Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Moodle is available under the radar / Becta framework

No, really...
I've been watching a number of things recently, including the referrals for this blog (that means "which page people come from to get here"). As well as some message boards lot of them are search engine based and include search terms like "Moodle Becta Framework" - which (unless I'm misinterpreting things) could mean people want to use Moodle but are nervous about stepping outside of the framework... to which there are a couple of answers.
Moodle by stealth?First of all, you don't need to purchase from within the framework (read that bit again) and secondly, if you feel you have to purchase from within the framework (or are being railroaded into something you don't want) then you can still get Moodle. No, really, you can. There might be other ways, but the way I know is that the people who supply our Moodle services are on the framework as subcontractors for RM for Moodle services - which means if RM are supplying elements of your Learning Platform services then in theory (and it's a bit vague) you should be able to ask specifically for Moodle, which they would subcontract. Now this brings a whole raft of questions in my mind... like:

  • where's the incentive for RM to allow Moodle over Kaleidos? Maybe it's a realisation they'll get more business that way, as I've yet to meet anyone not paid by RM who's as passionate about Kaleidos as most people who use Moodle.
  • what's the long term plan for this setup - do RM see Moodle as something which has to be tolerated until schools wake up and realise that Kaleidos was what they wanted? I don't think that'll happen, so I'd be interested to know what their longer term route for this approach is. Is it tolerance or embracing something? Would they fund a generic MIS web service to interface with Moodle which would ensure schools using it would stay within their part of the framework? Anyone else got any questions?
Practically, this would mean that an LA purchasing from RM could offer a mix of VLEs, which is something that appeared to be on the radar when I spoke with some schools over lunch at a Learning Platforms event in East Sussex. Their feeling was that since their existing connectivity came from RM then they would have no choice but to take whatever they were given - which doesn't sound like personalisation to me, but I can understand why it could happen. Maybe this approach gives schools in that situation a way out of the woods - so if that's you contact your LA representatives and see what they say...
Oh, and I counted this morning - we now have approximately 67 Moodle servers in Buckinghamshire - obviously there's a mixture of competency, use, approaches, etc. - but that's (obviously) a reflection of the situations of the schools involved.
Oh, and I also apologise for the video interview on Learn4Life - is it just me, or does everyone hate hearing their own voice?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Modelling good Moodling in a secondary school

Today I visited Great Marlow School in, er, Marlow, who are starting to prepare their Moodle for use next academic year. I'd not been to the school before, but it was an interesting contrast to the approach undertaken in some places - and any school that has a Bushisms poster up in the corridor gets my hanging chad-free vote...
The site is already up and running, but isn't going to be used 'properly' until September - but what's happening in the interim is a lot of preparatory work: staff training, dissemination of usernames, placing appropriate content in courses, etc. It's also the first school I've been to which has a specific plan for the development of the VLE - this one 'only' stretches to September but it gives specific milestones and targets for achieving things.
There are ambitious plans - some integration with the school's library system, a suite of training videos and (probably a sign of things to come) the fact that the person looking after the management of the site will be doing so from the United States as of the end of next month - using Breeze Connect and the communication tools within Moodle to support this.
Another thing which struck me was the way that four members of staff from the school, including technical staff and teaching staff, were involved today - it wasn't a meeting with just one person who feels they are doing something on their own. It's clear that this is a core development for all sorts of things - whether personalisation, effective use of ICT or just developing teaching and learning across the school.
One thing I came away with echoed a point I think I've made at various seminars and presentations - that embedding a learning platform in the culture of a school is something which you can't do during a month's or a week's "free trial" of a commercial product - unless they're willing to let you trial it for at least a year. GMS get to practice with their learning environment, get it how they want it, configure it as they see fit, and they're not paying a licence to do so. This means that they don't rush it into classrooms / homework / the school community "because we've paid for it" and so things can progress naturally, without being forced, and at a pace that supports both learners of all roles (both staff and students). Result, George!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Moodle, Moodle everywhere...

Well, from last year when HUGToB flew the Moodle flag at BETT and one or two other stands mentioned it in passing (we did make the news, mind...) - this year the world and his wife / her husband were dropping the "m" word. I was going to scuttle round and take photos of all of the stands who mentioned it, but ran out of time.
Eventually, after the lack of internet connectivity to schools in Buckinghamshire made the local press, BT fixed things after what appeared to be a breathtaking display of ineptitude. A little bird told me the problem was that a card in a rack somewhere wasn't seated properly (note to the non technical: that means someone hadn't pushed it in) - I was also told about BT engineers being sent to an exchange in one town to fix something, only to go to the wrong town, find everything there fine (unsurprisingly) and head home... eventually when things were fixed, we still had a 6 hour wait until 11pm on Thursday in case resetting the switch inconvenienced the other customers who used it. Seriously, if BT had been at the show I'd have been tempted to nip round the back of their stand and pull all the cables out. Just for effect, you understand.
One of the most useful meetings I had was with Hannah Jones, who runs the SLICT programme delivered by the NCSL. Reading her comments in the Guardian's Learning Platforms supplement last week (still not online - unbelievable!) - two main points come out:

