Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Secondary Moodling at 100mph

It's taking a while, but as a team we're gradually working our way through an increasing number of secondary schools doing our four session Moodle training - we pay for supply cover for up to six people, and the school can send along another six if necessary as long as it sorts out cover for them.
We're currently in two Aylesbury schools - Sir Henry Floyd Grammar and Mandeville Upper. We've only done one session so far at SHF, but at Mandeville things are progressing at a rate of knots. Normally over the four sessions we cover a fair amount of topics - using resources (web links, documents, directories of files) and activities (choices, forums, assignments, quizzes) as well as thinking about whole-school issues and also covering RSS feeds (what they are and how to use them) and embedding pictures, audio and video from around the internet in a school's Moodle site.
As mentioned, the twelve staff involved at Mandeville are hurrying along (they're normally ahead of me) and so by halfway through yesterday's session (the third of four) we'd pretty much covered everything we'd normally cover in four sessions. This is almost certainly down to the fact that many of the staff had been putting in a fair amount of effort between sessions, which meant they've had a chance to reinforce and develop what's been done in "class".
So, what to do next week? We don't normally cover these, but it's going to be using Glossaries and Wikis - which incidentally, are featured in passing in the excellent Teachers TV video Secondary ICT Management - VLE in Action which covers Queen Elizabeth School in Kirby Lonsdale, Cumbria, supported by the excellent CLEO. Subjects covered include Year 12 English Literature, Year 10 Food Technology,
Some quotes from the programme:

Anyone who says that the use of a VLE is going to save you time in the short-term is talking baloney...

[The support from CLEO] gives this kind of activity a professional legitimacy.

The longest process was getting my head around what I wanted to do, once I'd done that the actual setting up of the thing was quite easy...

I would advise people to dip their toe in the water and get going as soon as they can... find someone who's got a torch for learning, as opposed to a torch for technology...

Be clear that the most important part of a Virtual Learning Environment is the word 'learning' and just see it as a natural extension of all the various aspects of school life...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Primary training and another visit from Becta

This week I've been working with Pat, Andy and Geoff, colleagues from the ICT team, on training primaries and introducing them to their Moodles. We've been doing this for a while now and it's always difficult to know how to approach it. We've had most of the keen schools, those who were gagging to get started, and now we're at the stage where many of the schools we're working with are coming in up to a year and a half after some primaries have been using their VLE. Of course, it's very easy for these schools to look at the VLEs of some of the more established primaries and feel intimidated, the "How am I expected to achieve that?" reaction that's perfectly understandable. I guess our job is to reassure the schools that their job isn't necessarily to match and imitate those who've gone before, but to do something that is tailored to the needs of their schools. As such there's little pressure (from us, anyway) to "achieve" a VLE/Learning Platform by a particular date, and as we're not paying for a license for the software then there's no hurry to get going just because something's available to the school. Instead the school can use it when it feels ready - after Ofsted have been, after the new headteacher's had a term to bed in, whatever.
So should we insist that the remaining schools come on board, so that we can meet the oft-quoted but vague "Spring 2008" "target" for online learning spaces, or do we allow them to hop on board when they're ready? I'm aware of another local authority (also using Moodle) who have created instances of Moodle for all of their schools, whether they're starting to use it or not. Our approach is to do them in batches:

  • the ICT curriculum team identify those schools who might be keen, or ask specific schools to come along;
  • we submit a list of these schools to Atomwide as soon as we can before their training starts - hopefully about a month before but in the past it's been only a couple of days before (oops, my fault);
  • Atomwide check that they're controlling the schools' domains - if they are, it's a cinch, if not, some arrangement needs to be arrived at with whoever's holding the domain;
  • Atomwide do the creation of the Moodle and set up the synchronisation with the BucksGfL database;
  • on the first day of training, we set up those attending to be Moodle admins through their BucksGfL profile.

That's the approximate process, and it seems to work quite well. Compared to the other approach it means we only create Moodles when we need to, but it does mean some schools won't have one set up until the end of the cycle of training - but hopefully by this time we'll have learned much on all aspects of deployment - training, setup, sharing resources, etc. etc.

