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Sunday
May022010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader-- Day 9: Ask the Pupils

A task a day for 31 daysWhen 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?

Ask the right questionsThese 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.

Then what?

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.


Saturday
May012010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 8: Set Up a Committee

A task a day for 31 daysThey 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.

Practical matters

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.

Friday
Apr302010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader: Consolidation Day 1

A task a day for 31 daysThere is always a danger with any series like this that, with a new task or challenge being presented each day, it can all become somewhat relentless. For that reason I decided at the outset that I would insert some 'consolidation days'.I suppose technically that's cheating a bit, because it will make the series longer than 31 days — but I never said anything about the days being consecutive!

Reflection is a good thing, so let's cogitate on what's been achieved over the first seven days.

In fact, reflection is a good word to use in this context, because what this week has been mainly about is metaphorically sitting back and watching and listening. The exception was Day 2, of course, which was designed to both satisfy leaders' innate predilection to actually do something, and to set events in motion that would have long-term benefits without being too disruptive in the short-term. As I've suggested before,one of the worst things you can do, if you're new to the job, is to go around changing everything before you really know what's what. You want to make your mark as a new leader, but hopefully you'd prefer to be known for being incisive and doing what's needed, than for being impetuous and self-obsessed (which in my opinion is a characteristic of people who act without doing some fact-finding first).

If you've been rising to the challenge every day, what you should have by now is a kind of shopping list of issues to address, and some ways to address them. You will have found out what, in your opinion, needs looking at through the exercises on Day 1 (SWOT analysis), Day 4 (getting out and about) and Day 7 (wall displays). You will also have started to think about ways of dealing with these issues, whether in the short term (Day 6, quick wins) or the longer-term (Day 3, find a non-specialist geek, and Day 5, draw up a wish list). Remember, the whole focus of this series is to stimulate some thinking, not necessarily to solve all the problems straight away.

If you haven't had time to look at one or two of these tasks, well, today's a good day for catching up!

The next seven days will involve further looking, but at a deeper level, and will also involve other people.

Thursday
Apr292010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 7: Wall Displays

A task a day for 31 daysTake a look around you. I don't mean around the school, as suggested on Day 4, but around you. What are the walls of your classroom like? If your school has computer labs, what's on the walls? How about the walls in the general area itself, outside the rooms?

Walls are not there simply to separate rooms or hold the roof up. Well, they are, but you can use them for so much more. And if you're not allowed to put anything on the walls then investigate the possibility of having digital displays, in the form of mobile 'walls', plasma screens or, if it comes down to it, a computer station or two at the back of the room running an automated PowerPoint show. I'm not saying that's ideal, and I recognise there may be practical drawbacks, but I am just trying to convey the idea that there is no need to, and nothing to be gained by, taking a defeatist attitude in that kind of situation.

What's it all for?

Before we go any further we need to stand back and ask the big question “why?”. To put it another way: what is going to be the impact on teaching and, especially, learning, of your classroom display? If the answer is “not much”, then there’s little point in bothering.

That may seem a little uncompromising, but schools are about learning. Anything which does not contribute to that goal, whether directly or, perhaps by creating a safe, stimulating and pleasant environment, indirectly, is simply a waste of time and energy.

The same goes for notices in a computer lab. All too often they are full of what you must not do. After three minutes you start to feel as though you've entered a prison. What's on the walls should enhance your desire to learn and do stuff, not make you wish the end of the lesson had arrived.

How effective is the display in your classroom? Try this as an experiment to find out how much notice your class takes of the wall displays. Ask them to tell you, without turning round to look, what country is shown on the map at the back of the classroom. The best situation in which to do this is one in which there is no map, nor ever has been, in the back of the classroom. The pupils will almost certainly come up with all sorts of answers except the correct one.

If that happens then you will know that your display has been less than successful!

Types of display

Nothing, nada, zilch

The most basic type of display is no display at all. In other words, there are just plain walls and doors. You may think it is frivolous to count this as a display at all, but bear in mind that the environment the pupils have to work in conveys a message to them. In this case, the silent message could be that they are not important enough to worry about. Even if this is stretching the significance of the so-called ‘hidden curriculum’ a little too far, it has to be admitted that the complete absence of anything at all on the walls cannot exactly produce a stimulating learning environment.

It may be, of course, that the school has been built, and is being maintained, through a private finance initiative (PFI) or similar arrangement, and that one of the conditions of use is that nothing is put on the walls, or other restrictions. That is something that should have been spotted, and negotiated out of the contract altogether, at the planning stage, so it is too late to do anything about it immediately - although it may be possible to find ways to work around it, as suggested earlier.

Posters

Another type of display is created by putting posters on the walls. These can be obtained from companies, in which case they contain advertising, or educational periodicals. The main function these serve in practice appears to be to brighten up the room. In some cases they serve a second function as well: that of covering up unsightly marks or cracks. Ideally, they should help to provide information or points for discussion that can be brought into lessons.

Showcase

A third type of display is intended to showcase children’s work. The walls are festooned with print-outs - sometimes annotated in colourful felt tip - and extracts from pupils’ folders. If you have someone on your team who is great at putting things on walls in a way that makes people burst with pride at seeing their work on them, ask them if they'd be kind enough to be in charge of all that sort of thing.

Perhaps in return you could negotiate some sort of quid pro quo with the powers-that-be, something useful like having one or two guaranteed free periods a week in which to manage it. If that's not an option or not applicable, then take away some aspect of administration, or even try to obtain a small salary increase for them, although that is both unlikely to happen and is not without its difficulties if it does happen. If the person is a teaching or classroom assistant, then build in display duties as part of their timetable if you can.

The point is simply that although many staff in school do extra things and go above and beyond the call of duty, that's no reason to expect it and take it for granted.

Guides…

Another type of display consists of sets of instructions. Information on the walls tells users how to achieve something, like printing to the colour printer.

… and Guidance

A related type of display is sets of rules, intended as guidance on how to behave near the computers or how to make sure the equipment stays working. I have always applied Freedman's 5 Minute Rule: Someone should be able to come into my computer suite, log on, do some work, print it out and save it and log off, all in the space of 5 minutes even if they had never set foot in the school before. See 7 Rules For Teachers and ICT Co-ordinators for more on this plus six other great rules.

Terminology

Finally, the display may consist of sets of technical terms, or key words, which the pupils are expected to learn. These can and ought to change to some extent to reflect the topics currently being considered.

Issues

There are a number of important issues to bear in mind:

  • All of these types of display may be important, but possibly not equally important.
  • The different types of display are not mutually exclusive.
  • You, the teacher, don’t have to actually do the work for the display necessarily - but you do have to manage it.

Action

So, how might you improve your immediate learning environment by addressing the wall displays? Could this be another 'quick win', as discussed on Day 6?

I am currently in the process of updating and expanding my book about the importance of display. Look out for announcements about that.

Wednesday
Apr282010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 6: Find Quick Wins

A task a day for 31 daysIf you have been reading and carrying out, or at least thinking about, the tasks so far, you're now in a position to think about quick wins.

I said on Day 1 that the last thing you want to do is go in changing everything before you've had a chance to see what's going on. In fact, I read some advice for new Heads of Department to the effect that you should make no suggestions in senior management meetings until you've been in post for at least half a term. That may not be entirely feasible, but there's a grain of common sense there, and the same applies here. A major change, like getting rid of the computer labs altogether, may fly in the face of everything the school holds dear and has been working towards for years, in which case you'd have a hard time even getting the idea off the ground. Big changes need time and ground work.

But quick wins, as the term suggests, are different. They are small changes which you can bring about immediately, or almost immediately, but which have a profound effect. The key thing is that they are often incredibly simple. Here are some examples from my own experience:

Putting a printer in each computer lab

In the school I joined as Head of ICT, there were two and a half computer labs (one was really a Business Studies room), but only one really expensive printer, which was locked away in the server room. Indeed, it was so expensive that when it went wrong the call-out charge for a service engineer cost £60 (approximately $90) — and that was before they even did anything. And hardly anyone used it anyway, because it was locked away.

At that time, new inkjet printers cost around £70, so it made perfect economic sense to buy three of them and install one in each room. Suddenly, printing out your work was easy and natural instead of the dreadful hassle it had been. Bringing about this change took just a week, from placing the order to having the new printers up and running on the school network.

Changing the room-booking procedure

Another small change, which was big really, was changing the way the computer labs could be booked by non-ICT classes. It took me about an hour to change the procedure such that it would now take someone two or three minutes to book a room instead of an hour or more. I'll be saying more about what I did on another Day.

If you've just joined the school, or if you followed Doug Woods' advice, namely:

Try looking around your school as if you were a visitor and see what perception it gives.

you're in a great position to look at the situation with fresh eyes — a situation which most people have become so used to that they never question it.

Making small changes can have a big effect on what you might call 'the user experience'. The benefit usually far outweighs the effort involved. So now that you've carried out a SWOT analysis (Day 1), walked around the school (Day 4) and thought about what you'd do if you had bucketfuls of cash (Day 5), have a think about what you could change or put into place today or tomorrow that would make a huge difference to the way your colleagues, and the students, perceive and use educational technology in the school.

