School CTOs offer advice on their ever-changing roles

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PHILADELPHIA — School IT directors can’t just focus on network security — they have to think about how best to use digital tools to help students learn, said a panel of tech educators Monday.

Chief technology officers “can no longer lock down the network and allow security to trump instruction,” Jeremy Shorr, director of innovation at Mentor Public Schools in Ohio, said during a panel at ISTE, a gathering of educators and technology experts.

Susan Bearden, IT director of Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, Florida, and a prolific education blogger and tweeter, said the best tool tech directors have at their fingertips is Twitter.

“It’s not only important that we stay current with trends in our industry, but that we engage in conversations with people with job roles that are not our own,” she said. “If you’re a tech director and you want to learn something from a teacher’s perspective, interacting with educators on Twitter is one of the best ways to do it.”

Others on the panel encouraged CTOs to think creatively, collaborate with principals and superintendents, and, perhaps most importantly, take risks.

“As edtech directors, we say no way too much,” said Matthew Miller, superintendent of Mentor Public Schools. “It’s not about saying yes to everything, but I think you realize the power of technology and what it can do for our kids. We have to embrace the risk-takers in our schools who want to try new things, and give them the freedom to do so.”

Other tips included:

  • Have a good relationship with your tech support staff.
  • Have patience with veteran teachers who may not be up to date on the new programs.
  • Don’t believe everything sales reps say about flashy new devices.
  • Develop robust professional development programs for teachers before rolling out new devices.

“Giving students devices is not what we need to do,” said Miller, adding that school tech executives must carefully consider the network’s infrastructure and select appropriate apps. “We need to invest in professional development for staff and give them time to try new things.”

Some said not to spend so much time showing teachers how the digital tool or device actually works.

“A lot of time is left teaching to the tool,” said David Malone, technology specialist for San Francisco Unified School District. “I’m trying to frontload with video, ‘here’s how tool works,’ and then have an in-depth conversation about what to do with the tool as opposed to how it works.”

The CTOs also said that technology directors should reach out to other schools to understand different learning models — but cautioned against replicating them.

“A lot of teachers are in different situations,” edtech entrepreneur Brad Waid said. “Find out what the teachers want to use and how they’re going to incorporate it into the classroom.”

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