IT Survival Tips from a 25-Year Education Expert

In the education world, technology is no longer a “nice-to have”—it’s the foundation of learning. Every day, IT leaders in education are monitoring network performance, troubleshooting tech problems for teachers, and keeping devices in working order for students. On top of all that, you must think strategically about what kind of technology will help your students learn and grow the most.    

How can you survive and succeed as an IT and education leader? Glenn Nowosad, an Instructional Design Consultant for IT-ET Shift Happens, has over 25 years of experience integrating technology and learning. He shares his insights in the interview below.  

1. When you were in network administration, what did a typical day look like for you?

Just for clarification’s sake, network management was just one of many roles that occupied my time as an Associate Superintendent of Technology and Student Learning Services. Network administration is a crucial component of IT (Infrastructural Technology) and ET (Educational Technology) services that support daily educational and administrative processes in what I refer to as modern teaching, learning, and assessment organizations. 

Over the last 25 years, IT and ET services have moved from the mindset of being an add-on or luxury to a "utility mindset." A utility mindset in that IT and ET services are now essential services like water, electricity, and heating. The daily societal use of technology has reinforced this expectation of 99.9999% uptime and 24/7 access to network resources through the use of mobile computing devices. Schools are closed when utility services such as water and electricity are not working and sadly to say, whether it is good or bad, school's daily administrative and management functions come to a grinding halt when IT and ET services are no longer available.

Regardless what meeting, school, or classroom I attended, if there were any IT or ET service issues, everyone was looking at me to resolve or address the problem. I will never forget that feeling during district presentations with 500 to 1,000 people in the room and the network goes down, and everyone in the room turns and looks at me.

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2. What have you learned about the place of technology in education throughout your career?

What these lessons have taught me over the years are the following:

  1. IT and ET services have developed into an essential foundational element necessary to support modern teaching, learning, and assessment practices.
  2. IT and ET services need to be aligned and transparent in promoting modern teaching, learning, and assessment practices which don't make technology any more or less important to the foundational elements that support effective educational institutions. 
  3. It's not about the technology, but it is. Regardless whether a leader or organization views IT and ET services as a necessary evil or unfavorable budget line to sustain, technology is an essential part of the day-to-day operations of modern educational systems. It is critical that educational leaders are aware of all the elements and indicators involved in aligning modern teaching, learning, and assessment practices.
  4. You get what you expect, so it is important for leaders to clearly understand what IT and ET services are required to support the vision, mission, and mandate of the organization. These expectations need to align to the level of support that is required to implement and maintain the IT and ET services needed to achieve organizational goals.
  5. It is absolutely critical that IT-ET leaders have the necessary tools to be proactive instead of reactive. IT and ET services need to be transparent, and IT-ET leaders need to have the appropriate network monitoring and alerting tools to anticipate and develop proactive measures that reduce the likeliness of technology failure impacting the day-to-day operations of a modern teaching, learning, and assessment environment. As a former teacher, I am emotionally attached to standing in front of the class when a lesson entirely dependent on technology fails. As an IT-ET leader, I see the frustration and disappointment in the student learning process, but even more important, I see an opportunity lost with an educator. A teacher losing confidence in using technology due to unreliable IT-ET services can have a tremendous impact on how he/she attempts to integrate the use of technology in their future lessons, and this can influence generations of students.
  6. As IT-ET leaders we need to strive for 99.9999% uptime and the best quality of service that empowers educators to design and engage our students in modern teaching, learning, and assessment practices. Can we imagine an educational world where the expectations for modern teaching, learning, and assessment practices were similar to societal expectations for technical uptime? As IT-ET leaders we need to ensure that technology accessibility and reliability are not the limiting factors for educators aligning the integration of technology into instructional and assessment practices. The more accessible and reliable IT-ET services become, the more we can concentrate on teaching and learning, which in the end, is the only thing that is important.

