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Do School Districts Still Need Ed Tech Support Staff?

As teachers become better skilled in using digital tools, school districts are reconsidering their instructional technology support staff positions. But it's important to ensure the necessary support is in place.

School districts’ educational technology teams, composed of educators skilled in helping teachers integrate ed tech tools and resources into their instruction, have long stood on shifting sands. As districts’ budgets rise and fall, so do their commitments to funding district-level ed tech personnel.

Over the past 20-plus years, most districts have prioritized funding for ed tech stuff — classroom computing devices and instructional software. But not so much for ed tech staff. And during this time of year when districts are firming up their budgets for the next school year, some are reconsidering the value of their ed tech teams.

Given how much technology has changed since its early days in schools, and also how the technology skill levels of most educators have advanced, it’s a fair question to ask if central office ed tech staff remain a requirement for districts focused on developing digitally skilled teachers and students. And if they are still needed, what are the key roles ed tech staff should play in their districts to be most effective?

However, if district leaders believe centralized instructional technology staff are no longer essential, what must they do to be sure their teachers get the necessary support to successfully integrate digital learning tools and resources into their classrooms?

Key Roles for District-Level Ed Tech Staff and Alternate Solutions for Districts That Go Without

  • Supporting teachers as digital learning coaches. Teachers who need help assimilating digital tools and resources into their instruction remains the most important job for ed tech staff. Though some teachers don’t need this support, many still do. Without a district-level ed tech team, schools will largely be on their own to support their teachers. Having a skilled school-based digital learning coach, at least in a part-time capacity, can be an effective way to address this need.
  • Leading instructional software and hardware selection processes. Coordinating digital tool selection and purchasing processes has often been an ed tech department role. Without such a team, central office content area specialists will need to step up to a greater degree, as will tech department staff, and perhaps a skilled project manager tasked with leading the process.
  • Collaborating with both instructional and tech department colleagues. To best support schools, successful ed tech teams must be adept communicators — both for addressing schools’ instructional tech needs with district curriculum teams, and also in advocating for schools with the district’s technology department. A key ed tech skill is to be fluent in two languages, techie and teacher, and to use that facility to benefit schools and students. With no ed tech staff, districts must find other personnel to play this important role.
  • Working with school leaders. School principals and their leadership teams often need expert guidance in how best to leverage digital instructional tools to support their teachers and students. A skilled instructional tech professional can play an important role in guiding and assisting schools in implementing new digital initiatives. In the absence of such support, schools will need to leverage their in-house expertise, or seek outside consulting help.
  • Managing districtwide software licenses and budgets. Though primarily an administrative task, it’s nonetheless important for districts to have staff knowledgeable in the needs of schools to oversee districtwide software applications and budgets. If centralized ed tech staff are unavailable, the personnel assigned to these functions must have strong lines of communication with instructional departments and schools to ensure the licenses and funds are put to their best use.
  • Training and supporting administrative instructional systems. When districts implement new instructional support systems — like a student information system, a learning management system, or even Google Docs — ed tech teams are often deployed to train and support teachers in using these new tools. Savvy districts that choose not to assign their ed tech instructional experts to these time-consuming tasks, or those that don’t have ed tech teams at all, are finding other ways to train and support their teachers. Developing and posting online training videos for teachers to use as-needed has proven successful in many districts, and for a wide range of applications.
Districts that forego centralized ed tech teams will need to raise the expectations for their chief technology officer and technology department to focus more on schools’ instructional needs. In doing so, they’ll also be wise to embed some individuals with strong school-based experience in their tech departments. Additionally, these districts should help schools allocate funds for site-based digital learning coaches.

Teachers are indeed becoming more proficient in using digital learning tools. However, their plates are full, and though ed tech departments may come and go, having skilled colleagues available to support teachers along the way remains important. Districts that overlook this essential need will struggle to ensure their students gain the digital learning skills and opportunities they require for their ongoing success.

Kipp Bentley is a senior fellow with the Center for Digital Education. He has been a teacher, a librarian, and a district-level educational technology director. He currently writes and consults from Santa Fe, New Mexico.