Jun 30 2016

What Is a Bimodal IT Program?

An expert on education technology offers her advice for a more flexible, collaborative IT program.

K–12 IT leaders, particularly those accustomed to classic IT practices, feel increasing pressure to implement new technology solutions at an uncomfortable pace. How can they be responsive to their customers’ pace of change while maintaining stable and sustainable services?

Visit any K–12 conference vendor floor. Sales representatives offer attractive solutions that promise to solve real educational problems. Many provide solutions to those problems, but some do not.

Educators know that good education is much more than one program that targets a specific problem, but they want to implement quick solutions. Shadow IT looms around every corner, creating additional complexity and risky environments that impede the coherent and safe collection of performance data to support informed response to intervention (RTI), formative assessment and other support.

IT teams have to be responsive to their district’s immediate instructional needs, perhaps even find temporary solutions or work-arounds, while using a systems approach to create a digital ecosystem that aligns with the district strategy — that is, a collection of interoperable systems that provide a coherent and user-friendly environment in which student performance data can be collected safely and used to analyze results and identify methods that work best for each student.

Gartner addresses this challenge in “Bimodal IT: How to Be Digitally Agile Without Making a Mess.” The research firm recommends the use of two simultaneous and distinct approaches to IT work: Mode 1, which is a traditional, step-by-step approach, centered on efficiency and predictability; and Mode 2, which is focused on agility and flexibility, defined by an exploratory attitude. The following examples will show the value in each.

A First Bimodal Approach

Houston Independent School District needed to implement Google Apps for Education (GAFE) to ensure safe use of Google in the classroom, and bimodal IT helped the district manage the implementation. The pilot was managed by a Mode 1 group. The district introduced GAFE to a small number of schools, and a Mode 2 group supported customers onsite. These two teams working together were able to adjust quickly to user feedback without disrupting other daily IT processes. For example, one of the pilot schools was having difficulty getting students logged in to their devices. The IT team was able to assess requirements to support the new devices using the district’s GAFE domain and quickly determine systemic compatibility issues. The discovery process was done by a small Mode 2 team. Analysis and implementation took less than a week to perform. Compatibilities were remedied and catalogued for future reference.

The Flexible Approach

In 2013, Houston ISD initiated a tiered implementation of a one-to-one program (PowerUp) in all its high schools. Seven district departments collaborated to design the program.

To ensure that students could take their devices home, the implementation team decided to lock the devices. This action prevented program downloads as a mechanism to keep students, their data and devices safe, no matter where they were. As a result, students could not download or install software.

The main goal of the program was to shift from a teacher-centered environment to a learner-centered one. To promote this shift, educational technology coaches introduced teachers to a number of online applications to facilitate more active and participatory learning, thus promoting the culture shift. Teachers adopted technology at a more aggressive pace than expected, and they soon requested the ability to download a variety of additional software programs onto student computers.

The district educational technology and IT architecture teams designed and implemented a process through which teacher teams could post software requests. The ed tech team remained in close contact with teachers to develop short-term fixes, while IT worked on a solution.

The IT department created a Software Center, where the district could upload approved “packaged” software and assign permissions to download the programs only to devices of students enrolled in the particular courses for which the software was purchased. Teachers worked with the curriculum and educational technology team to select up to three programs for each course. This provided enough variety for different teachers, but not so much that they could not manage the packaging.

Working Together

These stories illustrate how two distinct ways of operating can support the current innovative environment in K–12 education. One mode is led by a traditional, step-by-step enterprise IT team that analyzes, proposes and implements long-term solutions. The other is led by a small, flexible and adaptable team that finds instant work-arounds and works in close contact with the customer.

Houston ISD’s IT department now is known for its support of the educational mission of the district. As a trusted partner, IT is able to promote digital literacy and introduce innovative programs. The team is able to identify shadow IT implementations and address problems in partnership with the schools. It is in the process of implementing procurement procedures that ensure IT participation in all processes that include technology components.

Making the Move to Bimodal IT

Gartner encourages organizations to start with one narrowly focused bimodal project. An ideal project requires capacity to adapt, and the ability to find new solutions, manage uncertainty, and learn through trial and error. In short, districts should try bimodal IT when projects need to meet changing requirements quickly and require constant communication and consultation with the customer. A select group of school leaders and teachers should work with IT to provide constant feedback for improvement. Through this project-focused approach, the IT team will learn to navigate bimodal IT, elicit agile solutions while working on more permanent ones and practice continuous and open communication with stakeholders.

Bimodal IT is future-savvy. In the future, teachers will become increasingly comfortable consumers and managers of their technology, and IT departments will need to become increasingly agile, flexible, collaborative and focused on customer initiatives. Success factors and funding will reside outside of IT, and IT leaders will have to lead through influence, not control.

IT leaders and their teams will need to develop communication skills to address diverse stakeholders to articulate the impact of proposed technology solutions instead of bits and bytes.

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