Thursday, January 24, 2008

Different ways to Moodle at secondary

Today was spent working in two different Buckinghamshire upper schools. Princes Risborough and Mandeville are of a similar size but are at different stages in the life of their VLE.
This morning at Princes Risborough was the first session of one of our groups of four we offer to secondary schools. When we started this sort of series of 'training' (I'd rather say education but that might sound a little condescending) the first session was always a tour of examples of other schools - both primary and secondary - who were already working in Moodle across the County. Nowadays it's different - we ensure that staff log on to their school's VLE and acesss a course as students. The course is repurposed from school to school (easily done in five minutes using Moodle's backup and restore functions) so we gradually refine it, so staff work as 'students' in a course 'taught' by myself and my colleagues - they see a student's view and can see the teacher's view via the data projector. The usual interactions - choices, forums (fora according to a Latin teacher at Beaconsfield High earlier this week...), quizzes, assignments, feedback questionnaires - are all done as if they were our students. The next stage will be to set up a 'sandpit' for each individual member of staff - so in the next session they can start to create resources and activities for themselves and, if there's time, enrol the other participants as students in their mythical course. Over the remaining three sessions this sandpit will start to contain examples of their practice - the sandpit analogy is useful, since it's just somewhere to play in, and if they want to they can rake it over and start again (i.e. delete everything). Perhaps the most significant thing about this morning was that the six people in the session included an Assistant Head, the Deputy Head and the Headteacher. Do you want buy-in from your Senior Leaders for your school's VLE or Learning Platform? You need this kind of support...
This afternoon at Mandeville the continuing use of those Sandpits came into its own. This was an additional session after the four introductory ones to enable staff to have time and space to think and practice in using the VLE. The school has a very clear plan about how the VLE should be started - each member of staff who did the initial sessions has identified a group of students to work with and the unit or units which they will use the VLE for. So today consisted of lunch to allow them to calm down (everyone worked during this session) and then the final period to start to work on their pilot content. Having this time out of teaching also legitimises the activity for staff - it's not something for the geeky and/or the keen, but something which could become part of regular teaching.
During the session almost everyone was continuing to work in their own Sandpits and so it was a natural progression to show how they could create new courses (by default, everyone who does the training becomes a Course Creator) and then use Moodle's Import function to bring in whatever they'd perfected in their Sandpit. This encourages the idea of experimentation and refinement - and also means that staff have somewhere to 'play' without feeling they might get something wrong in the full view of students.
The situation at Risborough this morning was unusual in that there are already a group of staff using the VLE - but the school is looking to launch it post-Easter and so this was a chance for senior leaders to find out what it was about and (very importantly) work out what the adoption of a VLE means for staff development, resourcing and other non-ICT areas. As one of the senior leaders present said afterwards "this is a chance for us dinosaurs (harsh, but I know what was meant) to find out what all these mammals are up to" - meaning the ICT-competent and literate NQTs who have a fundamentally different way of relating to technology in terms of how they use it to teach.
I think both schools today were interested in the model of VLE development at Great Marlow - one person who deals with a lot of the technical side who is bought in for a certain number of hours a week and someone else who works around the school with different departments, encouraging & supporting them to use the VLE to support and extend their teaching. Seeing this as a whole-school tool, rather than an isolated thing which might have an application in the future, sets the tone for staff expectations, student engagement and also releases senior leaders from the need to rush this process - with something of this size, it's clear it will take more than a term.

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