Tuesday
Apr272010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 5: Draw Up a Wish List

A task a day for 31 daysLet's take a break from looking around — a break, mind you: we haven't finished yet — and do a spot of introspection and daydreaming. I've always thought it a good idea to draw up a wish list of stuff you'd like to see in the school as far as educational technology hardware and software is concerned.

I think this is an important thing to do for two reasons. One is that I think every good leader has dreams. Maybe your particular vision seems impossible right now, but it's important to dream about it nonetheless. Thinking of what could be has, I think, a subtle aspirational effect, and that rubs off onto others. Another is quite simply that if you suddenly find yourself with a windfall to spend on educational technology, or are asked to bid for some funding with very short notice, it's as well to have a sort of shopping list up your sleeve.

And I should say here that, whilst I like to think of myself as both a practical and pragmatic person, there is absolutely nothing wrong with daydreaming. Indeed, I think it is necessary. Where it all goes wrong is where someone has a dream, and does nothing whatsoever to bring it to reality. Dreaming is necessary, as I said; it is not sufficient.

Without a vision, how could you even start to draw up a wish list? A wish list should not be a ragbag of random items thrown together, but should reflect what you'd like learning and teaching with technology in your school to look like. That's the starting point: not "How many pocket camcorders would I like?", but "How can we help youngsters express themselves without having to speak it or write it?".

I suggest the following 'rules' for drawing up a wish list:

  • Base it on a vision for learning and teaching, as already mentioned.
  • Discuss it with colleagues and students. Perhaps your wish list could start as the 'seed funding' for an ideas bank. Why not set up a wiki for this?
  • Organise it into price bands. The reason for this is that I think it's good to have an instant answer to each of these questions, and all the ones in between: "How would you spend £100 if I gave it you now?"; "How would you spend £5m if I gave it to you now?" Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation in which you have to come up with an answer very quickly (in one case for me it was instantly) in order to acquire the money. Therefore it's a good idea to adopt the Boy Scouts' motto, Be Prepared.
  • Keep reading magazines, educational news, and blogs. You need to keep abreast of what's 'out there' in order to be able to include it in a wish list. I'll cover this in more detail at a later date. But it's another reason to make sure others may contribute to your wish list, since they may know things that you don't.

Above all, keep your wish list up-to-date. Is a new dot matrix printer really the pinacle of your aspirations?

Monday
Apr262010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 4: Get Out and About

A task a day for 31 daysA really useful thing to do is to get out of your own learning area and walk around the school. It's hard to find the time to do, because you're either teaching a full timetable or you need to use your non-teaching periods for lesson preparation and marking and so on. But if you can arrange it you will almost certainly find it quite enlightening.

The point of the exercise is to quickly get an idea of how embedded is the use of educational technology in the curriculum. Checklists and surveys often tell you what people would like to see happening, but not necessarily what IS happening. Walking around the school can give you a rough and ready idea. It's not scientific, but it may help you to pinpoint areas to focus on — either because they seem especially strong, or particularly weak.

Things to look out for include:

  • What is the signage like on the display boards in the different parts of the school?
  • Are there photos up of kids using technology?
  • How many lessons are actually using technology, or at least include some children using it, as you walk around?

One thing you need to try and avoid is walking around the school at the same time every week, because it stands to reason that you're likely to keep seeing, or not seeing, the same thing. So a variation of this is to ask members of your team to do this as well. If they don't have time, then keeping their eyes open on the way to and from the staffroom and when they're walking around the school anyway can be very useful.

And as you walk around, think to yourself: does this feel like a school which has technology at its heart? Remember: it's the general impression, not the nitty-gritty detail, that you're supposed to be aware of.

Sunday
Apr252010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 3: Find a Non-Specialist Geek

A task a day for 31 daysEconomists have a concept called 'Comparative Advantage', which runs like this. Suppose I'm really good at painting, but lousy at plastering, and you're a wizard at plastering but don't know one end of a paintbrush from the other. It doesn't take too much mental effort to work out that you and I should come to an arrangement: I'll do your painting if you do my plastering.

So far, so obvious. But here's the surprise: it turns out that even if I'm better than you at both painting and plastering it could still be worthwhile us coming to exactly the same sort of arrangement. It all depends on one thing: are you relatively, ie comparatively, better at one of the skills than I am, and vice-versa? If so, it makes sense for each of us to focus on our strengths.

So what does all this have to do with being an ed tech leader? Quite simply that even if you're the acknowledged ICT expert in the school, there may still be colleagues who could teach some aspects of ICT much better than you can for the same amount of effort.

