What is the best type of chair for your school’s computer room?

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011 | Implementation Issues, Tips | Comments Off

By the time a school has purchased hardware and software to kit out a computer room, there is usually not much funds left for other things, such as chairs.  Yet, learners need to be seated comfortably in order to obtain full value of the technology.

Many schools have found that simple, cheap chairs – such as bar stools – are the best.

After 8 years of constant use, this stool still serves its purpose

Some learners must computers share
It could be two or three
They can not all sit on one chair
Or on each other’s knee

Do not go just for fancy chairs
Look carefully at price
When learners have to work in pairs
Choose those that will suffice

Search for a chair that’s small enough
The learners must sit near
To look at screens for long is tough
Each word to them be clear

The best with chairs that one can do
Is buying small bar stools
At a good price they come to you
They’re just right for the schools

(Taken from Furnishings, a section of The Khanya Story)

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Why ICT implementation in schools requires serious consideration

Thursday, September 8th, 2011 | Implementation Issues | Comments Off

Implementing an ICT project in a scool is not a simple matter.  Just because you’re experienced in the use of computers won’t guarantee implementation success.  Much more is involved.

The following suggestions could help you to succeed when you attempt the next ICT project in your school:

Outsource ICT implementation to a competent service provider if a school or education authority does not have internal capacity to do so.

Take time to conceive an ICT implementation project; it is too complex to do in one meeting or session.

Don’t try to impose a standard ICT solution – schools differ too much and one size simply does not fit all.

Most schools were not built with ICT implementation in mind; be prepared for considerable infrastructure modifications.

Ensure the quality of the ICT facility’s infrastructure – technology will be refreshed periodically, infrastructure not.

If the school’s electricity supply is unstable, ensure an uninterruptible power supply (UPS); it is essential.

Involve the school’s community during the early infrastructure phase of an ICT project; it ensures buy-in and ongoing support.

Identify an ICT champion from the ranks of the school’s staff to support the implementation of ICT from within the school.

Did you notice that not one of these suggestions has nothing to do with technology?  Yes, technology itself will be the least of your worries when you set out to bring ICT into your classroom or into your school.

These thoughs were tweeted by @e4africa with the tag #ictschooltip.

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A few tips to secure your school’s ICT resources

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 | security | 5 Comments

With the increase of crime in many of our communities, it is important to secure the school’s ICT resources.  Consider whether all of the following are in place in your school:

The ceiling:  a favourite entry point for criminals – if your ceiling is not made of concrete, reinforce it with steel mesh.

The walls: if not made of brick and mortar, they must be built up to enhance security.

The windows: must be secured – a minimum requirement is strong burglar bars.

The door: a steel safe door, or a steel security cage, should protect the entrance to your school’s computer room. 

An alarm system: with motion detection equipment must be installed to protect valuable ICT resources.

These thoughs were tweeted by @e4africa with the tag #ictschooltip.

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Infrastructure preparation for ICT facilities in schools

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 | Implementation Issues | 3 Comments

Never underestimate the importance of creating a suitable environment and adequate infrastructure when planning to bring ICT into a school.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

When a school decides to establish a computer room, a venue of adequate size and structure must be made available.

Any venue in which ICT is installed in a school must be secured in all possible ways to keep criminals out.

Provide a stable electricity supply and a plug point for each piece of ICT equipment you bring into a school room.

An air conditioner is not a luxury item in a computer room where windows and doors are closed to prevent dust from coming in.

Computers in schools should not be put on rickety tables – provide a firm working surface, safe for learners and equipment.

Sufficient lighting is required when ICT is brought into a school room but it must be possible to dim it to reduce glare.

Even the floor of a computer room in a school forms part of infrastructure – it must be firm, level and easy to clean.

Humidity is an enemy of ICT equipment – waterproof the doors, windows and ceiling of the school rooms in which it is housed.

Don’t forget to install fire extinguishers, which meet safety requirements, in your school’s computer room.

These thoughs were tweeted by @e4africa with the tag #ictschooltip.


What are the infrastructure costs that I may incur before technology can be used in my classroom?

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 | technology | Comments Off

The term infrastructure is used to describe the physical environment that need to be in place in the classroom for technology to operate optimally.

Some technologies, such as digital cameras, require no infrastructure modifications; others, such as interactive whiteboards, require considerable work in the room where you want to install them.  Your requirements depend on the type of equipment you want to install and the condition of the room.  Never underestimate the cost of infrastructure changes – it may bloat your total expenditure considerably.

Possible infrastructure alterations you may need are:

Security: Some form of security in the room is always required to protect your equipment.  Computers and data projector are particularly vulnerable since they are portable and are easy to resell.  Burglar bars at the windows, security gates and lockable cages are good deterrents for criminals.

