On the wall of my office (detail in the image above), along with the photos of my children and bits and bobs that seem to have grown there, there's a very old photocopy of an ad that used to hang on the wall of an office I had in another lifetime, when I was Director of Studies (DoS) in another language school.
It's an ad for what was once called Cheshire Homes, a charity which "enables" the disabled. There's a sign on the table you can see above which says simply that: "Enabled".
I believe that's the job of a DoS — to "enable" all of his/her staff to do their jobs better and I think that also ought to be the role of technology, to enable us to do things better, quicker, more efficiently, with "things" in a school including (but not limited to) teaching and learning.
Do's and don'ts for a DoS
In July at IH Barcelona, we have a Director of Studies course on which I give a session on technology. The following is an edited version of the round-up from that session.
- Keep up with how technology is developing. It's bringing lots of opportunities with it — mobile devices and mobile learning, social media and social media marketing, and cloud computing, to give just three examples. Places like Edudemic, Edutopia, Mindshift and TeachThought (and following them on social media) will also keep you up-to-date.
- DON'T buy into technological gimmicks. Don't spend a fortune on installing interactive whiteboards (IWBs) or providing every learner with an iPad, just because you think doing so will give you an advantage over your competitors: it won't unless (a) you provide proper training for your staff and (b) the "gimmicks" then get used for better, more engaging learning.
- Provide the best possible technology you can afford for all staff (and not just teachers but for your reception and admin people too) and learners; what is in offices and staffrooms and the bar is just as important as what's in classrooms. As far as the learners are concerned, especially if you have lots from abroad, "technology" includes high speed, ubiquitous wifi, which doesn't grind to a halt when everyone who wants to use it attempts to log on.
- Enable your staff. Through technology, and through virtually everything else you do as DoS, enable your staff to do their jobs better, faster.
Training and technical support are more important than technology, which really has no place in a school if the training and support are not in place to back it up
- Training. Provide ongoing, just-in-time training for both teaching and non-teaching staff. With things like IWBs, it has to be ongoing, not a single session before the year begins. And with technology, just-in-time works far better than just-in-case.
- Technical support. Ensure that you have technical support, preferably in-house, who deal with problems fast; training and technical support are more important than the technology itself, which really has no place in any school if the training and support are not in place to back it up.
- Ensure that technology is used well in classrooms. "Well" means that it leads to lots of language learning, that it leads to engagement rather than merely entertainment. You will best achieve that through both training and observation and/or peer teaching, as well as having some way of sharing of ideas that work (or don't!) and gathering feedback from all (Google Drive forms are amazing for that!), including the learners.
- Encourage and contribute to the sharing of ideas. You probably want to provide a digital platform on which that can take place (Edmodo or a blog — the latter private or otherwise — would be my platforms of choice, though a Google+ Community or Moodle, if you are already using the latter, would be alternatives)
- Give cyberspace the attention, time, effort and resources it now requires. Cyberspace includes your website (its design and mobile-friendliness; its updating; and its search engine results (aka SEO); your social media presence and social media marketing. Your school probably needs to be on Facebook and Google+ and Instagram and Twitter and YouTube but you don't really want to be there if you aren't going to have someone devote time and energy to it. While you're at it, as DoS, you and your school should also probably be on LinkedIn.
- Encourage, appreciate and reward everything your staff do — with (and without!) technology, at every opportunity.