Thursday, June 29, 2006

Putting the Community back in the College

Today I've finished two days of Inset training at the Chalfonts Community College, with a number of staff who came along to find out how best to support their Departments' work using the Chalfonts Learning Environment. It was a really good couple of days - the first time a school (inside the LEA anyway) has turned round and said that they'd like some input aimed at those who weren't already the keen ones and (more significantly) the first held during the day - and during term-time. Other sessions in other schools have been please come if you're bothered sorts of things - everyone's tired, it's clearly optional and not instigated by the SLT. Result? Tired, sleepy people - and about 10% of the number of those who are supposed to be there. I don't blame them...
It got me musing about how the sort time a school allocates to something is an obvious indicator of how important it is to the school. If your SLT is convinced that something's important, then you can expect at least some support in terms of time, resources, support, understanding (especially if you get something wrong or not quite right first time). In Chalfonts it's taken a while to get this sort of commitment - which is understandable, as this sort of area can be seen as esoteric, optional, geeky, only for the keen etc., but now the school's there and more than a couple of people 'get it' then some really creative thinking (and action) can happen as to how the whole area of online learning can (and will) impact teaching and learning.
So what were some of the outcomes of our two days?

  • the genesis of a General Studies course (which schools like for lots of reasons, some of them financial...)
  • creative thinking about audio assignments as part of music courses, including a BTEC qualification, peer review of band composition in forums, the use of Audacity (with Wink) to put the creative tools in the hands of the kids outside of the classroom
  • I switched off the Moodle restriction on the use of the embed tag so that the Science staff could embed the Google videos of Brainiac in their Moodle pages (one comment from one of the people there: "Google Video has got to be the most useful educational resource of the last five years")


  • The ICT person downloaded shedloads of courses from Darren Smith's fantastic E-Subjects site and dropped them straight into the CCC Moodle. Was he happy? Oh yes...
  • Everyone realised that Assessment is both a limiter and a driver in this. When someone from an exam board wants to print out a student's entire work on a Digital Art course to have it in a paper portfolio, we have a problem...

There was a point, fairly early on in both days, when the penny suddenly dropped. It became clear to those who it fell near that this wasn't the preserve of the keen, or the AST, or the geek, but something far more... well, mundane. So if you're a school, how do you treat people who want to use this? I was reminded of a blog posting I'd read recently on How Not To Lead Geeks... so here's my first draft of something:

How Not To Lead Those Feeling Their Way In Online Learning In Your School

  1. Treat them like geeks
    It's an ICT thing, right? Say you don't understand it, that it's for the ICT Department (and that they're too busy with the KS3 on screen tests)
  2. Never admit you don't fully understand online learning
    Let's face it, if they don't understand it, there's always a chance you might. So don't let them tell you anything...
  3. Focus on the management data
    Maintain that the MIS side of things is far, far, more important than the experience of the teachers and learners.
  4. Get your (school's) chequebook out
    If you need a box to tick, and the box is labelled "Spring 2008", then pay a company to come and do the thinking for you, and then implement what they think.
  5. You Are The Only School In The World
    There's no such thing as another school that you'd want to work with, or learn from, or welcome Year 6 pupils from. Pick your own solution in isolation and everyone else can go... well, somewhere else.

OK, so it might not be completely accurate, but it's a start. Anyone got any more?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I've seen the future and it's...

...currently in the shape of a "Z".
With the release of ZohoShow Zoho finally have something approaching a complete Web 2.0 (sorry, had to use it) Office suite. Here's a test presentation for you to look at... it's a little clunky to use but the ability to import slides from MS Office or OpenOffice makes it v v nice thank you. It's easy to link to your images on Flickr (I love that) - how about a version inside Elgg (or similar) which linked to the images in your ePortfolio...
What with Zoho Sheet (which aces Google Spreadsheets by including graph generation), Zoho Writer and shedloads of other tools (including a v nifty web application generator similar to DabbleDB, but free) I'm very excited about the potential to remove the need for licensing (or even installing OpenOffice at home) before pupils / students / staff can do all sorts of standard things without needing to pay for the privelege. Of course, someone will probably snap up Zoho and start charging for things, but it's an excellent example of how increased (and hopefully more reliable) connectivity and storage will move the focus away from the desktop. Anyone feel threatened by that?
Here's a presentation converted straight from a PowerPoint file I gave at a SEGfL meeting this week on video conferencing - a little editing of text required to correct some minor formatting glitches, but everything else (including the Slide Master's background, images and drawing objects) came across fine. Woo-hoo! Some experiments with using these tools in conjunction with Moodle to come, I think...

