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...


  1. Alan Crease, RGS6:52 pm, July 19, 2006

    Very interesting. It seems that if one blinks these days , one misses a lot of exciting new developments. It would be nice if you could pay the RGS, High Wycombe a visit to demonstrate podcasting and webcasting. I think we wouldn't be adverse to a bit of moodling too, if you can explain how to do it.
    We'd certainly like to start using Breeze next term to build on our success in winning a first prize in the eTwinning awards this year.

  2. Here's a report on the TES site of more Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt being sown, whether deliberately or in ignorance, by a commercial vendor and a DfES rep. I don't have a problem with people objecting to Moodle, but please do it based on fact rather than all of the guff that seems to be going around...