Exciting new edtech? Don’t forget the load on teachers, support staff and IT

Education technology is advancing and innovating at an inspiring pace, driven mostly by generative AI. In and out of the classroom, technology tools, services and platforms are doing more and doing it better than ever. That is very good news, but these technologies have literal and hidden costs, and those hidden costs should drive some changes in the way schools consider and use them.

The literal costs are apparent. As amazing and indispensable as these technologies are, it’s the hidden costs that merit considering new management approaches or even entirely new technology policies.

Educators need time to practice with new tech

An easy first need is for educator training. As technologies improve, they become more layered, more complex and sometimes, less straightforward to operate and maintain. Learning to fly a four-engine passenger jet takes more time than learning to fly a single-engine, four-seat propeller plane, for example. As we add power to our edtech—or step up to Boeing 747s, to continue the metaphor—the training and mastery curves edge upward.

Consequently, we need to increase investments in professional development time for educators. A day or two per semester isn’t enough anymore. Not only do teachers need more planning time, they need more time to learn and practice the technologies they’re expected to wield in the classroom.

Support staff need training on new tech, too

This brings us to the second hidden cost—the changing roles of education IT professionals.

To add to the learning-to-fly analogy, it’s not just pilot training that has to increase when stepping up to a 747 from a single-engine plane. Building and caring for such complicated machines is complicated. It’s a bad idea to simply buy a fleet of new jets and train the pilots fully expecting everything to go well. It won’t. Those trained pilots need highly trained expert support crews and maintenance technicians—the planes will be expensive sculptures, otherwise.

The challenge is that most schools don’t have specialized teams of highly trained IT staff for every powerful new technology. Look at how many dramatically different tools are being added to schools right now. Institutional IT teams are small and while they are well-trained and experienced, rarely does compensation keep pace with the new demands they face.

IT professionals working in and at schools are being expected to do more while the quality, complexity, and number of technologies grow. Managing demands for increased support is already straining bandwidth. IT departments cannot be expected to keep things running with fewer resources and less time to address and manage increasingly complex systems and software without something changing that increases their capacity to support teachers.

Bring IT to the decision-making table

The easy answer is to hire more IT staff and train them exceptionally well. But budgets and priorities being what they are, that is not likely to happen.

What can happen though is to elevate and empower IT leaders in the decision-making structure, not just being at the table but running the meeting on edtech purchases. IT should lead the conversations about technologies that can and should be operating and have the power to not only add new tools but be equally empowered to remove them.

Not only would existing systems be stronger and safer, but key factors like interoperability and data security would be included in the purchasing conversation. Education technology would run better, be more reliable, and more effective. If our new and marvelous education technology is going to work best, the people who are expected to keep it running should be leading the conversations about what is needed, how it works, and how to get the most out of it.