Barriers to #edtech Efficacy

If information technology is to be used to realize the strategic goal of allowing students to fully participate in the digital world, then it must be appropriately used, properly configured, and reasonably supported. Deficiencies in any of these aspects of technology management are a serious threat to the overall efficacy of the IT managers. To ensure those with expertise in all three aspects of IT management are involved in planning, decision-making, designing and implementing interventions, most schools convene technology planning committees. These groups have made schools that are physical places rich with screens and connections to online spaces. Even in those schools served by well-functioning committees, technology management may not be as efficacious as it could be; it can be inefficient, ineffective in some areas, and incomplete for some populations of students. I have come to conclude the root cause of much inefficacy is lack of shared understanding among the disparate professionals involved in IT management.

Fundamentally, educators and IT professionals understand technology different ways. Even steps that seem to be necessary for promoting reliable and secure environments for technology-rich teaching and learning can be differently perceived and understood by different groups. Consider complex passwords; IT professionals perceive these as a simple strategy for keeping the network secure (which they do), but teachers perceive them as an impediment to quick access, especially for those students with emerging keyboarding skills. Consider, as well, the example of operating systems. IT professionals will recognize the importance of installing updates to operating systems in a timely manner as an essential step of keeping systems secure, thus reliably available. Teachers, however, who find their lesson delayed as they wait for computers to finish installing updates before they can begin will see those same updates as interfering with the reliability of the machines (of course updates are becoming less disruptive as school have adopted Internet-only notebooks). The school administrator who is an enthusiastic user of his or her tablet for personal and professional and work may not understand the difficulty of managing those devices in multi-user environments that leads IT professionals to push back against his or her suggestion tablets be purchased for students.

 Negotiating what is appropriate, proper, and reasonable is difficult when the participants in the management decisions approach the problem from different perspectives, have different concepts of the same terms, and interpret the same circumstances differently. Efficacious IT management is also made more difficult because of the disparate approaches to problems solved by the three groups who must collaborate for efficacious IT management.

Designing IT systems is a typical tame problem (Rittel & Weber, 1973); it is understood and it can be solved with known procedures. IT professionals can clearly describe the networks they seek to build and maintain, and the procedures for building and troubleshooting computer networks are well known and can be transferred reliably from one design project to another. Further, IT systems can be tested and redesigned before they are deployed to users. Teaching, on the other hand, is a wicked problem; it is not clearly understood, there are multiple and interconnected factors that affect how its effectiveness is judged, those factors are incompletely known, and different individuals will judge the same outcomes differently. Successful teaching depends on learning (which is both a physiological and a psychological process as well as social one), and many educators recognize the best teaching does not always influence learning in the intended manner. School leadership is largely a political process, so the manner in which it proceeds and the measures of success are entirely dependent on perceptions, power, and priorities.

Because of these fundamental differences in their work, technology professionals, teachers, and school administrators can find their IT management is affected by the silo effect. For most of their work hours, these professionals work in separate locations and they apply different knowledge and skills to the problems and accomplish the tasks specific to their area of expertise. While educators, IT professionals, and school leaders all assume responsibility for effectively and efficiently realizing their logistic goals, the nature of those goals and their connection to the strategic goal must be understood collectively if IT management is to be efficacious.


Rittel, H., & Weber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences 4(2): 155-169.