• Tech Support - By Schools, For Schools

    I know some of you might already recognise the phrase including in the title, as it is a central tenet of the ICT Register - DEFUNCT, but the same ethos is wide spread within the education community. It doesn't matter whether you are talking about school staff getting together at TeachMeets, having in-depth discussions via twitter through things like #ukedchat, online communities such as EduGeek.net or more local groups such as NorthantsBLT, the growing role of schools taking ownership of their advice and guidance and how they share it with others is a very important part of how schools need to react to recent changes which have come out of DfE.

    Many of the above are free ... well, when I say free I really mean that they are paid for by people and schools using their own time for the benefit of others because they get the same sort of response back, or it is a bit of educational philanthropy on the part of others. This is brilliant in many ways, but can make it difficult to plan for sustainability. Also, there is nothing wrong with paying for advice, guidance, ideas, expertise, etc. There is often a saying used, "you get what you pay for!" and this is very true. People forget that the payment is not always cold, hard cash, but time and your own expertise ... and when time, expertise, capacity and ideas are running short then people face the reality that paying for something is almost inevitable.

    And this is one of the areas where I think some schools do it wrong. It shouldn't be that paying for something in cash is the last option, it should be considered an option from the very beginning when you are planning what you need, what your goals are, how your school will develop / deliver things like CPD, technical support, parental engagement, etc.

    Technical Support is a perfect example of where failing to plan can result in staff in the school, both techie and teacher, having to scrabble around to find information and guidance. I have been preparing a number of reports around the use of Framework for ICT Technical Support (FITS) within Northamptonshire schools and conversations with schools who have staff trained and accredited against FITS has shown what a difference planning makes. Except that it doesn't just stop at the school gates. A number of schools are actively involved in supporting other schools. This will range from Lodge Park Technology College being actively engaged with the ICT Register - DEFUNCT and Microsoft's Partners In Learning, Sir Christopher Hatton School providing support on Microsoft training courses and technical support to local schools, Wrenn School providing technical support to local schools and staff being active in online communities such as EduGeek.net, and both The Duston School and Southfield School for Girls providing staff time and expertise to chair local working groups such as the Schools Broadband Working Group and NetworkNorthants (the local IT Community for technical staff in schools and school support providers). Some of this is for free (i.e. no charge to others) but some of it does have a cost and is well worth it.

    Having another school cover your tech support or provide advice around it has some major benefits. This can range from educational understanding and expertise, through to experience of deploying some education specific technologies. Couple this with easy access for teachers to talk with teachers, SLT to talk with SLT, you can having a winning combination.

    So I was please to see, over the weekend, a tweet from a friend on the south coast. Tim Dalton is the IT Consultant at The Wildern School, the school which runs its own TV Studio (BBC Schools Report), has previously run YouTube style services for other schools, has developed advice and guidance on using media technologies in schools ... and much more. Tim put a tweet out letting his PLN know that they are doing it again, taking their expertise and bundling it up for others. This time it is is punnet; a support, development and advisory service for other schools. Whether it is hands-on, regular tech support, development of software and applications for schools or advice and guidance around classroom use of technology and school strategy, Wildern hopes to be able to cater for your needs.

    Yet another example of By Schools, For Schools ...

    Do you have more examples? Are you involved in similar to the folk at punnet or the other schools mentioned? Have you spoken with other schools to share ideas, expertise, tools and goals? Go on ... now is your chance.

    (originally published on GrumbleDook.org)

    NOTE REGARDING ICT Register:
    ICT Register is now defunct and its url has been purchased by a different company. Please see http://www.ssatuk.co.uk/ssat/news/ict-register-website/ regarding the issue with its old url.
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. Dave_O's Avatar
      Dave_O -
      It's nice to see someone promoting what a few schools are doing.

      These are laudible objectives. As Garrison notes "whilst e-learning can support and to some degree enhance current classroom practices, real impact can be made only by realising the potential of collaboration." Garrison also notes that it is not the speed of access of information nor the information itself that lends value to e-learning it is "...its capacity to support communication and thinking in the quest to construct meaning and confirm knowledge"

      However (yes you knew this was coming) the present pedagogical climate is such that these objectives are unlikely to be sustainable beyond the true advocates who over time either disappear or become disenchanted. Sustainability comes from a fundamental change of approach. Doing things ad-hoc is not sustainable.

      Generally speaking technology in "other" schools or centres such as CLCs or STEM centres are less available than ones in school (pretty obvious). If you look at the statistics of which schools actually visit CLCs you will find they are used virtually exclusively by the school on whose site the CLC is built (again no rocket science involved here). Co-ordinating visits and organising opportunities to work together is time consuming and expensive (mini bus, staff out of school etc) consequently there are already barriers to all but the true advocate. Most start out with good intentions but the time and effort to do this wears everyone down. Only when opportunities and time to collaborate are built into teaching and learning will this barrier be removed.

      Schools do not function in a collaborative environment. Competition, lack of funding and a focus on results are not factors which promote collaboration. Schools are traditonally places built on isolation. If you ask the majority of main scale teachers how many other schools in the local area they have visited or with whom they have collaborated I would guess most would say none. As one teacher I asked about this put it "I can bearly do my lessons, prepare and mark in the time I have". Without a change in this situation true collaboration will not happen.
    1. GrumbleDook's Avatar
      GrumbleDook -
      Hi Dave

      Thanks for the response.

