Wednesday, December 20, 2006

News round up

Lots of things over the past few weeks that have caught my eye and should have been mentioned sooner:
First (and foremost? we shall see...), before or during BETT the "results" of the Becta Learning Services Framework Agreement process will be "announced" to schools, LAs (and anyone else who's listening) - the response to this will probably be an overwhelming "huh?" with scattered "b*gger!" and a 10% risk of "whatever". Now all that needs to happen is that the MIS framework stuff is agreed, so learning platforms can actually happen... mind you, the Becta entry on Wikipedia notes that there were only 11 comments on the MIS consultation over two months - is that encouraging or not?
A couple of things from Bucks were noted in the Guardian eLearning BETT special last week - I of course neglected to buy the paper that day but was given a copy later on after emailing a number of people in a panic. Dan China's (County Art Adviser) use of Flickr got a mention in John Davitt's Q&A section and there was a link to the BucksGfL learning platform presentation from the Naace All Members Annual Conference, bizarrely in the hardware section of the pre-BETT information.
And finally (sorry, began a sentence with "and") here's a nice article written by eight-graders which arrived (in October...) in my Gmail inbox via Google Alerts.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Educational Change & ICT

This morning I got an email from someone called Peter Twining, who I somehow got in touch with while he was part of the eStrategy Implementation Review (eSIR - surely a candidate for "Acronyms you'd like to use in a VLE"?). Anywho, this document reviews Priorities 2 (Integrated online support for children and learners) & 3 (A collaborative approach to personalised learning activities) of the Government's eStrategy and my only tiny, tiny involvement was a web form filling in exercise, followed by a phone interview conducted a long time ago (something tells me it was nearly about a year ago) with someone from the Open University, who were commissioned by Becta to write the report.
The report (PDF, 2MB) makes really interesting reading - bear in mind that this covers FE as well - and has lots of allusions to a "popular open source VLE" that shall not dare speak its name - but it's not a puff piece for anything, more of a very realistic look at the world of educational ICT.
Seriously, the more I read this document the better it gets - there's a lot of common sense out there and it's one of the best (meaning "closest to the real world with all its foibles") documents I've read from Becta plus (hallelujah) it's got a comprehensive Reference section. Get yourself a big cup of tea, a few biscuits (maybe half a pack) and go read...


Jan 2007 edit: here's a podcast interview from Leon Cych at Learn4Life with Peter Twining.

My uncle's name is Nelson

Over the past few days some thoughts about content and what on earth we're going to do with it have been winging their way into my brain. Unaccustomed as I am to their presence, I've been swatting them away but now they've come to rest and are starting to make some sense.
Some of this started due to some work I'm doing with Shane C, our secondary Science consultant. Shane has shedloads of resources for secondary science on video, and he's just recently started enthusiastically putting them onto his own Moodle server (running on his own laptop) ready to share in schools by zipping up the courses (using Backup within Moodle) and then having schools Restore them to place on their own learning environments. Activities, quizzes, forums, etc. within a Moodle course don't take up too much space, but it'll be the course files that do - if there are megabytes and gigabytes of video and other files in each Moodle installation then we might start to have issues with capacity. Shane's been asking if we've got some sort of content repository which could store this on, but as of yet we don't. We've got our Moodle server(s), our Breeze server, our email serv... what? Hang on...

[somewhere, in a darkened room, a light bulb fizzles on]
I've always (both internally and when I've told other people) associated our dedicated Breeze server (soon to be Adobe Acrobat Connect, for what it's worth) with doing Breeze-specific things - videoconferencing, publishing from within PowerPoint, all the usual yadda, just in a very nice way. Then, when Shane was starting to talk about sharing out gigabytes-worth of video files within essentially identical courses across Bucks a large penny dropped somewhere. Essentially, rather than embedding the videos within the course files structure or each course, we simply host them centrally (duh) and then each course links to them. This came out further today when I worked with Rachael S, who's the PE Consultant for Bucks. She has a CD of videos for Able Gifted & Talented work in PE and is only given one copy - so we either duplicate it for hundreds of schools or host it centrally on our BucksGfL Moodle - better still, on the Breeze server. Fortunately the videos are part of a Flash movie on the CD and come as Flash Video FLV format, so uploading them into our Breeze server this afternoon was a, er, breeze (sorry).
As mentioned, Breeze will shortly become Acrobat Connect - so what does the future hold for it? Could it be a way forward for a content repository for us - a huge saving on shelling out on capacity for something else to add in to the mix of services we're offering. What we'd need to do is settle on formats - converting WMV and MPEG to Flash Video format (very handy with 1.6's addition of .flv files to the Multimedia Plugin) and even using something like Flash Paper (which is available to Content Creators as part of Breeze) for other pieces of content, but how far could that go? I'll be really interested to see how things might be delivered - maybe using Flash (or PDF, less likely & desirable in my opinion) as some sort of lingua franca to deliver content to anything - different devices, locations, systems... could Bob really be our uncle, or will our uncle have a different name?

Oh, and in other news, I'm hoping to meet with people from O2 soon to have a look at Moodle with them and see what we can do. Apologies to Orange, I do love your adverts...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Rural East Sussex

Today I'm at Alfriston in East Sussex to deliver three parallel sessions at the Personalisation Through Learning Platforms conference organised by CfBT, who I also did a presentation for earlier in the year at the University of Sussex.

The keynote this morning has been Norman Crawford, formerly of Tameside MBC (where Moodle is offered to their schools as a VLE) who's now Assistant Director for the eStrategy at Becta. His talk made some good points about how schools need to set the agenda for learning platform functionality to vendors rather than simply accepting what's offered.
This is clearly the most salubrious place I've ever attended a conference - the room I'm presentation in has easy chairs and sofas in it, for crying out loud. I get scared of doing the same presentation everywhere (a la Alan November) so this was one which reflected the work being done at Buckingham Primary School using Moodle which was demonstrated yesterday at the Aylesbury Vale Primary Learning Platforms meeting.
Lots of the discussion that I've heard from delegates (mainly ICT co-ords and some Heads) has been around what they see the LA doing - will it be proactive, reactive or simply playing catchup? Donna Rogers from Kent County Council has done a presentation in the graveward slot after lunch (brief summary of message - Kent are following a Microsoft Active Directory / Sharepoint / etc. route).
Tim Eaglestone (ICT Adviser for East Sussex) is addressing the issues across the County - it's interesting to see another LA's approach to this. One of my own criticisms of our own approach in Buckinghamshire is that (on some levels) it is a one size fits all approach - however, particularly in the case of primary schools, they aren't always in a position to make informed decisions on this (and most Learning Platform offerings are heavily skewed towards secondary schools, anyway), so I still think that offering a "turnkey" system has its advantages - especially when schools want to work together. This in turn affects what secondaries will do and it's my opinion that most secondaries who see beyond their own school boundary will want to build on what primaries have already been doing with children, rather than pretending such work didn't exist. The advice to schools is to follow the Becta Learning Platforms Matrix (a good thing, when the site's working) is useful and essential foundational work to any school looking at moving forward in this area.
Oh, and East Sussex now joins the roster of Local Authorities (Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes and Slough) from whom individual schools have at some point asked "How do we become part of Buckinghamshire?"... are we doing something right? Who knows... more importantly, who will tell us if we are?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Aylesbury Vale Primary

