Leading in the digital age

Being an administrator in an era awash in technology-driven information must be challenging. For the last 10 or so years, I’ve been the leader of Ed Tech for two different institutions, one a college, one a K-12 school. I’ve always been called on to advise administrators how to handle challenges raised by technology. Let me list some of them and then discuss. One thing to note. The environment didn’t much matter. Colleges face similar challenges to secondary and primary schools. So here are some of the big ones:

  • what devices to get for students and/or faculty
  • how to handle anonymously written mean posts from members of the community
  • how to handle educators fears’ about using technology
  • the challenges of opening up online
  • privacy concerns
  • what software do we use
  • how do we best train faculty
  • how do we handle infractions of our acceptable use policy

Let me take these in turn. These are just my answers. As they say on the Internet, ymmv (look it up)


I remember the shift from desktop computers to laptops. We argued for days about whether to offer laptops as an option for faculty. Similarly, more recently, we spent a long time debating tablets vs. chrome books vs. laptops for our 1:1 program. Choose the devices that work best for what you want your students (or faculty) to accomplish. And that fit within your budget. Even though I personally think tablets are too limiting, it may be that 90% of what you need to do can be done on them and it might save you a million dollars to go with them rather than laptops. In today’s tight budgets, cost is always part of the equation. Whatever you choose, you must work with teachers to help them use it effectively. More on that later.

Mean stuff happens

Believe it or not, I’ve had to deal with this every year at both the college and K-12 level. Give people who have a grudge an anonymous platform and they’ll use it. And when those people are young and immature, they will use it even when the community guidelines and ethos tell them not to. When you can definitively find out who is behind comments, you can mete out appropriate discipline, but often you can’t. We dealt with these as a community, reminding everyone of our responsibilities to each other. And we dealt with the victim and bystanders, giving them strategies for handling these kinds of situations. This is not going to go away. It’s never a one and done kind of thing. Build community and that will help.


Back in my college days, a group of us went around giving talks about Fear 2.0, addressing faculty fear about Web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis. Facebook was in its infancy and twitter didn’t exist yet. Faculty were afraid of exposing themselves, of doing stupid things in public. When I was trying to get faculty to participate in an open courseware project, many were afraid of people thinking their syllabi were “weird”. Another was worried about class blogging, saying that classroom spaces were sacred. It was sad to see how how insecure faculty felt about their teaching. I find that to be less true of my K-12 colleagues. Their fear is usually about figuring things out well enough to use them. I get that not everyone wants to be online as much as I am, but I think you’re missing out. I refer you to Alfred’s post for more on this topic.

The next two items, about opening up and privacy are related to the fear. As Alfred says, you do have to be responsible online and there is always a chance you’re going to offend someone. But it’s not that hard to behave properly. Student privacy so always a concern when putting student work online or having them blog. This is often solved through the use of pseudonyms or first names only. I encourage people to be public with student work rather than hide it behind a password. They should be proud of it and the response they get to it is often worth it.


Like devices, this is somewhat constantly changing, and budget dependent.  I always advocate for open source options, especially for saving money, but often these are the most robust options out there.  Nowadays, you can even pay for support for some of these.  Although we still have Microsoft and other paid-for, downloaded options, increasingly, we’re using cloud applications, fully online products, some of which are free.  The thing I tell most people now is not to get too attached to software.  It might disappear or change completely.  And these days, you really should be looking around every couple of years for better tools.


Working with faculty can be difficult, but it’s essential to provide time and space for faculty to explore new devices, and new software.  I also think it’s important to cultivate an environment where faculty are encouraged to learn on their own and where they’re not waiting for the “official” training session to try to figure out their new ipad or the new Learning Management System.  I offer time over lunch for faculty to share what they’re doing and to ask questions.  Those sessions have varied from being conversations about helping students manage their time and assignments to more direct instruction about tools (often in response to specific how to questions).  These are weekly sessions with free lunch provided.  And for the most part, it’s a strategy that works.  It also helps that the tools we’ve focused on are flexible and fairly easy to learn.  Some faculty that I thought would struggle have taken to them beautifully.  It’s about giving them time and being supportive, no matter where they are, but also having the expectation that they will get to a certain level.


These are the things that haunt many an administrator.  The news is filled with overreach in this area: students going to prison for calling someone a dork online or getting suspended for showing a YouTube video in class.  Likewise, the news is filled with horrible things on the student side: students committing suicide after being bullied online, students posting videos of rape via Vine and Twitter.  These are the nightmare scenarios that keep some people up at night.  It’s essential to find balance, to not overreact, but also to punish appropriately when infractions do happen.  We have detentions for most things–from using a cell phone inappropriately to posting a nasty tweet about a fellow student.  Multiple infractions lead to suspensions and really bad cases can lead to being asked to leave the school.  We have slightly different rules for younger students.  In middle school, device use is limited to academic purposes only, even during free time.  Students may ask to use a device for YouTube watching or other leisure activities.  Our high school students don’t have these restrictions.  When they are not in class, they may use their laptops or iPads in whatever way they choose.  And they can use their cell phones in the student lounge areas.  Our rules have been put in place in response to student behavior and in accordance with our community guidelines.  We have thought about how we want our students to behave, and how to build the kind of community we want.  We’ve tightened up some things and loosened up others over the years.  Students themselves, for example, have asked us to be tougher on using devices in class, punishing those who stray from class content as they find it distracting.  Rules and structure help students learn and train them to moderate their online behavior.  But I think this is one of the toughest, constantly changing area to deal with.  AUPs should be evaluated every year.  And each school should use the AUP not as a hammer but like the constitution, a set of guidelines to live by to create the environment, on and offline, that you want.


Celebrating Scott McLeod’s Leadership Day in honor of his 8th blog anniversary.  FYI, this year marks 10 years for me. 🙂

One Reply to “Leading in the digital age”

  1. With regards to “these are weekly sessions with free lunch provided”—that may not be possible in many places. If we provide free meals on a regular basis to any of our faculty (like at monthly faculty meetings), the meals become taxable income for the faculty and have to be reported to the IRS. At the University of California, there are bureaucrats who spend their lives looking for petty rules like that to enforce.

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