Monthly Archives: September 2009

No such thing as a free ride!

Well … people keep telling me that and then pointing me at Open Source software (I like OSS, agree with OSS and want people to use more, but it is not the be all and end all!)
 
When many people talk about OSS they forget that it is FOSS that is actually important. The missing word from the acronym is ‘Free’ and there are a lot of options available out there for adding free tools into your existing sharepoint site.
 
A few good examples I have come across so far all tend to involve small widgets  you generate a tool that can be embedded into you pages.
 
Let’s take Voki as a start. www.voki.com allows you to create free, speaking avatars. I have one welcoming people on this blog and it is simple to create. Register yourself, choose a character, choose your background and enter your text. You might have to enter words phonetically but it can be fun trying out what you can make it say in the different accents.
 
Take the created code and paste it into a content editor web part (add it via the source editor rather than the rich text editor), save and publish .. hey presto, you have a talking introduction to your page. A nice way to welcome your students or others taking part in a project. Of course, Voki can do so much more as well … but half the fun is exploring.
 
I hope to include a number of other examples in the coming weeks and these will be based around others shared with me by regulars of www.edtechroundup.com. Please feel free to add your suggestions as comments and we can collate them all together.

So you want to be a strategic leader?

A recent discussion on EduGeek.net was about the introduction of someone above the Network Manager, but line managed by the Bursar / School Business Manager. Full details can be found here.

Since I have just come from a similar role (actually part of SLT and line managed by the Head) I thought I would give a response, which covered most areas.

Yep, this was me apart from not answering to the Business Manager but to the Head (me and BM were both on the SLT).

Chunks of my role have been merged into that of the Business Manager now (Director of Operations) and this is a growing trend … Business Managers (those doing CSBM and DSBM) don’t have to come from a financial or HR background … some are from Buildings and H&S, some from IT / Technical, some from pastoral care.

Apologies for not getting back to you on this …

The Role can take on a number of the following areas but they are, as pointed out by Bossman, an extension of the Strategic Leadership of ICT (a course that Heads / Deputy Heads went on and usually followed up by a team of 3/4 key staff in the school going on TeamSLICT … typical group would be the Bursar / Deputy Head with responsibility for ICT/IT and Head of ICT Curriculum. Occasionally you would also get the Network Manager or the Data specialist or even an eLearning specialist)

Try looking at it from the following areas (by no means the only way, but has worked quite well)

Strategic Planning
Strategic Delivery
Strategic Review

It is a cyclic process so there is no correct start point or end point. It is a dumbing down of other methodologies but can easily be padded out with ITIL and FITS, with projects managed via PRINCE2 methodologies if needed. Each section is also cyclic too.

Strategic Planning
Break this down into needs analysis, financial planning and sustainability

Strategic Delivery
Break this down into change management, service management and release management

Strategic Review
This is the tricky one IME, but break it down into 360 user feedback (consisting of user feedback from staff, students, SLT and support team … don’t forget to get user feedback from the support team!), suitability feedback and innovation/change studies.

A lot of manglement speak there … but breaking it down and pointing towards things like FITS (and trying to keep this fairly short)

Needs Analysis – You should be providing a system that does what is required to deliver the curriculum, run the school and cover other agendas such as Parental Engagement. It is a two-way things … sometimes the technology will dictate the use and other times the user will dictate the technology. It *has* to be a two-way discussion and will involve conversations with subject leaders, keys staff in the school (eg pastoral care, exams officer, finance, buildings / caretakers, even the school nurse and PCSO) and has to fit around the present School Development Plan. It will feed *back* into the school dev plan too but more on that later.

Financial Planning – The model for finance planning is based on what you need, when do you need it, how do you propose to change and what financial impact it has on the school. Sometimes it will be that the finances dictate what you can do and sometimes it will be the other way around. Remember that should you not be able to afford to provide tools / resources that a subject need for a new course (eg Music Technology) it will impact on how well they can run the course or even may stop them from running it. Compromise is the important term here …

Sustainability – There is no point in planning for stuff in one year unless you know how it will be paid for in years 2-5 (or longer). You need to refresh equipment on a cycle. Becta have some tools for this (already linked somewhere … will add the link again later) but that ranges from desktops and laptops, to servers, to backup tapes, to network hardware, to printers, to scanners, to … well … I think you get the idea. Consumables are important here too and can easily be forgotten … and we go back to the needs analysis again … just because the teachers need it in year one … they will need it in year two and so on. Digital cameras get broken and lost, batteries for netbooks in science could do with replacing. Try to base it in experience within the school and talking with others. (hey … I bet that place EduGeek could help there!)