Last week I was just about to start a meeting in a secondary school when I got a phone call from Robin Ball from Becta. He said that Becta were looking at preparing a number of case studies on Learning Platforms and wanted to do one on an LA which was using Open Source software for its LP. Within an hour I'd had a phone message from one of his colleagues at Becta and on Tuesday this week two people came down and spent a couple of hours interviewing me about things in Bucks. It must be dull to listen to, but as we talked one thing that struck me was how different things are now in the detail to how they were even a year ago. One of the questions was "so what do you do with the money which is there for procuring LPs?" to which my answer was the ten or so primaries we'd been training on Weds morning were the answer.

Our approach to things like Inset is slightly different - we are happy to offer Inset to schools on a "delayed payment" arrangement. The Inset doesn't cost the school anything as long as they share courses, resources, quiz questions by an agreed date - if not, then we'll invoice them for the cost of the Inset later on. Most schools will have staff who are keen and capable of preparing such materials; it's getting them to adopt the idea of sharing that's more of a challenge. The advantage (to my mind) of this approach is that we invest the funding twice - once in building capacity in staff and a second time in generating content which can be shared with other schools. We're currently thinking about ways of working with those schools who we've already trained - should we invest our time in going round prodding them for anything good they'd like to share within the County. It'll take a while before the culture of sharing "stuff" is embedded, but in some forms it's started over the past couple of years and I think that in itself it's worth investing effort and time in, no matter what form the outcomes might be.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The not-retro-in-any-way Naace Social Networking Conference

Brrr it's cold. Today I'm sat in The Palace, Tamworth, which hosted the The Bay City Rollers at the weekend and in future weeks will host a Whitesnake tribute band. However, in a departure from this the venue is bang up to date as it hosts the Naace Social Networking Conference, which places it firmly in the twentieth twenty-first century.
So, today might be the only useful thing to have come down the pipes as a result of the "naace will eat itself" tool that the Naacetalk Advisory list has become over the last few months. Anyway, the first thing that strikes me is the number of "sponsors" here for the conference about Social Networking Sites (SNS). This morning there are a series of "lightning" talks (i.e. five minutes long), at least half of which appear to be directly related to specific products. Well, as they're lightning talks I guess the only thing I can do it give them a one sentence summary. You can see the entire programme in PDF if you like, or you can read whatever I tap out below. The most important thing at any ICT conference is to get a seat near to a plug, so I'm sat at the back on the wireless network sharing an extension lead with the venue's sound desk, which has recently mixed Bye Bye Baby and will mix Here I Go Again and more. Today, it'll have to make do with a bunch of people promoting software or companies they have relationships with, and the occasional person from a school. Actually, only one practitioner here, according to the programme.
First impressions? Well, I hope this isn't too pejorative, but you'd never guess this was a "Web 2.0" gathering from the clientele. Anyway, I'll publish it now (at the start) and update it throughout the day.
First up is Stephen Carrick-Davies from Childnet International on Social Networking opportunities and risks for children and educators. I saw his presentation at the Handheld Learning Conference a couple of weeks ago on Mogulus and wonder if this might be similar. He starts off with Douglas Adam's point that whatever you're born with is just "stuff", whatever comes later (before 35) is understandable, anything invented when you're older than that is a bit scary until about ten years later when it might be OK. Actually, I've just realised that he's Josie Fraser's boss (or one of them), which makes sense now, suddenly I understand what she's doing.
Positive things on SNS - the ability to hang out & have an identity, a shift from consumption to creation, risk assessment, peer to peer education and informal learning.
OK, here are the lightning talks (plus my one sentence summary). These are all, allegedly, examples of how social networking is being practically incorporated into mainstream education:

