DIY: Carrying out an ICT health check

It’s always useful to carry out what I call an ICT health check. It’s like a medical health check: rather than wait for symptoms of disease to manifest themselves, it is far better to be proactive and have a “once over” every so often, say once a year. We rarely do, of course. Another analogy might be farmers’ footing, the practice whereby a farmer will walk around the farm every day to make sure no fences have blown down or anything like that. In short, the idea of a health check is to nip any potential problems in the bud. So what should an ICT health check look like?

What does the data tell you?

People are often terrified by anything to do with numbers, but you really do need to look at what’s going on. Not just the pass rates or average assessment grades, but things like what is happening over time, or gender or ethnic imbalances. Are some kids doing less well than might be expected? You don’t have to be a statistician, but familiarity with some tools would not go amiss. For example, what happens when you churn the data in a pivot table? What does that reveal that was hidden hitherto?

What do the statistics tell you?

I’m referring here to stats like computer to pupil ratio, number of interactive whiteboards, how many students take ICT as an option (if in a secondary school), how much is being spent on hardware and software each year? In the UK we don’t have targets any more for computer ratios or anything else, but I do believe that such statistics can provide a basis for discussion. If nothing else, their level, and the change in their level over time, may say something about the school’s commitment to educational technology provision.

There are other stats too: how many students have their own blog? How many are running their own online club or business? How many of them regularly write or review stories or books online? How are they using the technology outside of school?

What are lessons like?

Well, I make no bones about this. I believe that all ICT lessons should be exciting, even when so-called “boring” topics are being taught. That was why I wrote Go On, Bore 'Em!: How to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull (a bargain at £1.99 plus VAT if applicable!). I can’t think of any reason that ICT lessons should ever be dull.

What other learning opportunities are there?

Are there field trips, visits, guest speakers, projects, and other activities in which ICT plays a crucial, and exciting, role? Do all students take part in them?

What do the students think?

That’s why it’s important to ask pupils what they think too. But not only what they think. You have to find out what they know. Is their level of understanding as good as, or better than, you would expect from people of their age? The only way to find this out is to ask them the right sort of questions. Basically, you have to take a sort of Vygotskian approach based on his principle of the Zone of Proximal Development. In short, ask them questions that are, you believe, just a little outside of their comfort zone. After all, what would you find out if you asked only questions that you knew they could answer?

What does students’ work look like?

As part and parcel of finding out what students know, you need to look at their work. And not be side-tracked by beautiful presentation: there are plenty of gift shops that sell rubbish nicely wrapped!

What do other teachers think?

Is ICT being used as part of their work, both in teaching and learning on the one hand, and for admin on the other? How good is the ICT used for admin? Does it help, or hinder? In my opinion, it should never be “clunky”: those days are long gone. Or they should be.

What’s the service like?

Is the network always working? That is, 100% of the time? An uptime of 99.9% sounds good, until it’s your lesson in which the 0.1% downtime occurs. What’s it like trying to get things done? Does it take forever to find a printer that works? How efficiently are problems dealt with? (I think it’s reasonable to be unreasonable here: why should any tech problem take longer than 15 minutes to resolve one way or another?)

Does the school have “IT”?

Not IT as in Information Technology, but IT in the old-fashioned sense (still extant in crossword puzzles!) of sex appeal. I mean, walking around the school, is the ICT vibrant? Is there digital signage making you want to stop and see what’s going on? Is it a great place to be as far as the technology is concerned? Does it have that Je ne sais quoi that makes you say “Boy, I’m glad I work here!”? Yes, this is somewhat subjective – but that makes it no less important. Quite the opposite, in fact.

What’s the plan?

Where does ICT figure in the school’s development plan? I was looking at the website of a new free school this morning, and there is no mention of technology anywhere. Nowhere! Not in the curriculum as a subject, not as a cross-curricular support, not in admin. Nothing. What are they going to use? Quills?

So how long should an ICT health check take? Well, it’s difficult to make a hard and fast rule about this sort of thing, but you can do a very decent job in just a few days: half a day analysing the data, a day spent looking, observing, talking and making notes, and half a day  to a day to write up the report. And how often should you do this? Once a year wouldn’t be a bad idea.

An annual ICT Health check is no substitute for continual and proactive monitoring, but it can give you a very useful snapshot of the state of ICT in your school at a particular time.

Further reading

You may find the series 31 Days to become a better ed tech leader useful.