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On a path to nowhere

ICT teachers need more training and time out to manage the problems of upgrade hell, writes Helen Yewlett.

Come back NOF, all is forgiven. Well, not quite - and this time could you metamorphose into something slightly more useful to us poor devils who daily deliver information and communications technology teaching in secondary schools?

NOF was the pound;230 million Lottery-funded New Opportunities Fund ICT training initiative, launched in 1999, with the aim of helping teachers make the most of the new computer resources that were being placed in schools.

It was delivered with various levels of success depending on a multitude of factors. Often it failed to reach the parts it should have, to paraphrase the famous advert. Occasionally it delivered superbly well. At the time, I found the whole process frustrating, since it was tied up with criteria that virtually prevented me, an ICT teacher and deliverer of A-level computing, from having the training I sought.

Why should I want it back? Well, imagine this. You are in charge of all the ICT teaching in a secondary school. You need to have in place worksheets for every lesson, and if you have staff who are not subject specialists teaching ICT, you need to give them mouse-click-by-mouse-click instructions on how to use the software they need to use with pupils.

You have approximately 800 lessons to prepare, which means around 20 lessons a week requiring appropriate worksheets.

Then you go on holiday and when you come back, your systems manager has upgraded the software. In our case, it was from one version of Microsoft Office to another, which shouldn't have been a problem. But you start checking all your notes and you realise that you cannot just hand them out to the pupils and the non-ICT staff in the hope that all will be well - it won't be.

Even when there are hardly any differences between the original software and the upgrade, the notes need to be checked and altered appropriately.

All of them. And every time the software is updated.

For example, the software user paths have been changed. User paths? You may have seen them, they look like this U:ICTportfoliowordprocessing - only now they may be H:ICTportfoliowordprocessing or T:ICTportfoliowordprocessing or something different again. But get the user path wrong and things simply do not work.

We had made PowerPoint presentations to show the pupils how to do some of the tricky skills. To get an A* our pupils need to create a user form in visual Basic, definitely a tricky skill. They place on the form two buttons. If they click on the button that says Christmas, the Christmas template they created earlier then appears on the screen - slick stuff.

I just had not reckoned that not only would the user paths be different but that the new version of Office would insist that we changed the security of the document, then save the document, then re-open the document before it would allow us to run our user form.

It took me ages to work out why things were falling apart and hours to produce the new PowerPoint showing teachers and pupils how to change the security settings, save, close, open and create the user form.

If NOF reappeared in a metamorphosed state, it would allow me time off timetable to explore the new software. I could access a genuine expert who could tell me in seconds how to do a mail merge only to people living within Swansea, and how to call this up by pressing a button on a user form.

God knows, I have spent hours trying to work it out. The textbooks I have found that show this facility are based on Office 2000 and the instructions just do not transfer to Office XP. Even my computer whizz-kids have drawn a blank on this one. We are, however, on the case.

And I still have not really got my head around the software that enables me to write quality interactive whiteboard lessons. Neither have I had time to experiment with packages like Dreamweaver that allow me to produce web pages.

Yes, I could do with NOF. In the meantime I am off to sort out tomorrow's lessons.

Helen Yewlett is head of computing at Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera, Neath Port Talbot

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