Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What Would Jesus Download?

So far, we have more than a few schools using Moodle - but they're almost exclusively secondary. Like the parable of the sower, some have expressed a vague interest and given up (more important things to do, which is fine), others have jumped around with excitement ("cover lesson in a box" was how one headteacher put it to me) started well and then tailed off (what normally happens is that the crucial keen person leaves for pastures new), others have started well and kept on going well, although slowly.
The good thing about working with it in secondaries is that they feel that they should be doing it (partly because VLE / Learning Platform / portal vendors are selling agressively at them on the back of E-Learning Credits) and hence there's a receptive audience, however secondaries can be so big that using a VLE becomes a niche - it's a brave and well-led school (or a one with a suicidally heroic VLE champion) which manages to adopt it to any great degree.
Primaries are different situation - engage the headteacher or the ICT co-ordinator and the whole culture of the school can change, and a little change (one class using the VLE, two teachers understand what it can do) - ah, that'll be the parable of the yeast then...
It's with that in mind that I've started working with a few people to think about a good way of making this work in primaries. Geoff Lambrechts (primary ICT consultant and digital video guru) supports primary schools in the Aylesbury Vale district, one of Buckinghamshire's ASTs (Advanced Skills Teachers) works at Winslow CofE Combined School and will use Moodle to run a course for G&T (nooooo.... that's Gifted & Talented) pupils in the use of Digital Art. Along with the school's ICT co-ordinator, they are going to experiment with using Moodle with a small group of primary pupils and see how things go. We Will Learn A Lot from this - and we'll be sharing it with a group of people from schools in Aylesbury Vale come the end of March with a few to get a group of primary schools exploring Moodle together - we were in Winslow this afternoon and Geoff is about to start hitting the phones shortly...
Of course, if you want the gospel on using Moodle (or any VLE, but he used Moodle...) in a primary school then Miles Berry is your (very busy) man. This year Miles won the Becta ICT in Practice Award for Primary Teaching using... oh, I don't know, some piece of open source learning environment software. Well, its name escapes me but he's written a report on using a VLE in a primary school [PDF] and you can also watch a video which outlines what he did and why he won the award. It's probably a cliché, and apologies if he's sick of it, but Go Miles!

Leave it Phil, he ain't worth it...

[Warning: this post contains a few quotes from, and a link to, a government funding document. Your mileage through it may vary... use image at right if necessary]
One of the things about the [Word document alert!] Funding Guidance for Schools and Local Authorities (apart from its snazzy title, obviously) is that I think lots of people had subconsciously thought "that'll be for secondary schools then..." - hence when a room full (or even half-full) of primary school heads hear that it means "every school" then there's a mixture of reactions... "a what?" "money?" "not in my school" - well, maybe not verbally but I'd imagine those would be my reactions if my school (and every other) was expected to provide access to something I'd never heard of in two years time...
Grant 121 is where the action we're concerned with is at. (Part of me wonders if Grant 121 is really an intimate mobile phone conversation with the slimmer Mitchell brother) This is entitled the Connectivity and Learning Systems Grant for 2006-07 and says that its aim is

for LAs (through RBCs) to ensure that all schools have available to them a learning platform service with at least core functionality (defined at 6.17 below) by spring 2008.

[Actually, is it just me, or does that paragraph imply that schools don't necessarily need to use the learning platform, but just have one "available"? Errr... ]

Anyway, I hear you cry, what's core functionality? Well, lets tickle 6.17 below and see if it squeals...

6.17: If a school or institution has not received an allocation of eLC funds, it should contact its Local Authority and speak to the individual or team responsible for distributing Standards Fund money received from the Department for Education and Skills.

What? That's clearly wrong... oh, hang on, evidently someone's not proofread this before putting it on Teachernet... never mind, let's skip further down to 7.16. Ah yes, that ought to do it...

LAs have been funded to ensure availability of a learning platform with at least core functionality to all schools by spring 2008. Basic functionality should consist, at the minimum, of:
Communication and collaboration tools e.g. web-based email to enable peer/mentor dialogue;
Safe and secure, individual online working space for the school workforce and pupils enabling anytime, anywhere learning;
Tools to enable teachers to manage and tailor content to user needs and learning styles, and track user progress.