Electricity: You will need at least one electricity plug point for each piece of equipment and each one must be in a convenient place – you don’t want long extension leads in your classroom.  For example, if you install the data projector in the ceiling, provision must be made for a plug close to where the data projector is mounted.

Internet: If the school already has access to the internet, ducting must be installed to house the connection wires to the point of access.

Light: It must be possible to reduce harsh light to enable all in the class to see projections on a wall, screen or whiteboard.

Work surface: The teacher requires a sturdy worktop on which to place the computer – in most cases a small cabinet suffices.  Other technologies may demand special work surfaces – this could be a challenge in over-crowded classrooms.

Wall:  When you want to bring an interactive whiteboard into the classroom you need a sturdy wall on which to mount the board.  Walls of old schools are often made of clay or wood that may not be strong enough to hold the weight of the board – in these cases reinforcement is required.  When you plan to use an interactive device with no board – where the image is projected onto a wall – you must ensure that the surface is very smooth.

The initial cost of technology devices is only part of the total cost – don’t forget to budget for infrastructure modifications.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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Under what circumstances will technology not lead to success?

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 | technology | 5 Comments

Technology does not always lead to success – it does not automatically lead to improved teaching and learning.

The introduction of technology in the business world only yields results when it supports the objectives of the organization. A good organization structure must be present – throwing a lot of technology at a problem will not make it disappear if the establishment itself is dysfunctional.

The same principles are true in a school environment. Attractive as technology may appear to a school, it is unlikely to add much value under the following circumstances:

Poor leadership: Where the principal, management team and governing body do not give clear direction in general educational matters, it is doubtful that they will do so when it comes to the use of advanced technology. If sound leadership is lacking, this matter must be addressed before you even think of introducing technology.

Dysfunctional school: Sadly, some schools fall into this category – some schools struggle to persuade learners and their teacher to be in the same classroom at the same time. In such situations it is a waste of time, effort and money to introduce technology interventions.

Inadequate infrastructure: This aspect is often overlooked. Technology can not be introduced in a vacuum – electricity, security and reasonable space must be provided before it is brought into a room.

Unwilling teachers: Where teachers resist the use of technology in the classroom one can’t expect results. Hesitancy to use technology may be caused by a lack of exposure to technology. These stumbling blocks must first be addressed. Introduce technology progressively if some teachers are unwilling to use it, initially giving it to those teachers who are comfortable using it.

Technical support: Nothing is as disheartening to teachers as when the technology fails when they try to do it. Planning to introduce technology in the school must include maintenance and support aspects.

Training is not available: If no training is available, technology may end up being white elephants. Along with the technology, adequate training for teachers must be provided.

There is ample evidence that technology can lead to improved teaching and learning – success depends on the environment in which you try to embed it.

For more tips for principles, click here.

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Standardization or customization?

Sunday, June 6th, 2010 | e-Learning pioneers | 1 Comment

The e-pioneer learns a lesson from Grandma’s jam.

Why does Grandmother’s homemade jam taste so much better than the stuff bought in tins in supermarkets?  Her secret is that she makes a small quantity at a time – cooking, stirring, tasting, adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that until it is just perfect.

With mass production you simply can’t expect the same results – in spite of some economic benefits, mass production has the disadvantage that gains in quantity are offset by a loss in quality.

The e-pioneer takes a page from Grandma’s recipe book when helping schools to introduce technology.

During the installation stage you may be tempted to use a generic infrastructure model.  While such a model may speed up implementation, it comes at a cost: the facilities will not be tailored around the unique needs of your school.  Grandma had a basic recipe – but she put an individual touch on each batch of jam she cooked.  E-pioneers use implementation models and templates in the same way.

The same principle applies when you’re considering a fast track training programme to make all educators computer literate. The cheapest and easiest way to train teachers is through distance learning. Yet, how palatable is this mode of training to teachers?

The e-pioneer is neither against standardization of implementation, nor against distance learning, but knows the wisdom of paying individualized attention to the needs of schools and educators.

Remember the success of Grandma’s jam: attend to the details so that every batch is just right.

Click here for more food for thought for e-pioneers.

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What are the infrastucture costs that I may incur before installing an interactive whiteboard?

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 | Implementation Issues, IWBs | 3 Comments

Never underestimate the cost of infrastructure preparation to accommodate an interactive whiteboard in the classroom.  Your requirements depend on the state of the room and the type of equipment you want to install.

The following is a list of things that need attention:

Security: Some form of security in the room is always required to protect your equipment.  The computer and data projector are particularly vulnerable since they are portable and are easy to resell.

