ICT and Governors #1

In this three-part series, Terry Freedman looks at how schools can benefit from a governor’s interest in educational technology – and how the governor can reap rewards too.
As a governor, you want to “do your bit” for the school you’re involved with. It’s a time-consuming, highly responsible job – and unpaid at that. So why do much more than keep abreast of the issues facing the school and turning up to meetings? And why, in particular, get involved with the educational technology side of school life?
Before looking at the potential benefits to yourself, the teachers and, above all, to the pupils, let’s look at what educational technology in school is. In the UK, the term ICT – Information and Communications Technology – tends to be used, both for the subject itself (it is, at least at the moment, a part of the National Curriculum) and for its use in the curriculum. What it actually looks like will differ according to whether you’re in a primary or secondary school, but by and large one or more of the following will be true:

  • The school will have at least one computer in each classroom. This tends to be more the case in primary schools.
  • The school will probably have at least one computer room. This is falling out of fashion these days, largely due to the falling cost of mobile computing devices like laptops and iPads, and partly because of the ease of installation of wireless networking, but many schools still have them and make good use of them.
  • Sets of laptops or their smaller cousins, netbooks. These are typically borrowed by the classroom teacher or, in many schools, the pupils and, by extension, their parents. The advantage of such devices is that they enable the pupil to work where they want or need to, rather than having to (artificially) go to a special room.

There will also be a range of other kinds of technology available, such as:

  • Interactive whiteboards. These enable the teacher (and pupils) to display what’s on the computer screen, and control the computer itself. At its most mundane, the interactive whiteboard is nothing more tan a giant screen, but in a school in which its use has been both encouraged and supported it can become the orchestra to the teacher’s conductor. Websites, interactive polls and quizzes, video clips – all spring into life as the lesson progresses.
  • Recording devices. Tape recorders have come of age. Their modern day equivalents are small, light, and the sound easy to edit. The device may not even look like a recorder. The talking tin, for example, looks like a, erm, tin. Suppose a youngster paints a picture, which is then put on the display board. She can record a few seconds of commentary into the tin, saying what the picture is all about. The tin goes on the wall next to the picture. Now anyone looking at the picture just has to press the tin to find out about the picture.
  • Digital cameras. The days when a digital camera cost a month’s salary are long gone. Well, you can still buy expensive models (I’ve got my eye on a Hasselblad, which at a price of £27,984 down from £31,800 looks too good to miss: all contributions gratefully received…), but for school purposes the ones costing £30 or less are just fine. For the price of  a decent netbook computer you could buy 15 cameras – in other words, a class set if the pupils work in pairs.
  • In primary schools, there will probably be programmable toys as well. These allow the children to learn about computer programming and, more broadly, sequencing, in an enjoyable and accessible way.

So much for the kit, but what will the pupils actually be doing? In a really good school, by which I mean one that has fully embraced digital technology, the youngsters will be exploring, problem-solving, discussing, interviewing, videoing, and creating (games, videos, you name it). In schools that still have some way to go, you will, sadly, see rows of bored children who can’t wait to get home, where they can use their own technology more fruitfully. It doesn’t have to be like that, of course, and you’ll be glad to learn that there is quite a lot that you, as a governor, can do to help the school move from the latter to the former, as we’ll see in Part 3 of this series.
Finally, the administration. Registration, marking, class lists, notifications to parents: all these can and should be handled with technology. Let’s take just one example. When I went to school, the first time my parents would know if I had “bunked off” would be when they read the end of term report saying how many absences I’d had. These days, a text message to a parent saying “Is Emma not well enough to come to school today?” can be sent straight after registration. If Emma is playing truant, or if something has happened to her, mum and dad will be alerted pretty quickly.
So much for ICT then. In the next article we’ll be looking at how you could benefit from getting more involved.
Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant and journalist. He publishes the ICT in Education website and Computers in Classrooms, a free newsletter for everyone with an interest in educational ICT.

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  • Terry, Thanks for part one of this series.
    I am a school governor but also a Head of IT for a global organisation so take a great interest in how ICT is in used in Education.
    One of areas of expertise is Green IT & technology which I speak, write and blog about. I am always surprised how little take up of Green IT there is in Schools. Today’s modern Thin Client terminals can handle multi-media content required in educational systems and deliver them at both a cost effective and environmental effective manner. A Thin client uses just 10-15 Watts of power on average compared to a PC or Laptop which can consume between 50-150 Watts. There is also an opportunity for Cloud computing where education applications are hosted securely in ‘the cloud’ delivered via Virtual Desktop Infrastructure to Thin Clients terminals.
    I am also a big fan of using Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to the best educational advantage to link parents, staff, pupils and governors together. We are still in version 1 of VLE at the moment, many of which have been poorly implemented but I expect VLE 2.0 to be much more Facebook social networking like experience to truly collaborate with each other.
    I believe one of the biggest changes in modern times will be the introduction of computer tablets into the class room. The market is dominated the Apple IPad at the moment but others will enter the market place and analysts believe there will be around 1 billion tablets around the globe within 5 years which is approximately the same number of PC’s in the world we have now.
    I already use my Apple IPad for School Governor meeting with all my governing papers automatically loaded by Dropbox so I can see how the technology could be easily adopted in the classroom for an interactive experience. I only get to use my IPad when I can wrestle it away from my 4 year old son who is expert on it despite never being shown how to use it.
    The new generation of ‘Millennials’ will need to be equipped to both communicate and collaborate in the modern world and that needs to start in schools to survive in this competitive world economy. Our school children will be competing with China & India when they enter the work place.
    Technology companies will be falling over themselves to get new technologies into schools at hugely discounted prices. The marketing plan is if you get them hooked on your brand early they will be addicted to it and continue to use that technology through their adult life. Sounds like drug dealing to me but I understand their motives.
    Regards Sean Whetstone
    Twitter @schoolgoverning http://www.twitter.com/Schoolgoverning
    Blog http://schoolgoverning.blogspot.com

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