Is More Too Much?

Terry’s article ’25 Ways to make yourself Unpopular – Too Much Information ‘starts by reminding us the phrase is often heard in a social setting when stories are being retold and get a little too near the knuckle for comfort. In terms of getting things done however, surely it is not possible to have ‘too much information’? The more you have, the easier the job will be – yes?
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Also on the web: 02/12/2011 (a.m.)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The 25 Ways series: Retro Response #1

This is the first in what I hope to be a regular spot here on ICT in Education. Terry has kindly invited me to respond some of the articles in his series ’25 things to Make Yourself Unpopular’. The posts will be like an extended comment & I hope you will feel able to comment on them & visit me over at The Head’s Office.
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25 ways to make yourself unpopular: #5 Lead, but don’t manage

If there is one thing which is guaranteed to annoy me it’s the lack of attention to detail that some so-called “leaders” display. Actually, it’s more than that. You could rightly argue that leadership is about inspiring people with a vision, and so there shouldn’t be any need for leaders to get bogged down in the minutia of how something's going to work in practice.

OK, I accept that. But

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The Myth of Leadership

Leaders and managers don't change people: people change themselves. All that an effective leader or manager can do is get the right conditions in place for effective change (for the better) to happen. In political terms, it's the difference between power and authority. Power is where, when someone says "X will happen", people say "We must do X"; authority is where, when someone says "X will happen", people say "X ought to happen". Having authority is better than having power in the long run.

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31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 30: 31 indicators of a good ICT leader

Another way of thinking about this is to pose another question: how will you a good ICT leader if you see one? Much of what follows – perhaps all of it – is generic, ie what you’d expect to find in any field of endeavour. The issue is, what does it all look like in the context of educational technology in a school?

A good ICT leader…

 

Has vision

Say to an ICT leader “what would you like to see in the school in the next five years?” A good leader will have some ideas, and not just come out with some trite comment like “It depends who is in Government” or “Don’t ask me, I don’t dictate policy around here”. Both of those may be true, of course, but a good leader will look and think beyond them. And if you really are in a school where your vision is not shared and your enthusiasm dampened by people who wouldn’t recognise creative thinking if it leapt out and went “Boo!”, then it’s probably time to look around for another job.

Has influence

This is a natural follow-on from the attribute above, with which it overlaps. Influence is where, if the leader says “X ought to happen”, others say “That’s right, X ought to happen. What a great idea!”. So if you have some good ideas, and your colleagues are more conservative, then how will you carry them with you? Assuming they’re not right to be cautious, of course.

Has the ear of the senior leadership/management team

This is similar to the preceding point, but in an upward direction. The ideal Principal, I think, is one who recognises you as the expert, and accordingly takes your advice.

Is able to secure funding

This is a special case of the foregoing point. A good leader is able to convince others of the desirability of funding technology properly, and in a way which enables you to plan a few years ahead.

Is focused on learning and achievement

That’s right: not the technology, but the learning. And not only the learning, but pupils’ achievement over time as well.

Has a grip on the data

A natural extension and corollary of the last point, this recognises that in order to maximise each individual pupil’s achievement, you must know how they’re doing. Same applies to groups of pupils. What you really don’t want to be is the Head of Department in the following conversation I had in a school:

Me: How do you account for the differences in attainment in ICT of boys and girls?

HoD: What difference? I didn’t realise there was one.

Knows what’s going on in their own area

I’m using the word “area” in two ways: metaphorically, to refer to the taught subject of ICT, the ICT teaching team, and the students who are studying ICT; and the physical area where you teach.

Knows what’s going on around the school

I’ve visited only one school in which there was good practice in ICT going on around the school, which the Head of ICT didn’t know about. A rather disconcerting experience it was too! I think generally speaking it’s a good idea to know what’s going on. If nothing else, it may help in planning. It will certainly help when talking to people and showing visitors around.

Knows what’s going on in the local area

Going to ICT meetings called by the Local Authority (increasingly rare these days, as ICT advisors get laid off) is tremendously important. As well as enabling you to pick up useful tips and examples of others’ good practice, attending them can furnish you with knowledge which may prove useful at a later date. Like the time I was castigated because my results were not as good as those of a school down the road. Fortunately, I happened to know, from a meeting a few weeks previously, that the school down the road assigned a mark to the students on the basis of a one hour written test at the end of the three year course of study, whereas I based my grades on a project lasting six weeks. My approach was much more robust and almost certainly more accurate, and I was able to successfully argue my case.