Friday, June 09, 2006

Sussex by the Sea

Today I'm at the conference centre at Sussex University giving three (identical) parallel sessions for the East Sussex School Improvement Service (run by CFBT) ICT Conference on Getting Ready for Virtual Learning - there are about 100 delegates here. ESCC's network and infrastructure are run by RM so the idea of an "official" ESCC Moodle presence is a moot point (what with RM offering Kaleidos as their solution for a learning platform). 40 minutes isn't a lot of time to introduce the concept of online learning, explain the government framework it sits in and give a clear idea of what on earth's going on in Buckinghamshire, and on reflection I probably didn't.
Three sessions - the first one full (overran significantly and I spoke too much about Bucks, whoops), the second one three-quarters full (much better) and the last one (the last one on a Friday afternoon, the poor people) was interesting - some people said that to them, a VLE looked like just homework, others speculated that it looked like a lot of teacher preparation, someone else made the point: what's the point of the internal school network?
This sort of thing can involve a lot of preparation, but then I think that many good things do and it's also apparent that a lot of teachers do already do a lot of preparation for all sorts of activities - only to have to repeat much of it the next time they want to do the same or a similar thing. One headteacher of a primary school in Bucks thought that a teacher's PPA time would be ideally suited to the preparation of materials on a learning platform - "otherwise it'll get filled with marking" was his opinion.
So what is the point of the internal school network? Chris Gulker speculates that, ignoring the issues of trust, that more and more people are happy to keep a shedload of personal information and applications on Google, should an LA / RBC simply be providing as-much-storage-as-it-can-lay-hands-on and then enabling schools to use efficient services to exploit this on top of a decent (synchronous) broadband connection. Where would you rather your (not your students', your) e-portfolio was stored? Locally and 'safer' (that's a relative term) on a school network or online?
I'm s'posed to hand in my PowerPoint slides, but since each presentation was different, I may just make a Breeze presentation and do it that way. I wonder when Google (or someone) will bring out an online PowerPoint replacement? Now that Google Minesweeper's out, it can't be long...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bedford School go Moodle

Today I was at Bedford School, doing half a day's consultancy on implementing Moodle. I met a lot of very enthusiastic people, some who'd been doing Moodle behind the scenes at the Prep School and others who've started off in the main school. Some staff at the school went through a process of evaluating all sorts of learning resources and decided on Moodle - they will have it synchronised with the existing school logins so that will ensure that a potential barrier to effective use (the "what, another username and password for me to forget?") stands a better chance of being taken down.
In other vaguely-related-to-Moodle news: I got an invitation to try the new Google Beta Labs application Google Spreadsheets. It's fantastic and I anticipate that I shall shortly be kissing Excel goodbye... read more in the Help Area or have a look at some screenshots in the tour. Imagine all this and Writely (purchased by Google a while ago) within Moodle.
Random thought: do you think Google or Microsoft (or someone) will ever try to offer Martin Dougiamas a shedload of used fivers?

Friday, June 02, 2006

and then I woke up

I've spent today at blog.ac.uk - the semi-official launch of the UK's educational blogging community. It was held at the Living Space in Waterloo, a place with a nice layout, a fairly unreliable internet connection and lots of educational blogers intent on working out where to take blogging (social software? web 2.0? whatever...) in education.
A bit of a wake up call and it motivates me to get back in the habit of sharing what's going on in Bucks... it's been nearly three months and lots of 'interesting' things are happening and might be happening soon... primary work, meetings with Becta, thoughts about Elgg and portfolios... so I'll go through all of the posts I've written over my head in the last few months and put them down - in the correct dates, so there's some semblance of order and so that I can prove to someone that I wasn't faffing around doing nothing for three months.