It’s hard to argue against having better and more technology in schools. An increasingly high-tech world where students communicate largely on digital devices means educators can easily be left behind.
A harsh lesson emerged in Los Angeles last month, making it clear that it’s not just enough to have iPads in school these days.
As LAUSD gears up to try again, education technology experts say the district’s experience underscores the changing demands of chief technology experts – technicians who must figure out how to keep them from being hacked, but also must understand how using devices enhances teaching and learning.
The failure of Los Angeles Unified School District’s ambitious plan opened an array of questions that school districts across the U.S. are now starting to face, and highlighted the need for better trained technology leaders.
School districts now need someone who can not only handle the technical upkeep of these gadgets but also understand how they should be used in the classroom, according to a recent Education Week webinar.
“An effective CTO [chief technology officer] has to have a firm understanding of hardware, software, curriculum, instruction…budgeting, forecasting and a whole lot more,” said Jeremy Shorr, director of education technology and innovative curriculum for Mentor Public Schools in Ohio.
To help school officials gain such skills, the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN), a nonprofit organization that helps schools integrate technology, came up with a certification exam based off a framework of 10 essential skills it believes education technology leaders need to have, which include business management and understanding how teaching works.
“The typical way that these sort of positions have been recruited in the past is — if you look at job descriptions that describe technical certifications — they want people who know Microsoft or Cisco,” Keith Krueger, CoSN’s CEO said during the webinar. “[CoSN’s certification] is intended to be a leadership certification.”
Shorr of Ohio is one of nearly 100 individuals who have earned the three-year certification by taking CoSN’s Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL) exam for a fee of a few hundred dollars.
Shorr said many educators believe that information technology and teaching are separate realms.
That comes as no surprise. About half of U.S. school districts still don’t have a full-time education technology leadership position, though, according to a 2009 report by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Nearly 20 percent of large school districts do not have a chief technology or innovation officer, the NCES found.
Krueger says that is changing, and that more school districts are taking the role seriously. A 2013 CoSN survey found that 43 percent of education technology leaders go by the term ‘chief technology officer,’ ‘chief innovation officer’ or something equivalent in 2013. Some 58 percent now directly report to a superintendent.
Typically, there has been no one way to become a CTO. Shorr said he has found that many come from IT repair backgrounds or the private sector while others were the only technologically-savvy teachers at their school.
Webinar presenters also discussed challenges technology officers face, such as small budgets for equipment and the discrepancy between students who have access to technology and those who do not.
Krueger suggested both these problems can be solved by allowing students to bring in their own devices while the district equips students who do not.
Even so, chief technology officers may face other challenges. For example, teachers and administrators may see them as outsiders and resent their advice.
Shorr said CTO’s need to visit classrooms not to merely observe how technology is being used, but to participate in activities to erase this mistrust.
They maybe able to help some teachers who have trouble using technology and attempt to excuse themselves by saying “I’m just not a technology person,” Shorr said.“I said to a math teacher who said that to me the other day, ‘What do you say to a student who says ‘I’m just not a math person?’ Shorr recalled. “It’s just not an acceptable answer.”