April 20, 2009 § Leave a comment
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…
April 17, 2009 § Leave a comment
I am in the process of writing our VLE introduction course based on the very good Moodle Course. I am attempting to make the course more relistic and relevent and most importantly practical. I have added outcomes and a staff audit. So far so good.
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….
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.
April 12, 2009 § Leave a comment
Since stumbling upon the FLOSS / FOSS Open Source community we now actively seek open source opportunities when looking to innovate. For example, with the exception of our Schools Licensing Agreement (Operating system / OFFICE suite) our main ICT products are now open source. Our school website is Joomla, our VLE is Moodle (and we are very happy with both) and we manage our network with Spiceworks. Next in the firing line are community building tools such as Elgg or Dolphin and communication tools such as ejabberd and la.conica, possibly integrating with Joomla / Moodle.
What brought our attention to FLOSS? Investigating a netbook 121 scheme for Hamble Community Sports College seemed the obvious next step for our IT development plan. The plan seemed to be straightforward until we hit licensing issues and since that point our development has been fraught with pitfalls, unanswered questions and stumbling blocks. For example;
Which grade of license do we purchase (of course we needed the netbooks to be on our network)?
The cost of the upgraded license and what additional software (FLOSS/proprietary) do we install? Again licensing is not far from the conversation.
What do we/students do when we come to the end of the purchase plan? Or if the student leaves Hamble Community Sports College and wants to purchase their netbook? What do we do about the returning the original license? Will parents understand the difference between an OS and the software?
How much technician time will be used in preparing the netbook and then having to re-image the netbook at the end of the purchase plan? What time cost here?
Some deep thinking, conversation and collaboration is needed here to envision the next 2-3 years. The possible integration of netbooks or move to opensource. Within our particular context, can Hamble Community Sports College manage a move to an open sourced network / solution? More to the point can we afford to ignore it? Our context may inhibit our immediate progress, but I am not discounting it, perhaps a small scale project to begin with?
As well as FLOSS we are promoting open source projects such as KDE Education Project or sharing communities such k12opensource and Open Source Schools. At this point I would like to acknowledge the active support Open Source Schools, if you are interested in FLOSS then this is a good great place to start with passionate open source teachers ‘walking the walk.’
April 9, 2009 § Leave a comment
Today our Moodle technician introduced a small group (9) of Digital Leaders to course creation within Skoogle. We had 9 students, all content with building these ‘Introduction Course’ for their teacher partner. With very little guidance they soon got to grips with the importance of visual presentation and our decision to use pdfs vs docs.
On May 5th our Digital Leaders are delivering the practical section of the School Improvement Programme INSET – the central focus of this event is the introduction of the new VLE. I appreciate that our students need more time to develop their course but some were already looking very professional / colourful and engaging. What I am curious about, is how much development will occur over the holidays?
March 17, 2009 § Leave a comment
The biggest single variable (30 per cent) that explains within-school variation is teachers – teaching strategies, professional characteristics and classroom climate explain the often disturbing variation within schools.
Now that I have had time to reply to Jo, does the same apply to a schools VLE? This is important and if the mostly likely answer is yes, then how do we steer the development of the VLE. Suggestions anyone?