Who is an e-pioneer?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 | e-Learning pioneers | 6 Comments

Anyone who actively promotes e-learning and the use of e-tools is an e-pioneer.

Are you a school principal?  Do your best to be an e-pioneer.  Even if you’re not completely e-literate, you can still take the lead in your school by encouraging your staff to make optimal use of available technology.

If you are a teacher who embraced technology as a teaching tool and are now encouraging your colleagues to do the same, you are an e-pioneer.  You may be known as a computer champion, or network administrator, or computer boffin – whatever name you’re given, you can spearhead the cause of technology in your school.

There is no reason why there must be only one e-pioneer in a school – the more the merrier.  There are many learners in your school who need your guidance.

Education department officials who are e-pioneers are invaluable!  If you hold a post as director, curriculum advisor or planner, team leader, or technology integration facilitator, your lead in e-matters is crucial.

Who is an e-pioneer?  When you promote e-learning and the use of e-tools in your environment, you are one!

Click here for food for thought for e-pioneers.

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What is the role of the principal when introducing interactive whiteboards into the school?

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009 | IWBs | 5 Comments

The importance of the role of the principal can not be overstated when it comes to the introduction of interactive whiteboards into schools.  Without strong leadership the possibility of successful use of these devices is minute.

What do we expect of the principal?  Let’s look at a few essentials:

Understand the technology: The principal must be convinced that interactive whiteboards will make a difference to teaching and learning.  Such an understanding is preceded by gaining a thorough knowledge of this particular technology and the way it supports the pedagogy.

Give clear direction: It is not good enough to allow the boards into the school.  Unambiguous direction must be given to teachers as to how and when they must use the equipment.

Create training opportunities: This entails more than identifying available training and arranging for sessions for staff members – the principal must allow teachers time to undergo training and insist that all those who are scheduled to be trained will indeed attend the sessions.

Monitor on an ongoing basis: Even after clear directives are given and adequate training is provided, some teachers may still not use their interactive whiteboards.  The principal can only gauge the successful use of the equipment if constant monitoring takes place.  The easiest way to do this is by taking a walkabout from time to time – this also gives the principal the opportunity to observe good practice, give commendation, or offer encouragement where needed.

Set the example: A good example is by far the best way in which a principal can promote successful use of technology.  People follow their leaders – teachers follow the heads of their schools.  Teachers will take their cue from a principal who is a technology practitioner.

Principals play a crucial role in successful use of interactive whiteboards – schools with such leaders are truly blessed.

Click here for more information about interactive whiteboards.

Click here for more tips for principals.

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Should schools rent out their e-learning facilities to commercial firms?

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 | Sustainability | 4 Comments

Some school make their e-learning facilities available to outside commercial firms to present courses after school hours.  Is this a good idea?  There are pros and cons.

The advantages are:

The school can generate extra funds which could be used to off-set the operational cost of the e-learning centre.

The facility is used optimally to the advantage of the community.

The school can negotiate free or subsidized courses for teachers.

The disadvantages are:

An e-learning facility needs someone to take care of it – who will do so when the commercial firm presents the course?

There may be an interference with after-hours activities at school – when the facility is used for a course, it is not available for use by learners.

Computer training reaches a saturation point after a while – there are only a limited number of people in any community who are interested in acquiring computer skills (and are willing to pay for them).  If this route is followed you must understand that it will not be a permanent source of income.

Owing to the different circumstances in schools and communities, careful thought should be given to the viability of renting out e-learning facilities for commercial companies to present computer courses.

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Internet cafés and e-learning sustainability

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009 | Sustainability | 3 Comments

Schools have tried to establish internet cafés as a source of revenue – with a view to e-learning sustainability – with varying degrees of success.  The idea is good: make some computer facilities available to the community on a pay-as-you-go basis.  In practice this only works in some cases.

Factors that must be considered are:

Location of the school: Is the school accessible to the public so that a steady stream of users will use the facility?

Location of the facility within the school: Is the room used as an internet café easily accessible to the public, without breaching security of the school?

How many people in the community are likely to use the service?  In some cases community members are not computer literate and in other cases most of the people in the vicinity may have their own equipment at home.

Who will act as caretaker of the facility?  An internet café needs someone to be on duty at all times to collect fees, assist users and keep an eye on the equipment.

To what extent will the internet café interfere with the need of learners to use the facility?

An internet café will only be successful if it serves a real need in the community.

Before a school establishes an internet café, a careful cost analysis and cash flow projection must be made to determine if it will be a viable fundraising option.