For example, I know a Teaching Assistant who is an artist and poet, and a visual thinker. The consequence of this is that he will often think about using animation, video, or photo story-telling techniques to get the point across. If I worked in the same school as him, it would make perfect sense to try and arrange for him to work in the ed tech lessons teaching the kids all about using those approaches. Even if that were not feasible, at the very least I would try and cajole him into running a training session for staff, or even only my team, so that we could start using those techniques effectively too. I could do all this myself, but even if I know more about all this than he does (which I'm sure is not the case anyway), in the time it takes me to prepare one animation lesson and all the resources I need, I could have prepared two or three lessons centred on spreadsheets. Using this fellow would be a much better use of resources.

When I was Head of ICT, there was a science teacher in the school who knew a database I'd just purchased inside out. I knew it well too, but I asked her if she'd be good enough to run a training session for my team and me. It seemed to me that, having used it for longer than I had, and having used it with students in the classroom, she'd be much better than me at pointing out pitfalls, workarounds, extra resources and so on. I was right.

So this is what I mean by 'non-specialist geek': someone who isn't a specialist in educational technology as such, but has an in-depth knowledge of one particular field that has a place in the ICT curriculum.

There are lots of examples once you start looking and listening. They may even be in your own team. Perhaps one of them has been delving into their family history, which makes them a geek of sorts on research and databases. Maybe one of them works as a DJ at weekends, in which case they know about compiling playlists and mixing sounds.

Who do you know in your team, or in the school as a whole, who has expertise in one particular niche of educational technology? Who has such a passion for it that they can make it come alive in a way that you cannot?

Once you've identified such people, it probably won't take too much effort persuading them to talk about something they're passionate about, but you have to think of practical issues, like:

  • Are they able to help out in your lessons, ie does the timetable permit it?
  • If they do help out, can you negotiate a quid pro quo with whoever arranges cover for absent staff, eg that they're not called on to cover for those lessons?
  • If they give up an hour after school to run some training for your team, what can you offer in return? Training their team in some other aspect of educational technology perhaps?

Whatever arrangement you come to, even if they don't actually want anything in return, I think it's important to send an email to their own team leader saying what a great help they've been, and thanking him or her for allowing it to go ahead. Thanking someone is both good manners and costless, and by doing it in writing you ensure that the fact that they helped out isn't lost in the fullness of time.

Saturday
Apr242010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 2: Delegate a Unit of Work

A task a day for 31 daysDesigning units of work is quite a labour-intensive task. Even if you’re using a set of ready-made units, you will probably still want to customise them  for your school or class. One way of reducing the burden on yourself, and at the same time injecting fresh ideas into your lessons, is to ask others to take responsibility for one or more units.

This is much easier to do, of course, if you lead a team of people than if you’re co-ordinating the efforts of people who are not answerable to you. Even there, however, you can often find a colleague who is mad keen on one particular aspect of educational technology, and who would not require too much persuasion to take on such a task.

For example, is there a teacher who enjoys making videos? Is there one who enjoys geocaching? Does another colleague love graphic design?

It’s crucial to delegate the responsibility, not merely the task. Nobody would thank you for being asked to be a glorified work experience assistant! It entails setting the main objectives, to ensure that overall the curriculum or scheme of work is being fully covered, and then leaving everything to them. And I mean everything:

  • The lessons
  • The lesson materials
  • Preparing resources on the school’s VLE
  • Booking computer equipment as required
  • Organising permission slips if a school visit will be involved
  • Running training sessions with the rest of the team.

You may find, as I did when I tried this out, that some colleagues are a little under-confident. In that case, by all means provide them with the lifeline of being able to have meetings with you to discuss their ideas and any practical matters arising.

The result, as I can testify, is a set of teaching units which contain ideas you’d never have thought of, devised by colleagues who feel a great deal of ownership of, and pride in, the scheme of work. Crucially, engaged and enthusiastic teachers generate engagement and enthusiasm in their students, making it more likely that they will make progress.

Friday
Apr232010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 1: Carry Out a SWOT Analysis

A task a day for 31 daysWelcome to the 31 Days series. The aim of it is to provide challenges to help you become an even better educational technology leader than you already are. If you have only just found about the series, I suggest you read this article first.

In case you have already read this article through the preview sent to Computers in Classrooms subscribers, I've added more at the end.

Businesses do this all the time. The acronym ‘SWOT’ stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats, and carrying out this kind of analysis is a good way to start looking at your circumstances in an honest and holistic way.

You can carry it out in a back-of-an-envelope kind of way, on your own, or use it in a team meeting. The advantage of the former is that you can very quickly generate ideas about what needs to be done, or at least what needs to be discussed.

