School IT administrators play a crucial role in supporting the day-to-day ecosystem, maintaining and upgrading edtech for classroom teaching and learning. It’s a demanding, important job that requires technical proficiency, knowledge of the latest IT innovations, and the ability to manage numerous tools. So what’s it like being on the frontline of schools’ IT support?
We interviewed a district technology specialist with more than 22 years of experience to learn their perspective on everything from the tech solutions they design to resource pressures. Here’s what they had to say about their day-to-day role, what they like best about the job, and how it’s changed.
A typical day
“I represent the district and work for the 53 different schools, making sure K-12 are up and running.”
What’s your greatest source of satisfaction? “Helping staff and students with their technology, training them on the programs and the display. When I took my master’s degree six years ago, I saw a trend that students can do a lot on their phones, and I think that is still true.”
It’s part of an IT administrator’s job to coordinate how schools support students’ tech use. “We don’t have a universal BYOD for the whole school district of Manatee County, but a school can adopt that. Our IT department is working very hard on making sure we are at a one-to-one ratio with Chromebooks, so we’ve purchased a lot.”
They’re also responsible for upskilling teachers’ edtech use. “My job involves making sure the programs are working for our learning management system. We’re putting together a professional learning department, creating courses inside our learning management system which can house what comes through from our student information system.”
Finding and tailoring edtech solutions which help support teachers’ and students’ needs, as well as efficiency and flexibility. “The teacher can present their materials electronically, whether students are in the classroom or e-learning at home. The grades are put inside the gradebook when they mark the students’ materials, and then the report cards are printed. We also have a spot for ourselves where we can house our own materials, like a OneDrive, Dropbox, or a Google Drive, so it’s multipurpose.”
This account reflects the versatile uses and support of education technology for teachers’ productivity, such as delivering assessments. However, this is only enabled by adequate tech budgets, which 42% of IT staff believe are too small, according to our State of Technology in Education Report. Restrictive tech budgets limit the quality and impact of investments, and confine IT administrators to more basic tools. By improving this, IT staff can set up an edtech infrastructure to make the classroom and whole school run more efficiently.
The challenges of being an IT administrator
“Being able to help staff and students long distance has been my greatest challenge. We had to transition immediately to e-learning, and not everybody was prepared. We have come back to face-to-face in the classroom and tried to eliminate a hybrid modality, but still have e-learning.”
How does an IT administrator manage these new learning setups, and monitor how well it serves their students’ needs? “We used to have half in and half out, and that didn’t work very well for us in Manatee County, mostly because the learning wasn’t happening. Parents are not knowledgeable about what’s going on in the classroom like a teacher. If you have a student that is excelling, they’re excelling wherever their classroom is. But if you put a student that’s not excelling in the e-learning situation, and they need assistance and they don’t have face-to-face support from someone that’s continually full time like a teacher, they just can’t do it.”
It can be hard to keep IT administrators across the district up to speed with best practice. “I work with the ‘train the trainer model’ and have one person from each of the 53 schools who I teach, and then they’re supposed to share with their school. In some instances that works well, but in most, it’s probably not as effective.”
What would ease the burden on IT administrators? “I think that we need more of me because a district our size could benefit from IT people out in the schools, and clusters, so that they can help the teachers right then and there, instead of teachers having to submit work orders, emails, asking their friend, or just forgetting about it until they come to that problem again.”
To ease the burden on IT administrators, tech training helps increase staff confidence and competence. However, 35% of IT staff believe there’s too little budget allocated to training, leaving educators reliant on their support. As a result, the relationship between teachers and IT administrators can become less focused on collaborating together over tech use that elevates the instructional experience.