Click here to read this mailing online.

Your email updates, powered by FeedBlitz

 
Here is a sample subscription for you. Click here to start your FREE subscription


  1. 21 reasons that education technology projects fail
  2. Blasts from our ICT Past
  3. 7 questions to ask about big name speakers at education technology conferences
  4. How I got into coding and why I think everyone should do it!
  5. Girls and technology
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search ICT and Computing in Education
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

21 reasons that education technology projects fail

Why do some school and local authority initiatives, not to mention government initiatives, fail, especially when they concern education technology. In my experience, the cause can usually be found in one or more of the following. The next time you read about a 1:1 project turning into a nightmare, or a fantastic opportunity being wasted, it is almost certainly going to be because of one or some of the following (one problem almost invariably leads to or implies another).

Projects need managing! (Cartoonist unknown)

Unclear reasons for doing it

You would think this is a no-brainer: if you are going to spend a lot of time and money on a project, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to know why. But often the reason is not very clear – “I think it seems like a good thing to do” – or not an educational reason as such:

“We have to be competitive with our neighbouring schools”

“Having this new technology initiative will raise our grades”

“Parents expect us to”

None of these are sound educational reasons.

Lack of accountability

There needs to be some form of accountability in place, such as an expectation that, for example, the recipient of a substantial sum of money will be able to report on what that money was spent on and why, and whether or not the project was a success, and why or why not.

I know of at least one national initiative that didn't put such an expectation in place. The predictable result was that it was impossible to say afterwards whether the money had been well spent or what knowledge had been gained from the initiative, because there were no criteria in place by which to measure such things.

Lack of SMART targets

Every project should, as far as possible, have SMART targets attached to it, ie Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-related. If not, the project is bound to slip in one way or another. Even if it is not entirely possible to be SMART, one should at least make the attempt.

If it is not known what the hoped-for end result is, you can still set MART targets. Suppose the idea is that you will spend £1000 on each of 5 things, in order to find out which one is best, then the SMART target becomes focused on evaluating the projects taken as a whole, and also the process, ie how was the money spent in each case, what are the criteria of success/failure and so on.

Too rigid adherence to smart targets

Sometimes there can be too rigid an adherence to targets. In his evidence to the Public Accounts Committee about some huge health IT project that had gone pear-shaped, someone said:

"In those early days it was like being in a juggernaut lorry going up the M1 and it did not really matter where you went as long as you arrived somewhere on time." (From The Blunders of Our Governments, by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe)

Lack of infrastructure

This is the standard problem of 1:1 initiatives. The school purchases 1000 tablets and gives them out to the kids, only to find that their wi-fi set-up is unable to cope. This is one aspect of not asking the right people (see below).

Lack of technical support

Even if something is billed as easy as pie to use, you should still have technical support in place, or know where you can get it. Every school is different, and every product is different, even those from the same batch. If something goes wrong you need a fall-back position. In any case, teachers should teach and managers should manage. It's ridiculous to spend time doing something that is patently not within your job remit when there is (or should be) someone on hand who can do it better and faster than you.

Lack of training

This is probably one of the single biggest causes of a project failing. If teachers haven't had the time to learn how to use something, or practice using it, you may get a few people trying it out but most people will avoid it for as long as possible and as much as possible. I've seen exactly this kind of thing when a new learning platform is implemented.

Lack of Headteacher support

It's sad but true: if the Headteacher or principal doesn't support an initiative, it won't get taken up or prioritised. I am not completely sure why that is the case, though I could hazard a guess: it's probably because people won't invest time and energy in something that will not earn them kudos. If the boss doesn't like or "get" something, where's the kudos in that?

Lack of other SLT support

It's good to have the support of other members of the senior leadership team, especially if the Headteacher isn't supportive.

Lack of peer support

I have found it hard to implement something if my colleagues don't see the point. You may well have to do a bit of marketing, which includes finding out what they would like to see (see below). Just because you think it's the best idea since sliced bread doesn't mean everyone else, or even anyone else, will too.

Lack of pupil support

If the pupils don't see the point, it won't succeed. If, for example, you give over 15 minutes of every lesson for privately reading blog posts without explaining why, the pupils are bound to think Computing is a rubbish subject.

Lack of parent support

If parents think their kids aren't be taught properly (see preceding point), they will most likely complain to the Headteacher. Both of these points really come down to...

