So there I was, feeling pretty tired from working too hard, thinking to myself that I really need a break from everything related to educational technology. “I really must get out more.”, I told myself.
And indeed I have, metaphorically speaking, by embarking on a novel by Jeffery Deaver, called The Blue Nowhere. It involves computer hacking. (It’s possible that I haven’t quite got the concept of getting away from it all.)
Like all Jeffery Deaver books, there’s an intriguing plot and, no doubt, plenty of plot twists to come. I have read only about an eighth of it, therefore I cannot review it exactly, just give my impressions so far.
It features a computer hacker who selects his murder victims and then gets to know all about them by hacking into their computers. As an aside, it’s interesting to note how much seems to have changed, in both technology and terminology, in the nine years since the book was published in 2001. For example, do we continue to draw the distinction between hackers (the good guys, or at least the not-really-evil guys), and crackers, the nasty pieces of work? Does anyone still do phreaking, that is hacking into telephone systems in order to make free calls overseas? If so, haven’t these people heard of Skype?
Of course, they did it, and possibly still do it, for the challenge. This isn’t directly relevant in regards to this book, but it’s of tangential interest. An understanding of human behaviour, and human nature, is an essential weapon in the true hacker’s armoury. It’s long been recognised that the biggest hole in sophisticated security systems is the human element, and serious hackers – the really serious ones -- are very adept at social engineering. That is, appearing to be someone you’re not (a computer repair person, for example) and, like all good con artists, brilliant at getting people to actually want to help you.
This is very much a theme in the book, as is the issue of keeping oneself safe online. The book is probably too long to make it feasible to set as an assignment (though it might go on a recommended summer reading list if you teach older ones), but there is much to be drawn from it in a professional sense.
- For example, what could victim #1 have done to protect herself whilst online?
- Can hacking ever be morally right? Discuss.
- Data protection is the sort of topic which can be as dry as dust and little more than trying to memorise the laws that have been passed. This story highlights issues which illustrate (or can be used to illustrate) important data protection issues.
You would have to go about this sensitively. Without care, using the book to bring out these kinds of issues could lead to some students – and their parents – becoming totally paranoid about going online at all. As you’ll see if you read the book, keeping safe isn’t entirely a matter of ‘stranger danger’ and not meeting online friends in real life.
But if you’re worried about scaring the kids then you could just read the book for its own sake, for relaxation.
Which is what I’m going to do for the rest of the day.
To purchase the book, click on the picture above and you'll be taken to Amazon UK, where you can buy the book and thereby help me to put some more crumbs on my family's table, courtesy of the Amazon affiliate scheme. Thank you.
In a sense, most of what we've done so far is looking and listening, and not an awful lot of doing. That's not literally true, of course: looking and listening are activities, as is planning. However, the point I'm making here is that it's better to wait a little while before storming into a situation. As the old proverb says, Make haste slowly.
That can be very difficult to do, especially if you have just taken up the post of ICT leader in a school. You've seen some things which need addressing, and you want to make your mark. That's why Day 6 was concerned with identifying actions you could take that would gain some 'quick wins'. But more profound change, which becomes embedded in practice, takes longer.
So, Week 1 was concerned with gaining a few quick impressions of the state of educational technology in the school. In Week 2 we went a little deeper, looking for hard data and getting other people's opinions.
Next week we do more looking — at something which from my experience is not looked at often enough. Also, it's a time for action, where we look at things you can actually do in order to make the experience of educational technology better for the youngsters, your colleagues and yourself.
As they say in the media: Stay Tuned!
A couple of days ago I posted a short article about this free book, and where you can find it. There is now another location. Thanks to Peter Twining and his colleagues at OU Vital, it's now available online in HTML format (though you have to register -- free -- on the Vital website to access it).
Peter informs me that people can link to individual sections of the book within the vital community by copying the link for the section in question from the menu that is visible on the left of each page when you are looking at the book.
Today's suggestion is that you invite a teacher from another school to visit your school, and to try to arrange a visit to another school. Doug Woods suggested this back on Day 4 ('Get out and about') when he said:
I'd suggest walking around other schools to get a view of how they approach things. And also invite other teachers from other schools to visit yours and ask for their impressions.
There is no right and wrong about any of this, but the reason that I have deferred this until now is that I think you get more out of visits if you have done a lot of groundwork first, as I explain below.
Purpose of the visits
There are several good reasons to arrange such visits, for example:
- To help you see your ed tech provision through the eyes of a disinterested third party (note that I said DISinterested, not UNinterested). People tend to see things they want to see, and to get used to the things that perhaps are not quite right. Someone from outside, with no axe to grind, can ask the awkward questions like, "But why do you do it like THAT?", and to share their own experience with you.
- Visiting other schools can give you ideas. When I was involved in ICT inspections, on one or two occasions I suggested that the Head of e-Learning visit a few schools to see what was going on 'out there'. Without that injection of fresh ideas, it is really easy to become a bit stale.
- If you're thinking of investing in a particular type of network, or software, a visit by and to someone who has already done so can be invaluable in helping you avoid some of their mistakes.
