31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader-- Day 9: Ask the Pupils

A task a day for 31 daysWhen all is said and done, the whole point of being in school is to provide a good education for young people, so we need to ask them whether we're doing a reasonable job. However, exactly how you ask them will depend on their age, and also what you wish to find out.

What should you ask?

The kind of questions I  ask when visiting a secondary (high) school are as follows:

  • What you think is the school’s vision for ICT, ie why is it providing lots of kit etc?
  • Are students asked to contribute to the school's vision and ideas?
  • Are there lots of (high-quality) opportunities to use ICT?
  • Do you find the things you're asked to do with educational technology challenging? 
  • Are you making progress?
  • What opportunities are there for students to contribute to the school’s use and choice of ICT?
  • What is the value of learning about and using ICT, especially as many people consider young people to be experts anyway?
  • What Level are you at in ICT, how do you know, and what do you have to do to get up to the next Level?
  • Anything you’d like to add?

Ask the right questionsThese are not all the questions I like to ask, and I ask slightly different ones, in a very different way, when visiting primary (elementary) schools, but hopefully this selection will give you an idea of what works. Breaking these down what they seek to find out from the students is:

  • What do you think the school is trying to do?
  • Are you 'done to', or are you consulted, as far as ICT is concerned?
  • Do youb get to do hard things with the technology, as opposed to stuff you could do anyway?
  • How are you doing in ICT, and how do you know?

There are other ways of finding out useful information from a student's perspective, as you'll see on Days 10, 11 and 12. However, asking them directly is a useful — actually, essential — part of the process.

How to do it

I should recommend taking a random-ish group of youngsters from different age groups, eg 2 from each Year or Grade, and of both genders. Ideally, limit the size of the group to no more than six, and do it with two groups if necessary. Obviously, try to draw everyone into the discussion. The whole thing need take no longer than 15 or 20 minutes — half an hour at the outside.

You can either conduct the session in a lunch period, say, or during lessons whilst project work is going on, or online. If you do it online, I think it's important to ensure that students cannot make anonymous contributions. The reason is that there is always a danger that some students will use the exercise as a means of moaning about their teachers. If they wish to make such complaints, they or their parents should do so in a proper manner, not hijack your survey.

On the other hand, most students, most of the time, are eager to please, and therefore can be tempted to say things that they think you'd like to hear, or which won't get anyone into trouble. For that reason I do think that the best person to ask these questions is someone who is, and can be seen to be, independent. On Day 13 we'll look at the idea of inviting a teacher from another school to visit; the visitor would be an ideal person to conduct the interviews. Alternatively, a member of the Governing Body or a parent might be approached. A teaching assistant is also a possibility, as indeed is a colleague from another curriculum area altogether.

Then what?

The information you glean from asking the students directly about their educational technology experience in the school can prove very useful to you in planning. If, for example, the school has invested lots of money in state-of-the-art equipment, but the students aren't using it, is that because teachers don't have the knowledge or confidence to make it available? Perhaps you should put on some staff training sessions in those areas?

Or suppose the students are using the technology a lot, and are really enjoying it, but don't know how they're doing or how to improve (an answer such as "I must work harder" is not specific enough). In that case, perhaps you need to make sure that people have a good idea of how to assess students' ICT capability and, crucially, how to convey useful information about it to their students.

So how would all this knowledge help you to become a better ed tech leader? The youngsters are your final customer, if you wish to think of it in commercial terms. It's not necessarily the case that the customer is always right, of course. But by making sure you know how things are from their perspective you can adjust what you're doing, repriotising if necessary, in order to bring about an improvement in the educational technology 'service' being offered.