Tools for ICT Managers

Tomorrow morning (09:30 UK time) I will be giving a talk entitled 20+ tools in 40+ minutes. So what’s that all about?

I have used the word “tools”  to encompass useful applications, websites, blogs and societies. They are all ones I have found to be useful, or think would be useful to others.

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Cool Tools for Ed Tech Leaders: Stickies

One of the techniques used by organisations and teams when formulating their plans is to gather people’s ideas on sticky notes, post them on a wall, and then look at everyone’s “stickies”. Then they use this process as a basis for further discussion.

There are two clear advantages of this approach.

Firstly, stickies are small, so people can’t write loads on them unbless they cheat by writing microscopically or on several stickies. Secondly, if they are colour-coded, or placed in different areas of the room, according to categories, you can see at a glance where people’s thinking is tending towards.

But there is a huge disadvantage: what happens to the stickies afterwards?

In the best-case scenario, some hapless person has the task of transcribing them. More likely they, and along with them an important element of the history of the organisation, go into the trash can.

There is a better way. In fact, two better ways.


Wallwisher is an electronic stickies program which emulates the paper version on which it is based. Permitting only 160 characters of text – the same as an SMS message – it doesn’t let yu write reams. What  it does allow you to do is insert pictures and choose the background colour. These are clearly advantages over what its humble paper cousin is able to offer.

 An example of a Wallwisher wall Moreover, being online, it is ideal for enabling team members in different locations to take part in the process at the same time.

Yet another advantage is that, unlike a wall in a training or meeting room, the Wallwisher room need never be closed. That means that people can keep adding ideas to it, and that anyone who was unable to take part in the original activity can still have their say.

Sadly, the transcription disadvantage remains, as you can’t export the wall as text. However, as is often true of techie things, there is a workaround: you can copy/paste each stickie into a Word document. However, to be able to do so if your wall is copiously populated you would need, as Mae West so eloquently put it, nothing to do and plenty of time to do it in.


Stickies can be grouped and colour-coded If that sounds like hassle, and you’ve already developed your plan using a spreadsheet, then StickySorter is the tool for you. A free download from Microsoft, this takes each row of your spreadsheet and converts it into a stickie. You can then move the stickies around, group and colour-code them.

“What’s the point?”, you might ask. Well, spreadsheets are not everyone’s cup of tea, and StickySorter provides a very visual way of seeing the overall plan.

Not only that, but each stickie will contain al the information from that particular row in the spreadsheet. In other words, the column headings in the spreadsheet serve as field names in the stickies, just as they would if exported to a database. (In fact, you can use this to illustrate to students – and perhaps even colleagues --  the concept of inputting data once, and then using it over and over in different ways.

Unlike Wallwisher, you can search StickySorter, and obtain basic stats as well as the facility to group results at a simple level.

For example, if I do a search for “Male” I will be told somehting like “There are 200 records, and of these 67 are male”, and will be able to group those stickies together and move them to somewhere else on the screen.

A disadvantage of the program is that it’s not great for capturing ideas in the form of stickies in the first place. You can create new stickies, but that particular functionality works much better when you already have a bunch of stickies that you’ve imported from a spreadsheet, because then each new sticky contains the field names possessed by all the others.

A second drawback of the application is that, unlike Wallwisher, StickySorter must be installed on a computer: it does not reside on a website.

Which one is better?

No doubt you will wsh to decide which of these applications you will use, and how. One option might be to use Wallwisher to help you generate and capture ideas, then transcribe them to a spreadsheet, and then convert them into StcikySorter stickies to show not only what the final plan looks like, but more important tasks (on red, say). Cerainly, it is bound to be easier to discuss possible changes from looking at this than from looking at the spreadsheet version.

Each of these tools can, of course, be used independently of, but also in conjunction with, each other. The main point to bear in mind from this article is that you can now enjoy many of the traditional advantages of paper stickies without having to suffer from their inherent disadvantages.

If you’d like information on how Wallwisher may be used in the curriculum, download your free copy of The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book.

Cool Tools For Ed Tech Leaders: Spreadsheets

No, wait! Don't stop reading just yet! I know that spreadsheets sound boring, but they really aren't. Used properly, they can be essential tools in your planning toolbox, because they have three brilliant features.

Brilliant feature #1: The sort facility

Using this, you can re-order the spreadsheet by deadline, to see what's coming up, or by  person, to see who is meant to be doing what, or by area of work, to see if everything is being covered. Using the sort feature is easy, as long as you have designed the spreadsheet sensibly. That means, having a separate cell for each attribute of each task, ie date for completion, area, person responsible, and so on.

One tip: format the dates as yyyy-mm-dd (or, in USA, yyyy-dd-mm). Why? Because that's the only way you can make sure everything is listed in chronological order, if that's what you need.