You know, sometimes I just wish that someone, somewhere would create a tool that was easy to use that could do all those things. Maybe they'd make it so it could fit in with our existing way of working. Maybe, in a parallel universe, they'd make it really easy to get hold of and use...

Hang on just a minute...

Monday, January 30, 2006

"it's a good idea and it looks like it's working"

Two things happened today - unrelated to one another but both along the same line about Moodle in LEAs...
First thing was an email from Colin McQueen, who I think I met a long time ago at one of Becta's excellent Expert Technology Seminars (they're free, they're often at the British Library's Conference Centre, there's a lunch to kill for... you haven't been?). Here's the archive of what you've missed...

anyway
Colin's done a bit of research on what schools in Hampshire are getting up to in the area of VLE use - indeed one of the Hampshire schools, Perins, was featured in Irene Krechowiecka's Please sir, can we have some more? Moodle-centric Guardian article. Rather than paraphrase what Colin said, with his permission, here's a quote:


My research has showed that schools getting involved from the ground up with Moodle are doing best at this in Hampshire (12 out of 71 schools involved and growing - some primary schools and tertiary colleges also are getting involved) but some schools doing it in a top down expensive way using commercial platforms such as [now, if you want to know which commerical platforms Colin refers to then contact him via www.oodles.org.uk/moodle] are making less progress in their first year. I have several ideas about why but it needs more research.
The key for me is the involvement of teachers and pupils from the start. As well as the obvious low financial risks.

[Note to the bemused, rather than name and shame the 'other' learning platforms, use your mouse to select the text above and (almost) all will be revealed...]

Second was a follow up on a phone call from another sizeable somewhere-in-the-south-east LEA - they're getting nervous about the whole Becta Learning This, believe it or not, is Sir Alex FergusonPlatforms framework, or Learning Platform Conformance Regime, which despite some occasionally promising intentions looks like it's going to be based around software functionality rather than learners' needs. I have a whole stack of issues about that, but that's for another, far more polemic post. The adviser there is looking for something that he can use to fend off those who say "but... but... but... it's not Microsoft or Capita" or something like that. I guess I'm kind of fortunate, at the moment I work in a team who trust me to do what's best - or at least what I think is best, but in terms of backing the right horse VLE the period we're in could be construed to be, as Sir Alex Ferguson once famously said about the end of a Premiership title race, 'squeaky bum time'...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Beauty Contest

It's a contest of beautyYesterday I was invited to Varndean School in Brighton and Hove to do a presentation at a 'VLE Showcase'. B&H is a small authority and the team there wanted to give the seven secondary schools who attended a few examples of what was available in the arena of Learning Platforms. Those available were:

  • Digital Brain
  • Moodle
  • MS ClassServer / Learning Gateway
  • Fronter
  • Capita SIMS.net Learning Platform
  • Ramesys Assimilate

(The comment from someone when I described what I was going to was Oh, it sounds like a beauty contest...)

Apart from Class Server (presented by a teacher from Blatchington Mill School in Hove) and Moodle (presented by the author of this blog), the other presentations were due to be done by product reps. About thirty people attended; a mixture of technical people, senior management and headteachers, as well as a few LEA people. I say "due to be done" because I had to leave early to get back to Buckinghamshire to go to a meeting of a school ICTAC (ICT Across the Curriculum) group to demonstrate Moodle and explore ways in which we could start to use it in the school, and so didn't see the two final presentations after lunch.

A clear theme which came out from the questions from those present was a reliable integration into an MIS system. Until the SIF format (and in particular the UK implementation of that) settles into something meaningful that's going to be a moving target - in the opinion of the writer there's no mileage in preparing a module specifically to integrate with something like SIMS until the other product is SIF-compliant. Depending on who you talk to, nothing is fully SIF-compliant (and what does "compliant" mean anyway?).

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Why "Changing the Game"?

It's an odd name for a blog (but surely an even odder name for a pet). Anyway, the reason this blog is called "Changing the Game" stems from a presentation I saw given by someone who was a fellow Adobe Education Leader - Renaldo Lawrence. This 10 feet tall man was talking about the work he was undertaking with his school and quoted someone else when he said

Do you want to just play a better game or would you rather change the way the game is played?
For some reason, that really struck a chord with me. There are/were dozens of companies offering "VLEs" or "Learning Platforms" to unsuspecting schools and local authorities - and I felt (and still feel) that by using Moodle we have an opportunity to play this particular game in a whole new way, without having to focus on the needs of the shareholders or venture capitalists associated with many of the vendors of Learning Platforms. Instead this might give us the chance to focus on pedagogy and practice instead of product; to build capacity in staff, students and schools rather than the accounts of companies who had more sales people than educationalists. Call it contrary, or awkward, or anything else if you like, but I'd like to hope it's an idea with things going for it.

