Will this year be different?

Will this year be different?

Summary: Every year, most of us who spend time in Ed Tech-land come back from a summer spent fixing, upgrading, enhancing, and developing, excited for the possibilities of a new year. Without students and teachers around, we might have had a chance to work and experiment unfettered, discovering a new open source tool that could be great for classroom use or a new vendor whose latest product was worth shuffling budgets if we could just get their tools into students' hands.

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Every year, most of us who spend time in Ed Tech-land come back from a summer spent fixing, upgrading, enhancing, and developing, excited for the possibilities of a new year. Without students and teachers around, we might have had a chance to work and experiment unfettered, discovering a new open source tool that could be great for classroom use or a new vendor whose latest product was worth shuffling budgets if we could just get their tools into students' hands.

Maybe you installed some new interactive whiteboards and can't wait to train teachers on how to use them or present ideas on lessons that integrate the new boards. Maybe you upgraded aging Windows PCs, struggling under last year's Vista migration gone awry, to Ubuntu, improving their performance and usability. Maybe you finally got invited to an IEP meeting that revolved around assistive technology, instead of just being handed a document and purchase orders the first day of school. At any rate, it's pretty rare for school tech staff to hit the first day without some degree of excitement.

And then, all too often, we get wrapped up in the daily brushfires and crazy results of chronic understaffing and all that vim and vigor tend to take a back seat to just keeping things running. This week, I'm finishing up my last bits of consulting for my old school district before heading off into the great beyond for good. Looking at the work that my replacement (a remarkably talented woman who has spun up faster than could reasonably be expected) and I have been hauling tail to complete, it's obvious that it would take both of us working full-time to accomplish everything that should be accomplished from both technical and educational perspectives.

There aren't many school districts with that sort of budget, though, leaving countless school IT staff wondering if maybe, just maybe, this year might be different. How could it be, when even double the staff would struggle to keep up with the demands of infrastructure, tech support, education, training, reporting, management, software, and hardware?

The only way it will ever be different is if non-technical staff and administrators are empowered to do more. If principals lead the educational technology initiatives in their schools, teachers are trained in basic technology skills, champion users help bring new technologies to the classroom, and parent volunteers are encouraged and welcomed into school communities, then the role of technical staff can be elevated from one-armed-paper-hangers-in-a-windstorm to shepherds, advisors, visionaries, and the last line of defense in dealing with (and preventing) more serious technical problems.

This won't be easy. In some cases, it will be impossible. However, given the right strength of leadership, determination, and buy-in from key staff and administrators, schools may actually save money and will certainly see much higher utilization of technological resources. It's all too easy for tech staff to simply be the "man behind the curtain", busy, irritable, and absorbed in whatever voodoo it is that we do (and, to many users, what we do is voodoo). Handing out knowledge and power like candy is one way to put your job in jeopardy when it comes time for budget cuts. Yet not taking that risk means that schools will never make it to the next level of technology integration and utilization.

Topics: Ubuntu, Open Source, IT Employment, PCs, Windows

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Well said

    My old tech director/manager was a control freak. She thought she was helping us by allowing staff to use Office and IE6 and no streaming video. The attitude was "I have picked these for you to protect my network. You have to work within my constraints. You teachers figure out what to do with this stuff, I have hardware stuff to do." If tech directors asked, "What can I help you do?", they might get more people stepping up to leadership roles.
    rpaula978