14 Months and I was Back Where I Started (updated)

April 13, 2009 § 6 Comments

Since emailing Helen Foster at Moodle, I decided to write this post about why and how we selected Moodle. As this may be shared with other schools and staff considering Moodle as a potential VLE, I updated the content.

“Go out there and source a VLE” said the Head and indirectly the Governors.

Where do you start? Having accepted the post in December and starting in January, sourcing the VLE had to come second place to consolidating the ICT dept curriculum (a polite way to say improve academic results). With an 85% timetable to teach (albeit 3 shared lessons) I only had 5 free periods and only one occasion on the timetable with two consecutive non-teaching periods. With an unsettled department unpredictable days become expected.

Well I am confident that I managed to exhausted almost every avenue available for researching VLEs, advisory boards, colleagues, school visits, twitter, email, forums and even this really good bliptv video (Making a VLE work for you in a busy school). By May I found the unsurprising connection between the VLE in situ and the recommendations given (or not) by the school and a strong “feeling” that Moodle would do what our school needed a VLE to do.

At this point it is important vital and I stress that a schools decision on choosing a VLE is a unique one. I urge you to avoid the temptation to rely on VLE comparison tables – but investigate the factors that lead to the decisions each school made in context. There is an inexorable number of variables to consider and in no particular order here are just a few;

the licensing costs, the start-up budget, annualised budget and further direct and indirect costs (hardware, management, development), MIS integration and how the VLE will be provisioned, the Headteachers position on VLEs….. your position / title in the school, the schools current ICT strategy (if its written and up to date), I could go on (and I provide a full list at the end of the post) but I feel I will lose you….

By the end of June and after 5 VLE visits, 3 vendor pitches and 14 meetings we were down to two products, one open source (no prizes for guessing) and one proprietary product. Still, with our County (Hampshire) offering a county wide primary solution at the time and a strong recommendation for the aforementioned VLE product (and BECTA guidelines leaving us uncertain) we held off. We made further visits to schools offering both products but it was hard to compare them to Hamble College. Both had established staff, ICT departments and Network managers. We simply did not. Following further conversations with our County advisor we finally “agreed” on a hosted proprietary product delaying the installation because we simply were not ready at that point and time. One huge sigh of relief and we were ready to move to phase two.

Come Sept, a total of 9 months had passed, we had also agreed a contract for a managed network solution, also offering VLE support for Moodle but we had made our VLE decision. Come the end of October we entered the final negotiations with the vendors, we had agreed pricing, hosting and plugins when our Deputy returned from a meeting unhappy with the MIS integration capabilities of the product. At the same  our new IT partners offered the opportunity to visit a partner school with LIVE (read only) MIS integration with Moodle,  a development they had led themselves. In late October our Head, supportive throughout, attended this school visit with me. Impressed with the mature moodle he finalised our decision on our return journey. Simple as that. At the beginning of the week we stalled on signing the agreement with the proprietary vendor and by the end of the week we were going open source.

We planned how we would reinvest the license costs and moved swiftly. InJanuary we have employed a Moodle / Sims technician, reinforced the VLE IT infrastructure moving to a centrally hosted model. We paid for the MIS integration (Moodle is not FREE) and skinned our website to match (also open source). We improved the student and staff networks and provided home access. We accelerated our develop of a 121 netbook solution to underpin the VLE integration into the school learning culture as well redesigned the wholeschool IT strategy. We continued to visit partner schools and our team (3) have consequently developed strong partnerships with our counterparts as a result of our decision to go open source.

best-vle

We are just about to venture into our staff training phase have spent 2 months developing and working on with a live VLE with a group of DigitalLeaders (students). In May we showcase or Moodle (Skoogle) to our staff advocates / champions with the assistance of our Digital Leaders before a wholeschool INSET in June. Wish us luck. If only I had found this fantastic, unbiased summary, would I have been spared some of the heart ache? Possibly.

In the meantime we have presented our experiences at the Hampshire County VLE Conference. As a close to that presentation I concluded with what I considered to be the four key takeaway messages;

Cost, discussions on cost, direct or indirect, are unavoidable

Data is King.

One size does not fit all, pure VLE comparisons are not possibly.

If at all possible, dont get distracted, focus on your desired outcomes.

strategic-implementation

For a broader view, read the OFSTED report. “Virtual learning environments an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings.” Well perhaps the summary at least.

Remember that list, well here it is, feel free to add to it,

the licensing costs, the start-up budget, annualised budget and further direct and indirect costs (hardware, management, development), MIS integration and how the VLE will be provisioned, the Headteachers position on VLEs….. your position / title in the school, the schools current ICT strategy (if its written and up to date), the SLTs position and affirmation towards e-learning, the a history of VLEs in your school, the e-mature within the school, potential staff support / resistance, your personality to address this balance or imbalance, your prior experience of VLEs, your network maturity, are you hosting or being hosted, the future horizons of the product, maintenance / development of the VLE, how will it impact on teaching / blended learning and e-learning, the support network, and there is more….

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