Change Management – Oh my … the more you look at change management in schools the more you realise that it is not just in IT that it is desperately needed. Introducing new courses, refurbishing the carpet in classrooms, changing break duty systems … many people follow change management processes based on the important (and oft forgotten) skill called common sense. Important to remember that not everyone follows it in the same way and the key to it being smooth is communication. Strategic planning introduces the chance to take a bit more time and not having to set out an new ICT suite based on the idea of the Head 3 weeks before the end of term! FITS really goes into change management and if people don’t look at anything else in the full ITIL or in PRINCE2 then change management is the key!

Service Management – This is the bit that tends to affect most members here. Small things like the introduction of an SLA help, improved documentation, training, a helpdesk (either physically or as a process) …

Release Management – This is often bundled in as part of Change Management but I have it separately for a single reason. Politics! As much as we might hate to deal with politics in schools it happens, from that little bit of gossip about who earns what for however much or little work they do … through to Union involvement in changes to working conditions (eg teachers signing the AUP often gets reviewed by unions). Not everyone needs to know the full picture all the time. The big picture … yes … but not every little detail. It is not their job, they have to trust you to get on with it the same way you trust them to do a good job teaching / preparing science facilities / looking after the buildings / etc. When to share knowledge is important and both communication and training are the key links between change management and release management.

360 User Feedback – You can only know if what has been planned and delivered is doing the job if you get feedback. It is not a bad thing to have students saying nasty things about the techies … perhaps they are moaning that the filters are too harsh … in which case perhaps more eSafety awareness needs to be done with them. Staff should have a chance to say whether what they use to teach with and what students learn with … that it does the business or not. Often these things may be small items that are tweaked as part of service delivery, but that is based on user feedback … If it turns out that feedback requires a significantly larger change that expected then that goes back into the planning section. Remember that in most sectors you can measure ROI quite well … in schools it is hard (hard in other areas too) and so user feedback is an important metric, similar to up times, adherence to project timelines or timescales in change processes. As the person dealign with the strategy the often missed group are the support team themselves. If they are not delivering is it a training issue? Time management? Sheer lack of time or too great a workload? Are they doing extra stuff such as working in the classroom (eg Music tech as a sound engineer) and they wish to continue (so do the music department) but that has an impact on service delivery?

Sustainability Feedback – User feedback will often result in changes to services, which require changes to financial planning and sustainability. Other areas affect this too. Change in staff in school, courses getting dropped because they don’t give the required results, additional provision is needed, increased cost of particular software or hardware, software and hardware no longer being available …

Innovation / Change studies – The last thing you shouldn’t forget is that these are schools we are talking about. Some schools go with the flow but others push the boundaries. There are a number of examples in this group of early adopters of Windows 7, schools testing Solus, and so on. There are others here who are doing fun and interesting things with VLEs / Learning Platforms, developing software, etc … and there are those at schools at the cutting edge of teaching too. This requires support teams to be damn flexible and accommodating. As I have on a t-shirt of mine … “Miracles we can do today, the impossible requires 24 hours notice … and chocolate … and bottles of coke … and perhaps a pizza …” it goes on …. Someone has to be the middleman between innovation and normal service delivery. Again, it fits into a variety of previous elements including change management, financial planning, etc … but is an important feature. A pilot that has been successful in the school may need to be rolled out school-wide, changing carefully laid plans … you know the ideas I mean. It may be that staff have seen something new at a tradeshow and it changes their future plans. It may be that the support team have evaluated a new solution that saves money, saves, electricity and gives more flexible working (eg TS, Citrix, etc)

So … there you have it … a brief run down of things. I haven’t covered SIMS in here yet, or eSafety, or staff training (though that is part of change management and release management) partly because I would say that next you need to understand the role of data at the school, who has ownership of it within the SLT and so on … eSafety is part of teh wider safeguarding side of things and should fit into the pastoral side of things, involving the head of pastoral care, the child protection officer, PSHE, citizenship, parent support advisor, etc … staff training should be integrated into the general training program that also covers things like lesson observations, leading from the middle, classroom management, behaviour and a heap of other CPD items.