Knows what’s going on in the country

Do not be like the Head of ICT in this conversation I had recently:

HoD: Hey, Terry, wait a minute! Has the ICT Programme of Study changed then?

Me: Yes, five years ago.

Knows what’s going on in the world

Believe it or not, other countries face the same challenges as we do when it comes to issues like what a 21st century education should comprise, online safety and all the rest of it. We can learn from them, and their good practice in various areas like assessment or using Web 2.0 in education. We can share ideas and have discussions with our counterparts in those countries through online communities.

Is innovative…

I’m a great believer in trying things out, whether it’s new software, new hardware or a new teaching approach. If you can, try and get an innovation fund going. When I worked in a Local Authority, I set aside £1,000 each year for buying stuff and trying it out. We bought a visualiser, an electronic voting system and a tablet laptop when these devices were in their infancy. We did so not because it was a case of toys for the boys (half my team were female anyway) but in order to be able to advise schools and other departments in the LA whether they were worth investing in and what they could be used for.

… But not recklessly so

I don’t believe in taking risks with people’s education or the school’s reputation. One way to avoid such pitfalls whilst still being innovative is to set up small-scale and time-limited pilot studies. Sometimes, however, because things are not good as they should be, there is nothing to lose by trying a new, more radical, approach.

Listens to his/her team

If colleagues have concerns, they know they will be listened to and taken seriously. Consequently, they don’t mind coming along with their own ideas (see below).

Enjoys the success of others…

I mean, genuinely enjoys seeing them succeed, and so gives them opportunities to do so (see point about responsibilities, below).

… And so is approached with ideas

I’ve never understood the mentality of those people who take other people’s ideas and pass them off as their own. They can only get away with it once per person, so apart from the sheer immorality of it, it’s a pretty short-term strategy. It’s much better to give people credit for their own ideas, because they’ll be more likely to share them in the future. And besides, if the team is successful, that’s a reflection of the leadership in intself.

Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching (Way of Life), said this about leadership:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him....But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, "We did it ourselves."  (Taken from http://www.heartquotes.net/Leadership.html)

Gives team members responsibilities

I firmly believe this is necessary in order to help people gain the experience they need for the next phase in their careers. I think they also achieve more for the team and school as a whole if they are allowed to take real decisions and to be creative. One good place to start is by asking them to take the lead with a new idea they presented to you and which, after discussion, is going to be put in place.

Has team members leave (1)

You can always tell when a new leader is being effective: at least one person starts looking for work elsewhere because they don’t like the new challenges or expectations. Note that I’m assuming these are genuine and reasonable, and not merely  a form of bullying or only being promoted because the new team leader wishes to make their mark.

Has team members leave (2)

Much nicer, of course, is where people leave because they have obtained a better job elsewhere – thanks to the opportunities you gave them to gain the right sort of experience.

Enjoys a high level of achievement…

… Amongst ALL pupils

ie no gender or race bias, or at least such issues are being addressed. Another area to look out for is lack of provision for pupils with special educational needs, such as learning difficulties. I’ve always thought that if you start by addressing special educational needs you’re more likely to meet everyone else’s needs too. Another thing to watch is provision for youngsters who need to be stretched (mentally, I mean, not on the rack!)

Enjoys a high take-up of options by students

In secondary (high) schools.

Enjoys a high take-up of lunchtime or after-school clubs

Is approached by outside people who want to get involved

I’m referring to parents, school governors, members of the local community, who may wish to lend their expertise, come to the school to learn about technology, help to raise money, or give talks to the pupils.

Is approached by staff who want to get involved

It’s nice when a teacher from another subject area asks if she can teach one or two lessons of ICT a week, or when a classroom assistant asks if they can be part of the team. The thinking behind this and the previous point is that good leaders attract good people who want to work for and with them.

Sees a high usage of technology by staff

Equipment is always out on loan; the staff-only area is usually packed.

Sees a high usage of technology across the curriculum

Staff have the confidence to use it with their students. Again, equipment is always out on loan; computer labs are fully booked.

Gets good outcomes from external scrutiny

EG from inspections, the ICT Mark assessment, or any other set of criteria.

Sees equipment respected by the students…

… And staff

Is passionate about ICT

Perhaps this is the most important of all in a way. I don’t see leadership in ICT as being a form of painting by numbers. Nor do I think the context is unimportant. In education, I think good leaders are characterised by having a real passion for their chosen area, whatever that happens to be.

Over to you

I regard this list as a starting point. Please feel free to add your own insights and observations in the comments.