- On a longer-term basis, it is often a good idea to forge 'vertical' links, ie with the schools that your pupils are coming from or going on to.
Who should you visit or invite?
If you're in the UK, it's easy to find schools worth a visit in your area. To find out which schools have been accredited with the ICT Mark, or even those which have committed themselves to going down that road, the Next Generation website is very good.
You can also go to the Becta ICT Mark site, but in my opinion that is not as good because it has only ICT Mark schools, not ones which have committed themselves to the Next Generation Charter (as it's called).
For a less 'official' list of schools, go to the SSAT's ICT Register — but bear in mind that schools nominate themselves as being worthy of inclusion on the Register.
You could also ask your Local Authority advisor (if there is one) or your School Improvement Officer.
You might also trawl through the Ofsted reports for schools in which ICT received a good mention, but as ICT is not always specifically mentioned the reports of good schools in that respect may be a few years old now.
Companies can also recommend schools. For example, an interactive whiteboard company will be able to recommend exemplar schools, ie ones which have done great things with that product. In a sense, that narrows the focus somewhat, but in my experience, and from the reading I've done and conversations I've had, doing great things as a whole school in one particular area is usually indicative of a much deeper and broader level of engagement with change management processes and that sort of thing. In other words, it would be highly unlikely, I think, to find a school that was working wonders in its use of interactive whiteboards throughout the school, but which was pretty awful in every other use of educational technology.
Also, if you attend conferences or training days, get chatting to people and, if feasible, contact them subsequently to arrange reciprocal visits.
It doesn't have to be another school. It could be a college or even a company. It all depends on what you're mainly hoping to gain from the exercise.
Getting the most out of visits
If you have invited someone to visit your school, I would suggest asking them to do what you did on Day 4, ie walk about and gain a general impression of what's going on. Unless, of course, you'd like their opinion on a particular thing the school has been doing.
When visiting other schools I think you gain much more from it by doing even a small amount of research. What was their last inspection report like (if you're in the UK)? Are they on the ICT Register, or have they achieved the ICT Mark? What does their website tell you.
For me, part of the research is being done whilst you're attending to your own affairs, which is why I am suggesting visits now rather than on Day 4. I think it's important to have have done some deep thinking first, so that you can ask relevant questions or look for particular aspects at the time: nothing is more frustrating than wishing you'd asked to look at a particular thing when it's too late.
Your task for today
So your task for today is not to visit a school, obviously, as you can't do that in 15 minutes, but to think about what you'd like to get out of a visit to another school, or from someone else visiting your schol. Then have a think about whom to approach.
If you lead a team of ICT teachers, put this topic on the agenda for your next team meeting. Perhaps your colleagues can suggest schools to visit or teachers to invite, and why. If they are nervous about the idea of having visitors, try to explore why. Why is it that they are not 100% confident in what the school is doing in that regard, and what can be done about it?
You can see that even if the discussion results in a decision to not invite others in, that in itself can provide a rich source of data about what needs to be addressed and prioritised as far as educational technology in your school is concerned.
The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book
This is an updated version of a news item published on 21st April 2010.
This fantastically useful and free book has now been downloaded 12,972 13,068 times, and that only tells part of the story. Others have made it available on their own websites, and I obviously cannot know how many downloads they've enjoyed. Also, some people have passed it on to many others.
Going by the poll I set up, the 40 people who have responded so far sent it out to an average of 77 people each, which if true of everyone would mean that over a million people have seen it so far. It's rather too small a sample to draw such conclusions though, and that mean figure hides a wide range. UNESCO, for example, has sent information about to to 5,000 people as well as placing a note about it on their website.
If you have downloaded and looked through the book, please complete the survey, which comprises three questions and involves hardly any typing!
If you like, you can access the contents of the book in three other ways, and even embed it on your own website. Firstly, there is a SlideShare option. The links are live, ie you can click on them and they work. Also, the subject-project list near the beginning of the book now contains hyperlinks to the projects cited. You’ll see the embed code near the top right-hand side of the screen.
Secondly, I have created a Myebook version. To obtain the embed code, you will need to open the book and then click on the Info tab. The advantage of this over the SlideShare version is that it looks and sounds like a real book, and you can zoom in to read it more clearly. Also, you can grab parts of the screen and email it to a friend. Unfortunately, though, the links don’t work, simply because I don’t have time to create them all manually - I’m waiting for a forthcoming automated version of the book builder to do that for me!
Thirdly, there is now a Scribd version. This, too, can be embedded in a web page or blog post, and shared over social networks.
You can download it from the Free Stuff page on the ICT in Education website, where you will also be able to read a sample of the nice things people have been saying about it.
In the UK at the moment we're in the run-up to a General Election, so we're being assailed in all sorts of different ways by various political parties. Given that some syllabuses require students to design a campaign, I think it's interesting to consider the ways in which technology could be, and sometimes have been, used.
Here is my 'back-of-an-envelope' list of ideas.
- Website, containing essential information about policies and contact details.
