Oscar Wilde, the 19th century poet and playwright, was right. He said:
There’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.
But when it comes to using educational technology in a school, I’d say you have go further than getting people to talk about it. You have to go even further than getting people to use it. You have to get people excited about it. That is not necessarily an easy thing to do. You and I may be technophiles, but for many people the prospect of using technology is an unwelcome one, even a terrifying one. Even if you can lure them into your world through having nice facilities just for them, and by having excellent assistance on hand, you may still be in the position, perhaps for historical reasons, of always struggling against a general resistance and reluctance to using technology.
The idea of creating a buzz is to make the idea of using educational technology exciting, perhaps even fun – not a word you tend to see in books and papers about the benefits of using ICT, unfortunately, although Stephen Heppell has tried to change that through his Playful Learning stand at BETT. However, it also has to be perceived as serious too, or students may not choose it in their options, and the Headteacher and others may not be willing to support it very much, financially or otherwise. This shouldn’t be difficult: why should “serious” and “fun” be mutually exclusive?
But the list below may surprise you. For me, creating a buzz is just as much a long-term commitment as a short-term flash: it’s not all about generating a flurry of excitement for a day or two.
And what does creating a buzz have to do with ICT leadership? Everything. I don’t care how great an ICT leader someone thinks they are: if the ed tech facilities are languishing in a state of disuse, and people are studying it or using it under sufferance, they haven’t quite got there yet. I’ll be looking at the indications of a good ICT leader on Day 30 of this series.
Now, with no further ado, here are my top 10 tips for creating a buzz about ICT.
Make it interesting
If ICT is a taught subject, make sure it’s interesting. A good starting point is the syllabus: the topics covered should be interesting. Where they don’t seem to be intrinsically interesting, you have to make them so. That means using great resources, and teaching it in a non-boring way. A good starting point, if I do say myself, is my seminal work “Go On, Bore 'Em!: How to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull”. You’ll find the details about this inexpensive but essential volume in the ebooks section of this website.
Make it worthwhile
I have been in a couple of schools in which the powers-that-be have allowed a situation to develop in which ICT is regarded as an easy alternative to “proper” ones like English or Science. Students are entered for purely skills-based courses because they are perceived as easier than the more academic ones. This sort of trend must be resisted. If you’re in a school which prides itself on the fact that by the end of the first year all pupils have gained a portfolio of skills qualifications in ICT, by all means carry on that tradition. But make sure it’s taken seriously as an academic subject as well.
(This, I think, is where the advocates of ICT being taught and used purely across the curriculum, and not in its own right, are wrong. There are concepts to be learnt, and applied more generally. There are ways of thinking about problems, and how to solve them, from an ICT perspective. I’m not sure you get that across very easily where the subject is taught only from an individual curriculum subject’s perspective, and only as a set of skills.)
In one school I worked at, I insisted that every student worked towards a GCSE in ICT, because what had happened was that a vicious circle had materialised. Easy courses were offered in order to attract all kinds of students, including the academically less able. However, that had led to a situation in which the brighter students no longer chose it in their options because they perceived it as being not a worthwhile use of their time: why would they spend the same amount of time going to ICT lessons as going to another subject’s lessons when the end result was a qualification which had little or no currency?
Having every student take a GCSE course didn’t preclude allowing them to take other qualifications along the way, and so didn’t disadvantage the less able. Indeed, many of the so-called less able students themselves gained a GCSE in the subject. It was yet another example of students rising to the level of their teacher’s expectations.
Make it an area of expertise
Many people, myself included, are self-taught when it comes to using technology. So, you and your colleagues may not have letters after your names, but you can still become experts by going on courses and having other professional development experience, and even taking qualifications along with your students. Having a team of experts is important too.
Use positive language
I think it’s tremendously powerful to use the word “when” rather than “if”. I used to say, “When you come to do your GCSE in ICT, you’ll find this concept quite useful.” I felt very gratified once when I heard two girls chatting about what else they were going to take besides ICT in their options – two years hence!
Keep the profile up
Some ways of keeping colleagues and students aware of ICT without being completely in their faces the whole time include:
- Having a dedicated area of the staffroom noticeboard for announcements, computer room timetables, equipment booking information and so on. Call it something like “ICT Corner” (it’s best to have an actua corner of the noticeboard for this to work!) By all means have all this electronically, but if many or even just some teachers won’t look at the electronic version then you need something else too.
- Publish a termly or half-termly newsletter to let people know what new software and equipment is now available, what skills the students should have by now, what’s going to be covered after the break, handy hints, softwre shortcuts – you know the sort of thing. It doesn’t have to be long: a double-sided sheet is plenty. You might even consider getting students to play a large part in its production.
- As above, but in the form of a weekly blog, podcast or video. These are not mutually exclusive in themselves, but practically speaking it may be hard to find the time to do all of them yourself. If you’re able to get colleagues and pupils involved, not only will that make it all more feasible, but it will in itself help to create a buzz.
Make it lively
An extension of this is displays – not only in the classrooms themselves but outside them. If you have an ICT area, make it an exciting, vibrant place to walk into. Fading, curling posters from British Telecom circa 1980 are unlikely to meet this requirement! Include examples of pupils’ work (copies), copies of interesting newspaper headlines (it’s only a matter of time before someone else leaves a laptop containing everyone’s bank account details on the back seat of a car in full view), careers information (if appropriate in your context), photos (eg of student helpers – see above) and local press cuttings and so on.
Create a geek squad
Having pupil experts – one or two in each class – can not only provide a much-appreciated level of classroom support (eg by putting paper in the printer or going to get a technician), but helps to generate buzz amongst students. See the next point too.
Put on a show
When you have a parents evening or an open day, have something exciting for people to look at, such as a video of ICT in use around the school, or a rolling PowerPoint presentation. Have student helpers on hand to show parents how to use the software. Set up a facility whereby parents can print out a certificate saying they completed a task on the computer. Give your student helpers special badges: it is amazing how proud it makes them feel! You can print off some really nice badges using either printing labels and a wordprocessor or, even better, a badge-maker in conjunction with Flickr.
Invite a special guest
As well as or instead of inviting guest speakers to your team meetings, which may not always be feasible, invite a special guest along to show them what the school is doing with ICT, and to get their feedback. Headteachers tend to love this, and rightly so, because it puts the school in a really good light. Everyone likes to celebrate success.
Get a story in the local media
This can be useful too, but there are two things to be aware of. Firstly, check your school’s policy on this sort of thing. The last thing anyone wants is for staff to be contacting reporters on an ad hoc basis. There is probably a well-oiled machine in place to achieve local publicity. If there isn’t, discuss the idea with your boss first. Secondly, it’s probably not a sensible idea to advertise the fact that the school has just purchased 2,000 iPads! Stories should focus on pupils or events. For example, I once generated quite a bit of publicity in the local press by informing them that I’d had 15 year-old students taking classes of 11 year-olds to teach them about some aspect of ICT, as part of their work experience (don’t worry: the 11 year-olds’ usual teacher was present the whole time).
I've included a link to a marketing blog below. It's not a bad example of the standard sort of marketing approach to generating a buzz about something, but I think there's a limit to how far you can, or even ought to, regard an aspect of education as a product to be marketed. Moreover, marketing posts such as this tend to focus on the short term.
However, I've included it because you can learn something from it, not least because it basically says you have to have something worth promoting in the first place. It's an important point: if the ICT provision in your school is not that great, please sort it out before crowing about it: nobody is interested in hype and spin, and they'll probably be put off using ICT in the future if they feel they've been misled now.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure I haven't covered every possible way of generating buzz about ICT. What would you suggest?