'The New Technologies Handbook for Schools' ties future to past for Gerald Haigh
As a child, I was fascinated by a very thick book of my grandfather’s called Enquire Within Upon Everything, with answers to just about every question you could think of. So comprehensive was it that my Grandma was dubious about my interest – I guess she was suspicious that “Everything” might include, well, “that”. She never interfered though, and nothing remotely approaching “that” was in there.
Why did I think of Grandfather’s book? Because Paul Haigh’s new e-book is, in the nicest possible way, its own sort of Enquire Within Upon Everything, covering as it does just about the entirety of school ICT, from vision to practical reality, and always with a careful eye on the key business of learning.
There are four main sections to The New Technologies Handbook for Schools: Maximising the impact of ICT to transform learning – “ICT Strategy and new technologies”, “Using the new technologies in the school”, “Parents and the wider community” and “Social network websites”. A further section has a glossary, and a list of links and further reading.
Paul Haigh is very clear about his mission. “I passionately believe that new technology has the power to revolutionise learning and that even the best schools are struggling to scratch the surface of what is possible today.”
That passion is there, sure enough. But it’s certainly not the kind of visionary book that leaves you thinking, “OK, but what do I actually have to do?” Because, you see, he actually does tell you what to do.
One way to get Paul Haigh’s message is to read the book end to end, like a novel. It certainly works like that – there’s a coherent narrative moving from vision to implementation and on to maturity. A school leader who is stirred to find out what this ICT business is all about may well use the book in that way.
That’s possible, but my feeling is that most readers, of whatever level of expertise, will look at the headings and be drawn initially to whatever are their current hot topics. They’re all there after all, including the ones you’ve undoubtedly chewed over -- interactive whiteboards, parental engagement, social networking.
'Most interactive whiteboards are at best just electronic blackboards'
They’re dealt with wisely and with a careful eye to the fact that not all schools, or teachers, or families, are the same. I like the author’s take on IWBs, for example, a subject about which some teachers get quite heated. He handles it nicely through the medium of a letter to a visiting teacher from Australia, someone who’s specifically asked to see IWBs in action. His reply says, in effect that it’s fine to look at good IWB use, and it’s there to be seen, but there’s more to ICT than that.
“The use of a computer, projector and screen is fundamental and every classroom should have them, but most interactive whiteboards are at best just electronic blackboards, which tie the teacher to the front delivering learning in a modernised version of traditional didactic ‘chalk and talk’. Not a bad thing often but an expensive way of achieving this and it can encourage the teacher to teach like this too much.”
For me, the first port of call was to see what the book says about bringing student-owned devices on to the school network. It seems pretty obvious to me that accepting student devices is surely a foolproof way for any school to transform its ratio of devices to students, I was keen to read Haigh’s chapter on the subject. His stance is clear and resonates through the whole book.
“….schools that prevent students from working with new technology as a first impulse rather than an occasional added extra are suffocating their learning,”
'Dealing with the media' section should be required reading for all teachers and heads
Extend this to what the world calls “mobile phones” though, and as the author has found, you can stir up a hornets’ nest. The section in his book called “Dealing with the media – a personal experience” should be required reading for all teachers and heads. In October 2009 Haigh’s views on the value of using students’ own mobile devices in school were widely reported, and the media sniffed the air, picked up the scent of “teacher actually encourages dreaded mobile phones in school” and went to town along lines that aren’t difficult to imagine.
Despite the fact that, according to Becta, 11 percent of schools already allowed mobile phones and that other schools were ahead of what he was doing in Sheffield, and despite the fact that he was discussing mobile devices for learning and not as aids to happy slapping, he was largely pilloried. It all “...illustrated how little the general population know about the power the average mobile phone has, or how little they respect the professional ability of the teaching profession to select what technology works in learning and when those tools are appropriate.”
There are issues, of course, technical and pedagogic around the business of integrating a varied range of devices in school, including those owned by students. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Haigh concludes that most of the problems go away when you use the Cloud for your school systems and provide web-based access for anyone who needs it staff, students, parents. Right from the beginning of the book, in fact, Haigh plunges into an explanation of the Cloud, and provides practical examples of collaboration with Google docs, and of children working in the cloud with Etherpads.
'The book is visionary but it’s a vision that’s well leavened with reality'
Practicality, in fact, is the name of the game here. Yes, the book is visionary – Paul Haigh is way ahead of most when it comes to seeing what ICT can do for learning – but it’s a vision that’s well leavened with reality. Which is to say that he knows how to make things work in real schools. He’s very aware, for example, of the importance of having the right leadership structure for ICT – the most effective mix of senior, middle and technical leadership and management.
Look at any of the schools that are applauded for their work in ICT and you’ll find that they’ve got that team right. So, under the general heading of “Turning the vision into reality”, Haigh has a section on people that’s not just about leadership in general, but on the appropriate, named management and leadership posts, such as “technical manager” and “assistant headteacher (innovation)”.
He goes into some detail about the spread of responsibilities because he, quite rightly, knows how important is this oft-neglected area. Without the right leadership structure nothing else in the book is going to achieve its potential.
Practicality in support of vision is equally evident in the way Haigh has a constant eye on the need for good professional development. In fact it’s quite possible to see the whole book as an effective CPD handbook on “How to develop and run your school’s ICT policy”. It comes, for example, complete with the necessary support material. So there’s a self-assessment “Where are we now?” activity and PowerPoint presentations including one on “Navigating the way to future learning” that covers everything from “Why ICT?” through VLE and MIS to parental engagement. That one’s so comprehensive, in fact, that it would ideally be used part by part over a period of days or weeks, depending on the leader’s judgment of pace.
All in all, Paul Haigh has made here a significant contribution in the drive to help school leaders see the potential of ICT as a transformer of learning. Now, though, it needs to be picked up and put into action, over a well-judged time scale, in schools or across groups of schools, by those who can see its potential and have the will to bring it to classroom and staffroom life.
The book’s value for CPD is considerably enhanced by the fact that as an e-book it’s very flexible and searchable, and it has a site licence allowing it to be distributed internally and posted on the school network. It also comes with .zip files of four PowerPoint presentations – so as well as the aforementioned very comprehensive “Navigating the way to future learning”, there’s “E-safety for parents”, “E-safety for staff” and an example “Primary pad lesson.”
The New Technologies Handbook for Schools: Maximising the impact of ICT to transform learning
By Paul Haigh
e-Book, £89, from Optimus Education, www.optimus-education.com
Gerald Haigh is a freelance journalist and the author of Inspirational – and Cautionary – Tales for Would be School Leaders (Routledge) and Jobs and Interviews Pocketbook (Teachers' Pocketbooks) His regular Five Things To Think About columns can be seen on the National College's Future website. You can follow Gerald Haigh on Twitter.
Gerald adds: Enquire Within Upon Everything was in print for 120 years 1856 to 1976, running to 126 print editions. It's still available as a free e book (nice irony there) from Project Gutenberg.