CoSN Chairman Tom Ryan on the challenges to integrate IT and instruction

Tom Ryan sees the evolution of technology in education from several different perspectives, and what he sees gives him an appreciation for the challenges school CIOs face.

Ryan, who served as CIO of Albuquerque Public Schools in New Mexico for a dozen years, now leads IT strategy at Santa Fe Public Schools, heads a nonprofit specializing in the use of digital learning tools and is the current chairman of the Consortium for School Networking.

Ryan spoke with EdScoop at CoSN’s annual conference earlier this month about some of the ways the organization is trying to help schools CIOs.

“A few years ago, the challenge was how do we get enough money to pay for devices,” whereas today, the challenge is more about how to integrate devices and instructional programs, he said.

“We’re not leveraging the combination of those into one plan, but [still pursuing] two separate plans,” he said. “So the struggle is still this instructional-technology kind of divide we’re trying to overcome across the country — large schools and small schools,” he said.

Another challenge for schools, and their CIOs, is how to keep up with cybersecurity demands.

“Years ago, we had these closed networks and we didn’t have as much concern … as we do now with phishing attacks, [distributed denial of service] attacks and some of the other attacks that are happening to the system, both external and internal. We’ve had to really up our game,” he said.

He pointed to a recently-released cybersecurity toolkit for school districts developed by CoSN, that helps CIOs know, “What do I need to do? What do I need to look for? And who’s already doing it well.’”

View more of EdScoop’s interviews with innovative school CIOs.

Ryan also noted the difficulties educators continue to face transitioning to cloud-based technologies. Software-as-a-service platforms provide “a different way of computing and interacting with people,” he said.

“It’s a whole different world going out to collaborative documents, sharing and figuring out a different way of having meetings,” he said. “As opposed to sending an attachment back and forth, you link to a document that’s out on the cloud. It’s a culture shift. Our kids already get it, because of the gaming. But educators still tend to think of the world under the concept that everything is on my device, and they lose the power of that collaborative workspace and the networking that can happen.”

Ryan said he’s seen first hand the value CoSN offers to CIOs like himself. It goes beyond the ongoing development of resources for school CIOs, he said. Rather it’s the way organization facilitates a peer review process that looks at how IT links with instruction, finance and human resources and provides “insights and benchmarks” on what other schools are doing.