In response to the post on Merlin John's blog about Moodle's apparent ascendancy there has been quite a bit of discussion on the Naacetalk email list about VLEs/Learning Platforms in general and Moodle in particular. I was going to start a long reply but - I don't know why, whenever I read a long and detailed reply on a mailing list, my finger twitches and moves, unerringly, towards the Mark All As Read option for that folder. So here's an answer, along with some (in context) quotes from what people had said.
The main gist of the discussion was in areas such as:
- have some LAs enabled Moodle to work across all schools so schools can collaborate?
- (the assumption that) a lot of work needs to be done to get Moodle started;
- do we expect primary schools need to run Moodles on their own servers?
The last two in particular tend towards Myths 2 & 5 in the 10 Myths of Moodle - "Moodle needs a full time, php developer on your staff- or at least a lot of technical support to run it in house" and "You can’t just use Moodle out of the box – the basic Moodle install just isn’t that sophisticated".
There were some interesting quotations around Moodle, including:
- "[a school choosing between Kaleidos & Moodle] opted for Moodle - largely because of the very highly skilled network manager..."
- "Perhaps [the future VLE market leader - a simple out of the box solution that is affordable] will be Moodle but it’s unlikely to be Moodle in it’s present form where lots of work needs to be done to get started successfully."
- "[having a single learning platform in each area or LA] begs the question of a central planning strategy that seems to imply even the smallest primary school will have a VLP on its own servers"
Here's an executive summary of my thoughts in this area...
- schools shouldn't host their own services if they're that mission critical (maybe they're not that critical, yet...);
- collaboration works best when we remove as many potential hurdles as possible. Like it or not, single system does much of this removal;
- Moodle is more than flexible enough to work across primary, secondary and tertiary sectors;
- it also works "as is" and doesn't need tweaking before a school can start using it;
- the "work" involved in this from a school's angle isn't technical - it's organisational, to do with effective planning and associated with changing the culture of teaching & learning;
The reason for this post is to try and give an answer of what we're trying to do here in Buckinghamshire and how that is a response to some of the points above.
One first principle is that no school should have to rely on having its own technical expertise or capability before its online learning environment will work. A situation where this wasn't the case would, at a stroke, prevent many schools from having an online learning environment. It's the Local Authority's (LA's) responsibility to make sure that the VLE correctly configured, installed and available to the schools when they need it - we have an SLA with our suppliers which will provide recompense if this doesn't happen. The somewhat cliched idea of "only those schools with enough geeky staff to run a web server being those who can effectively use Moodle" is Simply Not True. Ask our primary schools. If it was a requirement for a school to have an "expert" to run things, then the school would become vulnerable (a) when that person left and (b) when the school went into the employment market to replace them - how many schools would be able to measure a candidate's capability in such a technical area?
Another principle is that schools have as much control as we can give them over their virtual learning environment. This means that each school has at least one adminstrator (who has so much power they could in theory break the system) and (if they want) FTP access to the Moodle themes area to upload their own themes for their school if they're bothered. They can set things up as they want - course categories, courses, teachers, which modules they make available to staff and students, whatever.
Schools should be able to & expected to share what they've done & learned and learn from what others have done - hence having a uniform platform available to all schools means that resources prepared in (and shared by) one school can, with permission, be used by other schools or staff within the same school. This also means having a username system which allows collaboration and access to learning resources across the LA, including between schools and between the LA and schools.
Above all, schools should be able to focus on the implications of using a tool like a VLE & not on the tool itself. The tool will have implications for teaching, learning, the culture of the school, relationships with parents & carers, other schools, and pupils/students and an appreciation of this (often using lessons learned in other schools) is critical to effectively using a tool. In particular having a changed culture where working and sharing in new ways are to the fore is the most important change a school can make to ensure effective use of a VLE or Learning Platform. This also applies in a Local Authority - having a plan is critically important.
Interestingly, more and more the funding for this area looks as if it's going to be devolved to schools (hence encouraging a piecemeal approach across an area) while at the same time one of the expectations from Becta in its self-review tools for Local Authorities is that all schools are committed to the LA's view of the world as far as Learning Platforms go. Is there a slight disjoint here? By the way, you should probably read Martin Owen's The Learning Now Arriving at Platform... before you do anything else today.