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Enter the Tech Director

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Whether it’s in the classroom or behind the scenes, the leadership necessary to successful technology integration comes from an oft-overlooked resource.

We all know how important it is for teachers to incorporate the use of robust technologies in their classrooms. But who robustly supports and encourages them when they use technologies? Enter the technology director.

The technology director’s main mission is to provide the essential leadership that aids teachers in the wise use of technologies, even through user-friendly Macs, iBooks, iPods, and associated software. But getting there often requires that extra person-of-action with know-how and a passion for integration, who can step in and, no matter the challenge, make things go right. At the school and classroom level, technology directors help establish and maintain an environment of success through hands-on leadership, back-end support, or a skillful combination of both.

Hands-on Leadership

Julene Reed, director of Academic Technology for St. George’s Independent Schools in Collierville, TN, oversees a multiplatform district with a 1-to-1 laptop initiative in which all students have their own computer 24/7. Using Apple’s (www.apple.com) iMovie (and other iLife components), iChatAV, and podcasting via a Mac, students and teachers in her school have created some of the most stimulating learning experiences—those in which students engage readily and repeatedly—producing an abundance of podcasts and digital stories. “The popularity of and the ease in which student projects can then be transferred to an iPod for portability adds to the excitement of learning,” says Reed.

Still, Reed recognizes the need to ensure that faculty members are prepared to focus technology use specifically on student learning—and don’t get distracted by the technology itself, or spend too much time on the technical aspects involved while student projects are in progress. To create this environment, Reed trains her faculty in the entire process of both digital video projects and podcasting. “The research and planning that go into the projects are critical to academic success,” she says. “Creativity, utilization of higher-level thinking skills, and collaboration are effective components of these projects when they’re crafted in a thoughtful and organized manner.”

Reed herself steps into the classroom to explain the projects to the students and their teacher, making sure to include all of the steps leading to the finished project (including storyboards and assessment rubrics). She also shares best practices. This way, the students are ready to roll with various workable academic projects that directly align to curriculum standards.

And after all that? “It’s my job to give them guidance and leadership as they complete the projects,” Reed says.

Back-End Backup

While a hands-on approach is invaluable, Joseph Morelock, director of Network and Information Systems for the Canby School District (OR), stresses the importance of building and maintaining the proper infrastructure to ensure that students and teachers thrive. By paying careful attention to back-end issues, Morelock works toward making in-classroom success becomes the norm.

“From kindergarten students creating PDF alphabet books using iPhoto to share with their parents at ‘School Night at the Apple Store,’ and sixth-graders involved in iMovie projects that highlight their research of the solar system, to high school students editing video yearbooks using Final Cut Pro, I’ve never ceased to be amazed at what’s possible,” raves Morelock.

AT the school and classroom level, technology directors help establish and maintain an environment of sucess through hands-on leadership, back-end support, or a skillful combination of both.

Meanwhile, Morelock monitors those key issues that demand not just technical expertise, but a decision-maker with direction. In his district, every building has Apple Xserve with authenticated logins for staff and students, offering them server space to store their work. While such tools make for enriching experiences, Morelock plays a vital behind-the-scenes role: ensuring that the entire operation all functions and remains scalable and manageable for student population growth, and that teachers can make certain that students stay on task in their studies.

To do this, Morelock uses Apple Remote Desktop, which enables him to assist staff when they run into problems by taking control of their machine remotely to show them a solution. He can also run inventory and informational reports on hardware configurations and software installations. And he can allow instructional staff, if they so desire, to monitor student computer use on all 50 computers in the library concurrently.

Mission-Critical Priorities

Hopkins School District 270 (MN) operates a successful 1-to-1 iBook laptop program for 40 faculty and 650 students in grades 4-6. Tim Wilson is the district’s technology integration specialist. While his methods combine Reed’s hands-on style with Morelock’s back-end approach, he never loses sight of the district’s overall vision and purpose.

“The first priority of a school district’s information technology department must be to support the district’s educational mission,” says Wilson. “That means choosing technologies that best support student learning while simultaneously building a reliable infrastructure.” With the right technology tools, Wilson sees a palpable release of student creativity in the classroom. This, he believes, goes a long way toward establishing and maintaining a level of intense, academic engagement that leads to improved achievement scores, in addition to meaningful learning experiences.

Getting to Tech Success

In essence, all three approaches—hands-on, back-end, or a blending of the two—can strongly influence the quality of classroom learning and the outcomes. Indeed, leadership and technology integration go hand in hand. While there are certainly plenty of examples of tech-savvy classroom teachers who manage to become tech-integration superstars, we shouldn’t expect teacher technology martyrdom to become the norm. Success and excellence, yes—but teachers need help. Technology directors, demonstrating appropriate leadership and keeping in close coordination with teachers, can be a leading force in balancing high-tech with high-joy; operation with celebration; and technology know-how with the right amount of directional support to help teachers leverage today’s technology tools for better learning.

“I encourage [districts] to consider a technology director’s use at whatever level best fits the situation,” Reed says. “And don’t ignore the potential that programs such as iLife, GarageBand, iChatAV, iWork, etc. can provide your students and faculty.” Reed suggests visiting a campus where students and teachers are doing great things with these tools. “See for yourself how we’re helping students learn—and helping them change the world.”

To learn more about the Apple Distinguished Educators profiled in this article, write to Julene Reed (julener@mac.com), Joseph Morelock (morelocj@canby.k12.or.us), or Tim Wilson (tim@technosavvy.org). Also, visit Tim Wilson’s blog, “The Savvy Technologist,” at (www.technosavvy.org).

Larry S. Anderson is the founder and director of the National Center for Technology Planning (www.nctp.com) in Tupelo, MS.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

About the Author

Larry S. Anderson is the founder and director of the National Center for Technology Planning (www.nctp.com) in Tupelo, MS.

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