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Fund-raising and e-learning sutstainability

Friday, July 17th, 2009 | Sustainability | 6 Comments

Fund-raising is often touted as a way to make e-learning financially sustainable.  In practice, this only works when parents take responsibility for it.  Teachers have a heavy workload and it should not be expected of them to raise funds to support ICT facilities in the school.

If a school were to depend on raising funds to pay for regular expenses, such as insurance premiums or internet access, it means that a certain amount of money must be gathered every month. 

Not many fund-raising efforts can guarantee a regular income.  It is therefore not wise to depend on this potential source of income alone to pay the bills.

Special fund-raising initiatives are far more effective it they are targeted at a specific purpose, such as acquiring a particular piece of equipment.  Parents can set a goal for themselves and work towards that without feeling pressurised into finding money for a bill that must be paid.

A worthy target for your school’s fund-raising committee: procure an interactive electronic whiteboard for the school.

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School management’s role in achieving operational sustainability

Sunday, July 12th, 2009 | Sustainability | 6 Comments

Operational sustainability is often overlooked by school management.  Remember, this aspect of sustainability refers to ongoing use of technical facilities for e-learning purposes.  In the scramble to find financial resources and to ensure technical sustainability, the reason for having technology in the first place can be forgotten over time and e-learning may not happen anymore.

It is ironic that this form of sustainability should be neglected, since it is one which can be achieved even when funds are low.

School management must put processes in place to ensure that all technology in the school is used for its intended purpose: e-learning.  How can this be done?

All teachers must receive adequate training; they must be comfortable using technology as a teaching tool.  E-learning must come naturally to them.  If it does not, they simply won’t use the technology.  Different training options are available to schools but the principal must ensure that they are used.  Consider some of these opportunities:

Education authorities offer courses from time to time on e-learning topics.

Advisory staff members make periodic visits and could assist in keeping teachers informed about the latest thinking in e-learning.

Vendors offer training relevant to their software and hardware products.

Some schools are fortunate to have skilled teachers in their own midst – they must just be given the opportunity to share their experience with their peers.

A principal must consider the e-learning growth path of each teacher with a view to optimizing the use of e-learning resources in the school.  A few ways in which this could be accomplished are:

When new teachers join the staff, arrangements must be made for them to be trained.

Technical competency must be taken into account when appointing new teachers.

Owing to the changing nature of technology, principals must ensure that the teachers in the school are given technology updates on a regular basis.

Operational sustainability in a school is achieved when, year after year, e-learning remains part of the education process.

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School management’s role in achieving technical sustainability

Thursday, July 9th, 2009 | Sustainability | 3 Comments

There is more to sustainability of ICT facilities in schools than financial sustainability.  The management team of the school must also consider technical sustainability.

If technical support services are available through an organ of the State, the principal must ensure that everyone in the school understands what is involved in technical support and that procedures are in place to make optimal use of these support services.  The following must be clear to all:

What services are available?

If a need for one of these services arises, how are they arranged?

If there is a help desk, are the contact details easy to locate?

Who has the responsibility to contact the provider of technical support?

Is a logging procedure in place so that support calls can be recorded and followed up?

Who will follow through on requests for support?

What arrangements are in place to ensure that all staff members understand these procedures?

Is a procedure in place for regular maintenance checks?

What happens if the State does not provide technical support?  In that case it is even more important that the management team of the school understands what is involved in technical support.  What is the nature of the technology that must be supported?  What type of support is required?  How often is support required?

If the State does not provide technical support, the school must make their own arrangements to ensure that an acceptable level of technology use is sustained.  The cost of such support services must be fed into the financial sustainability budget.

In some cases a technical person is appointed privately by the school – this can be done on a part-time or full-time basis, depending on the size of the installation.  It is hard for some schools to afford employing such a person.  However, it may be possible to find a sponsor who would be willing to pay the salary of a technical support person.

Another option for the school is to enter into a Service Level Agreement (SLA) with a company who provides technical support services.  Such services are rendered on the basis of a fixed monthly fee, but with the understanding that the service provider will render technical support when the school requires it.  Unfortunately some poor schools can’t afford this either.

Some schools are able to form partnerships with local business organizations, and part of the agreement is that the business concern makes technical staff available to the school.  These staff members then assume responsibility to maintain the technical installation of the school.

