Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Learning From Rainbows

I've just driven back from Tylers Green Middle School where we've had the second session (first hands-on session) of training for a group of primary schools. They were keen to get on and the first thing we did was downloading a shared course from the central BucksGfL Moodle help section, and then use this as a basis for simple operations - moving, hiding and editing items, moving and hiding sections, how to navigate around a Moodle course, how to view activity reports, etc.
Naturally, with it being the 10th October, my soundtrack to driving to Tylers Green and back was In Rainbows, the release of which has made it into mainstream media and beyond the world of the muso by (in case you've been living under a rock) being an album by a major artist which is (potentially) free. On completing your order for the download you are asked to specify how much you would like to pay - anything between £0.00 and £99.99. Of course, Radiohead can afford to do this (as can The Charlatans), as they've already made their money, but the word from the heads on the radio this morning was that this wasn't a viable strategy for anyone coming into the music business for the first time.
This week on the Naacetalk advisory list there's a message from the Chief Executive of the North-West Learning Grid, Gary Clawson. NWLG have already got a track record of sharing free resources, whether it be DiDA courses in Moodle form, or all sorts of other free resources. This email was a rewording of something that came out in a Naace Newsletter the other week and is essentially a call for a national repository of free learning resources, many from Local Authorities and RBC, which would be available to all. The suggested format is SCORM (which, to use a phrase beloved of my colleague Geoff, is seen by many vocal contributors to the Naacelist as about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike as far as learning goes) and could (on one level) be seen as a viable alternative to resources available via eLCs through Curriculum Online. Go and find out more (and sign up) from the NWLG site.
I've always maintained that to exhibit joined-up thinking in this area Becta need to sort a few things out, something like...

  • we want people to use Learning Platforms / VLEs;
  • we are funding schools (for the moment) with eLCs;
  • eLCs are frequently used to purchase resources which languish somewhere or are underused;
  • many eLCs are used to provide access to web sites which add yet another set up usernames and passwords to the already vast constellation of such which schools have.

However, we have a couple of (vague) standards in this area: Shibboleth (for authentication & access management) and SCORM (for learning resources).

So why not insist that, before an "online resource" can be badged with the Curriculum Online Seal of Approval:

  • if it's a resource which involves logging in to a vendor's web site, the resource should be Shibboleth compliant so that existing school usernames can be used;
  • if it's an online resource then it must be available in a SCORM-compliant version, so it can be used by the Learning Platforms which schools are expected to use.

We're already trying to encourage schools to ask questions of their software suppliers as regards their use in Moodle, particularly in the area of licensing, SCORM-like issues and the whole breaking the resources down into useable chunks thing. However, until someone (like Becta) mandates this, they will be just individual schools with little influence. No change there then.

Back to Radiohead. As we were doing the course today, and some of the schools were getting excited about downloading other courses (shared by other schools) from the main BucksGfL site, I couldn't help but wonder: If we gave schools to opportunity to pay for these resources (or to pay in kind by committing to sharing their own) if they wanted to, would they? Should they? Or should (as the NWLG (and I) believe) the outcome of so much Government investment, so much time and effort, so much intelligence, crafty and creativity be a wealth of resources which are available, for free, to anyone who wants to use them? Come to think of it, won't the commercial VLE companies just incorporate the content (even if it's licensed under Creative Commons) into their own systems ("at no extra cost - so we're not using it for commercial gain...")? Hmmm...

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