Thursday, October 23, 2008

Review of Becta's DVD "Learning Platforms in Action"

Becta Learning Platforms in Action DVD
What seems like an age ago I was contacted by Becta to ask if I could recommend some schools who had progressed well with their Virtual Learning Environments Learning Platforms (I'll explain the amendment in a moment). There were many candidates to choose from, but some of the most interesting work was being done at Buckingham Primary School and Chalfonts Community College. Becta said that they wanted to do some filming of the schools' use of their VLEs LPs. Well, dates were set, people with cameras duly turned up at schools, and filmed staff, parents and pupils, both in school and, in some case, at home using, in the case of our schools, Moodle and Adobe Connect. Naturally, the days (from our point of view) were busy and in some cases the tools they were using got stage fright, but the results on the DVD look really interesting. Here are some stills:

One of the interesting things (from talking to two of the staff featured on the DVD) was that, where in normal conversation they refer to the VLE, for the purposes of the video they were obviously scripted to say the Learning Platform. This leads to both Moodle and Connect (in the case of the videos from BPS and Chalfonts) being referred to as the Learning Platform. Now, obviously from Becta's standpoint that makes sense, since Learning Platform is the phrase to be used in all communications, but I wonder if this makes sense when the diversity of functions that a Learning Platform can encompass is considered. I guess this makes sense from the point of view of a reluctant school watching the DVD as they could see that having a Learning Platform means more than just making the school's MIS available online, or having handouts online (the paper behind glass approach to online learning). A cynic might say that with every tool featured on the DVD being referred to as the Learning Platform then this plays very well for those vendors still on Becta's Learning Platform Services Framework Agreement , since they can approach schools present themselves as a simple answer for to any question which begins How do I get what I saw on the DVD?
Mind you, everyone's got a Learning Platform now, haven't they? I'm always interested to find out which (if any) Local Authorities still haven't offered all of their schools a service, and of those who took a last minute approach, what they did and how it's gone down with the schools.
However, back to the DVD. It's well worth watching (for me it's just amusing to see Paul from Buckingham Primary dressed up as Dracula) and most of the examples are practical (and only a couple look staged...).
Becta delivery arrives
If you want the rest, you'll need to order the DVD from Becta. I ordered it on a Monday and it arrived by the Thursday (don't worry, it's free). It's an excellent resource to put governors, senior leaders, or even parents in the picture, so if your tongue sometimes get tied when you're trying to explain Harnessing Technology to someone who's quizzical yet relatively uninformed in this whole area, then give them a copy of this.
The copyright on the DVD says that it's fine to reproduce the videos as long as they're credited to Becta, so here are the ones from Buckinghamshire, uploaded to Google Video:

School Newspaper

How Buckingham Primary School used the VLE element (Moodle) of their Learning Platform to change the way the school's newspaper was put together and distributed.

Online Parents' Evening

How Chalfonts Community College used the videoconferencing & collaboration tool (Adobe Connect) within the Learning Platform to open up access to parents & carers to find out more about what their children were learning.

A Virtual Residency

How Chalfonts CC used the videoconferencing & collaboration tool to work with an artist as part of a Virtual Residency.

Musical Experiences

How Buckingham Primary School used the VLE to allow children to share & showcase work they had being doing outside of school.

Teaching Digital Art

How the teaching of digital art is supported by the use of a VLE at Chalfonts Community College.

Whole-School Creativity - the BAFTAs

How Buckingham Primary School used their VLE to support their use of digital movie making as a tool to involve parents in the learning process, and rounded it off with their own version of the BAFTAs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

BBC fails to choose between RSS & elbow

Sometimes, the BBC provides an object lesson in the art of being open. The new Common Platform blog by Steve Bowbrick on open content, open culture and sharing at the Beeb is the sort of thing to get people like Theo Kuchel excited and revved up about the wealth of content which sits somewhere in West London and the potential for opening it up. At other times, there's a (hopefully unintentional) myopia which recoils from sharing, re-using and re-purposing content. I came across a significant example of the latter this week...

This was illustrated best (or worst, depending on your point of view) recently by the reformatting of the so-ubiquitous-it-might-as-well-be-part-of-the-curriculum BBC Bitesize service. In the last couple of years I've done a lot of work with schools on introducing them to using Moodle as a VLE, and something which almost always gets a good response is the use of RSS feeds. Starting with something like Newsround and the BBC Weather site, we'll move on to using sites like the Guardian, New Scientist, the Good Food web site, etc. etc. One of the final sites we look at has always been the Bitesize site – it's predominantly orange-coloured pages offer structured and themed revision resources for Key Stages 3 and 4 for English, Welsh and Scottish exams, and offers offered a granular set of RSS feeds which are were as flexible as the content is broad and deep. For example, the front page of the KS3 section offers offered a feed of all the subjects, then within each subject (for example History) the various topics are were offered as a feed, then within that topic the various subjects can could be fed out via RSS.

Now, RSS is best used for information which changes or gets updated fairly regularly (news, weather, sports results, etc.) so the geological pace at which the curriculum changes wasn't going to make for a constantly shifting feed of information from the Bitesize site. However, in our experience it was useful because having the revision topics and subjects as feeds enabled teachers to bring a whole bunch of guaranteed-to-be-accurate links into a Moodle course without having to validate the links, and held them all in one neat block.

You can probably tell where this post is going, but possibly as a result of some extra time / money, or just Because It Needed Changing, the RSS feeds have disappeared from the Bitesize site. Not moved, not shuffled around, but simply vanished. I can't decide if it's simply an oversight by an overenthusiastic designer or a deliberate policy to stop the information being shared, but if you want to use the Bitesize links in your Moodle course, or if you're a student and want them on your iGoogle home page, then you can't do it any more.

This reads all the more odd when read in conjunction with the previously mentioned Common Platform at the BBC blog (which you can also follow on twitter). This explores the notion that the BBC has so much useful, publicly funded information, tools, techniques... well, resources really, that making them open isn't just a desirable thing to do, it's an essential and healthy thing - so the vaporising of the feeds of information like they were so many minor villains in an episode of Doctor Who puzzles me.

On finding this out (in the middle of a day working with teachers of humanities, and eager to show them RSS and how it could be used effectively within Geography & History), I had a sinking feeling, like when you've bought something for ages from the supermarket, it's part of your regular diet, and then for some reason, someone somewhere (or, more likely, a computer somewhere) pulls it from the shelves. You hunt around for a while, wonder if it's moved to another aisle, then give up and go home, or buy something else, or shop somewhere else. I had a look back at the Internet Archive's view of the Bitesize GCSE Geography page to see if the feed's old address, still worked, but it doesn't.

