Support: A two prong approach

(I usually don’t cross post here what I publish at techlearning.com, but I wanted to get some feedback on this idea of mine so thought I’d post it here as well.)

There is one thing about growing up in an education family. Education talk is easy to come by.

I made it back to Spokane, Washington last week and have been spending time with my parents. My mom is an Elementary Principal and my dad a retired High School science teacher turned hobby farmer (If you can call 1200 acres a hobby).

I have had some great conversations with my mother this week around the difference between IT (Informational Technology) support and what I call ET (Educational Technology) support. I believe that schools need to define these two positions differently.


Support: A two prong approach

I have held both positions as defined above and believe that we need to start looking at these as two different jobs. These positions require a set of skills that are unique and also call for a full time person.

ITs (Informational Technologists): These people know networks, their job is to make sure day in and day out that the network is healthy. They focus on keeping viruses out, keeping computers running, and making sure that the overall school network is in place, up-to-date, and working.

ETs (Educational Technologists): These people know education. They will likely have had classroom experience and have been put into positions as ETs because of their use of technology in the classroom. Although they may be familiar with networks and the hardware of the school, their focus is on the tools, the learning, and the training to bring technology into the classroom.

Schools have done a pretty good job of hiring ITs. People that can make sure that the network and computers are running. But many times these ITs are pushed into the positions of ETs where they may not have classroom experience, may not be up on new tools, new approaches, or new methods in teaching and learning. ETs on the other hand are hired to help teachers and teach students the technology skills the district has adopted. But many times these people are also asked to fix networks, computers, printers, and other hardware. As many of you know, this is a full time job and if you let it, it can take away time from great conversations with teachers around tool use.

I have been in schools and visited schools where these two positions are one person. If you are in this position, you know how many different directions you are being pulled, and there is no physical way you can both support teachers and keep the technology infrastructure running smoothly. By trying to fulfill both the Informational Technologist and the Educational Technologist in one position, schools tend to stretch these people so thin that both the IT and the ET suffer.

As we infuse more technology into our schools and classrooms, we are going to need to define a new type of technology position. We need to understand that there is a difference between keeping hardware running and training teachers to use tools that facilitate learning. In the two weeks I have been back in the States, I have talked to educators who all say the same thing, “We would use it more if we knew how to use it, if we were trained on what to do with it.” I have also talked with technology people who are trying to be both an IT and ET for their schools who say, “I just do not have the time to do it all.”

If we really expect our schools to move closer to what is being called School 2.0. Then we need to make sure we have personnel in place that can support such a school structure. In my opinion, without the proper support for both technology infrastructure and technology training School 2.0 can never truly come to be.

[tags]technology support[/tags]

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8 Comments

  1. I think you have a point, Jeff. There are potentially two very different skill sets at work here.

    One of the things I discovered when I first embarked on a career as a software apps trainer was that proficiency with the technology, the apps, the hardware, did not necessarily go hand in had with an understanding of the learning process or an empathy with the learner’s experience. In the early days, most IT trainers seemed to be appointed on the basis of proficiency with the technology rather than any teaching skill, and, as a consequence, IT courses were often dire! It was an uphill struggle to change my learners’ perceptions of IT learning when the legacy was so poor.

  2. As my school’s webmaster, network administrator, professional developer, help desk, and classroom teacher, I understand the demands of being bounced around, both physically and mentally. While I think I have breadth of knowledge about said topics, the depth is becoming more suspect as I try to keep up with many different things. Obviously, I see the merit of having separate positions for IT and ET. The question is how do I convince administration and school board to invest resources to make this happen? That is THE question and it all really depends on the particular dynamics of your school.

    Or maybe I’m a control freak and I really don’t want to relinquish control. 😉

  3. A coworker forwarded me the link to this blog and I am thankful. This post sums up an argument I have been piecing together for the past 4 years in my position as a Campus Tech Coordinator. I have served as trainer, tech support, and webmaster for the time I have been on board. About 90% of my time has been in the role of “fix-it” while I go to department and campus meetings to hear teachers and staff complain that they don’t know how to use the new stuff they are getting.

    Last year, I was given an opportunity to share with the school board for 3 minutes what it is like “on the ground” at our campus. I went into how I consider myself the worst tech support for the campus because my role is teacher and I just don’t care how to know how to put a printer on the network.

    With that information, the board worked to retain me and my services by hiring 2 assistants for me to handle the technical side of the job and to free me up more to handle the staff development. Next year, I will be 90% staff dev and 10% technology decision making.

    This information in your post is vital to the success of technology support and education programs in education. I hope you don’t mind if I share your information with others in similar boats. Thanks again!

  4. What a great summary of the ideal division of labor. I can say that we have successfully transitioned our school to the above model and it has made all the difference in the world. As the ET in your model, I now have the time to “play” and help teachers develop curriculum that can use the technology in new and interesting ways. Something which has emerged is that because I know all of the curriculum across our campus, I have been given some leeway by my division administrators (Elementary, Middle, and High School) to begin to do more than work with teacher on technology integration and begin to work with then as a curriculum developer. This is a great step, since it is now acknowledging that the technology is truly integrated into the curriculum.

  5. This is great! I am fortunate to work in a district that hires both types of positions. The Lafayette School District hires Tech Maintenance Assistants (IT) and Instructional Technology Teachers (ET). Two things must happen. First, the local learning community must understand the differences between the two sides of the tech department and both sides need staffed adequately.

  6. Hi Jeff,

    This division of labor is important and workable as many large districts know. I would agree the ET side of the equation is understaffed in most place. One means of meeting the ET goals is by using library media specialists in these positions. This has worked well in the Mankato Schools.

    The other comment I would make is really a caveat: both these side need to communicate regularly and effectively to make collaborative decisions about technology use in schools. I dealt with this issue a couple years ago in a column for The School Administrator:
    link to doug-johnson.com

    Enjoy your time at home and see ya at NECC!

    Doug

  7. Hey Jeff,

    Great post. I’m in the transition right now. We just hired a second support specialist to help our network administrator. That’s going to make my life a lot more academic centered. The other piece that going to help is the half time administrative assistant that I have had approved. Being able to assign ordering, tracking tickets, running reports, newsletters, etc. to someone is critical to managing the whole department, yet concentrating to the ET side of things. Thanks for a great post.

    – Alex

  8. You’ve really hit the nail last on the head here! You make a very compelling argument and one that I ahve struggled with over the last few years. I am the Instructional Technology Coach (ITC=ET) for a small and specialized school in our district. Most schools in our district have a Techonology Support Person (TSP=IT) as well. The problem I see here is that we don’t have the TSP position properly compensated; that is, it’s basically an entry level position with a pay scale that is not commensurate with the level of responsibility and professionalism they need to exhibit to do the job. The result is that you either get people that aren’t very knowledgable in the job, or you get someone who is excellent but can’t afford to stay more than a year. So they often get in, get recognized and move into other, better paying positions. A constant struggle!
    I think the way you have framed the positions can help our school board to understand and explain (to parents and community members) why we must elevate the requirements for our TSP position and then appropriately compensate. With this organization of responsibilities it’s easier to approach the job of ET, as well as eliminating a lot of the overlap of responsibility. Thanks for the clear perspective!

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