  • learning platforms shouldn't be contained within individual schools and
  • they should be driven by the learners themselves

Can I tick both boxes? I hope so... we're using something that's written by educators and influenced by teachers, and I've got a vision for an ePortfolio system which will definitely place the learner at the centre of all this - it has to. Also, using the same system across the county means that those schools who want to be involved can smooth transition, 14-19 sharing and professional development between them - and surely this makes for a better experience for both learners and teachers? Anyway, here's Leon's interview with Hannah which stresses the importance of leadership in all this... it also references the Becta Educational Change & ICT report.

I'd be interested to know if 40% of school leaders in Buckinghamshire have been through SLICT, which I heard one head describe as "the best piece of professional development I've ever been on". Result! See the rest of the Learn4Life BETT videos here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

BETT Wednesday - all quiet on the BT front

Wednesday's the first day of BETT, and a very quiet day it is too. It's made even quieter for me by the fact that, around about the start of the show, a piece of BT network equipment fails in London meaning that there's no access to any of the Breeze/Connect or Moodle stuff I'm supposed to be demonstrating at the show. Far more importantly, it means there's no access to BucksGfL services for schools in Bucks - schools within the Wide Area Network (WAN) should be able to access things but since external email and web use takes up the vast amount of traffic this is a very significant failure on BT's behalf - and also UKERNA / Janet who are s'posed to be ensuring for us that the service is functioning. Several assurances from BT that "things are fixed" are, at best mistaken and at worst fibs, so the entire day is spent trying to find out from anyone at UKERNA or BT what's going on. Needless to say, they don't know or don't say, and we are left fuming.
Meanwhile, at the show, the main focus is - guess what? Learning Platforms, Learning Platforms, Learning Platforms... those suppliers who are on the Becta approved list are strutting it about but not many other people seem to care. Informal discussions with other providers and individuals make it clear that the real world is very different to that evisaged by the framework.
My main concern is that some sort of connectivity for schools in Bucks arrives ASAP - and on a much less significant level, that it arrives in time for the BETT seminar that Steve Snowball, Mark Granger and I are due to give on Friday.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Jo Moore's last minute Christmas list

Who? Well, apparently, she never uttered (or emailed) the phrase "a good day to bury bad news", but what were you doing on the Friday before Christmas? I think I was shopping, I don't really remember, that bit of the year is a bit fuzzy, you know how it is, it's a little I can't remember what I've got to do...

  • buy stuffing ingredients
  • hand deliver those last few cards
  • arrange exactly what I'm doing on Christmas Eve
  • release list of approved Learning Platform Services Providers
  • check there's enough beer in
  • buy more gift wrap
Hang on... there's something odd about that list. Of course... no-one buys stuffing nowadays, why bother making your own when there are lots of people who know far better than you what stuffing should look like, taste like and consist of.
As is the way with significant announcements fit to cause an epidemic of narcolepsy, 22nd December (was it in the afternoon after everyone had gone home? I'm not sure...) was the appointed time for Becta to release the list of approved providers for LP services.
The longer the Becta LP process went on, the clearer it became that for many people its announcement would be accompanied by the sound of a stable door slamming shut, or at least slamming and then remaining slightly ajar. Before the process had come close to finishing there were rumours about that DigitalBrian hadn't made the final round - and if that was the case what would all of the schools in London be left with? Also, Capita's own Learning Platform wasn't going forward, whether due to it failing or Capita realising they should invest their time and effort in opening SIMS up to work with as many other systems as possible. Of course here in Buckinghamshire we're with Atomwide, who provide our Moodles, will provide an ePortfolio and the associated infrastructure and other services based on our single-sign on. Atomwide made the last 14 (from about 119 applicants) and passed all of the technical compliance things - i.e. the Moodle / Elgg solution - but ultimately didn't make the final list. Forgive the Catherine Tates - but I don't think anyone's that bovvered. The DfES & Becta have been following where schools and local authorities have already been, and many learners are already using systems which have been in place long before anything went out to consultation or any other procurement process.With Lord Adonis quoted as saying "Institutions are not mandated to purchase from within [the procurement] frameworks" it's business as usual as far as we're concerned.
Oh, and if you're interested Atomwide are still on the framework as a subcontractor to RM to supply Moodle through any of their framework agreements - and if you're wondering about Kaleidos, have a look at my views of this and Moodle. Will RM ever allow anyone to choose Moodle over Kaleidos? Which reminds me, must go and get my copy of theGuardian today.
1pm edit:
I'm pleasantly surprised by the Guardian Learning Platforms supplement, but more disappointed by the fact that it's not available online... no, really! There's a useful page on how to support schools in using LPs, an interesting article on Alastair Wells at Netherhall School on their use of Uniservity, Moodle and Yacapaca and quite a few references to Moodle throughout the supplement. What is interesting to my mind is that the list of Becta approved LP providers mentioned above isn't to the fore - rather the supplement reflects the real world, that there is a lot of existing practice, developing pedagogies, issues for assessment, etc - and government attempts to corral all of this into a few neat boxes defined and supplied by a few chosen companies is so much herding of cats. Rather there are several mentions by contributors of the Becta self-review framework, a much more mature way than the reactive process of trying to categorise educational practice into "functional requirements and technical specifications".
If you're coming to BETT, please come and say hello, it's always good to see friendly faces!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Free! SCORM! Flash! (etc) & The Guardian & Being Scared At BETT