Brilliant feature #2: Sumif

This is a great feature that's available in Excel, Google Spreadsheet and in OpenOffice's Calc. What it lets you do very easily is to perform the following kind of calculation:

If this item comes into category A, add it to the total, otherwise don't.

You can use Sumif to find out what you're spending money on, or where your team's income is coming from. For example, you may have categories like software, hardware, printing, and so on. Using Sumif, I once determined that 60% of my department's spending was going on photocopying worksheets. I asked my team to print off multiple copies instead (if they needed print-outs at all), which resulted in savings of hundreds of pounds over the year.

Brilliant feature #3: Conditional formatting

Use this to create the traffic light system: green for 'yes, done that', amber for 'we're getting there', and red for 'there's been a glitch'. The traffic light system gives you an instant visual summary of how you're doing as far as meeting targets is concerned.

Conditional formatting can work on either numerical values or text, or a formula. For example, you could have a column called Progress, and set up the conditional formatting to turn a cell red if it contains the word 'no', green if it contains the word ';yes' or amber if it contains the word 'partly'. Or you could set it up based on a formula 'today's date minus target date'. If the answer is less than zero, the cell goes red, and so on.

The spreadsheet was one of the first applications developed for the personal computer, and it's more than just a glorified calculator. Pretty it ain't, but boy is it useful!

Cool Tools For Ed Tech Leaders: Paper

I realise that this may be a bit controversial, but for me, paper remains one of the all-time useful tools. When it comes to planning, assigning people to tasks or even doing quick calculations, paper takes a lot of beating. Surely its longevity as a medium is proof of that fact?

I like using mindmaps, and I love using spreadsheets (yes, I should get out more), but sometimes in order to see the 'big picture', these tools just don't cut it.

Recently I was preparing notes for a talk I'm giving in a few weeks. Here's my work in progress:

It makes sense to me...

I could have done that in a mindmapping program, but it would have taken me longer, and it wouldn't have been so useful.

For me, this was useful for two reasons. Firstly, the process itself was good. The physical action of drawing lines, erasing them, circling some notes and linking them to others -- all this helped me to make mental connections in a way that using a computer wouldn't have, because that immmediacy would have been lost.

Secondly, the end result was quite useful because I can see the connections at a glance, and conceptually fit new ideas into it. Again, I know a mindmapping program could achieve the same effect, and perhaps if I had the time I would re-create the diagram in such an application, but I'm quite happy with the paper version.

I'm not the only person who recognises paper as a useful tool when it comes to planning. Have a look at the video on this website to hear what Grammar Girl has to say on the subject, with three great examples.

Bottom line: aiming for a paperless society is all very well, but sometimes, for talks or complex projects, paper is one of the best tools you can use.

Cool Tools for Ed Tech Leaders: TaskCoach

In this series I will be looking at tools that leaders of educational technology or ICT may find useful. In fact, anyone who needs to do project management should take the time to explore them.

TaskCoach is a task management application, and has a number of things going for it. But first, what does it actually do?

TaskCoachIt helps you organise tasks. You can have categories, which contain tasks, and within tasks you can have 'efforts'. I'm making it sound a lot more complicated than it really is! So let me describe how I use it.

I work for several clients, and so it's important for me to keep track of how much time I spend on various activities.

For example, let's suppose that for Client A I look for resources on the internet, represent them at meetings, and write a blog update once a week.

One of my categories in TaskCoach is therefore 'Client A', and there will be three tasks within that category, corresponding to the activities I've just described. I've configured these tasks with an hourly rate of pay.

Every time I work on one of the tasks I start a new 'effort'. That records how long I spend on the work, and because it knows what the hourly rate is it will calculate how much I've earned from that work. At the end of the month, I can easily see how long I have spent on each activity and therefore how much to invoice the client.

Moreover, should the client want me to, I can itemise the work not only by how much I've done per day, but even by each individual effort. For example, I can show that I worked for three hours from 6 am till 9, and then a further three hours from 2 till 5, or I can just indicate that I worked for 6 hours on that day. I could also view my efforts by weekly or monthly totals.

The only two things that are not that great are the export function, which seems to export the data in a text summary format, whereas the most useful option would be a detailed format that could be imported into a spreadsheet. The other is that I have, somehow, detached a window of the program from the rest of it, and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to stitch it all back together again! But that's a minor inconvenience.

If you don't work for yourself but work for an organisation, the hourly rate feature, or the budget facility (which lets you allocate a budget to the whole task), would still be useful.

Even if you don't charge clients for your time, there is still an imputed cost that is usually worth being aware of.

So what does this program have going for it?

  • It's easy to use.
  • It's accurate.
  • Tasks can be colour-coded.
  • It's free.

 It's been in alpha version forever as far as I can tell, but I haven't had any major disasters with it so far. It's available in versions for Windows, Mac, Linux iPhone and iTouch.

If you know of any tools that do a similar job, please leave a comment telling us about it.