Lack of information

If you want to introduce a new way of doing things, or a new piece of technology, or whatever, please explain to people the reason why. And make sure it's an educationally valid reason.

Lack of time

Projects take time to embed. That could be years. If something hasn't worked after 6 weeks, don't just abandon it, but try to find out why not.

Lack of money

Sometimes projects need a further injection of money to keep things going, eg for maintenance or buying more software, or for allowing a teacher out of school to attend a conference about it.

Too much money

This may sound like an odd thing to suggest, but I have come across several instances where inappropriate software was bought because the people spending the money were in defensive mode. Buying a big name product rather than installing a free open source one is often done because of the logic inherent in the old IT adage, "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM".

Lack of focus

This is an aspect of SMART targeting really. It's best to know what you are trying to achieve, and then get on with trying to achieve it, rather than flitting from one new thing to another.

Bad management

I was once involved in a project that was appallingly managed. The money came from a government organisation, and was being managed through a local organisation. The national project manager bombarded the local project manager with emails every day. Rather than filtering those emails, the local project manager just forwarded them on to the schools involved.

It is hard enough coping with a barrage of emails when you're trying to get something done, but what made it even worse was that the emails were being sent as soon as the national project manager had a new idea.

Worst of all, the instructions and ideas changed so much that it made more sense to do nothing and wait for the final one than to do anything. A good example of this was when we were asked to set up individual blogs. After spending some time researching different platforms, starting a blog and then writing a couple of articles for it, we received an email telling us we no longer had to do anything because a blog platform had been set up on our behalf, and we were to use that.

Unfit for purpose

Something may be the most wonderful technology or idea in the world, but if it doesn't do what you want it to do, there's no point. Put simply, every initiative should be the answer to a problem. If it answers a different problem, one that you don't have, then as far as your school is concerned it's useless.

Lack of compatibility

I've come across instances of the Headteacher (usually) ordering hundreds of Apple Macs because he saw them at a conference, only to be told that they won't work with the school's present network set-up.

Not asking the right people

Quite a few of these issues are about asking the right people. I went somewhere once where there had been a major refurbishment of the library. I asked an IT lecturer what he thought of the new cutting edge area, and he reeled off three issues that were not very good. In fact, as far as I can gather, none of the staff or students who use the library were consulted. Presumably, the school contracted some award-winning (no doubt) company to design the new build without bothering to talk to the people who actually use it day in and day out. If that's not a disaster waiting to happen, I don't know what is.

Conclusion

What do all of the above have in common? They could all be very easily avoided. That makes the tragedy of failure even worse. So, if you find yourself in the fortunate position of being given money and time to invest in a new education  technology initiative, I suggest you use these points as a checklist to help ensure the project’s success.

For more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education, for great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles.

    

Blasts from our ICT Past

I’ve been trawling through the archives again (I don’t get out much). The following appeared in the very first edition of my newsletter, which was originally called Computers in Classrooms (but is now called Digital Education), on 3rd April 2000:

NOT the Computers in Classrooms archives! Photo by LW Yang https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwy/

It's interesting to note, by the way, that what used be thought of as unthinkable, because impossible, in the primary school is slowly but surely gaining ground. I am referring, of course, to computer rooms, taught ICT lessons, non-contact time and technician support. The growth in the number of primary schools with computer rooms was cited in the recent national Ofsted report as instrumental in developing good quality work and improved teaching. The report's full title is The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools Standards and Quality in Education 1998-99, and you can read it on the internet at http://www.official-documents.co.uk/document/hoc/157/157.htm (or read the summary of the IT-related comments in the next edition of Computers in Classrooms). Once a school has a computer room, it is probably only a matter of time before it becomes blindingly obvious that one person with no non-contact time cannot manage the set-up effectively. I'd be interested in your comments on this.

Strange to think that, 15 years later, the major indication of progress is the abandoning of computer rooms in favour of tablets and other devices being used in the classroom (or wherever pupils happen to be).

