A recent question on the techdirector.ning.com blog I subscribe to brought me to thinking about this very important question. What do you do the first time you are a brought into a school as its Technology Director? The first time you become a Technology Director; what do you do?
I was quite young when I was recruited to be the American School Foundation’s (Mexico City) Technology Director in 2001; I was 27 years old. I had worked a few years for the US State Dept. in partnership with the Ford Foundation on a ten-year education reform project born out of the Clinton administration. I was used to moving around, working with various teams across the US, Puerto Rico and South Africa, and with carrying out wide-ranging needs assessment surveys. I was actively working with administrations and faculty bodies across the N-12 and Higher Ed arena. I new a bit about education and a bit about technology.
Coming into the American School Foundation was a daunting task. I was naive, so I didn’t even know it at the time, but I was a bit in over my head. I feel I did a pretty good job of hiding it, though. Still, coming into a school with over 2,500 students, over 500 employees, and over 120 years – then – of history was quite a bit to deal with. Fortunately they did not have much in the way of technology, and they were thirsty to get themselves updated. Anything I had done at the time would have made a considerable difference in the lives of all involved. Of course, I did not know or realize that at the time – fortunately. I left Mexico in 2008 after having accomplished quite a bit. I consulted for various schools during my tenure there, and I was asked to opine on the state-of-technology of many of them. At the time the big question was about the need for a Technology Director. Often I recommended to Board members and administrative teams that having a Technology Director on staff would focus their strategy in this regard. This position would consolidate often disparate efforts already underway in various forms. It would centralize spending, and control. It brought many benefits, not just an added expense line item on the operation budget of the school. I was asked to participate in many hiring efforts to recruit/hire a Technology Director at various schools. It was great to speak to many candidates, and to find out that for the most part it would be the first time any of them would step into this role. Many were seasoned teachers, a few were techies looking to make a transition from corporate to education, and even fewer were administrators looking to make a horizontal change in their careers. After some of them were hired I kept in touch, and some of the newly hired people asked me many questions about getting started. Right or wrong, I tried to lead them in the transition, offering what advice I could to help them out.
After much thought, I think this is what I would offer any incoming tech director who asked for my input now-a-days:
Head straight to your academic leaders, and afterwards sit down and have lunch with as many faculty members and students as you can. Find out what is going on in the classroom. What is the bare minimum of services needed? Alongside this needs-assessment effort comb through your entire personnel and gadget inventory. Make sure the inventory matches the services required. Whatever is peripheral or a complete add-on, get rid of it. Streamline your processes such that technical support is as efficient and child-friendly as possible (Keep It Simple Sam). Make sure folks know how to get help, where to get help, and that help gets to them as soon as they request it. Make yourself and your team invisible; if people are talking about you, chances are they are complaining about something that’s not working right.
Now that the basics are covered, start looking out, way out. Think about scalability when putting together your systems. These need to be flexible and robust, …and low-cost. Simplify. Open source is not always the answer, but there are many great options available, so don’t go for brand-name right away. Make friends, rely on colleagues and keep your eyes open.
It’s a learning process. There are no out-of-the-box solutions out there, even though salespeople will always claim so. Everything requires an investment of someone’s time and effort; be sure to account for that up-front.
Make some perfectly-timed mistakes, and ask stupid questions…Don’t forget; it’s all about the learning