Sunday, 26 September 2010

Should Schools use a County VLE / Learning Platform or Go it Alone?

I had a discussion this week with a couple of people on Twitter who thought that using a free Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) provided by Google, their own Moodle, or similar, was good for their schools, they were saying “One size does not fit all.” That is a fair comment but I fail to see that the county provided platform which includes a Learning Platform (LP) and VLE, e-portfolios and personal space does not provide a huge freedom to pick and choose which elements the school needs!

I have a couple of schools who started using it just for staff, so we built a staffroom, a document library to host all of their planning etc, a discussion forum where they can all discuss whatever subject they like and a place that they call a day book – notification of what is going on by the day. Those schools are just beginning to build class spaces now, the teachers having realized the usefulness.

I have other schools that have said the staff systems area all up and running, we want it for pupils. So we have built pupils class spaces. Class spaces include discussions, blogs, wikis, places to put topic web links, fun web links, embed games, embed video, put news, put RSS feeds to Newsround for the older children, put photo albums that children can see in a huge Windows slideshow, a Cool Iris wall or just inspect picture by picture by click on the thumbnails. With many teachers we have embedded whole web pages, imagine very small children trying to navigate to a chosen story in CBeebies – not necessary, just embed it in their area. All of the frequently used Web 2.0 pages can be embedded into the LP. Wallwisher, Wordle, Voice Thread etc – just sit either as an embedded item or as an embedded page very easily, navigation for youngsters is easier at least!!

Yet other schools just want a VLE – they want to offer courses, tests, surveys, they want work marked and graded, marks and feedback given to pupils automatically – they can do that!

Primary schools like the Quick Assignments better, they can take content from the provided content packs or their own resources, allocate it to a class, the VLE provides a mark book to track who has open the file, done some of the work, handed it back in etc.

Governors, in my experience have embraced the LP as a place to store, share and provide for the committees, each having their own document libraries, a shared calendar and as many discussions as they can manage.

PTAs and similar parent groups enjoy having a space to share posters and information about coming events, a place to share photo albums, a shared calendar for meetings…

There is so much that can be done it is hard to see why a school would not adopt it!

I was told that it is not intuitive – it largely depends on how it has been set up and the support given. I worked in a school yesterday where the new ICTC had come from out of county so never seen our chosen platform before but having worked through it she is delighted! She is planning now to scrap the school’s external website, develop the top level area and make that public!

I was told, in the Twitter discussion that there are no disadvantages to going alone, and then asked what they were!

  • Support and training, we can only support one LP for the county, it is impossible to do all of the same stuff for several systems for nearly 300 primary schools with 3 people. Whatever we develop we develop for all and share with all. We can make all resources available to all schools and give everyone access. The other county teams – e.g. the Strategy teams, the Inclusion teams, MFL, ASSET and more, all share their resources through the LP.
  • If you want to do a cross- school project such as a transition project at the moment it is easy – all partnerships have a partnership area that they all have access to and can be built as they want it to be, it could have subject areas for coordinators, a heads’ area, deputies’ areas, pupil areas and so on.
  • There may be no-one left to run your own personally developed system when you leave! The answer to this was that the person I was talking to had no plans to leave – I will remind him one day when he goes off to be a deputy or head somewhere else in county!! But this is the most serious issue I think, just this summer in one of my schools that was using the LP very effectively the head was offered a post in a bigger primary school, the ICTC was offered a deputyship in another school. Both were better posts, progression along the continuum so they went. Suddenly from being very strong, with lots of support there is only one teacher there who really understand the management etc., who can pull them through whilst the new staff get their heads around the LP, and she is pregnant, due to go on maternity leave before Christmas. Does that sound like a problem? It would be if they were using a different system – as it is we can offer training, I have spent a day there this week – we have screen casts, easy guides, update training sessions, constant e-mail support, they can even phone me and I can log in to sort out a problem or tell them how to sort out whatever the issue is. Before the first month of the school year is up they are enabled to move forward without many hiccoughs. If that was another platform we could not move in and provide that support.
  • Parents can access their pupils data held on the county MIS so as far as we can, certainly as far as I understand, we meet all of the current Freedom of Information Act needs and Data Protection issues and needs.
  • The last thing that I can think of – and more thoughts may come later, it has been on my mind a lot since the conversations – Security! The LP that we use is secure. It is backed up regularly. We can make bits of it public and bits of it private, everything is permissions driven down to the last bit of paper in a document library or discussion on the discussion forum. Apparently though other well known providers where one can build their own learning platform, pupils can keep their accounts forever and more do not meet even the most general of security agreements and could in fact be hosted on open servers in third world countries…. User Beware seems to be the message on a lot of these – even Google Docs that I use all the time may not be secure, which is fine for me as an adult I can choose the info that I am happy to be seen in public if it does ever escape but we have the right to protect children from possible data escape. Children are building their e-porfolios, they can add images and private data even though we spend our whole lives as adults telling them not to – we have a responsibility to keep them safe!

It was a very interesting discussion. Had it not been at midnight we may have carried on and got more people involved. It may be a good question for #ukewdchat on Twitter one week!