- Blog, updated daily -- not necessarily about the party or the person, but about relevant issues.
- Twitter account, so that people can follow the person's activities and thoughts. Less maintenance than a website or blog in some respects.
- Facebook fan page.
- YouTube video channel.
- Flickr group of relevant or pertinent photos.
- Daily or weekly podcast.
- Radio channel.
- Emailed newsletter.
- Digital magazine (which could be part of website).
That's a tall order for a single person, but for a political party it should not be too much trouble at all. The list is based on four principles:
- It should be easy for people to find out what they need to know about the party or Parliamentary candidate.
- It should be easy for people to be updated frequently, by whichever means they prefer.
- Potential supporters should be engaged, not just talked to or, even worse, talked at.
- What probably matters is a decent marketing strategy, to catch so-called 'floating voters' -- the people who can be persuaded to vote for one party or another if the arguments and presentation are right.
So on the subject of marketing, what is it that each political party is trying to sell? When it comes down to it, probably a set of values rather than a set of policies. Therefore, rather than try to inform the floating voter of the finer points of its manifesto, perhaps each party would be better off trying to create a viral video instead, or create a geocaching-based game of some description. Or some really great t-shirt designs with matching mugs.
So this raises at least three questions:
First, a marketing/philosophical/political question I suppose, rather than a technological one: does it make sense to try to sell a political party and its policies in the same way as you might try to sell a rock band or a can of beans? Or am I being incredibly cynical and ridiculous?
Second, in terms of the technology, what have I left out?
Three, if you're one of the people teaching a syllabus which requires students to design a campaign, what sort of things have they come up with that use technology in interesting ways?
This is an expanded version of an article published today in the Computers in Classrooms newsletter.
As well as talking to students and observing lessons, a good way of getting a feel for what educational technology standards are like — and therefore whether you need to do anything about them — is to look at students' work. There's nothing to stop you talking to students about their work; indeed, that's what a good head of ICT would do. However, you can get through a lot more student work without having to talk about it. Therefore 'work scrutiny', as this is sometimes called, can be a useful supplement to the other things you're doing.
Without the student there to discuss it with you it can be hard to drwa and hard and fast conclusions. The way I think of work scrutiny is that it's a means of gaining enough of an overall impression to be able to ask some pertinent questions. The kind of things I would be thinking about as I looked through the work include:
- Are attainment levels appropriate?
- Is the amount of work adequate?
- Is there a good range of subject coverage?
- Is there a range of contexts?
- Does the work show progress over the year?
- Are literacy skills being developed?
- Are numeracy skills being developed?
- Are ICT skills being developed? Which ones?
- Are ICT skills being applied?
- Is work marked regularly and is the marking diagnostic?
- Is there evidence of extension work?
- Are pupils’ special educational needs being addressed?
- Are there differences in the work according to gender or ethnicity?
- Does the quality of the resources used enhance learning?
- Is there evidence of homework?
Many of these would be more appropriate if you have recently taken up the post of leader of the educational technology team, or if ICT is taught or used mainly across the curriculum. Otherwise one would assume that you already know the answers to questions like 'is there a range of contexts?'
Note that some of the questions are appropriate if you are trying to judge the standards attained by individual students. However, in the context of work scrutiny the main purpose is to look at the big picture.
I think this sort of exercise can work quite well if entered into in the same spirit as the lesson observations discussed on Day 11. The purpose is not to catch people out, but to see what things are like. In my opinion, it's a good idea to discuss as a team what sort of things to look for, and then for the whole team to look at the same samples of work.
The exercise can be quite revealing. Let's take that contexts question again. On scrutinising the work it may become clear that the range of contexts is very narrow, which means that you and your colleagues can start to address that right away. Similarly with marking: if most of it is of the 'tick, good' variety then there probably needs to be some discussion of assessment for learning approaches to marking. Often it is only when you step back and look at the thing as a whole that you can start to see such issues.
Ideally, take samples of work from a wide range of students. Also, bear in mind that you need to look at a substantial range of work from each student. If you don't, it's impossible to even begin to answer questions like 'Does the work show progress over the year?' or 'Is the amount of work adequate?'
Also, it's worth bearing in mind that context is important. Take the question 'Is there evidence of homework?' When I was last Head of ICT, my scheme of work involved mainly extended project work, and so the homework each week was 'Do whatever you need to do in order to be able to get on with your project work in the next lesson.' I regarded that as perfectly adequate, because it was entirely appropriate. But there was no hard evidence in students' portfolios of homework having been done: you'd have to infer it.
You also need to know about context from the point of view of knowing what the student was required to do and how much help they had, when trying to infer their level of understanding.
Together with talking to students, looking at the data, observing lessons, and having an external person's opinion (covered on Day 13), work scrutiny can give you a real insight into the state of educational technology in your school. That knowledge can help you concentrate resources of people, time and money most effectively.
The RM Strategic Forum
In the early 80s I was in an amateur dramatics society, in which I trod the boards (as we say in show biz) a few times a year. In the late 80s I was in a band, in which I played blues harp (as we bluesmen call the harmonica) and sang.