3. What’s your best tip to share with stressed-out network professionals?

Stress builds diamonds or crushes rocks. You get what you expect, so it is critical that IT-ET leaders create and foster an environment [of] what I refer to as "predictable chaos." K-12 education is probably one of the most challenging "business" environments to implement and support IT-ET services. By the way, education is not just a business model. Education is not a black and white or binary process, because you are dealing with people. Far too often IT managers apply an ISO model mindset to educational operations and practices. Technology services may be a predictable binary process, but education does not and probably will never conform to this level of predictability as long as we are dealing with people.

So the first step in creating a world of predictable chaos is clearly identifying your "sphere of influence." Everyone throughout the organization needs to know "what to expect." That is what to expect in terms of organizational and educational goal alignment, IT-ET services, and end-user practice expectations.  The collaborative development of an IT-ETSM (IT-ET Service Management) framework clearly identifies the expectations for all IT and ET services throughout the organization. As an IT-ET leader, you can only worry about what you can control. Stress is only a by-product of choosing not to be aware of what the expectations are for quality of IT-ET support services. 

If you truly want to reduce your stress as an IT-ET leader, you need to have a clearly defined IT-ETS framework that:

  • Aligns to educational practices and outcomes
  • Is developed from an understanding that education is not a standardized IT support business model
  • Is focused on a realistic quality of service model
  • And most importantly, promotes a proactive vs. reactive approach to making IT-ET services a transparent process within the organization

4. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your IT career?

The main problem I have come to understand over the last 25 years in education is explaining what's involved in the administrative leadership "just moment." What I mean by the "just moment" is when educational leaders want to implement an IT-ET service that may appear as a "just" from a decision-making perspective, but in reality is a very costly, time-consuming, highly technical process that needs to be carefully considered before making the final determination. Some examples of "just moment" decision-making are:

  • One-to-one MDM services
  • Content filtering and traffic shaping
  • Secure cloud storage
  • Consolidated directory services and single sign-on services
  • Secure guest wireless access
  • Secure organization portal access to LAN resources

This all comes back to having a collaboratively developing IT-ETSM framework that aligns to the organization's mission, vision, and mandate. You get what you expect, and as an IT-ET leader, it is important to have the communication, relationship, and political skills to guide the decision-making process. Academia continues to debate the failure of technology to transform our educational practices, but in reality, it is not a matter of technology failing. It is an issue of leaders failing to make realistic, sustainable decision around the integration of technology to support modern teaching, learning, and assessment practices. It's not about the technology, but it is. 

Related Content: What is EdTech?

5. What are your must-have tools for IT leaders in education?

The most notable tools that I would recommend for an IT-ET leader are the following:

  • A Web Help Desk system that is designed around the IT-ETSM framework developed to support the mission, vision, and mandate of the organization.  Services need to be transparent and promote proactive vs. reactive support measures. If you are focusing on just putting out fires, you are going to crash and burn.
  • Hardware Edge equipment such as Fortinet routing and firewall services that provide a means to monitor, shape, and alert on security intrusion risks.
  • Internal network device and infrastructure probe or monitoring technologies such as Intermapper and Statscout. These type of continuous monitoring tools are critical for IT-ET managers providing proactive technical support services. If you are waiting for a help desk ticket request to address network or network device issues, you are not going to be very successful in an educational IT-ET support environment. Proactive vs. reactive and making informed decisions based on previous network and device data is critical in providing transparent IT-ET support services.

6. What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out their career? 

It is important to surround yourself with people who are passionate about providing quality personalized IT-ET support services to improvement the teaching and learning process. You need to be emotionally attached to how technology can and should be used to support modern teaching, learning, and assessment practices. It is critical to develop an understanding of education from the classroom to the server rooms.

IT-ET leadership is not just about the technology or the educational process. It is a combination of both worlds. Making decisions in isolation of either area of expertise will result in education and technology having a minimal impact on instructional practices and student learning. Becoming an effective IT-ET leader takings time, and it is hard to develop an appreciation or understanding of either world without walking in both sets of shoes.


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