Time for a Change?
Over the last few months many schools have discussed with me the opportunity to change the ICT pathway being taken by their school. This has included changing the preferred device, platform (Operating System) or one of their main software platforms. Some examples were moving from iPads to PC or Macs, moving to iPads, changing from Mac to PC, changing from Microsoft Office 365 to Google Applications for Education (GAFE).
These moves were generally based on a feeling they were using ICT that no longer met the needs of the school. Quite often, someone in senior management has experienced a system that seemed to work better either at another school or from a demonstration.
Schools should always use a change management process when a significant change to ICT systems is proposed. I suggest that any change with campus wide implications should have a process applied which ensures you are not moving to a ‘Grass is Greener’ type of change that carries the risk of negative implications which significantly outweigh the potential benefits.
The first step in the process should be to assess the current strategic vision/plan for the use of ICT within the school. I always suggest this step be completed before major changes with a potential to impact on the strategic plan for the school is contemplated. When ICT thinking is at the forefront of change it is the best time to ensure the strategic vision still fits and the plan supports that vision.
After the strategic plan has been validated then I suggest that you should create a check list of the points the change being contemplated intersects with the strategic plan, then confirm both old and new systems comply with the strategic plan. These check points need to be objective with definitive links to the strategic plan. Quite often we get caught up with subjective statements about ICT which are very dependent upon personal preference. If those preconceived, normally unsubstantiated biases are included in this stage of the process they will corrupt the outcome.
Following the first two steps it may be the only possible way ahead is for a change to happen.
If both the original system and the one which has been proposed both meet the strategic needs of the school you should now assess these systems against each other to map the benefits of each. You now need to build a feature table for all systems in contention for deployment. I would suggest interviewing or surveying as many of the interested parties as possible. Empowering parents, students and staff in these decisions is time consuming and complex but provides great visibility about the change. Determine what is important to all involved in this decision. At this stage you will almost certainly be experiencing some of those subjective, preconceived ideas about technology. It is now time for them be incorporated into the decision making process as they will have an effect on your deployment either in raising expectations or creating criticism.
There are some very good tools available for collecting input from interested parties. These will allow for either anonymous or validated data collection and can be very powerful tools to aid the process. I often use a surveying tool to help with determining the popularity of options I propose. The data analysis tools within these on line packages are very strong.
Once you have the community needs defined by the information gathering process, they should to be cross-checked against the strategic plan to ensure they’re not at odds. It is possible the community has a feature in mind for the technology which is against the strategic vision of the school. An example could be that when consulted the students wanted integration of the latest social media site and the strategic plan already specifically outlaws implementing those services.
When a full list of features is complete then the alternative technologies should be compared based on those feature sets. This comparison should be objective to ensure a fact based decision.
If this process is followed you will have change that is well researched and well communicated to all parties with the final decision based on solid evidence based outcomes.
The procedure above gives no weight to some other significant considerations in a change process.
Current Corporate Knowledge
If technology being replaced has been incorporated into curriculum and/or administrative functions, there will already be a knowledge base on the use of that system. If this has already been a lengthy deployment, the understanding of how integrated existing technology is can be very difficult to obtain. My experience has shown me that a lot of people can be using technology without understanding the intricacies of that use. When we changed our student administrative processes it took about six months to sort out those processes to work on the new system because there was very little documentation and the staff ’just did it’ without understanding how much double handling was going on.
Previous Corporate Effort
The effort put into Professional Development (PD) of Teachers on IT has been significant. Sometimes we forget how much effort has been put into that PD over many years. If the new system doesn’t utilise the PD you need to understand the cost of replicating that level of PD on the new system.
Previous personal effort
Teachers and other staff may have spent many years developing their resources to work on, or with, a particular technology platform and you are planning how to move on. You should acknowledge the effort and be prepared to add the cost for replicating that effort for them. If you do not acknowledge the effort of those staff, you risk staff being unwilling to adopt the next system as their previous effort is not appreciated.
Although ICT is constantly changing there is no reason to constantly change technology. Sometimes it is worth taking a deep breath and thinking everything through. I think it’s important to always value the progress that has already been made.
If there is no way you can carry out this sort of process within the current resources within the school, look outside the school, there are many companies and resources available to assist with making sure change is well handled.