The Missing Link in Educational Technology

Contrary to popular belief, effective implementation of educational technology (or EdTech for short) actually has very little to do with technology.

The problem is, we keep acting like it does... and it will be our demise.

Charles Darwin Image: MS Office Imagebank
In my career I've had the blessing (or the curse) to have worked in implementing technology in a number of industries from consulting, to commercial software development, to telecommunications, to transportation, to manufacturing, to universities, to large colleges, and medical schools. All of this has culminated in my latest mission - to define and execute the model to support the delivery of an education experience that equips our students to be successful in this world we are sending them into upon graduation.

Let me reach back into my curriculum vitae and pull out my medical school experience, for I feel it is here that we can draw some learnings for the model we need in the educational sector.

When I first arrived at the large state medical school in Indiana, I was brand new to medical education. So I did what all good consultants do -- I created a process map of a "Doctor factory". While those in medical education became highly offended at the idea that something as noble as the intricate, complex exercise of creating a highly skilled physician could be captured in a remarkably understandable process diagram, I found it delightfully easy.  (Note to all IT people. NEVER refer to the med school as a 'Doctor factory' in public, especially if they have sharp surgical instruments close at hand.)

What made it so simple to define the process was that the bright people who created it sat down at some point and defined what the expected outcomes of medical education looked like, as defined by a collection of competencies and skills that could be easily measured. There was an agreed upon national standard of what a doctor needed to know and be able to do in order for him or her to be called 'Doctor'.

But that was in medical education, not the environment I find myself in now. The likelihood of getting all of your educational outcomes and competencies defined in this level of detail is about as good as me winning the lottery without buying a ticket, or being mistaken for Brad Pitt.

But this is not the key practice we can borrow from the medical education folks.

The problem can be defined as this -- There's a missing box (or boxes) in your departmental organization chart.

In many fine medical schools, they have figured out what should be in the box. They even adopted a made-up word to describe it.... Informatics

Loosely defined, Informatics is the art of applying technology to achieve the teaching and learning outcomes. It is a skilled craft that combines a great knowledge of the learning process with a great knowledge of technology.  It is the gap piece that many schools (and IT departments) lack.

This is a unique (and hard to fill) role. The person who is effective in this role usually has a teaching background augmented by technical training, and an unbridled energy and passion for helping others be more effective in the delivery of an exceptional learning experience.

It is not a teacher who likes to play with gadgets.

I would suggest that you look at your org chart, and consider adding these skills to your service offering.
The IT department in its current form is unlikely able to either understand or deliver this.

It will take a new skill set.

While the 'nuts and bolts' of IT are critical, having someone who can close the gap between the technology and the effective application of technology is even more so.

This is the missing link in our ability to effectively implement educational technology.

We need strong skills in IT to deliver a sophisticated platform.

We need strong project management and coordination of skills to ensure the operational delivery of technology occurs.

But we need someone (or several someones) in the gap.  This is the missing link. You don't have to call it 'Informatics'.  You could call it something like 'Educational technology coordinator', or something more creative.  The key is to have these skill sets on your team.

This will allow your IT department to:

  • Create a platform that is 'open for academic innovation' 
  • Create a culture of experimentation. 
  • Create opportunities for teachers to try things, and share their findings. 
  • Move security and the complexity of managing data, applications, workflow, reporting, etc. into the network. 
  • Get the computer out of the equation and focus on helping your teachers develop the skills, competencies, literacies and knowledge today's learners need.
If you don't, there is the strong possibility that the IT department will be relegated to a maintenance function - keeping the services running at the lowest possible cost, but not called on for innovative ideas or having a relevant voice in the organization.

All of this doesn't mean that you don't strive to get the academic and experiential outcomes defined for your school. Without a person on the team who understands both the learning process and technology capabilities, it will be most difficult to do so.

If you are not in education, then there is an equivalent position. Do you have someone on your team that can bridge the gap between technology and your key products or services?

Ideas like this require big change, and a different way of thinking. So let me remind you, it's not the strongest of the species that typically survives, but the one that is most able to adapt. 

Do you agree?  If so, what have you done in your school to bridge the gap?

Do you disagree? I'd love to hear your ideas.


  1. We have an applications trainer who helps faculty and many teachers who enjoy experimenting with different technologies.

    I'm not sure if this role has to be part of the IT team? What do you think? I certainly think the role requires time and money to explore and experiment. It would be great if there was a student counterpart who worked alongside this role?

    1. Elizabeth,

      Training on technology is only part of the role... The real magic is the strong understanding of the learning process, and the ability to measure whether a piece of technology enhances, or distracts from the learning.

      Thanks for commenting.