Administrators Don’t Have Time to Keep Up with Ed Tech

adsit80By John Adsit
Editor, Curriculum & Instruction

[Note: This article was first posted as a comment by John Adsit on “The Bright New Face of Educational Leadership – Eric Sheninger” on 10 August 2010. -js]

I think there is a reason that not many administrators become leaders in the use of technology in education – they don’t have time to keep up with the dizzying changes that are taking place in that area.

When I was first involved with technology while in the instructional services division of my school district, I was often jokingly referred to as “our computer geek.” What a laugh! I was an instructional theory specialist who was forced down a road to the use of technology through a series of accidents in my assignments. I saw the potential of online education and tried to be a leader in having that potential realized, but I was no technology geek, and I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge when put in the presence of those who really knew how this stuff worked.

Even today I am more of an instructor who tries to figure out how to use technology effectively than someone on the cutting edge of technology. I do not tweet. When I first learned of Twitter and how much time my colleagues were devoting to it, I thought, How on Earth do they get anything done? I am sometimes overwhelmed by the knowledge my colleagues on ETCJ demonstrate – and I am envious.

Despite this, I was, and I still am, eons ahead of most leaders I have met in the school systems. Back when I tried to talk about the potential of online education to the district leaders, you could see their eyes glaze over immediately, and I knew not a word I was saying was getting through. People of my age may remember the old commercials for Colgate, in which Gardol, the “invisible shield,” protected one’s teeth from decay. It was like that – as soon as technology was mentioned, the Gardol invisible shield protected them from unwanted knowledge.

When our school district years ago first went to using an email system as the primary means of district-wide communication, we used a First Class system, which meant that we could see when our messages were received and what happened to them. We, in central administration, were told that the only way we could communicate with principals was via this system.

I was placed in charge of an innovative project that required me to communicate with all the teachers in the school district, and I was required to do this by sending the information to the principals via email for distribution. Since I was able to see what happened to my messages, I could see that one third of the 150 principals in the district never opened any of them.

We used to joke that if you absolutely needed to communicate with a principal, you had to follow these steps:

  1. Send an email.
  2. Send a follow up email.
  3. Schedule a meeting with the principal so that you could show him or her how to open the email.
  4. While you are there, print out a copy of that email for reading.

Of course, that was just over a decade ago so I am sure things have changed since then, but I am also sure the overall concept holds true. School leaders frequently have so many items on their plate requiring so much time that they have to create a filter to eliminate that which is not needed, and all too often technology is caught in that filter.

Furthermore, too many rely on someone they have identified as a technologist to tell them what to think, and too often that technologist is giving unreliable information. Unable to tell that what they are sharing is not reliable because they lack the competence to judge it, they follow that unreliable advice blindly.

I don’t have the energy or commitment or time to be on the forefront of the rapid changes in technology, and I suspect that if someone like me, someone who is supposed to be a leader in this area, feels that way, then I am pretty sure that quite a few administrators, with far, far less motivation than I, feel that way as well. Without the knowledge it takes to see the potential for technology to change education, they cannot act as leaders for those changes.

One Response

  1. John makes several excellent points. The one that resonates with me focuses on technologists, whatever they are. Because I began working with computers when they used vacuum tubes and have been constantly doing so since, I used to be really up on computer technology. The field has expanded horizontally to the point where no one can know everything anymore. An example: I just discovered that the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader has two screens, one with e-ink and one color LCD.

    Because we have no standards or certificates for technologists, anyone could be one. One school I worked with had an ex-firefighter as one. He took a Cisco course (really indoctrination) and so was an “expert technologist”.

    Because no technologist can know everything and because many are just barely able to do their support jobs, principals should not be relying on them for crucial advice on using technology in education. What’s the solution? They certainly cannot rely on vendors. As John so clearly enunciates, they can’t do it by themselves. You can hardly expect the teachers to understand technology at the depth required for the many decisions.

    I really don’t have an answer. In larger districts, the district has experts available to principals and makes sure that these experts really are expert. As you look at smaller districts, that level of support simply cannot be maintained these days.

    This entire subject resonates with me because I’ve lived in this environment for over ten years. In the beginning, I was showing principals, superintendents, and their staffs one of the first cloud computing applications and, possibly, the first in student learning. It also made some pedagogical advances. Almost no one understood what we were doing and how it could transform education to have a completely web-delivered learning application that stored all student results for review. Occasionally, someone would recognize that we were saving lots of technician time. I could go on with a litany of things that weren’t recognized, sometimes even when we carefully explained them.

    I’m sure that many schools have the same problems today. Is the iPad really a new wave in education? Will IWBs transform classrooms? Can smart phones be used in classrooms to improve learning, or will they add to distractions? Should more classes be using blended learning? Should social media be injected into our schools, or will it hinder learning important content? You get the idea.

    You see why John’s comments are so important. We’re entering a period of extreme change. The leaders should take the lead but don’t have the expertise and may not even have access to it. Something must be done. If only we weren’t so untrusting of government, the states and federal governments could provide useful guidance.

    I’d like to see the ideas that others have for solving the technology expertise problem for all schools.

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