Creating IT Solutions for Educational Institutions
5 Questions with Tom Maher, President of iManIT
As President of iManIT Solutions, a consulting company that brings IT solutions to educational institutions, Tom Maher and his team of education sales professionals represent innovative K-12 tech start-up companies in the industry.
Q. You studied history education in college. What inspired you to enter IT consulting?
A. I was restless and ambitious when I was young (and maybe there’s still some of that left in the tank!) As you said, I studied secondary education and history when I was earning my undergraduate degree in 1985. During my year as a student teacher, I had to take an elective course in desktop publishing to complete my undergraduate teaching certification. As fate would have it, I fell in love with the Macintosh computer. That class spurred my decision to earn my master’s in Instructional Technology. Graduate school exposed me to many fabulous people and teachers, including Joseph Campbell, who taught me to think “epically” and “follow your bliss.” After that, the classroom walls couldn’t hold me anymore, and I went to work for Apple, where I could spread the message of how to use technology in the classroom to large audiences. One of my first clients was Touro's very own Jay Lefkowitz [Instructional Technology Program Coordinator at Touro’s Graduate School of Education], who was very kind to me and provided me with audiences of “computer teachers” to listen to my soap-box orations. I knew very early on that this was my calling.
What do you look for in a startup before deciding to represent them? Some signs of a company you expect will be successful?
If the motive of the owner or manager is primarily monetary, it’s a non-starter—the primary driving force has to be to improve the academic career of a student. If that’s already in place, I then ask whether we and this company can be successful in selling this solution. I use three criteria to determine the solutions potential.
First, research: Has the company done its due diligence to ensure the solution works? Hardcore research, pilots, white papers and testimonials are all good. Secondly—is the solution easy to implement for the teacher? Teachers today are under tremendous pressure, and instructional time is precious, so if the solution causes more work for the teacher, it’s problematic. Third and most important, is it engaging for the kids? If the kids don’t love it, it will eventually fail.
Can you give some examples of successful companies that are transforming the education industry? How are they revolutionary?
Google is leading the way with a focus on learning and seamless tools that empower teachers rather than bogging them down. Companies like Learning Bird are providing solutions that extend the classroom and give each student 25 teachers, instead of one teacher having 25 students. Its library of over 10,000 standards-aligned lessons are free for teachers and a powerful resource for students. The Verso Learning solution is a great tool for getting students to open up about their feelings, knowledge and experience while simultaneously honing teachers’ questioning abilities. Other solutions— like TUNEin to Reading, which lets young struggling readers sing their way to a love of reading and learning, and GlassLabs, which provides a rich platform for edugames—immerse students in sensory activity that doesn’t even feel like learning—it feels like fun. So, as you can see, the landscape is rich.
What’s been your most valuable learning experience from all the companies you’ve worked with in the past?
When I was working with the NYC Board of Education in the ’90s, I felt like I had a mission. What made it fun was the ability to work in the schools with dedicated teachers and administrators who shared that mission, and were willing to work with me to bring innovative solutions into their schools to help drive engaged learning. That’s the magic I’m trying to recreate with iManIT. So the lesson is: do what you love, love what you do!
If you could give just one piece of advice to future educational technology professionals, what would it be?
Understand, and follow, the mission of your school or district. In the late ’90s, a trend emerged that was very frustrating to me—the IT Professional felt that they were the ones who should make the technology decisions, not the educator. To me, a good IT person in any industry understands the mission and direction that the leadership wants to go and does everything in their power to make it happen. In our case, IT stands for Instructional Technologist, and our mission is the same. We serve the children, but we also serve the people who serve the children—so the better we support them, the better they can be.
Catch Tom at his workshop lecture at the Graduate School of Technology on July 30, from 9:30AM – 12:30PM. Discover what cutting-edge educational technology startups are bringing to the classroom and learn new ways to engage students using the latest mobile tools that encourage deeper and personalized learning.