Liz Boyles is the director of information services for the Troy Community Consolidated School District 30-C in Illinois.
The advent of technology in schools has provided overwhelming benefits for decades. We’ve witnessed the rise of learning management systems, student information systems, 1:1 technology, and much more. Very rarely do those technologies remain static, though — school leaders investigate the latest, greatest developments in ed tech before semesters even end.
At its core, better technology is great for education. After all, we should give our students the best resources available. But who guides the latest ed tech enhancements? It may seem like programmers and executives create the roadmaps — hoping their predictions about the next big education trend lead to popular improvements. But is that really the case?
My district, Troy Community Consolidated School District 30-C, chose Skyward as our student information system. Shortly after, their research team invited me to participate in a user feedback session. My eyes were opened to the roles school leaders have in the development process. I realized our ed tech partners wanted my insights to help tailor the future of technology in schools. Now, I want to get my peers more involved in these opportunities to increase school voice in ed tech.
I’ve laid out three reasons for education leaders to contribute ideas to their district’s technology.
Often, routine updates take the focus away from larger improvements that more precisely benefit administrators, educators and parents. The question needs to be asked: Who is ed tech being created for, and how will a new update improve that person’s role at a school? Without feedback directly from users, updates can miss the mark.
By participating in research and feedback sessions, more practical improvements can be applied without the usual guesswork and contemplation from technology decision-makers. Whether you provide a new idea or validate enhancements already in progress, your input steers technology in the right direction for other districts — and your own.
When our SIS partner asked for my thoughts regarding discipline letters in their system, I was happy to help. My district used behavior tracking, but when we started looking to transition to Skyward’s Qmlativ system, I encouraged them to clarify labeling in specific areas of the software to improve communication and usability.
I was proud to see my contributions come to fruition in the form of system enhancements. As school leaders, we want to build partnerships with parents, and communication is key to achieving that. In my district’s case, improving discipline features keeps parents better informed and provides them with tools to encourage appropriate behavior, keeping the lines of communication open between school and home.
Make technology work for you
Time is valuable, and technology is meant to save time. However, when half of a day is spent talking with tech support because you can’t find the feature necessary for your task at hand, technology becomes a time waster.
Not every piece of feedback needs to center on new features. Sometimes helping make your technology more intuitive is most valuable. Consider taking five minutes to perform a usability test. You can also beta test a solution your district uses often and discover which navigation methods work. Once you report back, your feedback could help refine the layout of future updates, resulting in less frustration, fewer support calls and less confusion.
If you have an idea about something that could be improved, odds are other districts could benefit, too. Whether a tool is intended to clean up data, improve communication or speed up payroll, its fundamental purpose is to improve education.
Without opinions from administrators, IT professionals and educators, we are tapping the brakes on progress. If we want to advance education and improve student outcomes, we need to be efficient in our roles. That starts with working smarter by showing ed tech innovators the way real, live users in real, active schools use their tech tools. The procedures and practices you share improve collaboration between districts and technology, creating a path for better education experiences. Open and collegial conversations allow for productive and efficient advancements in education.
No matter what technology you’re passionate about, be the voice of your district. Pull up a seat at the table and contribute to the conversations happening every day about your most-used tools. It feels good when technology partners are genuinely invested in our thoughts — and together, we can turn our experiences into improvements.