I sometimes feel that the ICT coordinator or Education Technology leader is one of the hardest working staff members at a school. Not only do they have to be on top of their own subject area but they usually need to be well aware of how technology can support other subject areas. Combine this with the need to be aware of current trends and developments in educational technology and you can begin to see that it can be a very challenging and demanding role.
It is also a very important role within a school, not only because it often commands a high budget but also because of its significance and its potential in modern teaching practice. A good and effective ICT coordinator can have a big role to play in the design and delivery of the curriculum and in the successful outcome of students’ learning.
One important aspect of the ICT coordinator’s role is to act as a bridge between new technologies or new approaches using technology and what goes on in the classroom. If a piece of new kit, software package or way of using technology is to become embedded in classroom practice, then it is usually via the ICT coordinator. Similarly, if there is any change or replacement that needs to be made in terms of ICT provision or practice, then it is usually via the ICT coordinator that such decisions are made.
Any need or desire for change could arise in a variety of ways. It could come from a classroom teacher or subject leader who feels that current provision or ways of working are not effective. It could come from a change of philosophy or approach within a department or the school as a whole. It might also come about as a result of the kit becoming old, broken or no longer up to the job. It could also come from external sources such as a change in government policy, new initiatives, or just simply from someone in the school wishing to trial a new piece of kit. It could also arise as a consequence of general changes in the nature of technology, which is a world that seems to change rapidly. Few people would want to make change just for the sake of change but there is usually a desire within each of us in the profession to make best use of technology for the benefit of learners.
So far, I have written about the ICT coordinator being a ‘bridge’ to enable change and development to take place. Sometimes, of course, a bridge needs to control the amount of traffic crossing over it. Anything too heavy might cause the bridge to collapse and too many things crossing at once could cause a jam. Sometimes, this can be a problem for the ICT coordinator in determining how much and how frequently to introduce changes over his bridge; too much could overwhelm staff and anything badly planned or ill-prepared could lead staff to become hostile toward technology.
Sometimes, however, the ICT coordinator can become a ‘barrier’, someone who actually tries to prevent change from taking place or to block the adoption of new technologies or new ways of working with technology. To be fair, sometimes this is as a consequence of policies within the school or of factors such as budgetary constraints. Sometimes it can be an unwitting consequence of other decisions; so a school or ICT coordinator committed to only using Open Source software could be a barrier to providers of commercial or proprietary software. Similarly, a school which prefers to purchase from only one or a few chosen suppliers could become a barrier to products offered by other suppliers. Such issues, in themselves, may not be a serious problem but what if they led to the failure to implement/adopt cheaper or more effective ways of learning?
Sometimes, however, the ICT coordinator can act as a barrier in other ways. They might feel that the school is not making effective use of the technology they already have. In such a case the ICT coordinator might feel it is better to get the school using its current provision more effectively before taking on anything new. That may seem reasonable if it is accompanied by increased training but it could counter productive if that training is simply in using outdated software or old methods of working. Change, such as the introduction of new kit, new software or new ideas, can often be the kick start for training.
An ICT coordinator can sometimes provide barriers to new ideas and kit if they feel overwhelmed by their current kit and provision. The workload of any teacher can be considerable but as mentioned at the beginning of this post, the role of ICT coordinator seems more demanding than many other positions within a school. It’s important therefore for the ICT coordinator to be well organised, well supported, and very versatile in order to best fulfill the role. Even the best ICT coordinator, though can still feel overwhelmed at times and often this is a sign of other factors, such as too much kit, inappropriate kit, poorly functioning kit or a lack of support within the school. The important thing at such times might be for the ICT coordinator not to allow themselves to become ‘jaded’ and block new ideas and innovation but rather to seek out the cause of the problem and remedy it as effectively as they can. Planning a change can be a good way of identifying current problems and how to tackle them, such planning could include an audit of current resources, usage and needs; it can become a way for the ICT coordinator to regain momentum in leading rather than being overwhelmed by the role.
There is one further way in which an ICT coordinator, just like any other staff member, can become a barrier rather than a bridge. Each of us has a certain ‘comfort’ level with regard to technology and its use. That is to say that the ways we use technology and the type of technology with which we are familiar, are things we are comfortable with. However, new technology and ideas may make us feel uncomfortable, particularly if they involve new ways of operating or require the need for training. This can be just as true for the tech-savvy ICT coordinator who is required, say, to learn Photoshop, as it is for the technophobe who’s being asked to switch on a computer. There are degrees to which of us are resistant to change and wish to remain within our ‘comfort’ zones. The importance is to recognise and acknowledge this but not to allow it to become a personal or professional barrier.
I am sure that each of us, whether as an ICT coordinator or any other role within education, would prefer to act as a bridge rather than a barrier. I’m sure we would all rather be a supporter of learners’ education than an obstacle. There may be those times, though, when we do become a barrier and the importance is to recognise this and to strive as best we can to become a bridge once more.