Further reading

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 29: Create a Buzz

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

bore-em 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).

Conclusion?

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?

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader: Consolidation Day 4

It strikes me that over the last 25 years or so, industry and commerce have concerned themselves with improving management, whilst education has focused on leadership. Not exclusively so in either case, and I’m not saying this is objectively true, but I do have a strong impression that this is very much the reality by and large.

businesswoman I first became aware of the trend when attending an interview for a Head of ICT post some years ago. One hapless candidate asked whether the successful person would have a place on the senior management team. The response – or perhaps it was the tone of the response -- was reminiscent of the kind of class snobbery which sociologists, from time to time, seek to assure us no longer exists:

We don’t have a senior management team at this school. We have a senior leadership team.

Does it matter? Well, if leadership is all about saying what ought to be done and inspiring people to want to do it, management is surely about how it will be done. Leadership without management is nothing less than institutionalised daydreaming, while management without leadership is nothing more than box-ticking. In other words, for an ICT department to thrive, you need both.

That’s why in this series, and especially on Days 24 to 28, I’ve covered nitty-gritty issues which purists would say are more to do with management than leadership. But in my opinion, a good leader will seek to put into place mechanisms to ensure that practical issues are dealt with.

Take the equipment loans procedure, for instance. What’s the point of having fantastic equipment and loads of ideas on how to use it across the curriculum, when actually getting your hands on the stuff is like one of the labours of Hercules? Similarly, colleagues won’t want to chance using education technology if technical support leaves much to be desired.

I read a comment recently to the effect that leaders shouldn’t have to concern themselves with such matters. Perhaps not in a hands-on kind of way, but it is certainly the job of the leader to make sure that someone is dealing with them.

A lot comes down to filling gaps on the ICT team, assuming you have the luxury of having a team and that you get the opportunity to do some recruiting. If you’re the visionary sort of leader who has little patience with details, then you need someone on the team who is quite pernickety about crossing the Ts and dotting the Is. Conversely, if you fret over the minutiae then you ought to get someone on board who has dreams and visions and is always coming up with new ideas. Ninety percent of them will be unworkable, of course, but it’s the remaining ten percent that’s important.

If you’re on your own, as many ICT co-ordinators are, then joining a community will be of paramount importance. The key thing is not to try and go it alone.

There are also plenty of resources that can help. A quick search in Google resulted in my discovering the BNET UK website, which has a section devoted to management.  It’s about business rather than education, but management is management, and with articles like “My biggest mistake as a rookie manager”, “The quick and dirty guide to getting things done” and “The Rookie manager’s guide to office politics”, the site is worth visiting it on a regular basis.

For a succinct run-down on essential leadership skills, with lots of links to articles on each one, see Chris Winfield’s 90 ways to become a better  leader.

Bottom line: although this series is about how to become a better educational technology leader, you ignore management at your peril.

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 26: Set Up a Staff-Only Area

A task a day for 31 daysWhat I'm about to say will probably strike you as completely counter-intuitive, but here it is:

If you want to get your colleagues to start using technology, set up an area where only teachers and other staff -- no students -- are allowed to enter.

Keep the kids out!

Reasons for setting up a staff-only area

There are several good reasons to do this:

You need to make the technology accessible

I've also covered this in the articles about removing the barriers to entry, reasons your ed tech facilities are being underused and reviewing your equipment loans procedure, but there is another aspect, which is more psychological than anything else. By setting up a staff-only technology-rich area, you're saying to the staff, in effect, that you consider them to be so important that they don't have to vie with students for the use of these facilities.

Staff can work in privacy

I worked with one school in which staff who wanted to use a computer had to work on one in the school library, in the company of students. Hardly any wonder, then, that no teacher was ever to be seen there. How can you write a report on a student when there's the possibility of students seeing what you're writing?

Teachers can request help in private

Everyone has to start somewhere, but most teachers would feel embarrassed at having to ask for assistance in front of students, or of making what they regard as a silly mistake and getting into a panic, in public as it were. Having a staff-only area removes that source of fear.

You can showcase the technology

You don't have to have only computers in the staff-only area. Ideally, have other equipment such as a digital camera, a pocket camcorder, a voice recorder, an electronic whiteboard, a visualiser, a "voting system" and anything else you can think of which might get people excited about possibilities.

Features of the staff-only area

So what should your staff-only area be like? Here are some ideas, based on what has worked in my own experience.

It should be a drop-in centre

Any teacher should be able to trot along to the room whenever they feel like it. The easiest thing to do is to make the key available from the school office.

