Great Missenden, where Roald Dahl lived and where the inspiration for the released-this-week Fantastic Mr Fox was formed, has one secondary school - The Misbourne. In January this year my colleague Geoff and I did our four sessions at the school in liason with Lisa, one of the Associate Headteachers (a level of senior management I'd not encountered before). Rather than the often seemingly random selection of people that would be selected to be involved in training, the bulk of the people we worked with were the Fourths in Faculty (4iFs) - who would be responsible for developing and managing the VLE for their faculty. The training went well - not unremarkable, but from about nine months ago it's one of those things that I don't remember maybe as well as I might have, other than getting to the school through snow one morning to find that it had just been closed and we had to reschedule the training session...Anyway, a few weeks ago I was contacted by Lisa and asked if it would be possible to come and support the school in an Inset day just before half term. The bulk of the day was to be focused on the VLE, which struck me as a brave move, for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it's normally difficult enough to engage even keen people on a VLE for more than a few hours and secondly because it's a really difficult task to engage a whole teaching staff in the use of a tool like Moodle, particularly when there's little existing use of that type of tool in a school. I visited the school at the end of the day last Tuesday and the signs weren't good - a partial power cut (due to EDF, not anything inside the school) had closed parts of the site meaning that there was little or no power or network availability for several of the computer rooms. Also since the summer there have been some significant changes in the school and a new headteacher has arrived, who I'd heard was keen for staff to start using the VLE to support home learning. I've seen an over-keen member of SLT come up with an arbitrary "thou shalt have all thy homework on the VLE by Christmas" target (without a real appreciation of Just What That Means For Staff) and have the expected result, so that sort of hearsay was interesting but only encouraging in parts.
I should have known better. I had one of the most rewarding days I've had in a long time (which I'm sure is a sign of something).
The 4iFs have clearly been working really hard on using their Moodle courses, both to support their students' learning and to ensure that they were on form for today. This was important as, after a half hour introduction from me to the 80+ staff in the main hall, the 4iFs would be leading three sessions with the aim of ensuring everyone had a resource they could use with students by the end of the day. Not aiming low then...
My presentation was OK - I showed some of the usual Moodle suspects from around Buckinghamshire and also had a couple of minutes to meet the new Head - who has come from West Sussex and was in one of Mark Granger and Steve Snowball's Moodle pilot schools in Chichester, so has a grounded & realistic expectation about how the VLE could support home learning.
The first practical thing we did was to break into groups, which were arranged not by Faculty, so that any pre-existing pecking orders didn't affect training, but by self-measured ICT competence, so each 4iF had a group of people who were all similarly confident (or not as the case may be) and ready to move ahead at the same pace.
First up everyone enrolled on a course as a student (in groups, using Group enrolment keys, where the enrolment key was the room number they were in). They then had a look around a course and undertook a timed general knowledge quiz. This experience was important, as the focus for the afternoon was to be making their own quizzes. Prizes were offered for the top scores in each room (Green & Black's chocolate) and for the room with the highest average score (going for lunch ten minutes before the other rooms) - both were displayed using the Quiz Results block. Doing this in groups meant that we could illustrate how groups could be used to deliver a course across a number of different cohorts and how the complete data from a quiz would be displayed with the group data compared with it.
Then the groups moved at their own pace to develop resources - during the morning break one of the 4iFs (who himself is very proficient at using Moodle) said to me "I think they're already ahead of me".
After lunch I worked with four of the people who were already streaking ahead with their use of the VLE to give a little more specific and intensive coaching - aka "A crash course in things you've not used before". In about 40 mins we whisked through...
- using wikis in Student mode to create a learning log which students could manage & edit themselves;
- allowing HoDs in other schools limited access to exemplar courses through Guest access & the course's enrolment key;
- exploring the use of the Feedback activity for all sorts of evaluation exercises;
- uploading and using video in Moodle (using the excellent Any Video Converter to make .flv videos which can easily be used in Quiz questions, Forums, or other activities)
I'm well aware that some people won't have done everything they want to do and some will have half-finished resources, but it was so encouraging to hear the buzz around the school for all of the day. Lots of people were commenting how positive everyone was and there's lots to build on.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the day was that, from my point of view, this wasn't a school that will be unable to move forward without detailed ongoing support from my colleagues and I. The fact that the bulk of the training was done by staff in the school is indictive of the capability that's there. This, allied with strong support from the ICT support staff (in the more complex issues such as taking SCORM packages from publishers), indicates that the school will be able to become more independent and forward-thinking in its use of online learning. Ironically it's the sort of place that I'd be more and more happy to do further support in, even though it might be needed less than other schools, because it would be work done in the knowledge that it would be fruitful and productive, rather than the feeling of pushing water uphill, which could be the case in a school where there was a desire to use a VLE from some staff, but there was no overall direction and plan of how it would support the school as a whole among SLT/SMT. I really got the feeling that there was at The Misbourne, and the atmosphere and "buzz" described by others, along with the sunny autumnal day I spent there, made it a great end to an odd half term.