All of this means (to my mind) that it's not an accidental omission. The feed isn't being generated (at least not at the old address), which means that someone somewhere has made a decision that this sort of information doesn't benefit from being shared. I've had it confirmed that the BBC won't be at BETT in 2009, does this all indicate a massive step back from online educational resources, a retreat inside the moat and pulling up of the drawbridge? Or is it really an error? What's going on? Answers in a comment please...

Image courtesy of Violinha.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A short conference, some inspired teachers

Last Wednesday was the Celebrating / Sharing Success E-Learning Conference. For me it was a day bookended by a meeting with a Headteacher in a primary school, and a brief after-school INSET session in a secondary school. In between, 60 or so people met at the Teaching & Learning Centre in Aylesbury for a couple of hours to hear about 16 of their number share what they had been doing with all sorts of E-Learning. Being Buckinghamshire, this was very much a Moodle-centric event, with a couple of presentations about use of the Adobe Connect service which is available to all schools on the BucksGfL.

Doug prepares while a video plays
The delegates were recruited and invited by the whole of the ICT team, but for me a big focus of the day was ensuring that we were able to broadcast the event, via a Connect meeting room, through a couple of webcams and judiciously applied Blu-Tak (to hold the webcams firmly in place). For this element of the day the primary point of reference is the successful TeachMeet broadcasts, which use FlashMeeting and attract a widely distributed range of attendees, most of whom would be in the real life TeachMeet if they could. The last TeachMeet was at the Scottish Learning Festival, and the recording of the session is available here. TeachMeet is a public event, however the Bucks one was (for various reasons) not a public one - mainly because we knew that people's presentations would include student activity, and there are many potential headaches about broadcasting that on the interweb. However, if you want to view it and use twitter, then send me a direct message and I'll give you the URL (you'll even be able to play the penguin hitting game, which is nowhere near as violent as it sounds. Sort of.). If you want to know what Twitter is, or what it can be, then I'd start by reading Martin Weller of the OU's Love Song to Twitter (the presentation's unofficial title) on his blog.
"Celebrating success" recording
On reflection, I was (and I think the whole team were) really pleased on how the event went. In the days after I received lots of positive emails (and one text) from teachers who had attended, saying how useful it was:
"It was great fun and very interesting. There were so many ideas and I came away wanting to try so many..."
"It was very informative and having the chance to talk to other people that do the same thing as me was brilliant."
"...thanks for a very enlightening conference today. It makes me want to get much more involved with Moodle."
"...I found it really valuable and interesting..."
The presenters were a mixture of teachers and commercial companies, and what was enlightening for me was that most of the commercial presenters struggled to fit into the brief time slot - some completely ignored the focus of the conference and just talked about their product. I thought I had a plan for this, and at the start told the room that if they thought someone was doing a sales pitch and not talking about classroom practice then they should raise their hand - and if we got more than a half a dozen hands then I'd ask the presenter to immediately talk about classroom practice or stop (please). However, this only started to happen once - when one of my team raised her hand (thanks Pat!). I think most people in that situation understandably don't have the confidence to question what they're being told from the front, so it didn't really happen. However, I think it might be something which would work at a TeachMeet (more about that later). One of the commercial presenters said that they found it really hard to not do a sales pitch while talking, which tells you a lot.
An excellent (brief) presentation from Channel 4's Clipbank
To my mind only a few of the commercial presentations addressed the nature of the conference in a way that was appropriate for a commercial product - including a simple-but-effective presentation from Channel 4's ClipBank on how to incorporate clips into teaching-focused activities on a VLE. Doug Dickinson's presentation on Honeycomb was useful tool, since we'll be using HoneyComb as the main tool for our primary ePortfolio this academic year. For at least one vendor whose laptop wouldn't output to the projector, there was no Plan B, which I'd imagine was an interesting proposition for those teachers who presumably have a plan B when they use technology in the classroom each day.
As you'd imagine, those who attended would probably get a lot from a TeachMeet, so this is probably a good place to mention that the wiki page for the BETT 2009 TeachMeet is now available. If you are going to BETT, why not go on the Friday and round the day off with some of the best (free) CPD you're likely to get? If you'd like to go, or like to help, then you can sign up (instructions are on the page), or take a look at the previous BETT TeachMeet.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Conference on Celebrating / Sharing Success in E-Learning

Tomorrow (1st October 2008) is our E-Learning conference - a slightly smaller scale than other conferences. It will last for about two and a half hours and follow a morning of presentations for our Just a Minute digital video competitions - consisting of videos of less than a minute entered from schools.
The presentations will be about what schools are doing with E-Learning - some of them major, some relatively minor, but all (hopefully) significant to the schools they're working in. Here are some of the areas that will be being covered:

  • Every Child Matters;
  • Split Site Schools;
  • Peer Assessment;
  • SEN Possibilities and Practice;
  • Supporting Able Gifted & Talented pupils.

Originally I would have loved to do an Unconference - hold it in the evening, TeachMeet-style, provide a little alcohol & snacks and a relaxed atmosphere, but it was decided that people wouldn't understand the concept or be bothered to turn up. This means it's being done during the school day and will have some elements of a TeachMeet:

  • only 7 minute or 2/3 minute presentations;
  • presentations by schools and software vendors (whose content must work within our VLE / Learning Platform system and who can't use their time as a sales pitch, but must focus on application and classroom practice;
  • no Powerpoint or similar tools allowed (e.g. simply online demos);
  • the order of presenters picked at random...
We have a range of presenters from primary and secondary schools, plus two MLD schools, and software vendors. I'm also hoping to do a presentation on the new flexible Moodle theme we're offering to schools.
It's going to be held at the Teaching & Learning Centre in Aylesbury, which (due to parking restrictions and general smallness) can't accommodate enough people for what we'd want to do. With this in mind we're going to broadcast it via our Connect server. If you'd like to attend remotely, then please email me at ian [dot] usher [at] gmail [dot] com and ask - I'll give you the URL and joining instructions, but I'm not opening up this to the world to ensure that our server can offer a suitable service, so if you want to take part, make contact before tomorrow (1st October 2008) at midday. Before the conference I'm working in a school in the morning, so you'll need to get in touch sooner rather than later.
Today I've been planning how the parallel Connect meeting is going to look (we're using another Connect server as redundant capacity in case the first one has issues) - and enjoying looking through the Adobe Connect Exchange for some great activities to enhance the start of the meeting with - in particular the Connect MP3 Player and the Welcome Map, plus a nice one up my sleeve involving sport, a softball bat, and flightless birds. If that's not an incentive to get you to attend, who knows what is?
Photo credit: PhotoMojo