Only the best is good enough

Your natural inclination is, no doubt, to put any new equipment in student areas, and "recycle" older equipment by putting it in the staffroom. However, if you want to encourage teachers to use technology in their lessons, you need to give them (exclusive) aspect to the best, the newest, the brightest.

Apart from the psychological aspect (see above), this approach is also a way of helping to ensure that the equipment is reliable, at the very least. You're also maximising the chances of staff being able to use more advanced features, faster, and with better quality results.

Think of yourself as a car salesperson: would you arrange a test drive using some old banger, or the latest model, in pristine condition?

It should be away from the staffroom

The staffroom is a place where you can be constantly interrupted. If possible, use a completely different room. It pays to look around. In my last school, I discovered a music practice room which was being used to store half-a-dozen music stands. You don't need a whole room for that. I went to see the Principal and, to the protests of the Head of Music, I acquired the room, which I set up as a staff-only area.

I installed 6 computers, a laser printer and a colour inkjet printer (these days I'd install a colour laser and possibly a 3D printer too).

Within a week, literally, the room was in constant use.

It was yet one more factor which contributed to the fact that within a couple of terms the use of ICT across the curriculum went from virtually nothing to almost constant. Let me put it this way (bearing in mind that in those days laptops and software was expensive): we had to convert a further two classrooms to computer labs, bringing the total to five, over the course of 18 months.

I like to think that setting up a staff-only area helped.

Photo by sumnix worx.

 

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 25: Review Your Loans Procedure

A task a day for 31 daysOn Day 24 we looked at how to make the ed tech facilities, especially computer rooms, more accessible. Today I'm considering the business of loaning out equipment, in the form of a series of questions to consider. These questions arise from my experience of visiting schools and seeing the procedures — or lack of them — for loaning out equipment.

What equipment is available for staff, students or classes to borrow?

For example, do you have class sets of laptops or pocket camcorders? Can staff borrow equipment to take home, so that they can familiarise themselves with it, or do some work on it in their own time? Is equipment available for students to borrow?

How do people know what's available to borrow?

Is there a list published somewhere? How often is it updated? Do people know that the list exists? How do new staff, especially those starting at odd times of the year (eg supply teachers) get to hear about the list?

What insurance cover do you have?

If a teacher or student borrows equipment, especially to take home, who pays if the item is lost, damaged or stolen?

What is the actual procedure for borrowing equipment?

Do people have to fill out a form? If so, where are copies of the form kept? Is it online? If so, can everyone gain access to it? Is it part of your VLE or Learning Platform? (For example, it's possible in Fronter to set up loan equipment as a resource like a room, which therefore shows up as being available or unavailable at a particular time.)

By the way, just in case you think this is a no-brainer type of question, I worked with one school to help them improve their management of technical support, and it transpired that in order to borrow equipment, teachers had to go and see one of three people. The person they had to see depended on what they wanted to borrow, although this was not made explicit anywhere. Moreover, one of the staff only worked part-time!

How do people know if the equipment they want to borrow is available?

Actually, how do you know that it's available? I visited one school where a crucial lead had gone missing because someone had borrowed it without telling anyone. So how do you get loaned equipment back in time? What do you about it if someone (consistently) fails to return stuff on time?

Where do people collect the item?

I'd suggest the school office, if you can use your powers of persuasion. Why? Because there is always someone there during the working day, which means that not only is it easy for someone to collect the equipment but also that it's not been left alone in a cupboard that might be broken into. (In one school I worked in, someone walked into the school and stole a printer from an office — not mine, I hasten to add: I locked my office every time I left it.)

Is the loaned equipment ready to use?

In the previous question I used the phrase 'in time'. In my opinion, that is not 5 minutes before the next person wants to borrow it. You need to allow time for charging it up, inserting fresh batteries, inserting an empty SD card, or whatever. Teachers need to be sure that when they open the box, everything is ready to be used.

Is the equipment easy to use?

Remember Freedman's Five Minute Rule: that it should be easy to be up and running and do some basic things with no prior training in five minutes or less. I advocate that for loan equipment there is a set of instructions for the teacher to consult if needs be. I don't mean the kind of instructions which have been written by a technician and then translated from Japanese! I mean clear, step-by-step instructions.

I also think that if a teacher is borrowing an item for the first time, someone should spend a few minutes with them just going through the basics.

How do people return loaned equipment?

Do they have to run around finding the person to return it to? Do they return it to the school office?
How is equipment checked?

