Coming up for Air part b

November 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

Of late, I finally think that education is beginning to see the benefit of greater school collaboration. Whether school federations, NCLS cross school cohorts or lead practitioner groups, there appears to be a greater emphasis on dispersed conversation. Despite the growing formal CPD opportunities, I still gain more influential strategic and teaching input from my Personal Learning Network (Blogs, Twitter predominantly). Surely education can do better?

That said, face to face communication and conversation is vitally important. Since taking up the post at Hamble College, Gideon Williams has been one of the most supportive colleagues I have worked with. On Thursday we discussed a number of key IT services issues and compared the relative solutions offered by our schools. We also looked and modelled a managed VM solutions, linking together services that could be offered by SchoolsICT and elearning4schools. Of course as technology matures, the solutions available to answer, what appears to be fairly static educational needs, diversifies. Managed VM solutions are just one such solution. 

The second part of the conversation involve exchanging Moodle resources and the discussion to look at developing resources for the new ICT qualifications in 2010. I wonder if there are many other ICT HODs / Directors of E-Learning that would share content through moodle? One thought was to create a Moodle development site on which to develop the course, with staff exporting and importing the course to their own moodle as required? In the process of sharing resources and courses, Gideon demonstrated how he had deployed glossaries to share Mp3s and a short description about the clip for Unit 22, rather than as a set of individual resource. I felt this was a simple and effective idea although I now wonder if they could also be displayed as a directory?.

 Finally Gideon solved one of my few gripes with Moodle, the two step process of moving resources and activities with the up and down arrows – replacing it with the ‘move thingy icon.’ In minutes we had downloaded and installed the ‘move thingy icon’ and activated it my profile. Now I can drag and drop resources and activities much more efficiently. Althought this was not a siginificant issue for me personally, I am confident that a number of staff will appreciate the tool.

An administrator needs to turn the feature on, its under appearance / ajax and java script / untick disable ajax course editing. The per user, edit profiles and turn on used advanced web features. Now we can move items swiftly. Second, we have moved to the addvark theme, and finally lightbox works…. impressive.

So, when do you come up for air when you have a dual role? Should the requirement for half-term days be given in lieu? Should I trust and manage the IT services staff more effectively?


Why Forums Work (in Moodle)

October 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

I sometimes write the basis of an article and leave it as a draft. I then revisit the article and review my original reflections. Interesting, more often than not I prove myself wrong. This article on Moodle learning was not the exception.

I have been thinking about the ‘Progression‘ slide for Moodle. Dont worry about me, its only been fleeting here and there thinking. I just wanted to understand why are forums the first real tool that sparks interest and why so often lest as passive forums by teachers? And I  also wanted to think aloud and think through how we could accelerate that progression.

Also, I want to be respectful on three accounts.

  • I doubt that the list was written for public scrutiny
  • I only have 3 months Moodle experience
  • The list was presented (if not written) by the author of Moodle.

Initially I am not convinced that the list is accurate….

Six months on  I have found that I have had the most success with… yes, forums despite efforts with other activities. I posted resources (mainly untouched), I have set up quizzes and questionnaires, I even tried a glossary but the first activity to take a real hold of the students online learning was a forum. In reviewing and rethinking the presentation by Martin Dougiamas at Moodlemoot, I would raise one observation.

Maybe its the users that determin the success of the online tool rather than the educator ability to drive it. I set up a range of forums and it would appear that the students simply enjoyed the conversation with one another. I did read and rate comments in some forums, but this seemed to have minimal influence compared to the fourms where I did not. The success of the tool, in my view, was the extended conversation opportunities it offered. The second reason it was a success – it required limited teacher influence to be successful. In contrast, getting students to contribute to a glossary or reminding students to complete the questionnaire was left me sounding like a broken record. 

Now that I have some examples of successfuol forums, I can share these with colleagues. Meanwhile I will go onto to try some new activities – in particular I want to use a workshop.

Moodle Needs Sun, Water and Time

October 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

Moodle Champions CPD

This afternoon we had our second Skoogle CPD session. More than anything staff across the school need a) the time to spend on developing the resources and activities within their courses and b) to witness the benefits to their teaching. A cruel ‘catch 22’, one that many Moodle evangelists will appreciate and acknowledge, we have to encourage Moodle use, before it will become loved.

I know that a few of our Champions have added to their courses and one of two staff who have experimented with activities, but in all honesty, the uptake of the VLE has been minimal. Is our approach to germinating Skoogle a reliable one, or am I simply expecting too much too soon?

In discussion with our E-resources manager, it has been recognised that the Laptops 4 Learning project has been all encompassing and we are keen to see (expect) L4L stablise. Half term is seen as somewhat of a watershed for L4L and we must refocus on Skoogle.

In January, our Champions have been asked to present on their use of just one activity. For Champions to sell Skoogle to staff, Mike must act as an e-Cupid and help these staff fall in love with Moodle. Our Champions must feel fully supported during this ‘experimental’ stage and we must instil sufficient confidence to enable them to share these experiences with colleagues. Still, I question if staff have sufficient time to work with Skoogle and fall in love with Moodle?