Yet despite such displays of derring-do, when David and Carrie Grant announced that we would all be singing, I experienced a range of emotions, starting and ending with "OMG!". I had awful visions of being one of a hapless few selected to sing solo, and all the negative, stiff upper lip, we-didn't-do-this-in-my-day, what's-this-got-to-do-with-ICT-strategic-planning-anyway type of thoughts came flooding in.
Well needless to say, it was a great way of starting a day that was intended to be one in which we opened our minds to other possibilities and started to think differently. There were lessons to be learnt:
- In the hands of a good teacher, you can achieve great things very quickly. David and Carrie were excellent.
- Furthermore, a great teacher will make you believe yourself that you can achieve great things very quickly.
Great things? Well, I think a crowd of a couple of hundred people singing in four-part harmony within half an hour or so has to count as a 'great thing'.
- Finally, it was a salutary reminder of the hell we put some children through every lesson of every day. I remember myself spending every lesson in some subjects being terrified that the teacher was going to pick on me to answer a question. We can do things differently now.
The activity was also a great way of loosening up and generating some energy.
With input from assorted luminaries, including Richard Gerver, Sir Ken Robinson, Ollie Bray, John Davitt and Sir Tim Brighouse, the talks and panel discussion were very good, and in some parts quite moving.
In the panel discussion David Grant did an excellent job of coming back at the panelists and saying "Yes, but what can we actually do right now or tomorrow?". Left to themselves, a lot of visionaries tend to lapse into a default position of, er, having visions . It's good to have someone nagging them to say something of practical value too! (And yes, I know I'm being slightly unfair, but you get the point I'm making, yes?)
It was slightly annoying that a couple of the panelists had somehow gained access to my brain and filched some of my ideas about what makes an expert teacher. I've been writing an article about that, in my head. For example, an expert teacher is not just someone who knows their stuff, but can get the students engaged. Although even there I have to say — but I'm getting ahead of myself: you'll have to wait for the article to make its way from my head to these pages.
The small group discussion was OK, and well-facilitated, but the acoustics were such that it was difficult to hear everyone. The walk around the learning spaces set up, which included lots of examples of some great technology, and in some cases some real live students using it, was excellent. I was impressed by how knowledgeable the staff were. Also, as happens every time I see anything like this, I wished I'd had this kind of kit when I was teaching.
One thing that RM has done is to address head-on the problem always faced in new builds, which is that the architects wade in and the educational technology is incorporated into discussions as an after-thought — by which time it is too late. RM has teamed up with firms of architects so that their contribution is part of an overall educational approach.
Receiving an iPod Touch was great, but having it ready-loaded with useful files, and having to use it in the first session with the Grants, was a very well-thought out move.
If you have a chance to go to one of these events I would say do so: it's time and money well-spent. And no, I'm not being paid by RM to say this, in case you're wondering why I'm enthusing so much about this conference.
This article was originally published as part of a news bulletin on 28th April 2010.
Looking at data is all very well but doesn't tell the whole story. In my opinion you also need to see what goes on in a lesson.
The observer and the observed
This is potentially a sensitive subject: nobody likes to feel they're being monitored. I think it is therefore quite important that everyone in your team, including yourself, has at least one lesson observed. If possible, arrange it internally, that is to say, have members of your team observing each other rather than bring in an outside colleague, unless that is unavoidable.
If possible, have the lesson recorded on video. That can obviate the need for any elaborate cover arrangements and has the added advantage that the observer and the observed can look at the lesson together. This is quite useful because, done properly, it leads to a good discussion that can benefit both parties. Indeed, if people are brave enough, and trust each other enough, all such videos can be discussed by everyone in the team on a training day, or as part of a special team meeting (other ideas for team meetings will be covered on another Day).
What to look for
This has to be a matter of mutual agreement to some extent. For example, the person being observed might ask the observer to pay special attention to the way they use the whiteboard. The greater part of the observation has to be on whether or not the students are learning, or learning quickly enough. That means that it's fine, in my book, for the observer to ask students questions in order to ascertain their understanding, as long as, obviously, that they don't disrupt the lesson by doing so.
If you're going to assign a grading system to different aspects of the lesson, you will need to ensure that everyone in the team understands and uses the same system in the same way as each other.
The sort of things you might wish to focus on include the following, which I have placed in alphabetical order:
- Ability of students to use manual or on-screen Help
- Addressing of equality and diversity in planning
- Attendance of learners
- Attitudes, values, personal qualities
- Care, guidance and support
- Course suitability
- Health & Safety awareness
- How well does teaching match individual students’ needs?
- Learners’ understanding of purpose of session
- Learning outcomes
- Pace and challenge of session
- Punctuality of learners
- Quality of accommodation
- Quality of activities set
- Quality of answers given by students
- Quality of help and guidance given
- Quality of marking/feedback
- Quality of planning and preparation
- Quality of Resources
- Quality of students’ presentation
- Quality of teaching & learning
- Relating of work to previous sessions
- Software skills
- Standards of work seen in session
- Students’ achievement in session
- Students’ motivation & involvement in session
- Students’ self-esteem
- Students’ understanding of own progress and how to improve
- Teacher’s knowledge
- Teacher’s control of session (not just behaviour, but pace, change in activities, use of plenaries and so on)
- Teacher’s evaluation and review of the teaching and learning in session
- Teacher’s time management
- Use of resources
This is not a definitive list, of course. Obviously, I should not advise trying to observe all of these in a single lesson!
