So, you’ve landed a great new job, an important one at that, as an ICT Co-ordinator or Technology Co-ordinator. But in your eagerness to make an impact, are you making some fundamental mistakes? Here’s a quick guide about what not to do.
Make it too complicated
People can take in only so much information at a time, especially if they’re really busy – which, of course, teachers tend to be. So telling colleagues they can book an Apple room, a PC room, borrow a set of tablets or have a laptop trolley delivered to their teaching area is simply TMI – too much information. Narrow down the choice to two either/or options – or, better still, find out what they’re hoping to achieve and then guide them to the right choice for their needs.
Make it too exciting
This sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? After all, how can you have too much excitement in this context? I’m really referring to software features. You want to encourage colleagues to move up to the next level, but if you reel off ten more advanced things they could be doing, they’ll probably just mentally shut down. Ophelia Vanderpuye, ICT Manager and Advanced Skills Teacher at Oakington Manor Primary School in London, told me that she inspires other teachers to try to do more with their whiteboards by sending them an occasional email containing one or two tips or websites, or casually saying to them “Have you thought of …?”. This seems to me to be the right sort of approach: gently gently.
Make it too difficult to borrow equipment
Nobody is going to do much at all with educational technology if there are insuperable barriers to overcome. In one school I visited, staff had to go to different people to borrow different equipment – and some of these people worked part-time, so even if you knew who you had to see, chances are they’d be out of school that day. No wonder the equipment, though a few years old, looked brand spanking new! Do you need to review your loans procedure? Sure, you need to think about security and stuff going missing, but come on!
Make it too difficult to use the facilities
If you work in a school that still has a computer lab or two (and many schools do), is it empty much of the time? If so, it could be that your colleagues are bringing the technology to the students rather than the other way round – but it could also be that it’s just too much effort to get into the rooms where the computers are. Do you need to look at your room booking procedures?
Allow the experience to be horrible
For some reason, some people’s fear of technology makes them impervious to normal perception or conduct, making it impossible for them to see a mess or, if they do see it, to take some steps to get it tidied before their lesson is over. This is something that used to really annoy me, and still does when I think about it. (You can tell, can’t you?) Unfortunately, if you want people to use the facilities you’re probably going to have to do some of the tidying up yourself, or charge a classroom assistant or ICT technician to do so. You might find my Checklist of 8 things to check every day in a computer room useful in this context.
Make it too hard to do anything worthwhile quickly
In one school I visited in order to do a pre-inspection evaluation, it took me 5 minutes to type up a document on one of the school’s staffroom computers , and then 45 minutes to find a computer and printer that worked, and to which I had access, in order to obtain a hard copy. That’s pretty ridiculous, and you need to make sure that everything is in perfect working order all of the time. So reviewing your technical support might not be a bad thing.
But even if everything is in great shape, will people know how to use it anyway? I’ve long been in favour of what I have modestly termed the Freedman’s 5 Minute Rule approach. In a nutshell, this states that anyone should be able to achieve something useful within five minutes of starting to use a piece of technology, which means having lots of easy-to-read posters and other guidance on hand.
Make it too easy
What’s this? Am I saying that you should put barriers in people’s way before they can use the educational technology facilities? Well, actually, yes, to some extent. One of the things picked up in the most recent Ofsted report into ICT in schools in the UK was a lack of sufficient co-ordination of ICT in the curriculum, and the failure of some schools to make any attempt to measure the impact of its use. It’s all very well doing everything in your power to get colleagues and their classes into the computer rooms, using the tablets or laptops, or going out and about with their class sets of digital recorders and cameras, but there needs to be some quality control as well.
For that reason I’d strongly recommend not allowing colleagues to forward book equipment or rooms for the whole term ahead "just in case" they want to use them – it’s very annoying when they don’t need the stuff but fail to tell you in time for someone else to use it instead. I also think that as it’s your job to monitor how ICT is used in the school, and to try to get it to be used more effectively, you have a right – actually, a duty – to be at least slightly challenging when discussing with colleagues their requirements. It’s not so much acting as a gatekeeper, but trying to take a more evaluative approach.
As an example, a teacher once told me that he was going to book the computer lab, and ask the pupils to work from a worksheet they would have on their screens. I asked him how that would be better than, or even different from, having the worksheet on paper or on the interactive whiteboard. As neither he nor I had an answer to that question, we agreed that it would be better if, on that occasion, he didn’t bother with the computers. There was no high-handedness involved on my part: you can certainly challenge people in a friendly, even a humorous (though not sarcastic) manner, but challenging is certainly a big part of the job, or should be.
Not being challenging may seem like the easy option, but in the long run could cause ICT to be seen as something trivial, and could lead to the students being under-challenged or, as one teenager put it, “under-taught”.
That, surely, would make this last mistake the biggest one of all.
What do you think?
7 MORE mistakes made by ICT Co-ordinators
The role of an ICT coordinator in a 21st Century primary school (by Jan Webb)
ICT Coordinator; Bridge or Barrier? (by Doug Woods)
17 Commandments for a Technology Coordinator (dates from 1997 but still pretty handy!)