The Various Aspects of Educational Technology Support & Integration

There was a time when performing as a Director of Information Technology I realized that educational technology support demands could and should be categorized so as to better prioritize, organize and focus technology staff and efforts. I came up with four distinct categories and a subcategory: 1-the interactive education learning process; 2-the unilateral learning process; 3-technology as a separate content area; and 4-school administration and management. Faculty/staff technology profession development is a subcategory integral of the four categories. These can be readily integrated into the ITIL framework. Note that the focus, while on the institution, does not address the constant back room support required to keep the systems running smoothly.

Faculty/staff technology professional development. I believe that if anything has held back classroom/curriculum technology integration, student self-directed learning and efficient use of school administration and learning management software, it is the insufficiency of technology professional development.  I would encourage establishment of a technology professional development program that took into account the personal situations, learning styles and instructional needs of each teacher/staff member and one that included a teacher/staff/administrator individual learning plan agreement consistent with the school’s mission, goals, objectives and budgetary constraints while maximizing use of internal expertise (technologists and teacher/staff-technology leaders from within teacher learning communities and staff offices). Though research has shown that traditional, workshop-based professional development is ineffective, I would not hesitate to lobby the administration, board and community for additional funding to take advantage of select commercial programs that have a proven track record. A bit of aside gripe coming. Remember when Microsoft Office switched from the traditional menu interface to the “ribbon”? Or when your administrators pushed to change out the teachers’ desktops for laptops? Or when the Board decided to implement a one-to-one computing program in the next school year? Yep, the techies were expected to develop change management skills overnight, design appropriate instructional sessions and execute.

Given finite technology resources, the interactive learning process should be the highest priority. Basically, it’s all about integrating (infusing, if you must) technology into the teaching-learning dynamic within the classroom. Enough has been written and said by others and me in previous blogs. For now, let’s just say that success in this category lies at the confluence of curricular content, constructivist pedagogies, and technology—that the interoperability of these three elements will foster engaged learning and encourage students to accept accountability and responsibility for their own education. Technology support in this category is on ensuring that classroom hardware is available when needed and operates reliably, that required software and apps are installed and functioning properly and that each classroom has reliable access to the network and the Internet. Each classroom should have a primary and alternate method of rapidly reporting issues to the technology department.

More and more emphasis is being placed on the unilateral learning process. This learning process can be defined as one wherein students without the supervision or oversite of, or immediate interaction with, a teacher, school staff member or another student use a digital device while performing learning tasks. Homework is the most common, traditional example. The flipped classroom, one-to-one computing programs and BYOD efforts are placing more emphasis on student self-learning. Whether or not these initiatives are enhancing or will enhance student learning, the tech department is obligated to ensure that the system fully supports the process 24/7. Coming into play here are various compartmentalized servers, interoperative operating system platforms, security and backups, remote access, acceptable use agreements and policies, safety, policies and procedures and I’m sure many more that do not come to mind readily. If students are expected to perform online research, analysis, synthesis, etc. from their own or family computers and the computer or their Internet is not functioning, what then? What if they don’t even have access to a computer outside of school? How does the institution accommodate them? If the school provides them, how does a tech department maintain as many as 2,000 tablets? The questions of expense and support are many and complex. If such programs are effective, I believe that the educational gap between the haves and have-nots will continue to grow.

The third category and priority, technology as a separate subject area, seems to have declined in popularity in K-12 schools. The decline in great part is due to perceived student familiarity with common use hardware and software from early ages. At the same time, STEM is being pushed at all levels. And surprisingly, the following is from the Business Insider, September 11, 2014: “This semester, a record-breaking 818 Harvard students — nearly 12% of the entire college — enrolled in one popular class, reports The Crimson. The course, Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I” (CS50), pulled in 100 more students than the 700 that signed up last fall, making it the single largest class in the course’s 30-year history, as well as the biggest class at Harvard College this semester.” Read more: The course has little to do about hardware, instead focusing on such topics as algorithms, software engineering, and web development.  A reasonable prediction is that the success at the higher education level will shortly begin filtering down to at least the high school level. Support for technology courses is very similar to that for the interactive learning process, with the important exception of the addition of a highly technologically proficient teachers. Teacher content expertise and hands-on, project-based learning rules!

Lastly, on the priority scale is school administration and management support. Why last? Simply, it is not as close to the learning process nor nearly as time-sensitive. However, support is more complex involving uncommon software applications such as Blackbaud’s suite of applications, one or more of the hundreds of school management, bookkeeping/accounting, curriculum management and mapping, lesson planning, grade book, report card and assessment software packages. Keeping these applications repaired and up-to-date along with the incumbent database and database server administration and management  (both back room and user) takes a huge slice of time, efforts, and budget from the tech department’s resources. Not to mention the training required that needs to be scheduled and performed. Sure to take a big chunk out of the tech budget.