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EdTech Update




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The changing role of the CTO

As we look to the future, every K-12 technology leader reading this article should consider the following challenges:

  • Forget about IT as you know it today;
  • Get ready to outsource IT;
  • Let go of the desire to control;
  • Embrace diversity in the IT environment;
  • Blow the lid off of storage limits; and
  • Quit saying things like, “A wired network infrastructure will always be necessary because wireless will never be fast enough for everything.”

from Robert J Moore, The Future of Information Technology: How The Next Ten Years Will Fundamentally Change the Role of the K-12 CTO: Executive Summary*, November 2010, COSN

Ah, the one constant in our media and technology department since I started in 1991 has been change. There have never really been the same set of challenges, frustrations, and successes two years in a row. And according to this COSN paper cited above, we're in for another major shift (which we are already starting to experience). I wonder if the majority of school tech directors are getting the message?

Outsourcing, loss of control, diversity? Anathema to many "classically" trained IT folks, I realize. But as school leaders who are facing budget crunches come to realize that real cost savings can be had by moving to the cloud and contracting for maintenance, these uncomfortable realities will be the new "normal" in technology departments.

I see tech leadership skills moving from:

  • Configuring a network or server to mediating a contract for an ASP.
  • Supervising technicians to evaluating out-sourced work and setting up effective helpdesks.
  • Writing technology plans to working inter-departmentally with curriculum, staff-development, public relations, assessment and strategic planning.
  • Providing technology devices to staff and students to providing access to school resources for personal devices. 
  • Writing policies that dictate behaviors to writing guidelines and curricula that encourage safe and responsible use.
  • Knowing less about the "how" of a new technology to the "why" of a new technology in education.
  • Maintaining the status quo to selecting and planning for new technology applications and best practices.

Tech directors, we've been asking our schools to change for many years. Are we prepared to change our own roles?

Or is it: Change is good. You go first.

In what other ways is (or should) the role of IT leadership be changing?

*Unfortunately the complete report is a COSN "members only" publication. Too bad since the piece would be of value to superintendents and HR directors. I have been requested not to share it, so don't even ask...

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Reader Comments (9)

I couldn't agree with you more as I sit in the gap that now exists of "what is it now and what will it be"?

It is a leap of faith at times but also a time to experiment.

The role of CTO is growing, morphing, and meshing all at the same time. It is quite a shift because it has to be a shift. Not only does the tech leader have to understand the tech, they have to be an HR director, an expert educator, a listener, a negotiator, a resource and a scavenger. You have to be able to turn both the literal and figurative screws.

One day you may be in a suit and tie and one day in jeans climbing under a table.

Every school has its own need and finding the right person to fill that need is the key. Do you have the person who can do all you ask and continue to learn as they go? Can they grow, adapt and morph as time flies by?

I hope you have that person.

November 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRyan MacRaild


I totally agree. Earlier this year my position job description was rewritten and renamed to CTO. The entire job description and evaluation document is based on the new COSN CTO framework:

When others in my district looked at this they couldn't believe the responsibilities associated with this office today. My response was "just wait, this is only the beginning".


November 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHenry Thiele

I think I can sum up the situation in 7 lines:
* Forget about IT as you know it today;
* Get ready to outsource IT;
* Let go of the desire to control;
* Embrace diversity in the IT environment;
* Blow the lid off of storage limits; and
* Quit saying things like, “A wired network infrastructure will always be necessary because wireless will never be fast enough for everything.”

November 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave

....soft skills are hard and hard skills can be outsourced.

November 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Hi Ryan,

I agree that the CTO needs lots of skills - including the ability to walk on water and then turn that water into wine!

Appreciate your comments,


Hi Hank,

Thanks for sending the link to the CTO Framework. I remembered there being one, but couldn't remember who wrote it!

I've really appreciated your posts on GoogleApps implementation. Good stuff!



Don't shoot the messenger!



GREAT line. I am stealing it!


November 19, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I wrote about the Bob Moore article as well ( He was a keynote speaker at our state CTO Clinic last year and he did a great job; he connected with technology administrators and his presentation really resonated with the crowd. I link to his presentation in my post - here it is:
The compendium article is an extension of the ideas in his presentation.

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean Tower

Thanks, Jean. I enjoyed your post and thanks for the link to the presentation!


November 23, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Boy, does this list hit home where I live. I'm (just) a teacher librarian, but am SO willing to help our IT department:

We have 580 5th and 6th graders in our building. Each, for the first time, has to logon to our network with a unique username and password. If you know any 10-12 year-olds, you know they forget things once in a while. While I am more than willing to help reset passwords or re-create accounts, I cannot. Everything must go through the IT guy who often cannot get to it until the next school day. He will not let go of that total control.

So, I'm there - let the media specialists help.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob F.

Hi Bob,

We go through the same process here with logging kids into GoogleApps and Moodle. We try to keep the same username and password as the library system, so that helps - and it's the librarian's job to make sure all kids successfully access these tools.

But yes, control is an issue. I've found control is mostly an illusion anyway!

Happy holidays!


December 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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