Those first steps

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Topics: E-Learning, Education, Technology

Coming into the college and starting with some fairly small projects, but projects that had big wins really started to develop a very healthy culture for the use of IT in the school. All classes had been equipped with teacher PC’s for electronic registration and multimedia projectors. The staff were tooled with the hardware and just needed direction as to how to use technology innovatively to support and enhance teaching and learning. For me, it was all about raising the profile of technology – putting at the front of what we were to do, at least for a while. The college did this by saturating our training programme 2 years ago with lots of training opportunities that related to ICT as well as encouraging staff to share good practice and formalise developments through structured agenda items within department meetings.

In terms of E-Learning the most important and significant step we took was the formation of our E-Learning group – a cross-section of teachers, some middle leaders, from the whole college who (a) had a genuine interest in developing the use of innovative technologies and (b) could be relied on to commit themselves to furthering the cause! We ended up with 7 staff who are all keen and willing to help shape our vision – and this was the key I think, getting staff to lead the way and take ownership of developments rather than seeing it as something imposed by the senior leadership team.
In that first year we had five meetings, the initial meetings were very interesting as they were pretty much an open forum for people to share what they thought technology and it’s use in the classroom would look like. This helped form a consensus as to what we were wanting to achieve on our E-Learning journey here at Costello. Some staff approached this in a very pragmatic way – looking at what the curriculum needed from IT, others in a much more innovative way – exploring the potential of new and innovative technologies to shape the way we teach. What we ended up with was a fusion of idea’s that clearly saw Web 2.0 style technologies as the way forward. Collaboration, communication were two key terms that seemed to crop up in every meeting and underpin a lot of discussion.
What came out of this group was, I think, very powerful. Firstly was the realisation that we needed to change, to embrace the way that students now live – with technology quite often very close to the hub of their lives and to see how we could shape this into our vision, one that would not be too difficult to secure from the perspective of all stakeholders. The group thrashed lots of idea’s around until they came up with a definitive requirements specification as to what they would like to see. I had deliberately kept back from them the Becta technical/functional requirements as I wanted the views of them and our staff to be out of the box and not confined to the prescriptions of a third party definition.
What was interesting about the requirements specification is that it mirrored the Becta requirements on all levels – with one key difference. Many of the optional items identified by Becta staff viewed as being mandatory. Hopefully this is a reflection of a forward thinking and visionary group of practitioners but it did get us asking questions as to why some of those requirements were labelled as optional but recommended by Becta when we felt they were crucial in underpinning the success. Needless to say, once we had a clear vision secured by all stakeholders and had shaped our requirements specification we could start on the next phase – procurement. The college had deliberately aligned itself in the marketplace to be a late adopter in terms of E-Learning. I think we had left it until the right time – all too often schools feel the pressure to adopt early, to be at the cutting edge of innovation. However, all too often, the cutting edge is also the bleeding edge – with costly implications in terms of the product – often not fulfilling the end users need – that eternal promise of ‘you will see that functionality in the next update‘ or things not working as they should be, resulting in sinking a lot of time and resource into dealing with problems. Leaving it until we did, also meant that the new DCSF targets would shape our thinking (Online Reporting etc..)

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