What can you learn from this?
As team leader, you are concerned with the quality of the educational technology as a whole, and lesson observations across the board can be really helpful in this regard. You may, for example, pick up on the fact that colleagues don't use the interactive whiteboard much. Is that because they have not received adequate training?
Or perhaps the pace tends to be too fast, leaving some students behind. Is that because they're concerned about covering the whole scheme of work in time? If so, does that suggest that the scheme of work is too crowded, or that more teaching time is needed?
Perhaps now that you come to look at it, the quality of your accommodation isn't wonderful. Is it possible to make a case for some refurbishment in the next financial year?
Of course, the bottom line is that as team leader you need to know what's going on in actual lessons. You can't rely on reports or statistical data. You have to actually see it for yourself. That doesn't have to be done in a draconian way. It doesn't even have to be done too often, especially if you have cultivated an ethos of nobody minding other people wandering into their lessons unannounced. But it does need to be done as it is a good means of finding out useful information and gaining an overview of learning and teaching in your area of the curriculum.
If you recall, each Day in the series is intended to include an activity that takes no more than 15 minutes. Clearly, you can't observe everyone's lessons in 15 minutes -- although you may wish to suggest that nobody's lesson is observed for more than 15 or 20 minutes, which makes the process more manageable. You may even wish to focus on the start or end of each lesson rather than all of it.
So I suggest that you spend your 15 minutes today reflecting on what's been written here, and perhas drawing up a rudimentary timetable of which lessons could be observed when -- starting with your own.
One of the things you absolutely must be able to do as an educational technology leader is know and understand what is actually going on in your domain. You need to know the facts, or at least be able to put the facts up on a computer screen straight away. Sometimes I've gone into schools and asked the Head of ICT, "Why are the boys here doing better than the girls in ICT, and what are you doing about it?", to which they have replied, "Are they?"
That is not the correct answer.
I don't want to get tied down to one particular country's rubric here, so what I'm going to do is suggest some generic questions you should be asking. You will want to add a few of your own that are pertinent to your own school or country.
Understand the data, and no cheating
First, though, a word about the data. I don't think you need to be a statistical genius to be able to see what's going on at a glance, as it were. For example, if 70% of the boys attained Level 5 last year, and only 40% of the girls, that would seem to suggest that the boys are doing better than the girls.
However, perhaps the girls are making faster progress over time than the boys. If the gender balance isn't split more or less 50-50 that could be skewing the figures. I think it's worth enlisting the help of someone who does understand this sort of thing — perhaps a mathematics teacher or the person responsible for data returns in the school.
But if you do know how to delve into the data, no cheating by using an obscure type of calculation to make the results favourable. I recall an inspection I was on in which the Headteacher sought to prove there was nothing amiss in the school because the examination results of the six students (out of around 300) who were taking a course in Advanced Physics had improved by half a percentage point over last year, using the chi-squared distribution technique.
No, I don't think so.
You may be tempted to adopt the blues singer Bessie Smith's attitude:
If you don't like my potatoes, why did you dig so deep?
(although I'm not convinced she was referring to exam results), but in the long run you're more likely to do best by your students by facing the facts rather than trying to avoid them.
OK, with no more ado, let's consider the sort of questions you ought to be able to answer. Bear in mind that members of your team need to know this too, or know about it and where to find it. You will need to involve them in the data-gathering process so that they don't feel 'done to', and you will need to share the results with them. Also, you will have to go through the process every year: it's not a one-off exercise.
What ICT is being taught, and where? For example, do they teach control technology in the Design and Technology department (if you're in a secondary school)? Are they using electronic keyboards and a composition program in music lessons? Where do the students get opportunities to use educational technology, and apply their knowledge of ICT, in their daily school lives?
Is ICT taught to all students in every Year or Grade? Are they getting their statutory entitlement (in countries where there is one)? How is it organised? For example, a two hour lesson every two weeks is not usually as effective as a one hour lesson each week, even though the total amount of time comes out the same.
What was the percentage of students who attained each Level at the end of the last school year? How do these results compare with the previous year? Was there a difference between boys and girls, or different ethnic groups? If so, what are you doing about it?
What do you do for youngsters with special educational needs? How do you stretch the high fliers? How do you cater for students who are unable to get into school, or who have just returned after being absent?
Do you have attainment targets in place for next year, eg "At least 50% of our students will achieve Level 4"? How are the targets being set, eg is it based on discussion with colleagues, handed down from 'on high' or did you roll some dice?
How is students' knowledge and understanding of educational technology assessed? Do they know what Level they're on, and how to get to the next one up? Do you and your team know about, and make effective use of, assessment for learning techniques?
