IT needs the timid, not the adept
Schools must look beyond the staffroom "geeks" if they want to make the most of digital technology, according to a driving force behind one of the most IT-savvy local authorities.
David Gilmour, a learning technology specialist in East Lothian, told colleagues from around Scotland that the danger of entrusting digital learning to the most clued-up teachers was that everyone else then left them to get on with it.
"There's a real risk that other people take a step back because they say, `I'll never be as good as so-and-so," he said. "That's really dangerous - you end up with a situation where, if that person moves on, you're in trouble.
"I wouldn't necessarily go looking for the geekiest person who's most interested in technology."
Mr Gilmour, who was presenting at TeachMeet Scottish Learning Fringe, billed by organisers Pedagoo as a less formal alternative to the Scottish Learning Festival, advised targeting people who were nervous about IT. The emphasis should not be on technical proficiency, but on people "who have got something to say, or are really into parental involvement".
He added: "We are trying to avoid things that are really hard to do, that are so hard that only a geeky person can manage them."
There was "clearly a problem in engaging lots of teachers with technology" and the problem often lay in training that was too technical and made teachers "panic completely".
Standardised batch training of teachers should be avoided; instead, the starting point should be to identify what teachers want to get from training.
He drew an analogy with a central-heating system, which, with its esoteric manuals and finicky timers, was often complicated to get going - but people persevered because there was a clear benefit at the end.
The same should be true of IT: concentrate on the benefits, not the technology itself.
The trick was not to organise big publicity campaigns or planning meetings. Instead, East Lothian had "put all of our effort into supporting people that were interested", said Mr Gilmour. The result was that the authority's eduBuzz blogging community has around 3,000 registered contributors and generates about 1,000 posts a week.
The best way to learn about technology was to follow a model from industry: not going through books or relying on official training, but having a work environment where colleagues could simply ask, "How does this thing work?"
The biggest stars of the day, many agreed, were Sasha Hendrie and Rachel Heather, P5 pupils at Uphall Primary in West Lothian. They spent a whole morning demonstrating how blogging had opened up the world, particularly "quadblogging", in which Uphall and schools from England, the US and New Zealand take turns to comment on each other's work.