A blast from the past -- with the emphasis on 'blast'. What I thought of self-service checkouts when they first appeared.Read More
If you're the ed tech co-ordinator in your school, and the facilities just aren't being used by other teachers, here are some possible reasons why that's the case.Read More
In England we have a weekly soap set in a school called Waterloo Road. This has everything you would hope not to find in a school: inappropriate behaviour, theft, even attempted murder – and that’s just the staff. The kids are pretty OK by comparison: teenaged pregnancy, illegal drug-taking and gangs. Strangely enough, there doesn’t seem to be more than 30 kids on roll, judging by the number of people who attend whole-school assemblies. But my main interest is this: what (good) use of technology is shown in this programme?
Does your computer lab look like this?
Hopefully not! But how about metaphorically speaking? If your once-lovely shining new facilities are simply not being used by other teachers, perhaps one of the following is the reason why.
Teachers don't know what's available
Just because you do, don't assume everyone else does. Do you know what's available in the music rooms? When was the last time you took an inventory of the science area? It's not a bad idea to let people know what they can use. Set up a special area of the staff noticeboard, issue a half-termly newsletter, or make the occasional announcement in a staff meting. And definitely include the information in staff induction materials.
Teachers don't know how they could use it, or why they should
I think this is a matter of making suggestions to people, and asking their opinions. Something to avoid is coming across as if you know their subjects better than they do. That is pretty obnoxious, and almost guaranteed to trun people off working with you.
Teachers don't know what the kids know
It's a daunting prospect, thinking that before you can do what you actually want to do, you have to teach the kids how to do it. I'll give you an example of what I mean. Let's suppose I teach geography, and I want the kids to use a spreadsheet to generate a graph from some rainfall figures. I don't want to have to teach them how to do that, because that's just going to waste precious time from my point of view.
One thing I tried, and it worked really well, was to issue a bulletin at the end of each half-term stating what the students had been taught, and what they were going to be taught next. Once the staff knew that, to continue with the example, we'd covered how to make graphs, they were a lot more confident about using the facilities with their students.
Teachers lack confidence or competence
I've lumped these together because I think they amount to the same thing. At least,m they go hand in hand with each other. Improve your skills, and you're bound to become more confident.
So, make sure there is in-service training available, and classroom support if required.
The facilities are too difficult to book
I've already dealt with this problem in Removing the Barriers to Entry. Teachers are too busy to embark on a sort of obstacle course, so if it's hard to book a set of laptops or whatever, they probably won't.
The facilities are uninviting
They could be uninviting for all sorts of reasons. Old equipment, dirty keyboards, broken mice, or lots of posters telling you what is forbidden. Or they may be unreliable, or not fit for purpose in some other way (for example, laptops don't retain their charge for more than about an hour), or the computer labs may be too hot (a common complaint) or too noisy because of the air conditioning.
Perhaps in one of the computer labs only some of the workstations work — with the non-functioning ones still in place looking ugly and useless.
You'll need to look at the facilities with an objective eye, as I advocated in Carry Out a SWOT Analysis. That will help you identify the causes of the problem.
Unless you're incredibly unlucky, you should be able to make a significant increase in the use of the ed tech facilities in a relative short period of time. I know that quality is important, that it's not simply a question of numbers. But people can raise their game over time, so the important thing is to get them using the facilities to start with.
Also, if the facilities are constantly in use you will stand a much better chance of winning an argument for more funding to upgrade the facilities. In these hard-pressed times, that sort of consideration is more important than ever.
See the References for other useful articles on this topic.
I offer this rant partly to get things off my chest -- I think I now officially qualify for the title "grumpy old man", even though I don't much care for the "old" part -- but even more so as a topic which teachers may like to raise with their students. The basic question is, I think, is technology being used inappropriately, or intrusively or even, ultimately, ridiculously?
I visited my local supermarket yesterday and decided to use the self-service check-out. This is a very advanced service which seems to require there to be at least two members of staff on hand at all times in order to sort out the problems it comes up with. If I tell you that I, of all people, have developed what amounts to a phobia about using it you may get a sense of how awful I think it is most of the time.
It isn't that the problems which arise are terrible in themselves, just that it's so embarrassing when a line of people is building up behind you. And that's another thing: it works perfectly when nobody else is around....
Just to put the positive side to the equation, I will admit to having found it much faster, sometimes, than the normal check-out, and it is undoubtedly more fun. There is a video game-type display showing you what to do, and a voice which guides you though the process. That voice is female and was chosen, I am certain, to sooth the nerves of people such as myself and thereby prevent acts of vandalism directed towards the machinery.
But yesterday even I was floored by a message that appeared on the screen.
Before going any further, I have to inform non-UK residents that we in England have reached the point where anyone who sells anything is scared to death of being sued. Thus it is that if you buy a drink from a fast food outlet you'll see a notice on the cup informing you that the contents may be hot -- even if you've purchased an iced tea. On foodstuffs, just about everything contains the warning, "May contain nuts". Bizarrely, bags of nuts do not come with such a warning. I must contact my attorney....
Even food which could not possibly contain anything even resembling a nut comes with the caution that it may contain traces of nuts, or that it was processed on machinery that may once have been used to process nuts.
Medicine packets list every single possible side effect of the contents therein. So, if 3 years ago someone took one of these tablets and then 2 weeks later his left leg dropped off, one of the possible side effects listed will be "May cause leg to drop off."
Back to the supermarket. The way it works is that you scan the item, then drop it into a plastic bag. The item shows up on the screen, then you're ready to put the next one on. One of the items last night was a box of painkillers. I scanned it, dropped it in the bag, and then had a warning message appear reading something like: "You have bought painkillers. You cannot buy any more unless you are authorised to do so. Are you authorised to do so? Yes/No"
Authorised? By whom? My mother? The store manager? I pressed "Yes" and it let me continue. In discussion with my wife we decided that it must be the store's way of protecting itself against prosecution by the families of people who decide to end it all by taking an overdose of painkillers. Presumably such people are too depressed to think about buying one huge box, buying several small boxes in several shops, or just to press "Yes". Perhaps there is some law that states that nobody is allowed to sell anyone more than one box of painkillers at a time.
Perhaps this idea could be extended to other areas of modern life? How about this: when you press the button on a traffic light, suppose a message came up: "Crossing the road is dangerous. Have you been authorised to do so?"
Homes could be fitted with such a system, so that as you go out of the house you're warned that "There are muggers and drunk drivers out there. Don't do it!" And when you put your key in the door to come in: "You do realise, I hope, that most accidents happen in the home? Do yourself a favour and head to the nearest hotel. Here's a list of the nearest ones which have vacancies..."
And by the way, I do hope you've printed this out to read. Computers use electricity, and electricity is dangerous. Make sure you've been authorised.