I'd recommend using the kind of system that libraries use when lending out CDs. They check for obvious signs of damage and then note it down on a card. For example, you might note that a camcorder has a scratch down one side. I'm not suggesting you charge people for damage, but if a teacher knows that the scratch she has just noticed has already been documented, she won't be worrying about whether she did it or not.

If you loan out laptops, you should also check for newly-installed programs — although I would highly recommend that you make it impossible for anyone apart from yourself, your immediate colleagues or technical support to install anything. And do a virus check.

Why so many questions?

The whole point of all of these questions is this: is it easy and pleasant to borrow educational technology equipment? If not, why would anyone wish to bother?

As ICT leader, part of your remit is, almost certainly, to encourage other people to use technology in their lessons where appropriate. A good starting point is to ask yourself these kinds of questions.

The crucial thing to do is to consider them from the standpoint of a teacher who has just started working in the school today. If you can't answer these questions unless you've been in the school for at least a term, or unless you're you, then something needs to be done — and fast!

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 24: Removing Barriers to Entry

Educational technology is different from other areas in the curriculum in one respect especially, which is that its success is partly measured by how much it is being used by non-specialists. With that in mind, the final quarter of this series is about encouraging other staff to use it.

A task a day for 31 daysIn fact, not merely use it, but want to use it. For that to happen, the technology has to be useful, exciting, easy to use, easy to access. Today, I'm going to concentrate on that last one, making the educational technology easy to access. I'll continue with this theme tomorrow.

Let's start with a simple proposition. If the educational technology is easy to access, other staff may or may not make use of it. If it is difficult to access, then they almost certainly won't, except under sufferance, such as if they are forced to by the senior leadership team, or on a particular day they have no alternative.

You have to bear in mind that, these days, it is really quite easy to gain access to a computer if you really need to. Many public libraries have computers which can be booked for an hour at a time, and there are internet cafés, not all of which look like dives. Many teachers have their own computer or, in the UK, a school laptop.

Bottom line: when it comes to using a computer outside school hours, teachers have a lot of choice as to where they go if they want to use a computer for lesson preparation or report writing. In a few days' time I'll be looking at how to encourage teachers to use the school's facilities for their own work.

But what of using the computers with classes? There are several things you can do in order to encourage or facilitate that, but within the context of this series I am going to focus on just one: making sure the equipment is accessible. Today, I am considering computer labs; tomorrow I shall look at equipment that is loaned out.

Remove the barriers to entryThe first step in making a computer lab accessible is to enable staff to actually get into it. Yes, I realise that is pretty obvious, but consider the situation I found myself in in one school:

  • The keys to the computer labs were kept in a Deputy Headteacher's office.
  • You were allowed to go into the office to get a key as long as the office was (a) unlocked and (b) not in use for a meeting.
  • You were allowed to take only one key at a time. (The significance of this will become apparent in a moment.)

What this meant was that what should have been a very simple act — walking into a computer lab — required meticulous planning if you were not to end up waiting outside a computer lab with a class of kids who were becoming more and more unruly by the second while you frantically tried to gain access to the key.

That is assuming, of course, that you had been able to book the use of the room in the first place, because that was another major hurdle. Each room had its own booking timetable, which was available on the teacher's desk in the room.

Sounds logical enough, doesn't it, but suppose I wanted to book the use of the room next Wednesday morning for one of my classes. This is what I could end up doing:

  1. Find key to computer lab A.
  2. Check timetable in Lab A.
  3. Return key and, if computer lab A was booked at the time I need it, take the key for Lab B.
  4. Check the timetable for Lab B.

And so on. There were three computer labs, so checking their availability could, by the time you'd managed to get hold of the key each time, easily take your whole lunch hour. Little surprise, then, that most staff did not bother most of the time. It would be untrue to compare the computer labs to the Marie Celeste, because at least that ship showed evidence of recent occupation.

Sorting this out took surprisingly little time, using a few simple expedients.

Firstly, I redesigned the computer lab booking form. I figured that nobody would care much which computer lab they used (we didn't have a specialist area set aside for, say, multimedia; the only real difference between the rooms was the number of computers in them). Therefore, I amalgamated the room timetables for all the rooms onto one booking sheet, and organised it by time rather than room.

In other words, if you wanted to use the computers next Wednesday morning, you looked at the sheet to see which room(s), if any, were free at that time.

I then placed the booking timetable in the staffroom, which seemed quite logical to me.

These two steps meant that booking a computer lab went from possibly taking an hour to taking less than five minutes.

