Royden Gothelf of RightICT explores how to get a whole-school perspective on what is needed, ICT-wise, and what areas to invest in
In work and at home there is a reliance on technology; it is a utility, like electricity, and, without it, so many things that we use would not work. For example, our expectation is that the TV always works when switched on – but, if the channel wanted is not tuned in, it is a crisis. So, what to do? Retune the TV? Find another TV to watch? Switch it off and on again? Use another device to find a live stream? Meanwhile, time is passing by.
What about computing technology?
A SMART TV is full of computing technology, so a TV is a computer as well as a computer being a TV. Additionally, a mobile phone is a telephone and a computer. The crossover is seen in terms of what the devices are used for, yet there are fundamental differences in the way these devices connect to a network to get the information requested and allow interaction.
What about our expectations?
Reliable access is expected for both a TV and a mobile phone – yet, once the computing device is connected to the school network, expectation changes. Too often our expectation (or the reality) of the lack of reliability gets in the way of confidently exploiting technology. Our expectations are that it will work most of the time, but not all the time – and having a class of students in front of us requires 99% reliability.
In education, what we do with the device is a choice made by the subject leader or the business manager, while supplying the device and connectivity is often a choice made by the IT manager, who is also responsible for the service – these people need to work together to maximise use of edtech.
When talking to school leaders about ICT, the discussion frequently starts with the role of the IT manager and the reliability of the service before talking about technology as an education resource. It is better to talk to education specialists – the teachers – about the resources in teaching and learning, than to talk about the devices and networks; what we want to use the device for determines what device we have.
Historically, subjects would be taught from a textbook, notes made using pen and paper and presentations given on chalk boards, dry wipe boards and via films and photographs. Computing has changed teaching by making resources reach beyond the textbook; textbook content is now available online and teaching is enriched by other resources that can be accessed via the computer. More so, the resources are interactive so students no longer need to be passive viewers. Communication and collaboration between teachers, school leaders and students continues to change fast, from email to document-sharing.
Monitoring and measurement can be done more quickly when the large amount of data that now exists is made available on the information management application and is used for governance, to improve outcomes for both the individual and the school as a whole. There are what seem to be endless ways of using the technology in education with the capability of achieving IT-enabled personalised learning for all students – however:
- Digital learning, and fully embracing innovative technology, are sought after by all in education but, for many, this is an aspiration – not a reality.
- Digital literacy is quite low among teachers, and educational establishments face challenges in supporting teachers.
- IT budgets, generally, are either staying the same or increasing, and teams are mainly investing at a foundation, practical level.
Secure a whole-school perspective
Here are some practical steps to take to get the whole-school perspective to increase use of IT and to target the use of IT to maximise benefit and reduce costs:
- Take a school where the use of technology in education is low – in the sense that email is being used, and broadband is in use for this, the school has file servers for document storage, finance use MIS systems or spreadsheets, most classrooms have a PC. The IT manager is suggesting investment to replace or upgrade the IT, but there is little budget for this.
- Take a school where the use of technology is high – in the sense that that the school has many devices, has wireless and wired access, uses technology for registration and all data collection and data is analysed using MIS systems. Subject leaders can have whatever technology they need to deliver the curriculum.
In both cases, the question to ask is ‘How are we – or should we be – using technology to improve outcomes for the students?’ Where use of tech is low, this will help the school build a case for investment. Where use of tech is high, this will help the school focus on what is adding value. This needs to be a dialogue across the whole school. Start with the subject heads and the teachers, then let subject leaders and middle managers discuss with the teaching and learning leaders on SLT. What you get is their consolidated view.
Have a dialogue at SLT on the management, email and common software e.g. word processing, spreadsheets and presentation; look at the policies in place and what the school handbook says on use of tech. As you do this, you will start to build a whole-school perspective on what is used or could be used. Now take this and discuss with the IT manager; the initial reaction can be one of you asking for more than the IT is capable of, or why you are asking for all those devices if you don’t need them.
What you start to get is an improvement plan for IT that is not just about keeping the technology up-to-date, but a plan that links to what the technology is going to be used for, plus a broad view of what applications are being used in school so you can start to get best practices to share across departments.
There are savings to be made by stopping paying for licences that are not used, or are duplicates; a clearer view on where investment is needed, and where savings in infrastructure can be made. Most importantly, this approach gives you the ability to demonstrate how tech is being used – or could be used – to improve outcomes with the right resources and budget.