Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Would you like to play with your Moodle?

I recently received an invitation to the launch of the PSP in education which is in a couple of weeks hosted by ConnectED. I've dealt with them in the past as they started to look at using the PS2 in education and in recent years they've been looking at the PSP along similar lines.

Today they were at the Naace Exhibition, so I said hello and played with the web browsing capabilities. Just in case you're interested, here's the Winslow Moodle being browsed on a PSP (I'm doing the filming and mumbling, Chris from ConnectED is doing the browsing). Logging in is fine, the only thing I didn't try was the HTML editor, but if that didn't work plain text entry should work perfectly...
(Note that this is on Google Video, so might be blocked if you try and view it in certain establishments.)

Chris Wood - LGfL Platform Manager - The Learning Platform Landscape

This session purports to give an overview of Learning Platforms - it'll be interesting to see if it gives a genuine overview, or just a London-centric view of the world.

The first controversial assertion is that primary schools don't really need a learning environment - with some quite honestly really-backwards looking opinions about the capability to use them within primary (except at upper Key Stage 2, apparently). This view takes the view that VLEs are for school organisation and organisation of learning resources - a really small-scale vision, if it can be called that. Are we as local authority advisers in a position to decide when schools can and can't start using this technology? That doesn't seem very personalised to me.

An example of this is in the "when do you give out usernames?" - now until recently the 'bottom limit' of this for us when talking with schools (from their experience) has been Year 3 - however the other day I spoke to someone from one of our primary schools using Moodle - she said "we give out usernames halfway through Year 2 for kids to take home" - should I make that decision on behalf of the school or should the school? Not really much of a question there...

Now on to the past of the LGfL Learning Platform - Digitalbrain was started as the VLE in London in 2001 ("too early" apparently). The area of implentation issues is highlighted again - and includes a link to the Implementation Advice published on LGfL. Basically, Digitalbrain didn't do much for the last two years and then had to re-write their entire offering in Java - an interesting move, as this would bring stability and compatibilty issues. Digitalbrain didn't get onto the Framework because they failed at the financial hurdle - something I'd heard for a while before the Framework was announced but didn't know the reason behind it.

Apparently Fronter is not a replacement for Digitalbrain in London. DB remains the VLE option and Fronter is the MLE option. The anticipation is that primaries will stick with DB (bless, because it can't do that much) and secondaries will go to Fronter.

This has been an OK presentation but doesn't do what it says on the tin - even if was just one person's viewpoint, an overview of the Learning Platform Landscape, trends, etc. would have been nice. I feel I know a lot about London's story but not about the general LP sphere.

It's now covering AJAX (so very fresh and new) and (oooh) Google Documents etc. A question's asked about ownership of teacher uploaded content to the VLE - does the LGfL have a policy on this? The answer is that (apparently) if teachers create resources in work time it's owned by your employer, if it's outside of work time it's owned by the creator. I know which I'd rather. There's a question about SIF and how that links the Shibboleth - lots of answers but Atomwide (who did 90% of the work which won the LGfL the Computer Award for Public Sector Projects) aren't mentioned. An interesting session if you want to know about London, but those looking for a comprehensive view of the landscape might have to look elsewhere.

Andy Tyerman & Robin Ball - Becta Vision for Learning Platforms

Robin Ball came to see us in Buckinghamshire a while ago to see what we and West Sussex were doing with Moodle. This presentation starts off with some quotes from the Gilbert Review and then moves on to the eStrategy. The first acknowledgement is that Harnessing Technology was not written well in schoolspeak and needs to be repurposed for that.
The first quote is about the Spring 2008 target - with an emphasis that this is not a learning platform target. The second is the aspiration for MIS integration by 2010. These are obviously nebulous targets but the reaminder of the presentation is about the Learning Platforms Framework.
The main reasons for the Framework are the potential problems with 23,000 different buying units (schools) doing different things. There's an emphasis that the emphasis was on functionality.
Here are what recommendations are for procuring Learning Platforms:

  • Develop a vision for teaching and learning with SLT, teachers, parents, governors and learners
  • Complete the self-review framework
  • Work through the Learning Platform Functionality Matrix
  • (apparently) the effectiveness of a deployment is dependent on the robustness of the Statement of Requirements in which the mini-competition can be framed
The 2008 target is mentioned by Robin Ball but there's no real exploration of it. One point he does make is the accessibility was the major stumbling block for most of the suppliers of LPs. Finally Robin finishes with the "Web 2.0 in five minutes" video, so if you've not seen it here it is...
All in all this was a good presentation, but again I don't think it told many people in the room things they didn't know. At one point someone did ask "who is this presentation aimed at?" and the answer was "mainly local authorities" (there were a few school staff in the room) - but (crumbs) if a local authority came to this and learned a lot then I'd be worried. Not due to the nature of the presentation (which was fine) - but due to what that would say about the position of the LA in question.
As a bit of extension material, here's a scratchy podcast from Learn4Life of an interview with Robin Ball (I think he's on his handsfree in his car and it's recorded over Skype). At least he's safe from 3 points and a sixty quid fine.

Steve Molyneux - Are current Learning Platforms fit for 21st Century Learners?

Along with a couple of hundred other people I've braved / wimped through a downpour to come to the Riviera Centre to hear Steve Molyneux from The Learning Lab. The session aims (it says here):

This keynote will address the issues regarding Virtual Learning Environments and their possible unsuitability in providing support for 21st Century Learners. It will look at the characteristics of the Neo-Millennium Learner and offer debate as to the suitability of current software applications in exploiting these characteristics.

The session will challenge some of the current DfES/Becta thinking in this area and stimulate debate between practitioners, vendors and policy makers...

Sitting here with wet feet and legs isn't the best way to start the day.

Things don't start too well when one realises that lots of these slides have been seen before in other forms... covering similar sorts of things to what ALan November covers in information literacy.

Looking at the programme for this conference, I'm struck by how I really want to see lots of the parallel sessions (including ones running at the same time as mine) and could easily take or leave the compulsory sessions in the Learning Platforms theme. This presentation is OK, but it seems to be aimed at a particular generation - the overwhelming message appears to be "learners are capable and technologically advanced and the technology we're providing can't adapt to the way they work". The word "scary" even appears, which makes me wonder how much this is a sober, analytical take on VLEs other than a "ooo, look at the kids" sort of presentation. Apparently "digital natives are very different" - wow. There's a lot about "digital immigrants" as well - how they're not very good, how they still have an "accent" - but the problem with this viewpoint is that it puts the divide between children and adults - which is surely a false one. There are some kids who for a wide variety of reasons (SEN, culture, other factors) aren't comfortable with some technologies and lots of staff are comfortable with new technologies - but they wouldn't describe themselves as digital natives.

Lots of this presentation consists of videos demonstrating points, and a section lifted straight from Marc Prensky's original Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants article. There are the usual "ooo, isn't Web 2.0 exciting" slides - blogs! wikis! isn't it exciting! Aren't technologies amazing!

A feeling I've had often in sessions such at this, whether at Naace, Ultralab conferences, other Becta events, is that so much of this is people Of A Certain age getting excited about learners using technology,

OK, so now we're moving to VLEs/E-Learning. There are some very spurious points about E-Learning ("it comes from industry not education" - well that all depends on what your concept of E-Learning comes from) and so many misconceptions about what's actually going on in schools now - a really minimalist view of E-Learning with a complete lack of apprecation about what's happening. Steve Molyneux has just said that blogs, wikis and RSS feeds aren't effectively used in current E-Learning - well all I can say is get into some schools and you'll see what's happening.

Now it's a slide entitled "redefining the VLE" - let's incorporate blogs! Let's incorporate wikis! Let's have different roles! Apparently it's all about content repositories.

