The Technology Coordinator: Curriculum
Leader or Electronic Janitor

Rob Reilly Ed.D.

February 20, 1999
© 1999 MultiMedia School magazine. All rights reserved.

This past summer I was faced with the option of continuing as the school district's technology coordinator or returning the classroom. After 2 years as the school district's Technology Coordinator, I had come to realize that my expectations of the position and the reality of what needs to be done were at odds. I expected to be the curriculum leader, but became the electronic janitor.

My expectations of the position and what the position really needed seemed not to be a unique experience. As Shiela Kieran-Greenbush from Teacher's College at Columbia University in New York City puts it, "one person [is being asked, as Technology Coordinator, to], teach, design courses, keep up with technology, fix microcomputer, fix lan networks, monitor and fix wans, be a network administrator, be a www administrator, be an Internet guru, be a help desk, evaluate software and hardware, find and get grants, and generally do what an academic computing department in a small college would do." A technology coordinator in charge of a 3-person technology staff outside Chicago, Vinnie Vrotny's K-12 school has 4-5 networked computers per room serving the 430 students and 80 faculty members, "started" his job "doing more facilitation for teachers and students," but that severely changed. This change was attributable to the school's technology effort being "non-stop, adding computers, networking, home access for faculty, looking into asynchronous learning, adding administrative parts." This created a situation where "more and more of [his] time is spent keeping up with repairs and network issues, and more and more of it is dealing with administrative information flow."

Based upon my experiences and conversations with my colleagues, it is evident that any hope a newly hired Technology Coordinator has of becoming the technology leader—the technology curriculum guru—vanishes in the first few months of their tenure and tends to never return. With the "promise" of "come do great things with technology in our school system" before many new Technology Coordinators the reality is that the position soon becomes that of "electronic janitor." Ted Nellen, Technology Coordinator of a school in New York City, believes "one of the major problems is that schools either don't know what they want in a Technology Coordinator, or they expect a single Technology Coordinator with a limited budget to take care of everything related to technology." Kathleen Bennett, Technology Coordinator for the Longmeadow, Massachusetts Public School System is another typical example. She does "absolutely NO curriculum development. Right now [she is the] project director for the installation of the high school network and [is] trouble-shooting the WAN which is badly broken, and repairing Netscape Proxy Server which is crashing due to a flaw in filtering software that the company didn't tell anyone about."

There are clearly too many expectations placed upon the Technology Coordinator. And at the risk of adding to this open can of worms, let me note the growing need for 'assistive technology.' Joan Langston, a Learning Disabilities Consultant and Assistive Technology Specialist, notes that there is a need for a "person within the schools who works with Special Education students utilizing technology to help them cope with education in the least restrictive environment. 'Assistive Technology' is a new field that is coming to the forefront due to the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A.),which requires the use of technology as a means of mainstreaming more students."

With all that said, if a Technology Coordinator is to have any hope of success to facilitate curriculum integration, technology literacy for the staff and students, and provide for effective tactical and strategic planning, a Technology Coordinator (or better yet, the Technology Director) must have a firm plan in-hand and be certain that the expectations of the school system match. To avoid many of the pitfalls, I suggest that the Technology Coordinator must first and foremost:

—Have a goal that is similar to the school system's technology goal (or convince them 'buy into' your goal).

I would suggest that a Technology Coordinator's goal might be:

To fully integrate technology into a school system that has the resources and desire to move forward toward the technological demands of the 21st Century school system.

—Have a personal perspective in regard to technology that provides a vision and reflects a leadership personna.

I would suggest that a good perspective is that: many schools today have (or should be deploying) computer labs, computers in classrooms, a LAN, the Internet, and facilitating teachers becomming ready-and-willing to embrace technology.

P.A. Gantt, a Computer Science Technology Instructor, makes an excellent point about the Technology Coordinator's many tasks being foisted upon one person when she advises us not to "confuse technical support with tech specialist/supervisor. These are two different skill sets that rarely exist as one." Nellen agrees that one person with "all the necessary skills just does not exist."

But for sometime to come, perhaps by necessity these terms will be confused and comingled.

—Be able to answer the question "How many people do we need if one is NOT enough?

An Educational Technology Planner at the Board of Cooperative Education (BOCES) for western New York, Margaret Dyte-Graczyk states that she has "seen districts struggle with this problem." She believes the "fact is that the Technology Coordinator cannot do it all. Districts that have hired them are disillusioned because this person cannot oversee the whole thing and fix the problems and train the staff —there just aren't enough hours in the day."

Dyte-Graczyk notes that when her department is called in to help a district plan for technology, "we recommend hiring a team of three (minimum): One Tech Coordinator to run the whole department and oversee the budget, research and keeping up with the changes in technology, ordering of equipment, etc.; One Technical Person to install it all, troubleshoot, and keep it running; One Technology Integrator to help with the training and more importantly, implementing the integration of technology into the curriculum with an emphasis on standards, etc."