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Open source finally approved for UK schools

According to a post on the PC Pro News pages 12 "open-source companies" (I think it's the software they support that's open source, rather than the companies themselves, but hey) have made the list for the Software for Educational Institutions Framework, which means that they can supply schools with Open Source software without the schools having to feel like they'd bought it from a bloke down the pub. Similar articles from the Inquirer and ComputerWorld seem to imply that it's actually 12 companies", one of which offers Open Source" - things will no doubt become clearer later on. Or maybe not.
In my mind Sirius Corporation sounds like it's a company run by a Mr Blofeld, possibly one that kidnaps submarines, or airships, or something, but it's actually a provider of Open Source solutions including (you saw this one coming, didn't you?) Moodle. It's not clear how this relates to the Becta Learning Platform Services Framework - Sirius aren't on there, so would their Moodle solution be approved under the SfEIF? Would anyone be bothered? What would be interesting would be if a company like Sirius or Novell (whose Open Source service has apparently also been approved) were to start to do Open Source integration with MIS tools, reporting systems, other things like that, to provide the "travel adapter" for schools who would want to plug in their newly-acquired OS infrastructure to their existing (legacy?) LA-supplied MIS system.
There's a bit of a generalisation by Sirius in the PC Pro article:

Moodle is already massively used in higher education, and loads of schools want to use it. But because no supplier was on the list, if a school wanted to use it there'd be quite a lot of pressure not to from local authorities. Hopefully that can change now.
Mark Taylor, president of the Sirius Corporation & Bond Villian
- of course at this point I'd be jumping up and down waving an orange flag yelling "Local Authority", but it's a not wholly inaccurate picture of where things are in some people's mindsets. I think the bigger reluctance to use Open Source Software (OSS) has been on the desktop where despite Becta's relationship with Microsoft fluctuating from bad, through worse, to approaching normal, there is still a reluctance to do anything that doesn't involve paying through the nose. This is often due to a perception that "buying from Microsoft gives you some sort of support" - but I've yet to see an implementation of a Windows network & MS Office applications in a school that does what's wanted.
I've been asked to take part in an advisory capacity in the Open Source Schools project, which is supported by Becta, to explore how the appropriate use of OSS can help with the delivery of the Harnessing Technology strategy, including personalised learning, parental engagement and home access, as well as curriculum-based materials. This is due to kick off within the next month or so, and I hope to post about it here. In the meantime, the list of companies for the Software for Educational Institutions Framework should be released later today, possibly by the Office of Government Commerce, so watch that (or this) space.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A free flexible Moodle theme

Photo from Running a host of VLEs is fun - sometimes. One of the most difficult things to do is ensure that things are centralised (to some degree) so that changes we implement at the centre happen with little or no fuss on the Moodles which are across the County. This creates a natural tension with schools who want to do their own thing within the framework in which we're all working.
The way a VLE looks is an example of this - Moodle comes with a standard set of themes which can be modified, but only to a limited extent. There's the fact that most people who are Moodle admins within the County never want to know what the letters 'FTP' or 'CSS' stand for - but there will always be some who do. Catering for everyone is difficult, and so this post describes what I've been doing over the summer to attempt to cater for the bulk of our schools...
We co-develop our Moodle service with the folk at Atomwide and the team in West Sussex - effectively this means that we have over 400 schools using Moodle and can share developments / ideas / problems and solutions together. Previously we had used (and I had blogged about) the Chameleon theme - an "editable in the browser" theme which, while working OK, put a lot of load on the servers due to the way it worked. Schools seemed to use it simply because, in its default incarnation, It Was Green, and no-one actually did much customisation with it. With the performance issues, it was decided to retire it.
Last year, during an upgrade for all of our schools, Mark from the West Sussex team shared a theme which had been developed by Dan Smith from St Paul's Catholic College in West Sussex. This was a theme which allowed a Moodle admin to upload a number of replacement images to an area within the Site Files section of the site to customise the theme, and also edit a CSS file in that area to update the sitewide styles.
Over the summer I've taken the theme and developed it a little. The previous theme would only take JPEG files, this one will now accept PNG, GIF or JPEG files and can display a mixture. The theme takes into account whether or not the slasharguments variable is switched on in your Moodle, which the previous one didn't. Moodle admins can also now upload a favicon.ico file into the appropriate folder within Site Files to replace the standard one, and the CSS file now has some (fairly) extensive documentation inside it. I've written a manual in PDF format and authored a range of instructional videos on how to customise it.
You can download the PDF of the manual here. I'm not currently sure if I'm going to open up the instructional videos to everyone, since they could significantly affect the performance of our Adobe Connect server, so I'll have a think about that. I might put them somewhere else, and will update this post to reflect that. Anyway... The videos are now detailed further down this post...

How to use the theme

You will need:

  • FTP access (yes, I know this is an "easy to use" theme but it's not intended to be maintained via FTP, just initially uploaded that way) to place the theme in the standard Moodle themes folder;
  • Moodle Administrator rights - to copy the editable themes folder into the Site Files area.

There are two elements:

  1. A folder which needs to be copied (via FTP or some other method) into your themes folder in Moodle (next to the place where the standard theme lives). It's called Schools by default and should (bizarrely, due to the capital letter) appear first in the list of themes. Download it here. (.zip file containing a folder called Schools)
  2. A folder which needs to be created in your Site Files area. The folder must be called theme. Download it here. (.zip file containing a folder called theme)

Once you've done both of these, the theme should appear in the standard Moodle theme selector. This has been tested with Moodle 1.8, I plan on testing it with our 1.9 development server as soon as is practicable, and possibly releasing any necessary update when we go live with our 1.9 build.

The theme is intended for someone in my situation (who is looking after a number of school Moodles and has schools who want to customise their own, but doesn't want to burden the schools with issues of FTP and similar complexities). If you are obsessed about micro-managing your Moodle theme then you are probably better off creating your own theme.

The important point with this theme is not the way it looks. It comes with a number of standard images, which you really shouldn't use. They are just there to illustrate the difference between PNG, GIF and JPEG files, which is also explained in the manual. The important thing is that once installed, it's easy to change, with no need to FTP. The alterations.css file in the Site Files area allows those who are comfortable with CSS, or even those who aren't, to go to town on the styling using Cascading Style Sheets.