      I would say you are right and wrong. There are ways for schools to collaborate without having to compete. This can range from partnering with schools just outside of your immediate area through to larger partnerships through things like Academy Groups, The Schools Network, projects with vendors such as Microsoft Partners in Learning or Toshiba's support of the Digital Leaders project.

      But yes, it is a brave (and confident) SLT who actively get the school involved in sharing things. This is what DfE are promoting though ... yesterday's speech by Mr Gove at The Schools Network national conference has him talking about how good schools are part of the network of sharing. To say that the twitter commentary on this was a tad cynical is putting it bluntly, especially where those actively involved in communities such as this one, TeachMeet, etc are shouting that they have been telling him that these exist and have existed for some time (and most prior to anything he might have affected). But we know where the political landscape is and that is schools are meant to share. This is something we should be using to our advantage to encourage allowing folk to get out and about and visit other schools even more, and yes, this fits in with planning it into how a schools works and collaborates.

      Is there mileage in recording when fellow members do share advice / visits? I know that I used to record (where possible) who I had helped out as proof of outreach work and that helped justify continuing to do it. Thankfully, it is now a permanent part of my job.
    1. synaesthesia's Avatar
      synaesthesia -
      I tend to think there's more collaboration than people seem to realise. Yes it's true that schools are often percieved as lonely places where teachers keep to themselves. However, picking an example out of a hat TES is testament to this not being the case all the time. Edugeek is too for support staff as well as network manager/tech meetings. Then of course BETT. We are far from alone in the world of education, there just appears to be a perception that we are.
      We support a couple of primaries a) because they asked us nicely and b) even though they're not in our local cluster or feeder schools we feel the most important thing both parties can get other than IT support is collaboration, good will, expanse of experience and further contacts. There are 3rd party support providers who can and do provide a more technical wealth of knowledge but with that support as their sole purpose there is often no go-between for the schools.
      We feel very lucky at least in Northants that so many of us get on very well and with just a phone call we can drop by a number of other school for advice, support and to give the same. It makes working in IT support here very good and I must say I've noticed the difference coming from a 3rd party support provider where I did, oddly enough, feel very alone to coming to work for a specific school and have never felt better in that I can go to any number of people for unbiased and decent advice.
      The only caveat to this is that only a tiny amount (i.e. 1 or 2) members of SLT have any awareness of this collaboration and it's probably best it stays that way. Oddly enough though, when people are looking to become academies, needing sponsors etc it's amazing how quickly people's minds change and they start collaborating with anyone or everyone
    1. Dave_O's Avatar
      Dave_O -
      "There are ways for schools to collaborate without having to compete." - the point is they should not have to find ways.

      "The Schools Network, projects with vendors such as Microsoft Partners in Learning or Toshiba's support of the Digital Leaders project." - all very interesting anecdotal examples of collaboration (not so sure about the vendor focused collaboration) but I can thing of no schools that have "collaboration" written into their consitution and actively encourages it. As for Michael Gove...do you trust this man? Like all these initiatives my only comment to him is "Facta non Verba"

      Is there mileage in recording when fellow members do share advice / visits? - This depends on the purpose of the sharing. As long as it's not self edificaton then yes

      Collaboration will persist, but only through the actions of the few. Until there are major changes this situation will not change. What is more important is asking the question... in who's interest is it to change?

      You must understand that I am an advocate of collaboration (I would not be on this site if I was not) but I am also a realist.
    1. GrumbleDook's Avatar
      GrumbleDook -
      I can name a lot of schools that have collaboration written into their development plans and even into their Terms of Reference for Foundation / Trust / Academy status.

      Those with charitable status might also have it in there as part of work with the local community ... and other schools count as local community.

      If you want evidence which is not anecdotal then have a look at EG, TeachMeets, the ICT Register and #ukedchat for real examples. In Northamptonshire a group of SLT from primary schools are meeting and collaborating on a regular basis to look at how tech can change how the lead and manage their schools. They also give time for their staff to get involved sharing and collaborating.
    1. SteveT's Avatar
      SteveT -
      An example of a formal group of schools for collaboration.

      www.southlakesfederation.co.uk
    1. Dave_O's Avatar
      Dave_O -
      Quote Originally Posted by SteveT View Post
      An example of a formal group of schools for collaboration.

      www.southlakesfederation.co.uk
      Sorry SteveT can't get the link to work. Obviously far too much collaboration going on (cheap shot! sorry).
    1. User3204's Avatar
      User3204 -
      Heh, I like what's happened to the ICT Register lately see their URL http_NOLINK://www.ict-register.net
    1. synaesthesia's Avatar
      synaesthesia -
      probably best not to be posting such links here regardless of past intent?
    1. jamesfed's Avatar
      jamesfed -
      Nice post there

      Working on the next Fitzharrys Demo day as we speak I'm certainly one for showing what is possible to other schools however I do still get the feeling that plenty of other schools just don't want to take part in these kinds of events - we invite local schools (Oxfordshire) to every event and I get more from London than I do else ware.
    1. GrumbleDook's Avatar
      GrumbleDook -
      The SSAT are aware of the issue and have published the following on their website SSAT | ICT Register website

      They are still looking at options to get the domain again and they continue with their good work to help schools support each other.
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