Friday, October 05, 2007

Two cans of lager and a well-managed VLE please

Over the last few weeks Geoff L and I have been working in a number of our secondary schools, both re-visiting some who we offered training to last term and visiting some other schools for the first time. It's been an interesting experience and some common threads have started to emerge.

  • it's clear that (as we always knew and as applies to most things in school) effective and involved leadership at a senior level is essential if a school's virtual learning environment/learning platform is to be used effectively by more than just a few keen teachers. In particular, in a couple of schools where senior leaders said they were very keen but only turned up for the first training session (to ensure that everyone else came? who knows...) then nothing really moved on. Why bother doing this if it's not part of your school's overall development plan, if your senior team don't seem bothered (even if they really are)?
  • the role of ICT support staff is crucial in many ways - both as enablers for keen but relatively untechnical senior leaders and limiters for keen staff who really want to get going. At last week's Becta conference on Harnessing Technology Niel McLean made the observation that there's no way a school would allow its caretaking / facilities staff to dictate how teaching was done in the classroom, or even what was taught, but that's effectively what happens if a network manager pulls the strings concerning what can and cannot be used in the classroom - even down to the implementation of a VLE.
  • school staff should do what they're employed to do - in the case of a VLE I would surmise that this means:
    • Senior Leaders providing much of the vision, leadership and resourcing for the use of a Learning Platform - without necessarily having the technical know-how of how to run the thing, although they should be aware of what it can do;
    • ICT Support Staff ensuring that everyone in school has an account and can access the system;
    • Administrative Staff ensuring (where necessary) that class lists, year groups etc, are up to date and accurate;
    • Learning Resource/Library Staff (where the school is enlightened enough to include them in its planning) being involved in planning, organising the management of and encouraging students and staff to use the VLE;
    • Teachers using the VLE to support their teaching - they shouldn't be responsible for knowing who's in which year or class, or ensuring that all students and fellow staff have accounts, or anything. They should use it to enhance, extend and challenge their students and teaching;
    • Students having the (optional) role of challenging all of the above to see how things could be better... maybe.
  • if the above isn't in place to a greater extent, any learning platform implementation will not succeed, at least not on a whole-school, embedded basis. It makes me smile when vendors of Learning Platforms market things to schools as if they are a magic bullet which will transform a school at the flick of a switch - when in reality nothing can be further from the truth.
  • as has been written elsewhere around here, primary schools will drive practice in secondary schools. An approximate quote from one person who's leading the use of Moodle in one of our schools:
    "we started teaching our Year 7s how to use the VLE and they said "We've been doing this for a year in Primary School so we already know what to do thanks..." - that really gave us a kick up the backside..."
    ...and this is only going to increase...

And finally... the picture at the top? Well, at the end of one of our current rounds of training one of the participants presented Geoff and I with a can of Carling each. Cheers!


  1. "ICT Support Staff ensuring that everyone in school has an account and can access the system;"

    That's pretty easy then.. ICT Support probably shouldn't bother assisting them in their use of the VLE beyond the initial log on. If they need to know more they should just try harder.

    Your other (second-hand) comment relating to caretaking staff was similarly unhelpful. It comes from the perspective of a teacher who has suffered at the hands of a dictatorial ICT Manager rather than the open-minded viewpoint that those with more advanced IT skills might be able to guide/nudge/help staff who struggle with, or fear, technology.

  2. Actually, note that the comment about ICT support staff (and other colleagues) was about what they should do, not what they shouldn't. Some schools have support staff who go more than the extra mile and offer guidance, support, training, etc. - but that doesn't work in all schools. In some it's due to time constraints, in others it's due to the attitude that every aspect of a VLE (including its use) should be under the control of the network support staff - which is where the Niel McLean comment about the caretaking staff comes in.
    My view definitely doesn't come from the point of view of someone who's suffered at the hands of ICT support staff - but it was inspired by a series of training sessions for teachers and one member of support staff who decided that s/he would decide when students were ready to use the VLE, despite the staff saying "they're ready and want to use it and so do we". Contrast that with the many good examples I've seen across the county of support staff empowering teaching staff to get on and teach via their thoughtful and appropriate support, and you can probably guess which environment most people would like to be in.