If the acronym SCORM means anything to you (should it? to anyone? should a teacher or pupil ever see those five letters in that proximity and that order? discuss...) then this is quite possibly for you, or someone you know who doesn't get out much...

Xerte - examples / download

"Xerte is an xml editor and run time engine that makes it easy to create and deploy interactive learning objects that are highly accessible and SCORM compliant. Xerte helps you focus on interactive design by providing tools that are fit for purpose and easy to use. Users of Xerte will be familiar with Flash and will benefit from some experience in ActionScript or JavaScript..."

Maybe that last bit excludes me and you but still, go and play!

Ooh nearly forgot, and tomorrow the Guardian's E-Learning section (now renamed Link presumably 'cos it's easier to pronounce than educ@Guardian) comes with a supplement on Learning Platforms in association with RM and Intel. Interesting reading or a shoe-in for the usual suspects? Let's see... for the moment go and read John Pugh's article on the DfES/Becta's attitude to Open Source - Stephen Lucey's usual reply is there too.

Oh, and if you're off to BETT this week, please don't be frightened by the scary people who will harangue you with (maybe even the exact) words to the effect of Are you ready for Spring 2008? Don't be afraid, they're just trying to scare you 'cos they know you've got money. Trust me.

Return to Naples

It's the Monday of BETT week.
All around the country (or at least in those regions within bearable travelling distance of London), headteachers are asking their ICT co-ords / network managers "where is it you're going to in London again?", to which the answer will come "Earls Court - or is it Olympia?".
BETT 2006Just before BETT last year was the first blog posting in this neck of the woods and this year I'm schlepping off to Olympia to be on the Adobe stand at K40 in the National Hall demonstrating Connect (the new Adobesque name for Breeze) and Captivate in my role as an AEL, I'll also be camping on the edge of the Atomwide stand at K46 (just across the way from Adobe, head for the DfES Policy in Practice monolith and you're there) telling people who want to know about what Buckinghamshire have been doing with Moodle. Atomwide's application to be a Moodle partner is in a long and winding queue somewhere, so it's not possible to have a Moodle logo (or even the word) on the stand (it's all very complicated - or simple, depending on your point on view), there is a Moodle partners' stand upstairs at SW60 and a search of the BETT exhibitors will provide a brief list of new Moodle-related products and services (including a Moodle on a stick type application - ring any bells, anyone? why not make your own and save yourself a few bob?).
Oh, and on Friday I'm teaming up with Mark Granger and Steve Snowball from West Sussex to present a seminar for Naace entitled (ahem) Lessons Learned from Implementing a Virtual Learning Environment Across Two Local Authorities in England - it's at 4.15pm in Seminar Theatre C and does exactly what it says on the tin. I hope. Apparently it's going to be recorded and subjected to the usual podcast yadda, so will no doubt be around elsewhere soon. We hope to link up with some pupils from West Sussex via their Moodle, so if you're around at the death on Friday and fancy a sit-down, please come along if you've not seen what's being done in Buckinghamshire and West Sussex. I know it'll the end of Friday, but please try not to sleep!
Speaking of internet audio, I came across an extended interview with Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia on BBC Radio Five Live. It's a useful piece to hear and will be on the BBC site for the next seven days - it covers a little about Creative Commons, goes over the philosophy behind Wikipedia and similar collaborative projects and covers why "non-commercial" doesn't mean "anti-commercial". It also floats the idea of free college/university courses for everyone, i.e. giving them the skills to use the information at their disposal. Have a listen and see what you think...