We're Not Just Making This Up

In September, Susan M. Bearden joined ATLIS for a webinar on Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning, the product of her year-long residency at the Department of Education. Now a private-sector educational consultant in Washington, DC, Bearden shared with ATLIS her goals for the project, the importance of envisioning the learning first, the significance of cybersecurity for education, ruminations on how public and independent schools can learn from one another, and a look forward to what the future holds for technology and education. We are happy to share Bearden's interview, also available in video format elsewhere on this website, in the blog post that follows. -- SD

ATLIS Leadership Webinar
Susan M. Bearden on Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

(20-minute read)

When asked about her background in education, Susan M. Bearden, now a private-sector educational consultant working in Washington, DC, is quick to mention that she comes from the instructional side of schools and that she was initially intimidated when she assumed the role of technology director overseeing both IT and edtech for Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, Florida. Now, building on her deep knowledge of technology and learning, augmented by a keen empathy for the realities faced by education leaders today, Bearden has written two insightful publications: Digital Citizenship: A Community Based Approach and Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning, on which Bearden served as project lead when she was a Senior Education Pioneers Fellow in the Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education.

Speaking with Susan Davis of ATLIS for its Leadership Webinar Series, Bearden shared her take-aways from researching, revising, and adding new content to the 2017 edition of the Department of Education report, which was originally published in 2014. Perhaps the most important addition to the revised report, says Bearden, is new content focusing on cybersecurity. The report also includes updated resources and examples, including a number from independent schools.

Translating Geek Speak

Bearden’s goals for the report were to write it “as something readable, translating geek speak, so non-techie Heads of School and other leaders could understand.” She intentionally addressed a broader audience to make the document useful to all leaders, something that technology leaders, especially, could use to support their conversations with decision-makers at their schools. She wanted the report to be something that would allow technology leaders to say, “We’re not just making this up.”

Learning First

The report starts off by outlining the several steps needed for instructional technology initiatives: developing a vision for learning first, followed by choosing the right tools and devices, designing relevant and effective professional development, evaluating bandwidth and network needs, and investigating a range of resources available to schools. Bearden adds, it’s important to “make sure curricula and tech are talking to each other.”

Cybersecurity as Emergency Planning

Bearden points, particularly, to the cybersecurity section of the report, and suggests that tech leaders make cybersecurity more effective by viewing it in terms of emergency planning. Such an approach reinforces ATLIS’s focus on cybersecurity, which was highlighted in our October 25 webinar with Jamie Britto of Collegiate School (VA), as well as other ATLIS resources, including our August blog post and downloadable poster (see PDF below) based on the 2017 Cybersecurity Threat Assessment  produced by the ATLIS Cybersecurity Advisory Panel.  

The 2017 Department of Education report details free cybersecurity services, NCATS, from the Department of Homeland Security, including Cyber Hygiene (CyHy), a scanning device that follows best practices to locate vulnerabilities, a Phishing Campaign Assessment (PCA) to evaluate responses to emails that attempt to breach networks, and a Risk & Vulnerability Assessment (RVA), “a menu of network security services including penetration testing, network mapping and vulnerability scanning, phishing, and/or web application and database security assessments.” Email [email protected] for more information.

Public and Private Learning Together

In addition, Bearden believes we should “break down the walls between private and public schools,” that both kinds of educational institutions can learn from one another. One example is what independent schools can learn from public institutions about assessing home internet access to address all students’ technology needs equitably. Learning from the experience of their public school counterparts, independent school technology leaders can benefit from investigating Research and Education Networks that can provide lower cost internet access.

Schools of all stripes can learn from the following noteworthy but possibly overlooked government resources highlighted by Bearden:

  • The National Education Technology Plan, which calls “upon all involved in American education to ensure equity of access to transformational learning experiences enabled by technology."
  • The #GoOpen campaign, which “encourages states, school districts and educators to use openly licensed educational materials to transform teaching and learning."
  • ERate, a potentially beneficial funding option for independent schools that is certainly worth a look. See also the ATLIS White Paper on E-Rate (in our members-only document library).
  • Student Privacy 101, the Department of Education’s easy-to-understand guide to FERPA.


Looking to the future, Bearden emphasizes how “large swaths of country still don’t have affordable internet access,” even as both the cost and need for broadband is “growing exponentially.” We need to plan, says Bearden, for networks that are scalable, that address the numbers of personal devices we carry around with us. We need to expand OER (Open Educational Resources). With an eye toward investing our funds wisely, we need to “be aggressive in terms of negotiating broadband costs” and consider how BYOD might save costs.

So, Susan M. Bearden wisely brings us full circle. Technology leaders are positioned to create an enormous impact on the schools of the future, but must start with a clear vision of how that future learning will look.

Contact Susan M. Bearden

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @s_bearden
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/susanmbearden

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