|Newcastle platforms tiltshifted|
I’m tapping this out on Windows Live Writer while my 3G connection searches for a signal north of Durham and the “paltry fifteen minutes of free wifi” offered by East Coast trains sits unused. #ngconf is the Twitter hashtag for the Northern Grid for Learning Conference (alternative Lanyrd link) and, although Newcastle was a long way to travel to present a single workshop, the journey was more than worth it.
This was an interesting time to attend another conference, as two days before I’d run some workshops at Buckinghamshire’s own, far smaller, “Future Learning with ICT” conference held for schools in Bucks. The Northern Grid covers several local authorities in the north-east of England and (for anyone reading who’s not in the UK, or hasn’t spent too much time in the world of educational ICT) is a Regional Broadband Consortium, who have been tasked with offering services to schools and Local Authorities in whichever region they cover. Today's conference was illuminated by lots of inspirational and (at least as important) practical people to illustrate the difference well-used online tools can make - people like Russell Prue, Steve Wheeler, Jan Webb, Bill Lord, Martin Waller and Ian Addison (among others) were there to stimulate, provoke, make people think and above all give practical ideas.
|Steve Wheeler closing keynote. Picture by simfin2010. Used with permission.|
Your answer to that will almost certainly depend on what your experience of the concept of a “learning platform”. I’m frequently amazed by the baggage the term has acquired (Becta coined the term and then, in my opinion, tried to include absolutely everything that could possibly ever take place in the definition. Simply defining it as “a tool that provided a platform or stage for enhancing learning using online technology” would have been too simple (imagine a procurement framework based on something as vague as that) - however the phrase would almost certainly have meant more in schools.
Simply put, it’s a tool (or a suite of tools, or a collection of small tools loosely joined) a school can use to be more effective, more engaging, more efficient, more open… etc. You get the idea. The group of us who were brought together under the auspices of Becta during the autumn of its time were tasked with developing, refining and publishing a refinement of the work done by the excellent Dave Whyley during his work with WMNet using the LP+ learning platform. We came together from using a whole range of tools – this was the point, we shouldn’t pretend (nor should anyone) that effective use could only be made by using A Single Brand Of Tool. That, some might argue, is the job of the vendors of such tools, but this afternoon I was really concerned to (try and) put people at ease. I feel uneasy when some schools – those just starting out, or those regrouping after a change of leadership or other personnel, or those who are unsure how much is appropriate to use – are subjected to comprehensive case studies from those selling allegedly transformative tools which ignore the change management aspect. At its very core e-learning, or e-engagement, or e-maturity, or whatever is about change management. Whether that’s on a class, year group, key stage or whole-school scale, if there’s no appreciation of the changes which are required and/or might result from taking online aspects of learning, management/admin and communication seriously, then it’s possible to expend a lot of time, money and missed opportunities (hence the title of my presentation today). The Steps to Adoption Model, based around Dave Whyley’s work, which was in turn based on Simon Hooper and Lloyd Rieber’s 1995 Teaching With Technology (definitely worth a read if you’ve not seen it before, the article’s own references are worth a follow or three), aims to couch the idea of using online tools (of all kinds, not just those which might fall under a list of ten approved providers) in five broad areas and (critically) make this measurable and understandable in the wider context of School Improvement. These areas are:
- supporting organisation, management and practice;
- extending opportunities for collaboration, interaction and communication;
- information and data management;
- approaches to learning;
- parental involvement supporting learning in and beyond school.
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In the Steps to Adoption model these five steps (in yellow above) are described in each of the areas relevant to School Improvement, and are
The interesting thing that Becta did was release the document under a Creative Commons licence (a Creative Commons Attribution Licence 3.0 as long as both Becta and the originators are credited) – and from what I’ve seen there are already elements of it in Frogtrade’s self-assessment tool for users of their product (which if I’m honest looks like an early rudimentary version of some concepts we had as a group of how to express progress in each area - it's still good to see the principles being applied), and I understand that It’s Learning among others are looking at using the document to support their schools. From informal communications among the group of us who co-authored the document, it would appear that many of the commercial Learning Platform providers are looking to consolidate their user base – e.g. retention is at least as, if not more, important than new recruitment. How do you keep people using a tool you’ve sold them? By helping them to use it better of course, and the Steps to Adoption Model can be used for any tool in the original Learning Platforms Framework and plenty more besides.
I can’t wait to see the tool when it’s released (follow Philip and Simon Finch on Twitter to stay abreast of developments on this) and, if you’re serious about bringing your possibly-isolated use of new technologies – whether cool, mundane or too-new-to-describe-yet into the realm of “official” school improvement in your school, you could do worse than to have a read through the Steps to Adoption Model. As I said in the introduction to today’s workshop, I don’t give a monkey’s what tool(s) you are using – whether it’s Moodle, It’s Learning, FrogTrade, a Wordpress blog, Twitter, Google Apps for Education, UniServity, or anything else – this tool and resource should help you.
|#ngconf visible tweets. Picture by simfin2010. Used with permission.|