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Got Technology?
Now What Will You Do With It?

Soapbox is an occasional Education World feature that gives educators a chance to express their views.

For technology to be effective in schools, administrators must have a plan, know how to use it, and be willing to learn from others, according to Nicholas Langlie, a professor at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York.

Nicholas Langlie is an online course developer at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York, and an adjunct professor of computer information systems, English, Web design, and information architecture. He says he is "passionate about developing ways to teach and learn in a digital environment with a focus on clarity, efficiency and ease of use." Langlie also is a member of the Education World Tech Team.

By Nicholas Langlie

In order for school administrators to know the value of technology in their districts, they first must appreciate the scope of what they should know and then take steps to acquire that knowledge.

We no longer live in a world where it is acceptable for administrators to barely have the technological acumen of a seventh grade student. Administrators need to have standards in place for technology literacy, so they a) know what it is that they should know, and b) have an impetus to learn.

There are many ways for administrators' learning to occur, which can, in turn, lead to valuing -- the thoughtful appreciation of the significance and worth of technology. The administrator can take educational technology classes at a local college; hire a consultant to conduct in-service training; or even establish a mentoring relationship with a tech-savvy teacher.

And for a real stretch, the administrator might consider establishing mentoring relationships with those technology literate seventh graders. What an educational opportunity that could be for both students and administrators!

Administrators who have little exposure to technology are understandably apprehensive because they do not know where to start their training. Educators in Texas have established some standards for what administrators need to know to make this transition less difficult.

The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) developed standards for administrators. According to the standards, administrators should:

  • Understand the elements and characteristics of long-range planning for the use of current and emerging technology -- infrastructure, budgeting, staff development, technical support, personnel, and upgrades;
  • Demonstrate ability to analyze and react to technology issues, concepts, and proposals, including community and corporate pressures;
  • Possess a "big picture" vision of technology in education and schools -- reform movement, competency-based education, standards, time allocation;
  • Use technology to efficiently communicate with stakeholders, via voice mail, E-mail, newsletters;
  • Use technology to collect and analyze data and other information to improve decision-making and other management functions -- analyzing student academic achievement tests, gathering data on variables not previously studied, and accessing global information;
  • Understand how current and available technologies can be effectively integrated into all aspects of the teaching and learning process -- such as the application of software and connectivity to each instructional area, access to research information, and multi-media presentations;
  • Understand the legal and ethical issues related to technology licensing and usage, including purchasing agreements, safety, and security issues;

Having established a set of standards, administrators must begin to fill voids in their knowledge. To help this process along, they should be encouraged to seek out teacher or student mentors. This could benefit the culture of the school on a number of different levels. Mentoring could lead to better relationships between teachers and administrators, and certainly would make the teachers feel empowered. Such a program could be viewed as an attempt by the administrator to create and foster an open, less hierarchal learning environment, one that would not sacrifice teachable moments and innovative learning opportunities for formalities.

Getting students involved via mentoring or creating a student mentoring team not only would be a great experience for students, but also would speak volumes about the culture of the school and would represent an honest effort to make technology a focus and not just an afterthought.

This is where many administrators get into trouble now; they view technology as something to accumulate or append to what the district currently is doing. Technology is nothing more than a set of tools, but it is a resource that cannot be ignored, and neither can the skill level of our administrators. The Internet boom caught everyone off guard and, as a result, we have children rising through K-12 with unprecedented access to information and a casual, yet powerful, understanding of technology.

Because of this, administrators must learn about technology in a very broad way. They do not need to have a very deep understanding of the technology, but their knowledge base must be vast enough to make positive, insightful, and informed decisions about technology in a school district.

Relying on the "technology guy/girl" or the director of technology to add to the technology collection has not worked. We spend billions on pieces of equipment that conduct electricity for some purpose. What is that purpose? Is it to best educate our children? You bet. Can it be done if the administrators view it as some strange and foreign entity that they pass on to others to worry about? No way.

Technology is not a mythological language and it is not a box with a mouse inside running in a wheel. It is something that must be embedded in the culture of the school district. The focus shouldn't be on just increasing the number of computers or increasing the number of Internet connections. Those are important goals, but they are secondary to what really should be supporting a primary education goal. What we're encouraging schools to do is to align the education needs and goals of every school with the technology solutions for the schools. Without that alignment, technology use actually is going to cause a lot more frustration for teachers.

We are in desperate need of administrators to lead the charge, to begin to interpret technology as something that is not cryptic and different. Without administrative leadership, technology programs will fail to help educators best educate students and the equipment will accumulate and become obsolete because of unnecessary ignorance.

In the late 1990s, administrators learned that having a grant for several computers was just not enough, so why has there been so little change? Because administrators have not understood what they need to do and have not developed thoughtful plans.

What is needed is a set of standards, like those cited above, like those we have for our students, which clearly inform administrators what they should stay informed about. The National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) Project set forth and accomplished just that and created an excellent set of standards for administrators to begin to outline what they need to do. (For more information on this, see Technology Standards for School Administrators.) NETS even provides specific, real-world examples for superintendents, central office administrators, and building principals.

If administrators can begin to frame what they must know to lead the charge for technology, they not only can piece together what they need to learn, but they also can learn to value what the technology has to offer. Once our administrators see the value, then and only then, can they lead, promote, and institute technology programs and initiatives effectively. Only then can administrators begin to view technology as something that cannot work as an add-on or in isolation. It must be treated as a fundamental part of the school district and be championed by administrators who are willing to learn the technology and be an advocate for what it can do for our students and for their culture of learning.


Technology in the Schools: It Does Make a Difference!

Technology in Schools: Some Say It Doesn't Compute!

Technology Planning: Closing the Communications Gap

Motivating Teachers to Use Technology

Technology Integration, Assessment, and No Child Left Behind

U.S Department of Education -- Office of Educational Technology (OET)

The National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) Project

Traveling the Techno Trail: Training Teachers to Use Technology

Technology Standards for School Administrators

What Do Teachers and Administrators Really Need?