Ensuring a Smooth Digital Transition in Education

Greg DeYoung, CIO, Blue Valley Schools
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Greg DeYoung, CIO, Blue Valley Schools

One could argue that we have been integrating technology in education for a very long time. I recently had a conversation with a colleague about this and we both brainstormed a number of areas where one innovative technology was introduced, taking the place of or enhancing a previous practice.

"We need to ensure that teaching and learning lead this digital shift first rather than technology leading from the beginning"

For me personally, I remember growing up using the first early personal computers in school. We had a small lab of Radio Shack TRS III model 80’s and the Apple II’s that stored BASIC computer programs on a tape cassette deck connected to the computer. While the use of this new technology certainly enhanced my education in a way I had not experienced before, it was not the use of computers themselves that allowed me to succeed. My success really started in the classroom with great math teachers who inspired me to use those computers to write BASIC code to solve problems. This enabled me to gain critical thinking skills and improve my problem solving skills. Since then, each new step along the technology pathway has introduced a different way to reach students through technology.

Ultimately, it is not the what, but the how that makes a difference. How can we reach kids? How can we better prepare them for the future in the workplace? What new opportunities do we have to teach problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, communication skills, persistence and grit? To achieve this, I would argue that today, we should be more focused than ever before on the overall digital transformation of our schools and not just the introduction of new technology.

Today’s K-12 CIOs are increasingly becoming the keepers of all things digital in schools, as well as the facilitators of technological innovation within teaching and learning environments. Years ago, when I first started my career in technology, the focus of many CIOs was firmly grounded in the technology operations of the organization how fast a system was and how much storage we had. While CIOs of today cannot forget that aspect of the role, it is a functional requirement to be delegated. The true focus of today’s CIOs is on the organization itself and how technology can enable the organization to become more agile, open the doors to new innovation not possible without digitization, and help position schools and students to continue to prosper in the future.

There is a tectonic shift occurring in education, particularly where it intersects with technology. It is happening in the classroom, in how decisions are made, how the organization operates and how we communicate. We, as CIOs, need to make sure we have alignment between how we invest in and leverage technology to support the digital shift in education.

We need to ensure that teaching and learning lead this digital shift first rather than technology leading from the beginning. Do not get me wrong, the capabilities of technology will always guide and set parameters around how technology is integrated. However, we should not lead with technology in search of a problem to solve. Many schools spend a lot of time on devices and technology in the classroom and access to technology, and very little time up front on how that technology will be used differently with changes in instruction in that classroom.

We need to shift to how we engage students with technology and fundamentally change instruction. Too many times I see schools take a “build it and they will come” mentality to educational technology, that the shiniest and coolest technology put into the hands of students and teachers will inherently change education by itself. In education, the right integration of technology balanced with a digital shift in instructional practices, and coupled with good teacher development and support, will accelerate and enhance student learning and achievement. We need to spend more time today developing strategies on how we invest our time and resources into the digital transformation of our schools.

This is the fundamental change in the services that technology provides and how those services are delivered to stakeholders. These changes bring on a long list of challenges and opportunities for us as K-12 CIOs. In the age of declining budgets and increasing amounts of change, we must ask ourselves how can we better serve the core mission of our schools and align our services and systems to serve that core mission. Should we move our focus more towards delivering digital instruction, content and tools to our students? Are those services that we deliver hosted internally or outsourced to vendors and third party providers? How do we ensure our vendors can interoperate and exchange information with other vendors that provide us content, services and systems? How do we provide access to these digital services and systems anywhere on any device? How do we ensure that our strategies are scalable and sustainable? How do we connect all of these systems and user experiences into a “single pane of glass” view to make it easy for users to engage with us and succeed?

To be successful as a K-12 CIO requires a different set of skills and approaches to challenges than in years past. We must develop strategies and manage our project portfolio with a holistic ecosystem view of services, content and systems and how they all connect, support and interact with one another.

With that ecosystem view, we come to a broader view on student learning and outcomes a very big next step. This will enable the next big shift in how we use data, algorithms and intelligent systems to further engage students, support teachers and personalize education inside and outside the classroom. This is the next fundamental digital shift in how instruction is augmented, modified, and in the end, redefined by the future capabilities of technology. Hang on for a fun ride; the next chapter in this story is just starting.

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