Thursday, June 21, 2007

Moodle for infants: not a myth

Infant school Moodlers - take a bow!A long time ago, reading Miles Berry's report on A virtual learning environment in primary education, the most striking thing is the quote from Becta which opens the report:

A fully integrated VLE [may] not be appropriate for a primary school at this stage in VLE development”
(Becta, 2003).
Now, of course, that quote is four years out of date - so have things moved on? Of course, VLEs and related technology have progressed and (more importantly) so have schools' expectations and capabilities. Part of it is due to funding, part due to the gradual impact of the internet on culture in general, and an important part is the skills and expectations of an increasing number of staff as there's a shift in the demography of most staff rooms.
As far as I can tell there's always been an assumption that for primary you can read Key Stage 2 (that's age 7 and up if you're reading this outside of the UK). Quite why that's the case I'm not sure - does it reflect:
  • the ability of the children below that age;
  • the capability of the staff teaching those children; or
  • the infrastructure in most infant schools?

Who knows, but what I do know is that when Geoff L and I started introducing Moodle to groups of schools in the Aylesbury Vale district we initially worked with Junior schools (Key Stage 2, ages 7-11, Years 3-6) - which seemed to work OK - email is introduced as part of the ICT curriculum in Year 3 and, as all schools' Moodle logins use BucksGfL email IDs in a single sign-on system it's appropriate to enable pupils to use a learning environment then. Simple.

However, one thing Geoff found out in his other work with infant schools (Key Stage 1, ages 5-7, Years 1&2) was that they were a little put out at not being included. Why had we left them out? Good question. Maybe we'd made some assumptions based on those three points above... With that in mind we have recently finished a series of four sessions with schools in Aylesbury Vale who are part of the Federation of Small Schools (FOSS). These are small infant schools who might have around a hundred pupils - or in some cases significantly less (when I joined Bucks I heard of one school which had "more governors than pupils" - if that was true three years ago, I'm not sure it is now). Some of them give out usernames in Year 2, others don't give them out at all. At a VLE workshop at the Downley School last week someone said "oh, we give the children their usernames in Reception" (aka Nursery, 3-5 years old) - but with email disabled. The issue with usernames is that if you want to use interactive activities which could be tracked then the pupils need to be logged in as themselves, so pupils must have usernames and passwords in order for that to happen.

So, the training we've done took a similar format to work that's been done across the County in junior schools and individual secondaries - we pay for supply cover to give them time to attend, and the outcome is that they agree to share the results of their work with other schools. Due to the nature of very small schools, this might take longer than with juniors, but I'm willing to wait. How many of the commercial learning platform vendors are seriously going to spend the time working with schools like these to develop something specific for Key Stage 1 - bespoke resources, not off-the-peg stuff.

In the training we covered (among other things): using RSS feeds, adding web links & documents, creating choices, adding quizzes, downloading courses which other schools have written and shared and sharing courses once you've created them. On a wider scale, what this means is that: we've now got a tool which is being used from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 5 with no modification for either end of the scale - any sixth form teacher (or student) who'd used the system could look at something a Year 2 teacher (or pupil) had created and immediately understand what's going on in front of them. Is this significant or just an irrelevant point?

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