If you're in a Buckinghamshire or West Sussex school and want to use it in your Moodle, this will shortly be available for you to use, so you don't need to download it.

The license

It's released under Creative Commons Noncommercial Share-Alike License. Basically, you can't sell it, but you can adapt it. If you do adapt it or pass it on, then the same license applies to that and all derivative works.


If you have any questions about its use, please post them as comments on this post, but please use your common sense and read the manual first! I'm not technical support for this, but it should work unless you break it!


If you use this and make a success of it, then please include a link as a comment so I can get an idea if it works.

Update - video tutorials

OK, I've published the video tutorials to support this in a publicly accessible place where I don't have to worry about the bandwidth! They were all done in Adobe Captivate and are hosted on the Adobe Connect server - hence you'll need Flash to view them, but you have that, don't you?

First of all, yet another link to the manual:

Then the videos:

and finally a video for People Like Me - you're looking after more than a few Moodles for organisations (like, for example, a bunch of schools) and you want to know where the files go:

I can't vouch that these tutorials will always be up to date - I maintain an identical set on our BucksGfL Connect server, and will always update those ones first, since That's What I'm Paid For. However, it's easy to publish the Captivate movies to many places, so I'll try and keep them in sync.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Parental usernames - why we don't (currently) do them & why the Government needs to put more thought in...

Keys. Lots of them. If you're involved in educational technology in the UK you'll probably be aware of "targets" for all sorts of things - but the thing that's made most schools wake up recently is the issue of Real Time Reporting. Put simply(ish) this is the target that any parent should be able to access their child's progress reports online - at any time. This is a target for secondaries for 2010, while primaries get an extra two years to get this in place. A quick Google for information turns up all sorts of things, but here's a quote from the Government News Distribution Service pages:

By September 2008 all secondary schools will be expected to provide information to parents covering achievement, progress, attendance, behaviour and special needs, on a timely and frequent basis - this should be at least once per term.By September 2010 all secondary schools will need to offer parents real-time access to this information (including the opportunity for secure online access) wherever they are and whenever they want. [More]

It was the 2005 publication of Harnessing Technology which gave the oft-quoted, rarely understood, completely missed "access to an online learning space" target ("a target with no teeth" as I heard someone wearing a Becta badge describe it once). The updated version of HT was published recently - for a point of reference, here's a completely unscientific word cloud of the 250 most popular words in the 2005 original (click to enlarge):

During our Moodle training sessions we're often asked about our BucksGfL username system - a common question is Can we create usernames for parents? While it's (in theory) possible to create usernames for parents, sometimes (in my opinion) this seemingly straightforward question can have all sorts of unforseen implications, which aren't often thought about. It's also my position that (currently) the idea of Real Time Reporting (RTR) via a "secure" web site doesn't think about many of these issues. As far as I can tell, as envisaged in the realm of RTR, parents would log in to a secure area on the school's web site / MIS system / intranet / Learning Platform / some other named tool which hasn't been dreamed up yet. Here are some questions about this:
  • How many usernames is this per school?
    If you have 1000 pupils in your school, is this two thousand usernames? Two per pupil? One per family? More than two per family? What about parents who don't live locally?
  • Who manages the usernames, passwords and authentication?
    Do schools create, delete, monitor and administer the usernames? Do they need to employ someone to do this - surely recent scandals about failures in data handling mean that this can't be left to part-time responsibilities for non-specialist staff.
  • What asumptions are being made here?
    That parents can use a system like this? That they can be relied on to remember their login details? Who will do the training / support / equipping?
  • When the parents do forget their details, who do they call?
    The school? If so, they're likely to call in the evening... will they just leave a message saying I can't log in? When does the school call back? During the day while they're out at work? Anyone for answerphone ping-pong? How does the school validate that it's really the parent on the phone?
  • What about multiple roles / responsibilities / access rights?
    I might be a parent of a child at one school, a teacher of a hundred children at another, and not allowed to access the records of a child at another, a governor at another school - well, probably not that exact scenario, but you get the idea. Who is going to manage and enforce those relationships and the data structures which underpin them? The school? The LA? The RBC? The Government Department? Becta?
  • What's the role of pupils in this?
    Since in many (but not all) families some children will be more capable in using technology than their parents, will it be significant if a pupil installs a keylogger on their home PC? Maybe it's just a subtle way of enabling students to see their own data under Freedom of Information (that's obviously not a serious point... I think)?

Maybe there are obvious answers to these, but in my mind this fundamentally isn't a technological problem (like I said, we could create plenty of usernames if we wanted to...) and therefore funding/finding a technological solution won't do, will it? If it will, please tell me so I can stop worrying...

I wonder if the Contact Centre of a Local Authority might be part of the answer to this, however there are clear issues around validation, data security, authentication & validation(heck, even Apple don't get this last one right all the time). A Contact Centre, even an effective one:

  • could deal with calls out of hours (good);
  • would keep a record of what happens (good);
  • would need access to data, password resetting tools, etc. (potentially not good);
  • could take much of the burden from schools (good);
  • would need detailed information on who was allowed to see what data (hmmm, the data structures thing again);
  • would need to validate that you are who you say you are, Caller... (errrr...).

Now, please don't read into this that I'm advocating a Call Centre to manage parental access to this - but can you think of any alternative to turning schools into ICT support centres for their parental communities? Will schools / LAs get additional funding to provide out-of-hours technical and organisational support - because it's fairly clear that, if as a parent you're trying to log in to a school's web site and can't, then you're going to want to call the school as a first resort. Has anyone thought of the implications of this or has more power to/access to data 24/7/365 by parents been thought up in isolation from the context of schools, which it clearly exists within? You could always read The Register's Parents to get classroom spynet in 2010 article and the predictable comments - some of which are predictably empty & reactionary, while others raise good questions.

Back to near where we started, here's the word cloud from the just-released update to Harnessing Technology (again, click to enlarge):
Now, I know that it's juvenile to infer anything from how often a word occurs. It is, however, quite fun to do so... compared to the earlier version, the word Becta is more prominent, as is technology. Can you see schools? I can, just...
By the way, I don't presume to have the answer to all this, just some questions. If you have any more of either, please feel free to leave a constructive comment. Thanks!
Photo credit: Keys by steena

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Final reflections on the Bucks E-Anthology project

Poets and Andrew MotionWell, the Buckinghamshire E-Anthology project is finally over (more or less) - I dashed from a school in the south of the County last week to the Civic Centre in Aylesbury where the Year 10 poets had a final celebration meeting with friends, family and teachers at the publication of the E-Anthology. The local paper turned up, but neglected to bring a photographer, so it was a little odd! It was great to see parents and teachers there and (as far as I could tell from turning up after everything had happened...) most people seemed pleased!

