• Internet Safety Talking Point 2

    This is my latest article based on Scott McLeod’s 26 Internet Safety Talking Points.

    Over the next few weeks I am looking at each point to tease apart the ideals behind them, to try to see both sides of the discussion and to share examples about who others have work on the issues. A lot of this will be from a UK-centric position but hopefully it will provide some insight into the similarities and differences with our friends in other countries.

    Today’s point is about Decision Making

    The technology function of your school organization exists to serve the educational function, not the other way around. Corollary: your technology coordinator works for you, not vice versa.
    To use technology you should have a reason, understand what you want it to do and also understand how you can measure whether it is achieving it or not.

    Oh dear … this sound like we are going to talk about planning again.

    In the past a number of choices about technology have been a little chicken and egg with what has been used. There have been pilot projects or innovative schools who have gone out and done something interesting with new or emerging technology. The technology has inspired them to try something new and when it has worked you then find research to look into it on a wider scale. This is where folk like Becta came in … as well as groups such as the Association of Learning Technology, NAACE, Besa and so on. They took the research to the next level, either as partnerships with schools, those doing the research, with suppliers or as the controller of funds (or any combination) … resulting in ring-fenced funds to allow schools and LAs to implement a given technology.

    So the idea that the technology should be based on your choice has not always been the way it should have been, but it was usually instigated based on good practice and research. How will it was implemented is then debatable and how much that removed control and decision making from individual schools is another point some will raise.

    But where does the technology coordinator (NM, ICT Coordinator, LA Technology Manager) sit in this? To some extent they might have chosen the specific technology based on available funds, with a certain set of features, but the pedagogy behind it all should be pretty agnostic and be able to use whatever is provided. An IWB is an IWB … and whilst specific software might have benefits over other solutions the idea of it being used by learners is common … it is just the method which might change. The arguing point against this is around wireless tablets connected to projectors (removing the requirement for the learner to come to the front of the class … an important feature in some schools with learners who do not engage when in front of their peers) or the ‘add-on’ tools such as voting systems (actually a separate technology in their own right but can work well with IWBs).

    The other arguing point around this is about policies and strategies. I hate to say it but there is a little thing called the law. In fact it is the Law. It deserves the capitalisation. And this varies across the world. There are many things which educationally would seem to be perfect decisions but are then put on hold or stopped because the NM / Tech coord / etc says no. This is not done lightly, nor is it done without consideration for what benefits will be lost and it is usually done with some attempt at compromise. Areas where there will be clashes ranging from safeguarding, copyright and intellectual property, data protection and information management, funding and classroom management. A good NM will educate you about these (if you are not up to speed) and will work with you to get the most out of tech … but they are frequently the gatekeeper as to what tech you can use because they have the knowledge about the bits which will cause problems. In the same way you have people to tell you not to try blowing up the science lab (in spite of how much fun it was when we were at school to see people do experiments that blackened the ceiling), or have people who tell you not to use certain classrooms due to them falling down … you have people who will say not to use certain technologies in certain ways. I’ll discuss the legal side of this in a later post … but just try to believe that a good NM is talking these into account and advising Senior Leaders, classroom teachers, office staff, parents, learners, local community and the random people who ring up the school because of things you post on the internet.

    Yes, the Technology Coordinator works for you, but part of that job is choosing or helping to choose appropriate technology and keeping you safe. Don’t give them a job and then tell them they can’t do it!

    On the other side, your NM should not keep things as a dark art and be the only person making choices. Any choices made should be clearly explained and, as per the last blog post, show where they are held accountable. Likewise the choice of technology should not force you down a particular educational route, but it can be an inspiration for doing something different. Be aware of the differences and look at the early adopters to see what they did and what worked / failed.

    (originally posted at http://www.grumbledook.org/2012/08/2...lking-point-2/)
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Ephelyon's Avatar
      Ephelyon -
      The attitude embodied in today's quote is becoming more and more common among senior leaders, so it's nice to see some balanced sense on the topic!

      It's important to remember that the educational function is not the only one that technology is facilitating within a school - financial management, personnel management, site management anyone? Without those processes working correctly, you don't have a school at all! I've been called in by our Finance department before when something has gone wrong with the IT facilities because, in their own words, "we can't work". As in they actually cannot continue to carry out adequate financial management until the problem is resolved.

      Consider building architecture as an analogy. There is a house, say, which is kept upright by its foundations. The house represents a school, and inside the house there are many things going on, the most prominent of which is teaching and learning. But what are the foundations actually there to enable the continued existence of? Is it what's going on inside the house?