  • Andy Preston, EduJam: recap on why the conference is here, quick plug for EduJam, no examples of anything;
  • Ian Lynch, TheIngots: online courses and accreditation for work by students - examples of students' work and how it's assessed by using Web 2.0 tools;
  • John Hackett, The Learning Landscape for Schools: it's about blogs, file storage and RSS, apparently - or a tweaked version of Elgg. This is purely a promotional piece - the two important things? The URL of the product and the fact that the speaker's here all day. No examples of anything due to the connection going down - don't classroom teachers have a Plan B? I think this talk was about 10 minutes;
  • Drew Buddie, The Royal Masonic School: examples of Web 2.0, descriptions of practice within speaker's Moodle, example of anonymised collaboration, a nice picture of the speaker's daughter playing EyeToy against her stuffed toy lamb,which elicits "aaaaaaahs" from many of the audience;
  • Doug Dickinson, apparently on behalf of Podium: it's a software promotion, which looks like it shows how an ICT consultant can use a podcasting tool to record some Shakespeare, which is entertainingly theatrical;
  • Charles Worth, Infomapper: It's a five minute plug for the product. That's all you need to know. Obviously there are no examples of practice, and I think I'm losing the will to live.
Well, unless I'm very much mistaken I saw four and a bit plugs for software tools and nearly two examples of practice. Without meaning to offend anyone who presented (all of whom had a tough job, after five minutes the microphone was muted) but instead of being the main focus as promised, evidence of how social networking tools are being practically incorporated into mainstream teaching was conspicuous by its absence, and as such the session has made me very frustrated. I can't imagine any teachers who had been asked to present on "examples of practice" coming along and showing how to use a piece of software or trumpeting its great features, so, how does an advisory community get away with it? Grrr, I give up.
After an odd cup of Earl Grey Green Tea, Ruth Hammond from Becta is speaking about the national perspective on safeguarding children online and how this shouldn't be just an ICT thing - even though it's in the revised secondary ICT programme of study. Apparently the new SEF now includes section 4b - the extent to which learners adopt safe and responsible practices in using new technologies, including the internet. There are some interestinglinks to places like Teachernet, Know IT All, CEOP and the TDA, as well as explanations of what roles those resources might play in combatting cyberbullying - and not just of children.
Leon Cych Workforce remodelling and web 2.0: Leon is talking about why Web 2.0 is a challenge which requires remodelling of the workforce – why models of CPD need to take into account what happens outside the classroom as well as what happens inside it.
As you’d hope, it’s about the need for proper education about how to use the real-world resources rather than expecting learners to use dumbed-down/emasculated versions of these tools. Kids have got good media literacy but no life skills – that’s an important gap. One question he asks at the end is “what can Naace do?”. His answers include: get a dynamic forum, put in a Moodle or something, have a go. Someone then says that there are lots of things coming but implies that they’re being tested so that they work. This leads to the question in my mind – what about creativity (after Sir Ken Robinson)? Why can’t an organisation like Naace (or a school, or an LA) be permitted to try something, maybe even get it wrong, learn the lessons, but at least do something? Maybe there'll be an answer later. In the meantime it's time for lunch.
Terry Freedman, editor of so-long-in-gestation-it-might-come-out-as-an-elephant Coming Of Age 2, is presenting on Social networking from a teen's perspective. He questions some of the stats around SNS, in particular the issues around active users versus those who have a mainly dormant account. One interesting area is a review of Their Space (the Demos report) by teenagers - the teenagers' response to some of the portraits of scrupulous, well-informed, balanced teenagers in the report are very interesting and contradict the report's main findings. The presentation is available online and will make interesting reading once the data (such as it is) is fleshed out with some more examined case studies.
The final parallel session is done by Theo Kuchuel, who does an excellent presentation on practical uses of things like, flickr for things like classroom displays, uses of wikis like the Flat Classroom project, plus the obligatory mentions of Facebook.
The final "expert panel" session is supposed to (the programme says) include people from Bebo and Google, but doesn't. There's a dearth of questions, and I do try and point out that it would have been a good idea to model good social networking by using a social networking site to do some pre-conference administration. I came to a Naace meeting on transforming CPD a few years ago and we used a content management system instead of a VLE for course preparation; anyway it's suggested that we did indeed use some sort of social networking tool since the Naacetalk advisory list was the genesis of today and information was shared on the Naace web site. Which, bearing in mind the nature of the advisory list recently, makes me wonder what any follow-up conference might be. Does anyone in Naace get what social networking really is? (I don't know the answer to that, it's just a question I've heard asked a few times today by others). Is anyone up for an anti-social networking conference?