Technology’s role in complex district decisions: An event recap

Information and educational technology have played a large role in education for some time now, but last year brought to light how much technology there is in schools from behind the scenes to what’s in the hands of stakeholders. 

During this time, my Education Strategist colleagues and I noticed as more technology was being implemented, more and more complex decisions were being discussed. Technology leaders were called into conversations about cybersecurity, professional development, and digital equity. This is as it should be, but not all districts were prepared for these types of conversations so as we continue to learn and grown from the impacts of the past year, CDW and AmplifiedIT brought together a group of NACollab Google Admins together to share their journeys and best practices on a national level.

Question 1: How do you approach implementing new features or systems while balancing stakeholder expectations?

Ryan shared that even before a new feature or tool is implemented, he listens to educator feedback to guide the implementation process. He continually checks in with users too, to iterate and improve overtime as well. This is great for transparency and communication because not all the details or processes always make it from the district office to the classroom.

Susan built on this and explained the importance of establishing and communicating the why from the first phase of the pilot moving into broader adoption. 

Jay also brought up a great point about student data privacy and the influx of tools being used in the classroom and how important it is to communicate with users both to learn what is needed, but also to keep student data safe. This topic is one that I’m seeing discussed more and more, not just because of the importance of data privacy and cyber security, but because purchasing technology isn’t always centralized with IT. As more tools are implemented specific to a grade level or subject, different departments are in charge of purchasing and implementation. I’m glad Jay brought this up because IT leaders should be involved with these conversations, regardless of the final decision maker to optimize the implementation.

Question 2: How do you collaborate with instructional staff to move beyond training to professional development (integrating pedagogy and technology)?

First, an important part of this discussion is differentiating between training, which I refer to as the points and click side of implementing technology, and professional development which is where pedagogy and technology are intertwined to enhance teaching and learning.

 Susan kicked off the discussion for this question by sharing how she works with the Curriculum Coordinators team to start with training for their teacher leaders so they could help facilitate the professional development based on content and grade-level expertise.

Jay brought up a great point about working with community resources (non-profit, companies, vendors, etc.) and ensuring the district is collaborating in such a way that it honors the offered help but doesn’t alter the district’s professional development focus.

Ryan discussed that it’s important to meet educators where they are to help them implement technology in a post remote learning environment. To address the different challenges of implementing PD in the current K12 environment (social distancing, substitute shortages, etc.) Ryan’s district has focused on working with educator professional learning communities to build just in time grassroots professional development. This helps build best practices by teachers for teachers, to help address the different needs of different learners.

This is a great way to shift the professional development landscape to empower teachers to lead both on campus and at the distinct level instead of ideas always starting at the district office.

The question also came up about how districts best communicate information to stakeholders. All panelists agreed that the more places you can post and share the better because you never know where someone is going to look for the information. Jay shared how important it is to be consistent with how you respond to user questions. This helps with establishing clear lines of communication and when you respond to folks using the same resources or websites, it helps stakeholders know where to find the information on their own in the future.

Question 3: How do you leverage the combined efforts of your community, leadership, and IT staff to address digital equity?

This topic is especially close to my heart as it’s been a focus of my work even before I joined CDW. Much like the difference between training and professional development, I differentiate between digital and digital equity. Digital equity requires digital equality; everyone having access to devices, connectivity, and high-quality technology-enhanced learning. However, digital equity takes implementing technology to a higher level because it requires meeting users where they are to provide them what they need to be successful. 

Shannon spoke about how digital equity for her district starts with their district equity policy and the work they’ve done with cross stakeholder groups. She shared that during the last year, educators shared that trackpads weren’t the best tool for kindergarteners so through a pilot they tested using tablets with those students and now they’re implementing them on a broader scale. Now, because of this more discussions are being had about the future of devices for other grade levels.

Ryan shared that for his district, part of the digital equity discussion is developing a technology scope and sequence based on what skills students need to be successful with technology. That scope and sequence can then drive the creation of a new district technology plan that is more flexible and learner-driven.

Question 4: What advice do you have for other districts moving forward in 2021 and beyond as they continue to ensure technology is being implemented safely and equitably to engage all stakeholders?

Ryan said that it’s important to reimagine teaching and learning based on the best practices of the past and positives from the last year through collaborating with educators to have learning drive IT and to best capitalize on currently available funding.

Susan spoke of it being important for IT staff to participate in continuous professional development as well to understand the evolving technology landscape and understand how users are interacting with technology in their classrooms with students.

Jay’s closing remark was to not go alone and reflect on your practices by working with stakeholder groups and being as transparent as possible with what’s working and where you’re iterating.

Special thanks to Jay Strumwasser (Director of Technology, Chief Information Officer, Data Protection Officer, Irvington Union Free School District, New York), Susan Herder (Instructional Technology Coordinator, Mounds View Schools, Minnesota), and Ryan Johnson (Chief Technology Officer, Rocklin Unified School District (CA)) for joining us and sharing their expertise.

If you are interested in learning more about how school districts can glean from the expertise of their IT admins to make decisions that affect the technology experience of administrators, teachers, and students, watch the session recording

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  • Ari Flewelling
    Education Strategist, CDWG

  • About the Author:

    Ari Flewelling is a K–12 education strategist for CDW•G. She specializes in pedagogy-first technology integration to enhance practice and student achievement. Throughout her work, she ensures technology is implemented equitably to provide all students access and opportunity.