Thursday, February 28, 2008

BBC Jam is finally dead

As predicted...

The BBC's controversial £150m digital education project will not be relaunched in any form after the troubled service was suddenly pulled last year, it emerged yesterday. BBC Jam, an ambitious curriculum online digital education aid for five- to 16-year-olds, was suspended last March by the BBC Trust in the first big ruling by the new body despite more than £75m of the budget having been spent.
See: No relaunch for £150m BBC Jam and BBC bids to revive web education service
So please, where did the money go? Expect to see a lot of content which was intended for Jam being sold to schools soon, but with the death of eLCs, will it be bought?

Education Show & Becta Effective Use Symposium

Today I'm off to Birmingham for The Education Show (no children allowed - at least that was the case last year) and then tomorrow for a Becta symposium on the effective use of Learning Platforms. As far as I can tell this is to move the focus beyond a vague "Spring 2008" target and think about targets of actually using the technology effectively. The day will be chaired by Ken Dyson, former lead on ICT at HMIE and will be a series of groups establishing what good practice and good principles are in the use of Learning Platforms. So far the symposium has been started by way of participants introducing themselves in the (closed) area on the Becta collaboration site. I'm due to give a brief 10 minute presentation in the early afternoon on "cross school networks and collaboration benefits" - it's after lunch so I might be talking in people's sleep. One thing that's clear from the introductions which have been appearing at regular intervals this week is the breadth of experience and tools which people will be bringing to the table(s). These include a year 3 teacher, a secondary history teacher, an Assistant Head, a head of History, a year 5 teacher, a primary school headteacher and the Chief Executive of Becta.
Anyway, I'd better get going to Birmingham and write my presentation for tomorrow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Examples of primary uses of Moodle

This post is in response to a comment on the Mastering E-Pedagogy post of a few weeks back, which complained

Where Oh Where can I view an example of a Primary school using Moodle for its main curriculum delivery? So far a lot of interesting talk as in 'Mastering E-Pedagogy' but not, as far as I could find, one example of children actually using Moodle or accessing from home.
I wouldn't agree with this, but since the purpose of this blog is to demonstrate what we're up to in Bucks, here are some things to keep you happy if you agree with the statement above...
First of all, start by reading Miles Berry's report on Using a VLE in Primary Education - it's a few years old now but it's the basis and inspiration for many people who use Moodle in primary, including me (for what it's worth), or if you saw his presentation at Naace last year then that's a good place to start. Don't forget that Miles has won an ICT in Practice Award for using a VLE (Moodle) at Primary. I won't pretend that our "average" primary school is using Moodle in a similar way, but the fact remains that they are using it in ways which (I hope) are appropriate. We always say to schools that they shouldn't use a VLE unless it meets a need they have, and I'd encourage any school to think of VLE/LP use in those terms.
So where are some examples of primary schools using Moodle?
You could look at any posts labelled with primary schools or even just primary. You could read an approximate account of an interview with some Year 5 pupils from Winslow Combined School about eighteen months ago (see all posts about Winslow here). You could read an article in the NCSL LDR magazine about the work done in Buckingham Primary School or simply look at all of the other posts here about BPS.
As for giving blow-by-blow examples of all of these things, it's not really possible to give examples of children logging in, since we operate a strict policy of not allowing external people to see inside school VLEs without being checked out by the school, any more than we'd let casual visitors in off the street to look around without the school's knowledge and approval.
As regards accessing from home, we have examples (again, which I won't name) of pupils using their PSPs to access their school's VLE while on holiday at their grandparents, of pupils sharing music, poetry, artwork, etc. etc., of pupils writing to their peers who are recovering at home from an operation. How about the secondary school who went to show their Year 7s how to use the VLE, only to be met with the response
We know this, we've been doing it for two years already.
I'm sure there are others, and the post I'm shortly to write about our E-Learning & ICT conference of the week before half term should give a very substantial one. This is only a quick response, as I haven't gone through everything exhaustively. In the meantime, does anyone have any more you'd care to share?
While you're thinking about that, here are some links - bear in mind we have over 160 Moodles, so I'm never going to include them all...

Note that you won't be able to access the vast majority of things on Bucks VLEs - part of the "only if you're at the school" idea. Shared resources are made available on the BucksGfL site - again, currently to Bucks users only, apologies!

