31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 28: Start a Surgery

Here's a question for you: if you were thinking of doing something different, and you had two choices, which of these would you go with? Option A, where there is little or no support available, or Option B, where there's a lot of support available. I think most people would choose Option B, if all other characteristics of the two options were equal.

A task a day for 31 daysThe same goes for using educational technology. Despite the fact that many people use it in their everyday lives, there is still a reluctance on the part of some people to use it in the classroom. As well as putting on in-service training for people, having user-friendly how-to guides on the wall, and making sure that the technical support is first class, there is another thing you can try: starting a surgery. This is a difficult thing to recommend actually, because it can involve working beyond the school day, and asking others to do the same. (The fact that many teachers do so anyway is neither here nor there.)

So I'll explore some options, once I've described what I mean by a 'surgery'. It works along the same lines as a doctor's surgery: if something is wrong, or you're not sure about how to do something, the idea is that you can pop along to the surgery, where someone will be delighted to help out.

The great thing about setting up a surgery is that it provides yet one more safety net for those colleagues who are less than confident when it comes to use technology in their work.

The traditional model of a surgery, which is still used in many schools, is where the Head of ICT or Educational Technology Co-ordinator makes herself or himself available every Wednesday (say) for an hour after school. Where people are willing to 'muck in' and take turns to do it, so much the better.

A far better option, if you can set it up, is the one I saw in a school I supported when I was an ICT advisor. They had set up a computer area for staff use only, as I recommended here, but they had gone a step further. The staff computer area was also the Head of ICT's office, in effect, and it was shared with his technician. Consequently, there was someone available to give assistance at pretty much any time of day. As if that wasn't enough, there was a kettle and a coffee machine, with a tin of biscuits plus milk and sugar for people to help themselves to. Yes, you're not supposed to eat or drink in a computer area. Yes, it cost them money to provide those refreshments. And yes, the room was in use all the time.

Another model, if you can arrange it, is to arrange for each member of staff in your team to use one of their free periods (assuming you have them) in exchange for not being asked to cover a lesson at that time. The benefit for the teacher is that she knows where she is going to be, and can take some work in to do. If your Principal is very wedded to the idea of staff using the technology, you should be able to make a persuasive argument for this sort of thing.

A variation on that theme is to ask members in the technical support team and/or classroom assistants to do some of their work in the computer room at particular times in the week, so that they can be available to assist teachers if required. There is also nothing to stop you creating a kind of 'virtual surgery', comprising walkthroughs in the form of videos or screen captures. A virtual surgery is obviously not personalised in the same way that  a physical one is. However, by making a set of guides available in this way it is possible that you may alleviate many of the problems which come up in a typical surgery anyway.

Don't believe me? I know of one part-time educational technology co-ordinator in a primary (elementary) school who reduced the number of enquiries made of her from several a day to one or two per week. How? By the simple expedient of placing a ring binder folder in the computer room with some How-to guides for staff -- and lots of blank pages, along with the simple request:

If you have a problem and then discover the solution, please write it all down here so that others can benefit.

It was, in effect, a paper version of a wiki. Why not use a real wiki? Set one up so that staff who feel confident enough can share their expertise and solutions.

Making this facility, and the walkthroughs, available online means that if you don't have a computer room in your school it doesn't matter, because people will be able to use them at home or in their own area in school.This will also be a useful facility if you don't have a computer room.

Another interesting approach is to have a pupil rota, such as at lunchtime. The benefit for them is that they get to use their favourite applications or continue with their work, and helping staff can be a great confidence booster. Unfortunately, having a student roster doesn't usually obviate the need to have a member of staff present as well. From staff's point of view, they are likely to obtain help faster, though; and you benefit by being rushedoff your feet only half as much as you would have been! (At least until word gets round about what a great service is being provided!)

Bottom line: a surgery can be yet another lifeline for reluctant teachers -- the removal of yet another barrier to entry.