Technology leadership in American education has been on a slow boil for a while now. Ever since the Apple II computer popped up in libraries and classrooms across the country in the 1980s, educators have faced the challenge of incorporating technology skills and concepts into curriculum while somehow minimizing the amount of mischief that kids and computers get up to.
That challenge has only increased in the years since, as the demands for tech education in the workforce have skyrocketed. But it’s not just the tech sector itself driving demand—between 1980 and 2015, IT itself only went from just under 3 percent to just over 5 percent of the American labor market according to Moody’s
Instead, it’s the increasing expectation that every working professional has technology skills that’s driving job growth for the tech-savvy. Twenty-five or thirty years ago, there were still industries where you could get a job at a front desk without knowing a little Word or Excel. Not today. And even hands-on, manual labor professions are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the tech they use, from plumbers to longshoremen.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rumors you may have heard of technology’s post-pandemic demise have been exaggerated. BLS job market forecasts still show that all computer and information technology occupations will increase at a rate of 15 percent between 2021 and 2031.
And of course the COVID-19 pandemic, difficult for schools and educators everywhere, would have been almost unmanageable for schools and other businesses without computers and the internet.
More than any other event, the pandemic cemented the status and need for educational leaders who have a strong grasp of the possibilities and limitations of technology.
Exploring the Evolving Role of Educational Technology Leaders in American Schools
Although computers have been popping up in schools since at least the 1970s, the role of instructional technology coordinator didn’t emerge until the late 1990s.
The dot-com boom of the late 90s combined with increasing capabilities and more technical equipment popping up in classrooms made it clear that information technology was going to be an ongoing consideration for school systems.
At the same time, few teachers or administrators at the time had the depth of technical expertise needed to keep those systems running.
Frontline technology admins and coordinators today are expected to have the basic knowledge of computer operation and system maintenance to ensure access for students and staff… at the administration level, technology leaders need a deep level of expertise, and management skills on top of it.
Beyond the pure nuts and bolts of managing information technology, there’s also the question of how best to apply it and teach students to use it. Questions of curriculum design and integration are likely to end up on the educational technology administrator’s desk.
Increasingly, educational technology leaders are also having to become experts in security. Privacy and stability are threatened by school technology that isn’t up to standards in the cybersecurity arms race. Until recently, that described many instructional technologies, where openness and accessibility trumped security.
Modern Educational Technology Leaders Have to Handle Modern Cybersecurity Issues
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act doesn’t have any specific security standards for information technology in schools, but it does create liabilities for districts where student privacy is breached.
And beyond the all-important need to protect students themselves, the surge of ransomware and data-destructive worms and viruses threatens basic school operations.
According to an Infosec Institute report from 2020, more than 1,000 school districts were victims of ransomware attacks in 2019. Ransoms up to $88,000 were paid in some cases to unlock systems. In other cases, infected online textbook files were found circulating. Attackers aimed at more than just ransoms, but also set about extracting lucrative personal data from school systems that could be used or sold on the dark web to identity fraudsters.
Instructional technology leaders not only face the challenge of making sure their educational computer systems are secure, but also incorporating essential knowledge of best security practices into curriculum and lesson plans. As students are exposed at earlier and earlier ages to interconnected systems, giving them the tools to stay safe is now an important part of the technology education process.
Although some states and districts have separated out the responsibilities for handling online learning administration tasks, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, many districts continue to rely on instructional technology administrators to handle those aspects of district operations.
Educational Technology Jobs: Different School Districts Define Roles for EdTech Professionals on Their Own Terms
Some of the common titles for these positions include:
Particularly in smaller school districts, you might not find separate positions for these roles. And the ubiquity of modern technology in learning also sometimes means that conventional instructional or curriculum coordinator roles are expected to have a similar command of technology.
So you may also find positions that are effectively in educational technology leadership, but have titles that are reflective of broader roles, such as district teaching and learning facilitators, chief academic officer, or director of curriculum and instruction.
Of course, at the post-secondary level, or in large districts, these jobs have titles that are more like what you would see in private industry, like:
Instructional technology licenses are often found in state administrative licensing categories, and are distinct from teaching endorsements for fields such as computer science. This reflects the leadership demands in the role—instead of simply teaching kids coding or other hands-on technical skills, instructional technology coordinators train teachers how to use technologies for teaching in all kinds of different subject areas.
Like technology itself, you can expect that the job description and functions of educational technology leaders will continue to evolve rapidly.
Developing a Combination of Technical and Pedagogical Skills to Become an Effective Instructional Technology Leader
Even as the job of instructional technology professionals continues to change, there are a core set of skills and knowledge they can develop to serve as a foundation. These are the basic elements of any educational technology leadership role and will support your career in the field through whatever changes may come.
Like any teacher or leader, edtech admins’ ability to communicate complex concepts and ideas at the appropriate level for their audience is critical. This occurs not only with other teachers, students, and higher-level administrators, but also with outside vendors and support personnel.
Basic IT Skills
Although it’s a job that involves plenty of creative thinking and high-concept pedagogical practice, there’s also a lot of pointing and clicking that happens every day in ed tech. So a basic ground in bits, bytes, and nibbles is also crucial in educational technology leadership.
Troubleshooting and Problem Solving
Modern technology of any stripe comes with a sizable share of head-scratching problems. Add students to the mix and you can face some truly king-size trouble that requires creative problem-solving. More than most educators, instructional technologists must think on their feet and have the toolset to quickly address system breakdowns and other issues.