Guardian BSF comment piece

The Guardian's Building Schools for the Future supplement is out today, but (bizarrely) isn't published online. No, really... At short notice I was asked to contibute a 500 word article from the point of view of someone outside of BSF - in Buckinghamshire we have one pilot school, but we're not part of the early waves, so it's thinking about what BSF might mean for those of us who aren't yet up to our necks in it.
Here's the article in kind of electronic form - I photographed the pages, combined the JPEGs into a PDF and uploaded it to Issuu so you can nicely turn the pages. The original text of the article is underneath...

Use the arrows to turn the pages...or click to zoom in.
Shiny buildings overflowing with technology? Check. Children whose open mouths could be used for the middle letter of the “Wow!” on their tongues? Check. A write up in the education media? Check. However, away from the cameras and invited guests at the opening of a rebuilt school lurk tales of PFI tensions, odd designs and daunting contracts stuffed full of three letter acronyms.
When seemingly everything associated with a school – buildings, ethos, infrastructure, procedures – gets dug up and replanted it can be tempting to see Building Schools for the Future (BSF) as a Year Zero moment, one where existing practice is cast aside and a brave new world awaits. Couple this with a few minutes browsing the web site of any BSF provider and you might come to the conclusion that the magic dust of technology coats these new buildings with an innate sense of innovation and change – a Field of Dreams-esque “if you build it, they will learn...” approach - which will excite some and terrify others.
Current work with learning platforms shows that a programme like this won’t automagically change an organisation’s culture – instead careful planning, preparation and wide involvement of stakeholders is critical. If BSF is about the transformation of learning then it’s important that some of those things which can help to make transformation happen are established beforehand. Does a school have existing procedures for the ways in which it deals with technology and other new aspects emphasised by BSF – for example by having analysis of and reporting on ICT issues as a standing item on SLT agendas? Such things can smooth the process as the school moves into BSF and enable it to manage its service providers more effectively – otherwise a school with no existing practice might be steered into taking up processes and systems it neither understands nor believes in, and which may have been designed for another school.
A concern for many Local Authorities is the existing investment and infrastructure which has been put in place, for example by the Learning Platforms (LPs) programme. Again, schools or LAs with little idea about how they see such tools being used to transform the curriculum, risk being offered solutions which may not be ideal for them and represent someone else’s view of learning. One way around this would be to specify that any existing learning platform services are outside the remit of the BSF project – however this will require reliance on the service, whether it’s a broadband service, email or learning platform and may involve the LA or RBC agreeing to cover the risk by ensuring that broadband or the LP is always available.
BSF will affect every school in the country in some way, but to ensure that it meets the needs of schools it’s critical that those in positions of influence try to extract some of the common threads from the programmes currently washing over them – innovation across a new curriculum, changing culture in schools, working collaboratively, the effective use of appropriate technology to transform learning – and build them in to their existing practice as early as possible. This way, we might Build a Future for Schools.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

BBC to withdraw from BETT 2009

Vaguely ironic BBC purpose imageI'm told from reliable sources that due to [insert your own reasons here as I don't know myself] the BBC won't be at the BETT Show in 2009. This is (to my mind) fairly significant as it became apparent over the course of this year's show that the demise of eLCs will have a significant effect on the software industry. This must be because the main thrust of funding is now on Learning Platforms, with ePortfolios and MIS developments hot on their tail - and the end of eLCs accentuates this (you don't need to ask why Espresso bought NetMedia, since only one of those products will be able to have ring-fenced funding from next year). The net effect is that funding, development, stagnation, etc. clusters around whichever area is currently funded and, in lean times, everything else might atrophy. It's also likely that many smaller companies will start to reconsider whether it's worth spending a fair amount of money on this. There is no real return on investment for many companies (salespeople have told me that pound for pound the Naace conference is potentially much more valuable than something like BETT due to who attends) and I'm pretty sure that many go there just to be seen to be there - and because everyone else is.
Oranges, but was Jam a lemon?So, why might the BBC choose not to go to BETT? It's clear that BBC Jam will almost certainly never appear, even if some of its elements are assimilated into BBC Blast and Bitesize. The BBC stand at BETT 2008 was almost exclusively focused on Blast, with little else other than leftovers from other projects filling in the gaps around the stand. The embossed BBC oranges were a hit though...
I'm happy to be corrected, so if you know that the BBC will be at BETT 2009, please comment here and it'll be added to this post. In the meantime, so where did close on 100 million pounds go? In twenty words or less (and I'm going to be strict on that), what would you have spent it on? Would you like the BBC to be at BETT next year - if so, why? Comment below...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

