Role of CIO's and IT Directors in Schools

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Paul HerringAs technology continues to permeate every aspect of education chief information officers (CIOs) can no longer operate in silos. Technology is now a key player in both information technology (IT) operations and daily classroom activities. Why is such a role at such a senior level not only needed, but crucial to the future of high schools? In this article Paul Herring, Senior IT Leader at St Peters Lutheran College, Australia highlights important objectives, trends and challenges in IT leadership


There are now many significant issues, which can impede the successful integration, update and utilisation of IT and IT related services and initiatives in schools. For example, ‘Risk Aversion’ practices, as opposed to ‘Risk Management’ practices, have a significant detrimental impact on the uptake of learning technologies in schools[1].

In evaluating the role and potential of IT within the life of a school, I believe IT is best viewed as a single entity. Such a view facilitates strategic assessment and evaluation, future planning, ease of use as well as properly consolidating its status. When considered as a single entity for the purposes of strategic planning and organizational management, I believe that the potential for the effective resolution of many of the existing impediments to enable full and efficient use of IT can be more readily recognized, addressed and overcome. The effective use of IT can radically enhance the competitive capability of any organisation[2].

While IT may appear pervasive across the organisational and curriculum structures of many schools, I believe that there is a significant number of factors impeding the effective use of IT and limiting its competitive capability, as well as limiting its pedagogical impact. Thus the the creation of a senior role, such as a CIO, Director of IT or Deputy Principal – IT can create the cohesive leadership, direction and management needed to effectively maximise the integration of IT into the life and future viability of a school.

Among the important objectives of such IT leadership would be:

  1. Further effective development of an ongoing, relevant IT strategic direction and plan;
  2. Providing strategic leadership and support in implementing IT into and across the curriculum;
  3. Exploring new digital teaching technologies and staff professional development with a view to enhancing the school’s learning environment;
  4. Providing strategic leadership and support in more effectively integrating IT into the administrative and operational aspects of a school;

All of these primary objectives require significant input from pedagogical experts in the implementation and utilisation of IT’s in the curriculum, and especially from experts at the production end-point of the process, that is, in the context of high schools, expertise and experience with Year 11 & 12 students and senior IT curricula.

I would argue that the people with the best understanding of all the relevant issues, including the significant inhibitors to the successful integration and adoption of best practices in the use of learning technologies, (such as the ‘Risk Aversion’ approach) are teachers of IT subjects at the senior years of schooling.  Any school seriously wishing to weather the transformational change that has only really just begun, needs to look at how to engage with the digital revolution and use technology to underwrite this engagement.

Some of the most significant trends driving this transformational change are:

  • People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to;
  • The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based. This also significantly impacts on IT support and services;
  • The world of work is increasingly collaborative, driving changes in the way student projects are structured. The ability of Web 2 technologies to preserve the process and the multiple perspectives that lead to the end results is helping to drive this trend;
  • The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators. This is also impacting on the value of certification training and accreditation services;
  • Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning and collaborative models.
  • There is a new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning, now labelled ‘Authentic Learning’[3]. As technologies such as tablets and smartphones now have proven applications in education institutions, educators are leveraging these tools, which students already use, to connect the curriculum with real life issues. These active learning approaches are decidedly more student-centred than most academic disciplines have been at the secondary and tertiary level in the past.
  • The very recent recognition from employment research of how ‘Job Clusters’[4] will significantly impact educational and career choices for our senior students over the next few years

I believe there is a ‘tsunami’ of change here that is beginning to impact the educational sector generally. Envisioning some of the more significant aspects of this ‘tsunami’, we could see a future where:

  • Parents and adults might learn in the same building as their children;
  • Schools could be productive enterprises, centres for small business clusters, in which children run real money-making businesses;
  • Schools could be open longer; with more flexible hours; with schedules that suit the different paces that children learn and the times that parents work;
  • Alongside teachers we may see more para-professionals, teaching assistants, business people, and artists, etc.;
  • Greater adoption of peer-tutoring both face-to-face and on-line, with the creation of a new generation of lead learners, that is students who are also teachers;
  • Every student may have a ‘school supported’, but continually evolving, self-directed learning support plan to shape what they learn and from whom, in and outside school[5].
  • True access anytime; access anywhere through full utilisation of Cloud based services[6] and desktop virtualisation, leading to teaching and learning anytime; and anywhere via a predominately mobile and BYOD[7]

There are also though some significant challenges including:

  • Economic pressures and new models of education appear most likely to result in greater competition, especially for traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ educational institutions. The move to micro-credentialing in the tertiary and business sectors will most likely have a significant impact at the senior secondary level in the near future;
  • While digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession, it’s priority and emphasis at many schools is still minimal;
  • Typically large institutions have entrenched inertia and organisational barriers that present formidable challenges to moving forward in a constructive way with emerging technologies. The standard processes and practices limit the broader uptake of new technologies. Some of this inertia and resistance to change is simply, understandable comfort with the status quo. I believe that new organisational roles, such as a Director of IT or a Deputy Principal IT,  and the inherent strategic re-direction involved can begin to address these barriers;
  • The new modes of research and scholarship are presenting significant challenges for the school libraries and repositories of information. Social networks and new publishing paradigms, such as open content, are challenging the school library’s role as curator.

There are also some crucial strategies that need to be adopted for the successful progress in this new world of IT convergence. Among them are the following:

  • Knowledgeable and Supportive Leadership
    • Need Risk Management NOT Risk aversion;
    • Need informed, entrepreneurial, motivated and committed leadership;
  • An evolving, very well researched and consultatively developed IT Strategic Plan;
  • Champions and Mentors amongst the Staff and students;
  • Management focus and imperative to help foster IT update and not to impede it;
  • Good infrastructure is vital;
  • Consistent and well publicised encouragement and support for teacher engagement;
  • Effective use of recognition and reward; in both teaching and learning.

A Leading Question:
Are schools ready to embrace and be transformed by the move to the Cloud; Mobile Apps with Tablet & BYOD interfaces; game-based learning; augmented reality; gesture-based computing; learning analytics; personal learning environments (PLE’s), the Internet of Things and Machine Learning?

If not, then perhaps the role of CIO, Director IT or DP-IT may have some merit.

Paul Herring will be joining us at EduTECH Asia 2017 to share great insights on various topics including computational teaching for teachers, Designing and producing a new suite of technology subjects for senior secondary school students and more.

Join him and other renowned educators from Asia Pacific on 8-10 November in Singapore.

Book you seat now before the ticket price rises.

See you there!

[1] Research from the UK provides evidence that a key component in encouraging rather than impending innovative use of Web 2.0 technologies is the need for an ongoing conversation to bring all stakeholders to a common understanding of how to balance the complex issues and tensions in schools between cyber-safety concerns and the use of these collaborative teaching and learning tools.

[2] The Economic Impact of ICT, SMART N. 2007/0020, John Van Reenen, LSE, January 2010

[3] See one of my presentations on Authentic Learning here –


[5] Modified from HHU

[6] cloud computing (n): hosted applications and platforms, built on shared infrastructure, delivered via a web browser

[7] BYOD = Bring Your Own Device

[8] This overview is based on a similar role that was established at Brigidine College, Indooroopilly

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