I also asked the school office to take charge of the keys. After all, there is someone there all the time, so that made perfect sense too.

All of a sudden, gaining physical access to the rooms was no longer a Herculean labour.

There is also the matter of access to the network. I understand the need for security, but I could never understand why some Heads of ICT made it so incredibly difficult to get into the computers unless you ahd your own user ID.

My view is this: there are always going to be students who forget their login details, new students or staff who have not yet been given their login details (even though they should have been) and visitors to the school. So why not create a bank of generic user IDs, like User01, User02 and so on? I believe that as long as people know that the work they create under these names will not be kept very long, and so must be transferred or saved to an external medium if they want to keep it, that's fine. It will only be the odd one or two in a class anyway (one hopes).

Another aspect of access is ease of use. These days, many applications are fairly intuitive if you've been using computers for a while. But not everybody has. When I was Head of ICT I came up with Freedman's Five Minute Rule. This states that someone should be able to come into your computer suite, log on, do some work, print it out and save it and log off, all in the space of 5 minutes even if they had never set foot in the school before.

One of the things you might do in order to meet this requirement is to put up posters giving step-by-step instructions for starting each application, how to save work in the word processor, how to print off your picture, and so on.

To be accessible, the computer systems also has to actually work. I will be covering technical support another day, but it's worth saying at this point that if your computers are unreliable, people won't use them. If, for example, there is an intermittent fault such that every so often the network crashes for no obvious reason, you really need to get it sorted out. It may be that it "only" happens on average once a week, or even once a month, but no teacher wants to be the one in the computer lab with a class when it does.

None of the things I've discussed here will in themselves make teachers want to use the computers. What they are all about is reducing, or even removing, the barriers to entry, to borrow a term from the econommists' dictionary. Think of it as a shop might: opening the doors of a shop and putting in signs reading "Menswear 1st Floor" won't get people flocking through the doors. But make it hard to enter the shop in the first place, and then fail to let people find their way around easily, and you will certainly deter all but the diehards or the desperate from even trying.

Look out for another article, coming soon, on why your computer facilities may be lying idle much of the time.

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Consolidation Day 3

Hopefully, the last ten activities have been useful. Having spent some time seeing what's going on, and then looking at some hard evidence, you should by now have started to address some practical issues, such as:

  • What is the documentation like? Is it helpful?
  • What resources do we have? What do we need?
  • What are people talking and writing about? What new ideas are coming in?
  • What do we need to do to make the ICT team (if there is one) even better?

It would be good to spend some time looking back on these activities to see if there are any gaps, because the next batch of 'assignments' are very practical and pragmatic indeed, as you'll see.

Just a couple of points to make:

Firstly, activities like reading, which don't produce an immediately identifiable result, are very important. I remember seeing a sign for a door once which depicted someone sitting with their feet up on the desk, and their eyes clothes. Underneath it said, "Quiet please: genius at work!"

I think there's a grain of truth in that. We all need quiet time to sit and just have ideas. The target culture has made us all think we're not doing anything of value if you can't see it or measure it. However, the brain needs time to mull things over. I certainly find myself that if I read and reflect, read and reflect, ideas start to gestate and are worth waiting for.

Secondly, there is a particular type of team leader who thinks that they have to take credit for everything the team achieves. Apart from being morally suspect, if not reprehensible, that sort of attitude is self-defeating, because ultimately people will simply stop giving out their ideas. Either that, or they will email you their idea and copy the email to everyone else they can think of, including your own boss.

If you've done a good job of encouraging and facilitating the birth and sharing of ideas, it doesn't matter whether people think you had the idea yourself or not. How come? Because if people in your team have great ideas then that's a reflection on you anyway.

Coming soon: some practical things you can do to get the technology being used across the school.

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 23: What is Your Dream Team?

A task a day for 31 daysWouldn't it be nice to be starting work as an ICT leader in a brand new school? Not just a new building, but a new school. You know the situation: the school is opening in 18 months' time, and the Principal is recruiting managerial staff now, of which you're one. One of your tasks, along with your new colleagues, is to recruit people to be in your team. What a wonderful feeling that must be!

As you've probably inferred, I've never been in that situation myself. No surprise there, but this may surprise you: I've never regretted it. It's not that every team of people I've managed has been perfect, far from it.  But even 'challenging' colleagues can not only make very valuable contributions to the work of the team, but can help you and their other colleagues grow.

In fact, the very term 'dream team' carries connotations of some sort of notion of wishing to work with people who are made in your own image. People are individuals, and it's that individuality, and the interplay between team members, that is all-important.A good team leader encourages that, and does their best to ensure that the team ethos facilitates it.

