Uncomfortable Questions for the Ed-Tech Community

I have “a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.” This quote from Liam Neeson’s character in Taken has crossed my mind when meeting with a prospective client. Why? I am often engaged by schools to help “problem-solve,” or to be more descriptive, to uncover and unravel messes and provide direction for course correction. I see a fair amount of the ugly underbelly of IT and ed-tech in schools. My analysis is honest and blunt, but it’s not just an “opinion.” My analysis and advice are based on an advanced degree in IT, 27 years of experience in education technology, in a variety of leadership roles in education, business and not-for-profit associations, in the US and globally.

Since I am engaged by clients as a “subject matter expert,” I’d like to ask the ed-tech community some questions that I’ve asked school leaders. They may not apply to you and if that’s the case, great! But if they do apply, all I ask is that you think about them and how you might improve. These things matter.

1. Why have schools rushed to put a device in the hands of every student before they have the properly engineered network infrastructure to support them? Or PD, or content or tech support or whatever? Isn’t that a waste of money? Aren’t the students and teachers being set up for failure?

2. Why do schools buy really cheap, disposable devices that were never intended for institutional use, that are made of cheap materials and lack important components such as omnidirectional internal WiFi cards and back-lit keyboards? Have schools always bought the cheapest textbooks, regardless of quality, just so every student could have one?

3. Why do school leaders say that professional development is a priority, but their actions say something very different? Institutions communicate their priorities with their budgets. Based on that, PD is a pretty low priority for most schools.

4. Why are school IT leaders reluctant to pay for external expertise, whether to engineer a wireless network, develop an application or conduct a security audit? If the reason is lack of budget, does the superintendent and Board understand the risks that you have with DIY IT when the in-house expertise is lacking?

5. Speaking of security, I’ve noticed that some of school IT departments do a pretty good job of locking down devices in the name of security, but have little or no change management processes or documentation for mission critical systems. Why is that?

6. Why do so many technology leaders keep vendors at arms-length, but when they want something for free, they want them to be a “partner”?  Have they thought about just having a straight up business relationship, in which they agree to pay a fair price for features and capabilities that are really important to them? Wouldn’t that be simpler and cleaner?

7. What is the technology vs. curriculum battle that we see in so many districts really about? Is it a power thing? Whatever the reason, it’s ugly. It also leads to decisions that are not in the best interest of students and the district.

8. Why are some technology leaders so reluctant to genuinely engage parents and community members in vision-setting and decision-making? It wasn’t always easy, but I always found it to be enormously helpful. After all, the schools would be empty without families filling homes in the district.

9. Why are so many IT and ed-tech “professionals” not active members of professional associations such as CoSN and ISTE? (And when I say active I don’t just mean going to a conference.) The more you put into a professional association the more you (and your school) will get out of it.

10. Why don’t more school technology leaders have intentional, systematic communication plans that seek to build influence with stakeholders such as teachers, principals, students, parents, cabinet members, the superintendent and board? It’s amazing the difference it makes.

While it’s important to celebrate the good in education technology, we need to talk about the ugly without making excuses. That’s how we’ll grow as a community. If we don’t, we’ll continue to make the same mistakes with the same results. That’s not good enough for the students and it shouldn’t be good enough for us.

Bob Moore has enjoyed a career of 26 years in education technology. His work has included more than two decades as a CIO in K12 schools and several years as lead strategist for a multi-billion dollar global ed-tech business, as well many years of active leadership in organizations such as CoSN. In 2012 Bob founded RJM Strategies LLC and works with schools and ed-tech business clients as a strategist, advisor and subject matter expert. His life’s work is grounded in his tenacious commitment to vision, innovation, integrity and practicality. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobMEdTech. See Bob's Profile and Connect on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bob-moore-675ba4