Today Geoff L (ICT Consultant) and I have been leading a meeting of primary schools in the Vale of Aylesbury area of the County who might be interested in starting to use Moodle. It's going to be a difficult job to get all of the schools in the County to a point where they are ready to meet the DfES / Becta targets of 2006.
Paul A and Emily P from two of our primary schools already using Moodle did brief presentations on what they've been doing over the last few months - and once again I was reminded of how far we've come, of the fact that a lot of what we're working on in this area is what schools are looking for anyway, and how of the fact that by attaching deadlines and targets to this sort of thing it's possible to make schools back away from it, when what it's fundamentally about are those sorts of things that they'd want - independent learning, broadening access to learning, involving parents and carers, and, and, and...
Paul showed some fantastic work from his school's Moodle in terms of use by the School Council, Creativity in Literacy (a fantastic poetry section populated by dozens and dozens of peer-reviewed poems) and a really interesting section where the pupils were uploading examples of their own work. Once we'd enabled the MP3 multimedia plugin for Moodle 1.6 (all the servers have recently been upgraded) it meant that any uploaded MP3 automatically gets a little Flash play-bar next to it, which makes the accessibility of the media files that little bit easier.
We left it that the schools there will get a Moodle in the New Year unless they tell us otherwise - it will be interesting to see who says "no thanks!".

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

First steps to Moodling in Second Life

Sooooo... last night was the first meeting of the Sloodle community in Second Life (SL). There are lots of other descriptions on the Sloodle.com web site of what this is all about, but here's my take on it and what it might (and might not) mean... by the way, there were a lot of people there:Essentially, code is available which allows the layout of a Moodle course to be replicated (or "rezzed" = rendered) within the SL environment. Here are three Moodle courses rendered in last night's meeting:
The names above the yellow and blue cylinders reflect the "online users" status of SL and the particular Moodle course respectively. The ability to render Moodle blocks means that if your Moodle course is displaying a calendar with upcoming events, you get a whopping great big calendar with events on it which your avatar in SL can walk (or fly) up to and interact with. Here's the calendar in the background (that's a fully functioning interactive whiteboard in the background displaying a sloodle.com page, by the way. Eat that Promethean / Smart / etc....):
Here's my avatar (hey, what do you mean "that's not you, it's got hair..."?) interacting with an upcoming event on the calendar - note the prompt at top-right asking if I'd like to open the web page in question: So, as blocks are added or moved in the Moodle course, this is reflected in the SL environment. Activities and other Moodle objects are also represented. Here are two assignments which are due in soon - the red glowing one's imminent, the yellow one less so (note the flag's higher up the pole). The radio on the table is the SL representation of the news forum.There was some discussion last night (aka: "typing") about how different objects and activities would be represented. How would you represent how an assignment might be handed in? A drop box? A computer? Sending a postcard (an SL method of communicating)? Here's some interaction between SL and Moodle - the SL chat is being replicated (and hence recorded and logged) in a Moodle Chat activity which is part of the course being rendered. The cube in the middle of the group of people in the first image in this post is the 'chat bot' - which records the chat in SL (and may be the mechanism by which it's piped through into Moodle, but I might be wrong...)
So what is this good for? Well, it's obviously more immersive and hits lots of the issues which we covered in our Nesta FutureLab Design Challenge entry (see previous post):

  • some level of anonymity and role playing within the Moodle environment;
  • interactions with 3D objects which represent Moodle blocks or activities
  • interaction with other learners;
  • hopefully, the ability to take a course in either environment, or a combination of both;

I'm sure there's lots, lots more, but it's late and I was up late last night in some virtual world, so it's time to fly to my real bed...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Moodle & Second Life

OK. Hands up anyone who takes part in Second Life a lot? No, I didn't see any hands... you all moved your mouse or entered a keyboard command, didn't you?

Here's a growing team of people attempting some integration between Moodle and Second Life (here's the Wikipedia entry if Second Life seems a bit hover boots and rocket cars for you - actually, it still might after you read it, but there you go...).
This all seems like a very real version of what a group of us (well, a pair of us) cooked up for the Nesta FutureLab Design Challenge and presented at MoodleMoot 2005.
Want to get involved? Sign up and meet in SL on October 23rd at 8pm GMT... this will no doubt provide more ammunition for those who say that Virtual Learning Environments are virtual enough...
See you there? Maybe...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Naace AMAC 2006 Presentation

After much faffing other important work I've published my presentation from the Naace All Members Annual Conference from the end of September. If you were there, or even if you weren't, it's available online via the BucksGfL Breeze server (warning! this means it's narrated, so it's useful if you're currently suffering from insomnia). If there are any questions arising from the presentation then please post them as comments to this post. Apologies to those who asked me about it for the delay. Thanks!

VLEs: Pedagogy & Implementation Online Conference 1

One of the best things (no, possibly the best thing) about my current position is that I've the flexibility to decide what would be the best way to work. This week is a case in point - from today (Monday) until Thursday I'm a delegate at VLEs: pedagogy & implementation which is hosted by DirectLearn. There are lots of interesting presentations - this morning's keynote is by M Dougiamas ("Moodle - a toolbox for creating learning communities") and there are what look to be a number of other useful topics in the programme.
The first thing that strikes me is the system the conference is using - it's hosted on a WebCrossing server - normally a discussion board-based environment and there's no upfront synchronous aspect to the conference. There is a live Java-based chatroom somewhere (I came across it while doing the pre-course reading last week, and of course now I want it... it's gone!) but it appears that most of the interaction is via discussion board after reading or watching a pre-prepared presentation. This seems a shame - it's not too difficult to do this, I'm resisting the urge to post the URL of one of our Breeze meeting rooms and inviting everyone in to share ideas and resources there, as what's offered seems a very Web 1.0 way of doing a conference. The introduction says that there are no live presentations due to technology and that the asynchronous nature "leads to a better experience..." - I would counter that just as a combination of face to face and online learning is essential for a good blended learning experience, a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous interaction would be essential for a good online conference experience, wouldn't it? Otherwise it's like attending a physical conference somewhere and sending messages to presenters and other delegates only by scribbling notes on index cards. A case in point - Val Brooks (Moodler from Stockton CLC) has just "live messaged" me and asked "what do we do now?". I'm sure it'll get better, but so far it's reminiscent of a Naace seminar on blended learning I attended which used Plone (very nice for making web sites, not much use for blended learning on its own) as the environment - and then didn't model blending things at all...
Anyway, Martin's presentation covers many things which his MoodleMoot presentation covered, with one or two notable additions (or at least the things which I've picked up on...)

  • Role-playing and scenario situations - this was something that Drew Buddie (here he is playing a role) and I surmised would be a wonderful facility for Moodle as part of some of the work we did for our Nesta FutureLab Design Challenge entry. Essentially this would involve people being assigned roles in online scenarios - or even interacting anonymously in sensitive situations, such as when discussing something in PSHE.
  • The introduction the Repository API makes things a little clearer about how I could see all sorts of learning objects being stored on (in our case) a County-wide basis - and some interesting ideas about how schools might work together on this (or how they might not)

Well, that's about it so far... as I look at the conference front page now, there are approaching 25 people logged on to the site, most of them are probably far more expert than me in this area, but so far it feels like everyone's milling around in the lobby unsure of what to do. Hmm. More later... maybe.