Once again it's another non-parallel session at Naace that I'm really disappointed with - but it's just a set of personal opinions I guess.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ICT culture is changing children's brains

Dr Martin Westwell from Oxford University is doing the first keynote presentation on the changes on brainwaves caused by ICT. He's doing a phenomenally interesting presentation about how connections between brain cells are stimulated by learning, by significance and all sorts of other things. Plus, he quotes Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes... always good in my book.

Socialisation rather than information has emerged as the primary use of the internet.
I won't document it here, hopefully it'll be podcast, but it's really interesting - especially if you're a computer gamer (Medal of Honor vs. Tetris, and using Super Monkey Ball 2 as a measure of how quick and effective surgeons are) so here's a bit of MoH...

He's talking about interfaces for Learning Platforms - saying that if we increase the gola relevant stimuli in an interface, those who are gamers and have a greater perceptual load capacity will still be easily distracted.
He's got some really interesting reflections and observations about TV in terms of how cognitively demanding it is - comparing Starsky and Hutch and The Sopranos (from the book Everything Bad Is Good For You by Stephen Johnson.
Brilliant and provocative (to my mind) - the sort of thing that makes it worth travelling all the way to Torquay for. He's just rubbished VAK Learning Styles, Brain Gym ("cleverly marketed - no foundation") and the idea that Water Makes You Smarter. A few years ago apparently Kevin Warwick addressed the conference - I've never really had a lot of time for him, but this seemed much more stimulating. Whether it's all correct, I've no idea...
His final point is a Venn diagram with three circles - Learning specialists, Subject specialists, Technology specialists and overlaps between the three, saying that rather than being one or t'other there should be overlaps between all three.

It's all about presentation

I'm here in Torquay ("the English Riveria") for the 2007 NAACE Conference. My presentation is on Thursday - up against people like Christina Preston and Mel Philipson... so, just me and about three people in the seminar room, then...
My presentation is part of the Learning Platforms and Web 2.0 theme (even though - oi! - for some reason it's not listed in that theme's page) - other presentations in the theme include ones by Miles Berry and Mark Bethelemy, both strong users of Moodle.
Right now the Minister of State for Schools, Jim Knight is giving the opening address via videoconference, as is custom at the start of the NAACE Conference. In contrast to some Government people who've addressed the conference at this point, he's clearly very technologically literate and aware of the issues and relevant technologies in this area - a reference to 14 year-olds splicing together videos of Prime Ministers and American Presidents into unseemly scenes may have been taken from experience of seeing it on YouTube, I'm not sure...
He says the most important issue is equity of access to technology - the e-inclusion issue, which is very relevant and something that should underpin everything that is done in the Learning Platform arena. He's also clear on the fact that e-inclusion doesn't just apply to schools - it's something which will affect all of society. It's really interesting that he seems to believe what he's talking about (yes, I know, insert cynical comment here...) but it sounds good.

We need to encourage all schools to adopt technology... but they need
(NAACE's) insight to support them in changing pedagogy and practice.
Chris Davison from SEGfL asks how the Government's going to support the cost of broadband for teachers - Jim Knight is very honest and says that there are no plans to fund that (obvious really - should the Government fund every piece of broadband access for teachers, eBay, music downloads etc - or how do they discriminate between professional use by teachers and personal use... it's not really going to happen, is it?). All in all it was an encouraging presentation, it seems that he wouldn't be phased by a relevant discussion about Learning Platforms. Oh, and he has a sense of humour - what are the chances of that happening?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Henley-on-Moodle & Father Jack says (a)RSS!

Today I've been at Gillott's School in Henley in Oxfordshire doing a day's work with some staff who are starting to develop the school's use of Moodle. Today there were six staff, two technical people, two Curriculum ICT staff, one person from MFL and one from Science. It was a fruitful day, we spent a lot of time going through worked examples of activities - choices, forums, assignments, lessons and then some....

