Bridging the Educator/IT Gap
Lessons learned from a classroom teacher turned EdTech executive
by Dave Saltmarsh
The education landscape began seeing a shift in how it approached technology in the mid-1990s. A handful of innovate teachers began bringing library-managed media into the classroom, essentially creating what we know as educational technology (ET) today. Over time, more educators saw the value of involving technology in learning. As a result, ET grew in both scope and complexity, which eventually warranted the development of self-defined information technology (IT) departments (Reiser, 2001).
In these early years, IT departments were separated from some organizations’ leadership teams. They were viewed as a separate element and not included at the school’s cabinet level. In time, this changed. While the majority of schools now view IT as an integral piece of achieving success within the organization, they don’t all see the value in having systems/information technology work in close collaboration with educational/instructional technology.
The Consortium of School Networks (CoSN), a national organization for educators involved in all facets of educational technology, continues to champion the inclusion of both IT and ET in schools. They believe both are essential to a district’s technology achievements and should, therefore, be equally important to key stakeholders within schools. This is troublesome because only 48 percent of chief technology officers (CTO) in United States’ K-12 institutions indicated having an educationally focused background (CoSN, 2016).
This reality within the education system creates barriers to creating the optimal environment for students to learn because the success of school technology initiatives depends on inclusive relationships between all stakeholders. (Wagner, Hassanein, & Head, 2008). Additionally, CoSN recommends school technology leaders with the Certified Educational Technology Leader (CETL) designation may be better qualified to support both the technical and institutional goals of an organization (CoSN 2016).
Thanks in part to the efforts of CoSN, many organizations now recognize the value of having both their IT and ET programs in sync. However, there are still organizations that struggle with poor alignment, miscommunications, and at times, opposing priorities. Those that are striving to bridge the ET/IT gap should consider the following:
Obtain the right leadership
The most crucial component to bridging the gap between educators and IT professionals is having leadership in place that has oversight and responsibility for both areas. Someone in this role would not only understand the value of bridging the ET/IT gap, but they would also help the departments proactively work together, which is essential to breaking down silos and achieving bigger goals.
Leaders must create the opportunity for transformational growth. They need to have high, yet reasonable and measured expectations that look at long-term success. They should always keep the goal of bridging the gap in mind and continuously work on making progress, never limiting the potential for their teams to grow. And leaders must embrace diversity and all of the benefits it brings. When all of this is in place, an organization can move toward effectively bridging the gap.
Recognize cultural differences
When considering ways to create more alignment with ET and IT teams, an organization must recognize that one group is very instructional minded, while the other focuses on the specifics of IT. These different mindsets can create a potential clash of priorities between the groups.
There are many ways to improve teachers’ technical skills and acceptance of technology. Increasing teachers’ abilities may improve their willingness to participate, reduce their reliance on IT and promote appreciation for the level of IT service they receive.
Equally important, and perhaps given less attention, is the consideration of IT’s quality of support in the areas of responsiveness, assurance, and empathy. Trevino (2014) suggested that IT staff, particularly those who come from organized computer science programs, may lack adequate empathy for their coworker, which can lead to a condescending and arrogant demeanor. Organizations may not select IT staff who possess appropriate interpersonal skills, have a level of empathy for all stakeholders or accept inclusiveness (Trevino, 2014).
Schools must take a purposeful approach to breaking down barriers and creating a cross-functional environment where both groups can empathize with each other. How? Have the groups share office space. This will force interactions and start the development of important relationships. Also, when educational institutions are thoughtful about the evaluation and development of skills that promote respectful engagement (RE) between technology stakeholders, the potential to increase the productive working relationship between both parties increases (Carmeli, Dutton, & Hardin, 2015).
Identify and address student equity
The educational ecosystem is much larger than the school itself. All of the players in a child’s education (parents, teachers, community, IT staff, school admins) must be aware of the status of digital equity among all students in all of the environments where students learn. If they aren’t, equity will not be achieved, nor will the appropriate actions be put in place to build a more equitable environment.
It’s important to think about the overall educational experience. This includes when children learn in school, at home and out in the community. Schools should consider every environment, and involve the appropriate groups in vital conversations, including the community through forums, which is a key way to secure support for school programming.
Investigating CoSN’s certified educational technology leader (CETL) program and knowledge base for school superintendents is a great way to gain valuable knowledge around what to expect from ET and IT leaders. The CETL evaluates these leaders in the knowledge of informational systems, instruction, regulatory requirements and technology management. Identifying leaders who possess these areas of knowledge will in turn help schools identify and address issues around student equity.
Tie it all together
Bridging the gap between ET and IT isn’t easy. It takes identifying and aligning some key pieces within what traditionally have been very disparate departments. This requires strong, forward-thinking leadership that not only recognizes the cultural differences between the two departments but also understands the importance of finding common ground between them. Only when this is achieved will schools be able to create an environment where both instructional and IT-minded staff can achieve their best work, which ultimately creates the optimal learning experience for students.
Carmeli, A., Dutton, J.E., & Hardin, A.E. (2015) Respect as an engine for new ideas: linking respectful engagement, relational information processing and creativity among employees and teams. Human Relations, 68(6), 1021-1047. Available online at: https://webuser.bus.umich.edu/janedut/High%20Quality%20Connections/Respect%20as%20an%20Engine.pdf
Consortium of School Networks. (2016) 2016 CoSN K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report.
Reiser, R. A., (2001) A history of instructional design and technology: Part I: A history of instructional media. Educational Technology, Research and Development, (49)1, 53. (2001): 53. Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text.
Trevino, J. O. (2014). Emotional and social intelligence: A study of interpersonal, intrapersonal, social awareness, and social facility skills of information technology professionals in higher education (Order No. 3667932). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text.
Wagner, N., Hassanein, K., & Head, M. (2008). Who is responsible for E-learning success in higher education? A stakeholders' analysis. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 11(3) Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text.