Fostering better communication between superintendents and chief technology officers and using technology as a tool to improve student learning were among the focal points Tuesday as tech-savvy educators converged on Washington to kick off the Consortium for School Networking’s (CoSN’s) 10th Annual K-12 Networking Conference.

Staying true to its theme “Beyond Wires and Boxes: Using Technology for Transformation,” the meeting set to nudge the national conversation about educational technology away from access and toward how technology can be used to help schools meet the evolving demands of the 21st Century–from improving accountability and student achievement in line with the No Child Left Behind Act to training more highly-qualified teachers and preparing students for success in tomorrow’s technology-driven workforce.

Implored by CoSN Chairman Bob Moore to use technology “creatively and fully” to improve education, hundreds of district, state, and national educational technology leaders set out on the opening day of this two-day event to discuss strategies for effective technology use and to meet with their peers and colleagues in efforts to bring new ideas home to their districts.

But before technology can have its intended impact, district leaders contend schools must find a way to open up the lines of communication between superintendents and school technology staff. Gone, they say, are the days when information technology (IT) operated as an independent entity. As technology becomes more engrained in the fabric of everyday teaching and learning, so too must the nation’s district technology coordinators play a more active role in helping districts achieve their educational goals.

That has been the case at the Calcasieu Parish Schools in Louisiana, where Superintendent Jude Theriot credits much of his district’s success with technology to the accessibility of his IT staff, and especially the district’s technology coordinator, whom he says he works with closely to develop new ideas.

Speaking as part of a morning session focused on building stronger ties between district leaders, Theriot trumpeted technology as “a thread that runs through every department.”

A longtime advocate of educational technology, he challenged district technology coordinators and chief information officers alike to approach their superintendents with honesty and forthrightness, while dually encouraging district leaders to keep an open mind–and an open door. “Technology people need to know the boss and they need to know the boss as well as they know the technology,” explained Theriot, adding that “a superintendent is only as good as the information [he or she] has.”

His technology coordinator agrees.

“A good leader needs to understand the role of technology,” over the nuts and bolts of the various solutions, noted Calcasieu’s ed-tech guru Sheryl Abshire.

If technology is to have its intended impact, she explained, chief information officers must reach out to superintendents in efforts to help shape and promote the overall vision for ed tech throughout the district.

Furthermore, Theriot said, it’s important that superintendents lead by example. Rather than just praise the use of technology as a cure-all for the district’s problems–which it’s not–he said, superintendents need to promote technology by using it in the course of their day-to-day duties.

“I’m not going to ask somebody to use something that I wouldn’t use,” said Theriot in an interview with reporters. “You send a strong message when you’re seen using what you say is important.”

Joining in the conversation, Superintendent Bill McNeal of the Wake County Public Schools–one of the largest and fastest growing districts in North Carolina with more than 114,000 students–encouraged districts to set their sights high when it comes to the use of technology and its ability to transform learning.

“Good is the enemy of best,” warned McNeal, who encouraged his colleagues to continually search for new applications and ideas that will help students and teachers improve. With the goal of having at least 90 percent of its students achieving above grade level by 2008, this traditionally high-performing school district has sought to integrate technology as a means to bolster student performance across the board.

“Technology won’t make students smarter,” noted Wake’s Chief Technology Officer Bev White. But it can help teachers do a more effective job of reaching kids, she said.

Of course, technology isn’t likely to get anywhere unless schools can promote the appropriate stakeholder buy-in. That includes providing the necessary training to utilize various solutions effectively as well as the willing participation of both teachers and parents.

One of the real challenges, said White, is convincing parents and teachers that change is in the students’ best interests.

To do that, she explained, the district must convince its constituents as well as its employees of the long-term benefits of technology.

“It’s not about technology for technology’s sake,” explained McNeal. “It’s about improving student outcomes by the effective use of technology–and it takes a team and it takes a conversation.”

Acting on the theme of better communication, education leaders and their school technology counterparts emerged from the morning’s plenary session with much to discuss over the course of the next couple of days.

To learn what your colleagues had to say and read more about how technology is being used to transform learning across the country, check back with eSchool News throughout the duration of the CoSN conference for live updates as well as fresh perspectives from our conference correspondents.

Links:

The Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

eSN Conference Information Center
http://www.eschoolnews.com/cic/