Also, recruiting a 'dream team' from the start assumes that the team members and therefore the team as a whole will remain exactly the same ad infinitum. Is that actually good? The dream team of today will surely not be the dream team of tomorrow, unless you're either very good at recruiting, or very lucky.

So where does that leave us? I suggest that the dream team is more about 'soft' characteristics, and not things like qualifications or even experience. I recall once being invited to sit on an interview panel for the appointment of a Head of ICT in a secondary school. In the end, it came down to a choice between a young man who had a great deal of expertise and experience, but who had no 'presence', and another fellow who hardly knew anything technical about technology, but had bags of energy and enthusiasm.

The Headteacher said to me: "I don't know which one would be better." My response was: "Well, it seems to be that you have a choice between someone who has no personality but lots of knowledge, and someone who has no knowledge and lots of personality. You can teach someone about computers, but you can't give someone a personality!"What's your dream team? Photo by Hilde Vanstraelen.

In another context, Doug Woods puts his finger right on the button when he says:

21st century education is not about equipment, it’s about approaches.  It’s about putting the learner at the heart of their learning and allowing/enabling them to use the equipment you have in creative and collaborative ways.

So, what would your dream ICT team be? The kind of things I always look for are the following, in no particular order:

My dream team

Willingness to co-operate

If there's one thing we know about technology, it is that it will go wrong. Maybe not today. Perhaps not tomorrow. But it will do so sometime. In that situation you need people who can step in at short notice, be willing to swap rooms with you if they don't need the computer lab, or let you use the laptops because what their class was going to is not as urgent as what yours was going to do, etc etc.

Enthusiasm

I want to work with colleagues who can get the kids fired up. Hey, I want to work with colleagues who get me fired up -- which is pretty tough because I'm fired up to begin with. I don't want to work with people who have seen it, done it, got the tee shirt and are treading water until they retire.

Self-confidence

I'm not prepared to accept cop-out excuses like "Well, the kids are all digital natives and so know a lot more than I do" for dumbed-down work that keeps the kids' behaviour under control by the simple expedient of sending them to sleep. I don't care that there are gaps in your technical knowledge — there are gaps in everyone's technical knowledge. But I do expect you to know about teachning and learning.

Particular strengths

I think a large part of what makes a team a 'dream team' is the individual strengths of its members. It's impossible to specify these in advance, but to give you an idea of what I mean, here are the strengths exhibited by the members of a team I worked with once:

A: Had excellent discipline, even though she was only in her second year of teaching. I think it was because her main role was a PE teacher, in which listening to the teacher's instructions is of paramount importance for the children's safety.

B: Was absolutely brilliant with students with learning difficulties. She had infinite patience, and could make the most complex concept comprehendible. I asked her to be in charge of ensuring that all our resources were suitable for students with special educational needs.

C: Was a science teacher and doing an MA, so she brought an academic rigour to every aspect of her work. If a student gave an answer like "Because it's more efficient", she would respond by saying "What do you mean by that?" Her students soon learnt to think before speaking, and to be prepared to back up every statement or opinion with evidence. A woman after my own heart.

D: Had the ability to break down activities into even more stages, so that if someone was away when you covered the topic, or couldn't 'get' it, you could use all these extra resources that he had created. He, too, had outstanding reserves of patience and energy.

Well, you can see where I'm coming from with all this, but a few questions arise. Firstly, am I saying that technical expertise is unimportant? Secondly, most of us inherit a team rather than create one from nothing, so doesn't my list really constitute a dream in the sense of having nothing whatsoever to do with reality? And finally, and related to the foregoing question, how do you make sure that people are co-operative or whatever, if they're not?

Is technical expertise unimportant?

No, but if you're going to insist on having something like a degree in ICT before you will even look at someone, you will close yourself off from a great deal of expertise that's around. Also, people can go on courses, and will learn by doing anyway. If they need extra technical support of classroom assistance for a while, then that can be arranged.

How do you 'convert' an existing team into a dream team?

In my experience, people will co-operate, have more self-confidence and be more enthusiastic if you delegate responsibility for one or more units of work to them, and have interesting activities and opportunities for professional development, such as good in-service training, going to exhibitions, attending conferences, and having their lessons observed.

I'll be saying more about delegating a unit of work after the end of this series, but the important thing about delegating the responsibility (as opposed to merely the task) is that the teacher can choose whatever topic they light to hang the concepts on. If they happen to love windsurfing, and can use it as a means of teaching modelling, why not?

