Up close with Mark Gura on the release of his new book, The EdTech Advocate’s Guide to Leading Change in Schools.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Mark Gura, the former Director of Instructional Technology of the New York Public Schools (retired), now edtech journalist, ISTE workshop and network leader, and graduate school professor, recently released a new book, The EdTech Advocate’s Guide to Leading Change in Schools (ISTE Publications), a good reason to sit down with him to see where he sees the field of Education heading.

I’m sure you’re already aware of this, but the title of your book is, “The EdTech Advocate’s Guide to Leading Change in Schools.” Explain.

Mark: I think that there is and will continue to be a rapid increase in the use of technology in our schools and I think that many schools will not be prepared for it. Leadership will be the crucial factor for schools to keep their heads above water. I don’t think districts are preparing a sufficient cohort of leaders for what’s coming.

Fortunately, edtech leaders don’t necessarily have to be prepared in a single, set, formal way. Those who see developments, possibilities, impending needs, those who understand how to work with colleagues to guide them through this next major phase in the evolution of mass education, will be able to fill this acute need for leadership. And in many cases, those people may be teacher leaders.

At any rate, a good deal of the leadership that will be needed will be focused on a local level, colleague-to-colleague basis. I wrote the book for those people who will step up, as well as for those who are officially designated as coaches or tech resources people. Those folks will need more direction, too, as things speed up and schools become more and more reliant on technology.

And what is coming?

Mark: Many of us in the field have been talking about a “digital shift” in schools, a change in which “digital” will become the preferred platform for just about everything. Some have called it a transformation from a traditional, hardcopy school to a digital learning environment—that’s a good start in envisioning what’s coming.

I think we are further along in that change than many suspect, particularly in places where this isn’t even close yet. They are aware of edtech and that there are many ways in which it makes things easier, more effective, and breaths fresh life into the things that happen in schools, but not aware of an impending critical mass, a tipping point that will be unforgiving for those who aren’t up to speed. I see the strong possibility of there being what I’ll call a “digital tsunami,” a situation in which seemingly without sufficient warning, just about everything is best done digitally.

Why do you think that is what’s coming?

Mark: At the 2017 ISTE Conference this realization hit me hard. As I perused presentations and product offerings I realized that for those things that really matter in schools: instructional practices, student support (e.g. attendance, parent communications, record keeping, etc.), ‘housekeeping’ practices (e.g. purchasing of materials, scheduling, etc.), and especially, instructional resources—the digital version is increasingly the best, most effective, most cost effective, and most accessible.

Further, there are things, like the soon-to-be LMS, that, when used properly in ways that gets maximum benefit from the resource, truly redefine the school experience in the same positive ways that technology has redefined business and the personal lives of individuals.

I’ll take it a step further, I think there will be tipping points at which the proliferation and ubiquity of digital will make life very difficult for those schools that remain primarily traditional (either in whole or in part), although those school may have some technology-supported practices and offerings along with their traditional approaches. They simply won’t be able to get “the good stuff”, any longer, or be fully in touch as equal partners with those who have made the shift to digital.

So what’s in the book that will help?

Mark: The short answer is everything that I believe will be needed by someone who, for whatever reason, is stepping up to the plate to guide a school further into the Digital Shift. But not too much, my editors at ISTE and I agreed that this book should be relatively short, that this book should be accessible and manageable and encouraging—in keeping with that old adage, “Just enough, just in time” — well actually, more than ‘just enough’, but you get the idea!

And the long answer?

Mark: Well, the book explains the situation we are in as well as how it will continue to deepen and why becoming a digital learning environment is inevitable and important. I explain the differences of traditional vs. digital and the advantages that result from digital as well as understandings about removing barriers to meaningful technology integration. Importantly, I provide proven Digital Transformation Tools and Frameworks and how leaders can use these to good effect.

The book was created for the “Digital Change Agent”, that is, whoever assumes or finds themselves in that role. And I discuss the many types of positions those people may work in or from which they will adopt this role; I give insights into the various hats this leader may wear and how to grow into the role to offer support and guidance to colleagues.

I take the technology leader through the process of formulating a vision and sharing it, as well as supporting a school—or district—community in moving from vision to reality.

Importantly, the book discusses resistance to change as well as ways to get past it.

And there’s a large body of tips and resource recommendations and very importantly, interviews with other tech leaders who have gone through this process before.

I’m thankful that ISTE gave me the opportunity to put what I’ve experienced and learned over so many years between two covers!

The EdTech Advocate’s Guide to Leading Change in Schools (ISTE Publications) by Mark Gura, is available from Amazon or from ISTE Books, its publisher, who provides a description, an excerpt, and a table of contents.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com