Father Jack says RSS!!!Like Great Marlow School this is a school which is taking its time to plan things, but at the same time is starting to experiment with small groups of students. One of the most useful things to show people the power of the internet (and how this can be easily incorporated into Moodle) was some simple work using RSS feeds. For example, aside from the obvious BBC or Guardian news headlines on your site via RSS, did you know...
  • you can get the latest BBC Bitesize Revision areas for each subject in your site automatically via RSS?
  • you can use Google News or Yahoo! News to customise the sorts of stories you want on your Moodle site and have them fed in via RSS?
  • etc. etc.

It always makes me chuckle (or is it weep?) when someone selling Moodle to the as-yet-unitiated makes a huge deal of the fact that "you can have Newsround headlines, a link to your own school web site (no really, that's a very technical thing), a Wikipedia search, etc. on your Moodle site if we set it up for you" - good grief, we'll be allowed to change some text on our own Moodle front page next... it's not that these are bad things (obviously they're not) but it's the implication that "without us you couldn't do this" - it breeds dependence, and I'm pretty sure that the whole ethos of Moodle promotes the opposite...

This is why it's worth spending time developing capability in schools - so that staff and pupils can start to explore this for themselves. On Monday at our primary training day the overwhelming comment from everyone there was "this is so easy" - speaking on a personal level, it does my head in when people start to sell Moodle to schools from an odd position - namely the "this will change your world" point of view. It might do, but what's important here is the ability to change thinking, to modify expectations, not simply to make a fast buck by hosting oodles of Moodles without thinking about impacts on teaching and learning. Sorry, rant over.

In the meantime, here's a list of things I need to do for Bucks Moodlers in the near future:

  • combine the Primary VLE and Moodle Users areas on the BucksGfL into one - they shouldn't really be separate
  • provide information on Creative Commons tools for when (I hope) we start to share courses beyond Buckinghamshire
  • make a Captivate screencast on using RSS feeds in Moodle (that'll be freely available somewhere, probably on Google Video or something, but it'll definitely be in the BucksGfL Moodle users area as well
  • write my presentation for the Naace conference next week (oh, and someone please change that picture...)
  • request (again) that the company which keeps writing to all of our primary schools (create mail merge document > open spreadsheet of Bucks schools > merge > post...) - offering them Moodle and confusing the heck out of them - would desist from doing so, or at least be reasonable. No links in this bullet point. At least not yet...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Primaries get the sharing bug

Things are moving on apace with the roll-out of Moodle in our primaries. In the south of the County (Wycombe and Chiltern & South Bucks areas) Andy Dickson and Pat Trowbridge from the ICT curriculum support team have been encouraging schools to get involved. We had an "are you interested?" meeting in late January, at which everyone said "yes, we are..." so today I left home early to travel to Iver Heath Junior school, who hosted our first sessions introducing Moodle to a group of primaries.
We had about ten schools in the morning and about seven in the afternoon - as we're not shelling out on software licences we can pay for supply cover, so most schools sent two people along - many Headteachers came (really helpful if a primary school's thinking about Moodle) and we ran what was effectively the same session in both morning and afternoon. Those schools there in the morning had a much clearer idea of what they'd like to do - Tudors, World War 2, Geography, Numeracy were all in there. The plan is that schools decide what sorts of courses they'll build in conjunction with other schools - so there's no re-inventing of the wheel, much more collaboration and we can start towards some sort of community of practice around online learning.
Interestingly, at one point in the morning we showed the schools the Primary VLE area on the BucksGfL Moodle site - and I suddenly realised that people had been sharing courses with each other and I'd not noticed (which to my mind is A Good Thing) in a similar way to how courses and other resources are shared on the main Moodle Exchange. The current list of courses reads as:

How good is that? It's really exciting and (to my mind) reinforces my theory that primaries will be the main driving force in this - due to their number, the ways in which they work and the fact that there's much more scope for being created. I'm really looking forward to when the schools we're working with now begin to start sharing courses, and we get to cover many more curricular (and non-curricular!) areas.

