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What To Do With Educational Technology Departments?

In a school district's organizational chart, where should it place educational technology -- with the educators or the techies?

Like a platypus (mammal, bird or reptile?), educational technology departments often create similar classification confusion in their school districts. Any district large enough to have an educational technology department has likely been faced with this organizational chart conundrum: Where does ed tech belong, with the educators or the techies?

I’ve debated this topic many times with colleagues in my own and other districts, and the conversations were usually lively. So I’ll attempt to summarize those main points here.

But first, if a district is reorganizing and reconsidering where to place ed tech within the structure, it should begin by reviewing, and rewriting if necessary, the mission and vision of its ed tech department. Doing so will help ensure the ed tech team is aligned with the district’s current instructional focus and needs.

And secondly, we’re also working under the assumption that educational technology staff members are, in fact, experienced educators — people who have successful school and classroom experience.

Okay, we have a current and clear mission for ed tech and we know who they are. So where should we put them? With Information Technology (IT) or with Curriculum and Instruction (C&I)? What are the pros and cons of each?

Put Ed Tech With IT

Ed tech can help keep IT’s focus on teaching and learning. Having educators embedded within an IT department can potentially help the non-educator IT staff maintain their focus on the big picture of working in a school district.
Ed tech can help strategize district tech initiatives so they maintain a classroom focus. Often, major district initiatives that support the work of schools are run through the IT department: student information systems, learning management systems and the like. So it’s important to have educators who regularly advise and work with IT on the classroom and instructional impacts of these initiatives.
Ed tech can act as a communication bridge between C&I and IT. Often, well-meaning IT staff struggle to fully understand the needs of central instructional departments and schools. And educators sometimes don’t know how to frame their questions so they’re easily understood by IT staff. So having some tech-savvy educators in IT who are conversant in both languages (edu-speak and tech-speak) can be advantageous.

Ed tech staff may become (or become viewed as) techies. Embedded in IT, ed tech can lose its instructional identity and its staff may become “techies,” meaning they focus less on providing insightful instructional support to their district’s educators and instead become overly enamored with the technology tools they’re using.
Ed tech staff may become primarily program administrators. Ed tech staff may get consumed in the management and administration of school-based initiatives managed by IT and lose their core instructional focus.

Put Ed Tech With C&I

Ed tech can act as a communication bridge between C&I and IT. As previously stated, having some tech-savvy educators in IT who are conversant in both edu-speak and tech-speak can be advantageous.
Ed tech can help ensure the meaningful inclusion of technology-based resources in new district instructional initiatives. By working within C&I, ed tech staff can help the district consider and adopt online textbooks, open educational resources (OER), instructional software and apps, blended and personalized learning, and other tech-inclusive instructional resources and models.
Ed tech can more work closely and collaboratively with their central office educator counterparts. Having ed tech staff embedded in C&I helps build trusting relationships among central educators. And aside from departmental meetings, hallway and break room conversations can lead to important collaborations that benefit schools.

Without ed tech, IT loses its instructional focus, and schools suffer. IT departments really do need to maintain a “schools and kids first” focus.
Ed tech isn’t able to remain as up-to-date on district tech initiatives. When absent from IT, ed tech staff can become disconnected from tech projects they need to understand to be effective advocates for teachers and students.
Ed tech gets caught up in supporting other district curricular projects that don’t involve instructional tech. In most district departments, there is never enough staff to complete the work-at-hand. So, depending on C&I leadership, ed tech staff may too often get recruited away from their core work and pulled in to support other district curricular initiatives.

No Perfect Solution

For each district, there are certainly other factors to consider in this debate. And there is no perfect solution. But based on my experience, from having been on both sides of a district org chart (operational and instructional), I’ve made my decision. I believe ed tech can best serve teachers and students by working from within the instructional realm and reporting up to the district’s chief academic officer (or similar position).

However, regardless of where ed tech resides in a district’s organizational structure, it’s important that ed tech staff maintain a strong and collegial presence within both C&I and IT departments. Because, I submit, one of the key roles of ed tech is to serve as trusted brokers for thoughtful and meaningful technology implementations within and between C&I and IT. And that’s an important job that defies classification.