The following quotes appeared in the 4th issue of Computers in Classrooms, in August 2000:

"The greatest applications are not those with the greatest power but
those which teachers can use most imaginatively. The most powerful
combination is killer applications and killer ideas!" (Gabriel Goldstein,
HMI)

"If we miss something that is bad, that's our fault, but if we miss
something that's good, that's your fault." (OFSTED inspector)

I think that both apply today. Having been an Ofsted inspector, I can definitely vouch for the veracity of the second quote. On at least two occasions I almost gave an ICT department a lower grade than was warranted because, despite all my probing and detective work, I was not aware of some crucial facts.

I do think that when it comes to being inspected, you cannot assume that all your good works will be blindingly obvious. If you have just launched a new initiative to identify pupils who are technophobic, then say so. If you are considering introducing a new 1:1 tablet scheme, then say so. Ofsted inspectors are, usually, pretty good at finding stuff out. But they're not psychic.

This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Digital Education.

For more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education, for great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles.

    

7 questions to ask about big name speakers at education technology conferences

I enjoy a good keynote, especially if it “delivers”. To my mind, a keynote should be informative, inspirational and entertaining. All too often, however, keynotes by so-called “visionary” speakers leave me feeling both uninspired and uninformed. I am left with having been entertained, which is all very well, but unless it’s an after-dinner speech I’m also left feeling cheated. So these days, where there is a choice between attending a celebrity speaker’s talk or that of an “ordinary” teacher who is doing great stuff in his or her classroom, I will almost always choose the latter. In fact, I have developed a kind of rubric that I follow when deciding whether or not to attend a celebrity presentation. It consists of a number of questions, which I’ve written up below. Feel free to use them if you think they are useful. Some of these questions cannot be answered until you have attended a talk given by the person in question. But you will know for next time.

A spot-on summary of most celebrity speakers' ideas, in my experience! Photo by Joe Hall https://www.flickr.com/photos/joebeone/

We have a problem?

Do they have anything substantive to say? I’ve attended too many talks where a summary of the lecture would accurately be given as:

“There’s a problem in education and somebody needs to do something about it.”

What I’d like to know is: what is the problem, and what do you think ought to be done about it? After all, you’re being paid to talk to us as the expert.

What’s the answer?

Has the speaker suggested a solution? A good thing to do would be to suggest solutions, I think. Maybe these would be visionary, and for some time in the distant future, which wouldn’t be wonderful, but would at least be something.

What can be done in practical terms, right now?

I often hear a keynote celebrity speaker end their talk with:

“We need to have a debate about this.”

I used to listen out for the next logical sentence, which would be something like:

“And to facilitate this debate I have set up a website/online survey/conference… to which you are all invited to contribute.”

I say I used to listen for that, but the second sentence never comes. I did once, in my younger and more naive days, take literally the offer of a keynote speaker who said:

“If anyone is interested in starting a debate on this subject, come and see me after the talk.”

I did, and his answer to my statement that I would be interested in taking part in such a debate was:

“Great. Here’s my card. Phone my PA and she’ll arrange for you to have a tour of our offices.”

I wasn’t sure how that constituted a debate, and so I never took him up on the offer.

Has the speaker worked in my kind of school?

When I listen to ideas proposed by a speaker, I always try to picture myself putting it into practice in some of the schools in which I worked. I’ve worked in tough places. I was very innovative, but in my experience you can’t just do something and hope it works. The kids in tough schools tend to be very street wise. If they see a system, they know how to work it pretty quickly. Even some of the best-intentioned plans fall down because of this fact. (In one school I worked in, the school counsellor always offered distressed kids a cup of tea in her office. The predictable result was that every teacher had at least one “distressed” kid who needed to see the counsellor, winking at the rest of the class as they left the room.)

I’ve worked in non-tough schools too, where the kids are willing to learn and are full of enthusiasm for new ideas. But in those schools it tends to be the parents and the senior leadership team who see no need for innovation if what you are already doing is delivering the results. (And if you’re not delivering the results, you are not likely to be given a mandate to innovate anyway. You’re more likely to be told to shape up or ship out, in effect.)

Some of the ideas I’ve heard would either be illegal, or would result in parents complaining that their children weren’t being taught. What I’m saying is that even an idea is stupendous, there are usually practical realities to implementing it – not to do with the idea itself but the ethos of the school, legal matters, pupil and parental expectations, and the willingness of the senior leadership and other colleagues to take it seriously. I never hear any big name speakers even acknowledge such issues, let alone suggest how they might be tackled.