(We are busy writing up the L4L project, worts and all, and we will post soon.)

Moodle activities I have attempted so far, Quizzes, all question types including the much challenging CLOZE questions. Student led glossaries, forums, wiki and I aim to nail a workshop before the end of the year! 

Most recent changes – over half term we are moving to a new theme, Aadvark, it is simple and it works with Lightbox gallery. I hope that Lightbox will encourage the Art department to upload images for sharing and display. Second, we have added the ‘Sharing Cart,’ module. A simple module that permits the use and reuse of individual resources held in a convenient cart block. So far, I have found it very handy.

Today we spoke with ULCC, its was a real pleasure to talk to their staff and muse their Moodle development and we hope to support thier Moodle Wonderland event on December 17th. Keep your Moodle ears to the ground.

Collaboration, Moodle2Sims and Edict

August 13, 2009 § Leave a comment

Yesterday we took 2 collaborative IT proposals to Edict. This first was a small collaborative IT Network Group open to all schools with contributions primarily from Network Managers, lead technicians but also other interested IT staff (VLE and Sims Managers). The second, a Sims2Moodle proposal to development and support all Sims/Moodle schools in Hampshire.Both were well received and in principal, supported. This is a real positive step for Hamble College and in part reflects the forward and open thinking our Headteacher.

If you are a Hampshire school and wish to be included in this small collaborative group please add your details here.

The second proposal has taken 3 months to plan and focuses on sharing the development of a Sims2Moodle solution taking into consideration current VLE/MIS integration but also future requirements.

At this point in time, we are awaiting a response from Edict, but we felt the meeting was positive and indicates Edicts commitment to finding the ‘best solution’ for schools. We understand that in project managing Sims2Moodle we somewhat alleviate administrative burden from Edict, but in the same breath acknowledging we will have to formally report on the project to Edict, ultimately increasingly our accountability and the likelihood of its success.  I am very keen to see how schools that have adopted an Open Source product ‘share’ in its development.

With the support and forward thinking of our Headteacher, we have been able to employ the skills needed to pursue this project. We have been able to bring the right people to the table the discuss the idea and now we need the Moodle Hampshire schools to pull together. We have the idea off the ground, and we need the landing gears to make its happen (adapted from Jackson, C. O.)

Eventually we hope to share this beyond Hampshire Moodle schools, if you require more information please contact Ian Tasker

Top Ten 10

April 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

Ten Commandments of eLearning by Cath Elli. Like many lists, each is pertinent to hersituation. So what would Mike Jenkins (our Moodle guy) and I come up with?

1 Put the pedagogy (not the technology) first

Now I agree wholeheartedly with Cath on this but from there our paths may differ. Any comments?

2 Do not under estimate the time needed planning and preparation phase. Nurture the seedling VLE.

We have spent 4 month preparing the VLE, MIS integration, student testing, colleague collaborations, school visits and more.

3 Involve students in every step.

We have involved student from our VLEs birthdate, every week they bring something new to the discussion. We have provided training, they are now the trainers. We have 20 highly passionate, creative trainers on staff and they work for the VLE because they own part of it.

4 Simplify the VLE, simple VLE, simple.

We have back tracked on our VLE, take more out than we put in. Keep it simple – again our thanks to the students.

5 Have the end in mind.

We know exactly where we hope the VLE to be following the first CPD session, the wholeschool CPD session, in 3 months, 6 months, after the first academic year and 3 years. We know which resources and activities we are going to support and those we hope staff will find on their own and we know we don’t know everything.

We have also added one or two additional opportunities for staff to explore, these are unmanaged opportunities. We want to learn too.

6 The VLE is one cog in the learning machine, how and where does it fit with the others.

We are working towards a blended learning model, we see the VLE contributing, not replacing, the learning process and school communication.

7 Don’t send staff to the VLE, meet them there.

We have set up important questionnaires and resources on the VLE, for example we have moved the helpdesk to the VLE. We want the VLE to be a valued tool. We have also created learning areas that are supported by training staff and Digital Leaders. We believe that a welcoming forum is an essential ingredient.

That leaves three more…

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.


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.


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….

Open Minded Part 2

April 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

Is FLOSS / open source a viable  option for your School? Well we a blended approach has had some significant benefits for us here at Hamble Community Sports College.

As for open source is FREE? I don’t intend to swim in those murky waters. Open maybe FREE but, but it is FREE as in ‘FREE Kittens.’ What is open source most certainly is, is redistributable, allowing for the legal (and encouraged) use of the software outside of school and hereby eliminating significantly reducing the impact socio-economic background of the student.

Open source also requires the development of our staffing expertise. Open source community is second to none and has also lead to more conversation with our local partners and the use of online communication tools such as Twitter and Gtalk. There are many other discussions to be had, reliability, interoperability, security, scalability but for now that’s a good starting point.

One final point, don’t forget edugames or commercial games now re-licensed as freeware, our students have really enjoyed Savage: The Battle for Newerth, just select your games wisely.

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