Edit: 6.30pm - well, it all got going once people started posting messages (yes, I probably should have just waded in, but I kind of felt that if I asked Martin D a question it could turn into an internal Moodle-fest, which wasn't really the point. There were some interesting posts, but maybe I was expecting too much. The MoodleMoot model (if that's what it is) of live presentation accompanied by synchronous chatroom discussion (an excellent way of getting relevant questioning going) followed by asynchronous reflection later on in forums is a very efficient and interactive way of working... this is... different, but not ultimately bad. Tomorrow is the same day (or at least assigned to the same subjects), we'll be moving in the direction of Personalised Learning Environments et al on Wednesday and Thursday.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

16? 18? 21? Coming Of Age...

Coming of age version 1.2Over last weekend and into the start of this week I put the finishing touches to wrote all of my contribution to Terry Freedman's new version of Coming of Age: An introduction to the new world wide web. The first edition had contributions from such luminaries as Alan November, Peter Ford and Ewan McIntosh - the second version is considerably larger with many, many contributions covering as wide a spectrum of the even-newer worldwide web as you could hope for. There are a few chapters in the on Moodle, one of them on (ahem) Implementing Moodle in an LEA or School District which was written in a bit of a hurry, so I'm looking forward to re-reading it in a day or two and shocking myself with my grammatical errors... it should cover factors to consider if you are (or someone else is) thinking of creating a medium- or even large-scale Moodle implementation in a School District (US) or LEA (UK) - things about usernames, infrastructure, hosting, training and development, etc. I hope it's useful, otherwise it's 2,000 words of wasted electrons!
As it was a book (largely) concerned with Web 2.0 and all that, it didn't feel quite right writing the chapter in Word, emailing it off for comments, etc., so I used my Google account to create and edit it in Writely, the first time I've ever used this for some serious document creation, and it was great. Terry F and Josie Fraser were able to look at it in preparation (don't know if they did though...) and it's easy to save the document in lots of formats (including PDF) and even publish it to a blog. Couple this with the ability to email Word, RTF and other documents direct to Writely where they're converted into online editable documents, and I think I'm done! The first version of COA is available from Terry Freedman's site or by clicking on the image above, the second should be available (I guess) from the blog.
BucksArt image from FlickrNeedless to say, a useful tool such as Writely is blocked by the new "improved" web access policy at my place of work - as are Google Spreadsheets, Flickr and even this blog... the first two are down to data protection policy - understandable, but a bit like saying "we don't want you taking important information out of the building, so we're attaching everything you can write on to the building with a (short) piece of string" - surely a well-wrtitten acceptable use policy should cope with this for most organisations? I've got to make a "business case" to get certain things unblocked - we shall see how this pans out - but with some of the work being done using Flickr by Dan China, the County Adviser for Art, I'm willing to bet on Flickr getting back in...
Enough grrrrs - it's the first thing I've written in a while since a little piece for the Association of Learning Technology Newsletter, and I enjoyed it. I hope it'll be useful in some way somewhere.

Friday, October 06, 2006

I do like to be beside the Seaside

Mike Evans at VarndeanToday I'm at Varndean School in Brighton & Hove for a Moodle Training day - I was here earlier in the year for the Learning Platforms Beauty Contest and today there are about 30 SMT, ICT staff and consultants here. As of yet Brighton and Hove haven't decided on a definite strategy - they're using Moodle as an experiment to challenge, stretch and develop competencies of teachers, and then will be seeing what's offered by SEGfL and mandated by Becta.
Since January Brighton & Hove have started their own central Moodle, the wonderfully monickered Seaside - and are using it to develop primary resources & do some professional development. Today we will mostly be developing resources on/at the Seaside as well as working with some secondary schools to devleop resources for their own Moodles. Some people here won't be staying for the three hands-on support sessions that we'll be having later this morning and this afternoon.
This morning Mike Evans from the National Strategy is talking about the Pedagogy of VLEs - a really interesting presentation and one I'd love to have Mike do for headteachers in Buckinghamshire. The "c" word - constructivism - has just come up as part of of teaching models & theories of learning and now there's a video extract from Gilly Salmon who's talking about Constructivism - interesting quote "it's really difficult to capture and slap online" (I think she means put online) but she's advocating a socially based collaborative approach.
The afternoon was tiring but great fun - many people there had Moodle sites - including the wonderfully named EGMOO from Elm Grove in Hove - and we did some basic work on adding resources, creating quizzes, choices and setting up courses. David Cooper and Rose Carter have a small group of schools who look like they could work really effectively together - I'd love to start working with them and sharing resources / courses / quizzes / glossaries etc. - perhaps between Brighton and Hove, Buckinghamshire and West Sussex. Having grown up in Shoreham-by-Sea just down the road it was a great excuse to see family, take in the howling wind on a bright sunny day on the seafront, and generally reflect on the question Why on earth don't I live near the seaside any more?

Friday, September 29, 2006

We B(e)BC Jammin' at Naace

I'm at the Naace All Members Annual Conference - about twenty-four hours in all, held at the Cisco HQ in Bedmont Lakes near Heathrow. I'm currently in a session on BBC Jam presented by Neil Livesey. Visit the web site to find out more - this is more about how the content would be delivered - for example via SCORM 2004, SIF, Federated Authentication (I'm assuming that's going to mean Shibboleth). SCORM 2004 will mean that the content will be useable in any of our school's Moodles. From what he's saying it looks like BBC Blast and any other online BBC educational services will work with Shibboleth, which is good news for those schools using BucksGfL usernames. It will also work with caches such as the Atomwide CachePaq - which means schools will be able to preload content on their local cacheing server. English 5-7 with stories from Jackanory? Ah, the cockles of my heart are warmed... the French stuff looks good (the language as it's spoken by French kids rather than conversational French in textbooks), as does the History material. It's designed for learners to use themselves at their own pace, as well as being used in class. The interface looks nice and customisable, but the real test would come by working out how it would interoperate with a VLE or Learning Platform.

Speaking of Learning Platforms, after this I'm speaking on Learning Platforms - Update & Exemplification - which sounds like a bit of a mouthful and I don't think is the title I gave, but never mind. Let's subtitle it Building a Sustainable Learning Platform in Buckinghamshire and see what happens... if I remember I'll post the PowerPoint here later, although it's not necessary a linear one...
Just a brief note, someone's asked at the end if the SCORM content will be useable in Moodle - so up comes Neil's Moodle server (!) at www.learningpicture.com/moodle and we're looking at the French 11 to 14 content now...
(big grin... :-)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The closest thing I've seen to here

This from Desire2Blog (from Desire2Learn, They Who Are Being Sued By Blackboard). It's the closest thing I've seen to what I'd like to achieve here in Buckinghamshire, although maybe the UK context makes things more complicated in this neck of the woods, I'm not sure...

Open Source Integration: " Very interesting project started about a month ago over at OpenAcademic.org in an effort to integrate four useful open source tools into an environment that would have lots of features for e-learning. The tools they are working with are Elgg, Drupal, Moodle, and Mediawiki. This integration should result in the following features being offered: a public facing web presence departmental intranets club/extracurricular sites online class sites a personal workspace for all members of the school community; this workspace includes web-accessible file storage, social bookmarking, a blog, a podcasting platform, and a presentation/portfolio creator a single user base -- no duplicate data entry, no need to synchronize users between multiple databases. Additionally, these technologies/approaches are supported: Podcasting Safe social networking Tagging Informal learning Learner centric ePortfolios Personal Learning Environments Blogging Wikis They are still looking for development help in the form of developers, designers, educators and funding bodies. Check them out. This is an ambitious undertaking..."

Friday, September 08, 2006

Are you work experienced?

This morning was an early start (for me) to get to Wye Valley in Bourne End by 8.30. A pilot group of 10 KS4 students are starting work experience on Monday and are going to use WyeVLE to record their work experience diaries. Across Buckinghamshire we (well, Atomwide) are currently upgrading our school Moodles from 1.5.n to 1.6.n – it’s a shame this hadn’t happen earlier as I’d like to have explored if and how we might have used the new Database module to achieve this. I don’t think the Blogs feature in 1.6 is mature enough to use at the moment – it seems to be abstracted from the context of a course and isolated in a Moodle site. Considering that it was once intended to replace the Journal module, that’s a shame. In the end we’ve created multiple assignments, one for each day, and provided a template web page for students to copy into their blank journals. I did experiment with using the Wiki module last night but it’s not really flexible and intuitive enough to use at the moment.
Sometimes I’d love to ‘train’ staff and students in the same room – just for the moment when the students started to accelerate away from the majority of the staff… after five or ten minutes the students were up to speed (of course they were) and the hardest thing for them to get was how filling in a work experience diary might fit in with being on a WE placement. We showed them the internal messaging system, explained how to edit their profiles and let them know that the logs are there… the interesting thing will be to see how often their teachers log in…

Thursday, September 07, 2006

CLC@Feltham

I hate it when the schools go back After a frustratingly lengthy journey I arrived a not-very-classy hour and ten minutes later than I’d planned at the Feltham CLC – the City Learning Centre which serves local schools, businesses & the community and is part of the London Grid for Learning. I’d been asked to go there by Renaldo Lawrence - The Tallest Man In Educational ICT (or so it feels) – a few months ago I wrote about how I hosted a couple of people from London who were enquiring about Moodle, and today’s training was the consequence of that. Eight people from the Feltham CLC and another CLC were there – they have a Moodle server with the I wish I’d thought of that name Glenn Miller-inspired (maybe) www.inthemoodle.com. The CLC will take students from a range of local schools and offer them studies online using Moodle. It was similar but very different from Monday’s training – even though half of the people hadn’t really seen Moodle before, after a few hours we were uploading video, audio, animations and thinking about a structure for the site – this was after creating quizzes, assignments, adding RSS feeds and, and, and… it was really good and was a situation where I felt stretched in thinking about what Moodle can and can’t do – which doesn’t happen that often with so many people just starting out.
For me (and for at least one or two people there) the most novel thing we did was incorporate a complete SCORM package from the LGfL resources held in DigitalBrian - in this case one on making masks (see images right and below). It was significant enough to make us realise that it would be a very straightforward thing to do to move lots of content from the LGfL portal into any Moodle web site. So come on LGfL... take the orange pill?!
SCORM package in Feltham CLC's MoodleIt was a good (if long) day – the building’s great, it seems like a great place to work – and everyone was very keen and (I think) convinced that it’s really quite easy to get going in Moodle - they should definitely get in touch with the folks at Stockton CLC.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A trojan but not a virus

I’m sat in the Teaching and Learning Centre in the middle of a presentation about a virtual learning environment from a major ICT provider (previously mentioned elsewhere in these pages). It’s interesting because this provider has already approached a number of people in the authority (including your narrator) about this product, but we’ve said a firm but polite “no thanks”. So how come they’re here today? Well, this VLE comes a bundled with a particular Maths product – I’ve heard it described as a Trojan horse with the word “Alive” printed on the outside. So some of our schools which use the Maths product find that they get a VLE by default - and hence the company are here today, describing the Maths product but also getting a plug for the VLE in as well. This is the provider that has asked a well known educational blogger to advise it on all things Web 2.0 – which seems like a cursory nod to social networking aspects of learning, so expect the next version (or next but two or three) to involve exciting 'new' things like blogs and wikis!!!
Here’s an interesting claim – “the unique thing about this is that it can import a whole folder structure”. (ahem) Unique? OK, we’ll just assume that the ability to zip up a series of folders, upload the zip file and unzip it doesn’t exist anywhere else.
It’s described as a “teacher tool” – very interesting, much momentum at the moment is basing things around the needs of the learner and putting the learner at the centre of what's going on (and hence more in control of their own learning). A comment from a headteacher I’ve encountered was that this system reinforces the notion that the teacher controls learning and dispenses it to students – hence the acronym VTLE…
We’re now moving into a practical time – which should be interesting.
The quizzing engine is very basic - no space for feedback for incorrect answers, short answer questions have to be marked manually, no option of matching questions and no apparent option for importing any standard question formats. One of the exciting things about working with lots of schools in Moodle will be creating a series of banks of questions shared between schools and classes, which has a lot of potential if the number of questions generated during yesterday’s Inset is anything to go by.
The process for setting up an assignment is incredibly laborious – six stages, some of which are unfeasibly complicated. I can’t imagine an ‘average’ teacher having the time (or patience) to work through the process – it only just makes sense to me, and apparently I’m paid to look at this sort of stuff all day.





Kaleidos screenshotKaleidos screenshot
Kaleidos screen shotKaleidos "hand in" screen 3 of 6 (!)
Kaleidos screenshotKaleidos screenshot
Kaleidos "hand in" screen 6 of 6...Creating a resource step one of four...

My overall impression? It’s very comprehensive – there is shedloads of content, all linked to various national frameworks but it’s far, far, far, far, far too complex to use for most staff. I would have been absolutely terrified to have to explain this system to the primary staff yesterday. One other thought – I guarantee there are Moodle installations kicking around in Abingdon…

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Primary to Secondary

Today I’ve been at Winslow CE Combined for an Inset day – almost all of the teaching staff (including the Head) and some staff from nearby Padbury were involved. We started off with a brief overview of what had been done previously on WinsLE – with lots of useful explanation and putting-it-in-context from Emily Pool and Katie Bownes (ICT Co-ord and Assistant HT/Art Co-ord respectively). Everyone logged in using the BucksGfL usernames and had the opportunity to have a go at quizzes, assignments, forums and view some static resources which we’d set up in a test course for the staff. After a break for coffee we moved to a different course (“The Sandpit”) in which everyone was a teacher with editing rights. Everyone had a topic to themselves, so we walked through Moodle creating a simple Resource (a web link), everyone created a Choice activity and then moved on to making a Quiz. Judging by a couple of people’s responses at the start (“I hate this sort of thing!”) I thought it might have been a struggle for some people but everyone made a quiz – it was (and they were) fantastic. There were some excellent examples of innovative ways of using the HTML editor to prepare interesting choices and quiz questions. The great thing about working in a group like this all at once is that everyone immediately gets to see other people using what they’ve just created – and can experience what others have done to get ideas and inspiration. By the end of it we had 24 choices and 17 quizzes containing 34 quiz questions. Lots of them were (obviously) just ‘testing the water’ sort of questions but it’s a good model of how we could get a group of subject co-ordinators (either primary or secondary) together and prepare a whole raft of categorised quiz questions which could be shared throughout the count(r)y…
One thing that’s been exercising my mind over the last few months is at what age it’s appropriate to start using something like Moodle. When chatting with the Year 5 & 6s at the end of last term they said that they had younger siblings (as young as Year 3) who would like to do things on WinsLE. At the start of today we speculated that the KS1 staff might like to concentrate on preparing a staff area, but it became clear fairly quickly that they could find lots of application for Choices and Resources within Moodle. The only issue we need to address is – from what age might/should we reasonably expect children to log in. If you’ve got any experiences about what works and what doesn’t… please leave a comment!
In the afternoon I went to John Hampden Grammar school in High Wycombe, who are going to be using their Moodle (note to self: Need To Christen This One With A Short Name Ending In LE”) to support the teaching of business and enterprise in the school. The Bucks Education Business Partnership is carrying out an audit of Enterprise Skills and we’ll be working with a small group of KS4 students to allow them to carry out the audit online.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Secondary to Primary

This morning was spent at an Inset at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School in Aylesbury on Challenge For All – run by Bob Cox, the Able, Gifted & Talented adviser from the School Improvement Service (of course, I’d contend that lots of us might be any of those three, but Bob gets to be all three…). Geoff Lambrechts (ICT consultant) and I worked with the ICT staff (including the new headteacher) to explore how we might use the SHF VLE (installed just in time that morning by the ever-speedy Richard at Atomwide) to support work with AG&T students in ICT. Hopefully it’ll be the start of work in secondary schools in Aylesbury Vale – Geoff is looking to co-ordinate things with a meeting of Heads of ICT so that we can start to share things at secondary level.
Immediately after that I dashed to Amersham to visit the Oaks Primary PRU (Pupil Referral Unit). This is a very different application – the Head there wants to start using Moodle to share resources with parents, pupils (who aren’t attached to the Oaks, just referred there from other schools) and possibly other professionals such as police and social care staff. I can’t wait for the new roles architecture that’s coming in the next but one version of Moodle – however, we need to think about how we handle accounts for those who aren’t in a school every day – such as parents, inspectors, social care staff… create accounts for all of those (and attach the accounts to a school) and it’s a short hop to the school becoming a mini-ISP (20 external users a day phoning for help and/or new passwords as they’ve forgotten their existing one? “No thanks” would be the answer from most schools…). In the near future Mrs Conway-Read (the Head at The Oaks) hopes to do some work with people from Stockton CLC in the area of eTwinning – and if you followed this summer’s UK MoodleMoot you might recall that Val Brooks from Stockton CLC presented there – so it looks like there’s a lot of mileage here.

Intel distributes Moodle...

Intel ropes in Xpress Computers to market school kit
I don't know. Another organisation I've never heard of using Moodle. (Intel who?) When will these people learn that it's (a) not sustainable (b) not something people in authority understand and (c) akin to being a small boy playing in a garden shed. Tsk...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Patently Daft

I tried, really I did.
I tried to ignore the Blackboard Patent on here, as it's being done to death everywhere else.
But then...
The what? OK, here's a potted version with as many links as I can cram in, I won't try and repeat everything wholesale, just what's pertinent to schools and Local Authorities in the UK.
Blackboard (a US vendor of online learning systems, mainly used by Higher Education Institutions) filed a patent claim earlier this year which, in so many words, attempts to patent the mechanics of distance learning and course creation. This claim (almost spookily) followed Blackboard's acquisition of WebCT (its closest competitor at the time) - who, had it not bought, it would have sued. In the end it did sue someone - it issued a writ (PDF) against Desire2Learn, who produce a competing online learning system. This has caused a number of ripples among the online education community - much of it taking form as antipathy towards Blackboard.
To get a plain-English summary of the patent, visit the noedupatents.org site. It's quite informative - essentially Blackboard are claiming that they created all sorts of interactions between instructors (teachers) and students in online environments, and lots more besides. It feels to me a little like Netscape/Microsoft/someone else trying to patent the concept of clicking on hyperlinks to view a web page - some of the claims are quite funny (Claim 33 in plain English: On the course documents page, the list of documents link to the actual documents listed - ooo, that is novel) but Blackboard is just creating trouble for itself by doing this - see some of the comments on the Boycott Blackboard petition (scroll down).
One revealing comment to me today came from someone who was directed to what they described as Blackboard's "bleeding heart" letter - which can be summed up as we're not the bad guys, we're just educators like all of you, we just want to make the money that's rightfully ours, we're not trying to patent e-learning - this person's comment immediately afterwards was, "well, when I actually read went on to read the patent claim it becomes very obvious very fast that that's exactly what they're trying to patent". If you're a glutton for legal punishment then there's a set of images from the patent documents on Flickr, or there's a collection of related sites.
So what does this mean for schools in the UK? Well, not many will use Blackboard (it's waaaay too expensive for most of them and inappropriate for use in primary schools for a start) but it might affect those vendors applying to be part of the Learning Platforms Framework. It looks like Becta have today advised participants in the tendering process to take legal advice - does this mean that any LA, RBC or school going with a commercial provider could find that the provider gets sued by Blackboard? Who knows. As far as Moodle goes, there's an informative discussion on moodle.org (free registration required if you're not already a member) about this and much of the "prior art" is being documented on the Moodle documentation site and Wikipedia's entry on the History of Online Learning. In the case of a piece of Open Source software - who would BlackBoard issue a writ against? I guess it's another case of the propogation of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt - if you use [any other system but Blackboard], you might get sued. Be scared!
My last thought on this comes from the wording of the writ issued against Desire2Learn. I'm not well versed in legalese (just a few parking tickets, honest) but page 3 of the writ has what's described as a Prayer for Relief which states that Blackboard prays for judgement and relief. To me that sounds like the prayer of someone who's in hell or on the verge of it - as someone once said, be careful what you pray for.
Update: a readable summary (in case the above isn't!) is on the Education Technology Group blog.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Moodle On A Stick

click to read the sticks!

Original photo credit: How Can I Recycle This?

So then, weary traveller, what would you rather carry around all day? One of these or one of these? I thought so...

Out of focus snap of USB stick plugged into managed laptopOut of focus snap of USB drive (at lower left) running Moodle 1.6 server and application launcher

For a while now I've had a local version of Moodle installed on my laptop running on EasyPHP - so that I can demonstrate Moodle where there's no internet connectivity, or develop courses and resources before restoring them onto a live Moodle server - most of the early resources on the BucksGfL were prepared on my laptop before I dared put them on the live server.
At one time I was carrying around two laptops (don't ask) - how many LA or school staff have back problems caused by new technologies, do you think?
Well that's all changed now, or so I hope. After a little work yesterday (really not much work at all) I now have a 2GB Imation USB drive containing:

and (more relevant to this posting)

all ready to run from the stick on most Windows computers. It took a little bit of configuration (including these tips if you're trying) but now it works fine (hint, if you're already running Apache or IIS locally you'll need to disable it) and I might be able to abandon my local laptop Moodle, but I might keep it just in case (a USB drive is much more losable than a laptop).

Screenshot of multiple applications running from USB stickWhat this means in practice is that I can plug the USB drive into most Windows computers, run useful applications and run multiple versions of Moodle from it, without installing anything on the host PC or modifying its registry. Above is a screenshot of running the stick on a very managed PC - one where it's not possible to change the screensaver, desktop colour, install plug a new mouse in without permission, etc. - showing the managed computer's Internet Explorer (running Moodle 1.6 from the stick), Portable Firefox (running Moodle 1.5.3 from the stick), WinAmp, OpenOffice Draw, and the nice PStart launcher application. Definitely the sort of thing that can only be accomplished in sheds.