Does research appear to back up their claims?

Research is good, especially if it is genuine research and has not been not cherry-picked, or is not a conflation of different elements of research that has the (hopefully) inadvertent effect of giving a misleading impression, or leaves out statistically-significant evidence that would give a rather different picture.

What does your gut say?

Call me unscientific, but I do believe in the concept of professional judgement. If someone is saying something that doesn’t feel feasible, even if they appear to have the research to back it up, then I think there’s a good chance your professional expertise is making itself felt – quite literally. When I am about to spend a fait amount of money on a product, I do my research. I look at customer reviews, for example. If someone is trying to sell me an idea, I do the same. I look for their name on the web, to see if anyone has analysed what they’ve said or felt an unease similar to myself. This can be useful if you don’t think something is quite right, but can’t quite put your finger on why not.

What about their kids – or yours for that matter?

Quite often the ultimate test of an idea is: would the person advocating it put their own kids through it? (I thought this story about Silicon Valley folk who send their kids to a non-tech school quite interesting, for example.) If you are not in a position to answer that question, then ask yourself: would I want my kids to be subjected to this? You can ask this question even if you don’t have kids. If the answer is “no”, then there is clearly a fundamental flaw in the idea. Or it’s proof of something that Andreas Schleicher said at the Education World Forum back in January 2015:

“All parents want school improvement – as long as it doesn’t involve their own children.”

(Disclaimer: that is not an exact quote.) I took that to mean that parents tend to be in favour of initiatives to improve schooling, as long as implementing them doesn’t disrupt their own kids’ education.

Conclusion

For me, if the answer to any of these questions is likely, on past experience, to be “no”, then I will spend the time networking, attending a talk by someone who has something useful to say, having a coffee break or checking my email.

For more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education, for great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles.

    

How I got into coding and why I think everyone should do it!

In this, the last of a three-part series on girls and women in computing, PhD student and Further Education lecturer Amanda Wilson describes how an early interest in computing followed by picking up everything she could while working led to a dream job.

My first experience with computers was when I was about 6 or 7 and we had the Sinclair Spectrum at home.The wonderful ZX Spectrum, spongy keys and all! Photo by Loz Pycock https://www.flickr.com/photos/blahflowers/In honesty I just used to love pressing the buttons at first to see what would happen and not think much about what the results were – a common thing I see now in children. They have no fear of breaking the computer and are willing to just go for it and try.

My brother switched between games consoles and PCs such as the Amstrad 464 which he used for gaming. However, the big book that came with it was what really got me interested as I loved spending ages typing in the code and trying to get something on screen (more often than not through errors first and then fixing them to finally get that little line on screen to move). But it was this that got me interested in studying computing, and when I was13 at Secondary School I finally got the chance. We used BBC micros and I loved writing little programs in BASIC – my highlight back then writing a program to turn little led lights on and off.

However as much as I loved computing I’m ashamed to say I didn’t do well in my exams for it and drifted away from it for a while. I was a geek, yes – but a severe maths geek until I left school when I decided to take a break from education and concentrate on family and work life. During my work life I found that as I was the youngest in the office I was soon relied upon for my computer skills. A sort of reverse ageism as it were: being young meant that I must know everything about computers.

The company I worked for did have an ICT guy and a company who came out as well to fix things when they went wrong. I have to say I owe a lot to these guys for sparking my interest again in computing, I would watch intently and ask lots of questions when they were around which they were always happy to answer and show me how things worked, which in turn meant that when the ICT guy left and budget was low I was the one everyone looked to for help when it went wrong. Something I didn’t plan for was my being cheap ICT/Computing labour – especially when I heard the last ICT guy was being paid twice as much as me and ICT wasn’t even in my remit. After leaving work to have my last child I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do career-wise and realised that I really was interested in learning more about computers and working with them.

I went into my first year undergraduate computing thinking that I wanted a job in programming that paid lots of money but have to say that by the time I got to 3rd year I had really changed my mind and had felt that I wanted to work more with others and educate them about computing.