In the illustration below, for example, you could take all of these points and turn them into an agenda of issues to discuss with your team.
Example of a SWOT analysis
The advantage of the latter approach as a starting point is that you get everyone else’s ideas too. If you’ve just joined the school as the ICT leader, the last thing you want to do really is go in like a bull in a china shop changing everything based on what could turn out to be mistaken assumptions.

This exercise is a good way of getting the lowdown on the situation, or at least your colleagues’ opinion of what the situation is, before devising a plan of action.

Variations on the theme

The whole point of carrying out a SWOT analysis is to get the big picture of the ICT provision in your school very quickly. Checklists have their place, because they help to ensure that you cover everything, but this kind of broad brush approach can lead to people identifying issues that they would probably never think of even putting on the checklist in the first place.

But you don't have to use the standard SWOT table as exemplified above. You could, for example, take the approach used to do assessment in many primary schools: three stars and a wish. So, you ask each of your colleagues to come up with three things they think are really good about the ICT in your school, and one thing they wish was in place.

An alternative is to ask them to suggest three things that are really good, two things which could be improved and one thing they'd really like to have.

Yet another variation, if you don't have a team as such or are feeling fairly brave, is to set up a survey for staff at the school (pupils too if you like, but I'll be dealing with them separately in this series). There are two problems with asking staff for their opinion:

The first is that it can become a bit depressing if people start throwing all their ICT-related problems at you in one fell swoop! However, this is an excellent exercise to carry out if you have only been at the school five minutes, because nobody could reasonably blame you for all that's perceived as being wrong.

Secondly, you would need to handle your request very carefully, not just because everyone is busy, but because it's easy to raise false expectations. Some things simply cannot be changed overnight, but not everyone understands that.

Of course, if few people are using technology in their lessons, or do so only sporadically, you will need to ask your colleagues for their opinions in order to find out why.

Getting back to the SWOT analysis carried out only within your team, there are variations in the way you go about it. For example, you might ask each person to carry out a back of the envelope exercise before coming to the next team meeting, so that you can all compare notes in the meeting itself. This saves time in the meeting, but does require you to ask busy colleagues to do yet one more thing.

Once at the meeting you could organise a 'snowball' activity, whereby colleagues go off in pairs and agree the list of strengths etc. Then the pairs get together and agree the list as a foursome. This approach is an effective way of getting to the key issues if you lead a fairly large team (four or more), or if you were doing it as a whole staff exercise.

An alternative approach is to ask one member of the team to come up with a list of three or four strengths, another to focus on the weaknesses, and so on.

Next steps

Once the issues have been teased out through the SWOT analysis, priorities for action will need to be established, followed by courses of action to be carried out by each person, and by when. In other words, the SWOT analysis helps to guide the team's future activity. The nice thing about working that out in this sort of way is that each member of the team will have had a say in the matter.

If you have any views about this idea, or can suggest a different way of obtaining a similar result, please leave a comment.

Friday
Apr232010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader: Information

A task a day for 31 daysThe first part of this series will be published at 8am this morning. The whole point of it is to suggest ideas, so have a notepad and pen ready (remember those?) and a mug of tea or coffee.

The things I'll be suggesting have worked, they're not just theories I came up with whilst lying in the bath. However, they may not all work for you in your particular circumstances. So be creative! Use the ideas as a starting point for your own thinking. I promise I won't be checking up on you!

I'd be interested to learn how you find the series, and how you've adapted some of the ideas.

Wednesday
Nov112009

Business thought leaders and their relevance to educational technology leadership 03: Frederick Herzberg

This is article 3 of a series of 3.

Frederick Herzberg was a psychologist in the USA who
developed the hygiene theory of people's
productivity at work. What is the theory, and how
can it help the ICT (educational technology) leader?

Herzberg can be placed in the Abraham
Maslow
school of thought, in that he believed that
people's motivation could be explained in "human" terms
rather than "scientific" ones. He distinguished between two
kinds of factors: hygienic and motivational.

The hygienic ones are those which help to prevent job
dissatisfaction, but do not in themselves promote job
satisfaction. In other words, they are like good hygiene: it
does not in itself create good health, but its absence can
lead to ill-health.

Examples of such factors include, working conditions,
salary and working relationships.

Motivational factors are those which positively promote
job satisfaction, and include achievement, recognition and
responsibility.

So how can you, the ICT manager, make use of these insights?

Hygiene factors

As far as the hygiene factors are concerned, you consider
the following:

Working conditions
Staff should have access to the best equipment, not the
worst. In other words, if you find yourself being offered a
sum of money to spend on educational technology, ask
yourself how it might be used to make teachers' lives
easier.

Make sure that the environment is kept pleasant -- and
hygienic. For example, if you have a technical support team
ask them to implement a schedule of keyboard cleaning.

