Recently I managed to miss what was clearly a seriously useful conference in ICT strategy for independent schools. My excuse was I only came across information about the conference the day before! Oh well …
Through the twitter account of the chair of the ISC ICT strategy group Mark Steed I have been catching up on some of the presentation notes from the conference. After posting an initial tweet containing my first response to the notes i’ve had some time (and the assistance of a really good ale) to consider some further responses to some of the issues raised in these presentations.
Although i’m only seeing a small subset of the information presented and discussed on the day my initial thought is that a lot of what is covered in the notes focusses on broad, ‘meta-ideas’ which although are part of possible future ICT plans for schools may still be unattainable for many of these same schools.
Take as an example cloud computing. I am a google fanatic and have been quite happy to entrust large swathes of my personal data to the tender care of Eric Schmidt and co. I would personally love to see our school move our legacy MS Exchange email system as well as ancient sharepoint installation onto Google apps. However working with against an institutional aversion to advanced ICT systems is tricky. Technical issues for a small school are also something which have to be considered, especially the reliance on the Internet connection for software services. This was mooted before in a meeting and the response was lukewarm.
So moving a school away from legacy client side installations is a tough task. MS Office installed on your computer feels a lot more comfy and reassuring then having to login to a Google Docs account. For a small school which enjoys being able to do things in a way which enhances that feeling of comfort makes it difficult to move to what a school onto systems which will seem to most staff like a risky proposition. Teachers on a whole don’t like their comfort zones being pushed and despite the fact that educational IT professionals know that the ‘risky’ option is actually the better option still may not be enough.
The other issue I picked up on was Web 2.0 services. One of the presentations asked whether students should be using services like Facebook to share information. I would love to have my students using web 2.0 stuff like facebook or twitter but this certainly would not be possible at the moment with Child Protection legislation in place. Now make no mistake, I am a full supporter of legislation which protects children from any threat to their safety. However what SMT in general may not be realising is that this legislation is potentially stonewalling the usage of fantastic online collaboration and communication services like facebook or twitter.
As I have also hit a legal barrier in the past to creating both a blog and a twitter account linked to the school (both providing assistance to parents in supporting their children at home with ICT) I think what is needed alongside the excellent advice given by the ISC strategy on how to protect against the dangers of social networking is also how to incorporate social networking into a school’s ecosystem in a way which is educationally relevant and safe.
My final thought tonight is that the ISC ICT strategy group sounds like an excellent way of encapsulating policy and guidelines for Indepent Schools and ICT. Almost like a private BECTA! In order for it to do this though I think it needs to take a far more proactive approach. Trying to push ICT policy forwards in my school I kind of feel at times like i’m operating within a bubble. I can take leads from the state sector but lacking the resources that the state sector has makes this difficult to convince SMT. Giving the ICT strategy group a lot more ‘presence’ as well as tailoring the advice it gives towards providing solutions to more immediate concerns may enable some of these issues to become a little bit more important to those who need to make the decisions.