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13 modern challenges today’s school tech leaders face

This year’s challenges include ‘fractured leadership’ and ‘perceived value’

challenges-technology-leaderIt’s not always about funding, though that’s still a major challenge for the modern school technology leader. A recent forum held for chief technology officers (CTOs) covered a wide range of 21st-century challenges, including one few saw coming: If the technology works “too” well, are tech leaders still valued?

During the forum held by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), CoSN brought together district-level technology directors to talk about “building a ‘Tech Department Dream Team,’ through a combination of panel presentation and table discussions.” Attendees explored the evolving roles and the expanded skill set of today’s CTO.

In the context of what skills are needed and how roles change, many CTOs began by listing the now-common challenges faced in schools and districts across the country.

(Challenges faced by today’s technology leader)

And while funding is still included in the list, many challenges are new and developed due to new policies, mandates, and changing cultures.

“As the technology world moves from centralized, tightly controlled and localized to distributed, open, and cloud-based, district leaders face a growing number of challenges,” according to CoSN.

Challenges identified by forum panelists and participants include [in no particular order]:

1. Equity: Due to BYOD policies and solutions, student-owned technology has raised new worries about the digital divide. “This is compounded by the disparity between those families with broadband internet service at home and those with no connectivity at all,” notes the report.

2. Bandwidth and Infrastructure: Requirements for 1:1 initiatives, BYOD policies, online assessments, and other initiatives are asking for more bandwidth and setup than ever before.

3. Funding: “Typically, technology expenditures geared to the business of running a schools or district take priority over the instructional uses that are key to a 21st century education,” says the report.

4. Community Support: According to panelists, it’s hard to make the case for education technology to “teachers who fear it will jeopardize their jobs, parents who remember school before the days of computing, and community members who think funds might be better spent elsewhere.”

5. Scale: Growing community populations, as well as scaling up effectively from small pilot programs to full-fledged deployments, require massive infrastructure changes, as well as more professional development (PD).

6. Changing Mindsets: One of the newer, yet most “persistent” challenges faced by technology leaders, is how to keep the focus on learning rather than the device or the network. “CTOs and other technology specialists need to learn how to see things through the eyes of teachers and students and work closely with curriculum leaders to make decisions that support the educational vision of the district,” explains the report.

7. PD: As mindsets change, so does the definition of what makes effective PD, the report notes. Panelists agreed that the challenge is helping teachers “see that the power of technology goes far beyond teaching the same way with some new tools added: learning new approaches to pedagogy requires sustained PD and ongoing support from experts who understand the classroom and the change process.”

(More challenges)

8. Training and Support for Technology Specialists: With a lot of focus on teachers, PD for technology staff is often overlooked. However, today’s K-12 IT leaders are being asked to have a “far broader vision than in years past and acquire a multitude of new skills,” says CoSN. Developing these skills requires PD opportunities.

9. High-Stakes Testing: With testing moving online, there is fear that valuable technology resources will be diverted from instruction to assessment, and that the new Common Core State Standards assessments might now work well on district-owned or BYOD devices, said forum attendees.

10. Fractured Leadership: Several participants cited “lack of vision” from district leaders and many discussed “fragmentation and isolation” as issues for concern. “Although tech leaders are increasingly being integrated into top-level decision-making, it is still a challenge to insure that all parties sit down at the table together, on a regular basis to plan for the ways in which technology will be deployed to support education,” notes the report.

11. Technical Challenges: A rapid increase in student- and teacher-owned mobile devices on the school networks and the evolving system requirements of online assessments add new complications, said attendees. “Beyond that, the rapid cycle of change means that by the time purchasing decisions are made and users are trained in the use of new tools, the technology might very well be out of date,” said panelists.

12. Security: Though most technology leaders say it’s time to “open up, rather than lock down,” digital tools, this typically involves a “delicate balancing act” because it is also necessary to comply with legal requirements and maintain security in order to keep students safe and technology protected from hackers, viruses, and other breaches.

13. Perceived Value: “Ironically,” says the report, “if technology leaders do a good job, the technology becomes increasingly seamless and invisible, which can cause it to be overlooked as a necessary expenditure. As [some attendees] put it, ‘Personalization gives some people the feeling that IT is not needed. If they have access to the tools they like and things are working, they forget all that goes into ensuring that technology continues to work smoothly in the background.’”

For more information on how the technology landscape in schools has changed, as well as the many solutions to the challenges listed, be sure to download CoSN’s report (CTO forum report are available to CoSN members only or for a fee).

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