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CoSN conference explores what it means to be an ‘audacious leader’

Finding the right balance between what we hold dear and what we must change “is the essence of audacious leadership,” said Michigan State professor Punya Mishra.

Transforming schools from places that deliver traditional, factory-era models of instruction to institutions that support engaging, personalized, and student-centered learning requires bold, audacious leadership—and that was the theme of the Consortium for School Networking’s 2013 annual conference in San Diego last week.

CoSN is a professional association for school district chief technology officers (CTOs), and its 2013 conference explored what it means for educational technology administrators to be “audacious leaders.”

“We need disruptive, innovative leaders to move 21st-century education forward,” said Jean Tower, CoSN board chair, in kicking off the conference March 12. Tower is also director of technology for the Northborough and Southborough Public Schools in Massachusetts.

During the opening general session, Lord David Puttnam—who worked for Great Britain’s Ministry of Education for several years and is now chancellor of the online Open University—said education in the Western world isn’t at a “Sputnik” moment today, referring to the mobilization around science and math instruction that occurred in the 1950s when the Soviets launched a satellite into space.

Instead, “we are at a Pearl Harbor moment,” he said—suggesting the urgency to act is even greater now than in the 1950s.

Lord Puttnam described what he saw during a recent trip to southeast Asia, where the governments of countries such as Vietnam and Thailand are making huge investments in their education systems and have developed a common vision for their future.

He said the sequester that will cut more than a billion dollars from federal education funding in the United States this year would never happen in those countries, because “it’s disruptive to where they want to be in five years.”

“Those southeast Asian countries I’ve been to, they love” the dysfunction in the U.S. political system that’s holding education back, he said. During another session later in the week, he noted: “Napoleon once said, ‘Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake.’ That’s how southeast Asia sees us.”

Anticipating future needs

Punya Mishra, director of the master’s degree program in educational technology at Michigan State University, said there is always tension between “what we hold dear and what we must change.” Finding the right balance between these ideals “is the essence of audacious leadership,” he said.

Mishra added that ed-tech leaders can’t be afraid to “wreck” things in leading change—the system is already “wrecked on some level,” he said. And he said audacious leadership requires looking farther into the future to anticipate needs.

(Next page: What crayons can teach us about planning for the future)

If you research which technologies were just being developed in the first dozen years of the 20th century, Mishra said, you’ll find the crayon among the results. And while crayons certainly have been a useful technology, no one would suggest that the invention of the crayon “was what defined 20th-century education.”

Mishra’s point was that the technologies just now emerging in the first decade and a half of the 21st century are only the tip of the iceberg for what is to come—and educational technology leaders should keep this in mind when developing a 21st-century vision for their schools.

One tool that can help ed-tech leaders anticipate future trends is the K-12 Horizon Report from the New Media Consortium.

Since 2004, NMC has published an annual report that looks at the trends, challenges, and technologies affecting higher education in the next five years; in 2009, the organization began publishing a K-12 version as well. At CoSN’s conference, NMC Senior Director of Communications Samantha Adams Becker previewed the findings of the 2013 report, which will be released later this year.

The top trend affecting schools in 2013 was cited in the 2012 report as well, Becker said: Educational paradigms are shifting to include more online, hybrid, and collaborative models. This presents a key challenge for K-12 leaders—how to address the blending of formal and informal learning opportunities.

The 2013 K-12 Horizon Report also identifies a few new trends this year:

• Openness—of content, data, access, and technologies—is becoming more valued among schools.

• Customized learning increasingly is a goal.

• Social media is changing the way people interact, present information, and communicate.

New challenges for this year include innovating with pedagogy; making ongoing professional development a valued, and integrated, component of the school culture; and keeping education policies and practices from limiting creativity.

For more coverage of this year’s CoSN conference, see:

Seven facts about K-12 ed-tech leaders

Ed-tech leaders brace for online testing

Integrating the ‘four Cs’ into instruction

Technologies that will become part of mainstream education within two to three years include adaptive learning, personal learning networks, electronic publishing, learning analytics, and open content, the report predicts.

Within four to five years, 3D printing, augmented reality, virtual and remote labs, and wearable technologies will see mainstream adoption, it says.

Six keys to ed-tech success

During the closing session on March 14, Chip Kimball brought his unique point of view to the topic of audacious leadership.

Kimball, superintendent of the Singapore American School, has served as both chief technology officer and superintendent of the Lake Washington School District near Seattle. Having filled both roles, Kimball said he has “the privilege of perspective” in understanding what he called the “CTO-superintendent dance.”

Every school district that is successful with technology has a strong CTO-superintendent partnership, Kimball said, adding: “It is absolutely critical, and if you do not have this, your chance of success diminishes rapidly.”

Because this relationship is critical, Kimball advised school district CTOs to “be deliberate about it; … find ways to make time with your superintendent.” Get inside his or her head, Kimball recommended: What are your superintendent’s biggest challenges? How can you help?

Superintendents want big ideas made simple, Kimball said, and they need to have trust, loyalty, and confidence in their CTO. “Speaking truth to power is difficult,” he said, but necessary—so be honest about things like the cost of technology ownership, “even if it doesn’t serve you well.”

Besides a strong CTO-superintendent relationship, here are five other keys to ed-tech success, according to Kimball:

• Having a compelling vision for using technology that is embedded in the culture of the school district.

• Understanding change processes and people.

• Making balanced and strategic investments in infrastructure, systems, and people. (Successful districts don’t neglect any of these three areas, Kimball explained.)

• A willingness to learn from setbacks and failures—both personally and institutionally.

• Making student learning and success the focus of every ed-tech initiative.

New CoSN initiatives

At last year’s CoSN conference, the organization launched a national certification program for school district CTOs. Since then, 62 people have passed the exam to become Certified Education Technology Leaders, Tower said in kicking off this year’s event. More information about this program is available at

At its 2013 conference, CoSN unveiled three new resources for ed-tech leaders: (1) a K-12 IT Leadership Survey, which revealed a number of facts about K-12 ed-tech leaders; (2) an Administrator’s Guide to Mobile Learning; and (3) a new initiative called “Designing Education Networks.”

For this latter resource, CoSN is teaming up with Qualcomm to help ed-tech leaders plan and design broadband and wireless networks to support at least one device per student. A website and other deliverables are expected in June.

“School leaders need high-quality, vendor-neutral resources to enable them to make the best choices around digital learning infrastructure,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. Designing Education Networks “is a much-needed resource that will substantially improve the information available to CIOs/CTOs and other educational leaders.”

Follow eSchool News Editor in Chief Dennis Pierce on Twitter at @eSN_Dennis.

For more coverage of this year’s CoSN conference, see:

Seven facts about K-12 ed-tech leaders

Ed-tech leaders brace for online testing

Integrating the ‘four Cs’ into instruction

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