Tech Leadership

Responsibility for Asking the Right Questions

by Scott McLeod

As our world becomes more technological and globally interconnected, it’s increasingly imperative superintendents and cabinet members understand how to best facilitate student acquisition of so-called 21st century skills.

Beyond proficiency in core subject matter, students now must be media and information literate, globally aware and skilled at online collaboration if they are to be successful digital and global citizens. School administrators no longer can afford to be unfamiliar with what constitutes effective technology-infused pedagogy.

Back in 2001, recognizing this challenge, the International Society for Technology in Education issued its National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators, or NETS-A, a protocol describing what technology-savvy school leaders ought to know and be able to do. The NETS-A says superintendents should be able to “facilitate and support collaborative technology-enriched learning environments and provide for learner-centered environments that use technology to meet the individual and diverse needs of learners.” Unfortunately, most superintendents have received little to no training on how to facilitate good technology use by teachers and students.

Justifying Use
Asking these questions can go a long way toward facilitating effective technology-related learning experiences for students:

  • When and why do we use digital technology in our classrooms?

In an ideal situation, your teachers should be able to articulate the instructional purposes behind each instance of classroom technology use. As research has shown, however, it is more likely teachers are using digital technologies poorly or inappropriately because they don’t truly understand when and why such tools should (or should not) be used.

  • How does our usage of digital technologies align with our curricula and instructional goals?

Technology is expensive. If you can’t clearly articulate how it supports your educational mission, you shouldn’t be buying or using it. Technology is a means, not an end. Many districts buy new technology, perhaps because of a compelling vendor pitch or because neighboring districts are using it, and then try to figure out what to do with it. Your district will see a lot better return on its technology investments if instead it begins with the end in mind and then asks how technology can help support that.

  • How do we know whether technology is being used effectively in the classroom

Many districts have yet to incorporate technology use into classroom observation instruments. This in itself sends a powerful message to teachers about the importance of integrating technology into instruction. Work with a local team of experts to identify appropriate observation criteria and train principals on what to look for when they visit classrooms.

  • What positive results are we seeing from our use of digital instructional technologies

This question gets asked much less than it should. If your district cannot identify tangible instructional benefits that are being derived from classroom technology usage, that’s probably a clear sign teachers either need more time or training or that the tools you bought were inappropriate for the task. All of your shiny digital boxes, bells and whistles are a complete waste if student learning outcomes don’t improve as a result. Be careful, however, to use appropriate outcome measures. The benefits of collaborative, empowering technology usage by students often show up in other areas besides standardized tests.

Choice or Mandate?

  • What are the barriers to effective technology usage by students and teachers?

Ask this question of everyone you can — teachers, students, parents, principals, media specialists and technology coordinators — and work on realigning your district’s technology-related activities. Many districts find they get better payoff by buying fewer new computers and instead putting more money into staff training on how to effectively use the technologies they already have.

  • How can technology better facilitate student learning?

Start by asking this question of the experts: the students. You probably will be surprised by the thoughtful and insightful responses you get. Of course, ask teachers, principals and parents this question too and then act on their feedback.

Note that all of these are leadership questions, not technical questions. Superintendents don’t need to be technology experts to address these important instructional technology issues.

Being an effective instructional technology leader is an ongoing challenge, particularly for district administrators who may be less familiar with digital technologies or technology-related teaching techniques than teaching staff and students. However, as with many other leadership endeavors, sometimes asking a few key questions is all it takes to move a school organization significantly forward.

Scott McLeod is coordinator of the educational administration program at Iowa State University and director of CASTLE, a technology support center for school leaders. He can be reached at N243 Lagomarcino Hall, Ames, IA 50011.