Combining business IT and educational best practices in 21st century schools

Alex Podchaski, Director of IT, Oak Knoll School
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Alex Podchaski, Director of IT, Oak Knoll School

Successful use of technology in today’s twenty-first century schools combine best practices from the IT industry with tried and true educational methods. To stay on pace with today’s ever evolving technological landscape – and enhancements – schools have had to work harder than ever before to stay competitive.

"In reality, progressive school environments have benefited from many technology advances originally aimed at businesses, and have become a true 24/7 operational environment"

While there are many distinguishing characteristics that separate schools from businesses, the most competitive educational institutions have modeled their technology departments after the cutting-edge IT environments found in today’s top companies.

Businesses use the most up to date technology to gain an edge on providing services, creating products, or just improving operations and becoming more efficient. When most people think about a school day, they envision a set of classrooms, with students sitting in front of a chalkboard with a teacher lecturing to the class. In reality, progressive school environments have benefited from many technology advances originally aimed at businesses, and have become a true 24/7 operational environment.

Creating a service/help desk, integrating project management, building data repositories and having a disaster recovery plan are standard for many business IT operations, but are new ideas to many educational IT environments. The classroom is just starting to move from an isolated collection of documents and resources limited to only those with physical access to files and copies of a document, to a networked, shared environment where collaboration and repurposing of curricular ideas is encouraged. We are moving away from the days of teachers physically cutting and pasting documents together from templates, to fully online integrated textbooks, curriculum and assessments.

In my career in educational IT, I have found it difficult to figure out how to take the best practices I knew from studying other industries and applying them to IT. I have used helpdesk software to identify trending support issues and the workload of support personnel. I have developed network and server infrastructure plans to accommodate access and storage needs for a variety of software systems. I have studied vendor-specific certifications to assist in managing products used in my schools (Cisco, Google). But The  impact of these projects always fell short because they didn’t include the perspective of the educational process that truly defines a school.

In response to the need to combine IT and business best practices with educational best practices, the Consortium of School Networks (CoSN) developed the Framework of Essential Skills of the K-12 CTO. Within the 10 areas that comprise the Framework fall three major categories: Leadership and Vision, Understanding the Educational Environment, and Managing Technology and Support Resources. The first and last category are primarily business- and IT-focused areas such as strategic planning, policies, as well as data, systems, and business management processes. The key elements of all three areas are that they provide guidelines on how to integrate the differing perspectives found in business systems versus educational systems. This was the piece I had been missing in working to implement better IT processes into my school. I finally had a lexicon I could use to speak with the teachers in their realm, and tie their feedback to the IT world in which I was most familiar. I have been able to use this framework to bridge the gap between the worlds of IT and education. Using elements from the Framework on projects with teachers has helped me explain to them the benefits of centralized, supported software choices, while allowing me to appreciate the specific features that are necessary to make the tools useful in a particular classroom setting.

We need to continue to keep developing best practices on both sides, and remember to take the time to integrate those practices as often as possible to prepare students not just for the 21st century, but beyond.

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