Jan 03 2008

21st-Century CIOs

Today's leaders need to merge technology with teaching and learning.

The world keeps changing and anyone working in schools knows this. When I was hired as the CIO at Worcester Academy in 2002, terms like podcasting, blogging and wikis were rare. Six years later, our faculty is experimenting with each of these read/write/Web technologies, looking to find new ways to use Web 2.0 to enhance the educational process. In many other schools, tech-savvy faculty are doing the same.

Yet many researchers, education pundits and bloggers would say these tools are being used only sporadically in schools across the United States. Regardless of the size of your school, its geographic location, whether it is public or private, whether it has limited or vast resources, chances are it has failed to realize the full potential of the technology it has.

Why do so many schools struggle with integrating technology in the classroom? One possibility is that we need to redefine the role and nature of technology leadership.

Academic institutions have traditionally looked to technology leaders to maintain and oversee the operation of a school’s computer system. This included making sure that printers were working, e-mail was running, and attendance could be taken. Often, this role was filled by a tech-savvy teacher who found himself neck deep in issues beyond his ability or control. As a result, many schools looked to hire a district CIO who possessed an understanding of the “T” in information technology. However, for education to truly enter the 21st century, an emphasis on CIOs with a detailed understanding of education and a perspective on institutional strategic goals and mission must give way.

Merging Teaching with Technology

Outside of education, IT executives must understand total cost of ownership, security, return on investment, vendors and outsourcing. While the CIO within a school must also understand these critical issues, he needs to recognize that he is in the business of teaching and learning. It is this distinction in our practice that places an enormous emphasis on the CIO to leverage and manage information in order to meet the mission of the school. Information is the lifeblood of a school: Teachers and students use it every day, administrators need to cull it in order to make data-driven decisions and, in an era of accountability, school boards increasingly find themselves relying on it to evaluate a school’s success and progress. CIOs need to embrace and capitalize on that reality, and in doing so to truly put the “I” back in CIO.

The first step should include placing technology leadership squarely at the executive leadership level, reporting within one or two levels of a school’s leader. Second, it is crucial for CIOs to pursue professional development opportunities that focus on curriculum, instruction and assessment, while developing a deeper understanding of the academic program of their school. To remain at the decision-making table, they must strengthen their communication skills. And third, these leaders must be fluent in the language of business and education. Department chairs and curriculum coordinators use a different vocabulary from CFOs and business managers.

Answering the questions below will help you gauge how effective an IT leader you are and identify where gaps remain that hinder you from helping your school meet its teaching and learning goals.

10 Key Questions:

  • Where does the current IT director/CIO sit in the management chain?
  • Are there frequent opportunities to communicate with other top leaders in the organization?
  • How and to what degree are top IT leaders in your institution working beyond IT?
  • Is the technology leadership participating in non-IT decisions?
  • How often does the CIO work directly with faculty and students?
  • Does professional development focus exclusively on IT or does it include pedagogy?
  • What other areas does the IT leadership oversee? Does it include communication, library and media services?
  • Is the CIO allowed to provide strategies on how technology can meet institutional goals?