I was chatting with Leighton Searle last week - Leighton's our Business Manager for Schools, which means that he seems to spend his week travelling up and down the country meeting local authorities and talking about their plans for the future. He was worrying about semantics when we met - should we be calling a spade a spade? And if we call it a "manual-food-growing-assistance-device", do we get a better result? This came from his conversation with James Penny. I'll let Leighton tell it his way...
James Penny, the Director of IT at the Girls Day Schools Trust doesn't describe the managed service he successfully provides to 29 independent girls schools as a ‘managed’ service – despite acknowledging that is exactly what it is. He describes it as an ‘enabling’ service, as this reflects the philosophy behind their approach. Considering that the greatest fear of many schools entering the Building Schools for Future initiative is of having a managed service imposed on them, many service providers could do worse than sit up and listen to what James has to say.
The idea of providing a service which enables schools to take a core, dependable set of technologies and build upon them to create the tools and resources which are relevant to them are key to the GDST’s ‘enabling’ service. A good example of this in practice is the GDST MyPlace portal. This provides a central Microsoft Learning Gateway service, fully integrated with rest of the core services (Mail, Instant Messaging, Video Conferencing, Active Directory etc.) which schools can take and customise as their own. The net result is 29 schools with access to highly resilient, integrated portal and Learning Platform which they can each adapt and customise as far as they see fit.
Leighton's thoughts helped to solidify in my mind one of the issues I come across regularly - the dissonance between 'users' and 'service providers'. For example, the gap between an ICT managed service provider's service, and a classroom teacher's individual needs. And should we be aspiring to 'keep up' with everything that's new?" And this is where there's a great need for individual flexibility - so that teachers can do their own thing - not what a service provider lets them do. Leighton continues...
The ability of individual users, not just institutions to make their technology their own by personalising it and framing their learning in a way that is relevant to them was a point Steve Moss from PfS also raised at the BSEC conference three weeks ago. He pointed out that many of the learning platforms schools are using today still resemble “teaching” environments rather than “learning” environments. Steve used the example of Moodle to illustrate what he considered a bland teaching environment which would not especially engage learners. I was really pleased to see him present Microsoft’s BSF showcase (you can see the video here) as an exemplar of the right way to go in the future. A visually engaging, integrated environment which learners can personalise significantly. Well the next iteration of that thinking and development is almost here, and I heard of the test modelling environments that are about to be unveiled in Knowsley and Kent which will seek to further explore the impact of technology and technology-enabled environments. Not only are we seeing an innovative look at business intelligence coming out of these working partnerships, providing teachers with a single, graphical view on multiple data sources to inform risk assessments and plan interventions, but we are starting to see technology applied to the physical learning space as well. I for one will be watching these developments with anticipation.
Smart Wall classroom or holographic guest teacher anyone?!
And that brings up another dissonance between 'users' and 'service providers' - between the ICT experience of students at home, and the provision in school. The gap may have been there for a while, but it is being written and talked about more frequently. Sometimes people refer to the 'digital divide', or 'digital natives versus digital immigrants'. But fundamentally, the question is "How far should we take the use of technology? And is a student able to bring their skills developed by the use of ICT outside of school, to the classroom.