Teachers as IT Users

Teachers are the second largest number of school IT users, and they are the users who have the most diverse IT needs. In addition to using computers for instructional purposes, teachers use their devices to create materials, manage student data, and complete school operations tasks. In addition to their work-related tasks, most school acceptable use policies allow teachers to use their school-owned devices for professional tasks not directly related to their jobs. The list of such activities includes completing courses for credit which are necessary for recertification or for advanced degrees, participating in professional organizations, and engaging in personal learning activities. 

In general, educators use whatever productivity suite is supported by the IT professionals to create classroom materials, such as worksheets, study guides, and presentations. Increasingly, Google Workspaces files are the dominant suite used by educators. In addition, they use whatever learning management system is supported to extend and enhance their lessons with virtual classrooms. Managing classroom activity requires they have robust and reliable access to the student information system as well. Whereas previous generations of teachers kept paper copies of attendance (and sent hand-written lists of absent students to the office), today’s students mark attendance on the online SIS and those in the office see the report almost instantaneously. Further, they access human resource systems and documents, requisitions, and other operational systems and documents via their school-owned devices. In these needs, educators are very similar to the IT users in other businesses and industries as they are well-known and predictable.  

Meeting the IT needs of teachers is complicated by several factors. First, teachers do not often have the language to accurately describe what they want or need. Their difficulty in describing IT systems affects both their abilities to communicate how systems should be reconfigured to meet their needs as well as their ability to describe malfunctioning systems. For IT professionals, this means they must listen carefully and actively. In addition, they must repeat back to teachers what they are hearing. Often, clear communication requires the teacher demonstrate exactly what they are observing that is problematic. 

Second, teachers cannot tell if the systems function in the manner they anticipate until it is actually used at scale with students. In most IT design projects outside of school, the use case is relatively well known, so they progression from proof of concept through alpha and beta testing can be done it situations that closely resemble the end use case. While such testing can be done on a limited scale in schools, the unanticipated circumstances that are introduced by students can cause the most carefully planned IT systems to fail “in the wild.” IT professionals must be prepared to redesign systems and projects in response to what educators discover when they use IT with students.  

Third, many teachers seek flexibility in their classrooms. For a number of very valid reasons, many teachers vary the physical organization of their classrooms during the school year. Elementary teachers use “centers” and these often change depending on the time of the year or the availability of resources. Others change seating arrangements depending on the units they are studying, and others vary classrooms to introduce novelty. IT professionals must be willing to accommodate teachers need for flexibility and understand these changes are likely to be rooted in valid teaching needs rather than whim. 

Teachers and IT professionals often find they have much different goals and needs when it comes to IT systems. Teachers need flexibility and adaptability, but IT professionals know that flexibility and adaptability can result in systems that are unreliable and unsecure, so they are reluctant to build such systems. Time is limited, and IT professionals seek to build systems when demand is low during the summer. Teachers may discover unanticipated needs only after the school year begins, so they may request changes after IT professionals have completed the upgrades, updates, and changes they thought were needed. Educators may also request quick turnaround times on IT requests. For the (typically) understaffed IT staff in schools, unanticipated changes and short timelines can be frustrating and can delay other projects.  

Just as teachers must accommodate to changing instructional needs with short-term changes to their practices, school IT professionals must be prepared to make changes to their systems with less notice than they would like. This does not mean that IT professionals must make every change a teacher asks for, but it does mean they must engage in discussions and adopt reasonable timelines for changed deemed necessary for teaching and learning.