The Bucks Herald go for an obvious title.

I thought it was worth reflecting on the process, what happened, what might have been better, and what worked well.

Here's how the E-Anthology worked:

Project Background & Preparation

  • The project was the brainchild of our Secondary English consultant, Lindsey Thomas. Lindsey was a student on our E-Pedagogy course run with Oxford Brookes University, and as she's not teaching any one particular group of children this project counted as her "intervention" as part of that course.
  • Students in Year 10 were chosen from a number of Buckinghamshire secondary schools. Secondary schools were written to and asked to take part, those who replied were then asked to select students be involved. Some schools asked students to complete a piece of work in a mini-assignment - others were less structured. Either way, all in all sixteen students from seven schools took part.
  • Some of the schools involved have their own Moodle VLE - others do not yet have one. A pre-requisite for students to be involved was that they had access to their own personal BucksGfL username and password. Since this was a cross-school project, the online work was undertaken on the main pan-Buckinghamshire Moodle site at

Face to Face & Online Sessions

  • All students were invited to an introductory face-to-face session held at a school in Aylesbury. They were accompanied by staff from their English Departments. This session introduced the project, started the "socialisation" aspect of the work and gave the students the opportunity to log in to the E-Anthology site.
  • The next face-to-face session held at the school was open to students only - myself and Lindsey Thomas were the only adults involved.
  • In between these sessions, students worked together in a number of online activities on the VLE. These included:
    • Entering simple discussion forums about an example of poetry and a subject & title for the Anthology;
    • Completing online surveys about their attitudes to poetry, and also their experience of using ICT in English at school;
    • Voting in a Choice activity on whether they intended to create a multimedia version of their poem;
    • Submitting a photograph of themselves to be used in the printed anthology;
    • Editing a number of pages in a Wiki to create their own Poetry Trail;
    • Keeping a reflective blog after each face-to-face session and as the project and their development of their poems progressed.
  • A number of these activities were modelled by Lindsey - for example the poetry trail and forum activities, to set expectations for the work and ensure that students understood how to use the VLE.
  • Poet & PoetThe Writer's Workshop was a face-to-face session with Andrew Motion. Any teachers who wanted to attend this session were politely encouraged to create their own poetry trail online in an adjoining room, ensuring the students could work with Andrew;
  • Andrew MotionThis session had no online elements - other than reviewing what had gone before. When you've got the Poet Laureate in the room for a few hours, you really should use the time wisely...
  • Subsequent to this session, students continued to work on their poems online, and used features of the Wiki tool to comment on and annotate each another's work;
  • In the final stages of the project, students were encouraged to search for images to accompany their work, using Creative Commons search tools such as FlickrStorm, Blue Mountain CC Flickr search, and CompFight - or to supply their own images. These images were then shared using an Assignment and a Forum.

Outcomes & Project Evaluations

  • We wanted to have something tangible as a result of the project - both as a motivation for involvement and also something for schools to be proud of their involvement through. At first people within the Council wanted to go to the local printers - the sort of people who produce the LA's CPD directory - but Lindsey and I felt that we wanted something a bit more than a spiral-bound collection of A4 sheets...
    • With this in mind, we chose to use the online publishing service. I spent a couple of days preparing a rough layout using the Blurb Booksmart software, publishing rough PDF drafts on the VLE for review by both Lindsey and the students.
    • The Blurb model meant that we could get something of high quality in the quantity we required in both hardcover and softcover.
    • Once the layout had been approved, the time from order to delivery from Switzerland was approximately a week. Result!
      The E-Anthologies have arrived!
    • As Blurb is a publish-on-demand service, this meant that friends and relatives of the students could order further copies online without the involvement of the LA - less administration and more control for those involved. It also prevented the possibility of going to a local printer who might specify a minimum print run, leaving us with piles of hundreds of unwanted Anthologies - digital textbooks anyone?
    • The quality of the books is fantastic - far better than anything I've seen published by local printers on a similar scale. The students, parents and staff loved them and (personally speaking) it was a high point to see how pleased they were with their work reproduced professionally.
      Students & the printed Anthology
    • The local paper also gave details of how to order the book online. I'll be interested to see how many people (if any) do.
  • In the project evaluations, students were clear that the presence of staff from their schools inhibited their enthusiasm to engage with one another and the work. Working on a cross-school project in a core curriculum area has plenty of potential for competition between schools - which would almost certainly come from staff. The kids just wanted to get on and work...
  • The students (in the main) wanted to keep going after the sessions had finished.
  • Many of them hadn't worked on a VLE before and their responses to the survey on ICT use in English were interesting as were their experiences of the VLE.
  • Despite clear minimum expectations of what counted as "enough" involvement in the online environment, some students needed to be encouraged to login and contribute - and despite being informed before the project started, some schools wanted their students to attend the Writer's Workshop with Andrew Motion while skipping the face-to-face sessions. This would seem to indicate that there's a long way to go for schools to appreciate how the online environment can effectively complement the classroom environment (and vice versa).
  • Some important things that we learned while running the project - when there's no regular face-to-face contact with students, clear communication and instructions are doubly important in the online learning environment. Also, students will use any tool they can to complete a task, even if it's not the one you intended...
  • Finally, here are the students' evaluation forms in Wordle format:

...and here's the E-Anthology in lovely browseable form:

Friday, July 04, 2008

Have I been Moodling under a rock recently?

Well, it felt like that when I realised (through reading Doug Dickinson's blog in Google Reader) that this blog has been nominated alongside seven other diverse blogs (including Ewan M's) in the Public Sector category of the Computer Weekly Blog Awards 08. Which was nice.
Anyway, should you wish you can vote for this blog over at Computer Weekly - but I'm obliged to suggest that you read all of the other nominees first. Heck, it was a nice surprise so I don't mind at all! Bizarrely, the embed code for the CW Vote for me please please please why don't you badge doesn't appear to work - unless it appears below, in which case it's been fixed!
Public Sector IT

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fancy a free Moodle site?