Unfortunately to anyone reading from outside of Buckinghamshire, these courses are intended for sharing within Buckinghamshire schools only. I hope to look at sharing these on a wider basis - indeed, if you're from a primary school outside of Bucks and would like to start to participate in a course exchange then please add a comment to this entry and we'll see what we can do. Surely we can start something with the Moodlers in West Sussex or Cumbria and Lancashire?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Try a blend that creates a new class of learning | TEFL |

Try a blend that creates a new class of learning TEFL

a brief article on Blended Learning which offers using Moodle in a limited way to support TEFL, alongside wikis, podcasts and blogs as part of the blend....

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A song from a similar hymn sheet

Learning Platforms. ePortfolios.

You've got to love them. (No, really, sorry, you've got to, you've got money which you've got to spend on loving them.)
Actually, if you like the idea of Learning Platforms but don't like a top-down, government dictated, sausage factory view of them, then you'll love Martin Owen's post on the shiny newish Futurelab Flux blog. The comments are worth reading too...

It's always good to find someone who's (more than) a little cynical about what some would call a dystopian vision of how Learning Platforms might be, but is so obviously optimistic. If you've got a vision for using a whole bunch of tools which might be characterised by Those Who Tell You What To Spend as colouring outside of the lines, then you need to read the article above.

More Moodle mainstreaming on ZDNet

This time, not just an article on Becta and Open Source - today ZDNet published a full-on article entitled Moodle tackles e-learning muddle - when it arrived in my inbox I momentarily confused it with a posting from around here.
A good-from-a-Moodle-point-of-view article which is slightly let down by a quote from someone from Epic, who used to clog my inbox with marketese every now and then:

"It's not that big in primary or secondary schools yet because Becta, the government agency that outlines procurement processes, has not really engaged in open source as yet, but that is starting to change."


Read Moodle tackles e-learning muddle for yourself...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mix together mint, sugar, video, lime, rum, soda, Sir Ken Robinson...

and you get...
Mojiti! (Apparently in Chinese this means "magic click".) OK so it's not quite a Mojito. This came recommended by Leon Cych so I thought I'd have a go...
Mojiti Recipe:

  1. Take a video hosted online at YouTube, Google Video, Revver, etc.
  2. Add your own comments, subtitles, animations (rotten eggs anyone)?
  3. Save on the Mojiti site.
  4. Embed the video somewhere on your own web space, and...
Here are some of my (mainly serious) annotations to one of my favourite online videos anywhere, Sir Ken Robinson speaking on Creativity.

This would be an excellent tool for something like media studies, or art, or English, or, or...
Here's how it could work in Bucks:
  1. Teacher identifies appropriate Google / YouTube vid to be analysed by students.
  2. Teacher requests that individual vid to be unblocked and allowed through BucksGfL filtering
  3. Teacher sets "online text" assignment in school's Moodle
  4. School's Moodle admin ensures that "object embed" is enabled in Moodle settings
  5. Students create account on Mojiti, select video identified in (1) to be the basis for their annotations.
  6. Students create Mojiti Spot Sets to analyse video
  7. Students copy object
    code from their finished video and paste into their online text assignment
  8. Teacher can watch videos within Moodle's assignment marking system.
Now wouldn't that be neat? The main issues are with enabling embed across a Moodle site, which pre-v1.7 is a "for once and for all" setting, while in 1.7 it can be done in a more sophisticated way in conjunction with the new roles architecture.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

(av)ian flu can't quite better Breeze and BPS

I've been up to my eyes in flu (normal flu, not bloke flu or bird flu) since the weekend - and today, foolishly thinking I was over it, I kept two important appointments which were both, in their own way, extremely rewarding.