Also, this approach actually reduces teachers' workload, as I'll be demonstrating. As for the other things mentioned here, they are all about respecting the person as a professional, and treating them as such.

It's also encumbent on the team leader to notice people's strengths and weaknesses, and to use them and address them respectively.

Bottom line: there's no such thing as a template for a dream team, so you have to think it through for yourself. So your 15 minute task for today is to make a note of the following:

  1. What are the features of your dream ICT team?
  2. Which ones are already in evidence?
  3. How might you address the deficiencies?

Oh, and by the way, you're not allowed to recruit new staff or lose existing staff. 

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 22: Organise In-Service Training

I am firmly of the belief that an ed tech leader is only as good as the team they're leading, and that good in-service training plays a large part in improving teachers' skills, knowledge and understanding.

A task a day for 31 daysLet's take that phrase 'good in-service training': what does 'good' mean? What is 'in-service training'?

Not all INSET has to involve PowerPoint

The meaning of 'good'

I think in-service training is good if it enables the teacher to do something s/he couldn't do before, or to be able to do it better. I'm using the word 'do' in a very broad sense. It could be that, having attended a course, you have a greater understanding of a particular issue than you did before, without necessarily having to actually do anything with your new-found knowledge.

(I'll explore this in another post, but I believe very strongly that there needs to be time and space set aside for teachers to explore issues as an intellectual endeavour, and not merely so that some pre-defined 'output' measure can be improved. But that's for another day.)

Ideally, in-service training should be useful for the individual teacher, the ICT team and the school as a whole.
Teachers should have a huge say into what training they will experience. I've seen instances of where teachers are sent on courses they don't want to attend, and denied permission to go on courses they do. That's a ridiculous way of trying to get the best out of your staff. Admittedly, there may be some things which everyone has to attend, such s information about a new curriculum, but there has to be give and take.

As far as what is good for the ICT team is concerned, that should be discussed by the ICT team. As team leader you will need to take some decisions, but they need to take into account your colleaues' concerns and ideas too.

Types of in-service training for ed tech specialists

But what is in-service training? Traditionally, it's a course. However, it could take a number of forms, such as:

Types of in-service training for non-specialists

Bear in mind that one of your jobs might be to organise training for non-specialist staff. Ideas that come to mind include:

  • As you don't know what colleagues know or don't know, I'd suggest conducting a survey to find out what sort of things they would like training on.
  • Running a regular ICT surgery. I'll be covering this in more depth soon.
  • Running specific training for teaching assistants who help out in ICT lessons. I've always thought it best for all concerned for them to have at least a basic level of competence in using technology.
  • Encouraging colleagues from other subjects to invite you to their team meetings to help them discover how technology could be used in their lessons.
  • Making a video of the ICT going on around the school, and showing it at a staff meeting. (Students can take this on as a project.)

Your task for today

 

There's a lot to think about there, but here are a few issues which you might like to consider in your 15 minutes today:

  • Who is going to deliver the training? It doesn't have to be you or an outside expert. One of your colleagues might be able and willing to do so. I've had pupils giving training, and the teachers loved it because it was so effective for them.
  • Does training always have to take place as an extra-curricular activity? Doesn't that discriminate against colleagues who are paid by the hour? Since the training they enjoy will benefit the school (one hopes), should they not be paid to attend it?
  • Does training always have to take place after school? After all, that discriminates against colleagues with family commitments. How about lunchtime sessions as well? I don't think there is an ideal time for training or a foolproof answer to this type of concern, but I think it's important to try and be as flexible as possible.
  • Does all training have to take place 'live'? If you were to video your training sessions, the recordings could be made available on the school's VLE for colleagues to access in their own time.
  • The same goes for screencasts. Why not create a series of short screencasts to cover the basic aspects of applications which are commonly used in the school?
  • Does training have to take place in school or a teacher development centre? How about a team visit to an exhibition? I have organised some great visits for teachers to work places where technology is used.If such days are planned and organised well, they can be really effective professional development.
  • Does all training or professional development have to be organised? What about taking part in online discussions? What about making the technology available and allowing people to use it how they see fit, or simply to explore it?
  • Looking at your team as a whole (or yourself if you don't have a team), what are your most pressing training needs? Where are the gaps in your knowledge or skill set? How and when can you start to address this?

Further reading

You may also find the following articles useful:

5 Minute Tip: Keeping a Professional Development Record.
Web 2.0 For Rookies: Proving Professional Development.