The Role of Open Communication in Educational Digital Ecosystems



"Hello, this is the technology office; how can I help you?”

“Well, my school ordered this new software, and we can’t seem to make it work on our computers. Can you help?”

Sound familiar? If you’ve worked in technology in a school system within the last 15 years, you have probably experienced this exact situation.

All too often, software or hardware purchases are made without input from, or knowledge of, the technology department. And yet, the technology department is told to “make it work.” A situation such as this could easily be avoided when all parties commit to communicate.

American author Marilyn vos Savant, who, according to the Guinness Book of Records, holds a Guinness world record of having the highest IQ (before that category was retired), once quoted, “Email, instant messaging, and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but because we live and work in our own little worlds, that communication is totally disorganized.” As Ms. Savant noted, we often work in our own “little worlds,” also known as workplace silos, and this process leads to disorganized communication.

Silos can happen in any organization, even educational institutions. And, if we’ve learned anything the past year, we’ve learned that working during a global pandemic exacerbates silo building. Many of us, from all departments, work independently on various projects, often forgetting that others are doing the same. If you are a task-oriented person as I am, you know exactly what I mean. You have a task list a mile long, and each day, your goal is to check something off that list! Task-oriented employees are often more likely to work in silos, especially when working remotely. 

While working in silos can be productive toward meeting a goal, other times it is detrimental to an organization’s mission. Effective communication is the most fundamental way to prevent workplace silos, but how can an organization improve its flow of communication in regards to technology in today’s remote work arena? 

Look at Your District's Internal Structure

The absence or presence of effective communication may be enhanced by your organization’s internal structure. Who reports to whom? Which departments are responsible for what? 

In the school district from which I retired last August, we had three main divisions of leadership: Teaching and Learning, Student Services, and Operations. Each division had a lead, and those leads reported to the Superintendent. The technology department fell under Teaching and Learning, and I — as the Director of Technology and Information — reported to the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, whose duties included curriculum development. 

The two of us worked closely to ensure our software and online services purchases helped fulfill our district’s mission. The Curriculum Director was the content expert; I was the person knowledgeable about hardware processes. A positive relationship between technology and curriculum is essential in order to effectively integrate technology and enhance an educational environment. 

In March 2020, when schools closed abruptly due to COVID-19, software companies offered many of their paid services for free to help districts navigate remote learning— a learning sphere unfamiliar to many. Open communication between curriculum and technology during those first few weeks of quarantine was extremely important in two manners: making sure teachers and students had access to tools they needed to succeed and, more importantly, ensuring student data privacy and security regulations were followed during remote instruction. 

Consider Lateral Relationships

Technology directors have been dealing for years with the notion that “if it has a plug, it belongs to technology.” For the most part, this notion is true, but the kind of technology that directors must deal with doesn’t stop at the classroom door.

While it goes without saying that technology directors are concerned with whether or not a specific curriculum package can run on the technology devices selected by the district, we must also worry about other factors that aren’t so obvious. For example, it could be whether or not the security cameras can pull footage needed after a break in, if door access control is scheduled correctly for a weekend event, or even if the HVAC system will remember that Monday is a holiday. For these reasons, creating a positive relationship with the lead of the Operations Department is crucial.

Ask Questions

Even though I have often been criticized for being a “nosey” person, I like to think of myself as a “curious learner.” My first memory of being disciplined for my “curiosity” was in first grade when I pretended to need to sharpen my pencil. Knowing that the pencil sharpener was next to the door, I thought that if I could leave my seat to sharpen my pencil (which didn’t need sharpening), I could possibly see and hear the commotion happening in the hall. 

Mrs. Whitley, my first grade teacher, thought otherwise, and my backside quickly felt her response to my curiosity. Yes, my nosiness goes back a long way, but even after all these years, I like to think that this character “flaw” has served me well. 

I have never been afraid to ask questions. Asking questions is a skill necessary in the technology workplace today. If you have a building project occurring in your district, ask questions. Ask to see blueprints, ask to be included in weekly progress meetings, ask financial questions. If a school PTA group plans to donate equipment to the school, ask questions. Ask why, ask what purpose the equipment will serve toward meeting your district’s mission, ask what the PTA expects when the equipment has exceeded its lifespan. The only way to make sure technology is included in important decisions is to ask questions of those in decision-making positions.

Author George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Don’t assume that because you mention concerns that people “hear” you. Active listening requires concentration, understanding, remembering and responding, and conducting meetings through a camera’s lens often makes active listening even harder. An active listener generally reacts to what is being communicated. 

Let’s say your virtual meeting ends, and you are doubting whether or not your concerns were heard. If you are not being heard and reacted to, then your organization’s communication structure is not ideal.

So, make some changes! Get out of your silo, ask questions and suddenly you may find that your monologue becomes a dialogue toward solving whatever problem comes your way.

“Hello, this is the technology office; how can I help you?”

“Well, my school ordered this new software, and we can’t seem to make it work on our computers. Can you help?”

“Certainly! I know all about that software purchase, and I’ll be glad to help you!”


Diana McGhee

A newly retired educator, Diana began her teaching career in 1985 and has basically grown up with technology, beginning with Windows 3.1 and Microsoft Mail. In 2013-14, Diana served as President of the Kentucky Society for Technology in Education, an ISTE affiliate, and she currently serves as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and a professional learning specialist for both i2e and EdtotheMax. She holds a B.A.Ed from the University of Kentucky with minors in journalism, communications and speech, a M.A.Ed and Rank I in secondary guidance and counseling from Eastern Kentucky University and a director of pupil personnel certification from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Currently, she is serving as a temporary academic advisor for Model Laboratory Schools in Richmond, Kentucky. 


New call-to-action


Subscribe Here!