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.