Moodle in Networked Learning Communities

[warning: acronym-heavy post]
At the moment most of my LEA work in using Moodle is the use of it to support Network(ed) Learning Communities (NLCs). Put simply, NLCs are groups of schools learning together with a research focus, such as Raising Standards in ICT, or Using Assessment for Learning in Primary Mathematics. In Buckinghamshire we have a number of NLCs through the Buckinghamshire Academy of School Leadership (BASL) - a local project with the NCSL (enough acronyms yet? That one's the National College for School Leadership).
There's lots of research about what makes an effective NLC, but an important component is the online element. The NCSL's Learning Gateway (which used to be powered by a modified version of Oracle's Think.com) runs a little of everything - Fronter is the main method of accessing things but to my mind has some of the most counter-intuitive user interface elements since another VLE aimed at schools I once evaluated in another LEA. One of the best elements of the Think.com system (which would be great to see included in Moodle) was the brainstorm - as used in the NCSL system it allowed anonymous ideas to be created in a grid of virtual post-it style notes - these were coloured according to how recent the idea had been posted. It was a really useful tool for a group to come up with silly / sensible / outrageous / visionary ideas on a subject, and would be a useful tool in the Moodle toolkit.
Well, at the moment we're using Moodle in a number of mainly primary school-focused NLCs - the ability to have single-sign on should make things a lot more straightforward for Heads and those others involved in the NLCs to get involved and stay involved, as long as the online component is a fundamental part of the process - oh, and long as it actually helps them.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

post-BETT come down

Well, that was quite a four day experience. My daily BETT routine was doing some presentations on Breeze on the Adobe-formerly-Macromedia stand (apart from Wednesday when Greg from Chalfonts did a presentation on Captivate) and then getting to the HUGToB Moodle stand whenever I could. I couldn't get there nearly enough but when I did there was the sense of something significant happening - I would spend five minutes talking to one or two people (at the same time as other team members were doing the same), they'd leave with a "thank you" and the people waiting behind them would shuffle forward and ask to see Moodle, or ask a question, or request a demo CD, or just say "hello" - all the while people would start waiting behind them to talk to us. I turned up one afternoon and was interviewed by BETT TV (thanks Josie, it was her idea...) - I've no idea where (if anywhere) it might end up, but we shall see.
Standing room only as Miles Berry presents (taken from outside the Software Presentation Theatre)Over at Flickr Stuart Yeates has a few pictures of the HUGToB Moodle stand including some of Miles Berry and Josie Fraser.
One of the most successful things was the presentation that we gave in the Software Presentation Theatre at 1pm on Saturday - it was full to overflowing and it was really good to see lots of people there.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

See Naples and die... see BETT and feel like you already have...

Well, tomorrow is when the orgy of self-promotion and free bags, pens and mouse mats that is BETT begins. Like an elephant in the corner of a room with a severe case of flatulence, you can't ignore BETT... its influence and importance to the education community (and especially to the geeks within it) is immense - people will travel from the other end of the country (and indeed from around the world) to come to it. Senior managers (that's Headteachers and Deputy Heads) in schools who don't use ICT will go to BETT, often led by their ICT co-ordinator or network manager. Some schools descend en masse. And kids? Well, kids need to be invited, lest they run amok and touch stuff they shouldn't, cause trouble, colour outside the lines etc...
BETT 2006 is quite significant, because for the first time, Moodle will (officially) be there. That's a real achievement when you see what some companies - such as Chalkface (who support the stand) say about the Emperor's New Clothes attitude that can exist about BETT among the commercial companies.
The team at Help Us Get To BETT have managed to get a stand (SW154 in case you're interested) at the exhibition, which really is quite something considering the pricing, which is verging on the insane. I'll be supporting in whatever capacity I can, as I'm also there in my capacity as a Macromedia Adobe Education Leader demonstrating the rather wonderful Breeze.