Friday 9 May 2008

A laptop for every tutor

There you go. I've said it. Took a bit of nerve but not as much thought as I'd expected. I had to write an E-learning Strategy a few weeks ago and the more I looked at what was happening the more it became clear that a simple, single action could make far more difference to bringing technology's benefits to our students. Give every tutor a laptop.

With a new building looming for 2010 we're now in that phase where it is so easy for any requests for new equipment or changes to rooms to be answered with sentences beginning "Well, when we have the new building . . . " or the slightly better but still unsatisfying "Planning the new building will take that into account . . . " That still means two whole academic years by my calculations and simply isn't acceptable or, more importantly, necessary.

The problem I have to deal with is rooms with no computers coupled with tutors having to share computers in the staff room. So even if a tutor does have a room with some equipment, he often hasn't been able to have sufficient access to a computer (when and where he wants it) to work ILT into his sessions or put materials and things on-line. Or if he is lucky and has a computer to work on, he then is unable to use the lovely stuff in a technology-bare space!

Against my advice several smartboards were slapped up in rooms but are not used particularly effectively as smartboards and the cost of the whole installation comes out at not much under £3000. It was when I realised that that could now buy 10 laptops that I began to formulate the new policy.

With 100 staff, the maximum cost would be £30,000 but a good number already have a computer and where there are 2 between 6 in a room that is only 4 new ones needed. Laptops with wireless built in are the norm these days and my initial checks have found access is feasible in most rooms so there's not much need for any cabling or IT Services staff costs which often cause projects to be jettisoned at early stages. My guess is that it would cost nearer half that and would be an instant hit with staff. I'd like to include part-time staff too but that's a bit tricky - something along the lines of laptops available for them while they're there may work if they don't all want them at 9am on a Tuesday.

We've got a pile of projectors and whatever money has been sifted away from more smartboards can go to just them instead.

Who knows, I may soon be able to get on with getting ILT more visibly used across the College as there'll be no excuse then at least for tutors to carry huge piles of paper everywhere if there's a smart ILT option available, which there usually will be.

It is so bizarrely simple. I have been saying it for years but now, doing the Strategy, it may actually happen. Now I've been saying that all this e-stuff is a bit old hat now but if an E-learning Strategy gets me what tutors want then I may keep quiet on that one for a while!

There is a lot more in the Strategy document and if anyone wants to use it to help draft theirs then I'm happy to share it, minus identifying features. I'll add a link soon.

There's only one e in education

Despite a post which I'll be publishing shortly about E-learning strategy, or maybe as a result of thinking about that, I have come to the conclusion that there's little point in the expression e-learning. It really isn't terribly difficult to talk about using technology to enhance learning and, although there could be some subtle differences if we are being pedantic, most staff understand this as ILT, which, unless you're fresh from teaching in the States, seems to have stood the test of time and is understood for what it is, learning with IT, and everyone knows IT now.

In fact, if it wasn't for government agencies perpetuating the term (and worse ones like eCPD, e-tools e-etc.,) I'm sure it wouldn't have survived this long.

The test of a good term is whether normal people start using it (reasonably correctly). All of us who live with technology and all that it offers in education know what we mean but I'm not so sure our colleagues do. They certainly would be hard pushed to distinguish it from ILT so why bother trying?

There is also a huge chasm opening up between places like my FE College and mostly private training organsations and course providers who use e-learning to mean on-line learning, or distance learning or quite specific packages of materials that deliver session materials with little tutor involvement. Indeed, the growth of these in the commercial sector is founded upon the very fact that organisations can save a fortune by substituting these 'e-learning' packages for human tutor packages and the rather more swish image that the monitor presents in comparison to the usually rather less than swish, and tending to the dowdy, appearance in the flesh of the human.

Interestingly, OFSTED inspectors at a recent visit to an FE College commented on the use of ILT and, to the best of my knowledge, made no reference to e-learning at all. Some may say they're behind the times but I reckon they've got it about right.