This morning Lindsey Thomas (the secondary English consultant from the Bucks Teaching & Learning Centre) and I were at Princes Risborough School to work with a small group of Year 9s on their speaking and listening coursework based on Romeo & Juliet. It's obvious why an English consultant would be there, but me? Well, we were trying a new approach to this coursework - namely the students would be producing their work as a Breeze (which will be called Connect when our server's upgraded) presentation and publishing it online. Each student was given the text from Romeo & Juliet as a PowerPoint presentation and then provided with a number of images which, if required, could be used to illustrate their presentations. The aim of the session was to produce fruit from all the planning which Lindsey, and staff at the school, had done with the students in previous weeks. Planning sheets were unfolded, notes were written and then after a little introduction to narrating a presentation within Breeze, the students set about narrating their presentations. Each one worked on a laptop with a headset and after some initial reticence (after all, everyone hates hearing their own voice, don't they?) they took to it. We learned a lot from the day, the the overwhelming response from the students was that they loved it - especially one of the group who suffered from dyslexia. We've opened up a small area on the PRS Moodle to support the students and demonstrate on a small scale what Moodle can do in conjunction with Breeze/Connect. This is the sort of project which will benefit from another look in the near future - and if I can, I'll publish some examples of the work here. Apparently "people from the National Strategy" are quite interested. Whatever that means...
I left Princes Risborough early as I had to head up north (in the county) to Buckingham, where Merlin John (former editor of the withdrawn TES Online section, though I bet he hates being known as that - see his site for a more up to date picture and some interesting articles) was at Buckingham Primary School. Merlin was there on behalf of the NCSL as part of their SLICT programme to talk to Paul Adams about the school's use of Moodle . BPS is a SLICT reference school (not sure if that's the right term) and Merlin wanted to find out more about the school's approach to its learning environment in terms of leadership, and then to chat with me briefly about what's happening here in Buckinghamshire. I arrived just as Paul was returning to the classroom so Merlin and I chatted for about an hour, it was really interesting to get a broad perspective on the area of learning platforms from someone who's clearly been more immersed in it for a longer time than I have.
Sometimes I can sense that when I talk about the work we're doing in Buckinghamshire, it can naturally focus on a few schools, the early adopters and those who look like they're more keen. I can also sense an unspoken comment "well, you've obviously spent an inordinate amount of time in that school so you can use it as a showpiece". BPS has some of the most interesting work on a Moodle I've ever seen - and today was the first time I'd ever visited. I guess that validates what Merlin was there to discover - how good strategic leadership of ICT can make a school self-sufficient in ways lots of schools aren't. Check out the VLE display on the wall at BPS - complete with a real keyboard! Apologies that it's out of focus - I forgot my camera and had to take a snap on my rapidly fading cameraphone...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Becta/Moodle makes ZDnet and Winslow make the local paper

Two "press" things, today and yesterday:
On a national scale, one of my Google Alerts picked up a Q&A with Stephen Lucey from Becta on ZDNet. The questions seem to have been assembled by reading recent posts on the Naacetalk list, but that's no bad thing. At least Stephen Lucey gives an answer that says "a learning platform is a range of products". Questions in the article include:

  • The nature of Becta's policy towards open source is not clear. While Becta published a report that seemed to back it, many industry critics say you favour large, proprietary suppliers. Could you clarify Becta's position?
  • A few eyebrows were raised when you revealed your 10-strong shortlist for the provision of learning platforms. There were no providers of open-source software in there. Why?
  • John Pugh is supportive of an open-source platform called Moodle. He is annoyed that schools can't procure products like that.

Read the full article here - or, if Moodle through the framework is what you're interested in, I refer the Right Honourable Member to the answer I gave earlier...

On a local scale, the Bucks Herald ran an article yesterday about Winslow CE Combined's use of their VLE. Katie Bownes and Emily Poole are quoted - we originally gave the paper a link to the BucksGfL information page so that other schools could find out more, but it wasn't include. Read the full article here.