Reflections: One week down

So that’s the first week of term done so, having shared some start of term thoughts previously, I thought it might also be interesting to share some “1 week down” thoughts from the perspective of a Director of IT.

Manic

The first week of a new term is always rather manic with issues identified as students and staff return to classrooms, plus last minute requests.   I think my team saw around 130 calls raised on Monday alone and that doesn’t include student and staff walk ins.   The question I often find myself asking is how might we make this period less manic and make things smoother?   The problem as I see it is that I am not sure we can ever achieve this.   A new academic year brings with it new staff, lots of new students and a period of time where teaching staff and students have been away from school, where things have been forgotten but where technology changes, updates and upgrades have continued unabated.    I suppose the one consolation is things quickly calm down and recede towards a more normal level of busy.

Printing

The week started with an issue with our main high volume Multi-Function Device (MFD) at a time when there were lots of booklets and other items in need of printing.  Not a great start however was sods law that the unit would fail on day 1.   My hat goes off to my colleague in reprographics who ploughed on in the face of the challenge, using the slower units we had to get all that needed done, done.

But this got me thinking, in a world of technology and OneNote should we be seeing print volumes in schools declining.   Now my gut reaction to this is yes, clearly we should be seeing volumes declining but this reminded me of last academic year where I saw a massive spike in printing in the last term.    The problem with the concept of “paper-less” in schools is simply the fact that the key outcomes continues to be terminal exams conducted in the final term, with the vast majority of these exams being conducted on paper.   How can we expect students to go into these exams without having the experience working on paper in the months and years leading up to them?    When will the exam boards catch up with technology?

Third Party Software

And printing wasn’t the only challenge to hit on day one.   We had some software issues which appear to trace back to a third party changing some of how their platform operates specifically in relation to its Application Programmers Interface (API).   The API is the link point which allows us to integrate different solutions such that they work together and share data, etc.    In this case the vendor made changes with these changes lacking proper documentation plus being buried in release notes, with these release notes having to be sought out rather than being communicated.    The issue didn’t just catch us out, it also caught out at least one software provider who integrated with this vendor.

The challenge here is how much control we have over third party vendors when we might be a single voice in sea of voices, or where this is at least what the vendor uses as an excuse!   Additionally there is the risk that as we more tightly integrate a number of different solutions, which is a good thing, we build an over solution which is inherently more complex but therefore more fragile.   There is a balance to be reached here I suspect.   And as to control and third parties I noted reading something recently which suggests schools use of EdTech solutions puts the responsibility on the schools, however provides the school little power in terms of controlling or guiding the vendor, other than the ability to cease using them.

Cyber and Students

I have the opportunity to speak with our sixth form students across two presentation this week, discussing cyber security with them with particular reference to recent events.   My presentation has included mention of the recent Apple vulnerability as well as the alleged TikTok data breach.   In asking the students questions regarding cyber security it seems that students are getting better at updating their devices and applications however still continue to make use of common passwords across most internet services, plus don’t commonly enable MFA even when it is available.    My hope is that my presentations will have at least convinced some students to improve their cyber habits although this is something I want to work on throughout the year;  A single presentation will never do the cyber risk justice.

Running

I hadnt done any running during August having achieved 300km across the 3 months of May, June and July.   What I failed to consider as I got my running shoes on during this week was the negative impact that a one-month period, such a short period of time, would have had.   I really found myself struggling to manage 5km and I certainly wasn’t managing it at any great pace.    I quickly found myself having to adjust my expectations, ignoring my progress up to the end of July 2022, and focussing more on where I was now.    I suspect it will be a good few weeks or months before I can build back up to where I was including re-establishing the correct habits, etc.   This just goes to show how important habits, consistency and resilience can be.

TikTok

Am not sure how many times I have deleted TikTok but once again it has been deleted.   During the summer period I had re-installed it, and with each short video I was convinced the value in the video was worth it given the short length of the video.   But I failed to consider the cumulative time spent on flicking through the videos.   It was eating up time, with this time growing, and I hadnt noticed.    It was only with the manic nature of week one that I found myself at home evaluating the amount of time spent (or maybe lost?) on TikTok.   So once again I am TikTok free.  For now, at least!

Conclusion

It’s been a busy week with a fair few challenges.   It has been great to see the campus buzzing again and great to once again be interacting with our students as they go about their school days.   Although very busy and a bit stressful as a result, I am confident that things will settle down into their more normal pattern of school life in the comings weeks.   As such, I look forward to what the rest of the 2022/23 academic year has to offer.

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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