Regardless of the support mechanism employed by a school, it is important for the school to build technical expertise among staff members.  True, not all teachers have a technical flair, but there will always be a few that can be trained to have oversight of technical issues.  In the case of very poor schools, this may be the only form of technical support that the school can afford.  The school’s manager must ensure that some members of the staff are equipped with technical skills to ensure technical sustainability.

Technical support systems often fail because internal procedures are not in place to ensure that the system is optimally used.  Principals need to take the lead in putting such procedures in place.

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School management’s role in achieving financial sustainability

Sunday, July 5th, 2009 | Sustainability | 1 Comment

The management team of a school – the principal and governing body – has a responsibility towards financial sustainability of ICT facilities in a school.  Without management cooperation sustainability is not possible.

Management controls the financial resources of a school.  If the State provides funding for ICT it is up to management to decide how these funds are to be used in the best way.  This implies that management must have a good understanding of ICT requirements. What is the vision of the school in this regard?  Is this vision communicated to all staff members? 

If the State does not provide funding for ICT, management must decide how much is required to maintain the current technology, which may have been donated or provided as a one-off provision by the state.  What are the expected ongoing costs?  How would these costs be covered within the existing budget?  Which sources of funding could the school tap into?  Think about expenses such as:

  • additional electricity usage
  • internet access
  • insurance
  • security
  • paper and other consumables
  • maintenance service
  • staff training
  • upgrades
  • software licence fees
  • additional software.

A sustainability plan is necessary, regardless of whether the State provides the funding, or the school must find the funding themselves.

It is the responsibility of the principal to ensure that all members of the Governing Body understand the importance of ICT facilities and grasp the reasons for ongoing financial support of technology.

What can a teacher do to support school management to make the school’s ICT investment financially sustainable?  What can they do to keep expenses to a minimum?

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A fish rots from the head

Saturday, July 4th, 2009 | Sustainability | 6 Comments

I always thought that this expression originated amongst the Cape fishermen but discovered that it is an ancient Chinese saying. It has been adopted by most modern languages in one or other form.

In 1997 Bob Garratt published his book, The Fish Rots from the Head: The Crisis in Our Boardrooms.  In this book he explains that a company’s success or failure depends to a large extend on the performance of its board. And that – in a nutshell – explains the idiom. A fish apparently starts to spoil from its head and so can be used as an analogy for any situation where an organization is not doing well owing to poor management.

Can this principle be applied to school management?  Yes it can.  Another saying is, “The principal is the school“, emphasizing the important role of a school manager.

When the technology facilities of a school are not used optimally, who should take responsibility?  When teachers do not attend training sessions arranged for them, who is to blame?  And if security measures were not adhered to and valuable equipment stolen, who is accountable?  Where did the rot set in?

A fish rots from the head.

Principals, how are you doing in this regard?  And what can technology integrators do to help principals to keep a cool head?


Where should the interactive whiteboard be installed?

Saturday, June 20th, 2009 | IWBs | 3 Comments

When the opportunity arises for your school to obtain an interactive whiteboard, an important decision for you is: where will it be installed?

If it is the first board in the school, you may be tempted to put it in a neutral space – a room where all teachers in the school have access to it on a rotational basis.  Experience shows that this may not be the best thing to do.  When an IWB is placed in a space that is not owned by any particular teacher, visiting this venue is a hit-or-miss affair.  Of course, there are always exceptions – some principals have good results when they place an IWB in a venue shared by all.  But in general, boards in such locations remain unused during most of the school day.

Should the board go into the computer room?  The computer teacher may insist that this is the best place for it.  But this is somewhat of a waste – you can’t use the computers and the board at the same time.  Rather position the IWB in such a way that learners receive optimal value from the technology in the school.

The best results are obtained when an IWB is in the classroom of a teacher, where it can be used throughout the day by that teacher.  Once a teacher takes ownership of the device, and integrates its use in classroom teaching, learners receive the greatest value from it.

Of course, now the question is: which teacher’s room?  Should the decision be based on seniority?  What criteria must govern the choice?

The best place in a school for an IWB is the classroom of the teacher who displays the greatest affinity for the use of technology as a teaching tool.

This could be a teacher who uses every opportunity to take a class to the computer room, or one who is already using other forms of technology for teaching, or one who owns a computer or laptop for personal use.

When more boards are obtained for the school, the same principle should be applied – place them in classrooms of teachers who are likely to use them to the full.  In this way the investment in IEWBs will yield the greatest return in terms of improved teaching and learning.

The popular decision may not always be the best one – before installation, think carefully where the board in your school will do the most good.

Click here for more information about interactive whiteboards.

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