Working relationships
There is not much you can do if two people dislike each
other, but that is not the point. As a manager you need to
be seen to be above their differences, and to be completely
impartial. That means, for example, being prepared to give
everyone a chance to give their opinion in team meetings.
It also means not going out for dinner or other kinds of
socialising with just one or two people. Team means are
fine -- a good idea, in fact -- but anything else could be
seen as favouritism or at least a lack of impartiality.

What about motivational factors?

Clearly, you will probably not have the power to promote
people to a higher position -- but you can make sure that
members of your team are given opportunities to take
responsibilities that may help them gain promotion in the
future.

Also, giving them some degree of control and flexibility
over what they do is a very good way to motivate people,
and to harness their natural desire to do the best they
can. You may think that in these highly prescriptive times,
that kind of delegation is impossible. not so.

One of the things I used to do, for example, was to ask each team
member to take responsibility for a particular unit in the
scheme of work. That meant devising the lesson plans and
the resources for the rest of us to use, and making sure
that we had received training so that we knew what we doing
and how to do it. The only non-negotiable element in all
this was the set of objectives that had to be achieved. The
result was not only a well-motivated team, but also a much
richer set of lesson plans than I could have devised on my
own, or which could be found in a book.

Job enrichment
This article would not be complete without considering job
enrichment, which is an extension of Herzberg's hygiene-
motivation theory. It includes factors such as giving team
members more control, and using more of their abilities --
and extending the ones they have through training.

You will immediately recognise that the example I gave a
moment ago of team members taking responsibility for a
unity of work can be seen as an example of job enrichment.

But we can also learn something else from Herzberg's job
enrichment theory, although you probably know it already,
and that is the importance of professional development.

It is probably also crucial to extend what team members do
to areas that are slightly beyond their comfort zone:
everyone needs a challenge, if only to prevent boredom in
the long term. But this option can be fraught with
difficulties, and so will be covered in a separate article.

As you can see, it is possible to take the theories and
findings of a clinical psychologist and apply them to the
leadership and management of ICT.

Tuesday
Nov102009

Business thought leaders and their relevance to educational technology leadership 02: Jack Welch

This is article 2 of a series of 3.

 

In this series I am exploring what the educational ICT leader can learn from business leaders and thinkers when it comes to performing the educational technology leader's role.

So what can we learn from Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric? Although schools and GE are very different types of institution, you may be surprised to discover that school leaders could benefit from adopting some of Welch's strategies.

What Welch was about

There are a some basic principles that characterise Welch's approach and philosophy:

He was not prepared to suffer mediocrity. IF GE was not number one or number two in a particular field, he would close and sometimes sell off that section.

He adopted a similar attitude to his staff. He reduced the number of employees at GE by nearly 120,000 in the course of 5 years, because he preferred to have a lean, efficient operation to a bloated, inefficient one.

Still on the subject of staff, he divided them into the top 10%, a middle 70% and the lowest performing 20%. His aim was to develop the top 10%, help the 70% achieve what they wanted to, and minimise the time, energy and resources spent on the bottom 20%. In fact, if an employee didn't shape up, he got rid of them.

Having said that, he did not punish failure. If someone made a mistake, he thought it was important to help them regain their self-esteem. He was, you might say, big on motivation.

He was highly competitive on his company's behalf, and communicated his vision to his team. This manifested itself not only in a desire to be number one or number two in each field in which GE operated, but also in terms of a reputation for quality. Unlike many educational so-called visionaries, Welch had his feet firmly on the ground, so his vision could actually be put into practice.

What it means for you

So how might we translate all this into the context of a school? Clearly, the subject leader for educational ICT does not have the same powers of hire and fire, nor does she have the same ambitions in terms of profits and sales. Or at least, not expressed in those terms. Let's go through the above points.

There is a tendency and certainly a great deal of pressure for schools to adopt new courses and qualifications, or new approaches, before they have the resources in place to make a success of them.

Taking the example of a secondary school in England, are you able to deliver excellent results at Key Stage 3, GCSE, 14-19, and, in the longer term,the ICT Diploma, and possibly A Levels? You need to identify what you are good at delivering, and why, and what you cannot deliver well, and why not.

It may not be feasible for you to pull out of the "market" -- but then again, it might be. For example, is there a possibility of developing links with a neighbouring school or college, in order to each specialise in a particular are? Or perhaps once you have identified where your weaknesses lie, you could share resources.