Nellen, with a staff of three, agrees with this configuration. He "does teacher training, coordinates pedagogy and technology. Another Technology Coordinator deals with the equipment, inventory and maintenance. The third person is an administrator who articulates the curriculum and pushes the paper." Nellen notes that "all three of us teach some classes... this business of separating the administrative side of this job from the teaching side is foolishness... it makes the age old mistake of other non-teaching supervisors--they forget about" the students and such.

—NOT become the break-fix person—the Electronic Janitor.

Assuming a one-person operation, the Technology Coordinator must develop policy, and be supported by the administration, in that: "if it takes more than 10 minutes to fix, it gets shipped out." Or even better, the school district should have a service contract with a local computer repair facility for on-site service once a week or so.

—But if you must handle non-curricular things...(e.g., supervise network management, computer maintainence)

Let me offer a tact taken by Dr. Martin McKay of the Ohio SchoolNet. He suggests making "use of a student corps to do the basic repairs and then some." This approach appears to be very workable as it precludes the Technology Coordinator from becoming lost in the abyss of janitorhood.

The SWIFTIES (Students Working in Future Technologies) program was started by Dr. McKay with just 3 students. "Eventually the program grew to 20 students," who according to McKay "did everything, including run all the networks," and the SWIFTIE participants were "sent for training to various in-house and external places for training, and then they trained each other."

The Technology Coordinator must also have a Plan of Action. That Plan of Action must preclude becoming the dreaded Electronic Janitor and include:

—Develop and Conduct Technology Professional Development

Even before a discussion of technology professional development begins it worth noting that, as Bonnie Bracey, former member of the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIIAC), states "teachers are being overwhelmed with all of the things they are being asked to do, and when we add technology in a superficial way, it really creates a problem and adds one more headache." In the light of this, Bracey also notes that, in general, "although many educators and policy analysts consider educational technology a vehicle for transforming education, relatively few teachers [in a recent national study] reported feeling very well prepared to integrate educational technology into classroom instruction."

—Develop, Supervise, Facilitate Technology Integration into the Curriculum

Based upon a survey of the staff and students to determine what a basal level of competency consists of, several models for the delivery of professional development should be considered. The delivery models should identify the various interest groups (e.g., those that might desire to use the Internet/Web, exploring whole language, developing grade level curriculum). Delivery of professional development could consist of: a. series of courses conducted at set times for large groups of staff. For example, offering courses in Web browsing or Word 97 may be attractive to a large segment of the staff, b. one-on-one instruction for those who have unique desires, and c. cohort group experiences led by staff members or students with expertise in some area.

—Develop a District Wide Continuity Plan for Technology (administration, business, and classroom).

—Have a firm understanding of the salary and benefits package, and of the nature of the position (e.g., administrative position, faculty position).

Salary, raises and benefits should be very clearly defined. Too often the Technology Coordinator position is 'open ended.' A 'let's put the job in place and then evolve a job description along the way' approach is a terrible philosophy.

Also the Technology Coordinator is not paid what they are worth. Bonnie Bracey observed that "when a person has the technology skills, integrative ideas and experience with implementation, there should be another salary step, because in reality there is a step outside of education that will pay them very well for a lot less work." Dr. McKay is also concerned that: "if we get [a Technology Coordinator], how do we pay him/her enough to stay in the schools and not move into the commercial market where they can make a whole lot more money?"

And, in closing...

Allow me to suggest that a school system must decide what the nature of the position is going to be. Kieran-Greenbush make an excellent point when she states that: "K-12 has to understand that one or two people cannot do everything. You have to decide what is important and have them do only that." If a Technology Coordinator does not meticiliuosly define their position, that person may as well hang a "Cinderella" sign on their office door.

Nellen's believes that, "the Technology Coordinator is a new position integrating a larger part of the school than any other position and requires a more community based plan and articulation of it. It should not be created by folks who don't even use technology, have not had to do some of the problem solving, and who will not be doing any."

Dr. G. Ernest Anderson of the University of Massachusetts wonders aloud if his efforts in "trying to prepare people for positions that should be there but which have not developed yet was simply a decade too early." Anderson, who was a Western Union telegraph operator in the 40's, muses that, "perhaps technology is correctly viewed as an add-on skill for educators who are doing other things rather than a worthwhile speciality in itself." Anderson does see the situation changing but wonders "who will provide leadership, and where will these people be located in the education hierarchy?" He believes that, "time will tell."

As for me, I have returned to the classroom where I am now certain that what I do makes the children more technologically literate. I am not sure how the faculty will fare, but they weren't doing all that well when I was Technology Coordinator as I was always being pulled away from professional development for some other project. But I have not retreated totally, I'm just going where I can, hopefully, do some good (and be appreciated). In addition to my teaching position, My other position is as a Visiting Scientist in the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives at MIT. Perhaps I can have some impact on the situation from those places!