From my childhood, I remember the only things on semi-disposable sticks were rather poor jokes... see the picture at the top for the one stick that doesn't contain a joke.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Moodle Muddle - a message from DfES

This post is pretty much a word-for-word reprint of what's just arrived in the Naace Members' Newsletter... written by Colin Hurd, quotes from whom appear elsewhere in this blog (find them yourself!)

DfES colleague Colin Hurd writes:

"The Moodle Muddle
It's been suggested by some that the DfES is against Moodle. This is most definitely not the case. Let's start with the big picture. UK Government studies have previously suggested that the use of open source software (OSS) within the UK public sector can provide a viable and credible alternative to propriety software and lead to significant cost savings. The Cabinet Office eGovernment Unit took the lead on OSS from October 2004. Further information can be found on its website at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/e-government/policy_guidance/index.asp . In particular you will find the policy for OSS available in a pdf document. Key points are that the:

  • UK government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on value for money basis
  • UK government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments

So Moodle is fine provided that it's the right and value for money solution taking into account the total cost of ownership (TCO) e.g. the software might be free but support isn't. You can find out more about TCO and OSS in schools on Becta's website at http://schools.becta.org.uk.

DfES recognises that there is a strong following for OSS and for Moodle in particular, supported in its development by both the Open University and the University of Lancaster. But there is an issue around the development of the learning platforms framework agreement, due to be announced by Becta in early January 2007, and OSS. Since OSS products do not originate from an industry supplier's product they are unlikely to be included on the framework.

The framework agreement covers a set of quality assured functions including, for example, training and reliable first-line telephone support that conform to agreed functional and technical specifications and standards. Together these create a full service that will enable coherence across education, allowing mobility of learners and their data, as well as a stable and consistent arena for content developers and providers. Part of Becta's role is to assess suppliers and monitor their performance throughout the period of the agreement.

DfES supports fully Becta's framework strategy because schools must have a mechanism that enables them to install learning platforms that can exchange information and provide a robust, reliable and cost effective service. Without these schools will not get the full benefits.

One key aim is to reduce the technical burden on schools. Schools' self-development of any OSS product has a cost (not least time and effort) and is not, contrary to popular belief, free. The framework agreement will support interoperability and economies of scale through aggregation as provision will ideally be contracted as a fully supported (one-stop-shop) service to schools from local authority or regional broadband consortium providers. This does not preclude other collaborative groupings provided they serve strategic needs and deliver best value for money solutions.

OSS products are unlikely to be included on the framework proper. But if they meet the functional and technical specifications requirements and are selected as the tool of delivery by any fully supported service provider, then a school is free to choose an OSS, including Moodle-based, service."

Colin Hurd [info@dfes.gsi.gov.uk]
DfES Head of Strategic Technologies
27 July 2006

Thanks Colin! Can I say a few things?

  • To my knowledge there isn't a popular belief that open source means free in terms of Learning Platforms - if you have read carefully what the Open Source movement says about "free" then anyone who can appreciate the difference between free beer and free speech will get this straight away. People who think it's free (in cash money terms) need to look up the difference between gratis and libre - which is the same difference between freeware and free software - I know that they look the same, but they aren't
  • As far as I know the only proponents of the view of "it's free (gratis) software/freeware" are those who use this position as a straw man which they use purely so they can knock it down with the "the price will bite you" (and then quote ludicrous figures in terms of projects involving Open Source software, in which the numbers (if they're true) say more about the management of the projects rather than the license of the software involved). Sorry about the number of brackets there.
  • Can I challenge the DfES and Becta to do something? If it's recognised that there's a strong following for Moodle (and not just Moodle but viable Open Source Software in general across education) - then why not take it seriously, and guide and inform the development and adoption of it so that it becomes a viable option without being demonised (as has happened in a number of situations recently). Why not ask people who are using it strategically to work together with Becta (some with considerable recognised success), so that schools / LAs / anyone who's considering using OSS has an authoritative source of information rather than the (mis?)information, fear, uncertainty & doubt and disparaging comments that have been doing the rounds recently (and admit that there have been times when the DfES angle has been at best inconsistent, and at worst hostile, to the idea of Open Source - and even if it wasn't that's how it's been interpreted by a number of authorities, which probably says something). Some advice or guidance from Becta about using OSS with specific reference to the arena of Learning Platforms would be invaluable - it would serve the purpose of both the advocates of something like Moodle and its detractors - namely allowing people to make informed, authoritative decisions based on case studies, experience and fact rather than simply reading blog posts or increasingly polarised discussions on mailing lists and forums. Knowing when not to use Moodle is as important as knowing that you might be able to use it at all - I'm sure that it'd be possible for Becta to furnish their audience with this information, or at least the resources to make an informed decision, in a very short space of time.

There are a whole group of people that would love to hear from you, but thanks for saying what you've said, it's very timely.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

MoodleMoot - Day 1, Part 1

On what's not actually The Hottest Day Of The Year but feels like it might be, I'm at the Open University for the MoodleMoot 2006. There are nearly 250 people here - it's almost unrecognisable from the first one I went to two years ago, and significantly bigger than last year's effort. Martin Dougiamas is here and will be speaking tomorrow morning.
First up this morning was Niall Sclater - VLE director of the OU. His was a very interesting presentation about the OU's investment in Moodle both in terms of time, organisational and financial resources. It was really interesting and my overall impression was that it put all of the other commercial "buy our product and you won't worry" Learning Platform / VLE providers in perspective - seriously, there's nothing compared to this, it's going to be far bigger and far more significant than anything else, and that's before hearing about the OU's Open Content Initiative. Looking at my notes, significant input in these areas:

  • Custom roles - any number of customisable roles including the potential for a role of Parent, which users having certain rights to participate in certain modules, rather than having a course-wide or site-wide 'right'
  • Accessibility - improving the functionality of Moodle with a screen reader such as Jaws
  • Asynchronous communication tools - improvements to wikis, blogs, forums
  • Synchronous tools - including FlashMeeting and BuddySpace
  • Calendar tools - including sync with wireless / mobile devices
  • Mobile Learning - including an announcement that Intel are going to investigate the development of an offline browser which would synchronise with Moodle, both for mobile and desktop clients
  • ePortfolio - an integrated tool within Moodle which should be available in (I think) early to mid-2006

After this session we hurried what seemed like a mile across the campus to a very warm room where Ray Le Couteur talked about his experience of Moodle in a secondary school. He's very much come from an enthusiast's position which has spread throughout the school, which was interesting. Greg Hodson and Katie Bownes are here (we're presenting this afternoon) and Greg and I weren't sure about Ray's assertion that activities weren't really appropriate for secondary level education (and presumably wouldn't apply to primary level as well) - and there was quite a bit of evidence from people in the room that they've found activities are effective and a core part of using Moodle in school. I think Greg will mention that this afternoon as part of what we're doing.

Right now I'm listening to Miles Berry's reflections on being asked by Naace to develop a CPD Toolkit around Learning Platforms. The man has a depth of reading that I probably couldn't manage if I gave up my day job. There are reflections from FutureLab, the Schools White Paper and all over the shop.

Next up in the Schools Track is Steve Hyndman and three colleagues from the Model Laboratory School in Kentucky. It's worth coming just for Steve's accent (do you think he thinks the same about British accents? probably not). Melissa Lindsey (4th grade teacher - 9 & 10 year old kids) is demonstrating a really nice and simple use of a course. Liese Rhodus teachers 7th & 8th grade (middle school) and has her own class page, but currently without student enrolments, so it's more like static resources with details of homework rather than active assignments. Finally Susan Neumann teaches at a High School and uses a wide range of Moodle units in her class.