In a field like ed tech that is shifting rapidly, educational leaders must be able to assess the current state of the field, analyze new developments, compare them to district and school needs, and put it all together in a long-term vision that will best serve their constituents. Making big decisions like purchasing new software or inking new service contracts commits districts to long-term expenses on sometimes untested technologies. An educational technology leader needs the right knowledge and instincts to make the right calls in the face of uncertainty.
The theories of learning and information presentation are crucial knowledge for educational technology administrators. Putting advanced tech knowledge together with both traditional and modern understandings of how students learn and absorb information is the bread-and-butter stuff of educational technology work.
Instructional technologists often build on these core skills with other, related talents in areas ranging from project management to data analysis. Depending on the job, they may be asked to take on additional responsibilities in overseeing and maintaining district and school networks used for both administrative and educational purposes.
Do You Need a License to Work as an Educational Technology Administrator?
Like other kinds of educational leadership roles, ed tech administrators typically need some sort of license in order to work in schools.
Although schools in every state need strong technology expertise and leadership, there is no single paradigm that every state has settled on for licensing ed tech leaders and specialists.
The most dominant license that exists is at the instructional technologist level. Often called an instructional technology specialist or an instructional technology coordinator, these are typically offered as endorsements that stack on to the state’s standard teaching license.
To earn the endorsement, you typically need to:
Other states have more differentiation in their ed tech licensing. This can mean splitting out fields such as computers or telecommunications into separate endorsements, or it can mean offering different licenses for instructional versus non-instructional technology coordinators. In some cases, there’s no specific educational technologist license, but the role will be covered by a basic administrative specialist license.
The requirements for each of those will vary depending on the specific ways that the licensing parameters are drawn up. But preparing with a master’s degree and a concentration in technology is always a solid start toward meeting qualifications.
Of course, educational technology leaders working at the post-secondary level, or at private schools in many states, won’t need a license at all. But that makes the education and experience you bring to the role even more important, since those are all that you will be judged on.
Finding the Best Degrees to Support Your Career in Educational Technology Leadership and Administration
A master’s degree is the easy choice for becoming qualified to work as an educational technology leader. First, most licenses in the area require that level of EPP coursework. Second, a master’s degree is where educational leaders really develop the polish and key leadership skills that it takes to become an excellent administrator.
And these days you have a wide range of choices in advanced studies to get those qualifications. There are many specialized degrees in instructional technology that often include EPP course blocks to satisfy state licensing requirements, such as:
- Master of Education in Learning Design and Technology
- Master of Arts in Instructional Technology
- Master of Science in Instructional Design and Technology
- Master of Science in Education Technology
- Master of Education in Instructional Technology
But if you are interested in the most high-level positions in instructional technology, it’s worth looking at programs that include a greater emphasis on leadership skills alongside technical matters.
The typical curriculum will include coursework in vital areas such as:
There are many programs that focus on leadership and administration skills that also offer technology training, like the Master of Education in Educational Leadership with a concentration in Educational Technology. And there are programs that are expressly designed to combine technology and leadership training, like the Master of Arts/Master of Education in Educational Technology Leadership.
Together with the same kinds of courses as other educational technology programs, these come with classes in:
The combination of these skills not only positions you for district-level technology leadership jobs; it also offers you a leg up for a career in educational leadership overall. There’s no question that technology will continue to play a key role in the world of education.
Principals and superintendents with a strong background in the field of technology are likely to be the first choice for schools and districts with an eye on the future.
All these types of degrees include field experience or practicum placements in line with state licensing requirements. And like every master’s degree, they will have a culminating project or thesis requirement that ties together the research and learning from your experience into a strong synthesis of your new abilities.
What Are Salaries Like for Educational Technology Leaders?
Ed tech is ubiquitous in modern education, so you can find jobs for instructional technology coordinators at every level of education, from Pre-K to major universities. And there are also positions to be found in both individual schools and at the district level, overseeing operations at many different schools.
Positions that specialize in educational technology are new enough, however, that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) hasn’t entirely caught up with tracking them specifically.
But those jobs all fall into existing categories that the Bureau accounts for. So although the specific range of compensation you might find as an educational technology administration can’t be pinned down, you can rest assured that it falls at least somewhere into these numbers.
For many instructional technology coordinators, that means living within the world of Instructional Coordinators, who BLS found made an average salary of $63,740 per year in 2021. Considering the specialization required to work in tech, and tech leadership more specifically, you might find yourself more toward the top end, however… those in the highest 10 percent made more than $101,090 per year.
BLS also separates compensation based on grade level for instructional coordinators, so you can see some differences between those working in K-12 versus post-secondary ranks:
These positions are more likely to be dropped into the catch-all category BLS maintains called Education Administrators, All Other. For 2021, their average annual salary was $89,130 per year. Those in the top ten percent could make more than $154,690, however.
As supervisory and district-level staff, these positions are often exempt from that cherished chunk of summer vacation that many teachers and school staff enjoy. However, they benefit from the same kind of solid retirement, healthcare, and vacation benefits that are common in the education world.
Just as important, each of these positions is effectively future-proofed. As heralds of the next big things in instructional technology, you’ll enjoy a career where you never have to worry about not being in-demand. And you’re also in an excellent position to shape the future of education, just as you are shaping future generations of technologically literate school kids.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Instructional Coordinators and Education Administrators, All Other reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed May 2023.