What are the accommodation and resources like? For example, how many computer labs are there? How many class sets of laptops are available on loan? Is there an interactive whiteboard in each classroom? What is the student:computer ratio?Can the students bring their own devices in? Do you have a scheme to tackle the 'digital divide'?
How much use is made of the facilities?, For example, how often are the computer labs used? How often are the banks of laptops borrowed?
Are students taught how to keep themselves safe online? Not only from sexual predators, but from financial scams, misleading information, or from potentially damaging their own future prospects?
Staffing: are the members of your team well-qualified? Not necessarily academically, but in the sense of being knowledgeable enough to teach the subject. If not, shouldn't you be sending them on courses? What about your colleagues: are you providing professional development opportunities for them too? Have there been any issues of staffing which have had an impact on students' attainment in the subject, such as high staff turnover?
What strategic planning takes place, in terms of both targets (see above) and budget, taking into account the total costs of ownership? How are the interests of educational technology represented in the senior leadership team?
Is technical support adequate?
How far is technology used, both by you and your team and the school in general, for administration and management?
And your homework is...
As you can see, these questions are not trivial, and you do need to be able to answer them. But the good news is that you don't have to answer them all today, and you don't have to find out all the answers yourself. (For example, if proper records have been kept, a lot of the hard data like examination results and number of laptops should already be available, but not necessarily all in one place.)
Knowing the answers to questions like these gives you an excellent basis for planning, and for being able to talk knowledgeably with others about the educational technology in your school.
At 2pm British Summer Time (the word 'summer' being used somewhat loosely, given the deluge we had today and yesterday) on 5th May 2010 I'm giving a keynote talk on leading and managing ICT in schools, in the OU Vital Community. OU Vital is a recently-established online professional development community for ICT educators. Run as a collaboration between the Open University and e-Skills, it is providing a range of free professional development opportunities, both offline and online. Several people whose websites I enjoy reading have run, or are about to run, sessions, including Doug Woods and Andy Hutt, to name but two. Everyone is welcome to join, even if you don't live in the UK.
I'm not getting paid to plug it, by the way. It's a genuinely exciting initiative and a vibrant-looking community. The nice thing is the absence of rivalry. For example, Peter Twining, the head honcho, kindly offered to have The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book converted into HTML format free of charge -- the only 'price' being that I let Vital host it within their own site as well as on my own. Must have taken me all of three nanoseconds to think about that.
Anyway, back to the present. I was approached by Malcolm Moss, of Core-Ed, to present a session on ICT leadership. (See this articleto get details about OU Vital and how Core-Ed fits in). The terms 'present' and 'keynote' are strange ones to use in this context, because there is as yet no audio or video facility, unless one creates it and links to it. Instead, what I've done is to write a short stimulus article suggesting five broad strategies for leading and managing ICT in a school.
If you log in and go to that session, you can read the article and also take part in a live discussion via a chat room. That should be fun, and will hopefully lead to some good ideas being exchanged. I've made a short audio (less than three minutes long) to give it a bit more of a context, and you can listen to that by clicking on the play button below. The session lasts for an hour. Hope to 'see' you there.
When all is said and done, the whole point of being in school is to provide a good education for young people, so we need to ask them whether we're doing a reasonable job. However, exactly how you ask them will depend on their age, and also what you wish to find out.
What should you ask?
The kind of questions I ask when visiting a secondary (high) school are as follows:
- What you think is the school’s vision for ICT, ie why is it providing lots of kit etc?
- Are students asked to contribute to the school's vision and ideas?
- Are there lots of (high-quality) opportunities to use ICT?
- Do you find the things you're asked to do with educational technology challenging?
- Are you making progress?
- What opportunities are there for students to contribute to the school’s use and choice of ICT?
- What is the value of learning about and using ICT, especially as many people consider young people to be experts anyway?
- What Level are you at in ICT, how do you know, and what do you have to do to get up to the next Level?
- Anything you’d like to add?
These are not all the questions I like to ask, and I ask slightly different ones, in a very different way, when visiting primary (elementary) schools, but hopefully this selection will give you an idea of what works. Breaking these down what they seek to find out from the students is:
- What do you think the school is trying to do?
- Are you 'done to', or are you consulted, as far as ICT is concerned?
- Do youb get to do hard things with the technology, as opposed to stuff you could do anyway?
- How are you doing in ICT, and how do you know?
There are other ways of finding out useful information from a student's perspective, as you'll see on Days 10, 11 and 12. However, asking them directly is a useful — actually, essential — part of the process.
How to do it
I should recommend taking a random-ish group of youngsters from different age groups, eg 2 from each Year or Grade, and of both genders. Ideally, limit the size of the group to no more than six, and do it with two groups if necessary. Obviously, try to draw everyone into the discussion. The whole thing need take no longer than 15 or 20 minutes — half an hour at the outside.
You can either conduct the session in a lunch period, say, or during lessons whilst project work is going on, or online. If you do it online, I think it's important to ensure that students cannot make anonymous contributions. The reason is that there is always a danger that some students will use the exercise as a means of moaning about their teachers. If they wish to make such complaints, they or their parents should do so in a proper manner, not hijack your survey.