Right, lunch!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Questions (and answers) about Elgg

If you're ever in Oxford and the relatively heavy weight of all that technology in your oh-so-stylish computer bag begins to mock your aching back with a cry of you brought me all this way and didn't use me? then I can recommend Green's Cafe in St Giles - just north of the City Centre. Fairly traded everything, although I can't be sure how the electricity that powers their free wifi access is generated, it's a fairly good bet that it comes from a green energy supplier or something.
I met Ben Werdmuller upstairs after he cycled in and I fought the roadworks near the Thornhill Park & Ride. Ben is one half of the core team behind the rather wonderful Elgg and we spent a few hours talking about ePortfolios in general and using Elgg at a school level in particular - much like Miles Berry has done at St Ives in Haslemere which has generated a few articles in the media.
So I had lots of questions answered - Elgg is much more configurable than the test installation we've got on the Atomwide servers would appear to be - most stuff is held in a config file which isn't currently manipulated through a form, but rather by direct editing of the file. This will apparently be changed in the next release or so, and it also looks like it's possible to tweak the Elgg code so that certain individuals (we call them nominated contacts for each school in Bucks) can see the data (i.e. file storage) of other non-privileged users from their institution (aka 'students') in the Elgg world. This probably all seems to be a little abstract (it makes sense in my head, so that's OK for me thank you), so maybe my next post should be about how I think a learning landscape like Elgg fits in with what we're doing with Moodle across a local authority and what's coming down the pipe (careful) from the DfES and Becta. However, it's too hot to post that today, and I've a presentation to co-write for the MoodleMoot on Tuesday. Maybe the two could be essentially the same? Hmm...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Phew, What A Scorcher.

title has nothing to do with the contents, it's just The World's Hottest Day today...
This morning started with a meeting in one of our local Grammar schools, who are interested in creating podcasts to give students a sense of audience (as well as a real audience) - and emulating Ricky Gervais's success in dominating iTunes would only be a spin-off, but a nice one. As the school doesn't yet have a VLE, it's really important that any use of a VLE is part of a whole-school move, hopefully documented in a development plan or strategy document... however, there's so much potential for this, probably even a podcasting-based scheme of work, that I hope we get to move on with it.
Around lunchtime I met with four Year 13 students & Greg Mr Hodgson from Chalfonts to reflect on their use of ChaCCLE for their A2 Contextual Study over the past year. We sat outside a pub, drank diet Coke, tried to avoid the sunshine and recorded the audio of the conversation on a video camera in the middle of the table. Like yesterday, here are some appropriately edited quotes...

Even if (the VLE) is there just to post work on then it’s still worth it
Some people are too lazy to use it.
I was really anti-it at first, but it was problems with having a login, when I actually started to use it it did help.
(A classmate) always did loads of research for everyone else through the VLE .
In group discussions you don’t take notes or remember what people say, so the VLE is more useful.
I’m up at 1am and can’t sleep, everyone else has gone, you can’t MSN or call them, so you have time to yourself (to work) – I could work and do a bit of research, read other people’s work and put my own comments up. I probably wouldn’t have read a book at that time.
Having deadlines was good – it made everyone post stuff and that helped, you have a framework to work in. Otherwise we would have done it, but it would have dragged more.
Try and get the teachers to go on it more.
It helped putting up chapters ‘cos then you could read everyone else’s work.
You could see other people’s writing styles – you wouldn’t have read other people’s work if it were handed out to you on a piece of paper.
It was good to see how other people laid out their work.
I can’t think of many subjects that it wouldn’t be useful in.
They tried to start it in (another subject) but we got no feedback so it was pointless.
In Psychology you could use it to learn each other’s essays – we normally put them on our own areas (on the network) so you only see your own.
There are teachers who would take to this, but teachers in (another department) wouldn’t be ready for it.
Not every student would do this – not everyone has computer access.
99% of them do – and the others can use it in school.

Thanks to Ellie, Lauren, Michael, Jenny and Mr Hodgson...

My final school visit this afternoon was to a school which isn't on the BucksGfL but still wants to do Moodle. There are a number of schools like this across the Authority and it's always a difficult balancing act between ensuring that everyone gets to use the tools and insisting that they're involved in the collaborative / corporate infrastructure. There's no point in dismissing a school's reasons for going their own way but at the same time I'd be doing them a disservice not to point out that the government's vision (actually, "vision" sounds a little too grand, let's say "idea") and targets are based around schools working with one another rather than creating islands of practice (both bad and good) in isolation.

Anyway, we left it that we'd pilot using Moodle in the school in a few curriculum areas, with a view to demonstrating it to other staff once a few groups of students and staff had got used to the idea.

Tomorrow I'm going to Oxford to meet Ben Werdmuller, he of Elgg and all things ePortfolio, with a view to... well, I don't know, let's see!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

New York, Paris, London, er... Leicester?


There is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about. (Oscar Wilde)

If that's a measure of anything, then what's it like have people warned about you? A good thing? In the past few months a couple of large organisations have published a couple of odd documents which come down pretty heavily on anyone thinking of using Open Source to attempt to provide the more significant elements of a Learning Platform.
First up were Leicestershire LA, who published a document which stated that:

"The DfES does not support the idea of schools using ‘Open Source’ software such as Moodle as these systems rely too heavily on local technical skill and the systems do not aid collaboration between schools."

The document labours under the same misapprehension as a number of communications from the DfES that "open source" and "Regional Broadband Consortia / Local Authorities" cannot co-exist in the same sentence - but I can't really blame Leicester when there are inconsistent messages coming from the DfES. The document kicked off a bit of a storm on Miles Berry's blog - but it couldn't be that simple, could it? I emailed the advisory team at Leicester and got a response from them which outlined their mostly reasonable take on things, including:

  • some of the Leicester team use Moodle within their RBC
  • they are not anti Open Source in general or anti-Moodle in particular
  • there's one "Moodle" school in Leics and several have "Moodling" departments
  • they don't want schools going down a "relying on one expert to run their VLE" route

However, there were a few misunderstandings, chief of which were:

  • the idea that Moodle didn't meet the for interoperability, shibboleth, SSO (that's Single Sign-On), MIS integration from multiple sources or scalability
  • the idea that they needed to employ Moodle developers (refer to the Top 10 Moodle Myths)

Well, I emailed back sharing our experience in Buckinghamshire - that the scaleability, interoperability, SSO and Shibboleth integration were all sorted as far as we're concerned. As for MIS integration - well, once Becta or the DfES or anyone decides what sort of things will be integrated, then we'll have something to measure against. Until then... well, there must be a reason that Capita are using Moodle, surely?

This whole area reared its ugly but strangely recognisable head over the last week or so, when the London Grid for Learning (VLE/LP software of choice: Dilating a Rib) published a document so full of statements intended to provoke Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt that it was mentioned in NaaceTalk, done to death at EduGeek and again generated a long tail of comments at Miles's blog. I could burble on about the inconsistencies of the document, but Miles has already done a thorough job on that, so go read!

