What Does a Broken Clock Signify?

This sounds like an odd kind of question to pose on an educational technology website, but bear with me. A couple of days ago I went to my local swimming pool and the clock on the wall was tilted at an angle, and stuck at ten to six (it was three in the afternoon).

So that got me thinking: does a broken clock indicate that the management really doesn't care that much about such details because they are regarded as unimportant in comparison to customer service issues. Or does it imply that the management is so focused on what the reception area looks like, in order to attract more customers, that anything else takes second place?

That second supposition is based on one of Parkinson's Laws, which basically states that the more attention an organisation pays to reception areas and suchlike, the closer it is to collapse:

"It is now known that a perfection of planned layout is achieved only by institutions on the verge of collapse. During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters. The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done."

From C. Northcote Parkinson's The Law, or Still in Pursuit

As it happens, the clock on the wall of my swimming pool is essential for health and safety reasons: a notice proclaims that it is inadvisable to spend more than 20 minutes in the spa, so the clock is more than mere adornment. I was pleased to note that it had been repaired by the next time I attended.

But all this made me think: how do heads of ICT deal with a broken down computer in a computer lab? I have seen a number of practices, and I've listed them here in reverse order of desirability.

The computer shows no visible sign of anything being wrong

This is by far the worst way of dealing with the situation, and there is no excuse for it unless the computer has literally just gone wrong. It not only causes frustration, it can cause mayhem in a class situation. Moreover, to any technology-averse teacher it merely serves to confirm their belief that either they and technology don't get on (see The Tech Force) or that it is inherently unreliable.

The keyboard is stacked on top of the monitor

This is often used as a quick way of indicating that a computer is not to be used. However, it can also indicate that someone was cleaning the table and needed to move the keyboard out of the way, and forgot to put it back.

The computer is disassembled, and left on the workbench

This at least has the merit that nobody is likely to mistakenly think it's all in working order. But it looks untidy, and lazy. It shouts:

"I have spent a few minutes taking this out of commission, but I have far more important things to do than taking it out of sight altogether."

There is an Out Of Order sign on it

This at least should prevent people mistakenly trying to use it. However, it is not unknown for urchins to place the notice on a different machine entirely, thereby causing double mayhem in a lesson.

There is an Out of Order sign with an apology for inconvenience caused

OK, this is better. At least it has more of a customer-focused feel about it. But it doesn't help me much if I want to use the computer or bring a class in.

There is an Out of Order sign with an apology for inconvenience caused, and an alternative offer

Much better is a sign which says something to the effect that if necessary another computer lab can be booked, or a laptop could be loaned to you.

There is a notice giving the date on which all will be well again

A really well-run system will enable the person in charge to place a notice on the computer stating, for example:

"A fault was reported on this computer on 1st July. It will be fixed or replaced by 3rd July."

The computer shows no visible sign of anything being wrong

This is by far the best way of dealing with the situation. Any similarity between this and the very worst approach cited above is purely superficial. The key difference is this: in a really well-run school, as soon as a fault is detected on a computer, it is immediately taken out of commission and replaced by one of the spares. No user or potential user needs to be any the wiser.

So how can you enjoy such a state of affairs? See FITS for the Purpose for some suggestions.