I did get this chance in 4th year with my honours project to educate children about computing and also took part in a new module which gave us the chance to communicate computing to others(in our case we worked with secondary school children). I feel that this year made me realise that I wanted to be involved in computing education and research and more so I want to make sure the next generation enjoy computing and want to take it up as a subject and not just see computers as something they use for Facebook and music etc. That’s how I ended up undertaking my PhD looking at children constructing games in primary education and now, with the PhD almost complete, I am an educator working in FE teaching the subject I love. Which, I should say, I will happily teach to anyone as I run clubs in my local primary too hoping to spark interest in the children from an early age.

About Amanda Wilson

Amanda Wilson Amanda is a part time computing lecturer in FE. As well as this she is a STEM ambassador and run after school computing clubs. When not doing this or spending time with her girls she is finishing off her PhD which looks at learning about programming through game-making in Primary Education.

 

Amanda tweets as @AmandaWilson169.

This article first appeared in the Appril 2015 issue of Digital Education.

The first part of this trilogy was Girls and Computing.

The second part was Girls and technology

For more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education, for great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles.

    

Girls and technology

In this, the second of a three-part series about girls and women in Computing, school student Ellie Gregson suggests why girls tend not to choose STEM subjects.

Young people love to use technology. In school, we jump at the opportunity to use the iPads for research, or to use laptops for typing up essays or creating PowerPoints in class. In my school, when an iPad trolley is dragged into the classroom at the start of a lesson, there is always a race between the students to the front of the classroom, desperate not to have to share it with others, or be stuck with a tablet with a 10% battery life remaining.

Why don't girls choose STEM given that they love using technology? Photo by Brad Flickinger https://www.flickr.com/photos/56155476@N08/

Even so, we enjoy these lessons, because growing up with technology has allowed us to understand how to use it easily and to our education’s advantage (if we can get past the initial novelty of iPads in the classroom). Students appear to enjoy it equally, with a similar enthusiasm from both the male and female students in the class. Why then are the majority of technology-based jobs dominated by men, whilst many female students appear to lose interest in STEM subjects after GCSE level?

At the point of choosing A-level subjects for the following year, I can already see this pattern emerging. Out of about 10 girls in my group of friends, I am the only person choosing to take Maths and Further Maths next year, whilst they are all choosing arts and humanities-based subjects. I, along with many other students, believe in choosing the subjects that you enjoy most, allowing you to pursue a career that you equally love. The question then is why do girls appear to enjoy STEM subjects less, which are the key subjects that lead towards IT-based jobs in the future.

I believe that there are several reasons as to why the minority of students with a passion for STEM subjects are girls. For example, a lack of education about the career options available may limit us in our understanding of possible jobs for the future, which will make us opt for careers we know more about. Therefore, learning about a wider range of careers from a younger age would allow students to make a more informed decision about the A-level subjects they choose, and may create an interest in STEM subjects for more female students. In addition to this, I believe that many girls may feel that they are less able academically than boys, and would therefore find the prospect of pursuing a career in technology intimidating, knowing that they’ll have to compete with the majority. However, studies have shown that girls have equal ability to boys academically, and the fact that those who achieved the top ten GCSE mock results in my year were all female just bear this out. It’s not that girls lack the ability to pursue IT-based careers, but I believe that some lack the confidence. This could be due to the ongoing historical stereotype of STEM subjects being for men whilst the more creative subjects are for women, which of course is nonsense. Subjects should be pursued because you enjoy them, not dictated by gender stereotypes. Constant support from teachers, and comparing students by grades, not gender, will allow confidence in their ability to grow, which could result in a greater love for these subjects.

Girls need awareness, support and belief in their ability to pursue a career in IT, but I also believe they need someone to look up to. Although there are women who are successful in technology, for example the CEO of Yahoo, girls need to have confidence, knowing that they will too be successful in these jobs. Therefore, awareness of successful women in IT needs to increase. Knowing that success has been achieved by people in a similar situation to you in the past gives you belief that you can also accomplish in the future. We are equally able, but we just need to be given the confidence to know it and use it to our advantage.

About Ellie Gregson

Ellie is a Year 11 student at Thomas Tallis school in London. She is studying for her GCSEs, enjoys writing and is considering a career as a journalist.

This article was first published in the April issue of Digital Education.

The first part of this trilogy was Girls and Computing.

Sign up for my ezine Digital Education, for great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles.

    

More Recent Articles


Click here to safely unsubscribe from ICT and Computing in Education. Click here to view mailing archives, here to change your preferences, or here to subscribePrivacy