, maintaining the G-suite, and a large list of other responsibilities. But, in 2020, IT leaders did the heavy lifting of launching online and hybrid learning programs without the traditional training, support, and technology that would normally be required. Many of these efforts resulted in successful continuation of traditional educational programs. And while many families and schools faced challenges, the transition to online/hybrid education served our schools well.
So, what happens now?
Before we can train or recruit for these fundamentally changed roles, we need to better define what these new roles will be and what the transition will involve. It’s not as simple as creating a new IT job description – we need a new understanding of the responsibilities and functions that are essential for a blended, hybrid, or online learning environment to work properly.
Just as the pandemic forced us to re-evaluate the physical space of our brick-and-mortar schools, we also need to re-examine the people who occupy different roles in the education process (especially when it comes to technology). Skill sets will shift, tools will be upgraded, and as a result, old job descriptions may no longer apply. Filter every process through the lens of how it affects student performance – it’s then that you’ll be able to make informed decisions.
Technology leaders who steered the way during the pandemic may be wary now of a wholesale shift and CIOs may be reluctant to innovate further than is needed. They know from years of experience that getting access to the budget and resources they need creates operational inefficiencies as a corporate technology staff. There’s also a serious shift to examine the training and credentialing of IT leaders in educational settings. Technology changes quickly and someone with adequate knowledge and skill sets a few years ago means they must also have adequate skills to operate in edtech environments today. This is one of those areas that cannot be defined by simply holding a degree in the subject area; the concept of “tech expertise” necessitates a new type of credentialed technology leader. We suggest defining a new role that outlines a strategic technology leader as someone who can build or outsource an array of technical services based upon current projects and future needs of the school.
Aside from establishing new roles and leadership, in this post-pandemic environment, technology pain points will be magnified overall. Technical support teams will have to be substantially bigger as a general rule. The reality is that most schools don’t have a pay grade scale to support hiring an entry-level programmer, but if schools are recruiting from the skilled edtech job market pool, the competition to get qualified candidates is heating up.
Technology is a tool, but not the answer to improving education. It means nothing without the right people, processes, training, and support behind the implementation. If we don’t step up and pay appropriate salaries for appropriate skills, turnover will only become worse when skilled workers look elsewhere for better pay.
So, we stand at a crossroads. We must determine if our future is going to be a patchwork of starts and restarts (the way it currently stands), or if we have an innovative, iterative approach that actually prepares for the future. The latter requires all of us to be open to new ideas, creating a culture that doesn’t fear change. As technology continues to evolve, constant revisions and customizations are necessary just to keep up.
As we think about the redesigning of our schools and educational systems, we need to remember that education, at its core, is a service business. So, what we ultimately need is a better service model. Today’s students are collaborative, flexible, and discerning in their approach to the world of knowledge that is at their fingertips.
We need to craft an educational system that reflects and encourages the best aspects of that reality. We can’t hope and pray for a return to in-person education the way it once was. The desire for flexible, technology-forward education is a part of the fabric of our schools now. And we can’t keep online programs simply as a safety net for the future. We must be intentional and strategic for the way our schools look going forward. We’re entering the age of edupreneurism – a time for innovation and bold initiatives to provide the best learning experiences for students.
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