Monday, March 27, 2006

Content with the Content?

If you read Miles Berry's report on using a VLE in Primary Education then fairly early on you'll see a quote which says:

“A fully integrated VLE [may] not be appropriate for a primary school at this stage in VLE development” (Becta 2003)
This is taken from a 2003 Becta report which comes to what, at the time, were probably fairly safe conclusions. But what about now? The Learning Platform money will shortly be sloshing around and is surely going to change things. What other reason could there be for Espresso buying Netmedia? First of all it was funding for laptops, then whiteboards (neither of which are bad in themselves of course), now it's "Learning Platforms" - a phrase which, in certain hands, can be so vague as to cover just-about-any-piece-of-software-that-lets-you-login-to-a-web-site. Where do primaries fit into this? Following a few conversations with schools and vendors of "content", here are some thoughts...

Many software vendors want to sell schools a curriculum-in-a-box - that way it's an easier life (which everyone wants, so that's understandable) for the vendors and they get to offer Inset / training / further resources / licence upgrades to schools - a guaranteed revenue stream as long as the schools keep subscribing.

But what do schools want and how do they want to use the digital learning resources that their E-Learning Credits can buy? I heard this best articulated by Gerry Graham of Learning Teaching Scotland at a Becta Expert Technology Seminar on Content Creation and Management (watch his presentation if you've got Flash - jump to slide 10 to get a quick overview, but the whole presentation's worth watching and listening to, or you could just dowload the transcript, audio or slides). His title was The Scissors, Pritt-Stick and Paper approach to digital content creation - essentially saying that nobody uses stuff wholesale - they magpie stuff from everywhere - the internet, their old work, their colleagues' work and create their own content.

All of this makes the vendors' approach at odds with what teachers want - so the conversations I've been having recently with a few vendors are about disaggregating their content - breaking it down into the smallest possible chunks which can be used individually as appropriate. Some vendors seem to think that this means breaking their "mothership"-sized content into individual lessons - but it should go further than that. Rather than an entire lesson on maths or numeracy, if your content contains a good interactive protractor object then, as a teacher, shouldn't I be able to use that (and only that if I want to) to support my teaching and the children's learning - rather than have to swallow the whole of your lesson? Come to think of it, can I just buy that from you please?

Ask any teacher about the curriculum-in-a-box offerings from some vendors and they'll tell you that they are good in parts - but not everything's to a constant standard and/or the teacher's own individual taste. The way I see Moodle (and any learning environment) being used in conjunction with the sort of things that E-Learning Credits can buy in a primary school (actually, secondary schools as well) is taking the best of everything in appropriately sized chunks - one chunk from RM here, one from Granada Learning there, one from Pearson here, one from Nelson Thornes there, one I made myself, one someone in the school down the road made and one from Learn Premium (other software vendors are available, but you get the idea...).

So when the Espresso and NedMedia thing settles down - will they become inextricably linked? Will buying one saddle you with the other whether you like it or not? The quote at the top of this posting speculated (three years ago) whether VLEs were appropriate for primary schools - to my mind the bigger issues is whether the content vendors are selling their wares in a way that's useable by the schools who know what and how they want to use a VLE to support teaching - and it might not fit with the curriculum in a box model that's available everywhere...

Tomorrow's the launch of the little group of primaries based around Winslow who are (hopefully) going to explore the use of a VLE in primary teaching and learning. It's very exciting, I can't wait and we hope to replicate it in the south of the county soon after Easter...


  1. Hi Ian,
    I took great exception to the Becta quote when I came across it originally, and part of our Moodle pilot was about demonstrating that actually VLEs did (and do) work in primary education. I think in some ways the social constructivist, collaborative model of VLE usage is far less alien to primary education than much of the secondary sector, where syllabuses and exams are even more determining.
    I'm sure your primary projects will be a great success, and I'll follow the progress with interest.

  2. Could not agree with Gerry or you more. I use digital content in this way. I also presented at the SEGFL road show at Gatwick representing West Sussex, with Steve Snowball.I hope your conversations with vendors about disaggregated content has some of them thinking. Hopefully as you know Moodle is very much alive and well in West Sussex and with Steve and Mark Grangers help we can develop some joined up thinking on content creation and use.
    Cheers for the blog, got my brain cells warmed up this morning!