I have been planning to post on IT strategy in relation to some of the areas which I believe need to be considered. Initially my thought was for a single post covering a number of different points, some being obvious and some less so obvious, however as soon as I started writing it became clear that each point could be a post in itself or would result in a really long single post. As such I decided to undertake a number of separate posts of which this is the first:
I remember someone telling me that IT is the 3rd most expensive thing in a school after staffing costs and the cost of the building and school estate. With such a large part of a schools finances invested in technology it is important to make sure that we are getting value. Now I note my use of the word “value” as opposed to impact; This is due to impact being often associated with examination outcomes. In my view this is a narrow view on technologies potential within education. Exam results, for example, don’t provide a measure of the positive effect which technology can have to a student with Asperger’s who previously found it difficult to interact with the classroom discussion but now can do so easily via an online chat facility. For me value suggests a broader classification which might include using technology to engage a particular student who previously wouldn’t or couldn’t access learning, like in the above example, it might include introducing new experiences to students which were either difficult, dangerous or costly without tech or it might be using technology to bring about new more efficient processes for teachers such as dictation of feedback, etc. Value is much more diverse and also context specific than exam results. Seeking value in our technology should be a key objective in all technology decision making but mustn’t be confused with cost cutting.
I have often heard about how technology should be led by teaching and learning needs. I agree with this to an extent in that technology shouldn’t dictate what is done in the classroom, however we must be careful that whatever technology we are considering using brings about value. It is all too easy to fall for the salesman’s spiel regarding the potential or to focus on a particularly nice feature and not appreciate the wider implications of a technologies use. I remember VLEs being heralded for the potential they had to change learning giving students access to resources and allowing teachers to set homework and provide feedback, etc. Sadly, in my view, they never really provided value as first there was the cost of the software, then the resource cost of training and of creating, posting and updating content, then the limited ways that content could be organised and presented which stifled the creativity inherent in good teaching. The cost versus the benefits never added up for me, and with this I didn’t see the value. I can name a couple of other technologies which have been rolled out due to their potential to impact teaching and learning, but where the costs and resultant value is doubtful at best.
A discussion of value in relation to an educational technology project is never an easy one given the concept of value is potentially so broad and all encompassing. Important things, such as a detailed consideration of value, are seldom easy. Judgements on value are also often subject to the different perspectives of the people involved in the project. To that my answer is to look to the schools values and what it stands for and to see if the proposed technology fits with the schools wider aims. If it doesn’t then the project should be dropped. If, however it does then a trial or pilot study may help surface the value or lack of in the technology being examined. Discussions with other schools may also help to establish value. Assuming value can be established from such a trial a wider roll-out, either to a bigger pilot group, to a specific group or even whole school can be considered and planned.
I have now added “Seeking value” as one of the value statements for my IT Services team, as a reminder and key focus in supporting IT across the school. It is my belief that it is important that we all have a similar reminder as we explore the many different and emerging technologies and technology solutions which might be considered for use in our schools. Before proceeding we need to ask ourselves: Does this add value?