      No. It is the house itself, the "institution" of it as it were, without which there cannot be anything going on inside at all. A different house might represent a hospital, where what is most prominently going on inside is patient care. For that house, again, the foundations' job is largely the same. Just because the point of having the house there is so that things can be going on inside it, this does not mean that we manage the foundations of the house based solely on that principle. They do not equate.

      If you need to improve the drainage around your home's foundations, say, you're not doing it with any particular regard to what you intend to do with your time at home. It's about keeping the home itself there and undamaged. It is also this purpose that your organisation's IT facilities are ultimately facilitating.

      In this sense, then, sometimes an area of the foundations (in this case, the IT system) needs developing because it simply needs developing, in a very generic sense - this is often the case in IT because the underlying technologies are so generic themselves. Something might be out of date and will soon become unsupported by the manufacturer, perhaps. Or it could be on the real back-end, such as server virtualisation, where the industry as a whole is advancing and it may be perceived that not to keep up now could be costly in the future. Attempting to tie that particular development down to a specific teaching and learning requirement would be difficult and, in any case, unnecessary. No organisation is all about service delivery, whatever their advertising gumph might suggest, because they can't afford to be.

      This might go some way towards showing up the chicken-and-the-egg question that GrumbleDook puts so succinctly. Just as the pedagogy can be agnostic to the technology, the technology is generally agnostic to the pedagogy. Yes, technology is often created, adapted or advanced in response to user requirements, be they business needs, children's education, patient care or anything else. But IT innovation doesn't always work that way - some questions to consider:

      1) Did anyone in particular ask Linus Torvalds for the Linux operating system?
      2) Did anyone in particular ask Apple for the iPhone?
      3) Did anyone in particular ask Google for Google Docs?

      (I could be showing my ignorance here, but I've found no evidence to suggest that any of these three were created solely in response to a particular set of user requirements as presented.)

      These inventors' ideas and implementations may or may not have been based on some understanding of user requirements, but either way, quite often in the IT sector we innovate because we need to or because we simply wish to, rather than because we were asked to. Some might say this shouldn't be the case, but either way it is the case, and it has been for the past few decades that IT has existed in at least its semi-modern form. Consequently, the idea that developments in school IT facilities occur solely as components of an educational strategy devised by senior leaders in response to educational needs is inaccurate, insufficiently holistic and unwise as an approach, because there will always be other factors worthy of consideration as well.

      My own little story (not suggesting for a moment that I think this applies to everyone else out there), in analogy form as I would present it to an educator:

      Consider the child - a teenager, let's say - who is inquisitive and has an interest in physics. He is fascinated by the idea of Newton's Cradle and decides to design and build one for himself. He finds out everything he needs to know, collects the materials, sketches the diagrams and finally builds the device. Having put the finishing touches to it, he hesitates for a moment in anticipation, and then… *push*. A smile spreads across his face as he sits back and just watches it for a time. He is not interested in the practical applications of his contraption. He revels in the marvel that is the device itself: the complex interconnected system of acting and reacting forces.

      Quite a few of the people who go into IT, some of them ending up in education, are youngish men (and women) like me, who initially went into it because we were interested solely in the technology itself. The potential danger of that can, I think, be avoided by remembering that IT is such a generic set of technologies - you can do practically anything with it anyway. If you put the foundation analogy and the child analogy together, you come to where I was not too long ago, and where many others have been and will be.

      Naturally, however, where technology is applied in the workplace, its use does need to be directed and not merely whimsical as described above. Senior leaders actually have a tremendous opportunity before them to take these members of staff and develop them further, encouraging them to see both sides of the coin: the technology itself, AND its applications for the greater good. If you tell the child in the analogy above that his device is pointless and irrelevant without a practical application (that you can see), he'll stop listening to you. If, as a senior leader, you force-feed your technical whizz-kids an education-centric vision and thereby, frankly, stamp on their particular brand of creativity, they will become disheartened and unproductive.

      But, if you can share in their marvel and at the same time help them to find ways of applying their art in ways that are useful - as my employer has, to my great benefit - then they have the potential to become a tremendous asset to you and to your organisation.

      In short, the senior leader who accepts that technology in a school goes beyond just delivering education, and develops their staff and their facilities holistically, will reap the benefits.
    1. speckytecky's Avatar
      speckytecky -
      Excellent - thanks.
    1. skunk's Avatar
      skunk -
      Should be "You're technology coordinator works WITH you"
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