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' .bucks.sch.uk 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.

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