Electricity: You will need a few electricity plug points, and these must be in convenient places.  If you install the data projector in the ceiling, provision must be made for a plug close to where the data projector is mounted.

Internet: If the school already has access to the internet, ducting must be installed to house the connection wires to the point of access.

Light: It must be possible to reduce harsh light to enable all present to see the images on the board comfortably.

Worktop: The teacher requires a sturdy worktop on which to place the computer – in most cases a small cabinet suffices.

Wall: A sturdy wall is required on which to mount the board.  Walls of old schools are often made of clay or wood that may not be strong enough to hold the weight of the board – in these cases reinforcement is required.

You may fret about the cost of the board itself, but could find that the real killer is the cost to create an acceptable infrastructure.

Click here for more information about interactive whiteboards.

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Don’t underestimate infrastructure

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009 | ICT in Africa, Implementation Issues | 4 Comments

The hole in the picture below is an important step towards technology installation at a school in Grabouw, South Africa.  It was dug to erect a pole that will carry electricity to the school.

Hole dug to provide electricity to Umyezo Wama Apile School - picture taken by Jaco Joseph

Hole dug to provide electricity to Umyezo Wama Apile School - picture taken by Jaco Joseph

The importance of infrastructure preparation as a first step towards technology implementation in schools in Africa is often under-stated or outright ignored.

While talking about e-learning and Web 2.0 and social networks and the classroom of the future, and debating the merits and demerits of specific operating and application software products, don’t forget that there are more mundane things that can make or break your project … such as digging a hole for the electricity pole!

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Guidelines for selecting a venue for a school computer room

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008 | Installation | 3 Comments

Most schools were built years ago and were not designed to house computer facilities. When a computer room is planned for a school, the venue must be carefully selected, since the safety of learners, the security of the equipment and the general usability of the facility depend on the correct choice of venue.

Here are some suggestions for selecting an appropriate location, based on the experience gained in establishing over a thousand computer facilities in the Western Cape.

  1. Since one of the easiest places a burglar could enter a computer facility is through the roof, it makes sense to secure the ceiling. Considerable cost savings could be achieved if a roof with a concrete ceiling is selected.
  2. A room with solid brick walls all around is preferable, as opposed to prefab walls, or even interior dry walls. Non-solid walls must be avoided since they will have to be reinforced, often at a considerable cost.
  3. The number and the size of windows must be considered. The smaller the windows and the fewer of them in a room, the less one has to spend on securing them. It is also preferable that the windows are higher up against the wall. If a room is selected because it conforms to other criteria, but the windows are a security risk, consider bricking up some of them. This could have an additional advantage of greater light control.
  4. If strong burglar bars are already on the inside of the windows, and stone-guard protection on the outside, cost and effort will be reduced.
  5. Windows may be welded to the frames, which will prevent them from being opened. It should be noted that in this case air-conditioning would be essential.
  6. The size of the room is important. It must be large enough to accommodate the required technology to satisfy the educational requirements of the school. In the case of a computer laboratory, it is suggested that a room to house 25 networked computers and 50 learners, should be at a minimum be 8 X 7 m2. In some cases it may be possible to find two adjacent rooms where a wall could be removed to make one room, but one needs to ascertain that this will not violate safety regulations.
  7. It would be advantageous if a small adjacent room is available to act as a server room; alternatively the room must be large enough to make provision for a separate server section.
  8. Where the school has computers in the administration section, and there exists a need to include these computers into the new network, it would be advantageous to select a room close by. This would reduce the cost for network cabling.
  9. It is preferable that the room is as close as possible to the electrical distribution board.
  10. If there is a choice between two rooms that satisfy most selection criteria, choose the one with the least amount of renovation cost – consider the floors, ceiling, walls, security and other infrastructure costs that may be required.
  11. Consider future expansion, particularly in bigger schools. Surrounding rooms that may be made available for technology centers at a later stage would be advantageous.
  12. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is advisable to choose a room that is north facing (in summer it has shade in the afternoon). This reduces glare and air conditioning cost.
  13. It may be very tempting to convert a library into a computer room. If the library is the only available venue one should consider creating a combination library/media room/computer laboratory, rather than doing away with a library in favour of a dedicated computer room.

Not all of the points in this list are applicable in every case – each situation is different and one must decide which ones are relevant in a particular situation.

The suggestions are not only relevant for the selection of the first computer room for a school – they can also be guidelines for the selection of subsequent facilities. Likewise, some of the principles will be useful when you want to move technology, such as interactive electronic whiteboards, into individual classrooms.

For more tips for principles, click here.

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