Sometimes, it is possible to drop courses. In one of my jobs, I decided to discontinue a low-level course in graphics that was, actually, delivering good results. Why? Because I thought the course was so simple that (a) it didn't stretch the students in any sense; and (b), because of (a), I didn't think the qualification was worth the paper it was printed on. I dropped it in favour of a much more challenging course, which proved only slightly harder to achieve the same degree of success in, because students rose to the challenge.

Interestingly, this had a knock-on effect on some of the other issues listed above.

Firstly, the ICT department started to gain a reputation for quality, as it started to attract the hardest working students rather than the idle ones. That, in turn, led to better results which led to more "top" students choosing it in their options. In fact, in the course of two years, ICT went from being a "sink" subject to one for which their was more demand than places.

Secondly, it started to attract ICT experts to teach it. Whereas previously anybody could have taught the graphics course, the new course needed a subject expert. In fact, I managed to persuade the headteacher that the subject, and therefore the students, would be much better served by a tight team of 4 or 5 teachers, all experts in their fields, than double that number who knew just enough to get by -- and, being committed to teaching just one or two hours a week, had no obvious incentive to spend much time developing their knowledge and understanding.

This all raises another issue: how do you measure success? There are the obvious measures, such as examination results, but I decided to judge myself and my team by a harder set of criteria: how many students opted to do the subject once they were no longer obliged to; and, even more difficult, how early in their school career did they make that choice? By adopting a systematic approach, I was able to start seeing students decide to opt for my subjects a full two years before they needed to.

Developing staff is all-important. What professional development does your team enjoy? What responsibilities have you delegated to them?

Vision is important, and here are three questions for you to consider:

  1. Do you have a vision for educational ICT in your school?

  2. Does your team know what that vision is, and do they subscribe to it? Indeed, have they had a hand in shaping it?

  3. Is the vision one which can conceivably be realised, or is it all "pie in the sky"?

Conclusion

Ultimately, although the energy industry and the education service are superficially very different, in terms of what motivates people to do well, and other forces which affect performance, they are not that different at all.

The next article in this series will be published at the same time tomorrow morning.

See also: 

Business thought leaders and their relevance to educational technology leadership: Abraham Maslow

 

 

Monday
Nov092009

Business thought leaders and their relevance to educational technology leadership: Abraham Maslow

This is article 1 of a series of 3.

A short while ago I posted a message in Twitter to the effect that anyone who quotes a statistic like "The number of geniuses in China outnumbers the total population of our own country" does not understand the nature of genius. I believe that genius has much in common with creativity, about which the psychologist Abraham Maslow had particular views.


He also had views about human needs. In this series I should like to explore what the educational ICT leader can learn from Maslow and others when it comes to performing the educational technology leader's role, especially that of encouraging other teachers to incorporate the use of educational technology into their curricula.

Maslow's views on creativity

What distinguishes you, me, and most of the people we know from someone like Shakespeare? In fact, writing is a good area to look at in this context, because lots of people love the idea of being a best-selling author -- yet the number of best-selling authors can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. How come?

Maslow drew a distinction between what he called primary creativity and secondary creativity. The former, which most of us enjoy, consists of having great ideas and moments of insight. But most people are lacking in secondary creativity which is the hard slog bit. That's the part where you try to hone the idea, and spend hours drafting a wonderful few pages -- only to discard them when you read them again the following morning.

Oscar Wilde was once asked to define a day's work. He replied:

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."

Like most of Wilde's quotations, that seems like a throwaway comment at first glance, but has a much deeper aspect to it. What Wilde was describing, in effect, was Maslow's notion of secondary creativity as it manifested itself in practice in his own life.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow stated that people's primary need was for the need for survival, followed by the need for safety and security. Other needs, in chronological order (ie each one can only be addressed once the preceding one has been met) are social needs, ie the need to be part of a group; ego needs, ie the need to be held in esteem by others and to have self-confidence; and the need for self-actualisation, ie the desire to express oneself fully.

Implications for the educational technology leader

Both of these sets of ideas have implications for the successful embedding of ICT in a school curriculum. For example:

  • Given the reality that most people lack the time, energy or motivation to fully develop their technology skills, part of your role will be to help them achieve their aims without needing to put in the effort.

    For example, it may be that the geography teacher would use a spreadsheet to chart the rainfall in different areas, if only she didn't have to spend time actually creating the graph. She might be more amenable to the idea of using a spreadsheet if all she (and her students) had to do was input the data and then play around with different types of graph -- in other words, if the process of taking rows of numbers and turning them into a chart was not necessary for her to do.

    And if you think about it, why should she have to do it? As far as I know, being able to turn numbers into a chart is not a required geographical skill, whereas being able to interpret charts, and make decisions about the best type of chart to use in a particular situation, are.

