DAILY INSIGHT: Lessons from the New York Times for school CIOs

By Dr. Gordon K. Dahlby, CIO Advisor

As then-potential presidential candidate Ron Regan once quipped in one of his debates, “There you go again.

Or you may recall Vice President Mondale’s quip; “Where’s the beef?”

In a September 3, 2011, New York Times article, “In Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Scores—a part of the newspaper’s series “Grading the Digital School:The High-Tech Gamble”—the efficacy of instructional technology investments is once again called into question. Perhaps the readers here are not surprised.Education researchers frequently admit to the difficulty in expressing direct causal research to any particular treatment or innovation.Such difficulty is often tied to an inability to control all the variables and/or that social science research is weak in its use of analytics. The fact that businesses do not have to justify the use of technology is irrelevant to the discussions.

For the school district CIO, though, there is a lesson to be learned.The article points to several potential issues within our community.Much of it can be laid at the feet of poor-quality communication.For example, the article points out the efforts of a district to renew a bond issue to be used to keep the technology refreshed and to have resources for newer technologies.Some of what seemed lacking in the article was an understanding that the resources in the bond cannot be repurposed to salaries or supplies, nor that there would likely be significant pressure on other parts of school budgets if technology investments must come from the general fund.For districts working on their transition to e2-curriculum (electronic x enhanced) materials by morphing textbook or other budgets to accommodate a variety of new media, applications/software, data and BI tools, it is important for administrators to update their community on the shifting use of their financial resources in an easy to understand way.It is important to be honest and forthcoming on costs and to include all technology staff as contracted consultants and resources in those communications.It is known the total cost of ownership is not just bound by costs for hardware and software.It must be know to the public community.It is important for senior leadership to share how important it is to the district.

Top CIOs have structured in an ongoing communications plan ways to capture and communicate to those many different constituents in your community not only the evolving way schools do learning-related activities using the new tools of this century, but also the myriad of new learning activities that have not been available to most classrooms of the past century.Most parents and community members have not experienced the use of technology as a learner.One needs to find the best avenues for getting the word out.One might think that PCs and the Internet are not new.To many of your parents and much of the taxpaying community without students, the multiple new platforms, applications, software, and form factors are still viewed as new visitors to the education environment.You are encouraged to invite them into your classrooms to observe.

In a reaction to the article, several postings, position statements, and projects are in the works to repudiate concerns listed in the article.Some will say they are asking the wrong question, some will insist it is obvious to spend on technology because the page has turned to a new century and some will answer questions not raised by the article.What will be interesting will be well-developed responses that match the designed reasons for the investments with the measured outcomes and accomplishments to date. The educational technology industry welcomes masters and doctoral candidates as well as their professors to publish research summaries in commonly read periodicals.It will be interesting to watch.

Dr. Gordon K. Dahlby is an educational consultant for leadership in policy, planning and practice.