IT Goals in Schools

In all organizations decisions are made for several purposes, and goals are set at three levels to guide decision-making and improve performance. At the broadest level, organizations have strategic goals. These are captured in the mission statements that are adopted by the leaders at the highest levels. In schools, the strategic goals are focused on graduating students who are “smart.” The specific language depends on the local priorities and preferences, but most will agree that the purpose of schools is to help young people learn. In the vocabulary of planning, organizations that achieve their strategic goal can be labeled “efficacious.” 

Strategic goals are necessarily broad and open to interpretation. While educators and support staff, including IT professionals, may keep the school’s strategic goals in mind as they go about their work, those goals are rarely sufficiently focused to guide daily tasks. Daily work of IT professional is defined by logistic goals which are the things they need to accomplish as they are designing, improving, configuring, and managing IT systems. When logistic goals are aligned with strategic goals and the goals are being achieved, planners would label them “effective.” 

School IT departments, and especially in the times since the COVID-19 pandemic in many departments, are typically understaffed, so steps taken to increase the efficiency of operations are given high priority as well. Because resources are limited, schools (just like all organizations) have decision-making processes in place to define what will be done and how priorities are set. Members of organizations always criticize the priorities and decisions made by others, but in most cases, the decisions were made to accommodate conflicting interests and the decisions were quite rationale.  

In schools, IT decision-making is complicated by several factors. First, many educators are technology-savvy, but often not in relation to enterprise systems. They may have deep understanding of what they want technology to do in their classrooms, and this is grounded in the fact they use their personal computers to be efficient and effective in their work. They may even have successfully installed consumer network devices in their homes and manage multiple devices on those home networks. While that is a worthy accomplishment and it does indicate an impressive level of technological knowledge, it does not scale to enterprise networks in the manner they might predict. In some cases, those educators who “know enough to be dangerous” and can attempt troubleshooting or offer advice that makes situations worse.  

A second factor complicating IT decision-making in schools is the fact that IT professionals have experience in school, and they have concepts of what teaching is. Increasing numbers of educators are coming to realize that lecture-based teaching methods are ineffective, and they are exploring and using other strategies. These new methods can conflict with the concepts IT professionals have. This can be especially true if the IT professionals have recent experience in higher education or workplace training where the lecture methods are exceedingly common. Educators are increasingly understanding that teaching is must more than telling students what they need to know, and the IT configurations and how they use it is much different than what the IT professional may think they need. 

Providing the IT for lecture-based teaching methods, in which the instructor talks at a group of students who are facing the front of the classroom is a relatively easy task. In such classrooms, a single workstation with a projector connected and the audio-visual capabilities so that text, images, audio, and video content can be seen meets the need. Also, in schools where there is one-to-one initiatives, providing the necessary IT is also relatively easy. Of course, there are more devices to manage, and the network is more sophisticated than a wired Ethernet network, but the standardization of user devices makes management much easier.  This is especially true when the one-to-one devices are Chromebooks. 

The IT needed to accommodate both models are familiar to IT professionals which have managed IT in businesses and organizations. Many IT professionals find the active teaching methods that are encouraged by the ISTE standards and that are associated with deeper learning to be unfamiliar, and the technology needed to facilitate those types of teaching to be similarly unfamiliar.  

A third factor complicating IT decision-making in schools is school administrators who are ultimately responsible for planning and decision-making are often far removed from classrooms and have incomplete knowledge of enterprise-level IT. Their conceptualization of teaching and the role of technology in the classroom may be grounded in their experiences, and many of the top-level school administrators had brief teaching careers and those were long ago, and using primitive technology compared to that available to today’s teachers. Most school leaders are also quite savvy technology users, but for their own productivity, not for teaching and not for providing reliable, robust, and secure systems for large numbers of users.