I have recently visited a number of primary schools where their ICT System was obviously not “fit for purpose”. Rather than being an aid to learning it was a huge hindrance. So I thought it would be useful to put together a check list of questions that you could use to help decide if your system is helping your pupils and staff.
- Do staff have their own secure logon and user area? Teachers should be able to store work and information about pupils in a secure space on the system and not share it with other teachers or pupils.
- Do staff have a shared space where they can share their resources with other staff but is secure from pupils? I recommend a place to share planning, policies, resources, etc that is not visible to pupils – this could be on the school server or the VLE. Without such a shared area staff end up emailing documents to each other and someone will get missed out!
- Do pupils have their own individual log on and user area? Giving pupils their own individual log on encourages responsibility and accountability and many schools start this from year 1. If pupils have a shared user area then work often goes missing, pupils and staff then lose confidence. We don’t expect pupils to share a single exercise book so why share a user area? It shouldn’t be difficult to setup users and there is no reason why staff shouldn’t have read access of the pupil user areas.
- Is there a shared resource area where staff can put resources for pupils to use but doesn’t allow pupils to delete them? Just as teachers hand out worksheets, so they should be able to put documents onto the system that pupils can load up, work on and save to their user area without deleting the original. The shared resource area can also be a useful place to put shortcuts to websites.
- When a user logs on to a computer do they get a reliable, consistent and helpful interface on every computer or do they spend ages trying to find the piece of software they want? Why oh why oh why do so many school computers have inconsistent user interfaces? What better way of wasting time in school than giving every user a different interface on every computer so that they cannot find the programmes they want. And why not give them access to the “uninstall program” shortcuts whilst we are at it then users can remove software! Putting shortcuts to programmes into sensibly named folders that appears on every computer makes it so much easier for pupils to find the application they should be using.
- When a user saves a piece of work does it save automatically to their user area or do users find that work “disappears”? Disappearing work is a guaranteed way to destroy confidence in the ICT system. Users need to know that the work they do is safe. Would they want to work hard for a teacher who kept losing their exercise books or worksheets? Safe and secure work areas that function properly show that we value the work done by pupils.
- Do users have easy access to software manuals and other learning resources? If we want to encourage pupils to learn then making software manuals and links to websites about the software encourages them to find out more about what the software can do or to look up “how to do animation in Textease” for themselves when they have forgotten.
- Do users have confidence in the system and the equipment?
- Does it aid their learning?
Equipment and system
- Are the computers, monitors, printers and other equipment reliable? Will they switch on and start up in an acceptable time or are they incredibly slow, time wasting and frustrating? They may be slow and unreliable because of their age, they may benefit from an upgrade or some basic servicing. It may be that the equipment is in the wrong place – I often find the fastest and newest computers being used to do basic word processing whilst the slowest computers are attached to the Interactive White Board where they are expected to sing and dance all day! Sometimes I find the most expensive to run printer handling the largest amount of printing whilst a much cheaper to run printer stands idle elsewhere.
- Does the network actually work? Some networks with expensive equipment are badly configured or put together, a few simple changes can have them running at full speed again.
- Do computers have all the right software on them? Modern networks allow your service provider to roll out new software automatically to every computer and to run a report to show what software is on each machine. Do they do this?
- If a new piece of software needs installing can the technician roll it out to all of the computers in a relatively short time, or does it take weeks and then doesn’t end up on all of the computers? See above!
- Do computers have access to the right printers?
- Do all of your computers (PC, Apple, Linux, iPads, etc) integrate together? Can you produce work on one and easily access it from another? This is not always easy but it should be possible. More and more software allows data to be shared between programs. Networks, servers and apps like SharePoint, Google Drive and Dropbox or your VLE should allow you to access work from any platform.
- Is the anti-virus system up to date and actually working? If not, why not?
- Do your computers update automatically or does the technician spend hours doing them manually? Or at all?
- If a hard disc or the operating system fails can it be restored to working order quickly or does it take weeks? Any system under warranty should have repairs done straight away but often the warranty doesn’t cover data restoration. Modern systems should allow the technician to restore a machine back to full operation in an hour or so with little intervention – in other words, they don’t have to sit in front of it all the time!
- Does the backup work? Has it been tested recently? If someone accidentally deletes a piece of work, can your technician get it back quickly?
- Are users accountable? If someone sends a huge print job to a printer, can you find out who it was? Easily?
- Do you have a full audit of all equipment including purchase price and date of purchase? There are free bits of software that will audit networked equipment for you, you just need to add the extra information like date of purchase and price. Having this information is invaluable for planning a strategy for replacing and updating your system.
- Do you have a plan or strategy for replacing / updating your equipment?
- Do you have a strategy for relocating equipment around the school as it gets older? As mentioned earlier, some people need fast, all singing, all dancing equipment, some can make do with older, slower equipment. Teachers are going to feel more confident, and valued, if their workstation can actually play the video they want to show. The workstation in the office may only need to run much less demanding office software!
Website and VLE
- Is your website up to date? Does it have the correct staff on it? Does it have an up to date calendar, or can we still see last year’s term time dates? Has the content changed at all? Is it attracting parents or pupils or prospective employees?
- Can the Ofsted inspector see the information that they want on the website?
- Does the website celebrate and showcase your pupil’s work?
- Does the VLE serve any purpose? Are you paying for something you don’t use? Could it be of use?
If these questions raise concerns about your system then why not contact me for a chat to see if I can help you. I have worked in educational ICT for over 20 years and have considerable experience of helping schools make more effective use of their ICT without breaking the budget. I can help you identify areas that can be most easily improved and help you to plan towards an ICT system that aids learning rather than hindering.
If you and your school would like help and advice then do contact me to see how I might be able to help.