The ties that bind Alberta’s tech administrators

Between May 2019 and February 2020, Cybera held a series of half-day round table sessions in Red Deer, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Edmonton and Calgary. Our goal was to review the digital resources currently being used by Alberta’s public and education sectors to create efficiencies and improve computational literacy. We also wanted to identify existing gaps. 

In this (belated) post, we'd like to share some of our key findings from these sessions. [Please note: The discussions were held before the COVID-19 pandemic had reached North America, so these results may not reflect current needs and demands.]

The roadshows were open to anyone to attend, and we saw a good mix of attendees from education, research, municipalities, libraries, start-ups, etc. But despite the diversity of backgrounds, common themes emerged.

Current and future needs:

Cybersecurity

Across the board, leaders and administrators from the public, education, and business sectors were worried about protecting their institution against increasing (and increasingly sophisticated) cyberattacks.

Trying to find an ideal (i.e. not expensive or time-consuming) way to train staff to recognize and combat external threats, such as phishing, is also a common concern. So too is protecting the privacy of staff and student’s data.

Digital Literacy

Similar to the concerns around training staff to be more secure, many attendees were worried about bringing non-technical staff up-to-speed on new tools and technologies. This is a particular concern in the education space, where teachers are expected to keep up with online learning technologies, and impart new digital skills such as coding.

As one school administrator mentioned: “We rely on the less than 10% of teachers who have tech skills.”

Change Management

Oftentimes, the IT department feels “siloed” from other teams, particularly senior management. Many feel they are not included in their organization’s strategic planning, or that their leaders “don’t get” the need to update their technology approach. 

Many also admitted they lack the communications skills needed to get this message across.

Connectivity

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic had reached Alberta, educators were worried about their students’ home internet access and how it impacts their abilities to learn. 

On site, it is a constant struggle to stay ahead of bandwidth demands, particularly as the number of connected devices grows, along with the use of online learning and research tools. For public institutions that rely on the Alberta SuperNet, there are also worries about the future of this infrastructure, and how it will be administered.

Budgets

Having to “do more with less” is a frequent demand made of administrators. Almost all organizations struggle with hiring skilled staff, or up-training existing staff, particularly when they have little funds to offer either group. These issues were universal to both rural and urban organizations.

Understanding of New Technologies

Everyone agreed it would be  good to know more about blockchain, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, virtual reality / augmented reality, and the Internet of Things — including how these technologies will shake up operations and education. However, most do not have the time to research these new technologies.


What Is Needed

Advocacy

Improved advocacy to government, particularly to address the connectivity and other resourcing needs of public institutions, was a common request. Attendees also noted a need for the provincial and federal governments to create strategies for internet connectivity, and building technology capabilities at a community level.

Collaborations

Many recognized the need for better collaborations between Alberta’s public sectors, and increasing the opportunities to come together to share knowledge and experience. Municipalities, libraries, and educators could also work together on building shared technology platforms that would benefit everyone.

 

To read the full 2019-2020 Cybera Roadshow report, click here.