School ICT Planning

Earlier this year I participated in a European Schoolnet online course on administering a school ICT infrastructure. The course presented information about current practices and new developments to schools ICT administrators. The course content was divided into the following topics:

1: Optimising the school network
2: Wireless Networking and Bring your own device
3: Cloud models and services
4: Securing networks and Digital safety
5: Effective ICT administrator
6: New tools and services

Badges were awarded at the successful completion of each module and the badges could be exported to a participant’s badge backpack on Openbadges.org. 
The content itself was practical and was presented by teachers and other IT professionals who are actively involved in schools throughout Europe. They shared their experience in video format with the wider course audience. While several of these people were full time ICT administrators, many others were mainstream teachers who also had the parallel responsibility of ICT management in their school. English was the official course language and captions and transcripts were available whenever English was not used or was difficult to understand.  Although this worked really well there were times when individual language nuances didn’t translate correctly. As I worked through the course I realised that this excellent content needed to be brought to the attention of schools in Ireland where there are no ICT administrators or to schools where an enthusiastic teacher with a decent ICT skill set tries to manage all things IT in addition to their own daily teaching schedule!” Information is the key! This information set is available and it is very relevant; it would be great if a wider general audience in Primary and Post Primary schools knew about it! However I do, of course, realise that most teachers do not have the time nor the energy to view and digest the information set!
Part of the thrust of this blog is just one small attempt to highlight this content as it is even more relevant to schools in Ireland when viewed in the light of the ICT infrastructure grants for primary and post-primary schools that were announced on the 3rd of January this year.  Many schools are currently trying to decide on how best to spend this new ICT grant; they are planning for the implementation of a digital strategy in their school and I can see how the materials from the European course could be very useful to schools.  Planning for ICT investment is no easy task and it is made even harder by the complicated and ever changing nature of IT, infrastructure, equipment and other resources.
During a period of secondment to an ICT in Education project I was fortunate to be able to attend project management training provided by a large multi-national corporation. The PRINCE2 project management methodology was the model we studied; PRINCE2 is a proven best practice model that helps ensure that a project is delivered on time, on budget, of high quality and meets the needs of the stakeholders. Planning for and spending an ICT grant is a major project and as such, certain project management skills would prove useful. There’s a mnemonic from the course that has stuck with me, CD-ROM – Clarify, Determine, Resources, Organise and Manage. I think these headings would be a very useful starting point for schools as they begin to develop their ICT plan.
There are many sources that can help schools “Clarify” their needs and then to “Determine” what needs to be done to achieve these goals. The announcement from the Department of Education and Skills contains links to the PDST Technology in Education website where advice and support to schools is available. There are lots of useful tips and guidance points available on the site. The emphasis is on “Self-evaluation” and in itself this is a valid methodology however, unless there are teachers with ICT expertise on a staff then this self-evaluation can be difficult; it could well be self-evaluation in a vacuum. There has been discussion posted previously about the Digital Strategy for Schools on the TeachNet Blog. Within the Digital Strategy document there’s a line that I don’t necessarily disagree with; “each school is unique and needs to consider its own specific situation”. However I think it is reasonably correct to say that there are numerous similarities across each of the Primary and Post-Primary sectors to be able to accurately identify several generic types of schools.  Each of these generic types could be catagorised and a template made available where schools are presented with a suggested standard baseline of modern IT resources and equipment that they can then individualise and build on. There’s a great document on the PDST Technology in Education website – a Case Studies document; although this document reflects a point in time from a number of years ago, it is still a valid document and as such it should be read by every school principal and management team as part of their Clarify and Determine segment. For example, Case Study 2, Killana Primary school, a three teacher school in rural Ireland with 60 pupils in multi-grade classes. There are numerous similar schools in Ireland that fall into this generic category! I think it would of enormous benefit to schools if this document was updated and the original schools used as template examples for the current digital strategy process.
The CESI mailing list regularly throws up IT infrastructure, software or equipment related queries; a consistent thread appears – “Does anyone know where?” “Has anyone experience of…?” While many schools have a clear concept of their ICT needs in light of the ICT grants, there are many, many more that do not.  I recall a Primary school principal once asking me to bypass the advice and just present the school with a list of “stuff” to get and a list of ways to use it! Maybe the key stakeholders in the Digital Strategy need to create some generic lists as part of the continued development of ICT in education in schools to make life easier for the majority of end-users, the front line teachers!

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