    In other words, a geography teacher who does not wish to learn how to create a chart, and does not want to spend time in her lessons doing so, is probably taking a very rational and apposite view of the whole thing.

  • There is no point in expecting anyone to use the educational technology facilities if they are scared of them going wrong. What do you do with a class of kids when the lesson you have spent hours planning has to be abandoned halfway through because something has gone wrong with the technology?You may have an answer, but that won't help a teacher overcome the fear of that sort of scenario.

    Therefore, you need to anticipate the fear and deal with it even if it doesn't explicit reveal itself. We'll discuss how in another article.

  • Dealing with people's social needs does not have to be difficult, and you can kill two birds with one stone by addressing some of their lack of confidence in their own abilities at the same time. I mean, of course, setting up a room, or a surgery, or both, where staff can come along any time they like, away from the laughing eyes of their students, grab a cup of coffee and use the facilities in a warm, friendly, non-judgemental atmosphere.

  • The need for ego-boosting can also be easily dealt with. You give the kids a fillip by putting their best work on the wall. How do you showcase the best work of teachers?

    One way is to ask them to help you deliver some training. For example, in one school I worked in, a science teacher developed expertise in using databases with her students, and taught the rest of her science teacher colleagues how to do so. It did not take a great leap of imagination for me to realise that she would be able to help other teachers too.

    And there is also another psychological benefit of that approach: like it or not, your co-workers see you as some sort of guru, which can be very intimidating for them. As soon as you step aside and let them be taught by someone who, in their eyes, is just like them, part of the psychological defence barrier comes down.

Maslow was primarily concerned with deep issues like the human condition, but it is testimony to the greatness of his insights that his theories can be applied in many contexts, including that of the drive to embed the use of educational technology in schools.

Further information on Maslow may be found here: http://www.answers.com/topic/abraham-maslow.

The next article in this series will be published at the same time tomorrow morning.

 

Wednesday
Oct142009

Being too overbearing simply does not work

menu_and_clockI have recently stopped going to “my”gym, and started going to an unfamiliar one instead. The small increase in travelling time and the extra cost in terms of parking are more than compensated for by the peace and quiet I enjoy as a result of switching.

So what's all this about, and how does it relate to educational technology?

Let me deal with the second question first, because I wish to keep your attention. Many subject leaders of ICT in schools (and sometimes Local Authorities and other organisations) have a remit to encourage colleagues to use educational technology as well. To do so, one has to tell people, and demonstrate to people, the benefits. But there is a fine line between doing that, and being completely insensitive – and thereby disrespectful – to the other person.

Back to the gym. It's not the gym that's the problem, but the restaurant. If you order a cheese sandwich, you get a sort of roll call of every other type of sandwich you could have instead. A request for a coffee is answered by a list of all the health benefits of smoothies. Wondering aloud if you might try the fruit salad, you get a long-winded explanation of all the ingredients therein, why they are healthy and how the fruit was hand-picked from a local farm only hours earlier. You get what you want in the end, but not before having to waste time listening to someone you don't wish to listen to, and without feeling that you have to summon up reserves of assertiveness merely in order to enjoy the light refreshment of your choice. And in the shortest possible time.

Consequently, I have decided to vote with my feet.

Several conclusions can be drawn from this in the context of ICT:

Firstly, I can read. Therefore, I can read the menu. I don't need someone bending my ear about all the things I could have. Does your school have a menu of ICT services that colleagues could enjoy? If not, I think you should make that a priority: not only will it be informative to those colleagues who wish to be informed, it will save you from being an insufferable bore to those who don't.

Secondly, there's an implicit assumption that I am not well-informed enough to make a sensible choice by myself. At least, one could infer that. By the same token, to look at this in an educational technology context, if someone tells you they'd like to word-process their worksheets, do you respond by suggesting they may like to consider desktop publishing them instead? I did once, and was unable to understand the negative reaction I received. It's fairly safe to assume that someone who is intelligent and qualified enough to be a teacher is able to decide what they'd like to do with their own worksheets. And if you do harbour any doubts about that, you can always refer them to that menu I was talking about.

Thirdly and finally, I think it is generally acknowledged that there is nothing worse than an evangelist. As an ex-smoker, I suddenly lurch somewhere to the right of Attila The Hun when anyone inadvertently blows cigarette smoke in my face. Nobody is more tedious than the couple who have just discovered a new holiday resort and insist on showing you -- and describing in great detail -- every single one of the 400 photographs they took whilst on vacation.

Similarly, if you start to get the feeling that the staffroom starts to empty when you enter it, and bookings for equipment either dries up or starts to be done on teachers' behalf by trusted students, perhaps it's time to ask yourself if, perhaps, you've been coming on a little strong lately.

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