IT blossoms the old-fashioned way

Good personal communication, networking and enthusiasm for technology lift the paperless colleges

Joseph Lee

The secret to colleges making the best use of technology is old- fashioned personal relationships, according to Becta, the Government's IT agency.

A report examining the practice of colleges that have integrated technology into all their work said a defining feature of their success was good personal communication and networking.

For technology to really have an impact, staff needed good personal relationships to network, make deals happen between departments, and to communicate good practice and enthusiasm for the potential of technological change.

The report, Harnessing Technology: Realising the Benefits, said that only a quarter of colleges were judged to have reached e-maturity, meaning IT was being used effectively to ensure a better education for students. But that figure is up from just 6 per cent in 2003.

It examined the work of three high-performing colleges, Newcastle College, Alton College and St Helens College.

Jane Machell, principal of Alton College, said her sixth form college had eliminated paper based systems and made staff into enthusiasts for technology.

She said: "All staff at the college have their own laptops or PC workstations and are users of the college system. Paper based systems are now obsolete across the college. Constant interest and enthusiasm in developing the quality of provision ensures that technology has a central role."

Alton College designed a customised system to track students' progress with the input of staff, after previous systems did not meet their needs. Now it has a highly visual "traffic light" system, which automatically generates warnings for missed homework or classes.

"Staff see it as an indispensable part of their working life," the report said.

Among the effects of technology found at the colleges was the ability to share resources, to share data that fostered productive competition within the college and to increase collaborative work.

In order to achieve this, Becta said college leaders and governors needed to be optimistic about the future and about technology, and determined to invest in it.

Key middle managers with technical know-how, good personal relationships and entrepreneurial skills needed to be freed to lead developments. Equipment needs to be constantly updated and technology is automatically seen as a solution to improving education.

Similarly, the report said investment in people was important so that staff can use equipment confidently and generate enthusiasm about the changes.

Stephen Crowne, chief executive of Becta, said: "Colleges that have put technology at the heart of learning have reaped the rewards and will never look back.

"This report shows that using technology confidently, for the benefits of all learners, has had an energising impact on college staff by raising confidence, lifting skills, reducing paperwork and releasing time."


- Create an optimistic vision for the college that embraces the uncertainty of change and acknowledges the inevitability of investment in technology.

- Empower middle managers with technical skills to lead developments.

- Continually update systems and invest in the development of staff.

- Work out which decisions need a careful risk assessment and which need rapid, decisive action.

Source: Becta.

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Joseph Lee

Joseph Lee is an award-winning freelance education journalist 

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