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What happens when your tech whiz leaves?

Principals need to build a sustainable e-learning model in their school that can cope with the vagaries of staff turnover, writes David Kinane.

ICT knowledge and skills are assets and I’m always telling schools that they need to plan for e-learning sustainability. If they’re not properly planned for and managed then e-learning – like so many other education initiatives – can suffer, stalling and even stopping

when a key member of staff moves on.

How can principals guard against this? Part of the problem is one of invisibility. The caricature of the administrator in the Monty Python ‘Machine that goes bing’ sketch (fizurl.com/mpbing) can be seen as a metaphor for an all too common approach to ICT and e-learning. The administrator [sic principal] knows how much the machine costs and

has done some fantastically tortuous accounting to save money, but has no idea what the machine is or for what purpose the machine exists. It just goes bing!

Within a school, all ICT purchases are on the asset register. They can be counted, demonstrated and depreciated. Leases are a debt and a strict asset/debt ratio has to be adhered to. Staff training is a budget entry and so an investment picture, a commitment to ICT and e-learning can be demonstrated by a principal to the BOT. However, is this a sustainable e-learning model for the classroom?

E-learning time bomb

What’s missing here is the financial cost of the value add that this financial outlay creates. Add to the mix of investment in infrastructure, hardware and training a creative teacher, and you have an e-learning sustainability time bomb called intellectual property.

Roya Ghafale, Associate Economic Officer at WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) says that: “…the focus of management is concentrated on these assets, which in an increasingly knowledge driven economy, are no longer the main determinants of success.” (fizurl.com/ip) The point is that, budget permitting, machines can be replaced quickly and without causing loss of momentum within a class. The loss of a teacher who is skilled in the use of the equipment and who has honed their e-learning skills leaves a much larger hole to fill.

It’s this resulting loss of knowledge that significantly impacts upon the momentum of e-learning within that one class and, ultimately the sustainability of e-learning as a whole within the school.

Teachers worth more than hardware

Ghafale goes on to say that: “IP exists independently of a product or service, and, therefore, is valuable.” While it’s difficult to put a dollar value on the loss of e-learning intellectual property contained within one teacher, it’s significantly more than the sum of its hardware and training parts. I argue that it should be considered as a significant dollar loss to a school each time a skilled teacher leaves.

Once viewed this way it is easy to start to consider ways of minimising financial loss to the school. It’s time for all schools to regard this hidden asset as one that needs to be actively captured and retained within the school from all teachers and kept as an asset for

all new and existing staff to use.

ICT skills just walk out of the door

“The employer has paid for the knowledge, skill and time of the teacher, and therefore has a right to claim ownership of whatever is produced,” wrote Gubb and partners in 2003 on the specific case of IP in New Zealand schools (fizurl.com/moeip). How many schools actually use this to capture what is rightfully theirs whilst a teacher is in their school and rue the loss of that knowledge once the teacher has left? I suspect that it is rather too many. The ‘laisez faire’ attitude that I have witnessed from some principals who knowingly let a good skills set and wealth of IP walk out of the door, believing that the skills of the new incumbent will compensate for those just lost, is a guaranteed skills mis-match and an organisational momentum killer.

ICT knowledge and skills should be actively collected and accumulated not randomly swapped.

It’s not necessary for a principal to learn all of the e-learning skills in their school to ensure sustainability (although it would be nice to see more principals engaging with it and modelling it). What’s needed is for them to generate and manage systems and procedures that capture, disperse, share, model and value e-learning as a whole within their schools. It will be the deliberate creation of such systems that can accommodate staff turnover, including theirs, that ensures that the significant financial investment made in ICT by the school is protected and enabled to perpetually flourish.

David Kinane is a specialist school ICT consultant and writes for INTERFACE Magazine.

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Categories: Article, Issue 26

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