OpenLearn - remix content for your secondary Moodle

It seems a long, long time ago that I was at the MoodleMoot before last held at the Open University. Around that time (and since, and probably before) the idea of a UK-based version of MIT's OpenCourseware was floating around - and with the announcement that the OU was going to use Moodle as its VLE this came closer.

Well, since last year the OpenLearn initiative has been available and, with our upcoming upgrade to Moodle 1.8 over half-term, it's worth a closer look.
The OpenLearn scheme has two main areas - the LearnSpace (for those who want to learn) and LabSpace (for those who want to use and remix the learning resources). The resources in LabSpace are available in IMS Content Packages, Moodle Backup format (see, I knew we were on to something...), RSS feeds, and OU XML feed and simple zip file backups of all the individual assets.
As well as the courses and resources, a number of tools are available - the usual FlashMeeting tool, Compendium (a concept-mapping tool integrated with Moodle via a custom block which can be incorporated into your/my Moodle distribution) and MSG - an enhanced instant messaging tool.
For me, though, the most exciting part about this is the ability to remix (see how I'm refraining from using the word 'mashup' here? Oops....) the learning resources and bring them in to secondary school Moodles to support and extend existing curriculum materials - ideal for gifted and talented pupils? There's an excellent testimony on the OpenLearn site of the winner of the OpenLearn reuse 2007 competition - reusing OpenLearn biology materials in an Australian secondary school.
In common with the self-healing demo courses on the main Moodle web site, LabSpace has a PlaySpace where you can experiment with some of the materials, so... go play!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Mastering E-Pedagogy Part 2

Today was the second full day of the Certificate in Advanced Educational Practice in E-Pedagogy (try saying that with a mouthful of cake) we're running in conjunction with Oxford Brookes. Once again the day was held at the Chalfonts Community College and the fifteen or so participants in the course assembled to explore more of what the course will entail. We're now concentrating on the intervention - each person's practical use of a VLE (normally in combination with other tools) with learners (mainly pupils of those on the course but in some cases fellow staff) in their school. One of the most useful pieces of the day for me was Chris Higgins' presentation on threshold concepts - the theory that in every subject area there are certain concepts which, once mastered, allow the learner to significantly expand their knowledge and understanding in that subject. The concept is best explained by Meyer & Land's paper Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge (PDF) - Chris's contention was (if my understanding was correct) that it's worth concentrating on these threshold concepts, possibly as a way to focus the participants' intervention activities, so I'll be interested to see what comes out of that.
I have my own idea of an important threshold concept in the area of E-Learning - that's the point at which a teacher realises that, in some aspects anyway, their pupils will always know more than them and no matter what the teacher does they'll never overtake or even catch up with their pupils. That might be something too hard to admit for some people - but if it happens, then it allows teachers to concentrate on understanding:

  • what the technology is capable of;
  • those areas of competency which pupils aren't naturally blessed with;
  • that the role of a teacher is to guide the use of appropriate tools, rather than necessarily lead in the use of them;
  • that if you want something done technically, ask a twelve year old.

OK, so the last one isn't completely serious, but you get the idea. The idea of a threshold concept means that it allows the learner to move into new realms of understanding and discovery - show me a teacher who's admitted that they're not going to catch up in everything and I'll show you someone whose pupils will be far more free to learn by discovery, research & experimentation.

As preparation for today each participant was requested to outline their initial thoughts on their intervention in a forum in the closed area of the BucksGfL we're using to support the course. Most of them will use forums (fora? apologies if that's wrong) at some point and it was good to see creative ideas of how to use some of Moodle's tools to help support different learning outcomes. For me this is a good opportunity to practice preparing what I think might be an appropriate blend of online resources & support, coupled with face to face sessions, the next one of which is on the 11th March, just after the Naace Annual All Members conference in Torquay.