To build a truly lasting partnership, IT workers and educators must commit to understanding each other’s point of view.

May 28 2014

IT and Education Are Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

The tech and instructional sides of a school are distinct and unique, but when they work together, they’re an unstoppable combo.

I often hear about the great divide between information technology and educational technology.

IT workers sometimes lock down devices, which makes them difficult to use in the classroom. They do this without thinking about the potential impact on the classroom, worrying only about protecting the devices — even though there are tools that can better manage devices, and the workers could collaborate more closely with instructors to make sure access is appropriate.

On the flip side, sometimes educators want something too fast for an under-resourced IT department to comply. This causes poor service.

The problem with focusing on this divide is that it fails to put students and teachers in the center of the conversation. Some educators may view these two integral parts of our educational system as oil and water, but I think of them more as peanut butter and jelly. They have disparate flavors and consistencies, but put together, they form a perfect union.

Striking a Balance Between Education and IT

Having experience on both the IT and the educator sides, I have a unique perspective. I can’t say that, as a school principal, I was never frustrated with the quality of IT services. However, by that same token, I can't say I was never frustrated with the principals' wants and needs when I was chief technology officer.

In the end, it is all about striking a balance. At the heart of that balance is the need to listen to and appreciate the responsibilities of each side.

If your school does not seat teaching and technology staff at the same table when planning all initiatives, this is a good place to start. Technology is infused into nearly every aspect of our world, and our classrooms are no exception.

In CoSN’s Framework of Essential Skills of the K-12 CTO, being an active participant on the superintendent’s cabinet is item 1A. This illustrates the importance of providing technology a place at the table for that high-level teaching and learning discussion. Even though technology is integral in creating the ideal learning environment, you don’t start planning the technology first. I believe you start with the student and work back toward the technology or solution.

Here are my tips for beginning this important conversation:

  1. Begin with the end in mind. This may sound cliche, but it is true. Sit down as a team and define your future. Be honest about gaps in technology, teaching and learning, and work together to fill those gaps.

  2. Ask a student. You will rarely find a more honest evaluation of your environment than a group of students. I believe talking to students keeps us focused on who our customers are and what they need in IT and education.

  3. Share risks. Work to understand each organization's capabilities and share the responsibility that comes with getting ahead of the curve. It’s okay to make mistakes.

  4. Everyone’s a learner. Provide professional development to both teachers and IT, not just teachers. Many of the latest innovations in ed tech weren’t on schools' radar a few years ago.

  5. Know your costs. We often look closely at capital expenditures, but keep in mind that when IT workers or teachers make a decision, they can raise or lower operating expenditures for either group. Each new service has a new cost, and it’s not always a hard cost. Certain decisions can add detrimental cost to the classroom or IT environment.

These five tips scratch the surface of developing a positive relationship to support the student environment. To build a truly lasting partnership, IT workers and educators must commit to understanding each other’s point of view.

Principals, keep this in mind: Do all your teachers embrace every new teaching method or curriculum change? Technology teams are no different; they too must understand the why.

Technology leaders, keep this in mind: The mission of the school is not to run an email server or a data center. Although IT services are often critical, the mission is to improve student outcomes. We owe it to our students to get on the same page and work toward this goal together.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

This article is part of the Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.


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