Moving to Online Administration

I had an interesting meeting in the digital hub yesterday. It was my first time there. I really like the layout of the place with its mix of the old Liberties Dublin exterior and cool kitch plastic ΓΌber modern interior. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how technology could improve the administration of a primary school teacher and principal.
Firstly, we discussed collaboration, in particular document collaboration. I’ve been using Google Docs, one of the excellent Google Apps, to share all school plans and policies. We also upload any standardised testing results and other important documents. A cool feature I really love is the fact that several of us can be working on a document at the same time without conflicts or problems like that. The fact that Microsoft is going to be releasing a similar online version of MS Office is interesting but did Google get a huge headstart?
Other great collaborative tools in Google Apps include shared calendars. This is another tool our school use, particularly myself and my school secretary. We’re hoping that more staff will use the facility to book course days, meetings and professional development days.
My only problem with Google Apps is when a new member of staff joins the fold. He/she has to be invited to see all documents on the server individually rather than being automatically entitled to see everything. The same goes for the calendars which is a pity.
We moved on to talk about the paperwork that frustrates me as a principal. My biggest gripe is the school roll book. I find this archaic green monstrosity of a book a nightmare when trying to analyse it for statistics, NEWB returns and balancing the numbers at the end of the year. This year, I’ve computerized our roll book in that teachers will fill in absences on a spreadsheet and this will automatically be sent to the secretary. Sadly, because it’s the law, the actual roll book will then have to be filled in. Although this initially appears to take more time, when it comes to returns, all the counts have been done up thus saving time. We discussed an ideal situation where we would simply fill a register online everyday and stats would automatically go to the DES or NEWB and the roll book (and CΓΊntas Tinnreamh) would be at last extinct.
Finally we spoke about technology at primary level in general in learning. As Moodle is right now, I don’t see it as a nice option at primary level as there doesn’t seem to be a way to make it look child friendly. I believe aesthetics are the MOST important aspect of any software at primary level. (Look at Promethean’s IWB software’s popularity over the much better resourced Smart Notebook software). Primary teachers, especially non-techie ones, will choose a prettier interface over the generic Windows-style GUI, in my opinion.
So the challenge for this company is to create a virtual roll book for schools. I would suggest a program that visually looks as close to the actual roll book as possible, initially, (ie versions 1, 2 and maybe more before changing to a more 21st century look) in order to create the illusion that things have not completely changed. However, even the diehard traditionalists will find it difficult to complain at 12:30 on the 30th June, when they don’t have to balance their roll book figures as they will have already been done. Likewise the principal will be able to tick off one of his/her many jobs as the NEWB returns will no longer have to be done either. Isn’t technology great?

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