The ICT Dilemma facing Senior Management in FE

Earlier this week I was invited into a Further Education College to participate in a Technology Strategy working Group. I’m really very pleased to be invited to these kinds of discussions as I see them as crucial in informing both my work for JISC CETIS and the IEC Department in Bolton. Perhaps on the down side it is a often a (much needed) harsh reality check on the challenges faced by institutions in applying technologies and technology policy across their enterprise, not just in the teaching and Learning domain.

I have previously “blogged” about, what I see as, often poorly informed and quite “Draconian” policies regarding internet usage within FE colleges including, for example the wholesale blocking of students’ internet access to social networking sites. It’s easy and too simplistic to suggest that this is resolved solely by increased knowledge amongst administrators, education, or by a more sophisticated understanding of ICT by those responsible for policy. There are major issues at the policy level, which Colleges are obliged to deal with.

There is some discussion as to what level of technical understanding should senior Management in institutions have. Lawrie Phipps, JISC programme Manager “blogged” about this very subject earlier this week. And he raises some important issues and questions.

What has prompted my current thinking on this situation are recent guidelines produced by Ofsted in structuring grades for College Assessment within the Leadership and Management effectiveness. Two of the criteria “Safeguarding” and “Equality and Diversity” are what are termed as Limiting grades; which in effect means should a college receive an “ineffective” grade on one of these criteria it is unlikely that overall effectiveness of the college would be assessed as anything but “inadequate” which in turn triggers a series of requirements of the college.

Whilst these two criteria are clearly extremely important the emphasis of college’s maybe, understandably, concentrated on these criteria. Quality of provision, which falls within the teaching, learning, and Assessment criteria, could be compromised. Whilst Ofsted recognizes the need to equip students with the skills necessary to navigate the digital space safely; the balance is precarious.

Clearly any college that blocks access to all sensitive sites and social networking sites is “effective” with its safeguarding policy but would, in my view, be quite inadequate with its teaching, Learning and assessment provision. The former however carries much greater weight.

I’m sure there is good practice in dealing with this in the FE sector but it does present a real challenge to senior Management

One thought on “The ICT Dilemma facing Senior Management in FE

  1. This is a very useful posting, which helps towards explaining some of the complexities involved, and may help to depolarise the argument (eventually). It is very possible to argue cogently for the teaching/learning benefits of social networking, and the evidence is starting to build on this one (see e.g. Gloucester College (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8299050.stm). However, there is another side to this story, and this posting is a timely reminder that there are multiple stakeholders here, all with potentially radically different perspectives. It is essentially a risk management issue, which may be distorted to ‘rik minimisation’ by people with strong concerns. This is not healthy, and may well be accentuated by the Ofsted weighting of criteria. No easy answers, but good to discuss this! There is sometimes too much emphasis on the ‘impact’ side of risk management, and not enough recognition that blocking is not the only way to reduce the likelihood of bad things happening.

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