So, you're at a school where the Local Authority / Regional Broadband Consortium hasn't made its mind up yet about a Learning Platform (or hasn't even reached the "shall we have a VLE?" stage yet), or if it has has chosen something you don't like (though if it's Talmos be careful that you don't say so in public or who knows what might happen). You'd like to give an alternative like Moodle a go, but don't feel confident enough to install LAMP on your own PC/Mac or on a memory stick.
What's a teacher/ICT co-ordinator/network manager to do?
How about this... hop on over to and create yourself a Moodle site. Yes, you read that correctly. An entire Moodle site (version 1.9) with you as an Admin. Complete with:

  • unlimited usernames;
  • unlimited bandwidth/storage;
  • any number of classes you like;
  • interesting Moodle blocks like the Flickr and YouTube ones.

There are a few downsides - no custom modules like Feedback, Questionnaire, Audio Recorder or Slideshow, but it's not to be sniffed at.

You can select a theme - though most have a black ninehub banner across the top, but it's a pretty good deal. Fill in the registration form and you have admin access to your own Moodle server - mine's at but I've disabled self-regsitration, so you won't be able to join at the moment, sorry! The full suite of authentication methods are there, but I've not tried them out yet... you can edit the system's roles, filters... pretty much everything. Unfortunately, GD appears not to be installed, so image manipulation (including, frustratingly, profile images) isn't available by default.

While you're there, why not consider using something like iSpring Free to convert any PowerPoints you have to Flash? You'll reduce the load on your server, and could start to standardise on Flash and/or PDF as a way of delivering documents - and release more than a few people from the tyranny of having to have MS Office before they can take part in your online course...

This is an excellent - and importantly, dead easy - way to familiarise yourself with a tool like Moodle - and if you're moving to a school or institution which uses Moodle, to prepare resources which you'll be able to Backup from your free server and then Restore onto your new school's server. If you're running an informal learning group for a voluntary group, a church, an evening class, or are a school wanting to support its adult education courses - or anything really - you can get your own Moodle for free. Of course, I would never base my school's online learning environment on a service with no service guarantees or backup (though you could turn the automatic course backups on and get a client to automagically download them), but as a way for an individual teacher or department to do some guerilla online learning, it's a great start. If you give it a go, let me know how you get on by leaving a comment.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

E-Pedagogy Final Presentations

It's the final day of our Masters-level course on E-Pedagogy. We're at the Chalfonts Community College with about ten people who are each about to do a presentation on the projects ("interventions") they've been doing in their schools for this course.
Chris Higgins starts off by outlining how this fits into an MA - the CAEP (this element) counts as 3 units, and could be followed by Education Research, a module on Reflective Professional Development, a further Module choice (which could include individual study) and a 20,000 word dissertation...
Everyone is split into two groups and will present to others in the group about their intervention. Here's a rough outline of some of the projects - each is intended to be a Reusable Learning Object (ReLO):

  • Year 10 English - World War One Poetry - at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School;
  • ICT capability in Year 7 MLD students (Talking Heads & Shady Writing) at Pebble Brook MLD School;
  • Encouraging Active Learning - KS3 PSHE & Citizenship at The Amersham School;
  • An E-Anthology for Buckinghamshire - across Buckinghamshire with Year 10 students from different schools (LA secondary English consultant);
  • Using a Virtual Learning Environment to help prepare children for e-learning in the 21st century - Making a video for children who are about to join reception - Year 6 pupils at Edlesborough School;
  • Student produced digital summaries in science (replacing traditional "write ups") at Brill CE Combined School;
  • Investigating the use of the VLE on Attainment Standards (inc. work with Year 12 Economics students) at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School;
  • Developing speaking & listening skills using Podcasting & Forums with a primary school (LA primary ICT consultant);

For each presentation there are questions about reusability - how replicable each project and/or the materials involved is across other schools or the county as a whole. There's really interesting discussion going on about how working online with pupils/students is in practice, and some of the wider issues to do with school culture, the state of ICT confidence and confidence within schools, etc. etc.

Emerging Issues & Commonality

What's come out of the presentations? We're trying to summarise common themes or issues which are cropping up in many of the pieces of work:

  • There's an emphasis on the cognitive side of the learning - a metacognitive approach i.e. "learning how to learn";
  • Wondering about how much should we allow learners autonomy, and how much scaffolding did they need?
  • Learners beginning to reflect and comment on each others work;
  • Social learning - learning how to work in teams, give feedback, take responsibility - this emerges from problem-based learning;
  • Students discovering their own methods of organising their work - this leads to a discussion on ePortfolios and the skills, understandings and higher order thinking, how Functional Skills might work and if "managing an ePortfolio" might be a functional skill;
  • It's essential to build-in the face-to-face socialisation and time in class is a critical part of this;
  • A number of groups have external "experts" or other people to give validity & authenticity;
  • There's a perception that an external practitioner will always be a good teacher - this isn't the case and in some cases learners need to be aware of this and helped (trained?) to work with/around it;

We're now about to debate (in two groups, arbitrarily divided up) the statement:

The distinction between digital natives & digital immigrants is not a helpful description of classroom e-learning dynamics.

after reading the introduction to Marc Prensky's 2001 paper. We're talking creating false and emotive dichotomies, educational theory, the nature of interactions in classrooms, the use of games and play, and much much more.

That's the end of the formal part of this course, and parting thoughts include how we might run it next year. It'd start earlier, and I'm already thinking of people across schools in Bucks who would get something out of the course. I hope we run this again next year, I can't wait!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pupils aren't stupid / don't build us a creepy tree house

As creepy as this...Image credit: Steampunk Treehouse by AlmostJaded. Found using CompFight.