Happy to answer any more specific areas and hope this covers a bit more. Also thought I would do it publicly as I am interested in feedback from others too.

And the last thing … every school is different and the above is just an elementary framework.

I know this doesn’t cover everything, but I would be interested in any feedback from others, based on personal experience or what your ideas would be in this role.

The Brave New World

For those that may not be aware I have recently made a permanent change of role. I have been on secondment for a year with the LA and over the summer my job became a full time position so I had to decide whether to apply for it or not … I was a harder choice than I thought, but I did apply, was interviewed and was successful. Pending contracts, notice periods etc I am now at the LA full time … with a new structure in the team, a renewed vigour to get things done and with some fantastic opportunities ahead.

We have 4 Harnessing Technology Managers, each with a focus to a particular area. The LA and agencies; schools and school improvement; technical development and delivery; contracts and projects. For those who may not know I am the bloke dealing with technical stuff.

Don’t read that as I am going back to my ‘Geek’ roots, becoming all hands-on with setting up servers and so forth. I am not. I am translating technical into educational and back again. I recently spouted it off as ‘dealing with integration and interoperability, and ensuring that the appropriate, best value technical solutions are chosen for our schools and by our schools.’ If that is not Manglement speak of the highest order I don’t know what is.

What does it really mean? How will it affect folk in the server room and folk in the classroom? Simples … for the school to do it’s job it has to have tools. Those tools need to be the right tools for the job, be available when they should be, cost the right amount of money for what you get out of them or what it takes to support them, be able to talk to other tools when needed … and it should be able to go from the smallest infant school to the large consortiums of schools sharing students in sixth forms.

How will I do this? Well, there is a strategy from Becta talking about this (Harnessing Technology Strategy) and it fits in with a few other things too.

For many at the chalk-face it will be the delivery of Becta’s FITS program in the county that will be most visible. Becta run a stripped down version of ITIL for a number of years call the Framework for ICT Technical Support. This is about to enter version 2 (version 1.5 was released earlier this year) and covers areas from the helpdesk (from a notebook for the visiting technician through to the permanent support staff sat on the end of the phone logging incidents to servicedesk software) and change management through to service management of external contracts or even managed services.

Others will gain benefit of work done with our RBC to integrate VLEs to the regional portal, development of standards for exchanging data about pupils and staff, new tools and software, sustaining the growing, reliable network as part of the NEN and even simple things such as the chance to regularly meet other technical staff at county and regional events.

The things I am going to miss (and have done this year already)? Hands-on work with the kids. Even as senior manglement I enjoyed getting involved in music technology … getting into the recording studio and helping as a sound engineer. Hands-on with the techies. Helping the Network Manager out with patching servers, unboxing and imaging new kit, testing software. Hands-on work with teachers. Sitting down with a colleague and offering advice about hardware or software, and talking about how it might enhance or change what they do in the classroom. I will even miss Senior Leadership Meetings, and the support you get from one another in the role. It is a hard role to take on and I am glad I had the opportunity … I hope to return to schools one day as well to continue.

But back to my immediate work. A new strategy is needed in this brave new world at the LA. And the old strategy was pretty good … we just needed the staff to do it. The advisory service has now been reshaped, the education tech support was sold off a few years back, the RBC is now a separate but integral body and our schools are as independent as ever.

Over the next few weeks I will be looking at the strand of the Harnessing Technology Strategy I am working on most (there is a lot of cross over between the strands and the four HT managers) which is based around a world-class, joined-up digital infrastructure. I am not re-inventing the wheel, I am not going to be saying that my thoughts are either the only thoughts or even the best thoughts on the strategy … I just want to make sure that it makes a difference in the school and in the classroom … and the stuff that is not apparent is a tad more open … as well as opening myself up to challenge by my peers.

Talking of peers … for those of you who are twitterers / tweeple / twits (though I am sure that TWITS are the fore-runners to TOGs … Terry Wogan Is Tops Society) I would recommend Steve Wheeler’s growing list of Learning Technology professionals to follow. It is not a definitive list, is open to more suggestions, is more practitioner focused rather than Geek / techie focused … but still a good place to find a heap of information and helpful discussion by following these folks.