On the other hand, most students, most of the time, are eager to please, and therefore can be tempted to say things that they think you'd like to hear, or which won't get anyone into trouble. For that reason I do think that the best person to ask these questions is someone who is, and can be seen to be, independent. On Day 13 we'll look at the idea of inviting a teacher from another school to visit; the visitor would be an ideal person to conduct the interviews. Alternatively, a member of the Governing Body or a parent might be approached. A teaching assistant is also a possibility, as indeed is a colleague from another curriculum area altogether.
The information you glean from asking the students directly about their educational technology experience in the school can prove very useful to you in planning. If, for example, the school has invested lots of money in state-of-the-art equipment, but the students aren't using it, is that because teachers don't have the knowledge or confidence to make it available? Perhaps you should put on some staff training sessions in those areas?
Or suppose the students are using the technology a lot, and are really enjoying it, but don't know how they're doing or how to improve (an answer such as "I must work harder" is not specific enough). In that case, perhaps you need to make sure that people have a good idea of how to assess students' ICT capability and, crucially, how to convey useful information about it to their students.
So how would all this knowledge help you to become a better ed tech leader? The youngsters are your final customer, if you wish to think of it in commercial terms. It's not necessarily the case that the customer is always right, of course. But by making sure you know how things are from their perspective you can adjust what you're doing, repriotising if necessary, in order to bring about an improvement in the educational technology 'service' being offered.
Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth)has posted a useful article reminding students that when it comes to succeeding academically, accuracy in using the language still counts.He lists a set of rules which humorously make the point, such as "Avoid clichés like the plague." My question is: do the same rules apply to bloggers?
I think there are two main issues. Firstly, it's fine for bloggers or creative writers of any kind to bend or even break the rules of grammar, if that is done in a purposeful way. For example, I might wish to write a sentence consisting of just two or three words, or even a single word, for emphasis, which breaks Rule 10: "No sentence fragments.", as in:
You would think installing this application would have dire effects on your system. Not so.
Secondly, I disagree with some of the rules anyway. To be specific:
Prepositions are not words to end sentences with
As one of the commenters on Steve's post says, this isn't a rule as such, just someone's invention. Trying to obey it can lead to all sorts of grammatical gymnastics. I think Sir Winston Churchill said it best:
This is the kind of English up with which I will not put.
And don't start a sentence with a conjunction
It sounds like sound advice, yet doing so can often be used to good effect, for example:
But there was no way of knowing that.
Starting the sentence with the conjunction 'but' gives it an immediacy and impact that the acceptable alternative, "However," lacks. Indeed, the comma itself, which is grammatically correct in this context, induces a pause, as it is supposed to, thereby slowing down the pace. In my opinion, pace is just as important in non-fiction writing as in fiction or poetry. Would you not agree?
It is wrong to ever split an infinitive
Well, possibly the most famous split infinitive in the English language, "to boldly go etc", from Star Trek, is not improved by rendering it as "Boldly to go" or "To go boldly". Perhaps that's because of its familiarity, but there are lots of examples in everyday life where to not split an infinitive would come across as forced, unnatural. Usually the distinction is drawn between written and spoken language. A blog, surely, can be both.
Avoid clichés like the plague
Good advice, but hard to abide by. After all, clichés became clichés because they were deemed to be so apposite. You could try to coin your own analogies and metaphors rather than use a cliche, but in the wrong hands that can come across as self-satisfaction at one's own cleverness. Much better to write naturally and plainly. After all, if the image conveyed by the metaphor distracts from the subject of the writing itself, the whole point of communication has been lost. Therefore a far more useful piece of advice would be to avoid metaphors and similes unless they are truly necessary. They rarely are.
No sentence fragments
Why not? Sometimes these can be used to great effect. I wrote an article in which I not only used sentence fragments, but placed each fragment on a line of its own. I thought that was quite effective in conveying the style in which I would have said the same thing had I been having a conversation with the person I was referring to. In any case, for the sake of balance, these rules ought to include one which forbids writing long, complex, sentences. See, for example, my review of The Making of a Digital World, which contains such gems as:
This process is nested in the process in what Modelski terms the active zone process, defined as the spatial locus of innovation the world system, representing the political process driving the world system evolution, and unfolding over a period of roughly two thousand years (again separated into four phases).
Don't use no double negatives
Hmm. Well I can see that doing so might not be a guarantee of examination success, but certainly in other contexts the use of a double negative can be rather effective. For example:
Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges!
You'd have a hard job trumping Elvis Presley's triple negative in the song Hard Knocks:
Nobody never gave nothing to me.
The point is that you want to communicate not only clearly, so that you end up saying exactly what you mean, but engagingly. No disrespect to academics, but I have the impression that engaging the reader is usually seen as very much an optional extra. Depending on the nature of what you're writing about, and your target readership, the rules of grammar in the traditional sense may or may not apply. Audience and context are key.