A post from Martin Weller at the OU (now in my Google Reader Shared Items list) co-incided with many thoughts I'd been having about online learning environments and how they're spun to students / pupils, some of which was due to an Education Guardian article I'll mention shortly. Much of the discussion is based around postgraduate or undergraduate students, but I think the idea of the creepy treehouse resonates with Bart Simpson's recurring Treehouse of Horror experience.
Trying to track the genealogy of the phrase "creepy treehouse" feels a bit like chasing one's tail - a post by John Krutsch refers to a conference session led by Chris Lott and these (and other) references are summarised by Jared Stein, who says:
In the field of educational technology a creepy treehouse is an institutionally controlled technology/tool that emulates or mimics pre-existing technologies or tools that may already be in use by the learners, or by learners’ peer groups. Though such systems may be seen as innovative or problem-solving to the institution, they may repulse some users who see them as infringement on the sanctity of their peer groups, or as having the potential for institutional violations of their privacy, liberty, ownership, or creativity. Some users may simply object to the influence of the institution.
The use of the word "institution" tells us that this post is primarily associated with Higher Education, but it is also worthwhile pursuing this area in the use of educational technology in schools.
I had an interesting conversation with someone who's been leading the development of Moodle in one of our schools for a couple of years now, who asked whether I saw a role for Facebook in terms of supporting teaching. My answer was essentially similar to the Guardian's Students tell universities: Get out of MySpace! article of last year - there is a social aspect to support which the students already use themselves, but in terms of using Facebook, MySpace, etc. as explicit tools for learning - kids aren't stupid. They know that being at school has an underlying purpose - it's something to do with their learning, development, etc. etc. - no matter how much they might resent this on some days. They also see things which try to pass themselves off as "A Myspace for schools" (if someone else uses that phrase near me again I might have to leave the room) and know instinctively that this is school trying to make itself cooler than it is - "like a teacher turning up at a nightclub" as my questioner put it, after sharing that of course the students said that Facebook was no place for a school to invade.
Whenever anyone asks about this my answer is always that schools who can show that they take their learning environment seriously - i.e. it may have tools which are similar to those on other socially networked sites but are clearly meant to support pupils' independence in their learning - then learners will take them equally seriously and are more likely to engage with them. If a school were to pitch its learning environment as Hey! Come and chat on this cool space about things you'd normally chat about on MyBook or FaceSpace or whatever it is you do outside of school... then the reaction from students would be predictable and probably wholly merited - and would be indicative of a "Creepy Treehouse" under construction.
However, I do think there is a slight differential between phases (i.e. primary and secondary schools). One of our primary schools used its VLE as a tool to support its programme of raising awareness about online safety:
  • ensuring that all pupils had been through the GridClub Internet Safety programme;
  • making sure they could all access their school's VLE;
  • launching the site to parents/carers as somewhere worthwhile for their children to be online, since it would support their work at school and their friends would be there.

It's no surprise to me that this has become one of the most successfuly primary VLEs in the county - and I do think that the vaguely social aspect of the VLE has an important educational function in terms of digital literacy - enabling teaching and learning about privacy, interacting online and those other elements which are deemed essential to children growing up in a digital world.

In the secondary environment, the recent Guardian Link article Alternative social networking: Overprotection or necessary control? is worth a read. I'm not sure that tools such as the Learning Landscape for Schools (which is a paid-for service based on the open source tool Elgg)will ever work if they are touted as "a safe(r) version of [insert useful social networking site here]". Students in secondary schools will already have habits, history and a wide network of online contacts and practice - and a school trying to squeeze these free-roaming individuals into its own network in place of something else will have the experience of the proverbial cat herder. As is often the way in these things, possibly the most enlightening comment comes in the final paragraph:

It is being pitched as a safer alternative, but it's true they [students] are not as enthusiastic. Some sharing now goes on between other schools and between students, but it's by no means a social network of choice for them because it is still limited to just a few schools so far. Plus they know it is being policed.

And therein lies the rub. It's my intention that our secondary ePortfolio tool will have some social tools and features, but with a clear focus on supporting learning we can hope that it won't take on a Treehouse of Horror motif...

Some think that students should build their own tree houses (I sense a PLE spider diagram coming on) but I'd say that many of them already have them - and that this analogy could run out of legs if ladders, neighbours and planning permission were introduced...

Friday, May 09, 2008

Characteristics of an ePortfolio exhibited by Flickr

[Warning: long post, lots of links, your mileage may vary...]

As with many posts I scribble on here, this is by no means a complete piece, but more of a starting point or junction for my musings on the subject at hand. So please be patient...

One of the biggest beefs I have with the imposition idea of ePortfolios is that, in the main, the education community is being instructed what to do in this area with precious few examples - perhaps correctly there's no definition of what an ePortfolio is but I've never seen anyone setting policy in this area get up and speak from personal experience. I haven't yet seen someone from Becta's ePortfolio in terms of their photos on flickr, their collection of links on, videos on YouTube, or similar. Normally when a target or initiative is introduced in education there's at least some background to it - either from existing practice in schools, decent academic research and there's a vague consensus about what it means. With ePortfolios, there's no such consensus and multiple definitions of what an ePortfolio might actually mean.
Now, for me, the whole issue of personal use & experience is important in what is quite a new area of work - you might like to ask yourself if those telling us what to do with an ePortfolio are well-versed in the creation, maintenance and effective use of their own portfolios? I'm not suggesting that the Stephens Lucey & Crowne should show everyone in education their holiday photos, but I'd have more confidence that an organisation like Becta understood the realities if things were more, er, real... so, if you're in a local authority or RBC and someone's pushing an ePortfolio at you, why not ask them what their personal experience of using an ePortfolio is before they start telling you what to do? With any luck they'll be able to describe how it's useful to them, if not, then you could reasonably assume they might be reading from a script...

A personal angle

I've been using Flickr for about three and a half years now, which isn't a long time, but in that time I've started to rely on it for all sorts of things - as a backup for my most cherished / best / weirdest photographs, as an image repository for events / blog posts / other significant or otherwise things to do with work, or simply just as a tool to share and modify information in a creative way. It's apparent that Flickr has a number of features which would be desirable in almost any ePortfolio system and an openness which means that functions which aren't readily available within the system can be provided, often for free, by external tools.

Flickr's ePortfolio characteristics

In summary, there are a number of features which flickr exhibits which have to be essential for any ePortfolio system:

  • tagging;
  • many ways of adding content;
  • organisation;
  • socialisation around content, including commenting and relationships between users;
  • access control for differing audiences;
  • an API which allows other tools to interact with the system and its contents;
  • some personalisation and customisation;
  • republishing and repurposing of content


So, here are some features of flickr which might resemble what an ePortfolio could and maybe should aspire to:

  • Customisation - flickr is customisable in some ways, maybe not enough in the minds of those who want a "virtual desktop", but displays basic information about the owner of the portfolio. The front page layout of an individual's portfolio of images is changeable but that's about it. Something like MySpace or Bebo allows an individual far more customisation.
  • Categorisation - images (and, recently, videos) can be organised into sets and (in the paid-for version) these sets can be further organised into collections.
  • Tagging - items (though not sets or collections) can be tagged to enable similar items from my own photostream to be easily discovered - this allows me to easily find all of my images tagged with "naace" or everyone's images tagged with "naace". I can have up to 75 tags associated with each item.
  • Comments & favo(u)rites - as a registered flickr user I can comment on any other image on the site, including some HTML tags. I can see other people's comments on any images, including my own. I can mark images I like as my favourites, which are then visible to others. I am notified when others comment on my items or mark them as a favourite. Comments can also be made on sets or collections.
  • Annotation - I can add notes on top of my items to highlight important or interesting areas and can add notes to other users' items where I have permission to do so.
  • Other Information - information about each item (when it was created, when it was uploaded (with Calendar views for each), what device or tool was used to create it, how many times it has been seen, how many times others have marked it as a favourite) is available. Where it was taken or created can also be shown via geo-tagging or on a map.
  • Contacts & relationships - I can find other people on the system and add them to my contacts. I can select some to be friends and some to be family. If I want I can allow my contacts to add tags to my items.
  • Groups - I (or anyone) can set up groups on particular themes or topics. I can invite individuals to either join a group or submit some of their items to a group. These groups can either be private or public, moderated or not. My items can belong in more than one group, up to a maximum of 60 groups (10 for a free account).
  • Access control - I can control who can see each item - it can be public (open to anyone, even those who don't have an account on flickr), visible to my flickr friends and/or flickr family, or private (viewable only by me). I can also create a number of Guest Passes to allow users who don't have accounts on flickr to see images which I have tagged to only be accessible to my friends and/or family, or even private images. If a private image of mine is is added to a group other members of that group can see and comment on it. I can also control if others can add notes and tags to my items or see the originals of any images I have uploaded.
  • Granularity - these controls can be applied to individual items, or whatever collection(s) of items I choose to create - including different audiences for different sets or collections.
  • Adding content - I can add content via browser-based upload, an installable piece of software which uploads and organises my content, via email, directly from my phone, and via a number of third party tools. I can also add content to flickr and have it automatically posted to my blog.
  • Presentation - I can create slide shows of my images - either a set, a particular tag, or simply every image I've uploaded. Flickr also offers me the HTML code to embed an individual image on another web page somewhere.

Other functions

Aside from functions within flickr which I can control, I can also authorise other web sites and online services and access other, more general, tools which use the information stored within flickr. These tools are able to do many things, so that I can:

  • Edit my images through web-based applications such as Splashup, Picnik and others. My images in flickr can be directly opened from within the application and any changes can be saved back to flickr without (necessarily) downloading a file;
  • Use my images in other services such as the collection of Flickr tools. These tools can take my original image on flickr and convert it into many things - a magazine cover, a motivational poster, a Rubik's Cube, an image in the style of David Hockney, etc. - see more in the corresponding Flickr set which accompanies this post;
  • Access the flickr tagging structure and image repository to provide the ability to browse the content within flickr without (initially) accessing its main web site, such as the Flickr Related Tag Browser or Tilt Viewer;
  • Access the meta-information associated with the items in other tools such as Spell with Flickr or the Colr Pickr;
  • Offer RSS Feeds of my photostream, a particular tag (just my images tagged with a tag or everyone's) so that the information can automatically be referenced in another site which can incorporate feeds (though this isn't possible from a set or collection);
  • Create a 'badge' highlighting my photos or particular tags which can be incorporated into any site as a HTML or Flash item enclosure.

What it can't do

Things flickr can't do or doesn't offer - among others - deliberately or otherwise:

  • Allow me to download my entire collection of images - however a third party tool such as FlickrDown or FlickrExplorer can access the Flickr API and download everything to my computer;
  • Keep detailed information about who visits my items - unless they interact with the items (by marking them as favourites, make comments, or add tags and notes);
  • integrate with other services (other than the fact that a Yahoo username is required in order to log in. However, Yahoo's recent commitment to the OpenID framework (along with Google and others) means this may become more open and allow more interoperability.

Other tools

The open nature of the information stored in my flickr account means that I can start to make things with it - using all sorts of tools to do weird, wonderful and interesting things...

But what about us?

Fortunately we've just started testing what for a long while has been my preferred option for an ePortfolio - for secondary anyway. It exhibits many of the characteristics outlined above and, while few educational tools will ever have the breadth and diversity of tools which flickr has inspired, it looks like a good start. More to follow soon... I hope.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

On the 'Access to work, any time, any place' ePortfolio piece

Slam went the door...

A couple of weeks ago I answered a few questions for a forthcoming piece in the Guardian on ePortfolios. Here in Bucks we haven't committed to an ePortfolio yet, for a whole number of reasons (chief of these being a lack of clarity and guidance on what 'counts' as an ePortfolio). I was reminded of this vagueness on starting to read the article in the printed paper and online - plus part two of the article which escaped me in the printed edition.
If other contributors' contributions were similar to mine, then we were each asked a series of questions and then the answers were put together to comprise the articles. The first question is a pertinent one, and maybe it's no surprise that Becta's Bernie Zachary gives the only answer:
Q. Should all pupils have access to an eportfolio now?
A. Yes. The target within the government's Harnessing Technology strategy (launched in 2004) was that by spring this year the relevant agencies and authorities would be able to provide all learners of compulsory school age with access to this online learning space. BZ
If you've read anything about ePortfolios then you'll know that this appears to be not quite as things are, but exactly why I've never been able to place my finger on. If you look at Harnessing Technology then the occurences of portfolio or e-portfolio are there (seven times in seventy-two pages), but they are always (deliberately?) couched in vague terms. Have a look:

Why is this? If you're in Educational ICT and haven't been living under a rock for a few years you'll know that the focus has been on Learning Platforms, which have been seen as a catch-all term for everything - including ePortfolios, or at least "the ability to support" ePortfolios. There has been no clear guidance about what constitutes a portfolio, yet even within its text Harnessing Technology refers to what functions this mythological beast will undertake for learners. The targets (so it seemed to virtually anyone trying to work out what they meant and who didn't have a product to sell) seemed too easy to hit and therefore too hard to meaningfully define, which some would say is a good thing, but in my experience that's led to uninspired, lazily put-together applications which are about as appealing as [insert your own obvious analogy here].
A few of the comments in the Guardian article seem (to me, and it's just my opinion, remember) to be confusing an ePortfolio with an school's VLE, and elsewhere the Becta ideal of an ePortfolio being contained within a Learning Platform is given fresh air, even if to my mind this is a fundamentally flawed idea. Of course, the so-obviously-wrong-it's-crazy line about "open source depends on institutions have to provide their own support" is trotted out again... I mean, come on. People of Becta. Listen. Your web site runs on Apache, which is open source. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that people in your offices have to look after the servers, although, being a Government agency, I guess anything's possible. You pay professionals to do that (I hope).
Possibly the most telling comment in the article, and the one that's the reason for the image at the top of this post, comes after the declaration that all pupils should have access to an ePortfolio now, when it's mentioned that it's now that Becta is adding guidelines to its documentation on Learning Platforms. Go figure, as too many people have already said.