Walking the Tightrope of Education With your IT Team

On July 5th, 2016, two German men, Lukas Irmler and Reinhard Kleindl, made a tightrope walk together across Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls. Tightrope walking is hard enough alone, but when done in pairs, the challenge is multiplied many times over.

Personalizing learning in our schools through the use of technology is a tightrope walk in many ways and the teacher and administrator are not making the walk alone. If we are to be successful, we need to make the crossing with the Technology team in our district. I’ve been privileged to see crossings from zero technology to embedded technology in many districts and I have seen teams of tightrope walkers work together and some of them work against one another. Sometimes it seems like the IT professionals and teachers are trying to cross in opposite directions. At other times it seems like they are trying to knock one another off. However, when they get in rhythm, success is just a few scary steps away. Here are a few key points to remember on your tightrope walk.

  1. Both walkers have to keep their eyes focused on the same goal. Teachers and administrators need to agree on why we are bringing more technology into the personalized learning environment. Both parties need to have a laser-like focus on the education of students. The purpose of the network is for education. The reason that teachers exist is to guide students into deeper learning opportunities. The reason that IT exists is to facilitate opportunities for learning. If IT believes that their sole purpose is to protect the network, the easiest way to do so is by blocking all resources from the students. On the other hand, if the network gets compromised, it may be worthless to anyone trying to use it.

  2. Both walkers have to watch one another. A casual observer might be tempted to think that the rope on which they are walking is as steady as the sidewalk where they are standing, but every step a person takes on that rope sends movement throughout the rope. Therefore, the two walkers need to get in rhythm. As one walker moves forward, the other needs to move forward. Neither of them can afford to move out in advance too quickly. If a teacher decides to dump all of the paper curriculum, and go wholly online, they need to rely on the technology to be available and adequate. On the other hand, if IT decides to add new features to the network without bringing the teachers along in the process it is unlikely that the students will ever receive the benefit of the new feature.

  3. Both walkers need to plan together. When will the crossing be made? Who will go first? How fast will they make the trip? As they consider potential threats and address those in advance, they will increase their potential for success. But don’t be fooled into thinking that every contingency can be addressed in advance. There will be challenges that are faced in the middle of the journey. Nonetheless, planning together rather than separately will increase your chances of success. A superintendent or principal might be tempted to decide the building is going 1:1 by a certain date, but if they don’t consider the challenges that IT will face, they may get teachers ready, without the technology being ready. In the same way, the IT leadership may plan to roll-out devices to every student, but if the teachers aren’t ready to use them effectively, they will become nothing more than door stops.3.

  4. Both walkers need to communicate. In relation to the planning process, they need to understand how they will communicate with each other in the midst of the wind, mist, and noise of the crowd. Often, plans are completely destroyed once students arrive on the first day of school. Parents are calling for answers, teachers are trying to get control, naysayers are screaming about unnecessary change, and the newspaper needs a quote. In that chaos, it will not be easy to hear the voice of your partner as you cross the divide. Communication needs to continue through the hardest, most chaotic points of the journey. The greatest temptation will be to strike out on your own. It will be easy for the IT Team to take matters into their own hands, or the principal to make it work in spite of the perceived resistance from IT. Resist that temptation. Communicate and work together and you will be through the storm before you know it.

As scary as it might seem to cross Victoria Falls, it is nothing compared to bringing all of your students and teachers into the digital age. Making the crossing alone is not an option, educators and IT professionals will both be making the journey. The only question is whether you will work together or against each other. I urge you to work together.

Readers, I’m interested in hearing ways in which your building or district has worked together with IT to successfully make the change to a technology rich personalized learning environment.

Eric Kellerer

by Eric Kellerer

Eric Kellerer is currently the Director of the Doceō Center and the Director of International Relations at Northwest Nazarene University. The Center, established in January, 2013 exists to inspire personalized learning through innovative practices in education. The Center is responsible for the development of the H.A.C.K. Model for Innovative Instruction. He is currently involved in education reform movements in Liberia and China. He has established relationships with universities and high schools in China, Korea, and Liberia.