Of course, all this assumes that you know the rules of grammar and good writing to start with. If you don't, those quoted by Steve would be good ones to print out and stick on your wall.
Another good source of information is the Grammar Girl podcast. This is surprisingly useful — surprisingly because, as we all know, rules of grammar and syntax differ between the USA and the UK. As George Bernard Shaw observed, "England and America are two countries divided by a common language."
However, Mignon Fogarty, the 'grammar girl', makes a point of highlighting the correct versions for a British audience and for an American one, where there is a difference.
Finally, the much-maligned grammar checker in Word and other wordprocessors does a reasonable job. You don't have to accept all the suggestions, but surely it's better to have the choice than to remain ignorant to the fact that you may have got it wrong?
They say that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. There's a certain amount of truth in the message being conveyed: committees often start by arguing, and end up compromising. The result is something that nobody in the room had in mind at the outset.
And, let's face it, committees may add another level of bureaucracy to an already bureaucracy-burdened profession. So why am I suggesting that organising one could help you become a better ed tech leader?
A committee can actually be a good thing — if the reason for its establishment is clearly to further the use of technology in the school, and the people invited to sit on it do not regard it as a forum for arguing in favour of having more funding lavished on their own curriculum area. Organised and managed properly, an ICT committee can be beneficial in a number of ways.
The benefits of an ICT committee
The members of the committee can be your eyes and ears around the school. We've already seen how walking around the school can be quite useful, but you can't necessarily do that every day, or even every week. You certainly can't be in other teachers' lessons all the time. A committee can provide useful information about how the technology is being used — or not being used — in different areas of the school. And, crucially, why or why not.
A committee can provide a watching brief on developments in technology. I'm mindful of the comments Doug Woods made about my suggestion of delegating a unit of work, to the effect that alleviating some of your own workload is not a good reason for it as other people are busy too, and I agree. But if people are on the committee they can be asked to keep an eye on things in an area they're passionate about, which they probably will do anyway. If they also happen to be non-specialist geeks, so much the better.
In any case, if you're in a secondary school they will be specialists in their own curriculum area. I think it's quite reasonable to expect them to provide feedback on the way technology is being used there, and new software applications. If nothing else, it should help to avoid duplication. For example, in one school I worked in, three subject departments had each bought exactly the same software — before I arrived on the scene, I hasten to add: one of the first things I did was to co-ordinate all software purchasing in order to both avoid that situation and to be in a position to enjoy price discounts.
Notwithstanding the camel comment at the start, colleagues on the committee are likely to come up with ideas you wouldn't have thought of. They have friends in other schools, for example, and belong to subject associations and read different magazines to the ones you do. They have different experiences from you. They're different people, for heaven's sake! They're bound to come up with different ideas.
Who should be on the committee?
In a secondary school, it makes sense to have a representative from each subject specialism. It's interesting to see who is chosen by the team leader. It's often the youngest teacher in the department, but is that because they're brimming with ideas and understand technology, or is it because they're the most junior members of the department and being on the ICT committee is seen as trivial but necessary? It shouldn't make you treat the teacher concerned any differently one way or the other, but this kind of knowledge can give you an insight into how important the use of technology is seen by their subject leader.
An alternative approach, if your school is organised like this, is to invite people from each faculty or learning area. That has the distinct advantage of keeping the numbers down, which makes the committee easier to manage. On the other hand, there are a fewer people to contribute to the work of the committee.
Primary schools are structured differently, of course, but you may still want to invite people based on their specialisms, eg literacy, special educational needs and so on. But the big problem is that, in the UK at any rate, primary schools are often so small that the same person is literacy co-ordinator and special educational needs co-ordinator, with several other roles thrown in for good measure.
So you have to be sensible and judge your particular situation on its merits. Should the committee comprise colleagues who have volunteered? Do you even need a committee at all? Perhaps it would be best simply to ask colleagues' opinions about things from time to time, or set up a means whereby it's easy for them to make suggestions and voice their opinions whenever they like.
Maybe the ICT committee should be an ad hoc one, ie set up for one particular purpose, with the intention of disbanding it once it has done its job. A good example would be where the school is thinking about implementing a new VLE, or a new set of portable computers.
Some thought needs to be given at the outset about when the committee will meet. In England, for example, there is a work time directive in place that teachers should work 1265 hours a year. This comprises both teaching time and 'directed time', and is often regarded as an upper limit (see this example, which I don't think is atypical). In such circumstances, if you're going to set up a committee, try to ensure that its meetings are counted as 'directed time'.
Even if you don't have to worry about the 1265 hours or similar, I think it's good practice to recognise that sitting on a committee like this takes up time which could have been spent on lesson preparation or with one's family. It shouldn't be taken for granted.
Also, it should go without saying that the meetings should be conducted in a businesslike way, ie with an agenda, and with notes of the meetings afterwards. People shouldn't be expected to have their time wasted whilst you consult the back of an envelope or, worst still, ask if anyone in the room has anything to discuss.
And a nice selection of cakes and some fresh coffee wouldn't go amiss either.