Today I attended a seminar for primary school principals, which was given by the National Council for Technology in Education, (NCTE), in Kilkenny. I was very interested in this seminar as I believed that I would be hearing all about the €150m grant that was recently announced. Although this was indeed the case, the NCTE used the chance to tell principals about their new eLearning plan and some updates on Broadband and Continuing Professional Development.
The big news was the first phase of this €150m grant, €22m of which is about to be unleashed onto primary schools to invest in hardware. There has been a bit of confusion of late regarding whether schools will have to use the money in a particular way or whether we can spend it ad lib.
Today this was cleared up.
Schools must use the NCTE’s procurement procedure. The procedure has two phases. The first one includes: PCs, laptops, printers and projectors. Schools must buy equipment from this list using their grant for all their classrooms before thinking about anything else. Now, just before you get on the phone to your favourite supplier, there’s a further restriction. You must use their procurement suppliers. This means that you have to send an email to a particular address stating the types of hardware (from the above list) and the specs you require. You should then get a few emails back over a few days from pre-selected companies with their best offers. You can then purchase your piece of equipment.
Interestingly, the people who came up with this €150m plan, happen to be from industry. I was thinking they weren’t going to do this for free. It looks like the pre-selected companies on the procurement procedures all come from this list: Lenovo, Microsoft, etc.
More interestingly, the prices of these PCs and peripherals is much more expensive than what you’d expect to pay in a shop. A laptop will cost a minimum of €500 by the looks of things and a PC, €400. I can get really good refurbished PCs and Laptops for half those prices but I won’t be allowed. In fact, even if you were to buy equivalent equipment in a shop like PC World, you’d find it much cheaper. Your poor local IT shop won’t be getting a penny either.
But what if you already have PCs, laptops, printers and projectors in every room? Good for you, you can now select stuff from List 2 from the procurement list. This list includes networking hardware, Interactive Whiteboards and visualisers. However, you can’t go near this list unless you’ve been through list one. And before you ask…yes, they will be checking.
OK, so what about software? The bad news is that this grant is only for hardware. It’s looking very likely that software is going to be pushed aside for a VLE development. Nobody has told me this so it’s just a guess but if this Smart Plan is to be followed, this was a recommendation. If you are into software, I’d start converting your product into a SCORM compatible application.
Another part of this seminar was to introduce a rather impressive (and expensive) looking planning book. This is a guide to the four step procedure for creating an eLearning plan for your school. The steps are very good and the guide is excellent with some decent case studies.
However, my big big criticism is in the actual eLearning document. It is still in the form of a large poster with four stages of “e”ness – the initial stage, the e-Enabled stage, the e-Confident stage and the e-Mature stage. All four stages are at best arbirtary stages of a school’s ICT infrastructure and I found it very difficult to pinpoint where I was on more than half of the criteria. I was generally somewhere in between two criteria. I really didn’t want my school to become e-Mature in certain areas as we would have forgotten about pedagogy and become way too obsessed with the technology. I also thought some of the e-Mature statements could have settled well in the Initial stage. Another criticism is that some staff would consider themselves at one stage and some others at a completely different stage. Even writing this paragraph is confusing so god help schools trying to figure out where they are.
Finally, a segment was left to update us on broadband. People with satellite connections should be getting them replaced before 2011. People who object to being filtered from Web 2.0 applications like YouTube and Flickr will also be getting some new layers of filtering – 7 in total. Hopefully one of them will be completely unfiltered broadband.
All in all, the seminar was useful. I couldn’t leave without asking about Interactive Whiteboards and why they weren’t being recommended by the NCTE, considering this is where the demand on the ground is coming from. I had prepared myself for the NCTE line where it would be explained to me about how schools need to reach the stage where they would be “ready” to tackle IWBs and how they aren’t the best teaching tool, etc. I retorted with my prepared line about knowing the strengths and weaknesses of IWBs but the fact remained that if you asked any teacher in Ireland what piece of equipment they would like in their classroom, they would inevitably say “IWBs”. It was a small victory for me when the presenter couldn’t disagree.