Wednesday, June 27, 2007

OSS Watch report on Moodle sustainability

OK, so it's written by a certain M. Dougiamas, but this report from OSS Watch outlines the sustainability model of Moodle - i.e. "how it will keep going in the future". When I talk to people in schools and other organisations who are aware of Moodle and might want to use it, one of their common blind spots is:

I don't understand who Moodle "are" or how they make money. Can't Moodle be taken away by someone?
Well, of course, those aren't the only questions, but when faced with options of an apparently financially secure company and an Open Source project which appears to be supported by thin air (if one looks at it from a "this is all about companies who want to make money" point of view) then there are understandable bits which Might Not Make Sense.
This report explores a lot of these areas, to quote OSS Watch:
In the latter half of 2006, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) commissioned a study via its Teaching and Learning committee to examine the issues surrounding sustainability of open source software. The resulting report drew together seven case studies of successful but very different open source projects and examined each project's sustainability model. Each of these case studies has been told from the point of view of the lead developer or one of the key personnel and gives a fascinating insight into the factors that have determined the success of each project. These case studies are now presented by OSS Watch as stand alone documents in a series.
Read the document here:

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Now, of course, that quote is four years out of date - so have things moved on?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.
However...
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?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cumbria dips its toe in diplomas

A brief article by Irene Krechowiecka in today's Education Guardian gives some insight into using Moodle as a tool to support 14-19 Diplomas. Today I'm back to Buckingham to do session three (of four) in Moodle training for the school and I know that staff there are interested in the whole are of increased flexibility, particularly in the area of 14-19, which will surely be a significant area of growth and development in VLE use.
Read more at Cumbria dips its toe in diplomas from EducationGuardian.co.uk

Monday, June 18, 2007

Moodle Ruined My Life & I Hate Moodle

If you're on Facebook (which appears to be creaking a little today - under the strain of a big Guardian article?) you'll easily be able to find today's subject. I discovered a few fellow Moodlers in FB's millions of users and, after not much digging, came across some interesting groups:

So, are these groups set up by those who can't bear to do online learning at all, those who are allergic to orange, people with a grudge, or are they in-depth critiques of constructivism?
Well no. A little digging shows pretty much what you'd expect. Here are some quotes:
It just gets rediculous when you ask your lecturer something when they're right infront of you and your told to go ask it on Moodle when they could easily answer you there and then! Stupid!
It becomes fairly clear where the issues might lie:
i love how our teachers tell us to check moddle for our assignments...hello?!?!why cant they just tell us instead of having to refer to Moodle it makes life ten times easier for us and for them cause then we have the homework they assigned
There's not much depth to anything here - and ultimately the issue is the use & implementation of the tool rather than the tool in question but if you're starting out to use Moodle (or any technology for that matter) then the sorts of things posted in the above groups should give you pause for some thoughts...
  • Pupils / students are very savvy in terms of technology - and an "adult" pointing them towards technology in lieu of something useful will be seen a mile off (and, nowadays, derieded publicly...);
  • The thing about ICT (or any tool) is knowing when using it helps and when it makes things more complex / harder / pointless. Again, easily spotted a mile off by someone who lives on somewhere like FB;
  • Why not ask your students what works for them? Of course, until you try something they might not have a clue, but to plough on regardless when some of your intended audience are objecting might be a little... short sighted? Of course, if they love it, go for your life;
  • Make sure "it" works - and always works. Whatever you have to do to make sure that things are (to coin a Becta-esque phrase) robust and reliable then Do It;
  • Good teachers will almost certainly benefit from the process of online learning - less-good teachers might be distracted and see it as an answer for All Sorts Of Things Which Are Probably More Fundamental Issues. Go and read The Good Teacher on the Moodle Documentation site if you want some further food for thought.

Anyway, I'm off to add Jimmy Wales as a friend...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

3 secondaries in 30 hours

Today and yesterday I've been working with Geoff L (ICT consultant in Aylesbury Vale) in three secondaries in the north of the county. This is along similar lines to what we've been doing in primaries - i.e. funding time for school staff to spend time:

  • get an idea of what the software is capable of;
  • spend some time learning how to use it; and
  • (most importantly) think about how this relates to existing practice
in order to help the school think strategically about things. Yesterday was a morning spent in Buckingham School and part of the afternoon spent with the Senior Leadership Team and ICT "reps" from the Royal Latin School (which is right next door to Buckingham); today was a morning spent in The Cottesloe School in Wing, north-east of Aylesbury.
Both the Cottesloe and Buckingham visits were part of a four session programme in each school. Here's (roughly) how it works:
  • We agree to fund cover time for six staff for four sessions spread over about a month;
  • The school can add people to this if it wants to - but it covers any additional people;
  • The first session is spent explaining what a Learning Platform / VLE might do, how primaries are using it (a bit of "look what's coming" always helps), how other secondaries have used it;
  • The next sessions are practical sessions designed to help each person to create a course and think about how this might impact / supplement / complement their existing practice;
  • As part of this we encourage the school to think about who might be the Moodle admins, who might be course creators and other similar "organisational" issues
  • Anything that gets created as part of this (and, we hope, other resources as well) gets shared with other secondaries across the County.
So both at Buckingham and The Cottesloe this week we moved into the first of the practical sessions, and it was really encouraging that at each school another six or so staff attended on top of the six we had funded. It's a much better way of doing this than through "come to us" Inset sessions - it's done in the school, so only two people (Geoff and I) travel rather than a dozen people from the school, and it's much easier to get a "feel" for how the school is, plus it shows willing on both our part and the school's.
One interesting aspect of the Cottesloe training is that some of the staff had already been using Moodle without realising it as part of a national mentoring programme - so we were able to Backup their courses on the national Moodle site and restore them into the Cottesloe Moodle site in about five minutes, even though the other site was running a newer version of Moodle (1.7) - which was very exciting.
The session at the Royal Latin School was a little different - the RLS have had Moodle for a while now, but it's been difficult to get it off the ground. This was the school which (back in the day) ran Moodle and DigitalBrian (12 letters, anag.) in parallel and chose Moodle - this was a way of explaining to the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and various ICT reps about Learning Platforms in general and their VLE in particular. This session came out of a meeting I had with an Assistant Head at the school who wanted to broaden things out to a wider audience in the school, so for this session I created a simple course on the RLS Moodle and enrolled everyone present as students on it - using the principle that you understand things clearer as a teacher when you've experienced them as a student. So there was a simple Choice activity to allow the "students" to vote on what they'd see as the main use of a VLE/LP, a forum for them to explain their reasoning behind this and a (spoof) assignment to find an entertaining image of a current US President and submit it as an Upload a Single File Assignment. It was a really rewarding session to do - the first time I've done this with an entire SLT in a "hands-on" session and I hope it was useful. All things being equal we'll do a similar three or four day set of sessions in the autumn term at RLS.
One of the things I've being thinking about recently is the best way to work in secondaries. In primaries it's often a case of leading the schools, in secondaries it has to be more of a collaborative effort. So (roughly) here's a plan for the next set of secondary training sessions:
  • secondaries will develop (and share) materials based on their specialism(s);
  • the secondary in question must include staff from their specialism in the training, and their specialism co-ordinator if possible;
  • this should enable them to work effectively in an area they are already developing and also share things to the wider educational community (i.e. other secondaries);
  • ideally a reciprocal system would develop, with schools using high-quality materials from schools who had a different specialism, offering materials based around their own specialism, and collaborating with other schools who shared their specialism so as to minimise the duplication of effort;
  • we'd also solve world peace, hunger and...
A pipe dream? Let's hope not...