Civica Conference March 2015 – a review by Gerald Haigh

The following is a guest post by Gerald Haigh.

Microsoft partner Civica work extensively with schools, developing tailored ICT solutions making full use of Microsoft technologies including Office 365, and so I always look forward to their annual conference.

Civica Logo

This year they met in Sheffield, and because the motorway gremlins had closed the M1 at Nottingham, I missed some of the early sessions. These included what we can well believe was a great presentation by Andrew Howard, Principal of Sandymoor School on their work with Civica and Office 365. I did, though catch the final few minutes of an absorbing talk by SEND specialist Ian Bean. I was intrigued by what he had to say about using technologies such as blogging, podcasting and ‘Kinect’ to stimulate and motivate children with profound and multiple learning difficulties. At the heart of this work is the drive to provide the means to communicate – but he ended with a message that’s at the heart of Microsoft’s education strategy,

“Technology isn’t magic. Teachers are magic. What’s important is to understand who you are teaching, what it is you want to teach, and know how to use the technology.”

Over coffee later, Ian told me about a group of SEND schools and teachers – the Gesture Based Technology Professional Learning Community – centred on Trinity Fields School in South Wales. They are working together with approaches and technologies in which, as you’d expect, ‘Kinect’ is playing a key role. Their work is currently shortlisted for the 2015 Naace Impact Awards, results to be announced on 25th March.

After lunch there was a session on Windows tablets by the Tablet Academy, let by Principal Consultant David Fuller. There are more and more eight inch Windows tablets around now, and the Acer device we were provided with enabled the teachers around the room to be introduced, hands-on, not just to the start screen tiles but, in some detail, to OneNote Class Notebook. David also took the opportunity to discuss Sway and Office Mix, emphasising the importance of spending some time introducing teachers to their tablets and not just handing them over.

Having seen Tablet Academy in action several times now, I’d say that booking one of their courses is a must for any school contemplating going down the tablet route, or in the process of doing so. It will help to convince doubters, support the leadership, iron out misunderstandings, reveal hidden gems and, in the end, save time and money.

Another presenter familiar to me was Jim Fuller, deputy head at Dallam School in Cumbria. I last encountered Jim when he was at St Birinus School in Didcot, Oxfordshire. He featured strongly in two blogs we published last August on the transformative work that Civica was doing at the school with Office 365. Now, Jim is bent on promoting change at Dallam, a state boarding school in the Lake District

Dallam is a school that emphasises outdoor and adventurous activities, and Jim tries to bring this same spirit into the embedding of ICT. I found him particularly interesting on implementation, and how to bring all colleagues along on the change journey:

‘Sometimes, there’s too much stick and not enough carrot. Teachers can find it threatening, it can take over.’

It’s important to find allies, says Jim, suggesting that Modern Languages, PE and Music are probably already converted to technology. And, of course, there are students – a digital leaders programme is a key strategy. That said, in the end, the issues of appraisal, performance management and PRP might well come into play.

Underpinning Jim’s message was Tim Knoster’s model for managing complex change which lists the necessary ingredients for change, and pinpoints the negative effects which result when any of the ingredients are missing. There are numerous sources for the model online, for example.

Knoster Model

After Jim, we had a presentation on e-safety by Sally-Ann Griffiths of Impero Software.

The challenge here, says, Sally-Ann, is to find the balance, for teachers and students, between creativity and freedom of choice on the one hand, and protection on the other. It’s what she calls,

‘The transition from lockdown to management.’

The aim is for children to keep themselves safe – ‘To become resilient citizens. It’s not about technology, it’s about behaviour.’

That said, she emphasised the importance of a monitoring system which will identify incidents – what happened, when and and where – and preserve screenshot evidence. The school should have an e-safety log, with evidence of how incidents are followed up, and what action is taken. Apart from anything else, Ofsted will look for this.

Sometimes, though, a remedy is relatively simple,

‘A school was tracking a lot of violations to one computer. It turned out it was in a quiet corner of the library, where users felt unobserved. Moving it a few feet removed the problem.’

Final presentation of the day was from our old friend Mark Reynolds, now running his own consultancy ‘Hable

Mark introduced the delegates to Skype in the Classroom, providing information about the introduction of ‘Skype for Business’, replacing Lync in Office 365 with a brand name that will be more familiar and accessible to many users. Having seen Skype in the Classroom used creatively by members of the MIEE community, I’d say it looks certain to become increasingly popular.

A well run conference like this one has a key role in introducing delegates – teachers and other educators in this case – to products and policies as well as providing feedback to the organisation. What’s also needed, though, in addition to one-off events, is continuity and sustainability in the implementation of individual projects, and I’ve seen, on the ground at Sandymoor and St Binirus for example, just how well Civica works in partnership with schools, working together towards the best solution. Crucial to this approach is Civica’s team of educationalists – currently ten of them, all qualified teachers with the widest possible range of specialism and experience. Each of them can work closely with a school’s own staff, forming a valuable link between technology and learning. And, incidentally, a brief conversation with one or two of them provided some great ideas for future blogs and case studies.

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