My take on it is - the document spends an inordinate amount of time trying to discredit the option of Open Source (using numbers pulled seemingly from thin air - I See No References), while admitting that constructivism might actually be not a bad way to learn stuff all things considered (though I don't personally feel that using Moodle forces you down the route of any particular learning style - it's just that it supports social constructivism very well). Actually, the more I read the document the less well-written it appears - apologies to Mr Stirrup who wrote it, but that's just what it appears to me, something written to sow doubt rather than inform. Of course I'm biased, but I've used DigitalBrain and have to laugh out loud when an (unsurprisingly) anonymous comment on Miles's blog post (search down the page for "geek") says that Moodle is far harder to use than DB and that only geeks would use it. Try telling that to the primary school kids I interviewed today - and their teachers, who would recoil at the notion of being "geeks". Also, if I'd invested that much in a large scale supplier of anything, I'd be nervous too if it looked like I hadn't made the best decision. Let's be honest, here in Buckinghamshire we've invested time (but not that much money) in offering Moodle as an integrated, scaleable, interoperable VLE solution as part of a modular learning framework for our schools, so if something better comes along then of course I'll be concerned - but more concerned that we're not offering our schools best value, appropriate functionality and support, and if we can do it better than we are now then we will (if I have anything to do with it). However, taking a head-in-the-sand approach and using what seems like misinformation to maintain a status quo that might mean that many, many schools and learners aren't being offered an appropriate alternative can't be the way to go, can it? Or am I missing a trick here.

Tomorrow will be spent looking at podcasting at one of our Grammar schools, interviewing chatting to some Year 13 students about their use of Moodle, and visiting another grammar school where the Business Studies and ICT staff can't wait to get started on their Moodle over the summer. All this on the hottest day of the year - pass the wet towel please...

Discupulus Vox

Today I called in at Winslow to (partially) plan what Katie Bownes, Greg Hodgson and I will present at next week's MoodleMoot. While I was there I mentioned how I was meeting some of Year 13 from Chalfonts tomorrow and how it would have been great to get chat to some of the Winslow pupils who'd been among the first to use Moodle through WinsLE. Well, what with it being the last few days of term... ten minutes later I was chatting with half a dozen Year 5 and 6 pupils, recording what they said using Audacity.
Here are some (edited for clarity) quotes from them about their use of the VLE. I particularly like the last three.

I like the fact that we do more ICT.
It makes us feel more grown up... my older brothers and sisters are always doing work using ICT...
It's not like numeracy where we have it every day.
Our teacher could see who's done what.
We have to do things in proper grammar.
I'm not allowed to go on the computer at home to do homework 'cos we have loads of books on virtually every subject, I have to read those first.
My Mum thinks the VLE's clever because she's never set foot on a computer.
It took the whole car journey home
(to explain the VLE to Mum)
My Mum doesn't really know much about the work we do on there other than the work that I've shown her.
It doesn't underline spelling errors like Word does.
I type
(my homework)
up in Word and then paste it into the VLE.
I type my homework straight into the VLE then copy & paste it into Word to print it.
I want to do more of this next year.
Year 4 could use this...
I think we should have done more work on the VLE.... I think we should have had stuff that we
had
to do on it
If we did
(a particular "mystery" project)
on the VLE then you wouldn't have to give out sheets of paper, and the teachers could send us clues, and you don't lose the sheets of paper.
One of the people
(who doesn't have home internet access)
in my class goes to the Library 'cos you get half an hour free.
I hope that when we get up to secondary school that the VLE gets put in, 'cos I really like it.
Is it going to carry on next year?
I really hope that it goes in the secondary school.
Next year you should include more people in the VLE.
Year 3 and 4 should have a go as well.
I showed it to my
(younger) brother (in Year 2)
and he said it was cool.
I think there should be a special, easy-to-use VLE for younger children...
...possibly an after-school club.
Year 4s have to make a nursery book... when they show it to Reception they could go into the ICT room and show them on the VLE.
I think Year 3s would be really interested in it...
You could put things on there to help them with their Literacy and Maths.
The teachers could show them the VLE in Year 3 but I don't think they should start it until Year 4.
My Dad went on the VLE each time and printed out a copy (of the success criteria) to help me with my homework.
My Mum & Dad said it was really useful and that we were really lucky to have it as a primary school.
We'll be able to tell our grandchildren when they're using it that we were the first people to use a VLE...
...and they'll say "Shut up, it's so boring and old-fashioned"...
...and they'll prod you with your walking stick...

Thanks to Miss Bownes and the Year 5 and 6 pupils from Winslow! Tomorrow I'm meeting some Year 13s from Chalfont - who do you think will be more talkative?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Twenty or so schools in a room

A long day starts with my successfully vacuuming my own car (see previous posting) and ends with a list of twenty schools on a piece of paper.
I collected Tony Richardson from High Wycombe Station and we drove to Chalfonts Community College to meet with Greg Hodgson (Leader for Art at CCC) and Dan China (County Adviser for Art) to show Tony what's been done at the school through the use of the Chalfonts VLE. It was interesting to sit out on the terrace that's rather cunningly built-in to the Art block and reflect on where the school's got to in two years.
Chalfonts run an unendorsed GCSE in Digital Art (moderated by Edexcel)and also run a wide variety of other Art courses that are fully supported by the VLE. I sat back, listened and munched my lunch as the others discussed the use of this sort of technology in teaching art, the fact that the Digital Art courses are packed with boys wanting to do something creative, how the art they create is more "them" - i.e. derived from short videos taken on a mobile than the skull and bowl of fruit they might be expected to draw in a traditional art course, and how the progression from year to year is frightening. As an illustration of this, towards the end of our lunch break we looked at some examples of the VLE work in the digital art room (a room in the Art block equipped with a decent number and spec of computers) - at the end of this we were joined by a Year 7 group who have not long started using Flash after using PhotoShop for a year. They have already been rotoscoping using Flash over digital video - something that the previous Year 10 GCSE students have been doing - so what on earth will these students be doing in Year 10? I can't wait...
After Chalfonts we travelled to Disraeli School for the High Wycombe / Beaconsfield Primary VLE Meeting - something that's been long in the planning and late in the execution (down to me, that one...). I supplied the strawberries and bite-sized cakes and the school provided the conference room, tea and coffee and an excellent impromptu demonstration of Doodle (think Disraeli crossed with Moodle...) by Roz Burch, the ICT co-ordinator. We had about thirty people - as well as sixteen primary schools, representatives from four local secondaries were there, which I hope was useful in some way. Most people took copies of the DfES Learning Platforms - Making IT Personal booklet. I think everyone liked the idea of sharing resources and I think a number of the primaries will join together in a group and work together with the schools in the Aylesbury Vale group - I've already had a couple of emails this evening saying "yes please". The suggestion was made for a monthly afternoon Inset rather than the fortnightly after school Inset sessions that I floated - and that we should pay supply cover. Well, I'm always saying that if SLT in a school are committed to the idea of online learning then they should fund / release staff during the day - so why don't I take my own medicine? Let's see what we can do about funding something like that... (oh, and I forgot to take any decent pictures. That's what happens when you're at the front all the time). I hope the day was useful for everyone - Tony said it was nice to back into the real world of schools - it's also clear he's the World's Busiest Man. You'd be busy too if you were in charge of implementing the e-Strategy for Becta...
In other news, I'm having an email exchange about a system to support the sharing / rating / recommending of Moodle courses on a regional / national level... might just be pie in the sky, but it could be a great tool if we can implement it.