Well, 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!
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 learning.bucksgfl.org.uk.
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.
- The 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;
- This 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 Blurb.com 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!
- 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.
- 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: