Guest blogger Andrew West, IT Manager Advisory Council, discusses technology in schools

Deborah Grauer (Microsoft)

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts authored by members of the IT Manager Advisory Council. We've asked them to share their insights and opinions on topics they are passionate about related to hiring & managing employees, and maintaining skills on their teams.  If you agree or disagree and have a different perspective - chime in and contribute your views.


We are living in extraordinary times where we’ve seen the use of smart grid technology, social networking, and Wi-Fi improve the way we live, bank, and work. As a result of the giant gains we have made in new technology and in mobile application development, we have an exceptional opportunity to use technology to make learning creative and advance academic achievement.


Andrew West is my name and I work as a chief technology officer for an urban School District in the New Orleans metro area.  I’ve worked in IT higher education and K-12 for the last five years and corporate IT before that, and I’m utterly convinced that meaningful use of technology can have a powerful impact on students’ academic achievement.  


Technology in an academic environment is as important as all of the things that make schooling happen. Technology should not be relegated to just one period of the day, or lab time, or a mere assignment; but when parents, teachers, and administrators think of school, they should be thinking “technology-rich learning.”


Meaningful use
I’m not talking about something mandated by a government authority – although the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and Title II Part D Enhancing Education Thru Technology (EETP) require having a technology plan—nor am I talking about technology for technology’s sake; I’m talking about meaningful use of information technology. I see the need for adopting a visionary concept that involves meaningfully integrating learning in a classroom where technology is a learning tool. When thinking of remediation and tutoring, technology practitioners should be thinking web-based and online learning tools. When thinking of project-based learning, students and informed teachers and parents should know how to use online research databases such as EBSCO host, etc.


At schools where I’ve been involved, we’ve implemented learning objectives in compliance with the International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) standards that include objective use and knowledge of Microsoft Applications including using Microsoft Word by 1st grade, PowerPoint by 2nd grade, and Excel by 5th. The State of North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction has gone even further and adopted the Microsoft IT Academy this fall for every single one of the state’s 628 high schools. N.C. students will have an opportunity to earn Microsoft Officer Specialist (MOS) or Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certifications.


Highly Qualified IT Staff in Education Systems
I firmly believe that it’s important to have an IT staff that has prior experience in an educational setting and at least a bachelor’s degree. It’s not necessary that they have a teaching certificate, but preferable that they have worked in an environment where the concepts of learning, achievement, and the best interests of the students are owned by the technology support staff and technology practitioners. I believe that as you work around children, you promote education by demonstrating a commitment to your own personal education. (Yes, certifications certainly demonstrate commitment!)


School Administrators and Stakeholders
No one can accuse teachers or professors of not working long enough or hard enough, but it is a concern that often they have trouble keeping up to date with current technology or aren’t familiar with technologies outside of their own academic space. This is a problem not only because are they likely to be out of touch with their students, but also because they cannot serve as leaders for their students.


With all hands on board, stakeholders can improve achievement and at the same time make learning fun—which means effective. Ideally, a school should form a Tech Team that is a mix of energy and authority and include: academics, parents, students, highly qualified technologists, and administrators with decision-making authority. The authority point is important, as many projects fail or fizzle when a team has responsibility but lacks authority.


8 Ways to Ensure a Technology-rich Learning Environment

·         Promote technology as the new learning tool.

·         Have a solid technology plan that includes purchase of academic software, systems, and platforms.

·         Invest in technology. Put funds aside.

·         Invest in professional development to support technology integration for teachers, administrators, and IT staff.

·         Have a robust and capable network infrastructure in place.

·         Use social media to promote the new technology-infused learning. Kids use it. Parents use it. So, too, should schools to raise interest in ways that technology can enhance learning.

·         See technology staff as leaders and innovators rather than mere break-fix techs. Experienced technologists do more than just assure uptime. They have a role to play in using technology strategically to advance academic achievement. 

·         Include IT staff “at the table” for discussions about academics.


In March of 2010, President Obama launched the first National Education Technology Plan, “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology.”  It calls for every student receiving the opportunity to learn through digital technology in school and at home. What’s been your experience in initiating technology projects in educational environments?


Andrew West (“Awestechchief” on Twitter)

  • Anonymous
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    Great article!

  • Anonymous
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    This is an excellent article.  Technology is definitely changing the face of education.

  • Anonymous
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    Great Article! Very insightful and compelling for technology in the education system.

  • Anonymous
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    Mr. West, Your insight is simply impeccable. As a veteran educator, school administrator and principal I am certainly poised to move forward with a stronger Technology Plan implementation in my school. I thank you for providing this road-map and to Microsoft - Thank you for acknowledging the expertise of Mr. West and allowing him this platform on the IT Manager Advisory council.